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Human Rights Violation Hearings
Type HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS, SUBMISSIONS QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Starting Date 22 July 1996
Names ELLEN KUZWAYO
Case Number .
MS SOOKA: Ellen we would like to welcome you to the proceedings of the Truth Commission today. We are very grateful that you have consented to share your own experiences of that day with us. I would now like to ask you to stand to take the oath please.
MS MKHIZE: Mrs Kuzwayo we thank you, you are the heroine that today you have seen fit to come forward and support us as a Commission in our work of reconciling and looking back at June 16. I would ask you to first of all tell the audience and the Commission a little bit about yourself, especially those activities which relate to community involvement.
MS KUZWAYO: I am Ellen Kuzwayo. I was trained in my youth as a teacher, but I was compelled to leave that position after the introduction of the Bantu Education Act. I did not have the strength nor the courage to get into the classroom and teach the children of my community what appeared to be very poisonous to their minds. Being a mother of three at that time I decided to go back to school for three years to train as a social worker.
At some time in my work I worked with women in the deprived communities in the Transvaal. I worked from Vereeniging with the women in the movement called Young Women's Christian Association right up beyond Pietersburg, and this was my area where I worked with women in disadvantaged communities.
In later years when I left the job where I was earning I worked with women and I still do so, in helping women to develop their skills to be able to meet the needs of everyday life. Well today, even as I sit here, I find great pleasure in the Parliamentary Constituency offices, to work with communities who need homes, who need to promote their businesses to be much more rewarding to them. In addition to that there is, not very far from where we are now, a centre that was built by women and officially opened in 1986 by ordinary grassroots women of this country. I worked with them to build that centre where women come five days a week to come and do their work. I think this is enough to tell who I am. I happen now to be in Parliament.
MS MKHIZE: Maybe before we ask you to talk specifically about your involvement around June 16 you have said a lot about your involvement with different communities, can you just tell the Commission as to what you have observed in terms of community life? Have communities been deteriorating over the years? The community structures are they strong enough to keep families and young people going?
MS KUZWAYO: Well I would like to start with something that I believe is very close to everybody's heart, the homelessness that is almost all over South Africa, particularly where we seen endless, endless makeshift homes which have got to be occupied by thousands and thousands of families all over South Africa. One often wonders particularly in weather like this, you are sleeping in your maybe comfortable warm bed and for some reason or other you wake up in the night and you think of those people with children, young children, living in what is known today in our language, they call it "Mekuku", just makeshift houses, where people have died from carbon monoxide because they have had to make fire in them. And where many of such homes have been destroyed by fire, killing people. And where there is absolutely no privacy where people live, where you realise that today people talk so much about abuse of children and it would be surprising if this abuse did not take place because there is absolutely no privacy in many, many homes in South Africa. People are open just to be in there, sleeping with children in the same house and these children end up being abused. And I think this is something that has been created in South Africa to happen. I am thinking particularly of children who we brought up in this country in youth clubs, where we worked with children and children of 17, 18, 19 and 20 years would be very willing to go to a camp at Christmas time, would either go to Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Swaziland, take these kids out, but all those things are no more. Many children, after the introduction of Bantu education in South Africa the
school-going population just lost interest in education and they became very wayward. When you ask them, we are arranging a trip to go to the seaside many of them have looked into my eyes and say you talk of going to the seaside when the country is on fire, and some of them are very young children. And all those things have passed by. They are no more there.
Unemployment is another issue in this country where jobs have been preferred for certain communities and not for others. Where people had to live in the country that was barren, where they could not find jobs and they were very much denied an opportunity to come and sell their labour because of the laws of this country. The influx control regulations were so stringent that many, many families have missed many opportunities that could have made their families be presentable and also make a contribution to the development of South Africa. I can go on and on, on and on, but the misery that has been here has been brought about by racism and the racism that was in the country and in the government of this country prior to 27 April 1994.
MS MKHIZE: Thank you very much for exposing the Commission to some of the realities of this country. I have noted that you have highlighted some practices which I would say are against the Children's Rights Charter. You know you have spoken about children who are still being raped today. You have spoken about children without a shelter, children without food, and those without proper education. Having given us this exposure I will ask you to embark on a difficult route to try and recollect your involvement around 1976. What I have said to recollect automatic memory what you observed on that day and around those days and after.
