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Human Rights Violation Hearings


Starting Date 15 April 1996


Day 1


Case Number EC0007/96


ARCHBISHOP TUTU: We welcome you warmly at this first of the series of public hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This is a hearing of the Commission on human rights violations. The other type of hearing is that of the Amnesty Committee.

We thank our Eastern Cape colleagues, Commissioner, Commissioner Bongani Finca and all his colleagues in this region for their very hard work, demonstrating that I head up a team of outstanding persons as Commissioners and Committee members, some of whom are here with me today.

Our staff consists of dedicated and skilled persons. We thank the Premier of this province, the honourable Raymond Mhlaba and the people of his province for their welcome and for their presence here today with Mrs Mhlaba as well as the speaker of the Provincial Legislature, Mr Kugile and Mrs Kugile. We thank the mayor, the councillors and the people of East London for their welcome, and especially for making available these facilities here.

We want to say a big thank you to the police for providing security, as we can see. They are our police. We welcome all those who will be telling their stories as well as their relatives and friends. We will want to hear their stories. That is the basic reason for these hearings. For the Human Rights Violations Committee to help the Commission EAST LONDON HEARING TRC/EASTERN CAPE


determine whether a particular person has suffered gross violations of their human rights and for those people then to be declared victims and who will thereafter be referred to the Reparation and Rehabilitation Committee of our Commission, which then must make a appropriate recommendations to the President of our country for the nature and size of reparation to be given.

The Committee will not be making immediate findings about whether people are victims who have suffered gross human rights violations. But it's something that will happen only a while afterwards, because it may be necessary to verify testimony, we may have to alert people who have been named as alleged perpetrators so that they are given an opportunity of making representations in writing and possibly being asked to come to a future hearing.

Thank you all of you here in South Africa and around the world who have prayed and are praying for the Commission and its work. We are charged to unearth the truth about our dark past, to lay the ghosts of that past so that they will not returned to haunt us and that will thereby contribute to the healing of the traumatised and wounded people for all of us in South Africa are wounded people. And in this manner to promote national unity and reconciliation. For Christians it is a significant thing. Now the first hearing happened at Easter time, when we commemorate the victory of life over death, of light over darkness, of goodness over evil, of justice over injustice, of truth over lies, of laughter, of joy, of peace of compassion over their ghastly counter parts in the glorious resurrection of saviour Jesus Christ.

We want to indicate that those who testify before this Commission, will enjoy the same privilege as would happen in EAST LONDON HEARING TRC/EASTERN CAPE


a court of law for the testimony that they give, provided what they say is the truth as they understand it, and provided what they have done is done in good faith.

We want to assure that we do not want to turn the hearing into proceedings of a court of law, but the conduct of all of us here should be conducive to a dignified hearing, for we have come especially to hear harrowing stories from those who are going to be witnesses, and out of respect for them, I hope that it will not be necessary for me to invoke the powers that have been given to me by the Act, that each of us here will conduct themselves in an appropriate manner. If people who hear what would be construed in a court of law, if it happened there, as contempt of court, then they will be guilty of an offence. I would hope that it would not be necessary for us to go in that direction.

CHAIRPERSON: We invite Mrs Nohle Mohape to take the stand.

NOHLE MOHAPE: (sworn states)

CHAIRPERSON: In welcoming you as the first witness in the proceedings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we are mindful of the suffering that you have endured in the past. Many of us remember as though it was yesterday when Mapetla died in police custody. We remember the anguish and the horror of those days, we know also, apart from the personal grief that you've experienced, that you yourself have been a victim of human rights violations. We know that you too have been detained and were in solitary confinement, and we salute you as someone who has witnessed the great courage, and you coming here today, is a testimony to your commitment, to truth, to justice, to reconciliation and to peace between you and all people and all South Africa.



Tiny Miya who is sitting on my right will lead the questions which the Commission would like to ask as you give your testimony. You are very very welcome.

MS MAYA: Thank you. Before we begin I would like to indicate that my witness will be more comfortable presenting her testimony in Xhosa.

Good morning Mrs Nohle, how are you today. I would first like you to tell us who you are just before we start. Anything that you want to tell us about yourself, feel free, thank you very much.

MRS MOHAPE: I am very happy today after twenty years, because today is the 20th year, Mapetla Mohapi, my husband died. I am very happy to get this chance to sit in front of you to explain to you who killed my husband. I am Nohle for the higher family, I was born in Tonye here in South Africa.

