“I Saw a Nightmare…”
Doing Violence to Memory: The Soweto Uprising, June 16, 1976
by Helena Pohlandt-McCormick
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Testimony before the Cillié Commission: Matthew Boyi Manyana

Reporter, Rand Daily Mail, on assignment in Soweto on 17 June 1976
September 1976


Advocate Van Graan:
And were you assigned to cover events in Soweto on the 17th?

Mr. Manyana:
Yes, but with specific reference to the Orlando Police Station.

[…]

With me was this colleague who has since joined our morning group newspaper.

Van Graan:
Who was the colleague?

Manyana:
In Port Elizabeth. Zwelake Sisulu.

[…]

I was driving at the time and as we moved along the Soweto highway about 15 kilometres from town, there was this group of people who I later inferred was thugs, accosting motorists returning home.

Van Graan:
Did they only warn White people or some Black people too?

Manyana:
Well, at the time it was predominantly African people, motorists who had formed this convoy way back home and these various groups carried all sorts of weapons ranging from knives, broken bottles as well as stones. As we were moving along we were forced to make this Black Power sign as a passport to safety, I will put it that way, because those who failed to do as ordered would be stoned, that goes for the vehicles as well.

Van Graan:
What was the time more or less at that stage?

Manyana:
That was about 6 o'clock.

Van Graan:
Proceed.

Manyana:
From time to time motorists would be stopped during which money would be demanded by these various gangs. I happened to be the victim of this robbery when two youths walked up to our car, while others stood in front of it. One placed this knife against my chest while the other thrust it against my throat. While I was busy going through my wallet which contained R1 notes as well as R5 notes, trying to find out if I could come across some silver, the one man nearest to me snatched the wallet. I saw other people being robbed at the time and as we moved along the whole experience became more frightening because various groups would come to us, with what they called donations for the kids who had died. Well, the colleague of mine parted with 50 cents, yet earlier before the actual robbery on me, we had parted with some money, 50 cents each. Well, it went on like that and sometimes travelling along was virtually impossible for some people lay in the middle of the street to make sure that motorists were unable to drive on.

Van Graan:
These kids who were demanding the money, were they scholars [school students]?

Manyana:
Obviously not.

Van Graan:
Why do you say obviously not?

Manyana:
Judging by the manner in which they were dressed. And I would like to point out it was not only them alone, there were grownups as well. The ages could range between 21 to 26.

[…]

We were at the [Orlando] police station at about 6:45, I am not certain about this time…

Van Graan:
Can you give the Chairman a description of your experience there during the night of the 17th?

Manyana:
We had parked our car almost directly opposite teh police station, the charge office entrance. Whilst still seated in this car, a number of people were being brought inside the place, both Black and White in camouflage kit. Some of these people appeared to be limping and others seemed to have been wounded in the legs… At that stage as they were moving into the charge-office, others struggled, they were moving in obvious difficulty because of pain I assume, they had to lean on others for support… They were being escorted by policemen.

Van Graan:
Did you get the impression that they were arrested?

Manyana:
Yes, because at one stage those who had not been severely injured, were forced to run, literally run as they walked, as they moved in pairs into the charge office… Later towards—as the night wore on, a group of about 20 youths were also led to the charge office. They looked scared at the time. They were running into the charge office… It would have been about 9:30… 10 o'clock at night. They were running in pairs. The police kept assaulting them with batons… About 6 to 8 policemen… Africans and Whites… After some time the same group of youths were taken out of the charge office and led to an open ground nearby where next to shich about 8 corpses were lying uncovered… In the process they were forced to hop for about 20 mintutes.

Van Graan:
What do you mean by hop? Doing exercises?

Manyana:
Well, it could be both I think. They were hopping there, they were forced to hop for about 20 minutes and while they were doing so, police would assault them and I heard a policeman say: Yes, this is Black Power, this is Black Power.

Van Graan:
In what way did the policemen …
Chairman [intervenes]:
Wait a minute. Where were the corpses? On open ground?

Manyana:
Yes, on the ground just near the entrance to the charge office.

Chairman:
Inside the charge office?

Manyana:
No, outside the charge office.

Chairman:
Had you seen these bodies before?

Manyana:
When we drove in I had seen them.

Chairman:
Were they covered?

Manyana:
They were uncovered.

Chairman:
What had to be done with them? These 20 youngsters came out and they had to do what?

Manyana:
To hop in this way, they kept jumping up and down.

Chairman:
What did they have to do with the corpses?

Manyana:
The corpses were still lying there at the time. After hopping fro about 20 minutes, they were ordered back into the charge office. At a later stage a mortuary van came and by that time corpses had piled up.

Chairman:
They were taken out and shown the corpses?

Manyana:
No.

Chairman:
These youngsters.

Manyana:
No, they were not shown the corpses. They were forced to hop, jump, do some exercises as the Prosecutor had said.

