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Human Rights Violation Hearings
Type HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS, SUBMISSIONS QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Starting Date 18 November 1996
Names GENERAL DIRK VAN DER BANK
Case Number EAST LONDON MASSACRE II
GEN VAN DER BANK: Thank you very much Mr Chairman. Mr Chairperson first of all I would like to say that it must be a very painful experience, and through you I would like to speak to the people to be sitting here. It must be a painful experience for us all that were there that day. I also want to say that I think, especially for those people who have lost their loved ones, it must be very painful to come here and to re-live that horrible incident that happened that day. I can say nothing, and I want to say it in public, I can say nothing else than to admire the courage of the people who have lost their loved ones to come and sit here and re-live every moment of that again.
I also want to say I lived in Ciskei. I was appointed as Deputy Commander after the Jamongile affair, and I had to resign from the South African Defence Force, because I was asked, there was a crisis with the leadership in the CDF if
I would mind to take over. I said yes I will at high risk of losing everything that I have done for 20 years in the South African Defence Force. I am not saying this to you because I am saying it to the panel, but because I liked the country, I loved staying here. I have seen children walking every day to school unlike other people are used to taking in smart cars to school, they walk 20 to 30 kilometres to school without water, the basic food etc, and they are still smiling. I have seen people driving past them with empty cars, not giving them lifts. I have seen that to other people, to the older people also. People standing in queues for pension for hours and hours without basic facilities. That is one of the reasons why I stayed, I thought that maybe we can help.
I was acutely aware of the fact that when I arrived here the soldiers were seen as a sort of another community. The soldiers and the rest of the Ciskean people. I tried my best to rectify that, because I know it's not only being a soldier, a soldier is also part of the community. That man must come from somewhere, and that somewhere is a community. He is still part of the headman system. He is still under the authority of his father, so I had to appreciate all those inputs whilst being the deputy commander, and I tried my best to accommodate that.
In the absence of the then commander I have said to the people, to the soldiers, that we realise that soldiers are not entities, that soldiers have family, loved ones all over EAST LONDON HEARING TRC/EASTERN CAPE
the country and most probably because you cannot pressure somebody to belong to a certain political party, that most probably some of his closest relatives will be in the march. So in the absence, when I briefed the politicians and I said to them, I was on record, three things, four things, I said to them please there must be a political solution to this beforehand, there must be no shooting, because Ciskei and its people cannot afford any harm to anybody, any human right violation, we cannot afford that.
Thirdly, there must be a political solution to this. There is no other solution to the march that was to come. And I was on record, and I was so confident that I left my family in my home, they were 800 metres from the march, I said that there will be no shooting that day, I trust that everybody will stick to the agreed contracts.
Lastly, from my side, I would like to say, it was the most horrific and tragic experience in my life. I cannot talk on behalf of other people, but I can presume in their lives too. When the shots started it felt like a hammer blow in my stomach, and I said to myself God, no, this cannot be happening. What else can I do but to say I am truthfully sorry on what happened that day. I am trying my best to feel with you. I am waking up for the last four years every morning re-living the moments. It is engraved, I think I will take it to my grave what happened that day. EAST LONDON HEARING TRC/EASTERN CAPE
MR POTGIETER: Thank you General. The comment I would like to make is to say that you are definitely a person of courage and such a contrast to other testimonies that we have heard in this regard. But let me ask my fellow panellists whether they have got any questions that they would like to pose to you. Advocate Sandi.
MR SANDI: Thank you Mr Chairman. Mr van der Bank can I ask you, you say on that particular day you did everything humanly possible to prevent the tragedy, is that to say that you anticipated that something could happen on that day, and can you tell us what steps exactly did you take to try and prevent this tragedy?
GEN VAN DER BANK: Mr Chairman thank you. I was deputy-commander, I was not the commander on that day. All the steps that we have taken, I appreciate your question, we have tried to do before that day. We have briefed the politicians of Ciskei, we have briefed the RSA politicians, and like any military activity you spell out certain scenarios and you give advice on what you think would be the best. If that is ignored then there is nothing I can do about it. That is what we did Sir. And we were all very relieved, I think at quarter to 12 that day it came through that an agreement has been reached that the march can proceed to the Bisho stadium. We were all relieved that some sort of solution has been reached.
