As much as Athlone was a crossover space enabling art, music and other creativity in the 60s and 70s, the 1980s brought a new narrative to bear: one of increasing protests against the apartheid state, and the concomitant violence with which they were met.
One of the worst incidents was on October 15, 1985. Known as the “Trojan Horse”, it reverberated around the world because of a handful of local and international journalists who were there that day. A large, yellow railways truck had travelled slowly up Thornton Road, turned around and come back. On their return, the truck was pelted with stones.
Railways police jumped out of crates on the back of the truck and opened fire, killing three young people and wounding several.
There were several students in the streets that day. The government had closed the schools in a bid to counter the growing student protests. It was a double ambush in a sense, says Premesh Lalu, history professor and director of the Centre for Humanities Research at UWC, who is a participant in the Integration Syndicate. “The closure of schools in September was part of the plot because if you got students out of the schools on to the street, you were setting them up.”
The incident affected not only the ethos of the city and of Athlone but has stretched across a generation. One example is the family of the youngest victim, Michael Miranda, who was only 11 years old when police shot him dead. His mother, a garment worker, struggled first to find him, then to bury him, and then to try find justice for his killing. She has since moved from Athlone to Eastridge in Mitchell’s Plain, where she lives in a modest house from which she commutes daily to her machinist’s job at a clothing factory in Salt River.
One glimmer of hope on the family’s horizon was that the youngest daughter Jade, born 9 years after Michael was killed, was admitted to the University of Stellenbosch. Her first two years were marked by some successes but also failures and her recruitment bursary was not renewed. At the end of her third year, her finances and mixed academic record resulted in her being unable to return to complete her degree.
Pippa Green of the UCT Poverty and Inequality Initiative, which along with ACC co-host the Integration Syndicate, wrote the following article after being prompted to investigate her story during Episode 2 of the project.
The Mitchells Plain Bursary and Role Model Trust took up her case and is trying to find a way to get her back into university.
Her story is part of the quest to build a new city for future generations.