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Human Rights Violation Hearings
Type HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS, SUBMISSIONS QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Starting Date 02 May 1996
Location METHODIST CHURCH, JOHANNESBURG
Names HESTER GROBELAAR
Case Number GO 121 JOHANNESBURG
DR BORAINE: Chairperson before I ask the next witness to come forward could I just take this opportunity of welcoming two or three people and would ask them if they wouldn't mind simply standing where they for just a minute so that we can recognise them and the SABC can identify them, for their own purposes?
First Paul Mashala, and if I've got your name wrong it's because the handwriting that I have been given is very bad, but Gauteng MP and general secretary to the ANC for Gauteng, I don't know where you are but I think you will know who you are Paul, thank you very much indeed, nice to see you. Trish Hanekom a member of the Gauteng Legislature, I think you are here somewhere as well, yes how nice to see you, and then also Peter Bruckner, if he wouldn't mind standing. Peter Bruckner, a former ambassador for Denmark and one of the best friends that many South Africans have ever known. Thank you.
We call a Mrs Hester Grobelaar. Mrs Grobelaar on behalf of the Commission I'd like to welcome you here thank you very much for coming, we know it's not easy to come and testify here before the Commission. Your story deals with the death of your son Johan Grobelaar, no it's Jurgens Grobelaar, is that true?
MR MALAN: Thank you very much. Mrs Grobelaar, Mr Grobelaar, thank you very much for being here today. May I just say very briefly that we will rely on you as if the background of this story deals with a period of time of 1990 and 1993 and your son was involved in right wing politics in a rather strange way, but the issue is not clear at all and it is against that background that we would like to listen to your evidence. May I also say that you have given us a very complete statement with places, dates, times, it's one of the most extensive statements which we have received as yet and we thank you for that as well.
I think my understanding is that we will not go into find detail here but if you can place these details in context for the Commission? Could you tell us who was your son, what was he like? How did he change over the years? What was he allegedly involved in, what happened? We know it's a very very painful task and if it becomes too difficult, then just relax for a while, we'll understand. Thank you very much.
MRS GROBELAAR: I would just like to thank the Commission for this opportunity because I feel this is the last opportunity for ever stating this case, because what the public heard before was the version of a policeman and also that of a newspaper and that wasn't true.
My son Jurgens born in 1962. He became interested in politics at a certain stage at school, he wrote to various organisations and was extremely intelligent and also very curious. For a time that was where it ended but then round about standard nine, matric, he attended a leadership course and when he came back from this course he seemed changed in some way. I can't pinpoint exactly what had happened but just his attitude towards other groups of people had changed and what I found very upsetting was the fact that he'd been a devout Christian who helped people as far as he could, and all of a sudden, I don't quite know how to put it, but this new side of him came to the fore, and that was difficult to accept. In any event he had contact with Koos Vermeulen of the World Apartheid Movement and that's where he became further involved in politics.
But he also often told me of his friendship with a girl from the ANC on the campus and those two things I couldn't quite reconcile. During the July holidays of that year he told me that he was very disillusioned with politics and that he had broken off all ties with that person I mentioned earlier and wanted nothing more to do with him.
Now unfortunately, it's essential to give dates, on the t of September, the first of October he wasn't at his residence on the campus and it was strange that I didn't know where he was because I usually knew his whereabouts. On the second of October he phoned me from a friend's flat and asked me to phone him back and he gave me the phone number.
I phoned him and spoke to him, my husband also spoke to him and shortly afterwards he phoned us back and said that he was back in residence because his friends were furious with him for phoning us and they had kicked him out of the flat.
We went to fetch him to come and spend the October holidays with us and on the 13th of October he had to go back and he was petrified, he cried, he didn't want to go back and he begged me not to take him back to Pretoria. In my stupidity, I thought he was just scared of his exams, and eventually managed to persuade him to go back. During the next week I had contact with him on various occasions and on the twentieth of October around about 5 o'clock in the afternoon he phoned us and that was the last time we ever heard from him.