GEN VAN DER BANK: Sir, Mr Chairman it was general talk. There were so many incidents beforehand, rumours running around, conflict between all parties which we know what happened, so it was the possibility that something could happen was not ruled out.
GEN VAN DER BANK: Mr Chairman rumours are not facts, but if one lived in Ciskei at that stage and we have all lived there and you have seen all the incidents, experienced all the incidents then anything could happen.
MR SANDI: When you say you were the deputy commander on the day in question, is that to say that you were exercising delegated authority, someone, that is the actual commander had delegated his powers on to you?
GEN VAN DER BANK: When the crowd moved in there were factions, if I can call it that of the crowd running all over, going there, coming back, going there, it was chaos. The noise was such that I couldn't hear the people talking next to me. It was terrible. When the crowd ran through the stadium they got out of line of sight from me. Soon afterwards the operational commander, Colonel Nkosana shouted to me on the radio and said, "they are shooting at us, they are shooting at us", and I said to him "are you sure that they are shooting at you?" So there was a quiet period again. And then he came back in a panicky voice and he said "they are shooting at us, they are shooting at us, they are going to kill us." And I said "are you sure", he said "yes they are shooting at us". I relayed that information to the then CDF commander.
GEN VAN DER BANK: Yes. I could not determine from where I was standing, because of the noise and the chaos that took place, I could not determine whether it was taking place or not and I had solely to rely on the commander on the ground.
GEN VAN DER BANK: Sir the situation was so chaotic and intense and the tone of the operational commander's voice was such a panic, I cannot describe it to you, and he had training, he was a senior commander, and he had training in that, and the command to fire doesn't mean everybody just starts firing.
MR SANDI: Thank you Mr Chairman. Mr van der Bank as you have said rumours are rumours, one can never know if what is being said is true, do you perhaps have an idea as to where these rumours were emanating from?
GEN VAN DER BANK: Mr Chairman I am not completely au fait with the intelligence picture and with due respect Sir I think Colonel Chris Nel will have a much more detailed explanation of that. I cannot answer that in detail. I would like to but I cannot.
GEN VAN DER BANK: I have not prepared a typed statement, but here it is, I have met, and this is the first time that this is publicly known, I have met with the ANC Youth League in Alice in a secret meeting being the Deputy Commander, contradicting all orders and expectations prior to the march, trying, and I didn't want to say this, trying to solve the things on our levels. If that came to being whilst me being there I would have surely lost my job.
"The probability remains that there was no shooting from the demonstrators and that the version of the CDF is false or at best highly exaggerated".
GEN VAN DER BANK: No, no, Mr Chairman I've said that I had to, Doctor I had to completely rely on the operational field commanders' integrity. There was no physical way in determining, I wish I could have, I really wish I could have. There was no way in determining whether it was so or not. I had to rely on his word, he's a senior officer.
"The Commission noted that in order to prevent demonstrators leaving the stadium there should have been a visible and strong show of force there. For the CDF commanders to claim as they did, that they were unaware of the gap in the fence is highly negligent and unprofessional to a startling degree".
GEN VAN DER BANK: I have listened to the previous comments on the gap in the fence. I have not even visited the terrain before that, because I said that there will be no transgression of the contract, and I was not aware, and that is the truth before God, I was not aware of any holes in the fence. I didn't know it could play any part, should it play EAST LONDON HEARING TRC/EASTERN CAPE
"When the crowd in that area turned to flee, on the CDF version the continued and prolonged firing was quite unjustified and unlawful".
GEN VAN DER BANK: Mr Chairman if, and I am not saying that the Doctor was not there or is aware of what happened, if you were there you experienced the panic, the total chaos, everybody shouted to stop firing, I shouted till I couldn't shout anymore, but there was total panic. I think everybody just panicked. Everybody that was confronted with the crowd just panicked.
