Friction over focus on Biko

Langa foundation claims massacre sidelined in province’s Human Rights Day celebrations

The Uitenhage Massacre Foundation has pulled out of a national Human Rights Day commemoration in King William’s Town tomorrow as they feel the Langa Massacre has been sidelined by the 40th anniversary of Steve Biko’s death.

President Jacob Zuma is due to deliver an address at the King William’s Town event to commemorate the life of Biko, who died on September 12 1977 in a prison cell in Pretoria.

Human Rights Day is commemorated annually on March 21 to remind South Africans about the sacrifices that accompanied the struggle for democracy.

The Langa Massacre took place on March 21 1985 in Langa, Uitenhage, where at least 21 people died and many more were wounded when police fired on mourners marching to a funeral.

Uitenhage Massacre Foundation chairman Nicholas Malgas said: “They are turning March 21 into an anniversary for Steve Biko, whose life is celebrated in September.”

He said the families and foundation members would not travel to King William’s Town, because there had been no massacre there.

According to Malgas, the decision to hold the Human Rights Day commemoration in King William’s Town came from Sport, Recreation, Arts and Culture MEC Pemmy Majodina.

In a letter written to the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality, which The Herald has seen, Majodina says policy dictates that the Human Rights Day commemoration be rotated between eight different massacre sites in the Eastern Cape.

She wrote that the commemoration was held in Uitenhage in 2015 and in East London last year.

Because of this, there was no government event planned for the Langa Massacre this year.

But Malgas said the families of those killed in the massacre felt disrespected by the decision. “Majodina has done us wrong. “It could have made sense if the government said it wanted to celebrate Robert Sobukwe’s life instead of Steve Biko’s,” he said.

Sobukwe, who founded the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in opposition to apartheid, died on February 27 1978.

Malgas said they would hold their own event, starting today with a cleansing ceremony and a night vigil which would be attended by Neslon Mandela Bay mayor Athol Trollip.

Tomorrow, wreaths would be placed at the Langa Memorial site in KwaLanga.

“We will go for the unveiling at the cemetery in KwaNobuhle,” Malgas said.

The ANC had helped fund the commemoration.

ANC regional chairman Andile Lungisa confirmed the party had helped set up the event.

“People should remember that on March 21 1985 a massacre took place in KwaLanga and we have to highlight this event,” he said.

“In fact, March 21 every year should be celebrated in Uitenhage, where the massacre took place, not anywhere else.”

Nelson Mandela Bay mayoral spokesman Sibongile Dimbaza said the municipality was told that a similar event could not be held as it would clash with the Kings William’s Town ceremony.

“We will give R40 000 for the cleansing ceremony today,” Dimbaza said.

“But we are not participating officially due to protocol as per Majodina’s instruction.”

Provincial department of sport, recreation, arts and culture spokesman Andile Nduna said: “There will be one event, taking place in King William’s Town.

“The KwaLanga Massacre organisers refused to be part of Human’s Right Day.”

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