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Human Rights Violation Hearings
Type HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS, SUBMISSIONS QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Starting Date 25 July 1996
Names NOMAZOTSHWA GQABI
MR LEWIN: Okay, fine. We would like to welcome you here. You weren't here on Tuesday, when one of the witnesses who had been part of the 1976 uprising in Soweto talked in fact about your husband, after he had come back from Robben Island and as they said, I think the other person they mentioned was Elliot Shlubangu, but they talked about the old men, which I am sure your husband wouldn't have been very happy about, but it was a compliment, I think of the young participant in that uprising.
immediately about his assassination in Harare, if you could just very briefly give us the background of his time, which took him to Robben Island, which brought him back to Soweto and then if you could explain how you got to Zimbabwe. Thank you very much.
MRS GQABI: He was an ANC activist. He was very involved with politics. Then in 1963 he was arrested with a group of other people who were leaving the country and they were brought back here, and they were sentenced to two years imprisonment.
Then in 1975 he was released and he was brought back home. Then we were with him just for a year and then the following year, 1976, December he was arrested again. During that time he spent about 15 months in Pretoria, in jail and then he was charged. I don't know what the charge was. But later on he was released. That trial was known as the Pretoria Trial. He was released after that and then afterwards he decided - I don't know if he decided, whether the ANC decided that he should leave the country, but then he left the country. I didn't even know that he had left until he phoned me, he said he had left the country, he was in Botswana.
During the time he was in Robben Island, my children never saw him because they were still very young when he was arrested. Children under 16 years were not allowed on Robben Island. So they never knew their father. When he came back we thought that we could lead a normal life. But then there he was arrested again, before the children got to SOWETO HEARING TRC/GAUTENG
Then later on the children also had to leave and I also had to leave for Botswana, where I found him. Then whilst he was in Botswana, it became quite clear that his life was not safe there. So the Botswana government decided that he should leave Botswana. So he left. First he went to Lusaka and then the ANC asked him to go to Zimbabwe and open the ANC office there, because Zimbabwe had just got its independence then and we didn't have an ANC office there. So he was there running the office with two other comrades, together with this other comrade who is next to me.
Then in 1981 on the 31st of July he was assassinated. I didn't know anything about it, until on the 1st of August I was listening to the news, I was driving and I opened the BBC news, and that is when I heard that the ANC representative in Harare, Joe Gqabi had been assassinated. It was very shocking to me because I mean, I had no knowledge about the whole thing until I heard it on the news.
MRS GQABI: Yes, the Zimbabwean Government was very helpful indeed, because they arranged the State funeral for him and even the President of Zimbabwe was there. He spoke at that funeral. A lot of other government Ministers were there.
MRS GQABI: No, nobody spoke to me about anything, but after the funeral I went back to Botswana. I just heard that they were doing investigations, but I haven't heard anything since then, who actually killed him, I don't know, I would like to know.
MR LEWIN: Because there were similar attacks which followed after 1981. For instance, there was the bomb attack in Bulawayo, there was also the bomb attack in Harare where Jeremy Brickl was nearly killed. He particularly has done quite a lot of work in trying to follow-up and trace the links. Did you yourself have any doubt that your husband or your husband's killing was linked to South Africa?
they had been after him for a long time. That's why he had to leave Botswana in the first place. Even before he was assassinated, there had been other attempts whilst he was still - before the final attack, before the final assassination, there was a bomb which was attached under his car, but it was discovered before it blew him up.
MR GOVENDER: My name is Shadrack Govender, I was residing in Zimbabwe in Harare from 1981 in the same house with Comrade Joe Gqabi. There were the two of us who were ANC personnel there with one comrade who had recently joined from Cape Town. Her name was Geraldine.
Joe Gqabi was the chief rep of the ANC as Mrs Gqabi has pointed out. I was there supporting staff to him. You will remember that it was a difficult time at that time for the ANC and for the Zimbabwean Government or the Zimbabwean people. They had just acquired independence and there were no other security measures that were available or that were afforded the liberation movement. Indeed, at that time I lived there as a refugee who had just jumped the fence from South Africa instead of an MK member who was there, working there in Harare.
We lived in a house in Ashton Park, 19 Eves Crescent. That house, we were provided with no security at that time, and we were not allowed to carry firearms either, except for one firearm that was issued to Joe Gqabi, which was a ,38
Roundabout May that year or it could have been a few weeks earlier, but I think it was towards the end of May, Joe Gqabi had to go to Lusaka on consultation where the ANC headquarters were. I would like to point out that at the time at 19 Eves Crescent in Ashton Park, we were living with a family of refugees who had just come from Botswana. It was a family of a man and wife, Mr and Mrs Cilla and children, ranging - five children ranging from the age of about three months to 18 years of age. We were all using the same car, a white Cressida that was issued to Joe Gqaba by the ANC for all our transport and means of getting around.
