Posts filed under 'South Africa'
February 10th, 2017
(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)
On this date in 1956, Zulu witch doctor Elifasi Msomi was executed in at Pretoria Central Prison in South Africa for the murders of fifteen people.
The devil made him do it, he said. Or, rather, Tokoloshe, an evil spirit in Zulu folklore.
Msomi had not been successful in earning a living at witch-doctoring, so he consulted an experienced colleague for advice. According to Msomi, the man introduced him to Tokoloshe and said, “Get me the blood of 15 people.”
Over the next year and a half, Msomi stalked KwaZulu Natal, slaughtering victims as the demon pointed them out, and collecting their blood in bottles. He would attack them with a knife, hatchet or knobkierie after luring them to an isolated area.
The first victim was a young girl. To prove to the demon just how dedicated and obedient he was, Msomi hacked his victim to death in front of his girlfriend. Tokoloshe was delighted, but the girlfriend was horrified. She went straight to the cops and had Msomi arrested. Then he escaped from custody … with Tokoloshe’s help, he said.
Msomi followed up on his first act by slaying five children. In April 1955, he was linked to multiple murders and arrested again, but again he escaped and picked up where he’d left off.
In his book Murder By Numbers: The 100 Most Deadly Serial Killers From Around The World, Robert Keller says,
Serial killers seldom stop killing of their own accord, but that is exactly what happened with Elifasi Msomi. Having collected the blood of his fifteenth young victim, he said that Tokoloshe thanked him for his service, then bathed with him in the river before they parted company.
Without Tokoloshe to help him anymore, Msomi soon came to police attention again when he was arrested for petty theft. In custody once more, he freely confessed to the murders and led authorities to some bodies, but he said he wasn’t responsible for his actions and was only following Tokoloshe’s orders.
There was, however, the problematic fact that he had raped some of his victims and robbed others; Tokoloshe hadn’t requested THAT. At the trial, two psychologists testified that Msomi was very intelligent and got sexual pleasure by causing pain to other people.
Writing of this case in Real Vampires, Night Stalkers and Creatures from the Darkside, Brad Steiger says,
Such was the reputation of the witch doctor’s power of channeling the Tokoloshe that prison officials granted permission to a deputation of tribal chiefs and elders to view Msomi after he had been hanged on February 10, 1956. These men were thus able to return to their respective tribes and proclaim that the witch doctor was really dead and that Tokoloshe had left him to seek out another host body.
On this day..
- 1854: John Tapner, the last hanged on Guernsey - 2016
- 1945: Anacleto Diaz, Philippines Supreme Court Justice - 2015
- 1973: Tom Masaba, Sebastino Namirundu, and 10 other Uganda Fronsana rebels - 2014
- 1892: Four anarchists in Jerez - 2013
- 1794: Jacques Roux, the Red Priest, cheats the guillotine - 2012
- 2011: Rashid al Rashidi, Mousa mosque murderer - 2011
- 1952: Liu Qingshan and Zhang Zishan, the first corruption executions in Red China - 2010
- 1956: Wilbert Coffin - 2009
- 1905: Samuel McCue, mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia - 2008
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,Murder,Other Voices,Rape,Serial Killers,South Africa,The Supernatural
Tags: 1950s, 1956, elifasi msomi, february 10, pretoria, pretoria central prison, tokoloshe
August 19th, 2015
On this date in 1901, Petrus Jacobus Fourie, Jan van Rensburg, and Lodewyk Francois Stephanus Pfeiffer were shot by the British at Graaff-Reinet.
They were among the numerous subjects of the British Cape Colony whose sympathy with the independent Boer republics which Britain was in the process of conquering extended so far as aiding their Dutch brethren’s resistance. In this case, the young men joined the famed Boer guerrilla Gideon Scheepers — and whatever one might say about the fuzziness of ethnic and national identity in a frontier region, this rated in London’s eyes as rebellion.
On July 6, 1901, Scheepers executed a raid on the town of Murraysburg — “Scheepersburg”, he called it — and put loyalist houses to the torch.
