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Human Rights Violation Hearings
Type HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS, SUBMISSIONS QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Starting Date 25 September 1996
Names HASSIAN M S HAFFEJJE
Case Number 1396
PROF MEIRING: Mr Haffejjee, from my side too, very welcome. I hope that you find this a worthwhile experience today here in the hall. You have a very interesting story, of three chapters to tell us, starting in 1964 and then in the early Eighties and then the very well-known incident, nationally as well as internationally, which happened during the rent boycott in Bloemhof. But before we start with the story with the three chapters, please tell us a little bit about yourself. We are interested in your family, in you yourself, in the work you do. We want to know who is talking to us today.
or my voice, because I am suffering at the moment with a bit of largyngitis and the doctor's orders and medication, but if there is a thing or two which will not be possibly clear, I will repeat that again, if you ask me. Thank you.
You asked me about my family. I am married, first and foremost. I am 53 years of age. Married a local girl from Bloemhof, Emma (indistinct). I have a son and two daughters. The son just got married last month. I am a grandfather too. I have a month old bundle of joy, and my daughters are in Johannesburg. The eldest one is studying Media Communications at Rau University, second year PA. The smaller one is at Mayfair High School.
DR RANDERA: Can we please settle down, people. Excuse me, can I ask people who are talking at the end of the hall to come and either sit down or can they please go and talk outside the hall. I am sorry, Mr Haffejje.
MR HAFFEJJE: Thank you. And what more can I say? I live in a small town, was highly conservative then, up to two years back, perhaps. Interesting times, small river, small business, small circle of friends. We have a community of 50 only in salmat, a small township, Indians. It is less today, of course. But then fortunately, we have a lot of people of other shades, if I may say that, and the blossoming little non-racial community, showing out the real new South Africa.
July. I was a student at the teachers' training college in Johannesburg. I remember I came home for holidays, vacations. It was the night the Johannesburg, the power station went off at John Harris Street. It was the same night, the special branch from Klerksdorp came to look for me, looking for some sort of literature, books and so forth, banned books. With the help of the local police in Bloemhof, they raided my house, or should I say ransacked my house, because they got into the wardrobes and just about everwhere, touching the ceilings for any kind of information, papers and pamphlets, books. They couldn't find any banned literature at all.
They got hold of my Quran, you can say the Holy Bible. Being a Muslim, the Holy Quran. Fiddling through there and paging through there and making, sorry to say, asses of themselves. Eventually they took me to the local police station. I was questioned there by a Lieut Cloete and a person from Klerksdorp known as Oosthuizen. I don't know what his rank and file was, and they said they are taking me to a place called Stilfontein and I am going to be detained, I am a rebel. A rebel-rouser at the college of education in Johannesburg.
I was 19 years of age, very young. They took me away. My father bid me good-bye, my mother crying. I was held for 89 days in solitary, I repeat solitary, solitary confinement in Stilfontein. I was not allowed - I must say this beforehand, that it was a traumatic experience for me. I was not allowed the daily half an hour exercise that normally a detainee should be getting under a certain section, I think section 17 of 1963. I couldn't have washing facilities. I didn't have a bath for 90 days,
I remember they used to give me washing every three days, in a bucket, a filthy bucket, by convicts in the court yard, pushing my fingers inside and then within four, five minutes I had to be back in my cell again.
That is one time I will never forget. I want to relate this to you. It is important for me. Is that - imagine I was in the cell, solitary, solitary confinement and this big court yard, people's living quarters on top. Police living quarters on top. Once I demanded I want a bath. It was on a Saturday morning. They took me outside to the court yard, stripped me naked, mid-winter. They told the convicts give him a bath, because he demands a bath. They dispersed ice cold water on my skinny little body. People standing on top, man and woman, watching, gaping and the others making a mockery. I believe that some of those young kids, White young kids had never seen an Indian before living in Stilfontein. So they said "dis hoe 'n koelie lyk, en daardie is 'n `cheeky' koelie".
Of course, in my detention, as I said, it was a traumatic experience, I was questioned for lengthy hours. I became very ill. I was taken to the district surgeon in Klerksdorp. I was questioned most of the time in Klerksdorp, the buildings here, and taken back to and fro. But when I had been taken to the distric surgeon, I do remember I was put at the back of this bakkie, this police bakkie. It was open at the back. Those screens are rolled up and slowly they go through the taxi rank in the so-called Indian area, where a massive amount of people are there.
