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Type AMNESTY HEARING
Starting Date 08 May 1998
Names SIPHO MATTHEWS THOBELA
MR VAN DEN BERG: Thank you Mr Chairperson. You need to guide me just in terms of your time constraints, I see that it's already midday. Is the intention that we complete as close to 1 o'clock as possible?
MR VAN DEN BERG: Thank you Mr Chairman, I don't imagine that this will take terribly long. Mr Chairperson, one of the matter which this Committee had indicated that it wants to hear evidence on is the attacks on Sasol 1 and 2.
A person by the name of Sipho Matthews Thobela was involved in those attacks. He's not an applicant before this Committee however he has lodged an application for amnesty. It's the only incident for which he applies for amnesty and accordingly we believe that it would be best if it's disposed of at this time and so I'm bringing an application to join his amnesty application with the other applications already before this Committee .
MR STEENKAMP: Sure Mr Chairman, I think that the position is that, if I'm not mistaken the contents of the application of Mr Thobela was not I think regarded at that stage as hearable matter but surely it must be dealt with now.
CHAIRPERSON: So if it's - the only application is in respect of the Sasolburg attack then the due notification to victims, if any the interested parties, implicated person etc., has been complied with in respect of the other applicants who have applied so there would be no objection from that point or no difficulty from that point in joining the ...[indistinct]
CHAIRPERSON: Mr van der Berg, I think the practical and wise thing to do would be to join Mr Thobela as an applicant in these hearings. Are there any objections from any of the other applicants in this regard, to that occurring?
CHAIRPERSON: Yes, if his application is properly before the Commission and has been filed in timeously and it seems that the only reason why it's not before us at the moment is because it was separated from the others because it was considered to be an unhearable as opposed to a hearable.
Then the obvious route to follow to join him and he is so joined but I must say Mr van den Berg, it will just be subject to us getting the application form. I think we must have the application form in front of us because there are other applicants involved in the same incidents notification to victims, interested and implicated persons has been complied with so Mr Thobela'a application will then be considered at this hearing.
Mr Thobela, you have before you which is now Exhibit F, a copy of your application form, could you have a look at that? Would you turn to page 6 of the application form? You will note that it is unsigned, can you give an explanation for that/
CHAIRPERSON: Sorry Mr Thobela, I don't want to interrupt but you pushed to button on your microphone? It just makes me nervous when these lights don't come on, I'm not sure whether it's working or not.
ADV MOTATA: Mr Thobela, just before Mr van den Berg commences, did you receive any acknowledgement from the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, that is the Amnesty Committee wing, that your application was duly received?
MR VAN DEN BERG: You've also prepared a statement which is Annexure G before you. I'd like you to take the Committee through this statement, adding where you need to add. I may interrupt you from time to time as may members of the Committee.
"I was born on the 24th of May 1956 in Chatterston township near Nigel. The township was later removed to Duduza. I schooled in Nigel, starting my high school there. However I later moved to a boarding school in Nelspruit where I attended school until 1976. At the time 1976, June 16 uprising my fellow students started questioning the authorities on the deaths of our fellow students in Soweto and other townships. We began organising in our school around the issue of Afrikaans. However maths and science subjects in our school were done in Afrikaans and we found it difficult to receive education in Afrikaans.
"As a result of these proposals I and a number of students were arrested and I was detained for approximately two months during the period which I was intensively interrogated and tortured. I was asked questions about my involvement in Sasol, my attitude towards the ANC and Frelemo.
"Towards the end of my periods of detention I was charged with sabotage. When the case was postponed I was released into the custody of the principal of my school. I went home in Nigel. In Nigel I realised that there was a total war between students and the police. We as students had no means of defending ourselves. I was also afraid of further detention.
And the prospect of being jailed, arising from sabotage charges which charges were devoid of substance, I arranged with a number of other friends to leave the country. I left South Africa in early '77 travelling to Swaziland. There I joined the ANC for a period. I worked locally for the ANC in Swaziland.