I was born Nchona area and I grew up at home, I must really say it was a family of civilised people. Some of my family members were teachers. I grew up doing my primary education at Ghaie. After completing that I went to secondary, and after that I went to do my secondary education.

During this time Mount Asad, that's where I met Mapetla Mohapi, it was in 1971, and he was my boyfriend. This affair ended up in marriage in 1973. Our affair, I must say , from the very beginning, I realised that he was a very committed person to what he takes, because our affair was such an ordinary affair in the beginning, I was still growing up but as time went on it was a very serious affair.

MS MAYA: You married and what happened thereafter Mrs Nohle?

MRS MOHAPE: We got married in 1973. I met him, at that time he was a very difficult person, he was having problems. EAST LONDON HEARING TRC/EASTERN CAPE


After some time our house was attacked by police every time in and out seeking for him. They also wanted me in the process because he was a person who could reach out to people and even at home he was a person who could be reached easily. He was being sought by the police, what for, nobody knew. My mum was also involved here and he knew exactly how to reply to the police.

Even before we got married, they would even go to my home, my house, to search for him. He was in those difficult times.

Now on his way to the workshop, he said to me, "I am not going to leave you, let's go together, because we are busy here getting our country in order". Now, well be in East London, we'll be in Cape and we'll be in Durban, because he was a member of the South African Student Organisation at Turfloop. In 1972 there was a big strike at Turfloop and then he was removed, that time they were busy mobilising their community. During that time Steve Biko was also banned and then he came back to Tqonre, they were people working together. At times they would hold meetings, Steve would be there, Bunny would be there. I was still young, they would say to us, "We want to conceptonise you, you have to know exactly who you are, where your origin is, you should be very proud of your origin". They would even make noise, telling us to stop imitating whites, we are busy smearing our faces with creams, because we want to be like whites, we're busy stretching our hair because we want it to be long. "You are beautiful as you are. We recognise you as you are, don't try to imitate other cultures so that you become beautiful, it's not important to us, you are a human being".



In 1974 we had our first daughter. While I was pregnant her father was detained. Even when giving birth to the child, the father was not there, he was at a conference. He told me that he would be in the meeting. I was very expectant at the time. His friend took me to the hospital and he came back after some time and by that time we had a baby daughter.

In 1973 and '76, he had been a very loving father and committed husband, but that time was very short because in 1976 he died. Then we parted.

MS MAYA: We see you before the Truth Commission this morning Mrs Nohle, can you please tell us why you are here, just before we start with our proceedings.

MRS MOHAPE: As I've already mentioned I was never happy in the 20 years about the matter of Mapetla, but now, even now, I'm sure that he was never killed in any other way. After hearing about the TRC I told myself, I want to come and give evidence about the hurt that I felt. I want to tell the Commission so that they can assist me in finding out what happened to him because he never killed himself.

MS MAYA: You talked of detention. There were many. You said he was in and out of jail. Can you please tell us in these detention, do you have anything that you understand about them? Did he ever say anything to you about such detention? What kind of detention were they?

MRS MOHAPE: One thing that he did, he was prepared for his life, because every time he would say, "The time is short that we have together, because every time you see what is happening in this country of ours, you have seen how the police have been after me. If anything happens you have to know exactly that I'm always with you, even if I'm not close to you, you must know. Even if the police arrived telling



me that they want to arrest me, you must know the right. A person must identify himself, that he's a policeman. You must know, every time the first thing to do is identification. Such things are very good for preparation and if he wants to search, he must produce a search warrant, because everyone would just come into my house and say I want to search, so you must be strong, you must never show the police, especially the Boers that you are weak. They shouldn't see you crying because what they want every time, they want to see a person crying. They want to see that this pain that is inflicted on a person really has an effect. Every time show them your strong face."

Now those detention arrived, but every time they would come into my house they would know that I am not emotional, how I would feel.

MS MAYA: Now let's start with your first detention, when were you first detained?

MRS MOHAPE: He was taken into detention in 1976, that was his first time and it was a very long time. After that he went back to the university, he did social work and he passed. And he was arrested in 1974 and he stayed a long time, I think it was a war in Frelimo, that was the period when he was also detained. He stayed close to 8 months in prison. Nobody knew his whereabouts, where he is in jail.

MS MAYA: Was it all those 8 months?

