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Type AMNESTY HEARING
Starting Date 23 July 1998
Names GERRIT NICHOLAS ERASMUS
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MR VISSER: Mr Chairman, just for the record, this is one of those cases where an application for amendment had already been allowed, and I just draw your attention to the fact that it has been amended to provide that paragraph 7(a), at page 129, should read, "National Party" and paragraph 7(b) has been amended to read "supporter". There is, however, one further amendment which I must seek, Mr Chairman, and that refers to page 131, paragraph 9(a), there is a reference, Mr Chairman, at the bottom of that page, to the words "submission of General J G van der Merwe dated the 21st of October 1996" it incorrectly refers to the "submission", Mr Chairman, whereas in fact it should be referring to the amnesty application. It's a very minor detail, but it's not the "submission" and we simply want to point to this fact in order not to confuse, it's the amnesty application.
EXAMINATION BY MR VISSER: General Erasmus, you're applying for amnesty for any omission or offence which was committed by yourself with regards to the preceding events and the events surrounding the explosions which was brought about at Cosatu House and Khotso House, and for any other possible offences with which you can be connected afterwards?
MR VISSER: Before, you've already given evidence to amnesty committees of the TRC and shortly, if it's necessary, in case someone's interested in this, you testified in the Mtimkhulu and Madaka amnesty applications, as well as the Kondile application?
MR VISSER: And in all those applications and also today, you are asking that in your evidence as an incorporated, be considered incorporated into your application, P45, P46 and P47. We know what they are and you mention them on page 1 of Exhibit H, that the evidence you've submitted, that that would be the exhibit number?
MR VISSER: I'm quickly going to deal with you, your career in the South African Police Force, you sketched that in Exhibit H on page 2, and on the 3rd of January 1957 you became a member of the South African Police Force and you gave service in Pretoria, you became a detective and then you were transferred to Cape Town and indeed in Umzimkulu in East Griqualand you've also done service, and eventually, since 1963, you ended up at The Graze here in the Transvaal and eventually you became the section commander of the Security Branch in Johannesburg after you were in Natal and in the Eastern Cape, and this happened at the end of 1988, we are referring to page 3 now of Exhibit H, paragraph 2.19 and 2.20, in May 1989, you were appointed as division commissioner and in '90 to '92 district commissioner, and you were promoted to the rank of general major, and that's also the rank you resigned from the police in on the 30th of November 1992?
MR VISSER: General Erasmus, at all the previous occasions you testified, as you also testify here on page 4, about your personal background, how you were brought up, where you were brought up and also the political background out of which you come, and with the permission of the committee, in order to save time, I'm not going to ask you to not address the committee about this completely again, if anyone is interested in that, your evidence is on record and here it is again in Exhibit H, but it comes down to the fact that you grew up in a very conservative Afrikaans household where your parents were members of the Reformed Church, Dutch Reformed Church, and you were also supporters of the National Party, including the National Party's apartheid policy, is that not correct?
MR VISSER: It was your experience that during your youthful years, there was very few influences on you from the side of church or political utterances, the school, or opinions of very important people, such as teachers, reverends, which made or indicated to you that the policy of apartheid was wrong, is that not true?
MR VISSER: Now, with regards to your service as a police person, you had certain experiences, you came to certain insights and you set it out, and I'm quickly going to refer to this, but in paragraph 4.9 you mention that there was no reason for you why people in the South African Police Force would criticise the State or their policy, that State that they had to protect, and you also referred to speeches and utterances of politicians, the same way ex-Minister Vlok referred to, and this also as an encouragement to the police to support the policy of the government and the State and to maintain that. The police and yourself, in your official capacity during the struggle, and you are saying that on page 5, paragraph 4.12, you saw that as the last line of defence against total chaos and anarchy and disorder. So I'm leading the committee now very quickly, in order to save some time, but you could even do it faster.
MR VISSER: The only reason why I do read a little bit of this is because my learned colleagues around the table only see this document now for the first time and maybe it's a fit unfair for them to start immediately with the cross-questioning if they don't know what's written in here, but I'll go very quickly, Chairperson. General Erasmus, you also admitted in your previous before committees and also in this piece that you've just submitted now, which is Exhibit H, that there were impulses which worked on you, which had an influence on you and brought home a specific sentiment with the fact that you really wanted to take up the struggle in order to protect the government as well as the public and you set it out in paragraph 4.15, practical experiences, and you referred to the mass marches in Cape Town, plundering of business, the death and injury to people, the incidences in 1961 and also sabotage incidences which you yourself experienced in 1963/64, and also the Park Street station bomb, which became known as the Harris bomb, and you were also involved with that, and all this time you say that, in Exhibit H, there was a lot of pressure coming from above in order for you to normalise the situation and also to maintain the government of the day, to protect that government against the pressure which was there because of the revolutionaries, is that not true?
MR VISSER: Your political objectives and background, you sketch this from page 6, paragraph 5, going on to the next page, there's nothing that I'd like to read here specifically, but you go up to page 9 at the end of paragraph 5.22. Do you confirm what you've said in Exhibit H?
MR VISSER: Now if we can continue, General - well Chairperson there is just one aspect which I've just forgotten about. My attorney indicates to me that on page 10, right at the top of the page, there's a reference which should not be there. That's a reference to Bopape, and the reason for that is because this was also the submission which served in the Bopape the Bopape case, and this reference to Bopape is faulty, even though the actual extent of the paragraph is correct, but the reference to Bopape should be ignored or omitted. Sorry. General Erasmus with regards to Cosatu House, can you quickly, in your own words, tell the Committee what the essence of that is, what did you know about that, against the background you've just given us in Exhibit H, and what your actions before and during and after the Cosatu House explosion entailed?
