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Human Rights Violation Hearings
Type CONTEXT STATEMENT SHEIKH GABIER
Starting Date 26 November 1996
Location GUGULETU 7 POLLSMOOR
Once again good morning ladies and gentleman and a very warm word of welcome to all of you but a particular word of welcome to those people who will be testifying today. This is the last round of hearings for 1996 of the Western and Northern Cape Region of the Commission and we will by having a three day session which will today deal with the incident which has become known as the Pollsmoor March and the incidents that went with that.
Firstly at hearings like these we do not make any findings. We receive testimony and submissions from people in connection with the matters that are begin attended to. It is received by the panel who presides but no finding is made on any of the issues which arise in the course of the testimony.
Findings are only made eventually once the matter has been fully investigated, once the Commission is satisfied that all of the relevant material has been collected and only once all of that has been considered together with the testimony that has been given, that a finding is eventually made.
And then secondly just to put on record that although the sittings of the Commission are not similar to the sittings of a Court of Law, it is necessary in order to get the work done that a certain level of day quorum is maintained at the proceedings. And I would simply place that on record.
Then also it is necessary to put on record that it is an offense in terms of the Truth Commission Act for anyone to willfully mislead the Commission so that a person who does that is liable to legal action.
Then I would like to just introduce my colleagues who are sitting with me today. On my left is Dr Wendy Orr, she is a Commissioner and she is the Vice Chairperson of one of our committees which is called the Reparations and Rehabilitationís Committee. And one my right is another Commissioner and a member of the same committee Ms Glenda Wildschut and all three of us are based in the Western Cape Region and we work from the Cape Town office here.
You will notice on your chair that there is a pair of headsets. We use these when translations occur so you will hear in your head that the translation in the language that you understand when the language is spoken which is not your own. It is connected to this little device. The channels go in alphabetical order. Channel one is in Afrikaans, channel two in English and channel three will be Xhosa. Channel one Afrikaans, channel two English and the third channel is in Xhosa.
Please when you leave the room will you leave the headset on your chair and the device. We need to recharge them we also need to ensure that they are used for people don't have devices. So please when you leave the room can you please leave the headsets and the device on your chair. Thank you very much.
Thank you Glenda. We will proceed to listen to the testimony. The first witness as it been indicated earlier is Sheikh Gabier who will be giving a context statement relating to the Pollsmoor March incident and I call Sheikh Gabier to come to the podium please.
I am going to ask you to just make a solemn affirmation. It is necessary because what you will be telling us go on in the record of Commission's testimony in evidence. So I am just going to ask you first to state you full names for record.
ADV POTGIETER: Thank you very much, you may be seated. Sheikh as we know we are listening today to a number of cases which have arisen during perhaps some just immediately prior to and some subsequent to the march that was arranged in August of 1985. And in order to place that in a context which we can understand and appreciate the testimonies given we have asked you to come and to put that context before us so that we are then able to follow the testimony that will be given of specify incidence better.
Thank you very much Mr Chairman. First and foremost before I do start I would like to thank the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for giving me the opportunity to come here and testify and I have a very bad memory. I am getting old now, so I hope that whatever I am saying here would be of benefit and for us and for those who come in the future, our children ... witness is crying
[indistinct] was a crucial year in the struggle to bring about a just changed to South Africa. You know I promise myself I wasnít going to cry but what we have gone through itís impossible not to be emotional and not to cry.
Our generations in the future will only appreciate the difficulties and the struggle and the sacrifices which was made by this generation if they understand truly and clearly what had happened to us through our history.
But 1985 was a crucial year in the struggle to bring about this just change to South Africa. Mr PW Botha, the illegal president of the time, refused to acknowledge that the rule and his rule of radicalism would come to an end. He and his regime misread the widespread unrest in the country. They believed nothing was happening. I suppose it was because the white people were not affected at the time.
He also misjudged the impact the United Democratic Front had on the oppressed people of South Africa and that the leadership of the UDF were the two representatives of the oppressed people in the country at the time.
The regime also miscalculated the strength and determination of the people and its leadership in its fight against the evil of apartheid for people who claimed to be civilized, human, religious and intelligent. One could say today that they were not civilized, not human nor religious nor intelligent but stupid and arrogant.
The ANC the vanguard of the struggle was waging a war outside the country and inside the country against this illegal regime, engaging them on the battle field and on the diplomatic front and in all the other international forums. More and more countries were calling for sanctions to isolate this, this naughty and illegitimate regime from the civilized world family.
The regime on the other side intensified itís violence against the oppressed people. So many people were killed innocently and so many were maimed, so many were forced to go underground and many when into exile. At this time a lovely song was introduced by the greatest artists in there time. We are the world, we are the children, we are the ones who make a better world and we believed that we the oppressed people are part of that, of those who would be able to make a difference and produce a better world.
It was in this atmosphere that Dr Allan Boesak my colleague and comrade to whom I have a great respect, called me to a press conference in Bellville to announce on behalf of the Moslems that the oppressed people of South Africa had enough and demanded the immediate release of President Mandela and all other political prisoners. Also that the oppressed people would be marching to Pollsmoor to secure the release of Nelson Mandela.
