A calculated risk that proved fatal: The Ciskei marchers saw themselves emulating Tiananmen protesters but did not expect a similar fate

Countdown to a massacre

2.30am: The Ciskei magistrates grant permission for the ANC to march to Bisho stadium but not beyond.

8.00am: Cyril Ramaphosa arrives and says marchers will not abide by a court order from the Ciskei government.

9.00am: Marchers start to gather in King William's Town. Ciskei troops already deployed in Bisho and on the border.

10.30am: Ramaphosa and other ANC leaders arrive to fire up their supporters ready for the march to Ciskei to occupy Bisho until Brigadier Oupa Gqozo surrenders power.

11.30am: About 70,000 marchers leave King William's Town.

12 noon: The marchers halt at the top of the first hill to regroup.

1pm: As they near the Ciskei border, some excited marchers start to break away.

1.15pm: Ramaphosa at the head of the march reaches the Ciskei border, closed by razor-wire. Several thousand demonstrators break away and head for Bisho stadium. About 200 spill out towards Bisho. The first few shots come from Ciskei troops close to the stadium; then a five- minute barrage from soldiers dispersed across several hundred yards overlooking the marchers.

WHEN the African National Congress Secretary-General, Cyril Ramaphosa, stepped from his flight to the Eastern Cape shortly before 8am on Monday, the front line for the coming confrontation between ANC supporters and the leadership of the Ciskei black 'homeland' had been set.

In the early hours a magistrate in Ciskei's capital, Bisho, had granted the ANC permission to march about 200 yards into the 'homeland' to a sports stadium, but no further. Mr Ramaphosa was asked what he thought. The ANC had stopped at the stadium when they marched in July to demand that Ciskei's military leader, Brigadier Oupa Gqozo, surrender power. This time, Mr Ramaphosa said, the ANC intended to carry out its threat to occupy Bisho.

Tensions had risen for days. The Ciskei military accused the ANC of smuggling in weapons to fuel an armed rebellion. Attempts by church leaders and others to mediate had failed, and the ANC was not going to be deterred by an order issued in the name of a government it - and almost no one else in the world - recognises.

Within an hour of Mr Ramaphosa's arrival in King William's Town, three miles from the Ciskei border, the first ANC supporters started gathering at the Victoria Park cricket ground. As usual, the diehard membership was fleshed out by the tentative and curious. The ANC marshals, always recognisable in their khaki outfits augmented by the black, green and gold of the movement, kept order.

The rally at the cricket ground was brief, before the marchers started up the main hill out of King William's Town led by Mr Ramaphosa. It was a long, largely uneventful slog toward Bisho under a blazing sun. Whites peered over their walls at the black mass. The South African army and police made sure of their weapons.

The marchers seemed as determined as their leaders. There was no way they were going to obey the despised 'homeland' government. They had not asked for permission from the puppet regime in Ciskei, and they were not going to abide by its rules. Comparisons were drawn. Did protesters in Tiananmen Square have permission? Did young Germans who scaled the Berlin Wall wait for approval? They, too, knew the risks. One group paid with their lives, the other started a revolution. Few on the Ciskei march expected their demonstration to have an ending comparable with Tiananmen.

It took close on an hour and a half for the 70,000-strong crowd to catch sight of the Ciskei border. As they closed in some of the young protesters started running. They leapt fences and pounded through the bush until ANC marshals brought them into line. The head of the march drew up at the razor-wire a few yards inside the Ciskei border. To the left stretched a path to Bisho stadium 150 yards away. Ciskei troops were dispersed below the stadium to the left, and along a ridge overlooking the road from the right. There were very few soldiers on the road itself. The South African police had disappeared.

Mr Ramaphosa stepped forward to talk over the razor-wire with members of the National Peace Secretariat, who were offering to act as shuttle diplomats with the Ciskei authorities. Excited and challenging, a large section of the marchers broke away and bolted towards the stadium. That was permitted under the court order. On the Bisho side of the stadium there was a large hole in the fence. An ANC national executive committee member, Ronnie Kasrils, led a few hundred through it to charge the town, the other side of the Ciskei troops. At that moment the court order was broken.

Brigadier Gqozo admitted there was no warning. He said his men were under attack and responded in kind. But even the South African government, which has blamed the ANC for the killings, has not accused it of firing first. Brigadier Gqozo's troops appear to have let loose as soon as the crowd spilt from the stadium. They had gone no more than 20 yards when the five-minute fusillade broke out, pausing only for a few seconds.

Leading article, page 18

News
Patrick Stewart in the classiest ice bucket to date
peopleSir Patrick took a more understated approach to the challenge
News
The current recommendation from Britain's Chief Medical Officer, is that people refrain from drinking on at least two days a week
scienceTheory is that hangovers are caused by methanol poisoning
Arts and Entertainment
tvWe have created an infogaphic that looks back over the previous incarnations of the Doctor
Sport
Olivier Giroud celebrates after his late goal saved Arsenal a point at Goodison Park
football Giroud rescues a point for Arsenal after they trailed by two goals
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
i100
News
newsComedian Lee Hurst started trend with first tweet using the hashtag
News
i100
News
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea was left red faced but, thankfully, unhurt after taking a few too many steps backwards, sending her tumbling off the stage.
people
Life and Style
A nearly completed RoboThespian robot inside the Engineered Arts workshop is tested in Penryn, England. The Cornish company, operating from an industrial unit near Falmouth, is the world's only maker of commercially available life sized humanoid robots
techSuper-intelligent robots could decide destroying the human race is the kindest thing to do
Life and Style
techConcept would see planes coated in layer of micro-sensors and able to sense wear and tear
News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
News
newsRyan Crighton goes in search of the capo dei capi
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
News
i100
Extras
indybest

Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Software Developer (Java /C# Programmer)- London

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A global investment management fi...

Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CCNP, Cisco, London)

£65000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(CCIE, CC...

Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, Cisco, CISSP)

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Analyst - (CCIE, C...

Senior Network Engineer-(Design, Implementation, CCIE)

£60000 - £80000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Senior Network Engineer-(Design, ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition