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Human Rights Violation Hearings

Type HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION HEARINGS

Location PIETERMARITZBURG

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+Sarmcol +strike

(Incomplete) ... I would like to use both Zulu and English. 

Okay, as you wish. Just before you start, Mr Singh, on your right, will just lead you into your evidence.

MR SINGH: Thank you. Mr Sishi, how old are you? --- I am 34 years.

Where do you currently reside? --- I am residing at a place called Moscow.

And what is the other name for this area called Moscow? --- Madinyane.

For how long have you been resident in this place you refer to as Moscow? --- Since I was born in 1962.

You are still residing there presently? --- Yes.

You have been called upon by the Commission to give evidence regarding the incident that we have termed the Seven Day War, which began on the 26th of March 1990. Do you recall that incident? --- Yes.

At the time of the commencement of that incident where were you resident? --- I was resident in the same place.

Yes, thank you. Can you proceed and tell the Commission what happened? --- To start off with I would like to outline the immediate causes of the Seven Days War, rather than to just go on explaining the war itself, because I feel that by leaving out those causes the Commission may not get the full picture of what happened before and what happened after.

Yes, thank you. You may proceed then. --- Yes. Firstly what I would like to say, just to outline the beginning of the Seven Day War. There are certain reasons that I would like to put forth. I would just like to put them before this honourable Commission. Firstly there was a boycott, the Sarmcol boycott. So many people were dismissed, more than 800 people were dismissed, and we came together as members of the community, because some of the people who had been dismissed were residents of my area, and some we were related to. The union that was existent at that time had also requested the workers to be part of the union and come together in order to help the people who had been dismissed. In that way the community came together and we decided to launch a boycott, and we did not want to go and buy at the shops in Howick, as well as 'Maritzburg. And this boycott to help the Sarmcol staff went on. But at that time we were trying to mobilise people and try to educate them as to why we were coming up with this boycott. It was not just a simple boycott, but we wanted to come to the aid of the people who had been dismissed, and some of them had worked for many years in that company. And when we tried to educate people along the bus stops, informing them about the reason why the union and the communities have decided to take up the boycott, the police came and they told us that we were preventing the people from going to work, and the company itself was opposed to this and it did not want to negotiate with the dismissed workers, and as a result there was a fight with the company as well as outside. Now, we thought it was a human right that you should be able to boycott, and we thought that that was the weapon which we could use in order to fight off apartheid. I would like to add that even companies, certain companies, contributed to the violence, because they did not want to understand the plight of their workers. They only wanted to see them in shop floor doing the work, but what happened outside that did not concern them. And it was not only the case of Sarmcol. Many such similar cases followed thereafter where, when there was violence in a particular place, the employers will not listen to the reasons that the workers gave. And thereafter one incident that took place, and that really caused the Inkatha as well as the then KwaZulu Government to think that the UDF was a threat to them, they wanted to take all the supporters, was the formation of COSATU. And that was part of the reasons that actually made or created some animosity. They also came up with another union called WUSA. And at that time what happened within the community was that people would go straight to the companies, and we heard about people being killed within the same companies because they aligned themselves to certain political parties. Then in 1987 there were certain leaders. Amongst them there were UDF leaders as well as Inkatha leaders, and the Chamber of Commerce in 'Maritzburg, and that was thought to be a mediator. And when the negotiations went on we were hopeful that we were going to bring an end to the violence. And the very same leaders who were prominent in the negotiations were detained. They were detained without trial and without reason, and there was a lot of dissatisfaction within the community that the very people who were brought forth as mediators were now being detained. Thereafter there was a sporadic outbreak of detention, especially of leaders within the community, and many people were left out without leaders, and they were destitute, they did not know which path to take. I would just like to remind the Commission that at that time there was the state of emergency, and most of the time the communities had no leaders at that time, but you could see that there was a certain or a specific political group which was not affected by the state of emergency. I do not remember the leaders of this particular organisation being detained under the state of emergency. One other thing - the civil workers. I was one of the civil workers. We were told that we should sign a certain agreement that we would not defy Buthelezi, and we would not defy his government, and we would not complain or have any complaints against his governors. I wanted this Commission to look very deeply into this because these are some of the reasons that led to the violence that took place then, and it actually made people hopeless with the governments of KwaZulu ... (inaudible) ... I mentioned that were made by IFP, that buses were being stoned along Edendale Road. To people who don't know Edendale Road, Edendale Road is like a corridor which links us with the Vulindlela area, the area that is mainly administered by Amakhozi, and as people were being forced to leave their homes in the Vulindlela area they came to seek refuge in our place at Edendale. And they knew the people who killed their brothers, who killed their mothers, who burned their homes, and they could see them passing along this corridor, and when there were some stonings the whole community was blamed by the same people who knew who were the people who had done this. And on this issue of stonings I was trying to respond. And again another point I might raise, still on the issue of stonings, is that when there were some Inkatha rallies, and they had to go past our places along Edendale Road, the people will stop because they wanted to relieve themselves. And the whole bus of 80 men who were carrying spears, guns, at will, because most of the time the buses that were going to Inkatha rallies were accompanied by convoys of police, and along the way there were police who were stationed there. And so one could see, you know, that their action of stopping a bus and relieving themselves along our homes was an act of provocation.

