Ashley Kriel: The Story of a Leader

In 1987, a 20 year old young man named, Ashley Kriel, was murdered by the apartheid police. His crime: fighting for the liberation of his people.

Like many children from Bonteheuwel, Ashley grew up in a poor single parent household, his mother being a tea girl and his father murdered when he was 12. This meant that he had to start working at age 12 and his daily routine was to come home from work at night, go to bed, get up at 3am and drink ‘regmaker’ tablets so that he could be awake for school. He was standard 5 at the time and despite all of these difficulties, he still managed to excel at school.
Ashley became involved in the student struggles at the age of 14 (in 1980) and joined the Bonteheuwel Youth Movement which was a youth organization to take up civic issues. Between the years 1981 and 1985 he was a founder member of Bonteheuwel Inter School Congress, became actively involved in the workers struggle, actively supported the UDF’s anti-election campaign during the Tricamaral Elections and between 1985 and 1987, he left the country to undergo military training.

What is known as fact is that the apartheid government held him responsible for all the unrest in Bonteheuwel and feared him because of it. They were so afraid of him, that they hunted him day and night, mercilessly harassing his family and anybody that was seen as being close to him. They were so afraid of him, that they could not let him live when they finally caught up with him in Athlone.
When they finally found him, they chased him, shot him, beat him with a spade (on places like his forehead and throat), slit his throat, cuffed him, and shot him in the back. They wanted to make sure that he was truly dead because that is how much they feared him.
They feared him so much, that they placed restrictions on the number of people that could attend his funeral, harassed people who came to pay their respects and the police even tried to steal his body. On the day of his funeral, the police surrounded his house with guns and caspers (everywhere you looked there were police), because that is how much they feared Ashley Kriel.
As the mourners left the church with his coffin, police started opening fire on those holding the coffin. The coffin bearers had to start running but they refused to let go of the coffin, even at one point, having to throw the coffin over the vibracrete wall so that they could get into the church. Police tried to storm the church but once again, they failed to get the body of Ashley Kriel. The police once again opened fire and even tried to shoot the hearse carrying his body off the road (the driver fainted and Ashley’s sister had to quickly grab the wheel before they ended up in an accident).
The most prominent speakers at the graveside were Allen Boesak and Desmond Tutu. Even then, whilst his body was being placed in the ground, the police continued to open fire on the crowd. That is how much the apartheid state feared this great leader called Ashley Kriel.

Ashley was indeed a great and feared leader, but despite all of this, he was still a son, a brother and a friend. He was described as an outstanding leader, hardworking, brilliant, fearless, but most importantly, he was described as kind hearted and compassionate.

On his release from prison in February 1990, Nelson Mandela acknowledged Ashley Kriel’s sacrifice for the freedom struggle. Furthermore, in his memory, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and the University of the Western Cape created the annual Ashley Kriel Memorial Youth Lecture to highlight youth leadership challenges throughout the country. May this great and compassionate leader forever rest in peace.

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