Joe Gqabi went to Lusaka, I think it was, it could have been on the 30th of May to the headquarters. It was on a Friday evening. I drove the car back to the house and parked it. On Saturday, the next day, I was supposed to get on with the other work as would have been the case if Joe Gqabi didn't go through the Saturday. But upon - for some reason something said I should inspect the car. As it was a general security precaution, because we had always feared for attacks from the South African agents or from Government forces in South Africa. That morning I looked, I decided to look under the car and I did notice that there was some foreign object. I knew exactly - on closer inspection I knew exactly what it was, as I was trained in explosives too. I then reported the matter to the Zimbabwean police. The matter was investigated. The bomb disposal unit came from the Zimbabwean Army. Part of the bomb was dismantled but a large part of it had to be detonated outside town.
act for whoever was perpetrating it or had planted it. As not only were we the direct targets of the South African Government at that time, it was Joe Mqabi and I was a member of Umkhonto weSizwe myself, but there were civilians there. There were children, there were very young children. It was very clear that that was a residential area and it was a residence, it was not a training camp or anything.
There was no follow-up, nothing was found, no clue was brought up, any arrest or any breakthrough. The Zimbabwean authorities did warn Comrade Joe Mqabi that he should take extra precautionary measures as they were not - lost as to where or who will come and kill him.
There had been apparently, intelligence information to the point that South Africans had actually, the South African Government then had actually sent agents out there or had employed agents out there to carry out that work.
On the day of his assassination, we had just finished our work at the office, at the ANC office and we had actually, we had a meeting that was urgent for that afternoon. The meeting was a meeting between the people who were coming from the country, some of them were underground, activists, some of them were relatives of Geraldine Fraser at that time. Some came from Europe.
We had struggled to find a safe venue to hold our meeting, and after constant search we decided that we would use the house, No 19 Eves Crescent as the house that was actually not functioning as an ANC residence any longer. In fact, as part of precaution Joe Gqabi had a curfew there, he did not sleep there. We had decided that he should leave by six o'clock in the evening, just before sunset.
going to be a short meeting, and there were many things that were happening. These people were also travelling and we couldn't maintain contact with them lest the South African spies identified them and those were entering the country would be in trouble.
We then decided that I should get another motor vehicle and transport the people who were going to be returning to South Africa, who by the way, had not skipped the country, they were just going to Zimbabwe on a visit.
Because of precautions I arrived with those people after Joe Gqabi had arrived, and therefore I had parked the car behind Joe Gqabi's vehicle. When we finished the meeting I got into my car and I reversed out. It was already close to six or just past his curfew at the house, the one that we imposed ourselves. I waited for him to reverse out so that I can close the gate for him. Joe Gqabi said to me no, no, Govender, what are you waiting for, go ahead. I said I will close the gate behind you. He was a very humble man. Despite his responsibility and the position in the ANC, that he held and the high regard that he had from the people, and the young people who were in the struggle, he said that he will close the gate himself, he would not - he would not hang around for someone to close the gate for him, and he said I should leave. I left the place.
Joe Gqabi had his briefcase in his hand and he was walking towards the car. He had stepped out of the house, about to lock the door as we were walking towards the car. I think that Joe Gqabi got into his car and started to reverse out. He was shot at the gate in the 19 Eves Crescent.
I am bringing this assumption because of the number of weapons that were at the scene. There were at least four sub-machine guns that were fitted with a silencer and there was also a Beretta pistol that was fitted with a silencer too.
Joe Gqabi must have died from a volley of fire from the sub-machine gun or what could have been an Ozi machine pistol. There was no way that I could have heard the shots or the burst of the machine-gun, as they were silenced.
I returned to the house, because I still lived in the house with Geraldine and upon my return I was surprised to find Joe Gqabi's car still in the driveway. It was actually slightly parked against the fence, right down the driveway. I was surprised at what I thought was a violation of security measures that we put on ourselves. So I immediately rushed into the house to inspect what was happening. As I was about to open the door on the side of the driveway, I could see the car and I saw that the glass, the window had
MR GOVENDER: This is round about midnight now. We had parted round about six, just after six that evening, it was winter, it was July. I mean six o'clock it was pitch dark. From there I got into the - upon closer inspection, I did not touch anything in order not to disturb evidence that could have been there, but upon a closer inspection I did notice that Joe could have indeed been dead by then. The post-mortem does point out that he had died by then, the period of death.
