Chaos in a place of sanctuary

I wrote this a few years ago and republish it every year. Lest we forget.

Today, 25 July, is 18 years since the St. James Massacre.

1993 was a dark and difficult time for South Africa. Bombs, attacks, APLA and the third force all trying their best to derail negotiations. Our transition was a miracle and relatively peaceful, but many innocent people still died violently.

Boipatong, Shell House, Heidelberg, the abortive AWB coup attempt in Bophuthatswana and the Jan Smuts airport bomb, all fomented fear.

St. James Church sticks in the consciousness.

It wasn’t a factional attack or one hoping to draw attention to grievances (the PAC denied it APLA was responsible for a long time).  The church had a multicultural congregation, made up of many races and different nationalities. The attack’s intention was not to make a statement, but just to cause sheer, destabilising terror.

11 people were killed and 58 were injured. Two brothers died trying to save others. A Russian sailor lost both his legs. A man who had been forced out of District 6 watched his wife bleed to death in front of him.

I remember it each year and still can’t comprehend it.

Sure, the APLA cadres apologised, rationalised and were granted amnesty by the TRC. One of the survivors, Charl Van Wyk, and Letlapa Mphahlele, the APLA Commander who ordered the attack, have even spoken at reconciliation events together.

But still, valid or not, all the reasons and explanations feel inadequate. They don’t really matter, they’re just vapour on a stain. A stain that fades but won’t go away.

One comment

  • knersis
    July 24, 2009 - 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Much like the Heidelberg Tavern then – senseless.

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