Chairman:
Oh, I see. This had nothing to do with the corpses?

Manyana:
Not at that stage.
Advocate Van Graan:
M'Lord, I just want to remind Mr. Manyana that I am not a Prosecutor.

Manyana:
I beg your pardon.

Van Graan:
Do you think that the policemen took the children deliberately to that place or scene where the corpses lay down?

Manyana:
Well, I cannot do the thinking for the policemen; it could have been otherwise.

Van Graan:
But what was your impression?

Manyana:
Perhaps to punish them. I do not know. That was the impression I gathered. Because it was cold at that time, it was in the middle of winter.

Van Graan:
In what way did the policemen assault the children?

Manyana:
Beating them up with batons and rubber hoses almost indiscriminately about the body.

Van Graan:
How many policemen were there?

Manyana:
There were quite a number of them. There could have been 6 or 4.

Van Graan:
Could you see if they were Black or White policemen?

Manyana:
The policemen seemed to carry out this operation severely, these were the Black cops.

Chairman:
Were they Black?

Manyana:
Yes, the Black policemen.
Advocate Van Graan:
And when did they enter the charge office again?

Manyana:
After they had hopped for about 20 minutes.

Van Graan:
Yes.

Manyana:
That is when this mortuary vehicle arrived.

Van Graan:
So what was the time at that stage then?

Manyana:
It could have been just before midnight or just after midnight.

Van Graan:
Was it possible for you to hear these policemen discuss some things there?

Manyana:
No, it is just for the noise, no, I could not hear what was being discussed, except for people who were screaming almost throughout the time I had been there… People were screaming in the charge office and I could hear sounds like those of these—while these people screamed and at that stage I heard someone say:< "Ja, moer hom, moer hom."

Van Graan:
Did a mortuary van arrive during the night of the 17th to remove the bodies?

Manyana:
It could have been on the night of the 17th or just after midnight when the vehicle arrived.

[Then] … the same group of 20 youngsters was taken out of the police station for the second time to do the hopping exercise again.… By that time bodies which had been lying on the ground uncovered, I mean the figure for the bodies had increased.

Van Graan:
Yes, and then?

Manyana:
After these youths had exercised, it could have been for another 20 minutes, they were ordered back into the charge office and almost immediately out again to load these corpses onto the waiting mortuary van.

Van Graan:
Who instructed them to carry the corpse to the van?

Manyana:
The police.

Van Graan:
Could it have been the driver of the mortuary van?

Manyana:
Well, the driver of the mortuary van who was clad in a white dustcoat was standing nearby, near the van at the back of the van after the rear doors had been opened… I did not actually count the bodies, but I could observe there were about 15 bodies at the time.

Van Graan:
No further questions, M'Lord.

Manyana:
While the bodies were being loaded, the mortuary van driver kept kicking the youths. There were 4 youths to one body. Two would carry the corpse from the front and others holding—and two others holding the legs and they literally dumped each body into the mortuary van. The attendant who was the driver, who was wearing a white dustcoat, would punch these youths and kick them. The whole experience was quite frightening to me.

Chairman:
Did you write a report for your newspaper about it, or did you give information?

Manyana:
I wrote the report, that is myself and Zwelake Sisulu, but we could not mention everything in this report… No, we kept parked on that spot almost throughout the night and the morning.

Chairman:
Did you see you saw the Black policemen who ordered them to carry the bodies. Is that correct? To load the bodies into the mortuary van. Is that correct?

Manyana:
I saw the police. I do not think I made any specific reference as to the nationality of the police who ordered the youths to carry the bodies.

Chairman:
Who did it?

Manyana:
It could have been both Black and White cops, but they were the policemen who had ordered them.

Chairman:
Sorry, I do not not [sic] quite understand you. Who did you see actually ordering them to pick up the bodies and put them in the van?

Manyana:
The policemen.

Chairman:
The police?

Manyana:
Yes.

Chairman:
Were they Black or White?

Manyana:
I do not remember whether they were Black or White, but they are the policemen, that I can remember with precision (?).[sic]

Chairman:
… Can you remember at the time of the loading whether you saw any police officers there?

Manyana:
There were police officers at the time of the loading.

Chairman:
Were there White police officers?

Manyana:
I think when we mentioned police officers walking past, those police officers had nothing to do with the ordering of the loading of the bodies into the mortuary van. I mean so many incidents were happening at the time when these corpses were being loaded into this van. Almost simultaneously people were screaming from time to time inside the charge office.

Chairman:
Inside?

Manyana:
In the charge office, yes.

Chairman:
This is so important a statement, I cannot understand why it was left out of the report that people were screaming inside and only this once incident was referred to …… [This witness spoke very indistinctly.]

Source: Matthew Boyi Manyana, testimony, September 1976, SAB K345, vol. 140, file 2/3, part 3; Commission vol. 14, pp. 551 ff.