Northern areas residents never got justice

Many businesses were looted or destroyed during the riots that raged for days
Many businesses were looted or destroyed during the riots that raged for days
Image: Jack Cooper

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the start of what was undoubtedly the deadliest week for residents of Port Elizabeth’s northern areas.

What started out as a peaceful protest against evictions and high municipal rentals soon turned violent — and bloody.

Godfrey Ackley, one of the organisers of the Northern Areas Co-ordinating Committee which led the protest, said events took a turn when “trigger-happy” police opened fire.

Initially confined to the Bloemendal area, the protest soon morphed into full-blown riots spreading across the northern areas as far south as Korsten and Schauderville, with criminal elements looting and destroying property — shops, homes, vehicles, even a church — along the way, effectively blockading the northern areas for days.

The Herald’s sister publication at the time, Evening Post, put the death toll at 23 on August 9.

By the next day, its front page headline read “Uneasy calm as toll reaches 42”.

The final death toll has never been confirmed, but a memorial erected at the Paapenkuils Cemetery bears the names of 48 people. It does not include the names of all those who died — believed to be more than 50.

One man who lived in Gelvandale at the time described the violence as unbelievable.

“What happened yesterday makes the 1976 uprisings look like a Sunday picnic,” he told Evening Post.

“I saw shops being looted and razed to the ground, parents scolding children for not stealing more, people squabbling over stolen animal carcasses ...”

By the following week, estimates put the damage at about R100m.

Despite the enormity of this week and its lasting impact — both emotionally for those affected and financially for the businesses that never recovered — it is not commemorated annually on the same scale as other similar events around the country.

This has left northern areas communities feeling their struggles do not matter.

Daphne Neethling, who lost her husband, Clifford, that week, summed it up when relaying her story to The Herald on the 29th commemoration of the riots: “One thought lingers from time to time — will we ever see justice for that August slaughter which we can never forget?”

We hope that, by commemorating those who died in our newspaper today, we can change this narrative and kick-start a process of healing for those left behind.

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