Choosing the Rebel Tour

A visitor to Cape Town takes an alternative look at South Africa's recent past

"We remained unemployed not because we didn't want to work, but we didn't have the skills necessary for a satisfactory job," Thabo said. "We had participated in the struggle from the time we were 13, 14, 15, 16. When we should have been in school, we took up arms."

WECAT was founded in 1997 to address the hopelessness that faced former MK guerrillas. Its Survivor Support Initiatives are directed at using tourism and education programs to promote job creation and training in the most impoverished townships.

"We want to use our history as a tool to teach the youngsters," said Thabo, a WECAT co-founder. "We try and give you something the tourism board doesn't normally talk about. They don't talk about it because they don't know."

Remembering the martyrs

Back in the van, Desmond drove us southeast toward the Cape Flats. We passed through the last white suburb before the townships. It was pointed out how the walls outside the homes got higher and higher as we closed in. There was barbed wire everywhere.

We passed the power plant that was used by the former government as a border between white and black neighborhoods. The road divided more than just the affluent suburb of Pinelands from the poor township of Athlone. During the apartheid years, "there was no going across that line," Thabo said, "not even for a visit."

Declared a mixed-race or "colored" area in 1936, Athlone was our first stop in the Cape Flats, and Desmond parked in an empty lot next to a roadside exhaust shop. Today this township functions as the commercial and social center of the Cape Flats.

We piled out of the van and were addressed by Vuyani, who had been mostly quiet until now. In deferential silence, we listened to his story of the "Trojan Horse Massacre," which happened here in Athlone, during a time of unrest after the apartheid government had declared a state of emergency.

"They sent police into places of worship and schools," said Vuyani. There were two officers, armed with guns, assigned to each classroom. In response the students organized a boycott and took to the streets. "This is one of those streets," Vuyani said, pointing in front of us to Thornton Road.

An unmarked railroad truck with wooden crates in the back drove past the marching students. It passed once, Vuyani said, and back again. A child threw a rock, and the wooden crates flung open. Police jumped out and began using live ammunition. Three children were killed. "Their names are on the wall over there," Vuyani said.

The crude memorial was across the street on a cement wall in faded spray paint: "Remember--The Trojan Horse Massacre: Shaun, Michael, Jonathan--1985." Years later the men who pulled the triggers were granted amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

We also learned about another former MK soldier killed in Athlone. His name was Anton Fransch, and he was also mentioned in Krog's seminal book on the TRC. "I knew him very well," Vuyani said. "He was killed 500 meters from here."

Along with Yazir Henry, Fransch had infiltrated from Angola back into South Africa. In Country of My Skull, Henry tearfully told Archbishop Desmond Tutu how South African police showed up at his front door one day, with a gun to his father's head. Yazir was arrested, beaten and ultimately coerced into revealing the whereabouts of his colleague Fransch. Police then swarmed the home and killed Fransch using a grenade, while Henry was forced to watch.

"Our coming here," said Vuyani, his gentle voice cracking, "is to honor those who sacrificed their lives for our country to be free." With tears in his eyes, he excused himself and walked away, head bowed.

During the afternoon tour, we visited makeshift memorials and other sites of interest in three more townships: Langa, the oldest black township in Cape Town, established in 1927; Guguletu, where seven young men ("The Guguletu Seven" from Country of My Skull) suspected of being MK were killed by apartheid security operatives in 1976; and the infamous Crossroads, formerly a stronghold for ANC guerrillas. "This used to be Death Row," Thabo said.

A cordial reception

The townships were not much different from any other Third World shantytowns, with tin shacks, garbage-strewn streets and wandering livestock. But what's shocking about South African townships is their close proximity to such wealth. Travel back down the road and you're in the land of swimming pools, tennis courts and BMWs.

Still the people in the Cape Flats were very friendly. As we stood outside Pinky's Restaurant in Guguletu, a bubbly older woman named Margaret, who ran a small shack-like store, called me over and introduced herself. She asked a favor. "Will you take my picture?" she said. "I want to be photographed by a white person."

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