GEN ERASMUS: Chairperson, I listened to the evidence of Mr Vlok and also that of General Van der Merwe in this trial where they deal with this incident and I confirm their versions as true as far as it's relevant to myself and as far as it falls within my own personal knowledge thereof. I also ask the Amnesty Committee to look at the amnesty application of Deon Greyling where he's dealing with this incident, it's volume 2, page 19 to 27, because I also agree to the correctness thereof.
During 1987 I received an instruction from the then head of security of the South African Police, General Johan van der Merwe, to by means of my members and of my division, give the necessary information to the C Section of headquarters in Pretoria, who received instruction to render Cosatu House useless by means of explosives, and that's so that the people who occupied this place couldn't use it. When I refer to information, it's not with regards to information of what happened there exactly, I'd just like to repeat that with information, I want to make it clear that this was concerning the locality, the structure, the surrounding area, and also the certainty that there was no-one in that building when this explosion would then take place.
The head of my trade union desk, then Mr Deon Greyling, was then given instruction, because of his personal knowledge of Cosatu House and of what happens there, to contact, for him to contact Eugene de Kock of Vlakplaas and Eugene de Kock was then told, was given the task to execute this operation in assistance with the members of the Explosives Unit in Pretoria.
General Van der Merwe told me that the instruction came from the then minister, Mr Adrian Vlok, and made it clear that the building was to be made useless or rendered useless, but that no lives should be endangered in the process.
I realised that the execution of this order would come down to the committing of an offence, but it seemed to be the only remaining alternative to address the problems regarding this specific building.
I was involved in this issue because the operation would have been executed within my command area. Me, myself, was not personally involved with the execution of the operation, but from time to time Greyling kept me up to date of the progress thereof.
On the 6th of May 1987, Greyling informed me that the operation would happen that specific night and in the early morning hours of the 7th of May 1987 he contacted me and told me that it was executed successfully. I immediately left for the scene, where from the outside I could see the damage which was caused to the building, the damage which was considerable, but I saw no injured people and I was also informed that there were no injured people.
This incident, I'm referring to the explosion now of Cosatu House, was investigated in the normal course of events, and as far as I can remember a dossier was concluded as untraceable. That means the guilty parties were not found.
For as my stayed quiet about my information with regards to this operation, I made myself guilty of further crimes, including perjury. I here acted in the execution of an order as a senior officer and consequently I accepted that the operation was officially authorised and therefore I felt that I was doing my duty and I was acting within the extent of my capacities. The execution of the operation and the motivation thereof I also agreed to with my own personal view of the circumstances which surrounded Cosatu House.
The South African Police, and more specifically the Security Branch, was tasked to make sure that law and order was maintained, as well as internal security, and the execution of this operation was directly connected to that.
MR VISSER: General, as we see and very often see in amnesty applications of the members of the South African Police Force, the situation deteriorated to such an extent that at the end of the day there were certain situations during the struggle which could not be handled in any other way but in an illegal way?
MR VISSER: You referred to Deon Greyling, who was working at the desk of the trade unions, what was the situation with regards to the conveyance of information from Deon Greyling to yourself, on what basis and how often did this happen?
GEN ERASMUS: I am advised that there might be an extent of contradictions in the applications of the different applicants who are dealing with this incident, and I think you will agree that there is a bit of confusion, and I'd also like to say that I'm no less confused with regards to the situation when we are dealing with the situation, even though I know that we are here to - that we had to deal here with an official instruction from head office and that the operation was successfully executed, me myself do not remember all the small particulars, but I shall try to give you my version as I can remember it.
Just as was the case with Cosatu House, I received an instruction from General Van der Merwe and it basically came down to the same thing. I cannot remember if he specifically mentioned that the instruction came from the State President or the Minister, but he did say that it was approved. There were further discussions between General Van der Merwe and myself and also between myself and other men under my command, and as far as I can remember, at a certain occasion I also had discussions in Pretoria with members of the Explosives Unit under the command of Paul Hattingh. At one such occasion I also met Brigadier Schoon in Johannesburg, where other members were also present, and we discussed the planned operation.
The reason for the visit to Paul Hattingh I'd like to explain to you as follows, because I think there's a bit of confusion surrounding this: it was to make sure that he makes preparations in order to do this task, because you know preparations had to be made, they needed the necessary explosives and they had to contact the correct people, etcetera, and that's the reason why I visited him at that point in time.
Paragraph 8.4 of Exhibit H. General, before the lunch interval, you had informed the commission or the committee concerning the instruction that you received from General Van der Merwe in terms of Khotso House and you started saying that there was confusion amongst the different applicants in terms of the circumstances and you also said that you are not so clear yourself as to what facts adds up to, or belongs to which incident, but you can recall that you spoke to General Van der Merwe in Pretoria and members of the Explosion Unit under the command of Paul Hattingh, do I have that correct?
MR VISSER: And you ended where you said, as you recall, the reason why you approached Paul Hattingh at the Explosives headquarters was to inform him concerning the information that would help him to help with the execution of his task?
GEN ERASMUS: General Van der Merwe's instruction to me was that Khotso House had to be damaged, and in this process there had to be no injuries or had to be attempted that there had to be no injuries to anybody or no loss of life.
GEN ERASMUS: General Van der Merwe's instruction came to the point that Brigadier Schoon's unit from Vlakplaas had to work with the Explosives Unit in the operation and from my division had to receive assistance.
