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Human Rights Violation Hearings
Type HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS, SUBMISSIONS QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Starting Date 10 June 1997
Names JOHN FREETH
Case Number HEARINGS
CHAIRPERSON: Before we call on Reverend John Freeth to be our next witness, may I recognise Professor Ras Altman from the School of Business Studies at the Peninsula Technikon and lecturer Mr Charles Manual in our midst. Welcome to our proceedings.
MS BURTON: Good morning again Mr Freeth and welcome. Thank you very much for coming to present a submission before the Commission today. You have given us an outline of the points that you wish to make for which we thank you.
We know that you will be well known to many of the people in the audience here today and respected for the stand you took at the time of the events that we are talking about. So we just ask you to go ahead and tell us your evidence.
REVD FREETH: Thank you very much. Perhaps I should begin by saying that I am a Priest in the Church of the Province of Southern Africa, I am a psychotherapist. I was in charge of post-ordination training in the diesis of Cape Town at the time and on one of these occasions I had 26 Anglican clergy with me.
I was also team Rector of the parish of Wynberg which has five churches and on another occasion that is the 9th of June, I had eight members of staff with me, five clergy and three full time lay people.
In addition to that, I was the Chairperson of the Sacla Health Clinic and project in Crossroads. And that is really where my story begins because we were experiencing a good deal of conflict and difficulty with the Executive Committee of Crossroads.
And I have here an agreement that was drawn up between us. It was in fact signed on the 14th of May but we had a number of meetings in order to reach this agreement and on one of those meetings, I am almost certain that it was the 2nd of May, which was the Friday of 1986, our meeting went on after dark.
One or two people were slipping away but then before we had finished the meeting, three policemen came into the Sacla Clinic and to my amazement they handed over rifles to members of the Executive Committee of Crossroads who later became known as the "witdoeke". This was as early I think as the 2nd of May.
When I challenged that, they said that it was simply to ensure that people got home safely that night because it was after dark. When I said then why aren't you giving it to everybody, why aren't you giving rifles to everybody here, why just to one side they said that that was none of my business.
They would not identify themselves and they were not wearing any form of in terms of name tags and so on, any form of identification and having handed over the rifles and ammunition, they left immediately.
My wife couldn't read my writing, I made a change. It was the afternoon of May the 20th and there was a meeting in Cape Town at which people spoke and particularly it was the leaders of the comrades spoke about the burning of homes in Crossroads and I was present at that meeting and was asked afterwards to come and witness these events.
I went on that occasion with about 15 other people, between 15 and 20. I talked to the Captain who appeared to be in charge of the operations of Magobe Drive and said that I wanted to go in with these other people, into Crossroads and I wanted to talk with the leaders of the "witdoeke", many of whom I knew personally.
I was told that that wasn't possible, that people had too much to drink, they were on drugs, that we would get shot, that we would get killed, that we would get burnt and I said well, that's a chance that these people are prepared to take, we want to go in to see for ourselves.
The 15 or 20 of went, had only gone about 50 metres or less than that, when that same group of policemen under the Captain to whom we had spoken fired I would estimate at least 10 canisters or tear gas all around us causing pandemonium in the group.
Because I felt some leadership responsibilities, I felt concerned for the group, some of them were running the wrong way down wind, and so I tried to get them out because the tear gas was quite overpowering.
One was Joe Seramani who was then with the South African Council of Churches, the other was Selakitch who was Chairperson of the Board of Social Responsibility of the Dieses of Cape Town and the third was myself.
We went into Crossroads, it was quite clear that no attempt whatever had been made to keep apart what the police called the warring factions. They were beginning to lay blade wire at this stage and they were laying it along the perimeter of Magobe Road and the perimeter of Crossroads. There was no question of trying to keep the Nyanga Extension or Portland Cement, those sort of area, separate from the rest of Crossroads.
One horrific experience was cries from a shack that was burning and it became clear that in fact there was a baby in there trapped and a desperate mother and I regret that we were unable to save that baby. The memory of that haunts me still and has come back to me in my dreams in the last few days.
When we got onto the high ground, the centre of Crossroads, we encountered about 70 "witdoeke" and contrary to what the police had said, it was quite clear obviously to them that we were unarmed, we were received courteously. We were able of course to greet them by name and to address them personally and I think that that helped.
Joe Seramani to my amazement, said please gather around, I am going to start with a prayer. To my astonishment everyone removed their hats or covering, bowed their heads and we had an astonishing moment of silence, still in the middle of all this burning and then he said a prayer.
We then talked to them from the group of 70 we identified five people as leaders. All of whom were on the Crossroads Executive. The leader appeared at this stage to be someone who had arrived fairly recently in fact, Prince Gobingca and we asked whether we could talk further with them and whether they would be prepared to consider negotiations with the leaders of the comrades.