The 28th of August was our date, the starting point of our gathering was the Athlone Stadium. Three days before the march the Government arrested Dr Allan Boesak and we, the Moslems on the 27th of August celebrated our Rabiul Akhir, our holy day and I announced in the Mosque to my congregation in Kensington that the march would carry on as planned.
On the 28th of August 1985 the regime sent out itís army and itís police and surrounded the Athlone Stadium. Early, in the early hours of the morning and forcible dispersed anybody or any gatherings in that particular area. All those who stood in Klipfontein Road near the stadium were chased away. Those who refused to disperse were arrested.
This does not tell the whole story either because anybody who just stood on the corners were baton charged and were beaten up and some of my colleagues who were later on arrested tried to speak to the police to give them an opportunity just to address the people to ask them to move on and this was refused.
Instead of allowing them just to speak to their own people they will all picked up and arrested and taken to the Athlone Police Station. Of those who were arrested in Klipfontein Road, a good old friend Dr Richard Stevens and the man who slept next to me in the cell later on Reverent Abel Hendrickse who was the former head of the Southern Africa Methodist Church. They had no regard whatsoever to religious people either.
This was a new phenomena which never existed in South Africa before. Religious were also a protected lot and a respected lot. At about 10 am I was told that a group of protesters were gathering at Hewitt Training College. On my arrival I found a strong group of people with a very strong presence of the clergy of the religious people. And to me it was clear that the religious people of this country was going to make a ver strong statement. I was determined to be part of that statement disregard what had happened, what would happen.
The majority of that people of the people in that march on the day had never seen Mr Nelson Mandela. They were - yet they were prepared to be beaten up, to be jailed or even die, because is was what Mandela symbolized, symbolized their freedom their equality, justice and it symbolized what they stood for, and what he stood for. And that was, what was important.
As the crowd grew a helicopter hovered over the area and kept a close watch on the crowd. A few speeches was delivered by various people, stating the conditions of the country, what the regime was doing and the violence perpetrated against the against the people. That one of the speakers mentioned the importance of the march and why it should continue, why we should continue with it.
We decided to march five in a row. As we march out of Hewitt out of die grounds of the Hewitt College into Kromboom Road, a comrade next to me asked me what I thought where the police were and where would they stop us. My reply was I don't think the police were too far away. As we approached Grossmere Avenue the police appeared in Casspirs and in police trucks and ordered us to stop the march and disperse.
Reverend David Russell ordered us to kneel down and pray. This we all did collectively. He then tried to speak to the officer in command who refuse to entertain him. The officer spoke over a loudspeaker saying that this was a illegal gathering and if you do not disperse in three minutes action will be taken. We stood up hands in hand, refusing to move away or disperse and the police then baton charged us.
Nobody was spared - from the police - from the violence of the police children, women and old people were all beaten and those who were part of the march had to run for their lives down Kromboom Road into Thornton Road and in all directions.
As tear gas and canisters and all sorts of ammunition used by the regime at the time, rubber bullets flew in all direction. We the, clergy who formed the front lines of the march were all arrested and we were extremely saddened to hear that so many people got hurt. And that one of our comrades who is sitting here this morning Reverend Jan de Waal had been injured and lost his eye.
We were taken to the Athlone Police Station, where we were locked up for the night. That was about somewhere around about 2 pm. We were taken to a cell not good enough for an animal to be in. We were asking for water for something to eat. From 2 pm until the following morning 8 am we were not given a glass of water or anything to eat. The conditions within the cell was in itself a humiliation.
We were locked up for the night. All those who were in the cell with me were all from religious fraternity, from the Western Province Council of Churches representing the churches of the Cape Province and I then, I was then the chairman of the Moslem Juditional Council.
When I was a youngster as a student in the Azir University in Cairo Egypt studying Islam become a religious man I never ever dreamt that I would ever land in jail. I am sure the my colleagues who were with me in the cell were all religious people when they studied there religious Christianity to become religious people.
I am sure they never ever dreamt that they would also land in jail because jail is for criminals, for murderers, for thieves, drug lords, frauds, those kind of people. We never robbed, we never killed. All we were asking for was for was for our rights which we were born with, as human beings, justice, equality and freedom. This in that particular time as far as that illegal regime was a crime. As we stayed in the cell until the following morning as I have mentioned we were denied all our rights. We had nothing to eat or to drink.
And the following day we were driven to the Wynberg, to the Wynberg court. The judge there refused us bail and transferred us to the Pollsmoor jail. This in itself is a story of its own. I am not going to indulge in that. All that I can say is that for people who claim to be religious people, to treat there religious people the way we were treated was an insult to religion itself.
The judge found it necessary to have us locked up for seven days and we 40 clergy, 40 people of religious standing were all locked up in a cell. One incident that happened. In one of the evenings the cell was locked. When the wardens came the following morning the lock was open, the door was open and we all until they tried to figure out who opened the door, who opened that cell. Who opened the cell of 45 religious people who were doing nothing else but asking for the rights of which they were born with and asking for the rights of all the people of South Africa to be restored.