GEN ERASMUS: Yes, we had to establish, or Beyers had to establish and he had to ensure what the movements in that building was, in the evening, on certain days, on weekends, and what would be a suitable time to execute this operation.
On the evening of the execution of this operation, I was at the safety house at Honeydew, where I spoke to the relevant members and I emphasised that lives should not be endangered, and I deny the statement where Mr De Kock said that outsiders had to be shot at the scene and members who spoke of the operation would be shot, and I want to say that people who came to Vlakplaas, they were there to provide protection, and that could be explained better by Mr De Kock, so I cannot see why people would have been shot and the good fortune was that nobody was shot that evening and that would be in contrast with the direct instruction from General Van der Merwe and I was not there to give instruction, people already had their instructions.
GEN ERASMUS: Chairperson, this was not a meeting, we were just standing around and we were just talking and people left. General Du Toit, then he was Colonel Du Toit, he was not there at that time. I was telephonically informed that the people arrived at the place and I lived close by and I drove from my house and spoke to them there and wished them good luck for their difficult task.
MR VISSER: And in the execution of the instruction of General Van der Merwe to be of assistance to Vlakplaas and the Explosives Unit, did you task General Du Toit to do anything in terms of Khotso House?
GEN ERASMUS: I was not at the scene during the explosion, and I was not part of later investigations. I did visit the scene after the explosion. My keeping quiet in terms of the real facts of the operation was perjury.
A few months after the incident I was at Vlakplaas where Mr Vlok addressed some members and thanked them for their good work. I expect that the involved members thought that they were being congratulated and thanked for their work at Khotso House.
Concerning this operation, myself and the other members acted in accordance with instructions from head office and this was in accordance with our task in maintaining law and order and internal security.
GEN ERASMUS: Mr Visser, there were many questions asked, many questions were asked concerning what happened in this building and since I was in Johannesburg myself, I wish to tell you what we called the Unrest Unit at that time, on a daily basis, and on a weekly basis, and continually, they were deployed to these buildings and this specifically where there were big meetings held in Khotso House, in the basement, and in this basement there's a huge hall and there the organisations, especially during lunchtimes, had meetings and it was necessary that the Unrest Unit had to be ready to control chaos and maintain control and the same went for Khotso House.
CROSS-EXAMINATION BY MR BOOYENS: In this instance I am just going to cross-question in terms of my client, Mr Hattingh. If you look at page 14 of Exhibit H, how do I interpret this sentence, you said that you spoke to Mr Hatting himself or to members of his unit, or are you not sure that you spoke to Mr Hattingh himself?
MR BOOYENS: Because Mr Hattingh is in the same position as you, he says he does not remember that meeting, but he says he saw many people and it's possible that he was there, but he's not sure himself. When you say that, you would not
CROSS-EXAMINATION BY MR HUGO: Hugo, on behalf of Mr De Kock, Chairperson. General, firstly I would like to ask you, you heard that the question was put to Brigadier Schoon and he confirmed that directly after Mr De Kock received the order, there was a meeting at Honeydew, do you remember this meeting? I'm referring to the Cosatu incident.
MR HUGO: Let me put it to you, concerning Khotso House Mr De Kock would testify that there was the meeting directly after the instruction at Honeydew, and that there was no such similar meeting in terms of Khotso House?
MR HUGO: General, Mr De Kock will also testify that, concerning this first meeting, he attended it and you were there as well, Mr Greyling from your unit was there as well, and Brigadier Schoon was there, and Mr Meyer, who was a member of C2, was also present?
MR HUGO: General, once again concerning Cosatu House, Mr De Kock will say that the evening before the operation, they were at Honeydew, before they were deployed and executed this operation, and that you were present there?
MR HUGO: Mr De Kock will also further testify that at the first meeting, and at the second meeting at Honeydew, and I'm trying to limit myself, I want to limit myself to Cosatu House, the motivation was put to them as to why Cosatu House had to be bombed, do you recall that?
MR HUGO: And then, General, I'm not sure if I understand you correctly, correct me if I am wrong, but concerning the Khotso House incident, I understood your testimony to the fact that, did you discuss the incident with Brigadier Schoon at Honeydew where other members were present, is that what you testified?
MR HUGO: Under these circumstances, I'm not sure if it did happen that way, because you see, General, Brigadier Schoon says he was not with you on the second incident and he did not attend the execution, he was only involved in the deployment of the first incident.
MR HUGO: And then, General, Mr De Kock will testify, as close to his recollection, it is indeed so that the evening at the house at Honeydew, and I am limiting myself to Khotso House, he did ask you what would happen if police members confronted us in this operation, and then you said they would have to be killed?
MR HUGO: Do I understand you correctly that this reference, as you put it, with the question what would he do if police officers caught them there and wanted to arrest them or wanted to have a hand in it, and under those circumstances they had to shoot their fellow police officers?
CROSS-EXAMINATION BY MR DU PLESSIS: General, can I ask you, you were present when Mr Vlok and General Van der Merwe referred to the situation that was prevalent, the background in which the security forces acted and the general testimony that they offered in terms of tacit orders. Can I ask you the same question then, do you agree with them?
MR DU PLESSIS: Now, General, can I just put it to you, with reference to Khotso House, Hennie Kotze and George Hammond, they were involved there, and I wish to put it to you that they will testify that you are correct when you say that there was a discussion with Paul Hattingh, their commanding officer, they were at the Bomb Disposal Unit, there was a discussion between yourself and Paul Hattingh, where the incident was discussed?