Just a minute, Mr Sishi. Can I interrupt you for a minute please? Are you now leading up to the events that led to the break out of the Seven Day War? --- Yes.

Yes, thank you, you may proceed then. --- Thank you. And when there were those things people were shot at. The IFP people provoked the residents. Then in 1990 something happened in South Africa when the then ANC leader, Nelson Mandela, was released from prison. And in Natal we decided that Nelson Mandela should come and visit our region, and there was a really which was organised, which was a great success due to the number of people who were present at the rally. Thereafter members of the IFP wanted to compete. They also wanted to show people how many followers they had in the Natal region. They also organised their own rally. On that day in the morning - that was the 25th of February 1990 - a large group of buses went past our place, and when these buses passed our place shots were fired at people, at bystanders, at everyone. People - I remember that some people were going to churches, children were playing along the street, and they were all shot at at random. And the police were there accompanying the buses. Say in between four buses there would be two police cars, Casspirs along the route. Despite that fact there's nothing that was done by the police in order to quell the violence. Even when we showed them that a certain bus was attacking people they did absolutely nothing. In that way the people were quite scared. The community lost trust in the police and they didn't know as to what to do at that moment. Luckily the people never came back to the Edendale Road, but we were told that they took a turn at a certain hospital. On the following day - that was on the 26th ... (intervention)

You earlier said the 25th of February 1990. --- 25th.

Sorry, of March, or are you talking about February? --- Now I am - okay, it is the 25th of February when they had the rally, and then a week after ... (intervention)

No, I think - sorry, if I may interrupt, it's the 25th of March that the rally was held on. If I may just ... (intervention) --- Okay. I am sorry, I am confusing things.

