“At 5 p.m. an unmarked seven-ton railway truck, belonging to the South African Transport Services, slowly drives up Thornton Road,” wrote Richard Rive in the epigraph to part three of his semi-autobiographical novel, Emergency Continued.
“At the back are three wooden crates which each contains two policemen armed with shotguns, rounds of ammunition and tear-gas.
“The driver and the co-driver, also policemen, wear grey dust coats to create the impression that this is an ordinary delivery truck.
“At the corner of St Simon’s and Thornton Roads, youths stone the truck. Security forces then jump out of the box and open fire. Three people are killed instantly and many more are wounded.”
Those three people were named Michael Miranda (11), Jonathan Claasen (21), and Shaun Magmoed (15), and they were killed by members of the apartheid security forces on Tuesday, October 15, 1985.
The incident, which took place in Athlone, Cape Town, where security police and railway police worked together to quash a gathering of youth who were protesting against the apartheid government, has been immortalised as the ‘Trojan Horse Massacre‘.
In 1997, Ebrahim Rasool told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that the events of October 1985 symbolized the growing desperation of the apartheid government and this desperation lead to an increase of brutality in their response to unrest and protest within townships in the Western Cape.
On the next day, October 16, two youths in Crossroads, Mabhuti Fatman (20) and Mengxwane Mali (19) were also killed by security forces hidden in crates on the back of a truck.
“I think that what made the Trojan Horse killings not simply go unnoticed was the fact that it was captured by international cameras and was beamed to the world so that it could at that point already start to serve to strengthen the resolve of the international communities to the fight against apartheid,” said Rasool.
Rasool told the TRC that although he was not at the scene of the shooting when it happened, news of the incident spread quickly, “It was a sense that the massacre of children had taken place in Thornton Road and that the police had brought about this killing by disguising themselves.”
According to common consensus, the truck carrying the apartheid security forces made several trips up and down Thornton Road without being stoned and when stones were eventually thrown, “the police then emerged from crates, started shooting in all directions and then followed some of the fleeing people into the surrounding houses.”
Despite international outcry, the police defended the ambush and their use of live ammunition by saying that it was a necessary technique to protect the public from stone-throwers.
A CBS news film crew captured four minutes of footage that shows how the ‘Trojan Horse’ shooting unfolded. Chris Everson, one of the CBS crewmen said: “It was like the Third World War. A tremendous amount of shooting.” In total, 39 rounds were fired, according to the LA Times.
An inquest was launched in March 1988 to investigate the actions of the police. The magistrate ruled that the police had acted unacceptably and thirteen men – 11 police officers and two soldiers – were charged with the incident. Magistrate G Hoffman concluded that frustrated policemen devised the ambush “to teach these youths a lesson.”
However, the Attorney General of Cape Town, Daniel Rossouw refused to prosecute saying: “We decided there was no reasonable expectation of a criminal court finding anyone guilty here.” His decision was supported by then Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee.
The families of the victims, Magmoed and Miranda, launched what was then South Africa’s first private prosecution but the accused men were acquitted in 1989, according to a 1997 SAPA report.
The families of Magmoed and Miranda took the case to court in South Africa’s first private prosecution but failed to win a conviction.
On Heritage Day in 2005, the Trojan Horse Memorial was unveiled in Athlone to commemorate Michael Miranda, Jonathan Claasen, and Shaun Magmoed who lost their lives and the 11 people who were injured on October 15, 1985.
Watch the CBS footage of the Trojan Horse Massacre below:
Picture: screenshot from video