MS KUZWAYO: It was a day like any other day that morning when all of us went to work not expecting anything, except that there was already a humdrum in the community about children who were very dissatisfied with the situation of the Bantu education. Naturally when they turned to their parents their parents could not help them because I think I am right when I say 75% of the parents of those children had no education, and were therefore very much intimidated by the police, by this whole state of South Africa that made them to be too frightened to approach the White people to say our children say they are not learning at school. So finally these kids took it into their hands I suppose to redeem themselves from that malady of lack of education.
At that time I was at the University of Witwatersrand and I worked there under, I'll call it supervision, of Professor Cecile Muller, and I worked very closely with her in her office and it was normal that at lunch hour all the workers went out at about one o'clock to going and pick up something if you did not bring any lunch from home. I was on that journey at Braamfontein to go and get something to come and eat when suddenly I was hit by a poster from the Daily Mail. I couldn't believe my eyes. The caption was "10,000 Soweto children on...." I don't remember the exact words, but I think they were expressing an uprising by the students. I looked at that once and my stomach I think must have been filled. I didn't feel hungry anymore.
I walked straight back to the University and confronted, I didn't confront her, when I got into my office, collected my things and went to Professor to say Professor I am going home, something terrible is happening
in Soweto, I can never sit in this office. We argued with Professor. She made me feel like I was over-reacting over the situation. I said Professor I have no choice, I must go to Soweto and see what is happening there. Finally when Professor was a bit difficult I said, if this had happened in the quiet community, what is happening in Soweto today South Africa would come to a standstill, and as I said so, I walked out and I went to the parking lot of the University to collect my car.
As I walked towards the car I saw the ladies that worked at the University as cleaners, some of them having their little packages and I didn't know what was happening and they also got into the parking lot of the University and walked straight to my car. I looked at them, asking myself what do I do in this situation and they didn't ask for permission and as I opened the car they also opened the back door of the car and they cushioned themselves into my car. I realised it was not time for me to ask questions. I got into the driver's seat and the one who sat in front sat in front with their packages and I said well if this has to be let it be and drove to Soweto. All I said to the ladies was you will tell me where to stop so that at least I can get you out of the car. I realised that the pressure that pushed me to get to Soweto, like mothers, it pushed them too.
We drove more-or-less in silence. I didn't ask who they were and as we got near the Orlando Police Station I think they must have grown cold feet because of the commotion that was going on around that police station. They said please let us off, we live in Orlando. But some of them had indicated as they talked amongst themselves that SOWETO HEARING TRC/GAUTENG
they lived beyond Orlando but they said please let us out of your car. I let them out. I realised that I had, because I lived in Orlando West and I didn't know what to expect. I drove on to my house, left the car and walked up on foot towards Maponya. I didn't even know what was happening there. I was going to meet a friend of mine Matilda, and a member of the YWCA with the hope that I was going to say Matilda what is happening. As I got near her home she just said Make and this is the name they use in Soweto. I said what is happening Tilly and she said well the whole of Soweto is on fire.
She took her car out and I got into the car and we drove up towards Maponya area, which is our shopping centre and lo and behold and she said Ellen when you see any car coming down you just take out your hand and put up the salute. I did as she told me because cars were coming down and she said do you see these vans that are coming down, some of them are driven by the 17 year-olds, or the 15 year-olds, so to make sure that we are safe we must give a sign that we are with them. I did everything she told me I should do.
But as we came towards Maponya everything was on fire. Cars were on fire, lorries were on fire. As we got out of this car one could see these boys who were very furious, very, very furious. There was nothing you could say to them. The only way to appease them was to put up your hand and say I am here and I am with you because there was no way of turning away from the youth. The only thing to help them was if it was possible to hug them, but there was no opportunity of hugging them because they were in the forefront of a battle that nobody had ever thought would be
Suddenly on the lips of every child you met was "Hector Petersen, Hector Petersen, Hector Petersen". That young boy on that day, yes he died, he was killed by the police. But overnight he became a hero. And you had to ask who is Hector Petersen, and Matilda who was in my company started telling me who this youngster was who was mercilessly murdered by the police who did not see.