Thank you. --- Okay. On the 26th, that was on a Monday, I was preparing myself to go to work. I was not even able to finish taking my bath because I just heard some gunfire outside, and when I went out to investigate what was going on I saw some buses from the KwaZulu Government. They were from Xaluza Road, Umphumuza and Sweetwater. And there was a group of people approaching from the hill, and there was an outbreak of shooting. They shot at people who were proceeding to work, as well as schools. I remember that the schools as well as work were disturbed on that particular day. We contacted newspaper reporters, as well as other people who used to help us in such situations, for instance the MPs at that time, members of the Democratic Party. I remember that two of those MPs came and we went along to where the impi was approaching, or the group was approaching. But we could not get near the group, because just as we were approaching we were welcomed with some more gunfires. After quite some time Edendale was surrounded by the very same Inkatha group. They were fully armed. They had traditional weapons as well as guns. And the police who were present at that time were doing absolutely nothing to help out the situation, but they went around searching the homes of people who were not present there. They were arresting people and looting places, and they always found a reason why one should be arrested. And they actually prompted some other people to go out and see what was going on outside, and many people were arrested. The police did not arrest the perpetrators, but they were arresting the victims. They assaulted people and they put them in Casspirs, and they would go and dump the people off at an Inkatha stronghold. I remember that some of those people never returned. And as the violence went on we discovered that there were certain members of the Inkatha, as well as leaders, who were travelling with police and they were doing some pointings out. And at times it would happen that the Inkatha member would hit first, or assault you, and when you tried to protect yourself the police would come flocking at you and they would also arrest you later on. And as a result the community lost hope in the police, and it was apparent that people had to protect themselves. They used stones against people who were fully armed and accompanied by police. And at that time we knew that there was something going on between the Inkatha and the police, because even today, what happened in 1990 there hasn't been a single person who got arrested, but those who have given their testimony before was that more than 1 000 houses, as well as more than 100 people were killed. But we do not know who the perpetrators are. But the police were present, they were given enough information to act upon. It's very difficult for me to give a complete picture of what took place and the aftermath of the violence, but just to give a brief background. Even that I feel is not sufficient to give a clear picture. There are certain people who've decided that the boers were better off, rather than our own people being used against us. They knew how to approach us in large numbers because they knew the intricacies of the community. I would just like to remind this honourable Commission that I am not here to paint a black picture about a certain political organisation, but I want to put a true picture of what took place. And I would like to request this honourable Commission, especially with regard to Moscow, that it should help us investigate with regard to certain people who were tortured, killed and maimed. Some of them are no longer staying at Moscow any more, but we know what happened to them and we can be of help to the Commission. Even the businesses that were being conducted in those areas, as well as halls, were now turned into targets. They were being repeatedly attacked. There were certain cars that were foreign which were driven by the police, and they had no numberplates on. They went around conducting some drive-by shootings. They were also abducting people. At times they would ... (incomplete - end of Side A, Tape 3) ... today. We see some in 'Maritzburg. They are destitute. We also see a lot of shacks that are being erected and are mushrooming all around 'Maritzburg, and people think that those people are making the place filthy, but these are the people who are destitute, who ran away and are seeking refuge because they had no places to stay. I think that's where my testimony ends. We are prepared to help this Commission to investigate with regard to certain incidents that took place. I stayed for about two years. I was chased by the KwaZulu Government because I was helping certain youths who were destitute. We were looking for places as well as schools for them to attend, and I was chased out by the KwaZulu Government. I thank you.

DR MGOJO: Because we are within the Truth and Reconciliation Commission we are going to ask you a few questions. Let me start by asking you with regard to your statement. You said when there was a boycott, a Sarmcol strike, the police as well as your employers said you were preventing people from going to work. Was that correct, or is that correct? When you gave us the background of your testimony you said when you formed a union as dismissed workers, or because there were certain workers who were dismissed, some were related to you, then you decided to conduct a boycott, and the police, as well as your employers, accused you of preventing people from going to work by conducting a boycott or a strike, as well as the consumer boycott. Is that true? --- Yes, that is true, because when the police arrested you with pamphlets that you were supposed to distribute to different places they would say you were one of the troublemakers. For instance when you were coming from a meeting where we were trying to find solutions to our problems, as well as the Sarmcol group, they would come to our places and they would say we were the people who were actually causing havoc.

Let me ask another question. Did you use any violence in order to prevent people from going to work? --- At no stage did we use violence, because most of the people who went to work at that time were our relatives, our neighbours, people very close to us, as well as residents of that particular place. We were trying to negotiate

Secondly is where you point out that three leaders who were trying to preach the gospel of peace were detained. To set our records straight, because we are in the Truth Commission, we want some clarity. Do you remember who these leaders were who were taken and detained when you were supposed to have a meeting with the IFP, the UDF, as well as the Chamber of Commerce? Three leaders were taken who were preaching the gospel of peace. They were detained and you could not go on with the negotiations. Do you still remember their names? --- Yes, I do remember two. I am very sure about the two, but not the third one. It was Reggie Hadebe and Sikhumbuzo Ngwenya, but they have since been deceased.

My Committee Member has just told me that the third one was Martin Wittenberg. That is the professor's son. I am just reminding you that it was Martin Wittenberg who was present. I just wanted some clarity so that we can sort this matter out, so that we know where we are heading to. Lastly, on the 25th of February 1990 there were certain buses which are alleged to have gone past that area, and when these buses came back never took the same route that they took when they were going to, and they took a turn at Edendale Hospital. Do you still remember why these buses took a turn at the Edendale Hospital? --- Even though I was not in the same vicinity, but according to my opinion I think when the police observed what these commuters did they realised that it would not be safe for them to go past the same area, because everybody went outside and we were waiting for the attack to take place. Because it was not the first time that this happened that they went by shooting at residents. It was not the first time, and now people were prepared and they had actually armed themselves so that they could protect themselves, and they wanted to see what was going to happen.

