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Human Rights Violation Hearings
Type HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS, SUBMISSIONS QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Starting Date 17 April 1996
Location EAST LONDON
Names ROBERT KOHL
Case Number EC0041/96
DR BORAINE: We call Mr Robert Kohl to the witness stand please and if Mrs Cecelia Kohl would like to join him she is very welcome. Mr and Mrs Kohl you are very very welcome. We are grateful to you that you have taken the time to appear before this Commission. Mr Kohl I'm assuming that you will be giving the evidence?
DR BORAINE: Mr and Mrs Kohl, you have attended a large part of the hearing and you will know that people come from very different walks of life with very different experiences. You will also know that there have been many casual almost, victims of violence in South Africa and that funerals have played a very large part in an attempt of the community to give an expression of grief and anger and commitment where they had no other opportunity. You know too very personally, that as a result of that, very often funerals were broken up, that people were tear gassed, people were shot, and you have come with a very grim story and we are grateful to you because we know that it is painful, and Ntsiki is going to lead you to assist you to make it a little bit easier, but it's your story, and we want to hear from you, thank you.
because I am interrogating you, but just as a guide. Also for an interaction between yourself and the panel. The questions I am going to ask you revolve around your family and in particular, your son Bully, what sort of person he was, what he was interested in, whether he was a member of any organisation at school or in the community, then I'll go on to ask you questions about the tragic events of the day when he was shot by the police. I understand you have no personal knowledge of what exactly happened and that Tyron Austin is the eye witness of the event that took place.
I'll ask you about the funeral arrangements, what sort of problems you encountered in trying to make preparations for the funeral. Lastly I will ask you about the court case which you mentioned in your statement.
MR KOHL: I schooled in Graaf Reinet for two years actually, that's in '61/'62. I did my high school education there. It's the only time that I worked out of Grahamstown actually, but all my life I stayed in Grahamstown.
I've got Hein, my second eldest son and then Elgin, the youngest boy, actually. I've got two foster children as well, a cousin of theirs, Sylvester and Nolene is the daughter, she's in matric at the moment, actually. Bully was actually educated at Good Shepherd school, that's in Huntly street in Grahamstown, then he went to Mary Waters High School in Grahamstown, he was a year in East London at John Bissike, where he did standard eight JC certificate, then he came back to Grahamstown and he started his standard nine at Mary Waters. He was actually a member of the Gym, the Grahamstown Youth Movement or Civic Movement, it's called and he was also a member of the Student's Representative Council of Mary Waters.
MR KOHL: Yes when he passed his JC, I asked him actually what he intends to do, further studies or whatever. He said he wanted to study law and be either an attorney of an advocate and I asked him why he wanted to do law. He said, "Well the situation in South Africa is so that he, as a person studying law, could actually ...(indistinct) the apartheid system that was that time in the whole South Africa. Especially the Group Areas, where people were removed from certain areas to another. He mentioned that and he also mentioned that the schools actually, because I told him I had to leave Grahamstown because there were five
The next thing he mentioned was the separate development, where people were put into certain areas and you can't move there, you have to have a permit system if you go to from our area, the so-called coloured areas, if you go to Tandjie or the Fingo Village or Chosa, you have to have a permit to get over the sort of border line they had, actually, and then you had a permit system where you had to apply to the offices there, to get a permit if you had to see people in the other area, actually.
Well I told him I've got family actually staying in the Fingo Village and people staying in Tandjie location. They're part of my family and I never used to have a permit, I used to go over there and visit them, even play with the kids around there when I was younger. That was in the early '40's and '50's, before the new system came in in 1949 or whatever.
his younger brothers and his two cousins. So we were just sitting at home and quietly enjoying the afternoon, we knew there was a funeral going to take place in the township but we were not certain that he was going to take part and go to the funeral that afternoon. But I'm not sure of the time, between half past four and five, I got a phone call from Settlers hospital in Grahamstown, that Bully had been shot and it was Mr Tyron Austin, next to me, he was the person that actually phoned my house and told me about that. So he couldn't say anything over the telephone to rectify this, so he said that he'll come to my place and just give me a brief report on what happened at the funeral in Chosa where the funeral was at the Lapus Stadium. The funeral of a young boy also who used to play soccer against Mary Waters where Bully went to school and he played soccer against this guy and he actually knew him. That's the reason he went there to pay his last tribute and his respect to the family of the guy.
MR KOHL: My first reaction was that I couldn't believe it because it was the sort of thing that never happened in our area, there was nobody that was killed at any procession or any funeral. In Grahamstown most of the shootings took place in the black townships, there was no shooting in the so called coloured area and every week there was someone shot and this week there was a funeral, and that's how things happened. It was a real shock to us all sitting together there, my wife and boys were there, my youngest boy was three years old and the other one was seven years old. There was a commotion of people coming and hearing and
phoning, everybody was crying and I had a sort of emotional feeling. But I kept cool and thought I must go to the hospital and find for myself, realise the truth and see if it's true that my son has been killed.