I couldn't trace him at the residence and eventually I phoned this flat where his so-called friends lived and eventually spoke to a woman there who said that it was her flat, that her brother had lived there but that she had chased him away because she had found arms, ammunition, explosive devices and so on. I asked her whether she knew Jurgens and she said she had no idea of such a person but she did give me the number of the flat where her brother was staying, she didn't have the address though. We constantly phoned this number but nobody answered. Eventually a man identified himself as Mr du Places and said he didn't know where Jurgens was, he knew who he was but he hadn't seen him for months.
I was beside myself with worry as a result of what this woman had told me about all the arms and ammunition and on the 25th of October, a Friday, I telephoned the police in Krugersdorp and a lieutenant came to visit me at work and I told him the whole story. He took the address of this flat and recommended that we report Jurgens as missing and said that he would take the matter further and try and obtain information. An unknown person also phoned us and said that we could trust the security policeman. On Saturday the 26th of October we reported him as missing.
In the course of the next week we were dealing with various police units and each one of them dealt with this missing persons case. On the 28th of October this Lieutenant from the security police visited me again and he alleged that the security police had a file on Jurgens and that he had been seen in the company of Mr Martin Maritz who was a person who had fled the country but it later appeared to be untrue because those people had already left the country at that stage.
I was very shocked and I said to him that those were dangerous people and that he had to get my child away from them. And his words to me were it's not possible, if we find him we'll shoot him, we'll kill him!
He recommended that we go to the friend's flat and we went there, we first went to the residence, we collected his belongings because we believe the police when they say we're going to kill your child, you must accept it. We took his things away and then we went to the flat. We found a woman there who said she didn't know where Jurgens was, that she had seen him a week ago in the company of his friends, that he was very distressed and had been crying. She also said, forget about your child, he no longer belongs to you. We searched the flat for some of his possessions and clothes and decided he had been there. There was a surgical face mask on one of the beds and Pieter also saw the White Man's Bible, the Church of the Creation, he found that there as well. And he was so upset that ripped the book apart but later he decided to give it to the security police.
I contacted the Child Protection Unit from that flat and she told us to leave because the flat is under surveillance. A person phoned us identifying himself as Jan van Wyk and later admitted that it was he that had phoned us on a previous occasion under a different name. I approached various newspapers with this book and documents from the Church of the Creation. As a Christian that really shocked me terribly, that somebody could allege and pretend that such a thing could be a bible and that there can be such a church. The only person who was interested was Jaques Pauw of the Vrye Weekblad, he was very interested. He said he already had knowledge of this organisation.
On the 5th of November members of the security police came to us and said that they were now dealing with this missing person's case which was nine days after we reported him as missing and in that time there were no reports, no information, nothing
On the 7th of November the security police phoned us from Krugersdorp speaking to my husband and said that we had to be at the police station the next morning 7 o'clock at Krugersdorp because the security police from Pretoria wanted to meet us there. At 6:30 that morning we heard on the radio news about two young men who had been killed at Noeniput by the police, and since that kind of promise had been made to us we just had a terrible premonition and we went to the police.
The security police from Pretoria never arrived and there was another colonel who wanted to see us but he arrived late, we asked them to find out for us who these people were that had been killed and they then confirmed that Jurgens had been one of those killed. They immediately said that he committed suicide, and that we found very strange as Jurgens was very outspoken about suicide and regarded it as an act of cowardice and we were immediately suspicious.
Whilst we were still there a call was made from that office to the effect that Jaques Pauw had to be silenced. Our big problem was that the moment we arrived home we were surrounded and overwhelmed by the newspapers and journalists. The white family only learned of their child's death only late that afternoon but the newspapers knew before we did.
My husband had contact with Colonel Thiart in Uppington and he made an allegation that Mr White had shot my child. At that stage we started receiving telephone calls day and night and this continued for months. Mr Vermeulen arrived along with a doctor and a policeman and said that they wanted to examine the body because they were suspicious. Our biggest mistake was not to consult an independent pathologist to do the post mortem since all the photographs taken at the post mortem, the X-rays which showed various fractures, all these things had disappeared, we were summoned to the Murder and Robbery branch to collect Jurgen's possessions and clothes and then were told that he was involved in a murder on the 14th of October and we made an affidavit there immediately to disprove that and that was also proved afterwards that he could never have been involved in that.