MR POTGIETER: Thank you. Can I just round up before I go to my colleagues on the left the point that Dr Ramashala has touched upon. I know and I've heard you saying that you had to depend on what you were told over the radio by your colleague Mr Nkosana, but on all of the evidence, on all of the indications there is no evidence at all that any shots were fired from the crowd. Now I am not referring to that day, obviously you had to respond under those circumstances, but today, was there any other evidence, apart from what Mr Nkosana told you that compelled you to the conclusion that there was actually shooting from a part of the crowd, or do you accept now because it appears to be the case that there was no shooting from the crowd?
MS MKHIZE: I will just be brief and you will be free to give additional information if you have any. If you feel you have none feel free not to answer that. In terms of the Act, the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act of 1995, Act no. 1934 of 1995 which guides our operations one of the things that I emphasise is that there will be a need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation and a need for wound but not for victimisation, one witness shortly before you came in here, she said she is still traumatised by the bodies which she saw on that day.
MS MKHIZE: And she is here, she is listening to you, if I might just ask you to respond having in mind real lives that were lost, what would you say what went wrong on that day? I mean I can understand both from the previous General and yourself that all the people were sincere, but something went seriously wrong. And I should think for the witnesses the question of the truth is the form of reparation and we see it as a gate towards their healing.
GEN VAN DER BANK: Thank you. Mr Chairman my personal feeling is it was a political blunder. That is how I feel about the whole thing. And I think it's just tragic that lives had to be lost, of innocent people because of political stubbornness.
under which they can fire was not properly understood by the troops and was not adhered to, can you maybe explain why ordinary citizens were not protected? I can understand the political processes but I am just thinking from law and order that I take it if there were members of the South African defence force, the security police, they were all there to protect the citizens, so when I say what went wrong I am raising that question from that point of view, the promotion of public security.
GEN VAN DER BANK: It's a very difficult answer, I think we are all looking for that, even me is every day searching of, and I think in retrospect you know for everybody to say that went wrong, that went wrong is easy, but to have been there, to have experienced what was happening for the previous weeks on that day and afterwards, I think it was a combination of many things that culminated that day into what happened there. That's all I can answer. I don't know what to say else.
REVEREND XUNDU: Thank you Mr Chairman. You have said quite unequivocally how sorry you are for that event, you see the understanding that the curse of the time was gleeing at Black on Black foundation, now I would like to ask you what suggestions do you have in mind for reconciliation and the restoration and healing of the nation? You having been placed in that position where you actually were responsible for a force which killed, how do you begin, what in your mind would you like to begin to restore the healing and reconciliation between Black families who were police in the EAST LONDON HEARING TRC/EASTERN CAPE
GEN VAN DER BANK: Thank you. Mr Chairman I think it's much easier for me to give that answer than it is for the people who have lost loved ones. I will try. I think we all must try and contribute and that is why I am here today. I would have come even if I did not get an invitation because for four years I have been living with this. I think that by contributing and telling the truth and feeling really sorry on what happened is already the first step in healing the bleeding wounds of those people who have suffered, and that we must have a mutual understanding. I can just say, and I don't want to clamp down on the seriousness of this that people asked me, White people asked me, how are you staying in Ciskei, are you safe there, and I said yes I think I am more safe there than I was in King Williamstown when I stayed there. Yes we have made good friends and I think we must take the road forward.
REVEREND XUNDU: There is an area of pain in which there seems to be an uneven handed way of dealing with perpetrators and survivors/victims, and I think that, and people say that people who were serving on the system were awarded by golden handshakes thus ...(tape ends), and do you think that there should be the kind of Zachias/Jesus confrontation where he says I will pay back what I have stolen, even if it's token? I will try and contribute to a fund which looks after children who have been made orphans because we need a movement from those who were perpetrators, especially on the White side, to begin to make a movement which takes a costly road, a Damascus kind of road towards
reaching out to saying let us be one, let us feel the differences. Have you ever thought of that or you have thought about it could you make a suggestion? You don't have to now, you can sleep over it and probably write to us and say here are some of the suggestions you want to make which we can follow up and probably ask you to address White communities about this possibility?
GEN VAN DER BANK: Mr Chairman it's a big question. It's a simple question but it doesn't have a simple answer. Yes I agree with the principle. We will have to sleep on it and then make contributions towards the Commission.
