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Human Rights Violation Hearings
Type HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION HEARINGS
Starting Date 26 November 1996
Location GUGULETU 7 POLLSMOOR
Case Number CT/01434
Victim REV JAN DE WAAL
Testimony REV JAN DE WAAL
Nature BEATEN BY POLICE AND, LOST HIS EYE
Thank you for coming here. Youíve heard this morning how the Sheikh told us about this incident regarding the Pollsmoor march. But now this is your chance to give us your version of what happened during this march.
Okay I will also try and repeat what has been said already this morning by other witnesses. In that period, as we have heard also - there were many states of emergencies all over the country. I am not sure whether the Western Cape was included.
But the week before the march - it was not a secret march. I mean, it was in the newspapers and I remember on the 24th or the 25th - Dr Boesak, being and ultimate Democrat was still negotiating with Mr Le Grange, then Minister of Police. He sent him a telegram to say that this march will be peaceful and this march, to a large extent, was as symbolic march.
I mean, there was no idea that we would physically go into Pollsmoor prison and break Mr Mandela out. But the understanding was to tell this Government - and to show it also to the people inside, and outside South Africa that we believed that Mr Mandela was our true leader. There was also a memorandum drawn up - that would have been handed to Mr Mandela. Now we have thought that the Government would be big hearted enough to allow that to happen.
I remember on the Friday, the 23rd Dr Boesak - then had a meeting - it was held at the University of Cape Town. Announcing that the march will take place. There were threats from the Government that they would ban the thing all together and he has spoken very clearly and - you know, invited the police to stay away, because normally with these marches, and UDF meetings - there were always so many UDF marshals and we have always contained the massive crowds. So, there were no threat to the downfall of the Government or any misbehaviour.
After he has spoken, he - I think 5 minutes after he had left the buildings where he spoke, he was arrested and he was taken by military plane that night to Pretoria Central Prison, where he stayed, I think, for 5 months at least.
On that Wednesday, the 28th when the march was then suppose to take place, we arrived at - I together with around 8 or 9, with my colleagues - from my denomination together with a big other crowd of clergy and people also from other religions to meet at the Athlone stadium. I mean when we came there, it was already chaotic.
The police cleared the stadium. I mean, there was no way you could get in. They have I think the previous night, slammed a ban of around 5 km - no one was suppose to come near that. And the police were there in full force. I might be wrong, but I think there were also quite a number of Army people there as well. I mean there were chaos on the area just outside the stadium. I mean, they were clearing that area very clearly with sjamboks and batons and shooting tear gas all over the place.
We were confronted at one stage in a very narrow street with vibracrete walls both sides - by policemen standing shoulder to shoulder. So, in the end we had to turn back. We went to the Lutheran Center nearby. And from there we went to Hewitt Training College. I guess we were between 3-thousand - 4-thousand to 5-thousand people together there.
There was a long debate whether the march should go on or not. And many people - students and clergy and everyone was saying, what they was saying. In the end there was a sort of democratic consensus, that it will continue.
From there, we proceed, we got eventually onto Kromboom Road - which is leading towards the M5. And the idea was we would turn off the M5 and then walk the way, eventually reaching Pollsmoor prison, quite a distance from there.
We havenít seen very much police presence on our way to Kromboom Road, but once we got onto Kromboom Road, eventually there were just a few police vans around - 300 meters from the intersection with the M5, on Kromboom Road. And as we drew nearer to that place - more police arrived and then of course, the Casspirs and what ever.
We were around, as I have said to you, between 3-thousand - to 4-thousand, 5-thousand people. One side of that road were just vibracrete fences. I canít remember clearly what was on the other side, but we were some how boxed in. Then, we were confronted by the police in full force. Myself and a colleague of mine, Rev Shaun Governor, we went forward to speak to the Police Commander, because he had a megaphone there, telling us we have two minutes or five minutes to disperse.
So, I went forward to him and told that it is impossible for 5-thousand people to disperse, especially where you have all the restrictions on the side of these roads. So we have asked them to give us some time to talk to the people and see what alternative plan we can work out, because , I mean, there was no alternative - in their understanding in that was this confrontation and this brutality which followed then, not long after that.
Some other colleagues organized the people - they have kneeled down. They were singing the Lordís prayer. Yet, towards the end I just realized that we are going to be attacked by the police. Weíve tried the front rows the get the clergy up, because they were in front and we locked arms with the hope that we will withstand to protect the people at the back.
