In the dying years of the old apartheid regime, negotiations were ongoing between the various factions and groupings seeking to form a democratic future for South Africa. Things were tense; the strict apartheid laws that had restricted access to cities and towns for blacks were relaxed. There was an influx of people into the cities and towns and Pretoria experienced a steep increase in street-children. These were children who had left their homes and found some sort of life and living on the streets.
In 1992, just a week before the whites were to go to a referendum to approve ongoing negotiations, tensions were running high in the country. There had been massacres and third force atrocities committed by police death squads and their proxies.
In Sunnyside, Pretoria, a shelter for street children at the Elim Church had been set-up. It was place where street children could get a meal, have a shower and get some sleep. The man who ran the night shelter was Jeremy Kruger. At least 30 youth slept in the loft at the back of the Church hall every night. On this day, a Thursday in 1992, Jeremy left the Church at around 8pm and the kids settled-in for the night with a volunteer adult in nominal charge.
At around midnight what some say was a grenade and what other claim was a gas bottle was tossed into the loft and exploded. Seven young boys died in that explosion and fire. One of the survivors of the attack, William Mosehla recalls the terror, the carnage, the fire and the deaths of his friends. He has worked to bring justice and closure ever since.
I began working with the survivors some three years later when I took over as Branch Manager for Streetwise, a non-governmental organization working with children living and working on the streets. The post-traumatic effects were still evident in the survivors who were now young men. We started Nkululeku Street Co-operative among the survivors and made drinking yoghurt in a converted ship’s container (The Dairytainer) at the old Sunnyside public swimming pool which we rented from the city council for one rand per year. We sold the drinking yoghurt around town and to primary schools in Mamelodi, the nearby township as part of the local school feeding scheme. It was the first time the survivors had had a real job and owned anything.
As part of the work, we spent many hours with the survivors listening to their stories of the Elim Church massacre and they also told their story to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Nothing came of it. We suspect that one of the killers was an off-duty police reservist who later relocated to the Vaal triangle and it seems has now emigrated. Charges were never successfully brought against him.
Today I want to honour the victims and survivors of this vicious and unwarranted attack upon defenceless youth sleeping at the Elim Church in Sunnyside, Pretoria. The victims were then, too poor or abused to live at home, too black to vote, too young to understand and too asleep to be any threat to anyone.
– Douglas Racionzer (a collections of Doug’s histories can be found at http://serendipiday.blogspot.