‘Had police kept back, there would be no August 6 to commemorate’

Godfrey Ackley, the organiser of a peaceful protest against rental increases in the northern areas on that fateful day — August 6 1990 — sits in the quad at Chatty Senior Secondary School. He said heavy-handed police action to disperse the protesters triggered a wave of violence which claimed at least 50 lives and injured hundreds of others.
Godfrey Ackley, the organiser of a peaceful protest against rental increases in the northern areas on that fateful day — August 6 1990 — sits in the quad at Chatty Senior Secondary School. He said heavy-handed police action to disperse the protesters triggered a wave of violence which claimed at least 50 lives and injured hundreds of others.
Image: EUGENE COETZEE

As Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk held peace talks that ended in the signing of the Pretoria Minute on August 6 1990, violent protests erupted in Port Elizabeth’s northern areas.

Thirty years on, the events of that week still haunt Godfrey Ackley, the organiser of a peaceful protest against rental increases.

More than 50 people died after police opened fire at a meeting after the march.

The uprising continued for five days. Normality set in on the sixth.

Ackley, of Jacksonville, said residents had decided to protest against high rentals, evictions and the disconnection of electricity after a meeting of the Chatty Action Committee on July 15, 1990.

At the meeting at the Chatty Senior Secondary school, they also demanded that ownership of the houses they rented from the municipality be transferred to them.

“Then there was the Northern Areas Youth Congress.

“They said, because Mandela was released, all political prisoners should be released and exiles should return home.

“They also rejected the Tricameral system (the practice of having three legislative or parliamentary chambers) because they were not elected by the people.”

Ackley — 28 at the time — was elected to drive the process.

He and other members of the organising committee and the Northern Areas Co-ordinating Committee met the chief magistrate, the police’s security branch and the traffic department and received written permission for the march.

August 6, a Monday, was chosen.

We peacefully gathered at the starting point in Brass Street in Chatty. Residents joined in dribs and drabs. As I said, it was peaceful

“We peacefully gathered at the starting point in Brass Street in Chatty.

“Residents joined in dribs and drabs.

“As I said, it was peaceful. We started the march at about 9.15am.”

Ackley said it was a normal day and children were at school.

“We did not tell anyone to stay home from work but because the workers at Eveready had embarked on a strike they joined the march as well as learners of the Chatty Senior Secondary School.

“There were lots of people. We did not expect that many people.

“I’d say the whole northern areas joined because it was a burning issue.”

After the memorandum was handed to then town clerk, PK Botha, director of housing Andrew Gibbon, and manager of the rental office, James Warner, the protesters were blocked in Bertram Road by a Casspir.

Ackley showed the police the document that gave them permission to protest until 11.30am.

After the Casspir left they continued their march to the sports field adjacent to the Greenville Primary School and the Chatty Secondary School to be addressed by the Northern Areas Co-ordinating Committee.

At the sports field, the late Reverend Jacob Alberts opened the gathering with a prayer.

There were several speakers. While Ackley was concluding the meeting, three Casspirs drove onto the field and blocked two of the three exits.

I went to the captain and told him we were busy concluding the gathering and we were well within the time frame given.“He answered that he didn’t have time to listen to me and gave us five minutes to disperse

“I went to the captain and told him we were busy concluding the gathering and we were well within the time frame given.

“He answered that he didn’t have time to listen to me and gave us five minutes to disperse.

But, Ackley said, instead of five minutes the captain counted “one, two, three, four five” and then the shots went off.

“I was still standing with him and two of his police officers came and arrested me right there.

“There was teargas. The young people from Basson Street behind the field started throwing stones onto the field.

“The women rolled on the grass.

“There were lots of pregnant women and senior citizens.

“It was ugly to see how cruelly the police started shooting at us.”

Ackley was taken to the Struandale Police Station and later told Bloemendal was burning.

He was released after three days and assisted at the emergency centre set up in West End.

“I did duties there like picking up bodies in Helenvale.

“It wasn’t a pretty sight.”

August 6 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the start of what was undoubtedly the deadliest week for residents of Port Elizabeth’s northern areas.

He said the police were trigger-happy.

He was also saddened that businesses were destroyed by criminals who used the uprising to loot and destroy.

“If the police did not come onto the field on 6 August, then there [would be] no 6 August to commemorate today.

“I put the blame on the government of that day.”

There was no recourse for the relatives of the victims, he said.

Ackley said he spoke to the former presidents Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma and all Nelson Mandela Bay mayors about recognition for the victims but nothing happened.

He said he wanted President Cyril Ramaphosa to consider setting aside the month of August to commemorate the victims.

- HeraldLIVE


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