SHE was only eight years old and being carried on her mother’s back when a high-calibre police bullet ripped through her heart.
This is the sad story of Lilly Mithi, one of the youngest victims and unknown heroines of the June 16, 1976, Soweto uprisings.
The incident happened at about noon near the Diepkloof hotel where Lilly, who was in the company of her mom Onica and cousin Martha on their way to buy relish (seshabo), suddenly saw a number of youths running from the police.
When the trio heard shooting, Onica strapped little Lilly on her back and they started running, scared that they may be shot in the crossfire.
Martha was hit by a bullet in the leg and fell. In the ensuing commotion, and as Onica was trying to tend to her, more police shots were heard and one of their bullets pierced young Lilly’s body.
In her statement to the police, Onica said the police had arrived soon afterwards and removed Lilly, “who, in my opinion, was already dead”.
“Lilly was shot by police in a big white lorry … I do not know why the police were shooting at the fleeing Bantu youths and I think Lilly was shot accidentally,” the late Onica said in her statement, which forms part of the Cellier Commission to investigate the causes of the “Soweto disturbances”.
Thirty-six years to the day tomorrow, the Mithi family of Diepenaar Street in Zone 2, Diepkloof, is still in the dark as to why their aunt was shot.
No one has come forward, not even at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), to confess about Lilly’s murder. For the family, it is a pain that will not go away.
Lilly’s nephew Oupa Mithi, 42, who was six in 1976, explained to The Star Africa that it took the family three months to locate her body, even though police records show an autopsy was performed on her body on June 24.
The family scoured mortuaries and hospitals looking for her body, but in vain. They finally found her remains under a pile of dead bodies at the Hillbrow government mortuary in September.
“You can imagine the trauma her mother and the whole family went through looking for her body. Her mom was never the same after that experience. She died a very sad woman … in 1990,” said Oupa.
What brings further to the family is the fact that they’ve received no reparations whatsoever for the loss of their aunt.
“When we approached the TRC, we were told we came late. We even sent a letter to then president Thabo Mbeki about our plight, but nothing came of it,” said a disappointed Oupa.