MR DU PLESSIS: Yes, and they will both testify that they are not both sure if they were present at the discussion, but they remember that there was a discussion with Paul Hattingh, but it is possible that they were present?
MR DU PLESSIS: Now, General, previously you heard what I put with reference to the incident at Khotso House, that there were two operations, the first one was - Colonel De Kock was not involved there, and the second one they were involved in, do you have any knowledge of that?
GEN ERASMUS: The first instance where they just went and had a look and did nothing, I cannot imagine that and I cannot recall if Zeelie or Beyers ever reported this to me. I cannot recall if I was present there and if I'm wrong, then I am sorry, but since these two, the real action and let's call it the attempted action, if I was there, then I would recall it.
MR DU PLESSIS: Because you see, as I read Mr Zeelie's answer, and I do not act on his behalf, but he confirms that there was a second operation, and if I read Colonel De Kock's application, then it is confirmed that Mr Zeelie informed him in this manner and that there was a first operation and a second one?
GEN ERASMUS: Can I just explain in this manner to the committee, there was an instruction that Cosatu House had to be bombed. Now the instructions stands until it is executed and I believe, with my background and my knowledge of the Security Branch, that people took, or used their own initiative. You see with Khotso House was something other than Cosatu House, Cosatu House was a building that was on a corner, it's easier to gain access there and to ensure that people are not hurt there, it is relatively easier. Cosatu House was a difficult operation, and therefore I have appreciation when these men say that they went there, they drove past, they saw there were many people in the street and they aborted their attempt, they did not continue, nothing happened.
MR DU PLESSIS: Thank you, General. And then I'd like to ask concerning another aspect, it seems this is going to be disputed in this hearing, and that is the South African Council of Churches, the manner in which they do their cross-examinations and the previous statements made, can I just ask you concerning this? These meetings that took place in Khotso House, do you remember, was it political meetings?
GEN ERASMUS: Well it was enciteful political meetings, and that building, the DPSC was also there, the Detainees' Parents Support Committee and other people were in that building. Large meetings was held there. If I tell you that there was at least 1 000 people at that building, then I am not exaggerating.
MR DU PLESSIS: He was a captain in your unit, and he was under your command until the end of 1986 when he was transferred to headquarters. He was transferred to headquarters before the Khotso House incident, but can you recall that he was used specifically in terms of the surveillance and gathering of information as to what happened in Khotso House?
MR DU PLESSIS: And I wish to put it to you now that what he will testify to that effect, he will testify that organisations who, amongst others, were coloured politically, he can recall who was in that building to the end of 1986 was, amongst others, the Black Sash, he will testify that the UDF had offices there, and he will testify that the so-called Education Opportunities Committee also had offices there, this is the organisation who supplied bursaries to black students, that the SA Council for Higher Education had offices there, and that there was a journalists' organisation who was also politically involved, with the names Afripix and Afriscope?
GEN ERASMUS: I cannot remember them all by name, but Michael Bellinghan would be in a very good position to say who was there, the UDF, the DPSC, the Black Sash and the Afripix, now that it is mentioned, I can recall it.
MR DU PLESSIS: And he could testify, General, that the problem with Khotso House was, in the first instance, the propaganda aspect. He will testify that from Khotso House and specifically from the World Council for Churches, there was international propaganda against the Republic.
MR DU PLESSIS: And this happened via the organisations that the World Church Council had contact with internationally and he will also testify that of this journalist organisation, from the offices in that building, sent information into the world by using faxes and photos in terms of the actions of police in South Africa?
MR DU PLESSIS: I am just putting it to you and you know that the committee and representatives of the SACC would know what Mr Bellinghan is going to testify to, and he will furthermore testify that they observed that trained terrorists entered and exited the building?
MR DU PLESSIS: And he will testify that academics, and he cannot remember exactly who, but a wide variety of academics from time to time entered the building, as well as representatives of unions and politicians.
MR DU PLESSIS: And then, in the last instance, General, he will testify that, according to his recollection, and according to their information, there was very few of the representatives of the South African Council of Churches who were aware of what happened in that building?
MR DU PLESSIS: And he will testify, as far as he can recall, according to their intelligence, they operated on a need to know basis, where the persons who were politically active in the building and that this does not mean that every representative of the South African Council of Churches knew what happened there.
CROSS-EXAMINATION BY MR BOTHA: General, just a few aspects which I'd like to clarify with you in order to be complete about this. I'd like to refer you to my client's amnesty application, page 323 of volume 1. This is applicant P C Snyders, and I would like to refer you to the paragraph at the top on that relevant page, the last sentence thereof, where mention is made to the fact that
"General Erasmus put it quite clearly that no-one was to speak about this incident afterwards, and if anyone did that, he personally would kill that person, he'd shoot him to death."
GEN ERASMUS: I've looked at this paragraph, Chairperson, and I think I put it very strongly across to them, somebody spoke to me recently and said that what I also said there was that those people who now decided to turn back and who do not want to take part in the organisation must do so, and if I put it that way as it's written here, and these people all know me, then I meant that no-one, but no-one, was supposed to talk about it, that was the intention, and I didn't mean physically, I'm not that brave to take those strong men on.
MR BOTHA: I'll accept that. I see quite a few applicants spoke about it afterwards and they're all still sitting here. So you do not deny that you did not say words to that extent, but let's accept that you did not seriously mean it, you only wanted to make sure they understand how serious the matter was?
GEN ERASMUS: Yes. If he understood it that way and if I had said something like that, I did not mean it in that sense, as in the case with Mr Vlok, I didn't mean it in the letter of the word. These people know how I talk.