MR KOHL: Yes my third eldest sister, Mrs Abdul accompanied me because my eldest sister was too old and weak to go with us, also my cousin Roland and Mr Parston, the school principal with Mr James Hillier, those are the people who accompanied me to the hospital as well as Reverend Titus, the priest in charge of the Anglican Church in Grahamstown, St Clements. He had also heard about it and came to my place straight away to pay his condolences.
MR KOHL: The Anglican Church of St Clements, that's a part of the Church of the Province of South Africa. At the hospital we were taken to this little room where the body was. One of the nurses, my neighbour's daughter, she was a nurse there and she opened the space for me to identify him. I first looked at him and I felt his forehead and his neck to make sure if he's really dead, but there was no movement from him. I could feel that cold has already crept into his body and that's the moment I felt that it's really true, and I had to leave to be alone, to think about it, to understand what had happened, but even then I couldn't understand why this happened to me, why this happened to my family and I just left and stood outside for a while. Reverend Titus came to me and spoke to me, and the group of us went back to my place.
Everybody was there now, all the people that I knew and friends, a crowd of people waited at my place and wanted to talk to me. I was sort of walking, you don't know if you're coming or going actually, it's a sort of feeling that you have that you're not there or you are there or something like that and the principal of the high school came to me and said. "Don't forget, we still have to report this matter to the police", and he asked me if I wanted to go with. I felt that I must go with, because the father and I must go to the police station and report this matter. So the principal, myself, Mr Hillier, and Mr Jerry Akum went to the police station. Reverend Titus had already left so the four of us went to the police station.
At the police station we saw these Caspars parked outside, in the yard, all around and people there. A lot of policemen actually. It was a sort of climate where you could see people were really rejoicing over the sort of victory, the fun they had today, chasing people, shooting people. They were all happy, shouting, it was the sort of atmosphere that you couldn't understand, but if you're in that situation you feel that they don't actually care about the person that they shot or the people that they shot.
On entering there was a young constable, he was at the counter also smiling, and when he hears that I said I'm reporting my son's death, the one who was shot. He asked me where, and I told him, at the funeral down in the township, and his face changed, you could see there was no laughter in his face anymore, he sort of saw that we were really serious in reporting this case. It took him some time to grab some paper and a pencil and he wrote everything down. On the counter there was a lot of wet clothing because that
MR KOHL: ...... two sides where the whites used to go in and the other side where the non whites used to go in, so there was a sort of partition and the other one was the other side, and he came also there. So there was a kind of discussion there in Afrikaans but you couldn't hear what they were saying to each other actually, but eventually he attended to us and we left. But you could hear in the background, in the offices and the yard people really enjoying the afternoon.
MR SANDI: I hope you don't mind if I can just take you one step back. Can you try and give the Commission a picture of what was happening at the police station. You said it appeared that the police were in a happy mood, what do you mean by that? Can you explain to the Commission?
MR KOHL: Well if you were in my position you feel sad, you see them rejoicing and you are sad at the side actually. So it's sort of a difference between sadness and why they were happy, so they were really enjoying themselves and just laughing and that was the reaction that we had from the people in the charge office yard and in the back, you could hear them sort of shouting to each other. I don't know whether they were drinking or anything like that, but the mood they had there that afternoon was one of rejoicing.
MR KOHL: Nobody said anything at that moment. All of a sudden everything was quiet, because the other policeman just went out and he reported to the other ones, and they all were coming in anxiously to see who the people were. You could see them walking past, just to see who the people were that came to report this case. But nobody actually said anything at that stage.
MR SANDI: Didn't you say they said, "Hy was een van die klippe goiers". The thing is that unfortunately the principal is not here, he heard the one saying that. I was busy at the counter that time when they were moving out.
MR SANDI: Were you able to cope with this at work? You have three children, one of them is Bully and all of a sudden Bully has been shot and killed. Were you able to cope with this at work? Or how did the family cope with this?
MR KOHL: Well that whole week I was not at work, actually. I was at home. What happened Monday is that he was not at school and all the people around knew about that and the scholars as well. So there was a procession of scholars from school to town. I'm not sure what happened but most of them ran to my place because normally after school during that week they came down there and sang freedom songs and the police were also there. And after the freedom songs the police used to chase them, and that's what happened.
in the school at that time and he even locked her up for being with us, for coming to visit the family and so forth. So that week it was come and go with the police actually coming and going and looking and so on, but at home we did not take an interest in them because we were just worried about our son, what's going to happen now during this week.