For that purpose we in fact went through towards the Sacla Clinic. In fact in retrospect it was quite clear that they had no real intention of negotiating - it was a way of simply get us off their backs because they said they were willing to negotiate and we then contacted the leaders of the comrades, but actually no negotiations took place and I felt very sad about that because I took quite a lot of responsibility for trying to get that off the ground believing that it could help.
In retrospect I was naive, I hadn't realised how profoundly organised and orchestrated this whole thing was and I was only realising at that point to what extent hostility, mistrust and misinformation was in fact being fermented by the police.
The third day that I want to talk about is the 9th of June 1986, now in KTC. I made out quite a lengthy affidavit about this which - and I acted as a witness for a week in the KTC trial and therefor that is on record and I think I won't burden you with much of the detail, but my understanding is that the reason why there was some value in my evidence, was essentially not because I had seen anything different from other people, but simply because I had taken contemporaneous notes.
I had in my diary jotted down casper numbers, registration numbers, numbers of shots fired, direction in which they were fired, what kind of shot it was and all that sort of detail and ... (tape ends) ... think I need burden you with now.
But on the 9th of June, I arrived with eight members of the staff of the parish of St John's Wynberg, at about 11.15 am and I had been rung by Bishop Patrick Matalengwe about half an hour before, asking me to go in his place.
I arrived at the Zwolani Centre, there were two people with me at this point and the Zwolani Centre was already burning and then the three of us saw the two red and white Red Cross tents on the right of the Zwolani Centre as you look at it from the road, they are next to the Divisional Council Clinic building, we saw those being torched by people with white rags and starting to burn.
CHAIRPERSON: Can I stop you for one moment. We are realising that we are leaving you to sit up there on your own exposed in a way to this big audience and we wonder whether you would like one of our briefers to come and sit beside you?
They disappeared and I didn't see them again. I walked to the corner of Terminus and Spilecha Roads and saw two groups of "witdoeke" moving in the direction of KTC. They were groups of approximately 20 or 30 people in each group, accompanied by caspers.
They were carrying sticks, knives, panga's, axes, metal bars and similar things. In Spilecha Road I noticed a badly injured man at the southern edge of the soccer stadium. He was about three, four metres from the actual road.
There is an entrance to the soccer stadium there and there is also some sort of bus shelter, I think. He was laying on his back, naked from his waist up. There was no way of identifying him, but as I knelt besides him, I took my anorak off and put it over him and tried to render assistance.
I remember the warm blood on my hands. I put my hand on his head and prayed for him. And then I saw that he had a deep slash in the neck and in fact his head moved slightly to one side without his body moving and opened up this deep gash.
I decided that I shouldn't try and move him, that I needed medical assistance and just before I could do anything a casper came passed very slowly. The casper was within seven metres of us, moving I would think at certainly less than 10 kilometres an hour and I stood up and I waved madly at him to try and attract attention.
And at that point I ran to the Clinic which was around the corner and sought the assistance of medical staff. I returned to the badly injured man with two Doctors and I can't remember whether it was one or two nurses accompanying me.
The Doctor said there is nothing that we can do, and that man died in my arms. I then moved by car with the Reverends David Cook, John Frye, Rod Ellis and Allan Smith to the junction of the football stadium with the eastern boundary of KTC.
I was outraged that the caspers were not doing anything to stop the "witdoeke" or to assist the KTC residents and I approached one of the policemen who would not identify himself again in the casper, and asked him what the overall aim and objective of the police was and he said to prevent violence. I said well what are you doing to prevent violence.
I haven't seen you do anything and he replied that he couldn't tell me anything and he dismissed me. I was outraged. I have a brother in the British army who has trained the SAS which is the sort of crack regiment or group that is pulled in when there is hijackings and things like that and I knew perfectly well from witnessing events that he was involved with, that he with eight soldiers could have prevented the caspers coming down that road.
But we didn't have people sufficiently trained and when I did attempt that later at the first shots which were warning shots fired over our heads, everybody except one person in the line, apart from myself, disappeared. It was a very intimidating situation.
The "witdoek" were now advancing into KTC, windows of shacks were being broken, there was looting, there was burning. I saw many shacks being torched, I saw many policemen standing by doing nothing. One of them said to me, how can we catch these men and I said well, I could.
I specifically remember a number of possessions being stolen from these houses as they were being torched. I particularly remember a transistor being taken and people walking off with these possessions and torching other shacks.
I was making notes while all this was happening and at about twelve noon a police officer came over and told me that I was under arrest. A media person who was present spoke to me - I replied briefly that I was a witness of these tragic events and inept police actions.
And I think that that was captured on the video. I was not allowed to speak to the media any further, I was ordered into the back of a casper and the Reverend John Frye said if I was being arrested, he was coming with me and he also got into the casper.