A mass of people are there. So they can see that we have somebody in our midst here. It was almost animalism to see. Because I was almost disfigured, hair hanging on shoulder length. I hadn't shaven for two months almost. Imagine, picture me how I looked. I was skinny, skin and bones. I had to go through that. People looked, they were curious. I took it, because I know I was fighting for only one thing, for humanity, for justice, nothing more, nothing less, come with me.
I was released after 89 days, yes, but it so happened that perhaps after two months in my cell, when I became very ill, the light was kept almost at very low ceiling height. I used to get tremendous headaches.
I also remember very well that the cistern, the toilet cistern didn't work at all. You would flush and water would flush out. You throw in the dirt and the dirt comes out. For this I was rapped over by a station commander at the time in Stilfontein, if I remember - it is 30 years back, was a certain Mr - I think, I am speaking under correction - Taljaard. Short-cropped hair, almost bulldog-faced, thick, reminds me very much of Nazism. To look at him was to look at fear. That was it. They said that I am dirtying the cell. I only replied back I am not dirtying your cell, it is my backside which is dirtying the cell. I am alive, my backside is dead already, of your kicks. And I was given a slap and I saw stars.
In any case, after 89 days I was to be released. They said I am free. I came home. I want you to picture this, honourable members. My father had a very small business. He was 85 years of age, old, very old, suffering from rheumatism. He couldn't walk, he could hardly walk. When
the special branch dropped me in front of my father's shop, when I walked into my shop, my father was crying aloud. I asked him Pappa, why are you crying. Why? I am home, I am free, more than anything else, I am alive. He said son, they just took your elder brother away for 90 days. You came in through the front and they took your elder brother out of the back.
This happened, I will briefly tell you why. Because after two months detention, a certain Mr King, who was an electrician at that time, there was something faulty with the globe, came to repair the electrical fault, as I will call it. I was well, after going through sheer hell almost, I was asked - he told me well, he can see how the cell looks; dark, black, a dungeon almost. He said don't you want to send a message out. He gave me a piece of paper and a ball-point pen, where I scribbled out to my father - to my brother actually, because my father couldn't read, he was too old. I said I am well, keep hope, something to the effect, if you can take me out, please take me out. In the meantime this person went and handed this letter over to the special branch. The original copy he sent to my brother, phoned him up in Bloemhof. He came down on a Sunday with two of his friends, to Stilfontein. I think everything was taped. They thought my brother knew where the border was and where people used to escape - at that time into Botswana and Basutoland and Swaziland. They could get nothing out of my brother. He was detained for just over 60 days, until such time that John Vorster, at the end of 1964, repealed that draconian style of system or law of 90 days. But one worse was to come, the 180 day law was about to be formulated.
By nature it is in me, I love people. I love especially the poorest of the poor. (Indistinct) and justice has no colour. After my recent detention, I used to collect food parcels. I used to collect clothing, blankets and distribute that in the townships amongst the poorest and the neediest, the orphans. These were donated by the Indian community, shop to shop as you go and I used to do it. I used to enjoy it. I used to see people, I used to see orphans, I used to see babies. I couldn't stand it. They were dying, dying of starvation. Lips cracked, faces cracked, giving them a sweet, a banana, an apple, a jacket, a pair of socks, shoes, a blanket. To me it was the most relieving thing, I did for many years.
As a result the local SAP came to know about that. They branded me as a Crypto Communist. And once too many times, if that is branded to you, even among your own, they start believing you are a Communist. No, let me tell you. I am no Communist. What I would like to say and believe, I am a humanitarian. My care is for the poor, for the poorest of the poor. In that time, in the Seventies, in particular, the Eighties, if your thing is a shade, a fraction of a shade away from the regime, then you are being branded as a Communist, an infiltrator or a terrorist or worse. I took it, I loved my work.
kilometres from where I live in Salamet - Salamet is halfway between Bloemhof and Bophelong. Many young children were arrested and beaten up and so forth. Mothers came to me running at night, fathers came to me running, asking for help. Grandmothers used to come to me that I should get some legal advice. I was a lifeline to those people. I did whatever I could, by way of lawyers. I used to send food parcels to the jails, to the cells, and feed the people there with milk and bread, from what I could afford from my small business, me and my wife together.