The British Gen. John French sent columns of men into the rugged Camdeboo Mountains in an effort to trap the irksome commando. Scheepers and most of his troop of about 240 men escaped, but about 27 or 28 Cape Colony rebels were captured (along with a few free staters, who could not be charged as rebels).
A particularly revolting incident happened in the execution of the three who were shot. This was, that the firing parties were a body of ten men, five with ball, and five with blank cartridges. After the word “present,” which brings the rifle to the shoulder, one of them “‘pulled off” before the command “fire” was given, and the bullet blew off the top of one man’s head.
-British guard Wilfrid H. Harrison in his Memoirs of a Socialist in South Africa
Eight of these people were executed as rebels over the ensuing weeks, with the aid of Jan Momberg, one of their erstwhile mates who turned Crown’s evidence against them to save his own life.
After Fourie, van Rensburg and Pfeiffer were shot on Aug. 19, Ignatius Nel and Daniel Olwagen — both teenagers — died at Graaff-Reinet on August 26; and, Hendrik van Vuuren, Fredrick Toy and Hendrik Veenstra were shot at Colesberg on September 4.
Though the British made an effort to obscure the final resting-places of these potential martyr figures, their graves were located. Fourie, van Rensburg and Pfeiffer, along with Ignatius Nel and Daniel Olwagen, are among the men subsequently exhumed and placed in a collective grave. A monument in Graaff-Reinet honors these and three other guerrillas executed there … one of whom is Gideon Scheepers himself, who was captured in October of 1901 and executed the following January.
There’s a good deal more about Scheeper’s rebels, and these men in particular, in a two-part article by a descendant of van Rensburg here: part 1 | part 2.
On this day..
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Soldiers,South Africa,Treason,Wartime Executions
Tags: 1900s, 1901, august 19, gideon scheepers, graaff-reinet, jan van rensburg, lodewyk pfeiffer, petrus fourie
November 6th, 2014
On this date in 1964, anti-apartheid fighters Vuyisile Mini, Zinakile Mkaba and Wilson Khayingo went to the gallows of Pretoria Central Prison — the first three members of the African National Congress’s military arm to be executed by apartheid South Africa.
In 1960, on the 21st of March — a date still kept as South Africa’s Human Rights Day, and worldwide as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination — white police gunned down 69 black civilians protesting the color line.
After the Sharpeville Massacre the struggle over racial apartheid in South Africa escalated to a much more violent plane.
Confrontations throughout South Africa following Sharpeville led the white government to declare a state of emergency and begin rounding up thousands of regime opponents. Pretoria also immediately outlaws the leading black resistance organizations, the Pan Africanist Congress and the African National Congress.
Driven underground, both PAC and ANC spun off military wings in 1961 to meet force with force.
We have already visited the “Langa Six”, members of the PAC’s Poqo.
Shortly thereafter, on December 16, Umkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation” in Zulu, but better known simply as “MK”) announced its advent with placards in city streets.
The time comes in the life of any people when there remain two choices: to submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We will not submit but will fight back with all means at our disposal in defence of our rights, our people and our freedom.
MK conducted its first dynamite attacks that very evening in Port Elizabeth; over the ensuing 18 months, it carried out more than 200 bombings and other acts of sabotage against the facilities of the apartheid state: train tracks, power stations, telephone wires, offices.