But they came so fast - when someone shouted a command, because they also had these loud hailers. And they came. Many people here in front were still on their knees praying. And I think there were a lot of people that got head injuries, because of them kneeling. Now I was there in front, I remember there was a young man next to me, who fell and we knew at that stage - donít be on the ground when the police come near you because itís bad news then. It would be bad news anyhow if they came near you but if you are on the ground, it is even worse.
I remember I was trying to get this man up on his feet. Then suddenly I just felt a blow and I mean I was out for a while. One of the policemen hit me with a baton. Now the thing is fairly thick and not so long, but he hit me from the back and that thing bent over, right over my head. I was growing a sort of a Rhenostores horn in my front head, immediately after that.
Unfortunately I was wearing specs at that stage and both glasses broke, but specially the one in my right eye penetrated my eyeball. And even glass in the left eye as well and I couldnít see at all for a brief moment. I got by, I managed to stay on my feet, I think. When someone was leading me to a house nearby. And I was trying then, standing at a tap outside the house, trying to wash the glass out of my eyes. Till one woman, that were helping me said to me, but look - you have no eye.
Then suddenly I start feeling into this eye-ball in my right hand side which - and there was nothing. It was such a commotion. There were helicopters above. I mean, the press people there. It - and then I just heard the screaming of the people, I mean that was terrible. As the police went through the crowd and the problem was - those at the back could run, but those on the sides had to wait for the people at the back to run in order to get away.
Then someone, a friend of mine, managed to come through. I donít know how he did it, with a little micro bus. Through the crowd, through the police, and drove really up to that house. With me was another woman, which I could see, that I could see through my left eye - her cheekbone was standing over her left cheek. She worked at that stage at the American Embassy - as South African citizen.
And this friend that managed to came with this micro bus, managed to pick the two of us up. And again he drove through, Iíve heard how the police shouting to stop him, but he managed to get out. We went to a Day Hospital. I think it was Hanover Parkís Day Hospital. When we came there, there was just nurses and they said - immediately to Groote Schuur. So we went to Groote Schuur and there - when - for the first time I saw myself in a mirror and with my left eye - I mean, there was not much left of my right eye. And I thought that was the worst news that could happen to me. At least I was still alive, let me say that as well.
Fortunately, they were available. I think someone from the Day Hospital notified people in Groote Schuur and immediately they managed to get me in the operating theater. And I remember there was an old professor - he was on his way to emigrating. I donít know where to, but he just couldnít take the situation in South Africa. So, he was not too impressed when he saw me with my eye and he couldnít understand that that could really happen.
And that stage, as the Sheikh said this morning, the clergy somehow got lighter off than many other people. But at that day, on the 28th, you know, it was irrespective of what crete or colour or what standing in the society you would have.
And somehow they reconstructed my eye. I am not sure, I spent 10 or 12 or a little bit more in - at Groote Schuur. Then I also heard that many of my colleagues were arrested, as you have already heard this morning. I also know that some of the sympathetic doctors and nurses there, told me that the Security Police came to the hospital quite a few times, trying to get in and trying me and I am not so sure what they wanted to do with me at that stage.
So, that is the development that took place on the 28th. I am not sure exactly who the Commanders were of that. Years later I met a senior policeman from the Wynberg police station. And he just said to me, we were sitting in a meeting opposite the table, and he said to me after the meeting, you know - that he never realized I was such a peaceful man. So, I asked him - now what would give him the impression that on the 28th of 1985 - I was not a peaceful man? I said to him, we came all there - I think one of our friends had a Bible in his hands. That was the only thing we had in our hands. I said, if we came for confrontation, we wouldnít have brought the Bible along. But the whole idea was to say, and I believe it still today, that peaceful protest, weíve seen it from Mart Magandiís time - right through - is still the most effective and powerful weapon there is in liberating people from an oppressive force.
I also know, at later stages, there was some marches after that and of course I have taken place in that. I kept my specs on at one stage I had plastic glasses in case I would jeopardize my situation again. But I - I remember that some of the young policemen said to me - over a period of time, that they can take arms confrontation, but itís very-very difficult for them to continue taking action against people with no arms, with a peaceful action - trying to make a case - that really threw the sword - things are not going to be settled.
