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Human Rights Violation Hearings
Type HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION HEARINGS
Starting Date 07 August 1996
Location HELDERBERG TYGERBERG
DR ORR: Thank you chair, Agnes before we start can I just say that we've had complaints that the sound is very bad, so if you can move the microphone as close to your mouth as possible and speak into it, thank you very much. Thank you for being here, I know in terms of work commitments it's difficult for you and we very grateful that you've given time to join us here today. We going to hear your story about what happened in June 1980, yesterday we heard from Ms Willemina Moses who's daughter was shot and killed at the same time, in Elsies River. So we know that, that was a time of turbulence on the Cape Flats, and I will just quote again briefly from the research notes which we've been provided referring to police action around the 16th, 17th and 18th of June in the Coloured townships they say. Police action involved the use of tear gas, baton charges and live ammunition. Police declined to issue a casualty list. The total number of deaths recorded at five Peninsula hospitals was more than 42. Over 200 people were injured, a large number of woman, young and pregnant mothers and children were amongst the victims. Agnes can you now go ahead and tell us about your experience of the 17th of June 1980. --- Okay on the 17th of June 1980 just after 2:00 pm we were at home because it was a stayaway, it was a two day stayaway. My sister and I wanted to go and check on a cousin of ours who had a husband working away and there was some sort of commotion at the entrance to Bishop Lavis and she lived in Bishop - in Lavis Drive. So inside the township there was nothing really taking place, on our way we could hear - you could hear the commotion, you could hear screaming and shouting and you know like children eagerness to see and then running away again. And we were scarred but as we could see nothing we didn't think any of it - anything of it so from there we walked from her house to her in-laws which is in Bishop Crescent which is two roads away from where she was - two streets away from where the gunmen shot her. But anyway from there we couldn't see - we couldn't really see anything, there was a man on top of his roof, who was watching the proceedings and we heard shots go off and you stand, you freeze, you stand, you want to see what's going on, but we couldn't see anything. And I remember that we walked pass a blue Beetle and I carried on walking because you were so scared so fearful. And my sister stood and ...
This is very difficult for you to remember, just take your time. --- She was a few steps behind me still and she stood there and she said to me, they shot me and I thought this is not true, these things don't happen to us, this is you know, this - these things happen in the movies. And I turned back to see her, but as I got to her, she fell. So I ran into a house and I phoned my parents and we got out to her and we picked her up, dragged her into a yard, and the last thing that she said to me, she had a two and half year old son, she was widowed and the last thing she said to me was - look after my child. And I couldn't believe she was dying, I couldn't believe that she was going to die, or anything and I can't remember names and I can't remember faces, because it - you try so hard to put this thing behind you, but one of the neighbours around there put her in a car and I remember we drove through Matroosfontein because the entrance to Bishop Lavis was blocked of. Drove through Matroosfontein and we got her to Tygerberg Hospital. And a nurse came running up to me and my brother who was about 17 at the time, Joseph. And she said to us, come with me, here are your sisters rings, jewellery, her teeth, if the police find you in the hospital they going to question you and they going to interrogate you, there is nothing to be done for your sister, but I can help you and if I knew who that lady was today, I'd like to say thank you. And she took us and she locked us in a medicine cupboard and she said stay there until the corridor is cleared and it was I think after eight the evening when Bishop Henry who was our priest that time he was Father Henry, Archbishop Henry of Cape Town, sent a Father Bernard Cowlan from the parish of Tygerberg to fetch us and the roads were still blocked, so he came and he threw some black cloaks over us, managed to get us out of the hospital and we had to sleep at his house that night. And it was very hard not being with your family, knowing you've lost somebody, it was difficult, I don't think we slept, we sat there in the Priest house, we sat on his bed, and the next morning we were taken home and only then we were allowed to grieve with the family and I - we didn't even have enough time to grieve with the family because we knew it, the cops were on our doorstep and they insisted that they take a statement from us and all of us were hysterical, we were pretty hysterical. The neighbourhood was hysterical, the Parish was hysterical because my sister was the organist in the church, so I mean the news of her death spread like wild fire. And the doctor came and he sedated us, and much of what happens in between I can't remember what I do remember is that about two or three days after that I was lying there and I had also taken medication, I couldn't cope with the fact that my companion my only sister was taken from me so brutally. And the police came banging on the door again, knocking is not what they did, they banged on the door, and they insisted that they wanted a statement from