"Everybody was armed, everybody gave (sic) the instruction that if anybody gave alarm, they would have to be shot."
And I would just like to get a bit of clarification because of that. It was put to them that if anything indicated to the point that this operation might fail, or that if something like that happened which might jeopardise the whole operation, then they would have authorisation to shoot, as a last resort. Can you just give us comment on that?
GEN ERASMUS: Chairperson, I wasn't in charge of the operation. Some of the people said this at the safety house. They were all under the charge of Mr De Kock, and I believe he's a responsible person. Where this is coming from is where these people's lives would have been in danger, then they would have shot, but you can think for yourself, Chairperson, if you're going to shoot therefore, then you're denying your own purpose. They did the security work and they only made sure to give a warning if other people appeared there, but the people who were inside the building, there's only a small group of people inside the building who were actually committing the actual deed, if at least then they'll be careful and they'll know what to do to get out of the building or to disappear and get out of the building then, so I do not think there was an actual intention to kill people on that scene, Chairperson.
MR BOTHA: No, we also accept it as such, there was no instruction given, it was initially the fact that, instruction that no-one should be killed, but the extent of my statement is that if it was absolutely necessary to save the situation, people could have been killed?
GEN ERASMUS: That is so, Chairperson, people, they went there armed, so it was different, but they went there to defend, they went there armed to defend themselves, so we have to accept that they could have come across anything at that time in those days, and when such an operation was planned, information concerning that could have leaked out and one does not know who might have been the source in the organisation who could have given the information, so maybe you arrived there and there's a whole group of people waiting for you there, so you have to be ready.
CROSS-EXAMINATION BY MR ROSSOUW: General, just the last point, let's call it the conclusion, that people could have been shot if such a situation came into being, my instructions is that Mr Van Heerden made this inference from Mr De Kock, or he confirms this, this statement by De Kock, and (indistinct) what you meant with it, but it's also my instructions to put it to you, General, firstly, with regards to Cosatu House, did you tell the Bomb Disposal Unit under your command beforehand that there might be such an operation, and then afterwards, when they had to visit the building, they'd know about it?
MR ROSSOUW: Mr Chairman that was, indeed, before the operation, the question was whether the general informed the personnel of the Bomb Squad that there was going to be an explosion, seeing that they would obviously attended the scene afterwards.
MS GCABASHE: You are distinguishing before the operation from before the instruction was given to him, that's what crossed my mind and that's why I want a bit of clarity, so that I can understand the answer?
MR ROSSOUW: No, no, I'm just referring to prior to the operation, but obviously after the instruction was given. General, as far as Khotso House is concerned, you said you heard that I had put it to General Van der Merwe what Mr Zeelie's recollection is with regards to the negotiations or the meeting which took place in Pretoria. Would you concede that if Mr Zeelie testifies that he and Beyers accompanied you at a specific occasion to Pretoria?
MR ROSSOUW: You did not say that in your chief evidence, but in cross-questioning you said that you and Mr Zeelie afterwards went to the Explosion Division, and that's indeed the testimony of Mr Zeelie, and my instructions are that at that occasion you spoke to Mr Hattingh and afterwards Mr Kotze and Hammond was also involved?
MR ROSSOUW: Chairperson, then I apologise, then I made a mistake. I specifically noted that during cross-questioning it was mentioned that he and Zeelie visited the Explosives Division. Maybe I was under the impression that that meeting only refers to the visit at General Van der Merwe's office, but I might be wrong. I accept it. General, and then, lastly, as far as the Khotso House incident is concerned, and specifically the first futile attempt or failed attempt, my instructions are that that specific evening also before the operation you were at Honeydew with the other personnel, but you did not actually drive with them to the building, but you were present at Honeydew, can you remember that?
You said yesterday it was a day before the actual incident. Now if it was a day before the actual incident, it's impossible that I cannot remember it, and I cannot remember that I was there and that someone informed me about it. Like I've said, there was an instruction given that this place must be blown up, and I believe Zeelie and those explosives guys are people with initiative, and certainly they might have gone around there to have a look and to see if there might not be a gap for them after Beyers might have told them that there aren't people around or inside the building, but then they met too many people there in the street, I do not know, it's an inference I'm making, I cannot be of assistance to you.
MR VISSER: Before my learned friend finishes, may I refer him to page 108, paragraph 1.9, also, Mr Chairman, which appears at volume 1, which appears to support the fact that the evidence of Zeelie was that it was the night before when there was the attempt and the following night they all went back to Khotso House, so it also seems to suggest one day prior to the actual event, 1.9 at page 108, unless there's a different explanation for this evidence, it certainly, on the face of it, seems to suggest that. It starts, I should have mentioned, it starts at page 107, paragraph 1.7 and 1.8 and then it goes, concludes at 1.9.
MR VISSER: Mr Lamey, just to clarify for us, is this a month before the operation, or is it the evening with the operation, or when was this meeting supposed to have happened? Was there only one meeting at Cosatu House, at Honeydew, or were there more meetings, let's just know, let us know exactly what you've got in mind here?
GEN ERASMUS: I accept that, but I'm saying in this Cosatu House incident, my person who represented me, that was Deon Greyling, and he was walking along with this all the time and he reported back. I do not know if I was there. If I was there, I was there, but I cannot remember though.
MR LAMEY: My question is in general, not you so much, but what I'm trying to say is, if I understand your evidence correctly with regards to Cosatu House, there was also a motivation given at that specific occasion by the Security Branch in Johannesburg with regards to the reason for this operation, or did I misunderstand your evidence?
