Youths burn the car of an alleged police informer following the funeral of four victims killed in the "grenade incident" in Duduza township, Transvaal, July 1985. On the morning of 26 June 1985, a group of young activists were killed by defective or booby-trapped hand grenades. The grenades had been given to them by an agent provocateur, a member of the security force, posing as an African National Congress guerrilla. Feelings ran high during the funeral, and violence erupted. Conflict between the people and armed police spread from township to township in what had become a war.

The memories of 25 June 1985 drops ice to the bottom of Zero-Hour Operation survivor’s soul. The thought of the ruined youthful bodies he had seen; bodies that were ruined by the ruthless apartheid regime haunts him. With the advent of democracy, like the millions of other citizens, he had expected and imagined that somehow he would never have to think again about the way people destroy other people’s lives.

It is a night I will never forget.
When my memory wanders back to the freezing winter night of 25 of June 1985, I still get chills rushing through my body and soul. The more I think back to that night, the greater my agony.
What a deadly and cold night it was. What a terrible night, indeed. It is one I would rather forget than think of, and unfortunately that is not how life works. It does not work that way and never will.
I have tried to banish the bad memories to a dark and deep dungeon, but they always find their way back. They do not want to go away. They are with me all the time.
On the night of 25 June, I lost beloved friends and comrades in an operation dubbed Zero Hour by the hardcore racist regime under the leadership of the verkrampte and murderous PW Botha.
Botha – together with members of the State Security Council, a police commissioner and a senior member of the Security Branch General Johan Van der Merwe, Minister of Law and Order Louis Le Grange, Minister of Defence General Magnus Malan and the Head of the C2 Unit in Vlakplass, Brigadier Willem Schoon – devised a lethal plan.
Like evil witches of yore they prepared, in their cauldron of intense hatred, a deadly diet which they called Zero Hour Operation.
They conspired to entrap and murder members of the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) and the youth leadership in Kwa-Thema, Tsakane and Duduza (Kwatsaduza), in what today is called Ekurhuleni.

The height of insurrection
The year 1985 was the pinnacle of the semi-insurrectionary stage of the revolution. Kwatsaduza was at the forefront and spearheaded protest action and mass mobilisation to render the country ungovernable and apartheid unworkable.
Our activities were a direct response to the revolutionary call made by the late President General of the African National Congress (ANC) and Commander in Chief of uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), comrade Oliver Reginald Tambo, affectionately known as OR.
The appropriately organised and well-controlled mass mobilisation and protest actions ultimately drew the attention of the notorious Security Forces. They kept their beady murderous eyes on Cosas and youth leaders, marking them as targets for elimination.
Zero Hour Operation, which was ocherstrated at the higher echelons of the apatheid regime’s security cluster, was masterminded by Eugene de Kock, then head of counter intelligence at the infamous Vlakplaas, and Joe Mamasela, a former MK operative who had became an Askari.

The hour of death
Mamasela and Enos Nkala descended on Kwatsaduza and lured Cosas and youth leaders under the guise that, as part of celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Freedom Charter, we were to carry out an aggressive operation against enemy agents and state infrastructure on the wintry night of 25 June at midnight. 00hr 00min, gave birth to the name Zero Hour Operation.
Sixteen young revolutionaries were given booby-trapped hand grenades and limpet mines. Eight pupils and youth leaders died on that night, when the hand grenades and limpet mines exploded in their hands, triggered by the zero timing.
The comrades who perished that dreadful night were Congress Mtshweni, Ngungunyane Mashabane, Lucky Mogodi, Osborne Dhlamini, Vincent Nokwindla, Mathibe Modisane, Moboa Mashiane and Jabulani Mahlangu. Comrades who survived but sustained multiple injuries were Hosea Lengosane, Humprey Tshabalala (died in 2003), John Mlangeni (died in 2018), JB Mazuza, Oupa Lekatsa, Thokozani Mkhize and I, Thabang Nzima.