A security crackdown naturally ensued.* By 1963, the white government had managed to expose and arrest three-quarters of MK’s regional Eastern Cape High Command. Vuyisile Mini, Wilson Khayingo, and Zinakile Mkaba were all swiftly condemned on multiple counts of sabotage plus one of murdering a police informant. International appeals for clemency fell on deaf ears; one fellow-traveler later remembered the men taking leave of their fellow-prisoners in a haunting song.**
“The last evening was devastatingly sad as the heroic occupants of the death cells communicated to the prison in gentle melancholy song that their end was near … It was late at night when the singing ceased, and the prison fell into uneasy silence. I was already awake when the singing began again in the early morning. Once again the excruciatingly beautiful music floated through the barred windows, echoing round the brick exercise yard, losing itself in the vast prison yards. And then, unexpectedly, the voice of Vuyisile Mini came roaring down the hushed passages. Evidently standing on a stool, with his face reaching up to a barred vent in his cell, his unmistakable bass voice was enunciating his final message in Xhosa to the world he was leaving. In a voice charged with emotion but stubbornly defiant he spoke of the struggle waged by the African National Congress and of his absolute conviction of the victory to come. And then it was Khayinga’s turn, followed by Mkaba, as they too defied all prison rules to shout out their valedictions. Soon after, I heard the door of their cell being opened. Murmuring voices reached my straining ears, and then the three martyrs broke into a final poignant melody which seemed to fill the whole prison with sound and then gradually faded away into the distant depths of the condemned section.
* It was during this crackdown that future president Nelson Mandela was rolled up. Mandela had helped to found MK.
** According to The Road to Democracy in South Africa, 1960-1970, the song was Mini’s own composition titled “Pasop — nants’in-dod’inyama, Verwoerd” (“Watch out, here is the African man, Verwoerd!”). If it is available online, I have not been able to find it.
On this day..
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Murder,Revolutionaries,South Africa,Terrorists
Tags: 1960s, 1964, african national congress, apartheid, november 6, pretoria, pretoria central prison, racism, umkhonto we sizwe, viyusile mini, wilson khayingo, zinakile mkaba
November 17th, 2013
RAND MINING RECOVERY.
LOWER WORKING COSTS.
(From our correspondent.)
JOHANNESBURG, Oct. 28. The Rand Daily Mail, in an article dealing with the economic situation of the Union, gives striking figures illustrating the steady advance of the gold industry on the march towards prosperity.
Profits for the July-September quarter show an increase of £1,136,000 over the previous quarter. This has been accomplihed not only by lowering wages, but by all-round improvement in efficiency per unit, mining costs having fallen from 25s. 8d. in 1921 to 20s. 5d. in September, 1922 …
[T]he Rand Daily Mail says that these facts “represent unmistakable omens of coming prosperity which should steel the downhearted farmer to greater effort and encourage the suffering industrialist throughout the Union, and transform the pessimism of the merchant into healthy confident and hope.” (London Times, Oct. 30, 1922)
THREE RAND EXECUTIONS.
(From our correspondent.)
JOHANNESBURG, Nov. 17. The bitterest feeling prevails among the workers over the refusal to reprieve the three men, Long, Hull, and Lewis, who were condemned to death for murder in connexion with the Rand revolt, and were executed at Pretoria to-day.
Appeals for mercy poured in till almost the last moment, and an open-air mass meeting was held, in which prominent Communists took part. At this meeting angry and threatening speeches were made; the names of General Smuts and Sir Lionel Phillips were boohed, and the crowd attempted to break into the Town Hall, severely injured a detective, and was finally dispersed by armed police. The public generally approves the Government’s firmness. The condemned men sang the Red Flag on the scaffold. (London Times, Nov. 18, 1922)
“Come dungeons dark or gallows grim the sun will be our parting hymn.”
FUNERAL OF RAND MURDERERS.
COMMUNIST APPEAL TO CHILDREN.
(From our correspondent.)
JOHANNESBURG, Nov. 19. Remarkable scenes recalling the funeral of the victims of the great strike of 1913 were witnessed at the burial of the remains of Long, Lewis, and Hull, who were executed on Friday. The coffins, in separate hearses, were followed by thousands of workers, with banners and regalia, representing every trade union. “The Red Flag” was sung at the graveside and addresses were delivered, in which members of Parliament, of the Provincial Council, and Town Councils participated.
The latest development of Communist propaganda in Johannesburg is the distribution broadcast among children and students as they are leaving their schools and colleges of a pamphlet denouncing as “legalized murder and a blot on history” the execution of the men convicted of murder at special treason courts. (London Times, Nov. 20, 1922)
On this day..