We went to the post mortem which was held on a Wednesday. I went to identify the body but unfortunately we were not allowed at the post mortem. The post mortem was done by the district surgeon, Dr Gough and we were not allowed to go there and anything like that. But I did go to identify him and that's when I heard the guy that was in charge, the sergeant who was in charge at the mortuary there, telling me that this is what happens to, "Is this your boy?" I said, "Yes this is my son." "This is what happens to children who don't listen". I didn't answer him because I thought this is not a time or thing to answer him at the moment. I'll just leave that to him to think about.
MR KOHL: The post mortem said that the lung was punctured. So we didn't have, what happened at that time was that the students that were with Bully at the time were arrested, and were actually in jail. When the court case came up, the state of emergency was called and they were not allowed to come out to give evidence so the case was actually left for a year. When the state of emergency was lifted the witnesses actually came out of jail, so the court case was
MR KOHL: What happened at the inquest, they asked me to dig out the body because there were two bullets in the body that they wanted to identify, to which gun it belongs. And that's what the where the post mortem document of that doctor was read, only when the court case came up. The report of the doctor came up that there was a bullet in the body. There's a number on the bullet that they can identify the policeman that shot him.
MR KOHL: Well I couldn't do that actually, I thought now it is not possible for me to dig up my son's body after a year just to see a bullet. But nevertheless, a few years back, in 1994. I heard the name of the guy was revealed that actually did the shooting and I understand his name is de Lise or something like that. Well from last year I heard that he was in hospital and died of cancer. So the policeman that shot my son is also dead, but I'm not saying anything against him at this stage, but I think to have my son's body dug up from the grave to see a bullet was not possible for me to do, especially my family.
MR KOHL: That story that I heard about the policeman that was involved in the shooting. That funeral that took place, me and Reverend Titus went to see the station commander to finalise the funeral arrangements and we went there to the police station.
MR KOHL: Yes that's during the week, so we went to finalise when the funeral was going to take place, when to bury my son. And Reverend Titus went inside to see the station commander, and when he came back he told me that he had a meeting with the station commander and he promised to keep all the troops and all the policemen out of the coloured area and they won't actually be near the funeral and people won't be harassed, shot at, whatever and that's how the funeral proceeded. So on that particular day the troops were out of the coloured area and not even in the townships, actually they were not there, they were out on the boundaries of the coloured and township areas.
MR SANDI: Many of us are aware that one of the things that would happen during those old bad days was that the police would impose restrictions on the funeral. They would say, no political speeches, you've got to take this route to the graveyard, were there any restrictions imposed by the police on the manner in which the funeral should be conducted.
so many friends, I belonged to a sports club, I belonged to a prayer group, I've got people that come and go, my son has got friends, and so I can't prevent people from coming to the funeral. Especially as he was on the organisation of the Grahamstown youth movement and he was on the student body at school and the principal and his sports master knew him very well, so...(intervention)
ARCHBISHOP TUTU: Sorry, I'm not asking you a question. I appealed at the beginning of the hearings that we would conduct ourselves bearing in mind what was taking place that this was a solemn, serious, process and by and large you have been very good. But I am a bit distressed to see, especially in the galleries, people are reading newspapers at a time when testimony is being given. If you want to read your newspaper will you please go and read it outside.
MR KOHL: Thank you, there were restrictions because they told Reverend Titus that there should be only 200 people at the funeral, just family and close friends. That's what Reverend Titus told them or the station commander that that's impossible, because he knew that I've got a lot of friends and his whole congregation will be there, the number is over 200 people actually. So the thing is that they discussed that they will allow the people to attend the funeral but not at the stadium nor at the rugby field. So we had to have the funeral at the, St Clements was a small church actually, recreation hall. I've got photographs that Mr Sandi has there where people made speeches, people talked about the life of Bully and the proceedings that happened there. I've got some photographs that I brought across to show the Commission.
MR KOHL: There were no disruptions, what happened there, we proceeded to the funeral, from the funeral to the graveyard and back and there was not even a caspar that moved about in the area there. It was only about seven that a caspar moved along the main road in the coloured area, that's all. But there were no sort of disturbances that prevented the people from coming or going.
MR KOHL: Well everybody was sort of, we felt that this sort of incident had never happened in that area, how come this incident happened there, people asked me, in Afrikaans,"What happened to him, why did it happen?" It really touched me that people talked like that to me and said, I feel with you, My condolences with you and with all the family, so the people in that area, I knew them very well and they knew me very well, so it was a family sort of a thing, actually, especially from our side and from the other side of the township.
MR KOHL: That's true. Even some of my friends from the white areas were there at the funeral and it was a sort of atmosphere it was a whole family meeting together to pay their last respect to my son.