I was taken to Mannenberg police station and after approximately 30 minutes, I protested and said what are you arresting me for, these hands have held a dying man today, these hands have prayed for people. I have simply witnessed events, what are you arresting me for?
On the 10th of June I was responsible for the training of approximately 25 young Priests, the training was taking place in All Saints Plumstead and after the service, I suggested that we in fact do some field training and go to KTC and observe first hand what was happening.
As always when you have got a group of clergy around, there was a considerable discussion and (indistinct), but in the end we went. I noticed "witdoeke" approaching us in - down the road from Crossroads and from the administration block, down towards KTC. This road seems to have been given a number of different names, so I am not sure which the right name is.
But the significant thing is that casper number 98 had four or five White rags displayed from its gun ports. And it was transparently clear to me that it was transporting "witdoeke". And certainly behind it, there was a group of about 50 or 60 "witdoeke" following it.
I've got the details and the numbers of all the caspers involved, but I won't detain you with that. What was significant in the KTC trial was that when I mentioned that, the Senior Counsel for the police jumped up and said that clearly I must be short sighted because the police would give evidence that what I saw were not white rags, but white polystyrene cups such as I see one or two of you have there.
The Senior Counsel on our side, Henry Viljoen then jumped and said that he wanted an (indistinct) demonstration and we had - and then the Supreme court adjourned and then we had this wonderful pantomime in the heart of KTC with the Judge looking very frightened, having never been to KTC before.
And the casper came down the same road, turn the same corner and stopped. And then they said there was a problem, the Judge asked what the problem was and they said that the white polystyrene cups would not fit into the gun ports of the casper.
Whether this was recorded in the court proceedings, I am not sure, but I was very close to the Judge at the time and I overheard him say well, get smaller ones then and at that point a rather crest fallen police Major said that there were no smaller ones manufactured.
And that for me captured something of the stupidity and the lies and the deception and the deceit of this whole business. This is another thing which captures something of the spirit of the people involved.
There was a South African Police helicopter which came down very low, it had SAP underneath so it was clearly identifiable and it was a clear act of intimidation, because it came so low that it whipped up the sand and the grit and the small stones and my legs were in fact slightly scarred through my trousers as a result of holding my ground there.
Many people scattered but I stayed with a number of other people and a man called Elijah, who worked in the Clinic was next to me. And this is what for me encapsulates something of the courage and the spirit of people of those days.
There are many other details and incidents which I could narrate, but I noticed a police video photographer using a Beta movie, accompanied by a person giving a sound recording commentary in front of us at one point.
Their bakkie was unmarked, but it bore the number plates CA438 818 and some of that was shown during the trial. This was now in what became during the trial to be called Dune Road, but I think was not called such at the time.
What was very striking, was that caspers would patrol up and down Dune Road alongside KTC, and I never saw a single gun pointed away from KTC. Every gun was aimed and every shot fired was into KTC. And I quite clearly saw a burst of about ten shots giving what the army called, covering fire, to "witdoeke" who went in underneath that fire, so that the residents of KTC would take refuge and then the "witdoeke" would go in under cover of that fire and torch shacks.
I witnessed that at 12.35 and again between 12.40 and 12.45 on that day. I also saw casper number 106 drive into KTC and believe that it was transporting "witdoeke" because of what I heard, although I didn't see - because of what I heard from inside that vehicle as it passed within three metres of me.
I quite clearly heard Xhoza being spoken, shouted. It was also clear to me that the "witdoeke" were being coordinated by whistles at this point. Just before 1 pm an occupant of casper number 80 informed us that the casper would take us out of the area because it was dangerous for us.
I replied that the only danger to me seemed to me to be the police. Shortly after that as I walked across KTC, between the burning shacks, one "witdoeke" came and actually knelt at my feet and asked me to give him absolution for what he was doing. I said I didn't think that that was appropriate, but that I hoped that he would not continue.
I am fairly sure that on NY5 at around this time, this is now 1.35 I saw Dolf Odendaal in a bakkie and also Warrant Officer Barnard. Throughout - oh, and another casper, I am not sure whether I have the number here, fired two canisters of tear gas directly as us, they in fact missed by about two metres.
But it was a clear act of intimidation. Because they could see that I was taking notes of what was happening. Now throughout the several hours that I was there on the 9th and the 10th of June, I saw no attempt whatever by the police to restrain the "witdoeke".
I saw not a single "witdoeke" arrested and I could have arrested several myself. I understand that it is a matter of court record that Dolf Odendaal said that no "witdoeke" were arrested and yet people like myself and media people, were arrested and taken out of the area.
I would like to know why? Further no attempt was made by the South African Police to defend KTC or its inhabitants. And despite the order that had been taken out with the court restraining, precisely those two groups, the police and the "witdoeke", and finally under this section it was clear to me that the defending groups, people defending their houses, were constantly harassed by the SAP.