me, and they said to my mother, that if this child is drunk like this again tomorrow, you'll see what we will do to you. So can you imagine the fear that we felt and my brother had some difficulty with the death certificate and identifying the body because we - the police at Bishop Lavis just you know just treated you with - I don't know what is the word. I mean they just had no respect for you. So we had all those difficulties and the panic and making arrangements of getting her buried and on the day of her funeral, which was a very - she had a very big funeral, there was such a heavy police presence that made your grief so difficult, I mean you wanted to grieve but you were so angry too and putting the two together, makes it even harder. And I remember that the cars that were parked in Voortrekker Road on that day, were all given parking tickets, you know which - which like dirtied your sisters funeral, it put such a stain on it, it - it just blotted the whole thing. Then of course eventually well I had to give a statement to the police and before I knew it I was subpoenaed - also banged on my door and they subpoenaed me and I appeared about two or three times in Bishop Lavis magistrate court. I cannot remember the dates, and their findings were, well my sister in all also appeared because she as with us, but she was not married to my brother at that time, and they treated us with such you know, rudeness, they were so rude to us, I mean they treated us as if we were the criminals and the perpetrator was justified and we were criminals. We were told when to get out and when not to get out and things like that and of course their findings were, their final findings at the inquest was, that it was just unfortunate that she came in his line of fire. Now she was shot in the heart with an explosive bullet that shattered her heart, and I'd like to know how unfortunate that is - because in my opinion and from that day I have said, I am positive that it was it a sniper, and well the man implicated in - and the man who did the shooting was - just to get his name right, Sterrenberg, the Captain Sterrenberg, and he - he was found, well it was found that he just - he just obeyed orders and that it was unfortunate that she came in his line of fire and that there was nothing we could do. And my mother took the case further, we met with then Mr Omar, Dullah Omar and we Bishop Tutu we were introduced to him because our case was being sponsored by the SACC that time. And it was scheduled to appear in the Supreme Court, but we were so shattered and we were so destroyed and at that point I got married and I had moved up to Durban. And my mother who is in the audience today didn't have the courage to take this thing further, so it stayed there you know. It just stayed at that and I - I come forward now because I would like to know who gave the order, and why, why were we violated so badly and when I sit and think, I think that these violations, that - what we went through in 1980, didn't start in 1980 it started long ago I mean we have violated years ago, these things wouldn't have happened had be not been scrapped off the voters role, had we not been subject to group areas, separate amenities, separate schooling, you know because if those things were not scheduled and tabled that time, then people would not have stood us and these things would not have taken place and my sister might not have died you know, thank you.
Agnes thank you very much, I think you - you've demonstrated a number of things very eloquently which we've heard about before, but you've reminded us of that. How innocent bystanders get involved, how families are not allowed to grieve with dignity, how they treated with disrespect, and that also, that the death of one person doesn't just affect one generation, it affects many generations. Can you perhaps tell us just a little bit more about how Agnes's death affected you and also what happened to her child? --- Her death affected me in the way that up till now I look at my friends and my family and I see sisters and you must - I have never stopped missing here, I have never. We worked together, we were employed together at First National which was then Barclays Bank, we were employed together, we worked together, she had lost her husband when she was eight months pregnant, so we were very close. When she died her son was two and a half years old, I subsequently got married and my husband and I adopted him, he is now 18 years old, he will be 19 in September and he is now - he is doing his second year M.B. Ch. B. at UCT which I am very proud of you know, we've - we've done our best and I think my whole family has rallied around us, I think she would be proud of what we have done. He is okay, but he had difficulty being here, he finds that part of it hard to deal with and I could not force him to come.
Thank you and I think we'd like to thank you for taking over the role of mother for that child. Just to let you and the audience know that the man who you mentioned who was standing on the roof with binoculars, Mr Ross, has indicated that he is willing to give us a statement, an eyewitness account which will in fact corroborate what you have said to us today. --- Yes he has.
DR ORR: Agnes, your story has really touched me, thank you for being here today. As I said, what you have told us is what we have heard before but you've told it in a very touching and eloquent way and we have seen quite starkly how, how people who were simple carrying on their normal day to day lives got involved in the struggle and they too contributed to what South Africa is today and what it will be in the future. Thank you very much for coming.