According to your own opinion do you think the police prevented them from taking the same route? What do you think actually happened? --- I could agree with you, because everything that they did you would see them talking to the police before they take a final decision. You would even see in the newspapers that the police would report that they would be keeping a vigil alongside the roads, and in the morning we would see the police as well as the soldiers forming some sort of a guard of honour along the road, and we realised that they were being protected by the police.

Mr Sishi, you mentioned some vehicles which were involved in drive-by shootings. I'll just repeat the question. You mentioned some vehicles that were involved in drive-by shootings. --- Yes.

And you said they didn't have numberplates. --- Yes.

But many of those vehicles were quite well known in various areas. --- Yes.

Could you - are you able to say who those vehicles might have belonged to? --- What I could say is that there was a change of, I would say, thinking among police after the 1990 - after the Seven Days War in 1990, because we were flooded with mainly white policemen, and that was our main concern, that how if we are policed by local police, people who we know. Instead policemen from all over the place, especially white policemen, were the ones who were now policing the place, and they didn't have time to listen to us, they only acted. And they always put traps on especially young people. For example they will be given a bait, you know, of say an Inkatha person would be allowed to drive on his own along Edendale Road, whereas they were following him. And once the youth start stoning that truck, car, or what, then they will then appear from nowhere. So there were many such instances where people were put into a trap.

I don't know whether you've answered the question that was just asked. I want to ask you as to whether - these white police you said were taking people and dumping them off at Inkatha strongholds, is there one policeman at the least that you can remember or can identify? --- In this area there were so many security police who were very well known at that time, which you could point out, but after 1990 foreign police were coming into the area, police that we did not know. It means the very well known ones were actually hiding somewhere, and they were putting forward the ones they knew that we could not identify or we didn't know. They wanted them to be at the forefront.

MR DLAMINI: Mr Sishi, I've got only one question. You pointed out that there were certain youths who were taken and dumped at an IFP stronghold, and some of these children never returned. Do you perhaps remember the names of these youths? --- Once incident that I remember quite vividly, but I was just making an example that it did not happen only at our place, or within that region, but it happened even in other rural areas and surrounding areas. And the problem is that we did not know each other very well, but we would hear stories that police came at 12 o'clock at a certain place and they picked up people, they went to dump them off at certain areas. That's how we got to know about these abductions, and they became a usual occurrence.

I am quite pleased that Mr Dlamini did ask this question because I wanted to ask it myself. If there are children who had been abducted and never returned we should conduct an investigation and see as to where they are, if they are still alive. Do you perhaps remember any parents of the children that were abducted and never returned? We would like the parents to come forward to relate their stories, so we want to conduct further investigations with regard to those children. That's why I am asking this question. Do you perhaps know any of the parents whose child went away and never came back? Is there any particular family that you remember which was affected by this? --- Since I heard that the victims of the human rights abuses should be present I tried personally to contact some of the people, but since I do not have transport it's difficult for me, especially because a lot of people ran away to different places to seek some refuge and they never came back, so it's very difficult for us to actually get in touch with members of that community.

Thank you very much for coming to talk to us today. We have heard evidence, and you have also heard evidence today, from political observers and politicians, who, because of the positions that they were in were able to give us an overview of the entire event, and their evidence is important, but in fact their evidence is meaningless without evidence from people like yourself, who were directly affected by the violence in that time in 1990. You made a very valid point, I think, about people who are erecting shacks in areas around Pietermaritzburg more recently, and pointed out that many of these people are still refugees from six years ago, people who still have no permanent place to live, people who have not been able to return to the valleys around KwaShange and Gezabuso. And if one goes to those areas today one will see that they are deserted, with burnt-out homes and shops. And I am making this point because one can see that the events of those days in 1990 still have very serious and severe social repercussions even today, six years later, where people who have been uprooted from their homes are still searching for permanent places to live, and we hope we will be hearing evidence later in the week from people who were directly involved with refugees. But thank you very much again for coming in. --- Thank you.

So help you God. --- So help me God.

 
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