This is me at age 18. I am dead, at peace. If you could see through wood, you would see me lying in my coffin with the faintest trace of a smile on my face. Now, if you were very observant you would notice the single bullet hole through my temple, which was the cause of my death. How did I get here, you ask? Well…
My name is Ghofiri. I was born on January 29, 1934; this is me at age 3. I am a native black African living in Welkom, South Africa. I live with Father and my older brother, Gahiji. Mother died giving birth to me, and so I never really knew her; but both Father and Gahiji say I look a lot like her.
1942. This was me in the confines of my family’s area in the reserve, I was 8. It was always crowded; filled with only black people, my people. We were not allowed to live outside these reserves nor go outside without a permit at night. I rarely went out, there was nothing to do. We didn’t have the money that I could spend as I wish, in or outside the reserves.
Father has to work for the whites because the lack of space in the reserves made it impossible to get enough food or money. He never complains but I know how tired he is. Gahiji helps out too. Because I couldn’t but wanted to help, I do simple errands around the reservation for minimal wages. Father says it’s okay and to just focus on my studies.
I learn with Abla, a respected elder in the reservation. Because she is old, no whites would hire her anymore so instead she teaches kids in the reservation in return for some food. She teaches us how to read and write and the ways of the world. She taught me how to open my eyes and look at the world from a different perspective. She is almost like a mother to me, taking care of me when Father and Gahiji couldn’t.
One day, she took us where we’ve never been before, to the fields where many of our parents and older siblings were working in, including Father and Gahiji. It was there I first saw the conditions my people were working in, and for such a low pay. I was shocked. It was 1945 then, I was 11.
What I saw changed me forever. No wonder Father didn’t want me to go with him to the fields, no wonder he was so tired, no wonder Gahiji complained a lot. There were many blacks in each row of the huge fields, they were working nonstop in the hot sun and even if one so much as stops to wipe of sweat, they would be screamed at, hit or even whipped.
That day, I talked to Father amidst my rage and confusion. He needed the work and there was nothing he could do, he would just have to continue to work in those harsh conditions and Gahiji included. I couldn’t accept it, it wasn’t right; my people deserved better. I have never felt that helpless before and on that same day, I vowed I would do something to change it.
The next 7 years, I spend studying hard with Abla. I could now read and write fluently and I too have started working in the fields. I am now sharing the burden all blacks are suffering, but I too, don’t complain. I take it all, but that doesn’t mean I accept it. Quite the contrary.
Every day after working in the fields, I go back to the reservation and to Abla’s house. There, I am met by a few people my age, all of whom simply cannot accept this chain that is locking us in place and are willing to fight against it. We meet here every other day, discussing ways to fight against this invisible prison. I was 18
That same year, we heard talk about demonstrations in Bloemfontein. From that, we got more information about the demonstration and 5 of us decided to go, among them was Gahiji. The demonstrations were in support of the defiance campaign against unjust laws, which was precisely the chain shackling us. It was to be led by the ANC. (African national congress) in December.
Luckily, Bloemfontein wasn’t too far from Welkom and we were able to organize a way to get there without many difficulties. The months leading up to the demonstration were very exciting for us 5, we were plenty nervous and scared, but more than that, we were determined. Of course, Abla would be going too. Father protested at first, but when he saw how determined I was, he let me go.
April 6, 1952. There were many people at the demonstrations, around 10,000 of my people stood there beside in other, fearful but determined as we protested against the unjust apartheid laws. I had goose bumps standing there among the sea of black skin, listening to the public statements about our rights. Though I was scared, I have never been prouder to stand amongst my people.
Halfway through the demonstrations, the Bloemfontein Police broke though the crowd and white cut through black. We split up, running away as fast as possible. Standing on a hill overlooking where we were gathered, united a minute ago, I saw all the demonstrators who had not escaped get beaten up, before being dragged to prison. Among them was Abla.
I was aghast. 6 of us came but only 3 would be going back, 3 would be in prison in the mercy of the whites. I wanted to stay and find a way to free them but Gahiji insisted and dragged me back. That week, the 3 of us gathered in the empty house of Abla, but rather than being sad, we were mad. Mad at the whites, mad at the unjust laws and mad at ourselves for not being able to do anything.
A week later, a message came from the prison; Abla was dead. I was devastated. Her death hit me harder than anything and I just couldn’t accept it. Abla was like my mother, and now she was gone. I couldn’t remember the day when I heard the news well, just a bloodied fist from hitting the wall and the tears.
I was driven into depression for a few weeks after that but a further message from the prison jolted me out of it. Two of my friends were still there, and I would get them out if it was the last thing I did. They reported harsh conditions which filled out 3 papers, I replied with two sentences, I will get you out my friends, I swear on the name of Abla.
All the while, I kept in contact with the campaign that carried on, it wasn’t only me who were trying to free the people who were imprisoned. More than 8500 of my people were imprisoned for peacefully refusing to obey laws, but we all believed we had rights and we fought for it. There was nothing wrong about that.
June 16, 1952; I went down to Bloemfontein again despite Father’s protests. I met up with a group of people who were also at the demonstrations a few months back and together, we went to the prison and demanded they free our friends and kin. They refused and so we fought. Then a single gunshot rang out, I felt shearing pain and before my eyes closed, I saw my two friends run past me with tears in their eyes.
And so, here we are again. This is the reason for the bullet hole through my temple and for me dying at a young age. Now, the smile? I found out that after I died, things slowly improved. The demonstrations still continued and my people were still fighting for our rights. We broke free of our shackles in 1994 and the day I died became South Africa’s freedom day.