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Highgate Massacre — NPA to hold inquest 31 years later, families hopeful but under ‘no illusions’

Highgate Massacre — NPA to hold inquest 31 years later, families hopeful but under ‘no illusions’
The Highgate Hotel in East London. (Photo: NPA News, Issue date June 2007)

The theories have included a renegade Apla group, a right-wing unit and Third Force members. Now the families of the victims and survivors hope they will finally get answers three decades after the shooting that left five people dead and seven seriously injured.

Karl Weber had stared at the balaclava wearing gunman as he lay injured on the floor of Lady’s Bar of the Highgate pub, in East London.

The shooting had only lasted a handful of seconds but for the next three decades Weber has wanted to know why that gunman opened fire that Saturday night, changing his life forever.

Now 31 years later he might just get those answers, thanks to a long-awaited inquest into the shooting that left five people dead and seven seriously injured.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) recently told the survivors and family members that an inquest into what has become known as the Highgate Massacre, will take place.

No one was ever arrested for the crime and the motive of the attack is still unknown. 

At the time it was suspected that the military wing of the PAC’s Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Apla) had carried out the attack as part of Operation Great Storm that had targeted public places including churches, restaurants and bars.

The problem though is that Apla has denied carrying out the shooting. Also, no amnesty applications were ever received for the attack.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Thirty years later, the truth behind the Highgate Hotel massacre remains murky

“There is no clarity about who committed the attack, so we are hoping that this (the inquest) will provide some progress towards understanding who actually ordered or even carried out the attack,” said Dr Zaid Kimmie, executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights which, with the legal firm Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, is representing survivors Neville Beling, Weber, and the family of Deon Harris, who lost his life in the attack.

“We will have to see what sort of information the investigators from the NPA and SAPS are able to dig up,” added Kimmie.

highgate massacre

The aftermath of the Highgate Hotel shooting. (Photo: Courtesy of Daily Dispatch)

‘Vindication’

Speaking on behalf of the survivors and families of the deceased, Theresa Edlmann said the inquest was welcoming news for which they had waited a long time.

“There is the vindication of the fact that this is the first time that the state has officially acknowledged that a crime was committed. And they are under no illusions that there will be further evidence that helps them identify the perpetrators. But one can always hope for a miracle,” said the researcher who works with the survivors of the Highgate shooting.

An inquest was supposed to have been held shortly after the shooting but for some reason it was not. Police have also been blamed for bungling the case. Over the years dockets have disappeared and evidence has gone missing.

What is clear is that on 1 May 1993 at about 10pm at least two gunmen entered the pub, shooting at patrons who were drinking at the time. They targeted the Men’s Bar first, then opened fire in the Lady’s Bar. When they withdrew they threw a tear gas canister.

Weber would discover that he had been shot through both arms. Surgeons were forced to amputate his left arm, and his right arm was only saved with the help of eight screws and two plates placed in his elbow.

Beling was shot three times as he drank in the Men’s Bar.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Durban anti-apartheid activist Hoosen Haffejee was murdered, finds judge who slams NPA for failing to pursue TRC cases

Suspicion first fell on Apla which even apparently claimed responsibility for the attack when someone called Carl Zimbiri phoned The Citizen newspaper.

The problem is that since then no one, including members of Apla, have been able to identify who Zimbiri was.

There was another problem: the MO didn’t fit.

Apla operatives never wore balaclavas and their weapon of choice was the R4 assault rifle, looted from Bantustan arsenals. AK-47s were used in the Highgate attack.

The shooters were also highly skilled marksmen, something that Apla members were not known for.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Timol Inquest: He was murdered but culprits are dead, court rules

There are other theories as to who might have committed the crime in an attempt to disrupt the up and coming elections.

These include a renegade Apla group, a right-wing unit and Third Force members. Weber told Daily Maverick in 2023 that while he lay on the floor of the Lady’s Bar he noticed that the gunman was wearing police-issue combat boots.

Back in 2007, the survivors and the families of those killed formed the Highgate Survivors’ Support Group in East London and since then have been demanding a proper investigation into the attack.

“There are still witnesses out there who could provide evidence,” said Edlmann.

highgate hotel shooting

The aftermath of the Highgate Hotel shooting. (Photo: Courtesy of Daily Dispatch)

But as time passes there is concern for Beling’s health, who with his encyclopaedic knowledge of the incident and the investigation would be invaluable for the inquest.

“As he keeps saying, ‘time is not on our side and I am running out of time’,” Edlmann said.

NPA spokesperson Luxolo Tyali said that they had consulted with the families and survivors of the Highgate Massacre and had yet to make a formal announcement.

It is understood that a judge from the high court will be assigned to the inquest and the lawyers for the survivors and families of the deceased are drawing up witness lists and providing possible dates for the hearing.

With this, there is hope that just maybe the inquest will crack the case.

“Our hope is that somebody at some stage allows their conscience to get the better of them and step forward,” Edlmann said. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • David Forbes says:

    Definitely sounds like a false flag op by Third Force. The MO of balaclavas and using AK-47s is what they used to do. No amnesty is also what they did, if no-one appeared likely to blow the whistle, no-one applied. There are thousands of crimes like this that went unpunished. People who disappeared, were poisoned, shot, tortured etc, and the perps walk free. One wonders why the NPA opens this case, but refuses to re-open the Cradock Four case, for example, where new evidence that had come to light was designated inadmissible in the last (second inquest) which found the Security Forces responsible but couldn’t name anyone. Maybe this is just another NPA/Govt collusion to prevent light being shone on other cases that arouse a lot of public interest, or those where perps are still alive. An inquest into Highgate Massacre will tie up resources, a judge, prosecutors, lawyers, for months. There has been a strange “coincidental” state of affairs that the NPA opens inquests and allows the justice process to proceed (after years and years of delays) only when the last perpetrator has died. Hmmm!

  • Robert Pegg says:

    I was the Fire Chief in East London at the time and sent a response to this incident. There were many emergency incidents attended during the 1980’s and early 1990’s and I believe some were ANC and some were third forces. One incident involved ANC offices, that were set alight under dubious circumstances.
    I saw for myself police using torch batteries instead of rubber bullets at some incidents.
    I doubt any investigation after 31 years will uncover anything new.

  • District Six says:

    False flag ops. Using taxpayers’ money.

  • District Six says:

    False flag ops. Using taxpayers’ money.

  • Michael Bowes says:

    With kind respect to the victims and their families – 5 dead and 7 seriously injured – does the NPA really have the resources to investigate an attack in 1993? Many more that that will suffer today, suffered yesterday, suffered the day before – will the NPA be asking about them in 2055?
    Sounds like something the do-little NPA would like to get their not very sharp teeth into – Just in time to be too late.!

  • John Patson says:

    What good is a new inquest (a special court only to find out the circumstances of unnatural death (s)) without a new investigation?
    And apparently, there is not a new investigation, only a rehash of an old one, which from all accounts was badly done — not even all the bullets were collected by the police.

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