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Human Rights Violation Hearings
Type 1 J SMIT, HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS, SUBMISSIONS QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Starting Date 29 April 1996
Location METHODIST CHURCH, JOHANNESBURG
Names JOHAN SMIT
Case Number GO/O193 JOHANNESBURG
Good evening Mr Smit. I really have to apologise to you. It's been a very, very long day and you have had to wait to the very end, and it's bad enough having the anguish and the pain that you are carrying to have to sit and wait for such a long time. Please forgive us. It's beyond our control.
Mr Smit we do welcome you and we do express our very deep appreciation to you for your readiness and willingness to come to this Commission. We always obviously give people the opportunity to speak in whichever language they would like and if you would like to give your testimony in Afrikaans obviously that's up to you. If you would like to use the earphones that's also up to you, but I shouldn't think that would be necessary.
DR BORAINE: Thank you very much indeed. Please be seated. Mr Smit the story you will tell is a very wrenching one and goes back more than ten years but it must for you be like yesterday, I am quite sure. Without any further ado I am going to ask Mrs Joyce Seroke to help you and guide you as
MS SEROKE: Hennie and Annamarie Smit you live in Pretoria and you are the parents of Cornio Smit who at the age of eight years in 1985 was killed in a bomb blast in Amanzimtoti. At the time he had gone to Natal with his grandparents for a holiday and whilst they were shopping, two days before Christmas at the Sanlam Shopping Centre in Amanzimtoti this bomb blast occurred. Can you tell us how did you get the news and what happened?
MR SMIT: I got a phone call from my uncle who stayed in Malvern in Durban and he told me that my son was in an accident and I had to come down and see him. I thought that it might be a car accident because he didn't explain what type of accident it was. My wife was doing shopping and I had to find her. I phoned a couple of shops and eventually one of the shops found her and told her that she had to return immediately. In the meantime my uncle phoned me again and said it was quite serious, we've got to come down.
By this time it was already late in the afternoon because I couldn't find my wife. I thought he thought that I wasn't interested in coming down to Durban. But when Annamarie arrived we immediately went down to Durban. But by then we still didn't know there was a bomb blast. We only found out that it was a bomb blast when we arrived in Durban in the hospital. I can't remember the name of the hospital. They told us that my son's not there but they know of a little boy who was in the mortuary. By that time, it was very late, the mortuary was already closed and I went to my uncle's house. It might be that I only found out then
We went to see him the following morning but I didn't want to believe that it was my son that was lying there. I asked them to take him out of the glass case so that I could see his chin. Under his chin he had a small little cut which he got when I accidentally dropped him when he was a child. I still really didn't want to believe it and my wife and my father had to convince me it was my child.
Then after that we came up to Pretoria. We buried him in Pretoria. I told newspapers that I thought my son was a hero because he died for freedom for people that - I would prefer to speak Afrikaans. He died in the cause of the oppressed people. A lot of people criticised me for this. They thought that I was a traitor and they condemned me, but I still feel that way today. I feel that few White people in this country would ever have ...(tape ends) they really struggle, they'd buy small amounts of paraffin and really didn't have much money. I would never have come to this awareness otherwise.
MR SMIT: I've got no grudge against them. I mean it was actually a rebellion, it was war, in war things happen that the generals don't plan, nobody plans it, it just happens. You don't always - it may happen that the troops become a little bit over-zealous and start making their own terms and do things that they weren't given orders to do, but in a war you just obey orders, you don't question and ask why you
MR SMIT: It was a great relief seeing them and expressing my feelings towards them that I felt glad that I could tell them that I felt no hatred for them. I bore them no grudge. And there was no hatred in my heart.
MS SEROKE: I say that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the end of this brief is going to make recommendations to the government on a policy, I mean regarding a policy on reparation for all the victims. What would you and your family like to suggest for this policy?
MR MALAN: I think what Mrs Seroke is asking Sir is that one of the tasks of this Commission is where victims have suffered and had setbacks that we can perhaps formulate a policy, make recommendations to the government to accommodate these victims and help in the restitution of the human dignity and to make some kind of reparation. I think
MR SMIT: No I don't think I can make a contribution at the moment. The people who are suffering as a result of the war, and there are people suffering on both sides I think these people can be helped. It depends on the circumstances. But I don't think one can quantify the value of a life, and put monetary value on a life. I wouldn't like to see financial compensation being paid for a life. If perhaps the circumstances were such that it was the breadwinner, yes, maybe then it's a different matter. It all depends on the circumstances.
MS SEROKE: When your son was bomb-blasted you said in the midst of acute grief that you wished that these killings would stop and that the Nationalist Government could negotiate with the ANC for peace, that was a very profound statement Hennie, what did your family think when you said that?
MR SMIT: Like I said they couldn't understand it, some of them still don't understand it. They can't see my point of view, they are not as liberal as I am. They really don't understand it. Like my mum was in the same bomb blast and she doesn't feel the same way that I feel. So there are different viewpoints on the subject.
MS SEROKE: Thank you Hennie. I would just like to say that perhaps you should give that support to your mother, because I gather from the statement that some of the family members say that they got comfort when they heard that the boy was hanged. I suppose you have different feelings and
DR BORAINE: I don't want to prolong what for you is a very difficult moment, but to take the sort of stand that you took you must have been pretty lonely with friends and family not really being able to come to terms with that, so you had a double thing to bear, the loss of a child and deep misunderstandings, perhaps anger from family and friends, how did you cope?
MR SMIT: I think I've got the strength from God because in the first instance I really didn't plan to say what I said. It's only when the journalist interviewed me that I decided I am ready, I've got the guts to say it, it doesn't matter what happens after that.
CHAIRPERSON: My Afrikaans is not that fluent but I would like to say this in your mother tongue. The people of this country are incredible and the testimony that you have just given is something which people really admire. ... our hats off to you and we would really like to express our appreciation and thanks to God that he created people like yourself, and that the reason why we still have this hope that reconciliation will triumph in the end is because there are people like yourself.
On behalf of all of us here and also on behalf of the whole nation I can say there has been so much pain and suffering in this country, on behalf of all of us, I would just like to say thank you very, very much for what you have said here today and for what you have suffered and experienced with your family at a time when nobody would have wanted to believe that such a thing was possible.
MR MALAN: May I ask one more question please. Against the background of having had the privilege of looking at video footage in which Joyce was also involved and also the fact that the Act expects of us to look at the victims' perspectives, the perspective on the conflict you have testified partly on this but one of the questions there asked related to the whole catharsis or therapy whether that also included assuming joint responsibility, the suggestion was made that perhaps you could apologise for the past and here I am referring to a specific occasion, would you like to tell us how you feel about that?
MR SMIT: No. I feel that we didn't really know beforehand what was happening and we cannot apologise for things which we weren't aware of and which we weren't guilty of. So the people who must apologise are those who committed transgressions. We can't apologise on their behalf.
person's shoes how would I have felt about it, would I have liked not to be able to vote, not to have any rights, and that kind of thing, and I realised that I would not have liked it, so I realised how it must have felt for them.