On that day I also met Mrs White for the first time and she told me that her daughter who had come from Namibia to attend a memorial service for her brother, was taken off the bus on her return journey by the security police at Pietersburg and she was interrogated for three hours.
An organisation offered assistance in connection with the inquest advocates but a week before the time they withdrew and we had to arrange representation at very short notice. Mr Armand du Places of the Church of the Creator contacted my brother and asked for an interview. He wanted to speak to him, went to him and when they started questioning him he bent forwards and they could see that his whole body was wired up.
You have the document in your possession so I don't want to really go through the whole issue of the inquest. We have a lot of difficulty with the scenario sketched by the police of what had happened there and I must state unequivocally that we don't believe it. Many bits of fancy footwork were executed in the courts, we were told, don't try and find the guilty party, just try and find the cause of death. Eventually the magistrate's finding was that the court ?(police) had acted legally in shooting them but that nobody knew where their so-called suicide shots came and that nobody could be prosecuted for it. The magistrate also found that it was impossible that these shots could have been inflicted by themselves.
The security police were aware of my child's whereabouts during the time that we were looking for him, because after his death, a couple of hours afterwards they arrested two so-called friends in that same block of flats. This was at 3 o'clock the next morning.
I would like to know who was responsible for this, who can be so sick to blast away a dead person's face? The effect of this whole incident on our family cannot be described. In about two years I spent almost three months in psychiatric hospitals, I have tried to commit suicide, I couldn't work, my husband had no wife, my child had no mother, my husband had to remain strong throughout all of this and I think that ultimately he suffered most. He sat with the body, he saw how it was maimed but he had to keep going through it all.
I would like to use this opportunity to say to anybody, who alleges that Jurgens was a member of the Church of the Creator, it is a lie and in his bible which I found he had underlined various texts saying that if you're a traitor to God then you lose your soul and for that reason I believe that my child died as a Christian and that he is with his Father in Heaven today.
MR MALAN: Thank you Mrs Grobelaar. It is always a harrowing situation to be here to sit here and to share in your pain, but just at a distance, we can't really understand it. One of our functions here is the political context of the political upheavals of the past times. Have you got any information pertaining to his political activities during this time.
MRS GROBELAAR: No, the only idea which I have is that he was involved with these people up to a point. We don't know who these people were after July, we only heard about Mr White after his death, we never knew such a person. He wasn't a student so he couldn't have been on the campus. I know from the letters which I received after his death that he knew he was about to die and he wrote that he had been betrayed and mislead by certain things. He also said that his going away had nothing to do with politics but that he was doing it for our sake.
We get the idea that he might have been involved in a situation from which he was trying to break free but he possibly knew too much about this organisation and therefore had to be silenced, he wasn't allowed to escape alive. Whatever it was. There's been a lot of speculation but it remains only that, speculation.
MS SOOKA: Mrs Grobelaar you say that at one particular time when you spoke to Jaques Pauw, the security police told you that you should rather cooperate with them than with Mr Pauw, would you like to comment on that?
MRS GROBELAAR: No I had no further contact with Jaques, I don't know whether the police actually tried to silence him as was requested that day but another journalist, a woman from the Vrye Weekblad did speak to me after that.
DR BORAINE: Mrs Grobelaar you told us that Mr White was also shot and killed. Can you perhaps tell us a little bit more about Mr White? Who was he, had you ever met him, where did he come from, he wasn't a student?
MRS GROBELAAR: All that I can tell you regarding Mr White is what his mother told me. I don't know if I should proceed. she told me that he had been a recce whilst he had been in the army and that he was unemployed and often received very strange telephone calls after which he disappeared and he was always flush with money, but before his last disappearance he told her that he had only one last task to fulfil and he would then be finished. He apparently also told his cousin that he was working for military intelligence. I never met him and I never heard of him before.
