At a time when the country was in mourning for those killed in the Boipatong Massacre of 17 June 1992, the Bisho Massacre added to the bleak political situation in South Africa. The massacre took place on 7 September 1992 in Bisho, then the capital of Ciskei (an independent homeland or Bantustan), amid tense negotiations between the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African government under President FW de Klerk.

Prior to a planned protest march on Bisho, the ANC sent a memorandum to the government requesting that the regime of military leader Brigadier Joshua ‘Oupa’ Gqozo be replaced by an interim administration that would allow for democratic reforms in Ciskei. This was rejected by President de Klerk on the grounds that Ciskei did not fall under South Africa’s jurisdiction. The ANC retaliated by organising a mass protest march on Bisho with the aim of ousting Gqoza.

Led by top ANC officials including Chris Hani, Cyril Ramaphosa, Steve Tshwete and Ronnie Kassrils, a group of 80 000 people gathered outside Bisho demanding an end to military rule and the re-absorption of the so-called black homeland into South Africa. When the marchers tried to cross Ciskei Defence Force lines from Transkei to enter Bisho, Gqozo’s soldiers were instructed to open fire.

Map of the Eastern Cape featuring Bisho, now called Bhisho. Source: Africa Media Online

According to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, Colonel Mkosana instructed forces to open fire and later Rifleman Gonya fired a grenade launcher.The ensuing bloodshed resulted in the death of 28 marchers and one soldier. Over 200 activists were injured. 

On 18 September, a mass funeral for the victims was held; the placard depicted in the image reflects the sentiments of the people.

The Goldstone Commission was appointed to investigate the massacre. Justice Richard Goldstone condemned both parties for their role in the violence. The Bisho Massacre resulted in FW de Klerk and ANC President Nelson Mandela entering a new phase of negotiations, and they signed a Record of Understanding on 26 September 1992 which paved the way for the resumption of stalled formal negotiations in 1993.

ANC supporters flee towards South African side of the border. © Greg Marinovich / South Photos / Africa Media Online

Regarding the massacre, ANC president, Nelson Mandela said:

"Each one of the people who lost their lives at Bisho yesterday, 7th September, was a unique human being. The daughter or the son of some mother; the father or mother to some child; a person linked to a home, to a community of relatives and friends who had loved, cherished and nurtured her or him for many years in the hope of a continuing and shared future."

A monument to commemorate the role that these activists played in the struggle for freedom was erected on the site of the massacre in 1997.

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