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Human Rights Violation Hearings
Type 1 G BECK, HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS, SUBMISSIONS QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Starting Date 29 April 1996
Location METHODIST CHURCH, JOHANNESBURG
Names GREGORY EDMUND BECK
Case Number GO/O135 JOHANNESBURG
DR BORAINE: Chairperson before I call the next witness may I take this opportunity of welcoming many people who have joined us as well, in particular the Mayoress of Soweto, as well as her member of Parliament, Miss Fatima Hadjay, we are delighted to see both of you.
I call the next witness and invite Mr Gregory Beck to come to the stand please. Mr Beck on behalf of the Commission I'd like to extend a very warm word of welcome to you this afternoon. You've had a long morning listening to many stories and yours of course is very different from some of the others. But because the Commission is mandated by the Act to receive all who are victims of violence or human rights violations I want you to know that you are welcome and that we are very grateful to you that you have come to tell your story, because all these stories are part of the whole fabric of South Africa which we are trying to unravel. I'd be very grateful if you would stand please for the taking of the oath.
MS MKHIZE: May we, before I give you an opportunity to talk about your experience of human rights violations I will briefly remind the participants and address the Commissioners on the background to your experience.
In 1988 Soweto was still under a total state of emergency. Countrywide over 5,000 people were detained and over 1,149 people killed in political violence. In February 1988 P W Botha amended the state of emergency regulations giving the Minister of Law and Order the power to restrict the activities of organisations or individuals if he was of the opinion that it was necessary. To enforce these restrictions and the state of emergency the SAP and SADF presence in townships was strengthened.
Meanwhile for the ANC the arms struggle continued despite rumours that it was ready to negotiate with the government. 1988 was named the Year of United Action towards People's Power. According to the Minister of Law and Order Mr Vlok 144 policemen were killed in the years 1984 to 1987. Vlok further added that it was not possible to distinguish which of the murders were politically motivated.
MR BECK: Right. On the night of the 22nd April 1988 I reported for duty. At that time I was doing crime prevention duties, I was in the uniformed branch. I am now a detective attached to Soweto Investigation Unit holding the rank of Detective Inspector. At that time I was a sergeant.
I reported for duty at 18H00 and I was supposed to complete my duties the following morning at six o'clock. My duties were to patrol the area of Soweto, and we had warrants that were executed on people who partook in the rent boycotts at that time. I was accompanied by three other constables and I was the sergeant in charge.
Well during the night, at about midnight we had already arrested three civilians, that was in the area of Emndeni. I was supposed to take these three civilians to the rental office at Zola where they would get further instructions on how to go about paying the arrears of their rents.
On my way from Emndeni to Zola at about five minutes before one o'clock in the night, opposite house, I think it's house 2975 and 2976 Emndeni our patrol was ambushed. It was very dark I couldn't see anything. I was the driver of the vehicle. I just suddenly heard the sound of automatic and rapid fire from - machine gun fire. Then I heard screams at the back, from the people at the back of the van that I was patrolling with were hit, one civilian was hit through the neck. And then suddenly I heard shots all over round me that was shot from the sides, concentrating on my position as the driver.
The shots riddled through the bodywork of the vehicle, past my body, past my head and shattered the windscreen and windows of the vehicle. I then accelerated to pick up speed in order to get the people to safety and I didn't know whether my assailants were on foot or by car, but eventually the engine of the vehicle was struck and I was hit through the right leg at the tibia several times.
We were demobilised. I could hear my bones breaking the way the shots hit my leg and I was then out of action and I told my fellow colleagues to jump out and take cover. I had a portable radio in my hand and I then took cover behind a tree and radioed for assistance to the control room and the members of the control room sent the duty officer, reinforcements as well as an ambulance to the scene. I was out of action at that time.
I then learnt that one of the civilians, I don't know his name, the male, was hit through the neck and was in a very critical condition. One of the policeman, a constable, was hit through the - with a flesh wound, through the thigh, and I was hit through the tibia several times with AK47 rifles.
MR BECK: I didn't see a thing, I just heard the shots and I saw flames from the firearms but I couldn't see anybody. But as you mentioned there that it was well-known that the liberation movements had an arms struggle against the State and we, as the police, were the first targets of that armed struggle. In that year a lot of policemen were killed.
your leg was injured while you were caught in that crossfire or shooting, can you maybe just tell the Commission as to what happened to you. Did you end up in hospital? Were you seen by any of the doctors?
MR BECK: Right. I was hospitalised for about approximately a year. I had to be retrained to walk in that time. My legs were - I had several bone grafts and skin grafts. My leg was tied in a brace in order to keep the bones in order to grow back. My right leg is still shorter than my left leg now. I still suffer severely. I have severe pains and my leg is disfigured and flesh from my left thigh was cut to the skin graft on my right leg, so with the result that when I am with people at the beach or when it's a hot day I cannot expose my legs because they are both disfigured. And if you don't mind I have photographs to show to you what the extent of the injuries were. I have it with me right now.
MS MKHIZE: Well you will hand over to us after this. Thank you, thank you for that. Thank you very much. I am sure the Commissioners would like to talk to you some more about your experience. I will hand over to the Chairperson.