DR ALLY: Mrs Grobelaar you said that you were very surprised that it appeared all of a sudden that your son's values had changed, especially concerning other racial groups and that you were very shocked by this? Can you tell us a little bit more about this change, this transformation and how you feel now in the context of the changes which have taken place in this country?
MRS GROBELAAR: I could perhaps answer it in this way. I feel that indoctrination took place at this leadership course. I have no proof of this but I believe they were indoctrinated, were brain washed.
of the things that we as a Commission must do is to understand what had happened in this country, especially as far as politics is concerned and how that shaped our history because this could give us a better indication of this period and what happened during that time. I really would appreciate it if you could formulate it, but if it's too difficult, then I understand.
MRS GROBELAAR: What kind of indoctrination, no I don't know exactly what happened but I do know that there was a change in him afterwards. Before he had been the kind of child who would give his last bit of money to a beggar, to those less fortunate and suddenly there was this total change in him, he had different opinions and those opinions were not moderate. I can assure those ideas were not instilled in him in his home and by us.
MRS GROBELAAR: I don't think it dealt specifically with black people, it was more to do with antisemitism and it really shocked me. My philosophy was always, do unto others as you would want them to do unto you. Oh you asked me what my politics are...(intervention)
MRS GROBELAAR: Yes he went towards the very far right but it got to a point when he realised that he was involved in something that wasn't really his style, he didn't really want to be further involved and he tried to extricate himself.
MS SOOKA: I don't want to upset you but we've heard so much regarding the indoctrination which took place during these leadership courses, which took place when children went to high school, during the high school years. You were saying that you did not teach your child to be a racist but when he returned from this leadership course he was different, do you think that this change was brought about by the leadership school?
MRS GROBELAAR: These were just the normal high school camps, leadership courses, leadership camps, usually those pupils who were elected as prefects and so on, the leadership amongst the students, they were usually sent on these camps and courses. I just want to say that as regards indoctrination, Jean du Places father played a major role in indoctrination and the other friend Jean van Wyk's father told me that Mr du Places, this person's child had already recruited persons at school and had indoctrinated them into this kind of thing, Church of the Creation and that kind of thing. I think it is criminal that one person can take another person's child and indoctrinate him.
DR RANDERA: I won't keep you much longer, I know how painful this is for you. In your closing statement you said that you thought that your son was removed because he knew too much and I presume that you are saying that in reference to the security branch because they are the people who were involved in his final death. And then also in your statement you go on to say that after your son's death you were harassed continually by the security branch again. Are you referring to a section of the security branch, I mean especially the harassment, where was that coming from?
MRS GROBELAAR: It's possibly the security police, we don't know who it was, but I was followed, I was watched at work continually, our phone was tapped, we received the weirdest phone calls, day and night. I don't know who it was, I can guess but I can't prove it.
DR FOURE: I'm sorry to keep asking you questions, I know it's not easy for you, I think it's very important for us to try to understand the nature of these leadership training courses. Obviously your son was bright, he was a leader at school and he was selected to go on this particular training course. Was this under the Department of Education or was it some private organisation, who organised it?
CHAIRPERSON: Mrs Grobelaar, firstly we'd like to say thank you very much, we appreciate very much that you came here. Secondly, even though it is inadequate we would like to say that we so deeply regret that you and your family had to suffer so much. It would appear as if there were some kind of a pattern, you were virtually crying out in anguish when you said that the newspapers knew of your son's death before you yourself knew. Now a lot of the evidence and the stories which we have heard so far deals with exactly the same kind of thing. Many of the people who have appeared here before us have told us how devastated they were by the fact that they weren't informed of what had happened to their loved ones immediately.
We would like to say how much pain we experience to see all the pain that people have suffered in this country. All of us must join hands now to try to make sure that this kind of thing will never happen again in this new country of ours. Thank you very very much for coming here today and sharing your grief and pain with us. We appreciate it, thank you.