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Revolutionaries,South Africa
Tags: 1920s, 1922, business, communism, communists, david lewis, herbert hull, johannesburg, labor, mining, november 17, racism, rand revolt, rand rising, taffy long
March 7th, 2013
On this date in 1968, the black South African revolutionary Veyusile Qoba was hanged for his role in the murder of a policeman six years before.
Four men before him had gone to the gallows the previous Halloween for this crime; a fifth hanged separately for a different policeman’s killing late in 1967. Together with Qoba, they constituted the “Langa Six”.
The color line, of course, was the beef of the Six — and not only that, but the divide within the anti-resistance movement between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC).
The Langa Six belonged to the latter entity’s military wing, Poqo (later to develop into the Azania People’s Liberation Army, but we’ll use the period-appropriate original nomenclature here). After police response to a PAC-organized 1960 protest against South Africa’s notorious racial passes turned into the Sharpeville Massacre,* Poqo girded for violent struggle against a violent state.
With the alleged slogan “one settler, one bullet,”** Poqo mounted an aggressive terrorist campaign that did not scruple to target white civilians, or black civilians perceived as collaborators. (The ANC’s simultaneous Nelson Mandela-led terrorist campaign had a more selective attitude.)
And this, in turn, spurred a further crackdown, as Pretoria banned both the ANC and PAC, and enacted a Sabotage Act — the law under which Nelson Mandea was jailed for life.
Poqo and PAC operatives were likewise arrested by the thousands in the troubled 1960s.
In March 1962, five of the Langa Six attacked police vehicles in the Cape Town suburb, killing a police Sgt. Moyi.
According to [policeman] Basson, some 50 Bantu attacked his vehicle when he tried to start the engine … he found that one of the petrol bombs set the vehicle alight and they were compelled to jump out — they were dragged out of the vehicle. It was at this stage that Sgt Moyi was set upon, pulled to the ground, and stabbed to death. Det-Sgt Josiah Moss was also injured and knocked unconscious but owing to that he fortunately escaped with his life. (Source)
(South Africa’s post-apartheid Truth & Reconciliation Commission found that this event was an impromptu, local ambush, rather than a centrally-planned operation.)
* The date of that massacre, March 21, is now honored as Human Rights Day in South Africa; it’s also the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
** As Sartre put it in his notes to Fanon’s 1961 Wretched of the Earth, “to shoot down a European is to kill two birds with one stone, to destroy an oppressor and the man he oppresses at the same time: there remain a dead man, and a free man.” PAC spokespeople have denied that “one settler, one bullet” was an actual party slogan or policy, however.
On this day..
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Revolutionaries,South Africa,Terrorists
Tags: 1960s, 1968, apartheid, langa six, march 7, pretoria, racism, veyusile qoba
December 23rd, 2012
(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)
At 7:00 a.m. on this date in 1926, alcoholic and all-around loser Petrus Hauptfleisch was hanged in South Africa for the murder of his elderly mother nearly two years earlier. The case is detailed in Rob Marsh’s book Famous South African Crimes, available to read for free here.
Hauptfleisch had lived with his mother well into adulthood. When World War I started, he joined the army and served in Europe for four years.
After his return to South Africa in 1919, he demonstrated signs of having grown up a bit: he got a job as a butcher, married and had a young child. He and his wife fought constantly, however. He had a violent temper and drank heavily, to the extent that eventually none of the local businesses would sell him liquor anymore.
Finally his wife left him and he moved back in with Mom, but he was abusive to her as well and over Christmas 1924 she had him arrested after he threatened to kill her.
But once he sobered up and was released from custody, Mom let him move back in. Perhaps she felt she had to, since Petrus was haupt-fleisch und blut. Whatever her reason, the sins of the son were soon visited upon the mother.