I also reflect, that if Mr Mandela was released, say in 1985, I mean he probably should never been in jail. If he was released in 1985, it would have given this country a kick start and a head start of at least 12 years. Then the process we had to go through. Now, people are saying - look at the crime, look at the violence, look at all of that. Now of course it is a transition we have to go through. But we could have gone through that 10 to 12 years ago. And this society could have been much more normalized and we would have gone on with our lives and we could have established democracy and freedom. And human rights, as we wanted to have it. I thank you.
Thank you for your testimony Reverend. I wonder if I could just ask a few questions. Perhaps for some clarity and also to understand the situation a bit better. Could you perhaps tell us what your role and what your designation was at the time of the march. And perhaps - were you part of the planning for the march?
Ja I am not sure whether I was so much in the inner circle, part of the planning of the march, but I mean - to me it sounded a very good idea. And in that stage, there were a lot of church people involved in the UDF. I mean, many of the patrons of the UDF were from the church backgrounds. And I believe also that with the church background in that, that the understanding of peaceful resistance really came into a clear perspective.
So, I donít think I had really an official position at that stage. I just had the conviction of my mind - that we had to do this and as it was a symbolic march, it was the - the message was - let us release the true leaders of this country. And let the CODESA that followed many years later, could have started many years ago and a lot of things, at that stage, could have been sorted out, which we are still battling with sorting out today.
I know that there was a lot of pandemonium and commotion and sadness and death on that day. Do you think that - you also mentioned that many people were injured at the time. Are you aware of about how many people were killed and injured on that day?
I donít know on that day - I know on the 26th and Iíve have seen foreign TV reports - there were quite a number of programs made around that period as well. That a - especially the next day, a lot of people died and then the days following as well. But I donít know exactly how many of them.
Can I just ask about your injury? It seems as though the emergency operation, the doctors were able to re-construct your eye, but you obviously still have consequences of that injury. Perhaps you can just give us some idea of what the side effects, or the consequences were of your injuries.
Look, I have lost - I am not sure what percentage of sight, but at least around 50% in my right eye. The left one recovered perfectly. I have been, since that time to many eye specialists. I have taken treatment and now I am still - I am stuck to some eye drops. It is difficult to fix my eye with laser technology. So, it seems to me, the only solution is a cornea transplantation.
On the other hand, that is also a risky thing, there are no proof that it will work. So, of course, I am hampered by reading potential. I read a little bit less than I have done in the past, but it is also true that the human bodies are also wonderful that one can adjust. That the one eye can take over many more strains.
I was also very shocked, while I was in Groote Schuur, and being a Minister, I tried to look after some other people. In the same ward there were I donít know how many, but numerous patients there as well, with birdshot like the person just explained to us - in their eyes and so on.
So, I felt very lucky that I havenít had gone through that. At that stage I wasnít sure what the extent of the damage to my eye was, because I have only started using my eye a month later, when I took off the cover that was over that. Ja but I am glad to be alive.
Reverend, I am just going to ask you a little bit about the hospital. As I ask this, because I obviously have a particular interest in the role of the medical profession and human rights abuses. You say that you heard the Security Police came to the hospital, looking for you and potentially looking for other people. Are you aware that doctors or nurses actually pointed people out to the police?
No, not at all. The people of the nursing and medical profession - that treated me there, and I was there nearly for two weeks, I mean they were very excellent. I remember this professor made it very clear to the Security Police that I am under his jurisdiction for the time of my treatment and hospitalization. And he will not allow them to interfere with that, till the time that when he thinks I would be ready to leave the hospital.
Rev De Waal, thank you. Can I also just say that we are just as happy that you are alive and you are able to come and tell this story to us and share the experience with us. Thank you for having taken a stand. We know that in those days it was unpopular and even dangerous to take a stand, as you have and others have in this - in this incident and very many other incidents - before and after that.
But thank you for coming and thank you for reminding us of what we have lost in the process and how irrational this whole thing is, because today President Mandela - I think it is fair to say - he is excepted across the board - by most of the people in this country, as the natural leader and a great national asset to all of us - black and white.
And what you say just underlines the irrationality of all this. I mean in 1985, when all this happened - if President Mandela was allowed back into the community at that stage, what difference it would have made. But thank you for coming.
You have physically lost a lot in the process. You have lost the amenities of having your full eye sight and so on and that is appreciated. We know that at one stage, the only people that could really take up the struggle and the move towards normalizing the country, were - was the clergy and thank you very much to you and your colleagues who have actually taken that stand. And, you have obviously contributed very largely to what we have today through that.