The police used to stop me in other ways. They came at night and then circled my whole house, late at night. They raided my house. They wanted the names of the people whom I am busy with the lawyers. There must be 40 or 50 names. That docket was lying on the table in the lounge. They grabbed it. They went away. But before leaving, a certain policeman mentioned that, you know what, sorry to use the words, I quote that "these bloody kaffirs are going to burn your bloody house, if you think that you can get away with it".
My wife blurted out, no, it will never be them, if anybody is going to burn my house or burn my shop, it will be from your side, from your pimps, from your spies and so forth, they will do the dirty thing. Bophelong will never do it, they respect their dignity and they know we work for justice and nothing more and nothing else.
Came the turmoils of the Eighties. We had a meeting there of the UDF, in the Salamat town hall. It was very well attended and our Premier who was here earlier, Molefe, knows about that. The Premier of the Orange Free State, Comrade was there as well. It was a very successful meeting. Three
days thereafter, a person from the tricameral party or one of those guys came along, a certain, late Mr Dassow. He also asked to hold a meeting. I said what meeting? He said no, somebody to speak on behalf of the government. I said you can go and do it yourself, I am not prepared to do it. He said no, I must do it, I am the secretary of our local community there. I said no, I will not do it. We had a very heated argument. There was a time in my shop he came. I was a minute away from another slap. May God forgive him, he has passed away. I told him you are no leaders; you go to the rural areas, because Bloemhof used to fall under his constituency. He used to live in Vereeniging. He used to go to the rural areas, if you used to look at the small children it will make your flesh creep. They were dying of poverty, Black children, but yet they are still children, they are human beings and they believe in God. I said to him go and have a look at them, take your hand. I told him take your hand and put your hand across over the head, touch them, kiss them, I will allow you then only to hold a meeting in our hall, not before that. He became very agitated.
MR HAFFEJJE: They found the list, yes, they found the list on the table, in the lounge. That list was confiscated. There must have been over 40 or 50 names, children. That morning I had to report to the parents of the respective children in the township what had happened. That was about it.
MR HAFFEJJE: 1993, yes. During the boycott period Bloemhof is known to be hard-core territory, it was known then as the AWB-gebied. The AWB territory. There was already simmering boycotts against the Indians in one way or another. This started already in the Forties, believe it or not. But it wasn't tangible, it wasn't shown, it wasn't propagated as such. All right.
The ANC, Bloemhof branch, together with the civic and its alliances, held a meeting with the Indian community to say that, look, we have made certain demands, we want one municipality, we want this, we want this, we want open swimming pools, we want everything to be opened and the council here is refusing to accept our demands. Simple human demands. We are going to embark upon a boycott. The Indian community, will they stand behind us or not. The Indian community was there, present, and each one pledged to stand behind them four-square.
Here the day came of the boycott. On day one, could be 30, it could be 40, khaki-cladded AWB men, farmers and so forth, came to the Indian business area, right in the centre to show brazen force, that because you didn't stand with us. But I must bring your attention to the day before that, KLERKSDORP HEARING TRC/GAUTENG
the AWB local business group of Afrikaners came to us to say that you should sign a certain document to say that we are going to starve the Blacks and we are going to fire all the Blacks as well, and we have got to side with them. We said no, we can't do that, we have already taken our stance. Our stance is genuine, we are standing with the Blacks, come what may. None of the 25 shops would sign for it. They got agitated.
I phoned up, at that time, the President of the Transvaal Indian Congress, a certain Mr Kassan Saloojee and then he got in touch with the Press, the Star and I gave them the release of the story, because I was the media spokesman for the ANC at that time.