I then proceeded to the Minister of Security's office in Harare, Emma (indistinct) who was a very close colleague and friend to Comrade Joe, or in the sense that he shared the same political views and similar political views and similar security concerns. His security was closely discussed with him in particular.
We then drove his security people to seal the airports and the border to try to, in order to watch out for - and reported the matter that Joe Gqabi had been assassinated. We drove to the house. From there the next morning we were taken, I was taken to Lusaka along with the Zimbabwean Prime Minister then, who was on a trip to Lusaka, to report the matter.
I recall that there are other people, some of whom were in this case, in the investigation case of Joe Gqabi. Amongst names I can remember there was a person called Colin Evans, whom I believe was subsequently arrested by the Zimbabweans on a suspicion or on a charge relating to spying for South Africa at that time. He was a man who was heading the case or who was looking at the security, the ANC security at Harare at that time.
I must point out that I was also closely, I was personally affected because I had been closely - I was very close to Comrade Joe from the time that I left the country, from the time that I joined Umhonto weSizwe up to that time. At that time they did actually arrest one of the women who was staying with us, Geraldine Fraser, who was kept in detention for about two weeks. No other progress was done on the case concerning successful investigation.
We have or up to - I remained in Zimbabwe until 1985 when I left for overseas. Up to that time I don't, up to that time, up until the time of my departure from Zimbabwe I had never been able to and I never heard the end of the investigation of this case. But there was no doubt in my mind that Joe Gqabi had no enemies other than the State at the time, that could have had so much power to have - to kill him in the manner that he was killed.
MR LEWIN: Thank you very much. Could you advise us, I mean, what line of investigation you think we can follow-up as a Commission? For instance, in some of the more recent cases in Zimbabwe, has there ever been a reference to the '81 shooting?
MR GOVENDER: The hearings that occurred in Zimbabwe, occurred after I Had left the country, after I had left Zimbabwe for overseas, and there are people, a lot of people who were actually convicted and I believe some South Africans were convicted for spying for South Africa, who some of them are still languishing in Zimabwean jails.
I would really like to urge the Commission to follow up Joe Gqabi's assassination and investigate that who killed him and under whose orders. You know, in this case I think the significance is more of who directed, who issued the orders, who signed his death certificate as such or his assassination certificate as such, because they may well have used agents that were of Zimbabwean origin.
Also I think that that will satisfy a number of or that will help the healing process, if we get to open the truth, we know what was the situation, we get to know that these are the people that were in Joe's case. We can face them, we can actually take a position as to whether to accept their apologies and all that. But with this thing under a veil and us pretending that life is normal and there is not, the process of healing is impaired, is substantially impaired.
I were there, I would have died in that car bomb. In case, if we didn't have the contacts that we were meeting that evening, I would have been killed in that attack. Even if I had an AK-47 in my hand, the silent thing would have been fired first.
I would like to talk on behalf of the family and I would leave that to Mr Gqabi to talk, but I would like to point out that having known Joe Gqabi for that period or that length of time, he was a selfless man and him and Orelia Gqabi who is sitting next to me right now, had spread nothing. We used nothing in helping young people in the struggle.
Things that were said about Comrade Joe's role during June 16 and all that, I was also amongst one of the young people that he helped shape at the time when I joined Umkhonto weSizwe. I would like to point out that this family had children also. We used to come there as - in large numbers, and ate everything that was in the house. We hae a situation now that Joe Gqabi is dead.
Mrs Gqabi who is retired qualified nurse, she is living out of a very small income. She has children and grandchildren that are also facing and dependent on her. That is a very difficult situation for a person whose life had been disturbed so many times, by leaving the country, going to live in Botswana. Before he could settle in Botswana he was advised by the security there to leave. The family had been actually separated, and gone to Zimbabwe, and until he returned now. It is a pain that is not that
MR GOVENDER: I saw the one that was - let me explain further. In the car the sub-machine, or the machine that was used I assumed was actually thrown inside the car, and plus the Beretta, so I could see. I could see that it was clear. There was a big hole in the window and it was holed already with bullets. Whoever might have used it, might have used it and threw the thing into the car.
MR GOVENDER: Well, I think that it is similar to maybe what could we described as a guerilla attack. They attack and hit the target and they needed to get away and they needed to leave whatever evidence or thing that would actually make them look suspicious and moreover, they were not pursued by anybody. They didn't need the weapons any more, because they had finished doing their job.