With so many thousands of people burnt out from their homes, and prevented by the police from recovering what possessions were left, the Churches not only in the immediate area but right through to the southern suburbs opened their halls and transported people who were essentially refugees - they had literally nowhere to lay their head and often in very bad conditions, where there was no privacy, where for the first few nights we struggled to get any mattresses or blankets or clothing, we had hundreds of people in almost every hall and I can name at least 12 church halls that were inundated with people like this.
After the first night or two, numbers dropped slightly and from then on through to the end of September, in many cases, it was mainly women and children and we provided food, quite a lot of first aid and medical help. Initially it was pretty much a sort of welfare thing, doing for these poor unfortunate people but increasingly they found a voice and we strategised together and were I think able to do something in empowering them as communities to organise and to strategise.
There were some pretty elementary counselling and support. There was a little training in one or two instances. Some people got jobs, a number of people still to this day are working as giving domestic help in homes in the southern suburbs precisely because of good relationships formed at that time.
Some money was raised and in at least two of these church halls that money at the request of the people concerned, went towards purchasing building materials and certainly in Plumstead each family was given 10 sheets of zinc each to enable them to start to rebuild their lives.
And there was singing and worship and so on. But during this time we received pretty consistent police harassment and interference. On many occasions they visited us and made threats to the people involved.
We refused to do so and the following days we received similar threats. One of the sort of things that they resorted to was to bring in health officials who claimed that we hadn't got adequate showers for this number of people in these church halls and we pointed out that there weren't many showers in KTC either.
It was almost that fascicle. But my sense is that through all that tragedy I and many others were privileged to make profound relationships, learn many great lessons and although I say it with shame, have something of our own naivety stripped away painfully from us.
MS BURTON: Thank you Mr Freeth, you have given us a very moving testimony. Moving not only because of the sorrow that it has called up in memory, but also a moving tribute to the courage and persistence of yourself and many others who were with you.
Proving I think the value of that witnessing presence in an area of conflict. Valuable because of the support that it gives to the people who are present, valuable in terms of the meticulous records that you kept and I think that we have all listened with great, have been very moved as we've listened, but I've also been inspired by, as I said, the courage and the valuable contribution that your actions and the actions of others took. Thank you very much, for coming today.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Thank you Chairperson. I think that we are really encouraged to hear experiences such as yours in the face of so much inhumanity. All the stories that we've heard from yesterday, in fact throughout our hearings, it is very encouraging to hear a story that shows the humanity of people, particularly in this country that is so divided with racial ideology and particularly from our history in those years which was clearly a history of us and them, a history that defined Black people as objects, not to be cared for.
Now when you demonstrate the kind of support and the kind of humanity that you have explained to us, described to us today, it is really very encouraging. You remind us of people like Bishop David Russel who literally laid his life down, he laid on the ground to prevent a casper and also people like Beyers Naude who served many years under house arrest for posing apartheid. Those people and people like yourself clearly show that there is still hope in this country and I just wanted you to comment on the belief both in this country and abroad that if White people in this country had campaigned and opposed apartheid in a strong way, we wouldn't be where we are today if White people had in their numbers opposed apartheid, not in singular opposition such as the people I have mentioned, then we wouldn't be where we are today.
REVD FREETH: I am quite sure that you are 100% right. If White people had had the humanity, the honesty, the courage and the insight to see through the system, we would I think have not allowed ourselves to be so totally manipulated and as a result, to become sadly agents of oppression, blind, agents and I wish that it had been so.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I am sorry Madam Chair, what worries me is that this cycles of inhumanity throughout history have demonstrated themselves, throughout history following the holocaust Israel is the oppressor of the Palestinians, there has been all these cycles and I am really worried about what our future holds in this country.
You mentioned in your response to my question that if White people did not allow themselves to be manipulated perhaps we wouldn't be where we are, and I am concerned just about that. It is not so much about White people being manipulated, but about a group of people being manipulated by those who hold power.
And I am just wondering what factors contributed to this manipulation of White people because I really believe that it could happen with any group of people depending with who is in power, what do you think were the factors that contributed to the manipulation of White people?
And I think that the whole process of denial is a very powerful one and accounts for what someone delightfully described to me the other day as the ostrich mentality, when you put your head in the sand and the person added, of course the trouble is you leave your rump exposed.
And I think that because of fear we have largely put our head in the sand and what concerns me and I don't know if this is underlying your question, but what concerns me today is that you can't find anyone who ever supported apartheid and there is so much denial going on that I think that those people who have never actually seen through it, could also be manipulated again.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Thank you. Just a small comment that in talking about cycles, we have our own here in this country, because we had the Anglo Boer War and so we had another cycle as well after the Anglo Boer War when a new government took hold of power.