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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Nelson Mandela's Statement on the Bisho Massacre

The tragic events in Bisho are yet another grim reminder of the profound illness that afflicts our country. South Africa is a country traumatised by centuries of violence and the most brutal exploitation. It requires immense courage, tempered by patience and sensitivity to address this condition and apply the therapy that will assist us to heal.

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.

Thousands marched full of hope for a better tomorrow. Dozens did not return.

Those fateful four minutes of gunfire, that reverberated through the length and breadth of South Africa, snuffed out those lives as if they were of no consequence. The staccatto of those automatic weapons added one more grisly episode to the already bloodstained annals of twentieth century South Africa.

The facts of what occurred have been established by the international media and eyewitnesses representing local and international agencies whose reputations are beyond reproach. The shootings were unprovoked and were not preceded by any warning. Lethal force was employed as the first option of the Ciskei Security Forces in circumstances that did not even remotely warrant its use.

We condemn these killings in the strongest possible terms!

To the bereaved families; to the relatives and friends who have lost their loved ones we offer our heartfelt condolences. The words of comfort and sympathy we pronounce can however do nothing to restore the lives that have been so brutally cut short . We can but hope that these few tokens of our deep concern will lend them the support to alleviate their sorrow. We mourn with the communities of the Border region that continue to bleed even while our country makes its troubled transition from the autocracy of apartheid to democracy.

From this day, Bisho will rank alongside Boipatong on that roll call of infamy that recounts the past two years of F.W. de Klerk's incumbency. The authors of yesterday's massacre already stand condemned in the eyes of the nation and the world for their criminal actions.

While we wipe away the tears, let us today reflect on what we as a South African nation need to do so that we can all go beyond our present pain. Let us learn from the tragedies that still besiege the hopes on which to build our future.

Those who still wish to cling to a discredited past had their say yesterday. It is evident that they have nothing to offer our country other than continuing violence, conflict and bloodshed.

The deceitful attempt to attribute responsibility for the massacre to those who sought to secure rights that millions throughout the world take for granted betrays a deep-seated contempt for the people of this country. It also tells us how lacking they are in a commitment to democracy. The crude apportioning of blame and disinformation about who shot first has not helped us obtain a clear picture of what occurred.

Those with a capacity to map our country's way forward are all the political formations and movements that share a common allegiance to basic democratic values. The times demand that we now translate our commitment into a common will and a determination to create, within the boundaries of South Africa, the institutions that will ensure that South Africa makes a decisive break with its past. The people want to enjoy their rightful heritage of peace and prosperity.

The Bisho Massacre should sound warning bells to all South Africans. The continued emphasis by De Klerk on strong regional government, outside of the democratic process and within the context of the homelands, has given a signal to the repressive structures built up over the years of apartheid that they can do what they like to entrench their authoritarian rule. It has also served to re-emphasise how fragile the very fabric of our society is.

What all peace-loving people are asking for is an end to violence and intimidation by both state and various political organisations. Critical to this is the creation of a climate for free political activity. This should mean that all political organisations can mobilise freely and without fear. To address this the ANC submits the following proposals:

1. That there be a full, independent investigation into the massacre and the circumstances that led to it.

2. That Brigadier Gqozo be removed as head of state and an interim administration, acceptable to all parties and determined in full consultation with all representative bodies in the Ciskei, be established immediately.

3. Section 43 of the Ciskei National Security Act, which prohibits the free activity of any political organisation, should be repealed.

4. South African Military Ingelligence officials be removed from Ciskei, as should the Peace Force security company which has been involved in training and arming vigilante forces.

Similar initiatives to bring about peace and democracy must be urgently undertaken in all areas where no free political activity is possible. An enormous responsibility rests with the South African government. Such actions, coupled with visible movement on the outstanding matters placed before it by the ANC, would help create the climate so essential for the resumption of meaningful negotiations.

We also want to say loudly and clearly: we have travelled too far along the road to freedom to turn back now. We shall not be deterred by the threats or the actions of the forces of the past. Our people have the right to hope, the right to a future, the right to life itself. No power on this earth can destroy the thirst for human dignity. Our land cries out for peace. We will only achieve it through adherence to democratic principles and respect for the rights of all. This is the challenge that faces all South Africans. We dare not fail.

King William's Town - 8 September, 1992
Issued by: ANC

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.