Injured survivors were arrested
Due to the severity of their injuries, survivors were taken to various hospitals around Kwatsaduza, where they were eventually arrested and kept under police guard.
I managed to evade arrest and went into hiding and finally left for exile where I joined the ANC.
A trial called the Duduza Terrorism Trial ensued in the Pretoria High Court and lasted for 20 months. During the trial, police involvement and their machination were exposed. This resulted in a deal being made, where the accused’s sentence was reduced to 16 months – for the unlawfull possession of hand grenades.

Unpacking the night of death
The Tsakane unit comprised five of us. It was Hosea Lengosane, Thokozani Mkhize, myself, (three of us from Tsakane), Vincent Nokwindla and Jabulani Mahlangu (from KwaThema).

We converged at Diale’s house, which we often used as our meeting place, in Matse Street.
We were among a group of 10 comrades in the house and unbeknown to them, was the fact we were in a mission that night. At around 10pm, Mamasela and Nkala arrived to hand us the grenades. We agreed and confirmed that at exactly midnight we would attack our chosen target.
At around 11:30 pm, we moved toward our target – a house in Ndabezitha Street, one of the main streets in Tsakane, belonging to a notorious policeman, a Mr Baloyi.
At almost 12 midnight, we neared Baloyi’s house and were ready to blow it up with grenades.
Just before we could carry out the attack, in unison and as planned, we heard loud explosions coming from Duduza. Another massive explosion came from KwaThema, which we suspected was a limpet mine.
The explosions served as a cue for us to attack. What followed was a big explosion, which knocked us down. This was not what we expect would happen.
The grenades had exploded in our hands. Jabulani Mahlangu and Vincent Nokwindla’s grenades exploded simultaneous, fatally wounding both. Hosea Lengosane and Thokozani Mkhize’s, exploded immediately thereafter, seriously injuring the three of us.
My grenade did not explode because as I was about to pull the pin, I was knocked down by the impact of the first four grenades.
As I stood up, staggering, an indescribale shock assailed me as I saw my fellow comrades, Jabulani and Vincent lying dead.
Their bodies blown up by the booby-trapped hand grenades.
Hosea and Thokozani were spreadeagled on the ground, unable to move.
Instinctively, it dawned on me that something was wrong with the hand grenades, because not a single one reached the intended target.
I immediately bolted into the darkness of the night to avoid being spotted and eventually arrested on the scene. I felt an excrutiating pang of sadness and bitterness as I left my fallen comrades behind.
That horrible and terrifying sight of my comrades lying dead, is still etched in my memory. I carry it with me.
Later, it turned out the same fate had come to pass on our comrades in Duduza and Kwa-Thema. This was a rude awakening for me…that there is indeed no easy walk to freedom.
The death of my comrades left me with a deep-rooted sense of grief and indescribable anger against Mamasela and his gang of murderers.

Freedom for a few is no freedom at all
While we celebrated the birth of a constitutional democracy in 1994, with the marching of time the political direction the country has taken, has eroded all our hopes and aspirations.
The values enshrined in our Constitution, which advocate for a culture of human rights and a better life for all, are like pie in the sky.
It is a bitter pill to swallow that 28 years of freedom have yielded nothing. Instead, it has extended misery to the overwhelming population of South Africa.
The sacrifices seem to have been in vain. All the hopes of a better life that we longed, fought for and envisaged that this freedom will deliver have diminished.
The contribution and sacrifices made by fallen comrades in the Zero Hour Operation are not acknowledged, memorialised and/or celebrated by our democratic government.
Their contribution to the struggle and the supreme price of sacrifice that they paid in the end, has been deleted from the national memory. All was in vain.
It is heartbreaking that the ideals of the struggle we waged and the Freedom Charter that we so cherished have not been realised. We took a bigoted detour along the way of the democratic dispensation.
We have abandoned all the ideals contained in the Freedom Charter. We have allowed ourselves to be consumed by greed and corruption, at the expense of our people, whom we claim to represent and lead.
For us to realise the ideals of the Freedom Charter, we need a complete overhaul in our deliberations.
It has become a matter of urgency to undo the perilous state we find ourselves in today.
If we delay any further than we have done for 28 years, we are doomed and it won’t be long before South Africa becomes a failed state. That would be heartwrenchingly sad – because we have massive potential to thrive as a nation.

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