DR ALLY: Mr Beck I don't want you to take the question that I am going to ask as any indication of any insensitivity to what you have experienced. I am sure that everybody here round the table is moved by what actually happened to you and sympathises. But I would like to know what your opinions are on the - it is well-known that during the period that you are speaking about the police and the army and all other such structures were seen as an extension of the apartheid state which was oppressing people, and
MR BECK: Okay. Before 1990 I can say that we as ordinary policeman didn't know much about these covert operations. We didn't know anything about it. It was mostly the specialist policemen, the Security Police, Murder and Robbery and all those kind of guys who knew about these type of operations, and as we are now in the transparent and new South Africa more of these incidents are now revealed. Now it becomes more clear to me what was really going on and the balance between the State at that time and the liberation movements, and I can see the viewpoint of the liberation movement as well, which they hold, or which they held to bring about what we are experiencing in this new South Africa of ours, and that cost us all to be liberated, so therefore I don't bear any grudges against anybody for what happened, although I was a victim of it, but I understand now. Before I didn't, no. And if these things were not revealed maybe I would have held a different opinion.
DR ALLY: Thank you for that honest answer. In the light of that what is it then that you are expecting the Commission to do in your specific instant and more generally with policemen who were either killed or maimed during that period?
MR BECK: Well I don't know how relevant my opinion will be, but I'd like to say that for the - I'd like all perpetrators to come forward to testify at the Commission and disclose what atrocities they partook in, and I feel that the perpetrators are not coming out voluntarily. So what I feel must happen is that after the terms the
Commission has served they have to be given a further extension of about six months to come forward and if they still refuse to come forward then the law must take its course and then they forfeit all rights to come to this Commission, and that they must be prosecuted criminally.
MR BECK: Well I know that the Commissioner of Police is trying his utmost to instill into every policeman the new idea of the new South Africa, to be community orientated, and to build up a good and firm and better image towards every South African, and I feel that a policeman in today's time, after hearing all these stories of the various atrocities, is still not prepared to abide with the new South Africa, and with the new transparency that we have, and democracy, then he must be kicked out of the police service. He is of no use to the police service as such. Then everybody else's hard work to bring about a democracy will be futile, if we still have strong elements like that around us in the police.
DR MAGWAZA: Mr Beck it is obvious that your life changed after the attack, I would like to ask in what way did your life change in your relationship with other people or relationship with liberations movements? How did your life change in relation to your work? And how did your life change generally because something did change?
bear a grudge. The reason why my life changed is that I've now learnt from all the stories I've learned from and the example that our State President has brought us for forgiving after he went through all these atrocities as well, and he can forgive, and I became more tolerant now and more understanding, which before I wasn't. I can understand now from both sides, and people's problems daily in my job as well.
MR BECK: They just visited me a few times in the hospital. After that when I was discharged, well they took care of the bill, the medical costs because that was very much. And after that I recuperated on my own at home.
MR BECK: Yes. Unfortunately all my efforts for compensation were futile because it was just a lot of red tape. I have never received any compensation, just a lot of red tape and letters from one office to the other, up to now and they just stopped writing letters and I am still where I am.
DR RANDERA: Mr Beck if I can just ask you two questions please. In your statement, and please this doesn't take away what you have told of pain and suffering that you have experienced, and still suffer, in your statement you say
DR RANDERA: Apologies. You were also told that your photograph should not be taken and you were going to appeal on television and that was cancelled too. Again the explanation for that, because having lived through that period myself often it was a responsibility on the State when this sort of thing happened, when this sort of incident happened that this would be publicised rather than de-publicised.
DR RANDERA: My last question is, and again this is a personal comment on your part, you've heard, we have heard many times in the testimonies that we have been given how it almost appeared as if institutions, and I include the police institution within this question as well went out of the way to make people's lives difficult, you were in that - you were there at the time and I just wondered whether you want to actually share some of those perceptions with us.
MR BECK: As I said earlier I don't know of any specific atrocities or any specific policeman that partook in any of these activities, because those atrocities were done mainly by the security branch and the security branch had full reign of anything that they wanted to do. And you know they excluded the rest of the police force out of what they have done. They were like a law unto themselves.
MR BECK: Yes please because the attempts from the police force was through the Workmen's Compensation and correspondence just stalled in 1994. Because of a lot of red tape as I said and that is one of my requests from the Commission because I do have letters in my possession where compensation and where references were made to Workmen's Compensation. I have it with me at home.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. there was something that you wanted to hand in, photographs, can you let us have those please. Thank you very much for letting us have those. Can we keep these or you want
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, yes. I just want to say again thank you on behalf of our Commission for your willingness to come. I have been saying and other people I am sure make the same kind of remarks that we do have an extraordinary group of people in our country. You testify to a change that happened in you with regard to your perceptions about the liberation movement and the struggle and you say it is in part because you have come to learn of the atrocities that were committed.
Now the Commission is in fact being charged with telling this story, not so that we should be masochists who enjoy pain, our pain, the pain of others, that we should in fact then, as the Act says, transcend, rise above the conflicts of the past and ultimately if we are going to have the change then it is clear that forgiveness, reconciliation, are quite central to that process. And justice is an element of it as well. But forgiveness
ultimately is to say you give people the chance to change. You open a door for someone to move from a dark past to a new and enlightened present and future. We hope that people like yourselves and the many who will be telling their stories, not always in public hearings such as this one, will help to contribute and we are glad that we can now begin to own the police and the defence force, and be able to say these are now ours, as you begin to change and are rehabilitated. We pray that that process will be accelerated and that we, all of us, because all of us need to change, all of us are wounded people, all of us are traumatised people, all of us are people who need to forgive and who also need to be forgiven. And for all of us then to move together into what is a wonderful prospect that God places before us, and look at the wonderful contribution that all of these wonderful people can make to this new South Africa.