MR LAMEY: Thank you, Chairperson, I thank my learned colleague. If that's your evidence then, so you accept they would have been given the motivation, but you're not sure whether you were present, and you cannot say with certainty if it happened in that way?
MR LAMEY: Because, you see, I just want to put it to you that Mr Mogoai, his recollection is that, now I must point it out to you that he refers in his application to Midrand, but since then my instructions have been that he made a mistake about the place and he's convinced that it was Honeydew, not Midrand, but during that gathering there, it was a very short meeting as far as he remembers, he says that round about 20 minutes, it lasted about 20 minutes, and instructions were only given with regards to the executing of this operation and nothing to do with the motivation for the operation. He was an Askari at that stage.
GEN ERASMUS: Chairperson, can I just put it this way, I am almost 99,9% sure that I was not there. I believe the people only got together there and from there, maybe they stayed there a little while, but from there they went to go and do this thing. I don't think at that stage it was still reason to give, it was still necessary to give instructions or motivation or anything, because they already had their instructions and they were tasked and they had to go and fulfil their task, so I cannot see what would have been the purpose of giving instructions then.
MR LAMEY: No, I'm just trying to clarify certain aspects. His version would be that some of the motivation came from Colonel De Kock. If you'll just give me a minute? General, then, and this is the same as I've asked Brigadier Schoon, and this is specifically with regards to the memories of Mr Nortje, and that is that Cosatu House was actually the problem of the Security Branch in Johannesburg, it fell within their jurisdiction?
MR LAMEY: And this problem had to be addressed by means of an explosion, and I accept that it was decided at Vlakplaas to execute this, is that correct, with the assistance of the Security Branch in Johannesburg?
MR LAMEY: But because it was in essence a problem which fell within the jurisdiction of the Security Branch in Johannesburg, Vlakplaas’ behaviour in broader terms, is actual assistance to the Johannesburg Security Branch?
MR LAMEY: It's also correct to accept that information, and here we're talking about General Greyling's application, that information with regards to access to the building, etcetera, that would also be the role of the Johannesburg Security Branch to convey that?
MR LAMEY: And is it also the idea created in Mr Nortje's mind, one of the motivations was that advantage would have been gained from this operation for Stratcom purposes, and that is the confusion amongst the members in the ANC, would that be a supplementary or a secondary motivation?
GEN ERASMUS: I think the explosion itself caused great confusion, because the people had to move, they had to find other accommodation, they had to set up new offices, some of, like for example the press that they relied on was destroyed, so yes, great confusion was caused.
MR LAMEY: But also confusion in the sense that, as far as Stratcom is concerned, that here's an explosion at a trade union, and wouldn't it cause confusion to the extent that the perception might be created amongst the general public that there might be other factions who do not see eye to eye with the countrywide strikes and the disruption of Cosatu?
MR VISSER: Mr Lamey, what's not clear to me, you say Stratcom would have thought this and this and this, was Stratcom informed about this before the time, about this operation, that is, so that they could have known that this is an objective or whatever, or was it something that Stratcom could deal with later, here's a result and now they must handle it and they must blame someone because it might be strategically advantageous to them either this way or another?
MR LAMEY: Chairperson, I can only put it this way that my client does not really know if an operative at the ground level, he doesn't know what the objectives was, these inferences come from his supplementary application. This was actually a Stratcom operation. Thank you, Chairperson, I have no further questions.
MR VISSER: Mr Chairman, before we step away from Mr Lamey, I wonder whether you would indulge me in referring you to the piece of evidence to which Mr Lamey has referred, that really came out of the cross-examination of Mr Schalk Hugo on behalf of Mr De Kock, and if I may refresh your memory, the evidence there was that there were two meetings according to Mr De Kock concerning Cosatu House, one earlier and then one on the evening just prior to the operation, and then it was put to General Erasmus, "At the first and the second meeting, this is what De Kock says, motivation was given to them in a broad manner", and I'm saying this because I mentioned it earlier and I'm not entirely correct, which I wrote down as "I believe we would have discussed the issue", so I just want to rectify if I mis-stated the position before, Mr Chairman. I'm not certain how important this is, but just for the record.
CROSS-EXAMINATION BY MR MAFOJANE: General, the million signature campaign to which Mr Du Plessis referred, and basically which was the collection of signatures calling for the release of President Nelson Mandela, would that have justified the bombing of Khotso House?
MR MAFOJANE: The Detainees' Parents Support Committee, which was a committee established to support detainees who were, amongst others, detained under section 29 with no access to legal representations and under very difficult conditions, would such a committee also justify the bombing of Khotso House, the fact that it was housed in that building?
GEN ERASMUS: It's again also only a part of the greater whole of the organisations who were resident in that building and it's important, it depends on what they kept themselves busy with, or what they were busy with.
MR MAFOJANE: Would the same go for the Black Sash, an organisation of white ladies of liberal leanings, very gentle souls, whose offices were also housed in Khotso House, would that justify the bombing of that building because of their presence there?
MR MAFOJANE: And I would also refer to the EOC, which provided bursaries and the South African Council of Higher Education, but I don't want to go ad nauseam into all these components, but are you saying... (intervention).
MR MAFOJANE: Yes, you were obviously in control of the security situation in the Witwatersrand area, particularly Johannesburg, and you would have had more access to information relating to events that occurred at Khotso House as well as at Cosatu House, and I'm referring here specifically to illegal activities, alleged illegal activities, where you say weapons of war were stored in these places and acts of war had been planned from these places, but you placed reliance on sources. Would you care to reveal who those sources are, these sources were sensitively placed?