MR GOVENDER: No, no, there was no Durawall on that house at that time. And if I may mention that it was not the end of it all. The Ashton Park residence was subsequently bombed to the foundation. They came one night, but we had evacuated and not living in the house any longer, and put explosives right around the house, and just flattened the house. I think the highest structure that remained in that house couldn't have been longer than 30 centimetres, the length of a ruler.
MR LEWIN: Thank you. Mrs Gqabi, could I just in finishing, before handing back to the Chair, just ask, there is another family who hasn't had this sort of normal life, which you say you haven't had either. How do you actually feel about it now? I mean, you are remarkably calm and collected?
MRS GQABI: I may look calm but my heart is bleeding. I never had a normal family when I got married. I hardly stayed with my husband for more than five years and I think I and my children have been psychologically affected, especially my son, who has never recovered. So what I would like to - I have heard that there are psychologists who look after people who have been affected. So I would - I don't know if there is any way in which my son can be helped.
When I came back I had no accommodation. I lived at my brother's place with my sister-in-law. So they took me in until Mrs Sinqwe, Bishop and Mrs Sinqwe asked me to use their house in Pimville. That's the house I used until I managed to get a loan, I mean a bond from the Standard Bank, and then I moved. That is where I am now.
MRS GQABI: They are mostly very young people, all the people who live there are people who moved from their homes in Soweto to get their own houses. They just regard me as an old lady. They don't bother me, I don't bother them. So I don't have problems there with them.
... which is quite true, I mean, we came to know Joe or most came to know Joe around '75, '76, because the things could happen and one would perhaps be saying that if quite a number of those people like we have said, those who played a role, in June 16th, you know, perhaps none or how many of those people or how many from that age group do visit you presently?
MRS GQABI: Nobody visits me. Very few people actually come to my house - people, they have just disappeared, except people like Govender here and maybe two others, otherwise all those people I used to, I mean, to mother, I don't see them at all, they have all disappeared.
come frequently, were perhaps those who were working for the SACC, you know, coming in as they would help you to go to the Island or so. But now if I understand you well, is you are really in a completely new society.
MRS GQABI: There are no churches there. If I want to go to church I have to travel to - I attend the Anglican Church at - I either go to St Pauls or to Holy Cross in Orlando West. Otherwise there are no church groupings there. There are no churches, it is a completely new area. No churches, no shopping centres, nothing.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. Mr Govender, I would just like to ask you a few questions first. In Mrs Gqabi's statement she indicates that she heard over the radio that her husband had been assassinated. Can you explain that to us?
MR GOVENDER: Yes, at the time of - after I discovered what was to be Joe Gqabi's body, because of lack of maybe confidence or some suspicions in the regular police services that existed in Zimbabwe, for the reasons that I explained earlier on, I used the channel that Joe Gqabi used, of a direct link with the Minister of Security at that time,
(indistinct). From the time that I reported the matter and from the time that we got to the house and actually they certified that he was dead, it was a matter of high security, high state security in Zimbabwe. Everything else was embargoed. We were embargoed from talking to reporters, even myself. I was inundated by reporters who wanted to find, to get a story from me. It was a security thing. I did not - I was also removed from the house. I did not see the body of Comrade Joe being taken out of the house. I was kept overnight at the safe house in Harare until we left for Lusaka that day. It was after, I think the BBC might have picked it up after I had been moved to the headquarters of the ANC. There was no time that, there was no time at that time, you know, in the time period that I could have phoned Mrs Gqabi at all.
CHAIRPERSON: Also you indicated to us that Mr Gqabi at that time, he held a very senior position within the African National Congress. Wouldn't it have been more appropriate if their senior officials had immediately informed the family?