There this thing, this (indistinct) took place in the offices of or in front of these offices, in Bophelong. Cars were stoned, or fires, they opened fire, rubber bullets, tear-gas was used and quite a number of people were detained, again youngsters. They blocked us hundred per cent. I am a resident of Bloemhof, I cannot enter Bloemhof. I live two kilometres away from Bloemhof, I cannot enter Bloemhof. The reason? I am Black, I am standing with them, the township people. No Blacks are allowed to get petrol, no Blacks are allowed to get bread, milk, newspapers, anything. KLERKSDORP HEARING TRC/GAUTENG
I will tell you, I will tell you, one Sunday morning I went with my wife to go and fetch papers, during the time of the boycott. I told her go and get the Sunday paper, I have a ruddy account with this café owner. She rushed in, came out. We did not know the vigilantes, the AWBs standing across the street and watching us. I went home.
The next thing they knocked on the door of the café owner, of Greek origin or Portuguese, I think Greek. He was put under fire, sternly warned and told that his shop will be burnt down if he doesn't stand to the rules and regulations of Bloemhof. Then he too will not be supplied hereforth with petrol. The man left Bloemhof for two weeks. He was scared stiff.
The thing carried on. What amazed me was that second week running, the Press were full in Bloemhof, the TVs were full in Bloemhof, and one Friday evening, between 40 and 50 vehicles, just after eight o'clock in the evening, passing through, going to Bophelong, the African township. They encircled the whole African township. They were armed to the teeth. I said God, there is going to be a massacre tonight.
The leaders were in my house that night. We were bailing out young children from jail that night. They were looking for the leaders. They couldn't find the leaders. They came back, after a lot of persuasion by the SAP, I assume. They had to go back, not to their homes, oh, no, they came back to the Indian area. Believe me, the fear
that went through our spines, our blood actually curdled up. We are a community of 50, just under 50. The whole community. Imagine for yourself for one moment, the whole community under siege. We got ourselves to the mosque yard, all 50, man, woman, children, babies as well. We were crawling and believe me when I tell you, we were crawling on our tummies, on our stomachs. We were (indistinct) from a section where they couldn't see us, the dark section of the yard. There must have been about 40 or 50 vehicles, shooting in the air, AWB flags flown, singing and believe me, urinating in front of the shop door. We were in fear. A small passive community, a weak community, unarmed, frightened to death by a group of so-called White civilised educated intellectual people.
When that took place, one Saturday morning, the boycott was getting on stronger. The White businesspeople were feeling the pinch even harder. They didn't know how to break that dead-lock. They used to stand, certain White people, AWB guys, or right-wingers, let me call them right-wingers, were standing at the entrances of the business areas and stopping people not to buy from Indian shops, rather go to town. Some did and some didn't. But the Blacks were all buying from the Indian shops. That's a fact.
in the prison, in the jail, where they had arrested, there was a mother, I remember she had a four-month old baby. You may laugh at it in the end. I sent a certain secretariat, they came from Klerksdorp, a peace secretariat by the name of Eric. I said try to get the release of this woman, if not of the baby, so we can at least feed her at home here. In my own house I will feed her, my wife will look after her. After about an hour he came back, I think he went to Christiana, about 50 kilometres. After about an hour he came back, he said Styles, that is my nickname Styles, I said I failed. You know the report that filtered through there that none of you can go to town. The mother says that the baby will be healthier in jail than to be at your home, because you haven't got milk, you can't even buy milk in town, so my baby will starve here in Bloemhof in your house, than rather in the cell, in the dungeon, in mid-winter. She failed. We didn't know whether to laugh or to cry, but it was a fact.
Thereafter, as the honourable member said I must tell the big story. One Saturday morning, towards the end of May 1993, it was, round about twelve o'clock in the afternoon. I saw movement. There were about 12 to 15 vehicles opposite our shopping centre there opposite the road, standing in military style. I told my wife there is a problem, look at these guys, all right-wingers, what do they want here now. My wife said to me go and have your coffee at the back, while it is getting cold, I will have my coffee at the back. And from the deep end I noticed a vehicle up to our area, the only vehicle for the day. A blue Toyota bakkie came in at high speed and ... (END OF TAPE - SIDE A).
you must imagine that the shop was full of customers, Saturday afternoon. They ripped open the bag. My wife was busy on the phone. They said "dit is vir jou" (this one is for you) and they let out a pig in my shop.