We encouraged each other, we pacified each other and we learned from the experiences of one another and in the middle of, I used to as somebody who is maybe just a little bit more sensitive and many others, I am a little bit of an emotional guy. I use to stand up in the middle of the night and pray and burst out crying not because of fear but because of the in justice. Ons plek is nie in die tronke in nie.
I felt it was a great insult to all of us that we should have gone through this particular experience, but the experience on the other side made us understand and appreciate any sacrifices, the great sacrifices made by men like Mr Mandela, Sisulu, Mbeki, Mr Katrada, and others the unknown warrior, the unknown soldier, the unknown one who has also sacrificed his life, hidden far away in one of the darkness of those dungeons and cells who never be known, but who have contributed tremendously so that we could have this change in our country.
As far as the march was concerned we believe that the march was a great success and it served itís purpose although people lost their lives. We understand that lots of unrest took place in the townships subsequently to this march in the Cape area and also in Soweto. Some people lost there lives in the process, some were injured, some were jailed and some had to run for their lives out of the country but the march drew the attention of the world.
The arrest of the clergy as normally arrogant people always make major mistakes. The regime being as arrogant as it was, it was to arrest clergy was condemned world wide and South Africa was never the same again. The Rand dropped tremendously. Further more countries imposed sanctions against South Africa and the resistance inside the country intensified. The ANC became stronger and stronger internationally and the oppressed people made sure that South Africa was ungovernable.
Today we sit here and speak as free people in a country where the constitution grants every citizen his rights and as an equal citizen amongst equals let us never forget those who died in the process and those who contributed to this struggle bravely. I salute them all, it was a job well done an I am proud to have been there amongst them. Thank you very much sir.
Perhaps just a few questions of clarity and perhaps just to corroborate some of the information that we have and try and check it out with you. The march on the 26th of August started at Athlone Stadium, that was the meeting place.
The 28th of August and at that gathering people were baton charged and there was unrest as a result of polisie action at the Athlone Stadium. Did people move from Athlone Stadium to Hewitt Training College or do you think that the people began to gather at Hewitt Training College as well.
Yes, what happened at first, people came to the Athlone Stadium as been planned, that as the gathering point and because the police had surrounded the Athlone Stadium and chased everybody away and beat up everybody who gave some idea of coming together for the march.
They then, but we are talking now of something which, I mean it was totally out of order. We are speaking of real violence, people who were chased and kicked and all sorts of things in Klipfontein Road. And because there were some of the comrades who were stationed on the corners there, they were al picked up. Men like Abel Hendrickse and also doctor Stevens they were picked up in Klipfontein Road amongst many others.
Then some gatherings were trying, some people were trying to gather at other areas as well but the one area that became the - the successful area was in the grounds of Hewitt College where everybody somehow or other got a message and I suppose they watched the helicopter and then knew now where the helicopter is, there is were the gathering would be. And that is where about somewhere around about 4 000, 3 000 to 4 000 it could be more, it could be less but in that particular numbers gathered at the Hewitt College. We organized ourselves wel under the circumstances and from there we marched out to Pollsmoor.
Yes - yes I reckon if I am mot mistaken I was informed and my memory was refreshed because the state of emergency was declared a few days after this particular march. If not immediately after the march but it, we reckon that it was the result of this particular march. But the Rand went down very, very quickly.
Well we have spread the word as wide as possible through the churches and through the Mosques and through all other anti apartheid organisations and we reckoned that if the march was allowed to, if the march was allowed to march as free as it should have been, we reckon that nothing less than 40 to 50 thousand people would have been there easily if not more.
But that would have been the kind of figure and that would have I suppose would have made the necessary impact and would have been a good message to send to those who were in jail that we are with them all the time.
Sheikh it just remains for me to thank you for coming and to take us back to those days, those dark days. And for reminding us so vividly what people had gone through and what sacrifices were made in order for us to speak as free people as you have put it. In fact it is very hard even now very short, very soon after the - that incident to think that what is recorded or accepted as - internationally as part of basic human rights the freedom of expression through mass action, protest action.
That sort of conduct is criminilised and it turned into quite a remarkable tragedy in the end. But it is necessary for us to record those incidence, as painful as they might be, so that first of all it is on record and secondly tot ensure that we avoid a repetition of that sort of nightmare and to ensure that those who come after us will be spared that sort of lot. But thank you very much for the context and for taken us through what have happened that particular day. We appreciate it very much.
Thank you very much sir I just want to last say that there was so much beautiful songs that we sang at the time and I believe that the Reconciliation, the Truth and the Reconciliation Commission should make an effort to have these songs recorded so that our children must sing them as they go along in the future. Songs like Sensani.
It had a wonderful effect on all of us. We will overcome, we will overcome someday that played a role and these are the kind, although I am a religious man we are not so much good in singing but it had a good effect and be remembered and should be repeated on the tongues and the hearts of our children in the future. Thank you very, very much.