Hauptfleisch claimed his mother accidentally set the kitchen on fire on January 13, 1925 and burned to death. The autopsy, however, didn’t support his story: all indications were that Mrs. Hauptfleisch had been suffocated or strangled to death and then burned afterward. There was no sign of soot or ashes in her bronchial tube or lungs, strong evidence that she hadn’t been breathing when the fire started, and there were other indications of asphyxiation. The postmortem lividity indicated she’d been lying flat on her back at the time of death, not face-down as Hauptfleisch said he’d found her.
Authorities believed Hauptfleisch was driven to homicide partly because of greed (he was the sole heir to his mother’s £600 estate) and partly out of personal rancor over that whole arrest thing.
After he was convicted and the sentence of death was passed upon him, Hauptfleisch issued a statement acknowledging that he had not been a good son, but protesting his innocence of this “most dastardly” crime. He would maintain his innocence until he died.
On this day..
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Guest Writers,Hanged,History,Murder,Other Voices,South Africa
Tags: 1920s, 1926, december 23, family, names, parricide, petrus hauptfleisch
October 12th, 2012
On this date in 1901, Commandant Johannes Lotter was shot at Middelburg.
Along with Gideon Scheepers, Lotter is one of the most famed Boer guerrillas from the Second Boer War.
Regarded by the British as one of their most nettlesome adversaries in that dirty guerrilla war, Lotter was captured in a bloody early September ambush when matters were well into an unpleasant scorched-earth endgame.
This was cause for much slapping of backs among the Union Jack set, and earned for his captor an immediate promotion.
Lotter’s captured men being jubilantly escorted into Graaff-Reinet.
Lotter almost immediately found himself in the dock for — well, all the things one does in a dirty guerrilla war.*
And one other thing: sedition.
The British charged Lotter as a rebellious subject of the British Cape Colony — rather than a resident of one of the independent neighboring Boer states — who owed allegiance to the British crown; upon this premise things like “killing troopers in war” became “murdering troopers”.
Lotter’s trial hung on his papers.** The defendant “pleaded that he was a Free State burgher, and, as such, entitled to the usage of civilised warfare and a legal combatant’s privileges.”
But he was in a bit of a pickle when it came to proving that the “Commandant Lotter” the British discovered on voting rolls for the Cape Colony city of Colesburg was a different guy. Innocent Blood: Executions During the Anglo-Boer War (its title telegraphs its Boer sympathies) summarizes:
his Free State citizen document was in a small case, which was lost or destroyed theday of surrender. Witnesses for the defence gave evidence that they had seen these papers. British intelligence stated that it could find no proof of his Free State citizenship in Bloemfontein. Lotter responded by asking how he could prove his citizenship when all his witnesses were still on commando and that he had been granted no time to call upon them.
Hey, the guy had six whole weeks from capture to execution to sort it all out.
A “Chair Monument” — there’s a picture of it on this page — commemorates Lotter and his fellow commando Pieter Wolfaardt at the place outside Middelburg where they were shot together on Oct. 12, 1901.
A number of additional prisoners from Lotter’s command taken with him in that same ambush were also eventually executed.
* Specifically: murdering two native spies; killing three British soldiers; blowing up railway lines; and sjamboking loyalist civilians.
** When the British later captured Scheepers, who was unquestionably not a Cape rebel, they simply charged his similar conduct as war crimes to the same capital effect.
On this day..
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Murder,Shot,Soldiers,South Africa,Treason,War Crimes,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions
Tags: 1900, 1901, boer war, gideon scheepers, johannes lotter, middelburg, october 12, pieter wolfaardt
September 30th, 2012
On this date in 1927, Huibrecht Jacob de Leeuw was hanged for blowing up the mayor of Dewetsdorp, South Africa.
This 26-year-old town clerk had spent himself into debt and started dipping his beak in the public finances to tide him over. Unfortunately for him, the malfeasance was detected.
On April 7, 1927, Mayor von Maltitz openly accused him of corruption at a meeting with the town’s finance committee; the session was adjourned for lunch pending the apparently imminent sack of the young wastrel.
When the committee reconvened (less de Leeuw), it was suddenly blown to smithereens by an explosion.