Immediately pandemonium broke out. They mentioned something else, which was not too visible to my ear, so I cannot say whether they mentioned ANC, Islam, my religion or anything like that. I can't say, I was at the deep end. My wife was busy on the phone. She told them no amount of intimidation from your end, the right-wingers is going to stop us fighting for justice in this country for all. They left.
We could not get the registration of the vehicle, because the registration was turned around as such. But a young man in the shop recognised one of the persons that left there. He gave us the name. I told my customers excuse me, I will see you back Monday morning. I phoned up the SABC. They came down. I told them there is some property that doesn't belong to me. Now by this time the pig was hoinking around the counter, making a mess, as a pig would do.
As I said, mentioned earlier, the Press, not the national, but even the international Press was there. There was American Press there, a team from the Bostonian Globe, I think, and the Chicago Tribunal or whatever it may be, was there as well. They took photos of this pig in my shop. This was the result that the pig story went out and made national and international news.
person. Touch me, touch my wife, touch my children, but for God's sake leave my religion out. That is too close to me. I respect your religion, whether you are a Christian, whether you are a Hindu, Jew, Gentile, anybody, that respectability there at all times. But you have broken the chord, you have hurt me greatly. I couldn't believe that a White, practising so-called White, practising Christian could stoop so low with all the might he has, guns and what not, comes and throws a pig in my shop. He could have rather taken out his gun and shoot me, I was prepared to die there and then, but don't insult my religion. That's sacred, so is yours. After all, we all, we all believe in one God Almighty.
MR HAFFEJJE: Yes. There was a - the police came. They took statements from my wife, because she was nearest to the scene. We recorded crimen injuria. And they took it. We told them to remove the pig as well, which they did. I had to shampoo my whole shop about five times over that afternoon and the following day, the Sunday. Monday morning I received a phone call from the local police to say that I must go and fetch my pig. I said my pig? The pig belongs to one of your guys, one your right-wingers and you people know who it is. We have given you a name, we have furnished you with names. But they themselves, the police themselves seemed to me are afraid of these right-wingers as well, for one reason or another. I said all right, that pig doesn't belong to me, I am so sorry, but I am getting hold of my lawyer in Klerksdorp, and through him I am getting through the Transvaal Attorney-General and taking further steps, see KLERKSDORP HEARING TRC/GAUTENG
what he has got to say about it. Oh, no, quickly they changed their story. No, no, then all right, we will let you know, leave the pig in the pen where it is behind the police station, which they did.
The man appeared, a certain Mr Fourie appeared in court one or twice, it was postponed, and then a remarkable thing happened. Two days, on the Monday I had to appear in court, my lawyer from Human Rights, I believe was already - I must just also mention this, that there were a sprinkling of Whites in Bloemhof, who came to me and disassociated themselves from this cruel and dirty thing. There were a few that came, I must say this. They gave me their hand, they said they are sorry, this is not the Christian way, for which I am thankful.
In all this melee, I must also say, it was maybe a sergeant, a Sgt Viljoen, from the SAP in Bloemhof, who was with his girlfriend then, but now he is married of course, to the same woman, I think it is Marietjie, if I am not mistaken, were also very helpful and tried to speed up this case.
In any case, let me go back to where we were when I stopped. Two weeks before that, one of the right-wingers just came to my shop and said withdraw this case, because at that stage, by now it had reached international proportions, Afrikaans papers and English papers and the TV, all were full of it. I said I cannot do it without consulting our religious leaders of our community, my lawyers and most of all my wife, which he allowed. He said he will come back at
a later stage, after an hour or two or in the afternoon, which he did. When he came back in the afternoon, after we had consulted our respective fellow members and so forth, we said all right, we will withraw the case on condition, that is if you give us an apology in writing Monday morning at the court, magistrate's court, in the presence of your lawyer and our Human Rights lawyer and our religious leaders. Then we shall accept your apology. After all, if God can forgive, who are we not to forgive.
MR HAFFEJJE: Yes, but I must also admit, the case was finished, but honourable members, I must bring it to your notice that six months thereafter, a certain programme called Becker's Trek, Mr Becker came to Bloemhof to interview and see how Bloemhof was then. He interviewed this person who rendered his apology, which I have in the files here, and which I have distributed as well, names this pig in his sty, in his farm yard of course, Styles. Now I am known as Styles in Bloemhof too. My shop is known as Styles, because we keep clothing. He had the audacity to name this pig Styles and I come to know of this six months thereafter, in an interview, where I saw this interview.
