In October 1985, in an operation to arrest stone throwers, the Joint Operation Command consisting of the South African Police, South African Railway Police and South African Defense Force, disguised as railway workers, hid in crates on the back of a railway truck and ambushed the communities of Athlone and Crossroads. Five youths were killed and men, women, children and toddles were wounded in the operations known as the Trojan Horse Massacres.

CBS archival footage of the Athlone shooting by Chris Everson, 15 October 1985

The Trojan Horse History Project grew out of a collaborative initiative which saw the HRMC and ACG Architects and Development Planners being commissioned by the City of Cape Town to install a Trojan Horse Memorial in Athlone. The HRMC held nine consultative meetings with the mothers of the three slain Athlone boys, Georgina Williams, Charmaine Zulu and Hilary Magmoed. Their stories of that fateful day and the consequences were recorded, transcribed, edited and inscribed on plaques at the memorial. The memorial was unveiled on Heritage Day, 24 September 2005. In the same year, the HRMC raised funds to erect tombstones for the victims of the Athlone killings: Michael Miranda (12) Shaun Magmoed (15) and Jonathan Claasen (21). Thanks to the generous support from lawyers representing the families, from learners in the nine highs schools in the Athlone region, local shopkeepers, and also from lawyers representing the security forces, and Douw Vermeulen, the man in charge of the fatal operation, tombstones were unveiled at a private ceremony in the Maitland Cemetery on 15 October 2005, twenty years after the youths were killed.

The Trojan Horse Memorial, Athlone, Cape Town. Image taken by ACG

An extension of the Trojan Horse History project, the book If trees could speak: the Trojan Horse Story, incorporates the double-ambush history of the Trojan Horse operation. Part Two of the book holds the life stories of the relatives of the two slain youths in Crossroads: Goodman Mali and Mabhuti Vetman. They, like the three youths in Athlone, were also shot and killed by security force men hiding inside crates on the back of the railway truck.

Link to resources If tress could speak

A set of six posters were developed to overcome language and literacy barriers. The book and posters were launched in November 2007 with funding from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

Trojan Horse story posters by Chip Snaddon

Subsequent work in 2008 and 2009 includes fundraising to erecting tombstones for Crossroads victims that were unveiled on 16 June 2008, the construction of the Crossroads Trojan Horse Memorial unveiled on Human Rights Day in 2009, and ongoing educational work including an oral history project involving Grade 11 learners from Alexander Sinton High in Athlone, and New Eisleben High in Crossroads. Excursions to these sites are conducted on request.

Remember mural by Faith47, Crossroads, 2009

Book: If Trees Could Speak: The Trojan Horse Story
If trees could speak: The Trojan Horse Story highlights that the Trojan Horse shootings in 1985 was a double-pronged ambush in Athlone on 15 October and in Crossroads on 16 October. In total, five youths were killed: Michael Miranda (11), Shaun Magmoed (15) and Jonathan Claasen (21) in Athlone and Goodman Mali (19) and Mabhuti Fatman (20) in Crossroads and many others were injured, including small children, youths and women. The book is divided into three parts. Part One has four headings: Introduction; the political climate in the Western Cape in the mid 1980s; the Trojan Horse Shootings; and, Justice Matters. Part Two consists of the three life stories of relatives of the youths killed in the Crossroads Trojan Horse shootings. Part Three sums up the book with a conclusion and raises some critical questions.

If trees could speak: The Trojan Horse Story is intended as a resource for communities, particularly the youth, so that they may better understand the role played by many brave mothers and fathers, men and women, youths and children who suffered as a result of this double-ambush that signaled a turning point in our struggle for freedom. Its intention is also to spur youth on to play their rightful role in breaking down barriers built by apartheid through active engagement in heritage, history and nation building. The funder of this project was the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

Article published in the Cape Times on 17 June 2008

The book aims to record and archive interviews and life stories of people who were involved in that history from both the Athlone and Crossroads communities; create an archive of the Trojan Horse story (currently held at the HRMC offices); educate society, in particular the communities of Athlone and Crossroads and their schools, about anti-apartheid history and its deep and deepening legacy; honour and give recognition to the families of the slain youths, the injured and witnesses of these ambushes; and, raise funds for the tombstones of Goodman Mali and Mabhuti Fatman and engage the Crossroads community in the process of memorialising the Trojan Horse Crossroads shootings.

Trojan Horse History Project