MR GOVENDER: I wouldn't be able to comment on their behalf, but if I were to comment directly, personally on what happened. It was my duty to report to the highest organ of the organisation which was the national executive committee of the ANC. I did that morning early, as soon as we reached Lusaka, I was - we had a meeting with the working committee of the national executive of the ANC, where I reported the matter and the matter was discussed at that brief meeting and the working committee of the national executive of the ANC did take steps to proceed from there. I wouldn't say that I could have been the one to say, report to Mrs Gqabi
MR GOVENDER: Well, when I returned from Lusaka, after a day or so, we were - I was accommodated at a hotel in Harare. The Ashton Park area was declared a security zone, we were not to touch it, nothing was going to happen there. We did try to go and open the ANC office, which was part of our duty to keep that office running at all time, despite everything else. The place was of course mobbed by journalists and people who wanted stories. We had to battle to keep other people who had different (indistinct). There were people who were over keen, very keen at looking at ANC files or at data that was, ANC data that was in the office. The people from the police who wanted to get there and search for what - I don't know, they couldn't explain it. However, after about a day or two and after the ANC had sent someone to act as a chief rep after Joe Gqabi had been assassinated, a person by the name of Peter Makabane or Pilla-Polla, the detective MacCallum wanted to interview myself and Geraldine. We were taken to Harare police station where we were interrogated and put in separate rooms and we were subjected to abusive language and although they did not handle us physically, but there was over-concern
about why did I go and inform the Minister of Security and not go to the police station. I made my views and opinion clear that time and which were that we had worked closely and very direct working and a close lives with the Minister of Security and that I didn't feel confident or safe talking to any policeman in Zimbabwe at that time.
There was some people, although I lived in Zimbabwe underground, as I am a trained person, it came to pass to the Zimbabweans that I was actually a trained cadre, and because also the ANC knew me. There was a little bit of confusion at that time as to who and where Geraldine came from. I think that it could have happened that some people didn't really know her, because I was the only person that remained that knew Geraldine. Maybe she may well not have had someone to defend her at that time. I don't know, that she could answer herself. But I was not detained by the police, she was detained. She was arrested and I think she was held for a period of about two weeks. I am not sure about the exact period. I must say that the investigating officer was - he treated everything rudely and they were not happy that they were not allowed or they were not allowed earlier on to search the ANC offices and take files away from there.
MS SOOKA: Could you also tell me whether you received any special pension, being the widow of a freedom fighter? Were you ever eligible for any of these special pensions that were announced by the Government?
MS SOOKA: Yes, in fact a number of witnesses during the last few weeks have in fact stated that there is a need for trauma centres to be set up right around the country, to deal with the stress that people are still undergoing. Would you support such an idea?
MS SOOKA: I don't want to ask any more questions, but one of the things that I do want to make a comment on, is that most of the families of people who have gone into exile or people who have had their sons or their husbands or their daughters killed, have noted that there seems to be an appalling lack of concern for the people who remained behind at home, and obviously from the side of the State, nobody ever bothered to inform people that their sons or daughters were killed or their relatives, and a lot of people have discovered that through the newspapers. I also want to make SOWETO HEARING TRC/GAUTENG
a comment that it seems to have happened a lot with people who have gone to join the ilberation movement as well, that often and two mothers came here yesterday, and advised that the only time they knew their sons had died, was when they read in a magazine the names of their sons. I think one of the things that needs to be improved on all sides, is the fact that there must be communication with people, when people die. I think this is one of the things which is coming out of this Commission.
MR GOVENDER: Well, I did write a report on - which I submitted to the ANC on my recount of the situation, and there was - I am sure there was an investigation, but it was not a public one or an open one. I would like to cast a bit of light on that point, although the ANC had its own security department that did all investigations and all that. We are talking about a department that was resource-strapped, that people were faced with too many things at the same time, and this matter did receive the highest attention of the ANC. What I cannot say is what the final resolution on whether the case was ever closed. I personally was never informed, I am not aware of the finding or the closing of this case.
have indicated is that you feel you, your children and yourself need psychological care of some kind. I must say that since we have been sitting with the Commission, we are left with feelings of helplessness in the hands of so many women like yourself, who are left with permanent scars. Even if you go for psychological care, healing is a complex process. We anticipate that you will go backwards and forwards. There will be times when you find it difficult to cope with the realities of this country. But we just hope that with time you will be able to live with the healing.
As Commissioner Yasmin Sooka has indicated, we have a Reparations and Rehabilitation Committee, which is looking at what needs to be done, in terms of reparation. We are still in the process of formulating that. People like yourself will be asked to assist the Government in meeting the needs of families which have been left with permanent scars like yourself.
The Committee looked at reparations because the people who formulated the legislation realised that no kind of compensation can really buy the quality of life or the life of the heroes who we have lost because of their past arrangements in our country and maybe even in other countries outside ourselves.
Also, we understand your pain, Mr Govender, as a person who I would say Mr Gqabi died in your hands. In the process of searching for the truth you also will have to look for yourself in terms of making sure that there is no further damage emotionally. This case is one of those which will go back to the investigating unit to establish more facts and who will be in touch with the two of you.
CHAIRPERSON: The briefers will tell you, will give you the list of names of people who will assist with psychological care. As you leave here you will be meeting with the briefers. They will give you those details. Thank you very much.