All three died, but two survived long enough to tell investigators what they’d been working on. As Robin Odell observes in his Mammoth Book of Bizarre Crimes,
De Leeuw had succeeded in destroying his accusers, along with the damning evidence of the account books but was now a prime murder suspect. He was sent for trial at Bloemfontein in August 1927. A town hall employee testified that he saw two cans of petrol in the town clerk’s office on the day of the explosion. And a local shopkeeper described how de Leeuw had appeared in her shop that afternoon in an agitated state saying, “I only want some matches.”
Clearly, what de Leeuw’s crime packed in megajoules it lacked in subtlety. Even had he made clean kills and left no deathbed implications, it’s hard to imagine how the trail wouldn’t have led right back to the guy who was just in the room with all the victims.
There’s a chapter on this fellow (more words than this author has found for him anywhere else) in a long-out-of-print 1951 South African volume, The Evil that Men Do, by Benjamin Bennett.
On this day..
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Pelf,South Africa
Tags: 1920s, 1927, dewetsdorp, dumb criminals, dynamite, huibrecht jacob de leeuw, september 30
September 1st, 2012
On this date in 1987, Moses Jantjies and Wellington Mielies — “political prisoners” in the estimation of their supporters — hanged along with five common criminals at Pretoria for the murder of Ben Kinikini and five others.*
The killing of Kinikini occurred in an environment of bitterly escalating hostilities in the eastern cape city of Uitenhage and especially the KwaNobuhle township. Anti-apartheid school boycotts dating back to September 1984 (part of a spreading revolt in the townships at that time) had metastasized into violent confrontations when protesters were denied meeting space by the black KwaNobuhle councillors.
Kinikini was such a councillor, and he and the others had been under popular pressure to resign, and even had their homes stoned, since the last weeks of 1984.
Protesters stoned vehicles. Riot squads roamed the streets. Police shootings became everyday events, and more enraged crowds gathered at the resulting funerals of their victims.**
On March 21, 1985,† police opened fire on one such funeral procession, slaying some 20 people in a single go — the Langa Massacre.
And then it really hit the fan.
Riots erupted following the Langa massacre, and it was on March 23 that Kinikini was dragged from his house and murdered: black township councillors were liable to be seen as apartheid collaborators. Defense witnesses for Jantjies and Mielies were quite a bit more specific, slating Kinikini with direct links to murderous vigilantes who liked to beat up and rape protesters in the creepy privacy of Kinikini’s apt personal business, a mortuary.
And as one memoir of the period puts it, “the government knew black councillors would not participate in a democratic charade unless their lives and property were protected and avenged. Some two and a half thousand black councillors, policemen and informers, real and rumoured, had been killed in the unrest that had begun in 1984.”
For South African president and white-rule stalwart P.W. Botha, those were far more pressing constituencies than mercy appeals from usual suspects like black activists and the West German government. These were also the first two township-rising convicts to come up for execution, out of some 33 then on death row, so their treatment figured to set the precedent for even higher-profile cases on the horizon like the Sharpeville Six. (In the event, apartheid collapsed before the Six could actually be hanged.)
The message was hardly lost on its internal audience.
“We have come to terms with the fact that the enemy has declared war,” Winnie Mandela told a Johanessburg memorial service for Jantjies and Mielies hanged. “We accept the challenge. The blood of the comrades has not flowed in vain.”
* Ben Kinikini, his four sons and nephews, and one other person were stabbed and burned to death. Some reports term at least Ben Kinikini’s killing a “necklacing” — the brutal method of popular execution that arose in the 1980s in which the “jewelry” was a rubber tire filled with flaming petrol. It sounds from the widow’s secondhand description as if this could indeed characterize it, though the fact that the Truth and Reconcilation Commission called a July 1985 killing the country’s first necklacing might indicate otherwise. News stories suggest that photographs and video exist of, if not the murder, at least the aftermath: perhaps these are dispositive on the point.
** See Thole Majodina, “A Short Background to the Shooting Incident in Langa Township, Uitenhage,” Human Rights Quarterly, August 1986.
