First black buried in white cemetery in Johannesburg

December 03, 1990|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Johannesburg Bureau of The Sun

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- A black man was buried yesterday in Johannesburg's all-white municipal cemetery, striking a blow in death for the cause of desegregation he had supported in life.

David Tshoga, 26, who died two weeks ago when police fired on demonstrators at an open-housing march, became the first black to be buried in West Park Cemetery.

He was a member of an open-housing organization that campaigns for an end to the Group Areas Act, which segregates residential areas in South Africa. He lived in a legally integrated "gray area" of the city known as Joubert Park, designated by the government as a section where blacks and whites may live together.

Mr. Tshoga's mother, Christina, said he came to Johannesburg several years ago from the tribal homeland of Lebowa and became politically active. She said he wanted to be buried in the city where he lived. The Johannesburg City Council granted permission last week for the burial.

"David decided," Mrs. Tshoga said before the funeral. "There's nothing wrong with this. I decided it's nice for him to be here because he was fighting for that. He died fighting. He was a soldier."

Five young men -- some in khaki uniforms and others in T-shirts proclaiming "We are here to stay" -- carried the wooden casket into a hall at the University of Witwatersrand, where the funeral service was held. Afterward, they returned it to a gray hearse that led a three-mile procession to the cemetery.

About 300 mourners walked the route, and dozens of cars filled with whites watched as they approached. Police escorted the mourners and lined the route.

Nelson Mandela of the African National Congress told mourners that Mr. Tshoga had died because South African police appear to think the "life of every black man is very cheap, if not altogether worthless" and "can be destroyed without provocation."

Police fired on the demonstrators Nov. 17 after giving them five minutes to disperse. A city magistrate had denied the demonstrators permission to march, but organizers only learned of the decision the evening before the march was scheduled. They said police began to fire before the crowd could disperse.

The funeral ceremonies for Mr. Tshoga, which began shortly after 9 a.m., ended at 4:30 p.m. with friends singing songs of farewell.

One elderly white woman, who said her husband was buried two rows away from Mr. Tshoga, said she had no problem with integration of the cemetery.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with it, and I don't mind saying it," said the woman, who would not give her name. "We're all together in this."

The woman's sister, standing beside her, admired the singing of the black mourners. "You always wonder, 'Will this be a noisy thing?' But this was beautiful," she said.

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