MR POTGIETER: Alright, just before, can I just come back General to a point that you have made and perhaps ask you to explain it a bit more carefully, when you were asked about what went wrong on this day you responded by saying that it has been a political blunder, now would you like to explain that more carefully to us, what you actually mean by that, political blunder, and by whom and so forth?
GEN VAN DER BANK: Thank you very much. I think even if it went to the extent of saying incorporation now, no but's or if's or anything but incorporation now, to prevent a thing that has happened on that day. Even to go as far as that. And I think if people really wanted to politically solve that they could have done that.
GEN VAN DER BANK: Mr Chairman I will give you an honest answer, it was not my level. I just went to brief them at the Embassy before the march took place and we have reiterated to them that they must do everything possible, everything possible to prevent any incident from taking place, any confrontation to take place.
The second question relates to essentially the fact that you had to go to the South African Embassy and speak with them about what was going to happen, and the significance for me lies around the notion that apartheid did intrude in our lives, in the lives of ordinary South Africans, but especially in the lives of men like yourself who worked in the defence force and in the police, and since South Africa was involved to that extent, because obviously it was otherwise you would not have gone to the South African Embassy, how would you reflect on the way that you were socialised as men of the army or police whatever? How would you reflect on the way the apartheid ideology socialised you in terms of relating or in terms of dealing with for example situations of liberation struggle, can you tell us about that? But it's those two questions I'd like to know.
GEN VAN DER BANK: Thank you. Mr Chairman the answer on the first question is I think I have never been nearer to God since that day, me or my family. My wife, my children heard the shots, they were lying on the floor in the house. They were in standard 6 and 7 respectively so they are also traumatised by the whole event. That's my first answer to your question. I am trying, I am a sinner like anybody is I think Sir, I am trying my best to stay as close to God as possible. That has been my pillar of strength this past four years. Yes I am a man, I am no less a man than anybody else, you still get that nagging feeling coming back every morning sitting in your stomach, you still get that.
I am not standing away from that. I think indoctrination and the way of life had much to do with that. But I grew up in the Eastern Cape and I don't think it was a problem ever for me. That was one of the reasons I came to Ciskei because I thought that I would understand the cultures, the traditions, everything.
MR POTGIETER: Thank you General. I want to conclude, I just want to ascertain whether there are any other very, very burning questions, perhaps some pointed ones so that we can draw to a close here. Thanks.
GEN VAN DER BANK: Mr Chairman I have foreseen this and I will be quite honest about it, because there was, and I am not implying that the Commissioner is saying he is jealous. There were a lot of professional jealousy about my appointment first of all, and secondly when I was appointed after General Olshig was de-seconded I was appointed as chief of the Ciskei defence force because nobody else was qualified or able. That I will come to your answer Sir ...(intervention)
GEN VAN DER BANK: Mr Chairman I will again answer straightforward and I am doing it with all respect, I have listened to the previous testimonies here, I have noted that that question has been asked and I can say to you again truthfully today no medals were given because of the Bisho incident. I think that is the last thing that would have happened. The morale at that stage, any defence force give out medals, the morale at that stage was at a low time or at an all time low and we had to do something just to pick up the morale of the Ciskei Defence Force, and that was the reason for the medal parade.
MR SANDI: Or let me put the question differently, are there any members of the Ciskei defence force who were demoted, in other words brought down, demoted from the ranks which they occupied on the 7th September 1992 when the tragedy occurred?
GEN VAN DER BANK: No Sir, there was no reason, a man only gets demoted if he commits a crime, he is found guilty and then sentenced. That's the only way in the military way EAST LONDON HEARING TRC/EASTERN CAPE
MR SANDI: Do you know, a number of names have been mentioned to this Commission, both today and last time when this Commission started looking into the Bisho massacre, one of those names is Mr Antonie Nieuwoudt, do you perhaps know this person?
GEN VAN DER BANK: Mr Chairman no he was not part of the military. He was paid by the government and his job was that with the government, he was not part and parcel of the military. He stood outside the military.
you have said, and although I don't foresee it at this stage there might be a possibility of raising some more issues with you in due course, but for the moment you are excused from further attending the proceedings. Thank you very much.