In March 1977, I went to Angola via Mozambique. I received initial training at Nova Kateng Camp. This camp was later bombed by the SADF. In April 1978 I went for specialised reconnaissance training in USSR. I returned to Angola and received further training at Fazenda.
I was called to Funda Camp to join a special unit which was being trained by Rashid. After a period of training we were re-deployed in Maputo. In Maputo I was instructed by comrade Joe Slovo to conduct reconnaissance at Sasol 2 plant in Secunda. I was to conduct reconnaissance with comrade Mutudi, another member of special operations.
MR VAN DEN BERG: Can I interrupt you there Mr Thobela? We know from the evidence that has been presented to this Committee, that reconnaissance was also done at Mobil and at Sasol 1, did you know about that at the time?
MR THOBELA: You see we used to operate on the basis of, you give information to those who require it. We used not to know the other sub-unit, what was it doing. That was not our way of working, that we know everything about special operations.
"We conducted the reconnaissance for approximately two weeks, pretending to be persons seeking employment at Sasol 2. We stayed in the hostel area and the area around, occasions at the police station nearby"
MR THOBELA: You see in Sekunda, because Sasol it's a national keypoint, so always there was a presence of police, always this nearby police station near the hostel. So whenever you come, being a stranger in a hostel, you report to a police.
You take out your ID book, the police notes you down, already notes. Early in the morning we are going for work while we are doing reconnaissance, that's what was happening. Those police were very kind for us.
"By so doing we were able to speak to a number of people which enables us to supplement what we were able to observe. On our return to Maputo we reported to comrade Joe Slovo and Rashid. They instructed us to start planning an attack on Sasol 2.
"After a period of planning, which planning was overseen and vetted by comrade Joe Slovo and Rashid, we were instructed to infiltrate the country. Material had already been made available to us through a DLB. We arrived in the country on Friday" ...[intervention]
"We arrived in the country on Friday after a mishap of involving a motor car which overturned, planned to execute the mission of Saturday. The was on the Republic Day, 31st of May 1980. The attack was planned to coincide with the Republic Day.
MR THOBELA: Alright. As we were staying in a hostel at the time, now and then early in the morning we used to look at the shifts so that we avoid loss of life of civilians, workers, even some of the engineers. So we had to take time because even at 9 o'clock on Friday we had to go to the target and observe how many people were there especially when we knew exactly where we were going to plant the limpet mines.
"After final reconnaissance we commenced the operation. At approximately 21H00 we cut through the fence, placed the limpet mines in the appropriate place then withdrew"
"We were not detected and we did not encounter anybody in the process. We immediately returned to Swaziland where we met comrade Obadi and comrade Rashid, then they directed us to Maputo on the very same night.
MR THOBELA: It was the - actually we were overwhelmed to put it straight, because we were also exited to do such a big operation to undermine and prejudice the apartheid system. We heard that fire was raging in Sasol and they announced both Sasols although then I didn't know, my fellow comrades they were also part of this coordination of attack. We were highly, you know, motivated and highly encouraged to fight more.
"On the 30th January 1981 I was also involved in an incident known as "Matola Raid". This occurred in a residential area in Maputo in a house which I and a number of MK cadres resided, was attacked by what we believed, mercenaries, it was not SADF per se because those people, we know SADF, the style of attack, we know everything about them. Those were pure mercenaries"
"And then in a house in which MK cadres were resided was attacked by believed mercenaries. Whilst I was preparing to go and sleep I heard a sound of gunfire whereby all the comrades were lined up like in a firing squad"
"So they started shooting. When they started shooting I peeped through the window, I could see a gang of mercenaries approaching and shooting at our comrades. I had to retaliate to defend the comrades. Later when I escaped in that house, I escaped through the roof, parachuted on a tree. I realised there was a body lying but later when I was in hospital I was discovered that it was Mike Hutchinson(?) that was from the press, and when the family from London was coming to collect him, the corpse in Mozambique. Now this shows again that the main attack was mercenaries"
MR THOBELA: I was shot with four bullets and then I went for intensive care for a period of three months in Mozambique. And then, later when I asked some friends who were coming to visit, I asked how many people died and they said five comrades died in our residence and the other residences also some people died.