GEN ERASMUS: Unfortunately, and it's my policy also, that I could never reveal any source, and me personally did not handle the sources, Chairperson, so I would also not know at this stage, I can't be of assistance to the committee at this point in time.
MR MAFOJANE: I also didn't expect you to reveal the sources, but you see my question actually just accentuates the dilemma that certain actions are undertaken, illegal actions are undertaken on the pretext that particular activities are going on, and the whole thing begs the question, because then the person who relies on the context of those activities going on cannot reveal their sources, and you know that is the difficulty that we sit with now at this point. Do you understand my dilemma?
GEN ERASMUS: Yes, I understand that, Chairperson, but nowhere in the world would you find that a security organisation would ever reveal its sources, because then that person's life's worth nothing, especially in this country, even still today.
MR MAFOJANE: Well, with the fall of East Germany, many files were made available to the public and people were shocked to find that their friends and family members were spying on them, but maybe because it was a communist country, I don't know... (intervention).
MR MAFOJANE: I will leave that issue, General, and move on. Now, by virtue of your having been in command of the Witwatersrand region, if events like bomb explosions went off, you would be charged with investigating those events, even if you were not personally involved, but wouldn't you be charged with seeing to it that those events were investigated and that the people responsible for those acts were brought to book where it was possible?
MR MAFOJANE: So now, with regard to this incident, the Khotso House incident and the Cosatu House incidents, and they happened during your tenure there as head of the Security Branch in the Witwatersrand area, who conducted these investigations?
GEN ERASMUS: Chairperson, his participation or his involvement would have been at the scene to render a report at the incident in terms of the extent of the damage, they had to find what kind of explosive was used that could serve as an exhibit, the extent of the damage and all those things, that would have been his task. He would report it to the person who handled the dossier then.
MR MAFOJANE: Now, General, I just want to refer you to the Khotso House incident as well, the preparations leading up to the incident and the instructions that were given out to the operatives who were going to execute the act there, you will agree with me that this was a top secret operation, wouldn't you?
MR MAFOJANE: Now, and I'm still going to harp on the same question, I think, that has been belaboured by everyone else, but just for clarity's sake, you said earlier on that instructions were that if the operatives who went there found people, and I think it's with regard to Khotso House, let me be fair and specific here, with regard to Khotso House, if they found people there, they should abort the mission, do you remember saying that?
MR MAFOJANE: Now let us go beyond, let us go beyond the stage of their arrival there, supposing now they're already, supposing now that these people are already in the building, as they were, and are busy, you know, with the operation itself, and lo and behold they are chanced upon by members of the uniformed branch, and let us accept that, you know, the various members didn't know each other really, you know, the members of the uniformed branch who used to patrol in the streets and catch bag snatchers and, you know, they wouldn't really know who the members of the Security Branch were, because this was a highly specialised elite unit, and they chanced upon there and these people in good faith believed that here are people, you know, with explosives in the basement of Khotso House and probably they are MK operatives, they could have even been mistaken for that, white MK operatives, and the members of the uniformed branch draw their guns, you know, what would have happened, what were these people who were there supposed to do, was any consideration given to that fact?
GEN ERASMUS: I think so, Chairperson, the manner, I think Mr Zeelie can help me out here, because I was not at the building myself, but the manner in which they entered the building, it is highly unlikely that any police person would find them inside the building, there was no way, he would have seen the people outside on the street, but there was no way that he or any other police person in uniform would find them there, because he would not have had access to the building.
MR MAFOJANE: But supposing, General, that he did have access, supposing, you know it's a hypothetical question, let us suppose that such a policeman or policewoman did have access and found those people there, what were the operatives supposed to do, what were their instructions, because if they were caught, it would have severely embarrassed the government?
GEN ERASMUS: That is so, Chairperson, but they made preparations that men who was outside the building, covered the outside of the building, would warn the people inside the building, if something happened like that, they would get away.
MR MAFOJANE: And this, of course, makes sense, it makes sense and gives credence to Colonel De Kock's version that they were instructed to shoot, if anything came in their way they were instructed to shoot, would you agree with me there?
GEN ERASMUS: I cannot argue with Mr De Kock, if I said something like that, I did not say it in the sense that "Kill police officers", but I knew that the manner in which they entered the building would not attract attention of police officers, it was late at night, there was a very small chance that movement would have been noticed, and these people would have just driven away if there was any other movement there.
CROSS-EXAMINATION BY MR THULARE: Mr Erasmus, I think it has been put in this hearing, and if I'm incorrect I'm sure my learned colleagues will correct me, that (machine goes dead), can you hear me now? What I wanted to put to you was that, I think some of my learned colleagues here have said that there will be testimony to this hearing that the initiative to bomb Khotso House might have actually emanated from your subordinate Zeelie Beyer and you then approached General Van der Merwe to get his approval and eventually approval was obtained from Mr P W Botha. I know you have testified that you don't really remember what happened in that regard, but is that possible?
GEN ERASMUS: It did not happen in that way. I received an instruction, and among my subordinates they must have discussed it, that I cannot deny. This place was a thorn in the flesh. The possibility was discussed, I will not deny it, but this is not what happened.
"Just like as in the case of Cosatu, I received an instruction from General Van der Merwe and the extent was basically the same. I cannot recall if he specifically mentioned if the instruction came from the State President or the Minister, but he did say that there was approval for it."