MRS MOHAPE: Yes we were going up and down, wanting to know where my husband was. I remember at one time we went to Nqone Police and you'd never find out directly in which jail a person was. After the seventh mont father Stubbs was a person who really tried to help. He said I should go to Pretoria but seems as if Mapetla is in Pretoria, they would



try by all means to find some means of singing. We went to Central Prison in Pretoria and then I would stay there for the whole week, every morning going to Pretoria since our prison with my lawyers wanting to see my husband, but never.

In the second week I was told that I can see my husband for only two minutes, because I said to them, nobody can only disappear without any reason. We it's things that are happening in our area. I even told them that we read about people who get hijacked in the showers in the prison. I just read in the newspaper about a person who fell from a chair and died, but in actual fact you'd have the feeling that the person is still alive. Then you'd only see the person for two minutes if you are given a chance. That's what happened during those days, in the seven months that he was inside. Do you remember the Act, tell us under which Act he was detained. What did they say to you. Every time police would come and arrest Mapetla and they would say, under Section Six of the Terrorism Act. In that section, I knew exactly about it. As I've already said, some of their things, (end of tape 1)

(start of tape 2) and it was hopeful that everything was going on so well. When you were making your own judgement you would say these policemen had been trapped, but when the results came out and nobody was accused and found guilty about this death, it was said Mapetla had committed suicide. We were not that shocked because we expected that, as we always knew about the courts of South Africa. We were very angry about this. I could not control my anger, I was so emotional that I vowed that I am going to show these people. And I was also aware that I have to be protected against myself, but I was helpless at the same time. I was



dejected, I was hopeless and I vowed to myself as they said that they have finished with me, and that were thinking that this struggle would not continue, I rejected that and I was sure that was going on strongly with the struggle.

I also emphasised the fact that the plans which were laid out by my husband are going to be carried out. At times he used to go on Sundays and he would say we must go and scout around for beautiful houses in the town in King Williamstown. We would go around and look at each beautiful house where he would say, "These Boers, where they stay, we are going to own that house one day". I was so sure that I will fulfil these dreams and I would make sure that they are fulfilled, and this was very horrible, when it came to this.

MS MAYA: What did they say was the reason for his suicide?

MRS MOHAPE: The letters which were available during the inquest, there was one amongst them of which it was said to be the suicide letter. The writing was very exclusive and it did not belong to Mapetla. But this one was also written on toilet paper as my husband previously did write, and the experts who looked at the writing confirmed that the writing in the suicide note is very exclusive. They tried their best and tried to make a good scrutiny. We waited for the response.

MS MAYA: What was the inquest?

MRS MOHAPE: We were surprised about the inquest, that still nobody was accused about this. There was civic court at Grahamstown, these also went on in Grahamstown and there was a policeman who took out some letters to give testimony about the crime and he confirmed that this man would never take his life. He said, " We were all supportive, because



this man was always going on educating people and policemen he tried to show us that we should be the peoples' policemen." And he was able to produce the letter.

The police who gave testimony had already been warned by my husbands' way of talking. He was very good in approaching and conveying his message successfully. We went on looking at the place that he talked about, there was a lot of new information but it was said there was no witness.

MS MAYA: What was the result?

MRS MOHAPE: In Supreme Court it was also said that nobody could be blamed about what happened. After that it was said that nobody could be blamed, we were told that we have lost the case and we have to pay the costs. We went home where I received a letter from the court stating that the account which I'm owing was about R250 000. I cannot remember well but it was approximately that amount which I was expected to pay. They also wrote to find out how they can liquidate me and I would have to write a list of everything, my house included. But my lawyers were able to support me, stating very effectively that I cannot pay the costs.

MS MAYA: What happened thereafter?

MRS MOHAPE: At the end I do not know what happened, we made an appeal in the Supreme Court and the attorney who was responsible for this, for our case, Mr Mqhlange, was also reported dead and his wife went on and wanted an advocate and nobody was to blame even then.

MS MAYA: We take that your husband who was very close to you and was a threat to the policemen. We hope that you are going to stay normally, after the death.

MRS MOHAPE: I was also hopeful that maybe I will be going for teaching as my husband was now laid to rest and I was a



widow. But because I was labelled as being a wife to a terrorist, I never got a chance to be a teacher. Well I was forced to be involved in a self-help project for a black community but I was thankful because I learned a lot. I was more empowered when I didn't work as a teacher. With community programmes you were able to know how to be dedicated, how to be committed to what you were doing, and also were able to learn how you can empower people, so that they not dependent on others.