But what was funny with that is that their ears were cut with the bayonet. After shooting a comrade they cut the ear. We showed that - the mercenaries had to go and put the ear on top of the table and then get paid their fat cheques.
MR THOBELA: When I was discharged from Maputo military hospital the President suggested that due to my ill health I could no longer proceed with operations and I should then be taken to school to get some skills in some way although my career was petroleum engineering at the time but my health was not up to standard, then I was sent to East Germany to study welding technology.
"My injuries were of such a nature that I could no longer act as an operative, accordingly fulfilled various administrative roles in the ANC. I was not operationally deployed after this time. As a result of my involvement in the ANC and MK my family which remained behind in Duduza were harassed. My two sisters were killed in a bomb that was thrown into our home. May father was detained together with a number of prominent activists, example Popo Molefe and Terror Lekota. He was initially part of Delmas Prison Trial but due to illness he was unable to stand the trial. He died mysteriously, under mysterious circumstances in Germiston hospital"
MR VAN DEN BERG: Thank you Mr Thobela. Can I refer you back to your application for amnesty, that's Annexure F, sorry Exhibit F. Could you just briefly explain to the Committee your political motivation for joining MK and for being involved in the operation which you've just described?
MR THOBELA: To explain more detailed, during my torture in Nelspruit the South African special branches especially taught me hatred, they taught me how to do some of the things. Was it not the ANC with provided us with political education maybe things would have gone out of hand, so we were still keeping in principle with the ANC and we can't defy our leaders on what we were advised on.
CROSS-EXAMINATION BY MR VISSER: You explained that you had to make certain that your brothers who worked at Sasol would not be affected or injured, killed, why do you specifically confine it to your brothers?
MR THOBELA: You see what, engineers, those are the people who are developing the country but to think I can compare police, a white a police at that time and an engineer, I couldn't. A police was ruthless are far as I'm concerned Sir.
MR VISSER: Yes, you see Mr Ismail, Aboobaker Ismail on a question, I believe it was from Mr Motata, gave the same answer. He said he considered whether there might be danger to the residents of a black - I've forgotten the name, Zandela.
And what I want to put to you - perhaps I should add this as well, we have a note here that - and I'm just going to refer to him as Rashid, that Rashid said that you were a person who killed Nazi soldiers, I think the note reads. Would that be a fair description of you? He said: "He killed Nazi soldiers", do you have any comment on that?
MR VISSER: And the very next question following from that is: "Are you actually saying that the Metola raid was carried out, not by the South African Defence Force but by mercenaries, is that your evidence"?
MR THOBELA: I know that because if it were Afrikaans speaking I would have said it's Afrikaans, the so-called SADAF but due to the nice English, pure British English one could simply distinguish between a Boer and a British and the way those people attacked, shooting even meat in the fridge, shooting everything that was there because they believed that a guerilla can change himself to be a meat in the fridge, that's what I believed. Now you could see those are acts of mercenaries. By cutting the ears of comrades you could also prove it. They need an ear to go and be paid.
MR THOBELA: Look, the SADF if it's afraid of embarrassment of its troops they simply employ mercenaries in instances. For instance in Angola most of these Executive Outcomes they're from mercenary groups, you see that. Some of them are former SADF soldiers.
MR VAN DEN BERG: Mr Chairperson, there is one further applicant in respect of the Sasol incident, unfortunately due to personal circumstances he is not available today. I'm not sure that we would have finished him in the time that is allowed in any event so perhaps this is an appropriate time for us to adjourn.
As stated previously, we will be adjourning now for the day and we'll then resume again in this hall next Monday, hopefully at 09H30 in the morning. We'll then adjourn till next Monday, that will be the 11th of May 1998 at this hall at 09H30, thank you.