MR THULARE: And you were asked in cross-examination whether the Anglican Church, which was one of the churches which had its offices at Khotso House, whether it was one of the targeted churches, organisations, and you said no. May I put it to you that at the time of this bombing, those organisations which one can say had an explicit political motive, like the UDF or even perhaps the Detainees Committee, had been restricted in terms of the emergency regulations, had been restricted in February of that year, is that correct?
MR THULARE: So that at the time when this bombing took place, those organisations that you would have regarded as having an explicit political motive, had been restricted, went along operating, and only charitable and church organisations, sorry for that, only charitable or religious organisations were operating in that building at the time?
GEN ERASMUS: That was information that we received from there. I cannot say, I don't think that we ever found it. At the time when we had an opportunity to enter there, I wish to tell you, if you know Cosatu House, it was closed in front, it was difficult to get in there without anybody else coming out from the back with a weapon.
GEN ERASMUS: Oh, you meant Khotso House. The impression that I got from the testimony that was mentioned here, weapons were stored there for a short while until the operative collected it and took it further. It was not something as I understood it, and it came from the source that it was a continual thing, that there was an arsenal there, but it was brought there and the people took it away again.
GEN ERASMUS: I said the information - I don't believe they are correct that they operated from there, I think what was said in testimony was that they visited there and possibly received finance from there, probably picked up weapons from there, I don't believe it was a terrorist operational base, that was not the idea that I inferred.
MR THULARE: Well I'll rephrase my question, the allegation that so-called terrorists visited the building for the purposes that you have just stated, including collecting weapons, and that weapons were stored there, is denied by the SACC.
MR THULARE: Well my instructions are that the only people who came there to receive financial assistance were legal persons in the country, who were being helped by the charitable organisations that were operating there, and... (intervention).
ADV DE JAGER: (Indistinct - not at mike), then put it to him that no person received money for illegal purposes or in support of the struggle, as such, but that they obtained money for welfare and whatever it might have been.
MR THULARE: I will just put it as I have been instructed. That as far as the South African Council of Churches is concerned, that building, the terrorists as you have alleged did not visit that building for the purpose that you allege they went there for and that no weapons were stored in that building - that building wasn't used for those illegal activities that you allege occurred.
ADV GCABASHE: General, if I might just put my question to you. I understand part of the problem being that of what the State may have interpreted as a illegal act on the part of terrorists, how they would have interpreted terrorists, vis-a-vis how any other member of the public who did not subscribe to the State's interpretation might have interpreted that. So it's quite possible that your interpretations of what an illegal act was, what was or was not going on in that building, you know whether it was a social justice issue or part of a terrorist activity - those interpretations will differ which is why you might not be able to agree with some of the propositions put to you, I don't know.
GEN. ERASMUS: Well I would assume, Chairperson, under these circumstances where these people formed part of the larger struggle, they did not see the people as terrorists but as liberators, if that is what your question is.
CHAIRPERSON: But we have been told, as I understand the evidence, that people called at this building and were given money to leave the country to undergo training outside the country or that people who had received such training returned to the country, would call at this building where they would again be given finance. Has there been a single prosecution of a person who left the country in this way or who came back in this way where it was proved that they received their money at the South African Council of Churches? Because we have numerous prosecutions over the years of people in this position.
GEN ERASMUS: Chairperson, I cannot give you a direct answer or an example to that effect but I don't know if people who were prosecuted who went there but that people were arrested and there were trials, that is true.
MR THULARE: I'm instructed that there were indeed prosecutions relating to allegations that certain of the office bearers and church ministers had harboured terrorists and those prosecutions failed, can you confirm that?
MR THULARE: Earlier in your evidence it was put to you that you had instructed at the preparatory meeting or meetings before the bombings that if uniformed police, if anyone obstructed the team that was going to damage these buildings they should be killed and you said that you didn't mean it in the literal sense and it was also put to you that you had told some of your subordinates that if they ever spoke about these incidents they would be killed and you said that you didn't mean in that sense.
GEN ERASMUS: Chairperson, I want to explain it in such a way. We are talking about really tough policemen and we speak our own language and you must accept it like that. If I said it like that I did not mean it like that.
GEN ERASMUS: What I meant was that in the case of confrontation, like I've said, these people could have been confronted by terrorists and they could have been shot at and they had to defend themselves and the other thing which you were saying that if somebody talks about this that he has to be shot I only meant again - I just emphasised how absolutely secret this operation was.
CROSS-EXAMINATION BY MR MAFOJANE: Mr Erasmus, I heard you saying it may have happened that the subordinates discussed the question of bombing Khotso house before an order was given. Did I understand you correctly?
MR MAFOJANE: Is it perhaps also possible that after - I'm now referring to Cosatu House - after Cosatu House was bombed and it happened that Cosatu occupies different buildings that your members will take the initiative of following them wherever they are going?
GEN ERASMUS: I cannot comment on that but there must be a possibility. I know that in Johannesburg, it's an easy place for all organisations to come and do their things and that happened. Other organisations outside of the Police, that is.
MR MAFOJANE: And last question, Mr Erasmus, talking about the sources - you said you won't reveal the sources but isn't it that as an amnesty Vlok has said that he went to De Klerk and said can I break the oath of secrecy. Is it not perhaps so that even here before the TRC you have to tell us everything in accordance with the doctrine of the full disclosure?
MR VISSER: Mr Chairman, I'm going to reply to that question. That is not part of what the Act expects, there is no question that it is expected from any handler of any informer in the past to divulge that identification and if this is going to become an issue, Mr Chairman, I would ask to address you fully on that issue. It's not a requirement of the Act to make full disclosure, to also disclose the identity of your informers.