There were so many projects which we opened and I also learned very much from that. The contribution that I have done is more than being a teacher. And this give me a chance to teach people responsibility and we learned also to empower people. It was enjoyable to me because teaching would not have given me that opportunity. I continued working as a black community leader, and all the organisations were banned in 1977.

What happened when I was thinking that I am already now past all these tortures, a new era started when the police kept on harassing me, coming to my house and I think they were trying to remove the spirit and dampen my spirit, so that I cannot go on. They tried to tempt me, trying to show me all the benefits that I would gain if I would change into being an informer. The policemen continued to tell me that they would even take me to far away places like overseas and they said they would pay for everything, and they also said that they belonged to BOSS, an independent body which was working together with the people to develop and support them.

I cannot also state where exactly this comes from, but it was a bureau which was reported to be helpful to some



people who had been oppressed, and they also chose me as one of the candidates who could go and get a bursary to go overseas. They also told me that they would give me a tape recorder so that I can record everybody wherever I go. I should attend meetings, attend workshops, and do recordings for them so that I can appear as leisurely but I would be knowing that I am developing my skills. I think that was their psychological way of working through my feelings but we didn't go well together.

Because I refused their offers, they kept on coming again, they started detaining me, again and again, and I was the secretary to Steve at the time. Steve was arrested in Port Elizabeth and I also suffered the consequences, because I was detained because I was his secretary, There were three of us. I stayed there in detention, in solitary confinement for six months and I could really confirm and believe what was said about what happened in the police cells. I was not even given a chance to go and change and take new clothes to make arrangements for what was happening to my children, I didn't even have a opportunity to get a baby sitter. They told me that they can take me anywhere and they could also make it happen so that nobody can know where I've gone to. I went to Port Elizabeth and I also spent six months in detention.

The first month during my detention, I didn't get a drop of water to wash myself, I was unable to change and I was in my menstrual cycle. I was so dirty, requested water so that I can bathe and wash myself. But nobody wanted to help me. They even refused me access to the magistrate. I told the magistrate about all these atrocities and the fact that I have even had lice as I couldn't wash myself. This



was the third of fourth day, but the magistrate gave an order that I should be given some toiletries. After a month I was allowed to get some items from home to change. I was alone at Mount Road, a police station with very few cells. There are two very small cells, painted black. It was a very dark place, there is a bucket inside and they would come and fetch you at night and take you to SANLAM Building. That is where the atrocities used to take place.

We would be assaulted and forced to tell the truth, and I was also forced to say that Steve is a terrorist, and also that he was busy distributing pamphlets. So I had to admit that I was supposed to cyclostyle a batch of pamphlets for Steve. During that period that I was going to distribute them, he was arrested.

During the six months, everything was revolving around Steve Biko. At times they would bring blank papers so that I could sign, and they promised to release me, if I should sign them. But they asked me if I wanted the same thing to happen as happened to my husband? At times I would be fastened to a grill and then would be assaulted brutally and would be unable to defend myself. There was not even a chance to run away because the grill holds you so fast that you cannot do anything about it.

After they beat you, they would beat you and find out if you don't want to go and relieve yourself. I heard from another one, that every time that they assault people, they would assault the person until such person would want to go and relieve himself.

MS MAYA: When did they release you?

MRS MOHAPE: I stayed six months in solitary confinement in Port Elizabeth, and they would come and report some of the



things that are happening at home. They even came and told me that my youngest child is dead. They even promised to release me so that I can attend to the funeral. And they also insisted that I should sign this paper. They told me that they wanted to take the paper to Steve Biko so that he can know that I'm also inside. Each time they said this, Steve would always deny and say they were threatening him. He didn't believe that I was arrested, and I wanted not to make them happy about this.

MS MAYA: Did you sign the paper?

MRS MOHAPE: No I didn't because the paper was blank. I refuse d to sign because so and that is what led me to get assaulted. In February after six months I was taken away and went into custody under Section 9 in Grahamstown.

When you were in the van you would feel that you are free because it was the first time when you could meet other people and communicate. Even if I was going to another jail it didn't happen to me because I was tasting freedom for the first time, to be away from solitary confinement and meet others who were arrested. At the time I didn't know that Steve Biko was arrested and it was a long time before I could learn about it.