† March 21 also happened to be the very anniversary date of one of apartheid South Africa’s most infamous police atrocities, the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre. Thanks to Sharpeville, this first day of spring is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, as well as the date on which South Africa marks Human Rights Day.
On this day..
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,South Africa
Tags: 1980s, 1987, apartheid, moses jantjies, pretoria, september 1, wellington mielies
January 18th, 2012
“Scheepers lives because they shot him.”
-Hermi Baartman, Graaf-Reinet Museum
On this date in 1902, Kommandant Gideon Jacobus Scheepers was shot by the British for his exploits in the Boer War.
The young Dutch-descended Scheepers (here’s his Afrikaans Wikipedia page) was a soldier from the still-independent Boer states which were being reduced in this war to British dependencies.
In 1901, late in the proceedings, Scheepers took a column of irregulars into the British Eastern Cape Province and wrought havoc behind the lines. Some exploits are the stuff of legend, like the time he rode into a town, released all the Boer prisoners, locked up the British magistrate, and hauled down the Union Jack — to the delight of the Boer locals.
He would spend that year giving the British much better than he got, but the war was also infamously dirty.
According to David Harrison’s The White Tribe of Africa: South Africa in Perspective, “Scheeepers’ men also flogged and shot natives who helped the British, looted as well as burned farms, and executed Boer ‘traitors’.”
Was any of that criminal?
Since Scheepers was over enemy lines, the Boers who joined him could be held liable for treason … but that didn’t hold for Scheepers himself. His execution turned on holding these unsavory acts as war crimes: his 30-count charge sheet included seven arsons, seven murders, and various and sundry abuses of prisoners and blacks. Scheepers was really sore about the last; natives were supposed to be kept out of the fighting, but the prisoner very credibly insisted that the ones he “murdered” were under arms as scouts for the British.
“We Afrikaners will never find justice under the English,” Scheepers wrote as a prisoner. “Everything is for the kaffirs.”
(There’s a vociferous defense of Scheepers from a pro-Boer history here, and a more sober one by a London press correspondent here.)
Scheepers is read the death warrant on January 17, 1902 — before Graaf-Reinet townspeople assembled by British orders.
For non-Loyalist Boers and for many throughout the world — the U.S. House of Representatives even moved a resolution calling for Scheepers to be accorded POW status according to the Geneva Convention — it smacked of a setup.
Gideon Scheepers (mostly obscured by his guards) tied to a chair for execution.
Just shot, Gideon Scheepers slumps backward in his chair.
While martyrdom guaranteed Scheepers a lasting legacy, bizarre posthumous turns helped elevate it into legend. When the dead man’s family turned up after hostilities to retrieve his bones, the grave turned out empty, leading to a years-long saga with colorful frauds presenting bogus remains, a mentally ill man doing the Grand Duchess Anastasia act and claiming to be Scheepers, and the actual corpse remaining stubbornly elusive.
The bereaved mother’s ultimately fruitless search for her son’s final resting place inspired the poem “Gebed om die Gebeente”(“Prayer for the Bones”), by D.J. Opperman. (Here’s a translated version.) That verse was recently set to music as a cantata by composer Hendrik Hofmeyr.
Scheepers’ allies, however, had simply been beaten in the field. On May 31, 1902 they capitulated to the British.
If we are asked why in 1978 a memorial should be erected for a man who died in 1902, then the answer is simple. The life and work of this man was such that history placed him in the heroes’ gallery and nothing and no one can deprive him of that place.
-Nationalist Prime Minister John Vorster upon the unveiling of a Scheepers monument
This interesting “On the Trail of Gideon Scheepers” series has a detailed and richly illustrated narrative of the man’s final year.
On this day..
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Famous,Guerrillas,History,Mature Content,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Separatists,Shot,Soldiers,South Africa,War Crimes,Wartime Executions
Tags: 1900s, 1902, boer war, gideon scheepers, graaf-reinet, imperialism, january 18, nationalism