Leap year in African History:Archbishop Desmond Tutu

While every four years, a day is added to the second month of the year as means to keep accuracy with the Gregorian Calendar, today also marks a significant day in African History.

Today in 1988, Archbishop Desmond Tutu lead a protest against the death sentence of the “Sharpville six” – a group of individuals who were accused of murdering the Deputy Major of Sharpville in 1985. With the death sentence looming over the Sharpville six Archbishop Desmond Tutu led a march against their death sentence. By the time Tutu reached the outskirts of parliament he was arrested only to be freed after a few hours.

The Sharpville Six, namely Reginald Sefatsa, Reid Mokoena, Moses Diniso, Theresa Ramashamole, Duma Khumalo and Francis Mokhesi were initally sentenced to death based on the doctrine of common purpose. With an unjustified charge to individuals who were not proven to be directly linked to the murder, a series of outcry from liberation movements hollered across South Africa to bring legal justice to Sharpville six. This brought the attention of international response. Francis Mokhesi’s sister Joyce, spoke about the Sharpville six at the meeting of the United Nations Special Commitee Against Apartheid. It also brought the attention of the World Council of Churches through South African Council of Churches (SACC).

They liberation movements rigorous protests against the unjustified death sentences were not in vain, as justice minister Kobie Coetsee granted an indefinite stay of execution only 5 hours before their execution in July of the same year. Only in 1991 were they reprieved after negotiations between freedom movements and governments led to their release.

Although they were given amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Council (TRC) the Sharpville six were not handed any compensation for their horrendous ordeal while in imprisonment. Today, only three of the Sharpville Six are alive today, Namely Theresa Ramashamola, Reid Mokoena and Mojalefa ‘Jaja’ Sefatsa.


“Murder trial of “Sharpeville Six” opens” accessed at SA History.org 

“Archbishop Desmond Tutu is arrested” accessed at http://www.sahistory.org.za/dated-event/murder-trial-sharpeville-six-opens

“Sharpville Six Member Dies” accessed at khulumani.net