When I got to Grahamstown, comparatively speaking, it was just a hotel, it was like a hotel. There was a bed and the blankets were not infested with lice.

MS MAYA: What happened after you were released?

MRS MOHAPE: I stayed in Grahamstown for a month and then I was released. I took my children from my in laws. Just a week after I took them, the police came again and they arrested me. I had to take my children to my in laws again. After another week I was released again. Thereafter my in



laws preferred that I should leave the children so that they cannot be affected by these removals. I took the children and they stayed with my in laws. The children were attending school at the time but because I was under a banning order I was unable to visit them. I was not even to take them to school and could not escort my little one to school like any other parent. It was difficult for me to do so. I was unable to attend the meetings which were attended by other parents. I was unable to get jobs and I was labelled as a terrorist then. I was restricted from being in the company of more than two people.

It was a very difficult time for me and I was unable to get employment anywhere. The banning order was for 1978. In 1979 I got a job in a furniture shop. I was employed for five days and the police came again at Elerines where I was working and they took me again. I was given an envelope. I was paid for the five days that I worked and was told that the job was finished.

MS MAYA: How long was the banning order?

MRS MOHAPE: The banning was for five years but it was lifted after two years.

MS MAYA: This oppression, can you tell us how long it continued?

MRS MOHAPE: After the banning order was lifted I was working at the time at Zingisa Educational Project. This project started in 1971, the people did it for themselves and were also encouraged by Steve Biko. and this Committee was trying to make the Ginsberg community to be able to have their children to be taken to school. Those were children who were needy were given bursaries and scholarships so that they can be able to continue with their education. For the



families who were removed from their areas, this was also a benefit for them. So I was working on this project.

MS MAYA: At this point I would like to stop for a short time so that you can think back again and find out if there is anything that you have left out, that you think might be important.

MRS MOHAPE: There's nobody who will ever leave anything important behind. I want to say in his times of difficulties he never became one person. I also recommend the support of the people who worked with him. The members of organisations. Even the people world wide, he received letters from overseas, from people you do not know, even in this country people were sending letters, feeling this hurt together with you, you know these hard times that we were in, the people were together with us. That gave me strength, that I am supported by the people. Let me not disappoint them, let me carry on with the struggle and see whether my life reaches the point I want it to reach.

Now wit this Truth Commission, I've realised that people from overseas, and these people that have been supporting me, I want them to hear today what happened. I am here with a full hope that my children, after such atrocities, will know exactly what happened, because my children and I, we told them that we their father didn't kill himself.

MRS MOHAPE: Can I please ask two last questions? How did you feel after the death of your husband? What do you think you would feel after hearing about the Truth Commission?

MRS MOHAPE: After the death of Mapetla I was full of hate. I was full of hate that can never be countered. I was hating anybody who was in the police. I hated them for their



oppression. Those were the people who were enforcing apartheid laws on us. They wanted us not to have rights. Even the children, when you speak to them, you have to tell them these are the people who oppressed us, but one day they will change. Now these police who are forcing apartheid laws on us will change.

That hate stayed with me. Even that heavy load in my heart was also there, but I told myself that life must continue, I have to be very patient. Even if I was full of hate, life continued. You know, even if you don't forget this, even if you don't forget that Mapetla is dead, the children will wake him. We agreed that this is a nice thing if we agreed as a family that we will go to the TRC and speak out about what happened. The way we see things. The hard times that we went through.. We want to share with you the difficult times that we've been through.

I want to repeat, my hope is that the TRC will reveal, will try to find out what happened to their father, so that when my children are elderly people, they will know exactly what happened to their father. I think I should also know what happened, because as I am sitting here now, I don't know what happened, because he never had any grudges, he belonged to the people. He was abducted from his house, healthy, supporting his family under the people who followed him. I have the experience of being tortured, which he also went through. Now after such things, nobody was to be blamed?

MS MAYA: The last question according to your children. How old were your children at that time?

MRS MOHAPE: One of them was six years old and the other one was two. This one at six months, he didn't even know



her. This one who was two years old doesn't know his dad because he was very young. He is now 22 and the other one will complete 21 years. They are studying now. The one is at Rhodes, BCom, 3rd year, the 22 year old one is doing analytical chemistry, he is now busy with his training in this field.

MRS MOHAPE: Thank you very much Mrs Nohle Mohape, thank you.

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