PROF MEIRING: Mr Haffejje, I am so sorry, our time has run out. We have been listening to you and it is an amazing story. Thank you for telling it to us all. I think maybe some of my fellow Commissioners would like to ask a question or two. Can I ask Dr Randera, would you like to ask some
MR HAFFEJJE: At that time I belonged to no political party. I am a humanist at heart and I fight for the cause of humanity. Politics didn't bother me one bit at the time. But I wasn't an underdog. Of course, in truth, my sympathy was with the African National Congress and the liberation movement at the time. It still is. It still is.
MR HAFFEJJE: No, I was - at that time the institution belonged to the State, and anything done wrong against the State you would get booted out. I was booted out and had to pay a fine above that as well. So I didn't attain that noble profession of teaching. I tried a lot thereafter. They wouldn't accept me. Under no circumstances. The regime wouldn't allow anybody like me in their midst.
MR MANTHATA: Thanks. You end up with a very depressing note, understandably so, for a pig sty to be called after your name. And of course, having experienced to a few Whites who came to apologise, do you see any way forward for reconciliation, you know, between this, amongst the communities of Bloemhof?
MR HAFFEJJE: It can be done, because at the moment, I bring to your attention that the council is run by an ANC council and they have a lot of powers. We do think very much alike as far as reconciliation is concerned, for the betterment of Bloemhof, its people, irrespective of race, colour, creed, religion or sex. There is a chance, give us time, there is a chance. There is hope and the spark of hope, and that spark of hope we are not going to put off, we are going to fight to keep the spark of hope burning. There will be reconciliation, we will love each other, we will find each other and there will be love amongst us.
DR RANDERA: Mr Haffejje, I have no questions, but I would like to say that your statement has spanned so accurately the historical period that we are looking at. From 1960 to 1993. Yes, we are going to have to make further enquiries on what you have said. But nonetheless, what it clearly shows, is that how people, ordinary people got caught up, and we have had some remarkable stories in the last few days. Where people have come forward and said I wasn't a political being, I wasn't a member of a political party, and yet, got caught up in this whole process of extremism, if you like, and intolerance that existed. Your story again, historically, I just want to again remind people, you
mentioned John Harris who was, who planted a bomb at Park Station and was subsequently hanged for his beliefs and his actions. But your story clearly shows the intolerance that existed in our society, the draconian laws that existed in our societies. The intolerance against, if you like, wanting to read the literature, whether it was communist literature or whether it was just literature that wasn't quite in keeping with what the authorities at the time thought should be read by people. The intolerance towards people because of their colour, the intolerance towards minority groupings, the intolerance towards religion. I think we have also heard many of those stories in the last seven months that the Truth Commission has been listening to these stories.
And yet, we come out being strong. I think your words at the end that we will find ourselves, are quite apt. That here we are, people that have come out of a very dark past, and many people yesterday came and said we want to thank the Commission for giving us the opportunity to be able to speak about what we have been keeping close to our chests and our hearts for all these years.
You too, have ably shown that for many years you have kept this within yourself and perhaps within your family and community and some people that you could trust. Today you have ably shown that you can and there is the ability for us to move forward, for the past to say enough is enough, for us to now start respecting what our Constitution has now clearly given to us, in terms of all the intolerances that I mentioned. I thank you very much for coming today and I wish you and your family and your community well in your endeavours.
MR HAFFEJJE: The past regime, the White past right-wing regime, I will say this, that we shall never forget our past. Never forget your past. Shorn of verbage as enforced by this past White regime, the framers of this ideology of apartheid, the treatment meted out, the enslavement of the Bblack mind, an institutionalised system, backed by colossal army of men, pimps and weapons, will one day have to start before a much higher authority, for the misery, the enforcement, the gross humiliation and unjust it caused its victims, was nothing but a bare-faced expression of a desire to dominate oppress and exploit the Blacks, and subject them to perpetuate servitude for the White regime, who claims to be the master race, who came then to be Herrenvolk, a concept which plunged the world in a Holocaust. After all this, I say may God as well forgive them all. Thank you.