MR KOHL: The thing is it's very difficult to answer your question, but very simply that, it happened to me, and you don't know the time, the place or when it's going to happen, so if you are prepared then you must, as a family stay together. if that's happened to you you must stay as a family together and I ask the Commission, I know the person now but he's dead, but to go into this matter and to see that everybody is treated in a right manner. Each case that has come up today, yesterday and the day before, as these people said. a sort of remembrance of some sort. There is a remembrance in Grahamstown, at Mary Waters on the 12th of May they usually have a day off when they go and visit the grave and have wreaths put on and have speeches there. So we have a day in Grahamstown that remembers this occasion, it happened there.
But there are other people in Grahamstown that have gone through this same sort of situation, I ask the people on the Commission to investigate those cases too, there are other cases there that people haven't brought forth. there was a little girl that was also killed on the same day, she was just 14 years old, she was also shot dead on the same day, and I don't see that family here, I didn't hear a report of this family here. But these are things that we
MR SANDI: Thank you Mr Austin, the testimony before the Commission is that you were there when it happened. Can you try and give the Commission as full a picture as possible what happened and in particular how Bully was killed and by whom?
in terms of what Mr Kohl said what happened at the police station, I wasn't there when they went to the police station the first time, but I can just relate what happened at the stadium in terms of the joyous mood that the police were in that day. Firstly while the funeral proceedings were on at the stadium, you could see hippos parked all round the stadium and you could see the tops of the hippos where the policemen were sitting on top of the hippos throwing beer cans on to the crowd. Stones on to the crowd and really the marshals had to handle the crowd not to retaliate in terms of that.
When the proceedings towards the cemetery took place, there was a delay in front and we later the police prevented the proceedings to continue in the planned route that was agreed upon, and the back of the proceedings moved in another direction and we ultimately heard that the police wanted the front of the group to move in the direction that the back of the group was moving towards. We didn't even move for about...(intervention)
MR AUSTIN: Ja, this route was, you see, I was at that time the president of the SRC and together with COSAS we planned the route towards the cemetery. The planned route was from Pond Street down to Josa Street towards the cemetery. Then ultimately what happened was that the police wanted to change that and wanted to take the street behind the back of EAST LONDON HEARING TRC/EASTERN CAPE
the stadium, Nawo Street, I think that's the street's name. The police wanted to take that street and then the back of the crowd, without realising what's happening took the initiative and they went towards the street that the police actually decided now during this day. But when we moved towards that street, I also heard afterwards that there was a councillor staying in that street and the police were like protecting that house there. The so-called grouping that we went over, we were about twelve, we were about 50 metres back into the crowd, and moving about one minute there was just gunfire all over the place, and people were scattering in all directions and me, Bully and another student comrade that was with us that day, we ran in our direction and the other students, they ran in their direction but it was just unfortunate, or fortunate for me that me and Bully and Aldred was running in the same direction. It was while we were running that I saw Bully put his hand to the back of his head and I realised that he was running slower, and I actuall helped him run. When we entered the yard on the opposite side of the street, I realise that he couldn't even clime through a fence line that was that low, and he actually fell and I picked him up and we ran into the toilet. It was in the toilet that I realised that we had to get him into a house so that he can lie down, because what happened, he was sitting on the toilet seat and he told me that he was getting drowsy, but when I touche his hand I felt it was getting cold, and I realised that he will have to get to a hospital.
she could lend me a blanket, which was already on the way without me even asking for it. But in any case I immediately went outside to go and look for a car, because this auntie in the house told me that she doesn't have a telephone and she doesn't have a car.
Now when I went outside I was prevented from going into the street by the police and they were asking me what I was doing, you know it was black policemen and I told them that we attended a funeral and we've got a casualty inside here which has to go to the hospital immediately, he's got a wound in the back of his head. They told me that they have got orders that no one is allowed to go into the streets and I have to go back into the house. I told them it's impossible for me to go back into the house because then this guy is going to die inside.
MR SANDI: I'm sorry Mr Austin, can I interrupt you here? The situation is as follows, it's yourself, your friend Bully, you are part of the crowd and all of a sudden someone starts firing. Did you see the person who opened fire on you? I understand at some stage you had to appear in court as a witness, what did you have to say there?
MR AUSTIN: You see, there were a whole lot of policemen around which I saw were shooting, and I can be specific to pin point anybody at this point, but what happened later on, when I was detained after that in July, when I was interrogated by the security police, dew Lise actually came in and he told me that he was actually aiming for me. Now it's general knowledge in Grahamstown that me and de Lise had a thing going on. All the students at that time knew that, so I could just assume that maybe my friend died in my place.