I still believe to this day, I am still angry because I feel the Nationalist Party government did never see our children as children. Because the colour of their skin was not the colour of the skin of their children, they were not children, they were not human beings, they were children who were not given an opportunity to grow, to mature, to become adults like everybody. Sometimes I say I can forgive them to what they did to us as adults but I feel the treatment they gave our children ruined them particularly that I had worked with children in the Black community. Children that you could mould at any time. There was a time when I didn't have car, I was a social worker doing my practice in Soweto and sometimes after sunset I would be going through Orlando Station to go to my home and it would be dark and if I saw a group of young men standing there I just ordered them to take me home. They would be grousing that they should be doing something else rather than taking this old lady home, but they obeyed. Believe you me today I cannot do that, because I don't trust the very children who ought to protect me because of the handling of the government of South Africa of those days. They turned our children into animals.
are in a classroom you can almost say this one is going far and this one is a mediocre, he might if he works hard, but all those kids, with wonderful opportunities under what we knew, the education that I received called Native Education, it was an education that could give anybody an opportunity in life. It was an education that allowed my generation group and those slightly younger than me, and those older than me to become doctors, to become lawyers, to become great men, to become great teachers in their schools. That Native education made a certain community to be so angry that if we walked in the street and we spoke English and they would hit you and say "Swart Engelsman". With a stroke of a pen the Lovedales, the Hilltowns, the Kilnertons, the Amanzimtoti's Adams Colleges, the schools that made us ...(indistinct) which were run by missionaries from Europe who built them and helped us to go to school were closed overnight and our children missed the opportunity that other children enjoyed. It is not surprising that South Africa today is in utter poverty, it is there by plan of a government that professed to be Christian but that was in reality a racist government.
MS MKHIZE: Thank you very much Mamma Kuzwayo. Actually even if you see us interrupting you, it's not because it's irrelevant, but it's because we want to pick on some of the other things. We really appreciate the perspective you are giving. As I indicated when we started that much as people think June 16 has been over-publicised but there are many gaps in people's minds. You have just portrayed levels of confusion in Soweto around that day. You have referred to
the smell of blood, you have said a lot about pain and anger which you still have today. Maybe just using what you have said I will ask you this question that I suppose that if up to today you are still living with pain and anger at that time I suppose many leaders and residents of Soweto had similar feelings, I want to know whether were there any initiatives, community-based initiatives which aimed at talking to the government about what was happening? Because you have made emphasis on the drama of the day, how devastating it is, surely the question is what did the community do? Did they only talk among themselves? Did they make efforts to make sure that the government hears the impact of what they had orchestrated?
MS KUZWAYO: Sometime, I shouldn't even say sometime, because this was the way of life, even at local government level the government of South Africa at that time had structures that were still very racist in that they did not even think as they put people into this local government to make sure that these people qualified. You know the people that were given opportunities I suppose were given opportunities to be councillors because they were being paid for by the government for maybe to try and, or to be bribed, to be on the side of the government. There were, I think there was something that was called Urban Bantu Councils that were operating in Soweto at that time, which even the children of this community ridiculed as useless boy's clubs, UBC's, and these Urban Bantu Councils were extremely ineffective in whatever they were doing. And it was at that time sometime that people in Soweto, I remember somebody spoke earlier about Percy Goboza who was a journalist, a far-thinking journalist and he called a meeting that he
wanted all the people from Soweto to come to and they invited us, I don't know where they were operating at, at that time, but I think that is insignificant, we went there and we got into this meeting and he led the meeting by saying he felt that something needed to be done. He was a journalist with concern for the community, and we started deliberating into the late night about what should be done in Soweto because we realised that the Urban Bantu Councils were nothing else but twice that the South African government of those years used for their own benefit and youth.
And it was in that meeting, at the end, that about ten members of the community were elected to go and do some homework about the urban council that would be effective. The few names I remember because I'll always think of Mtata Motlana who became, he was the doctor in the community, he's been a funny doctor, a doctor, yes, with a surgery, but a doctor who has had concerns about the community he lived in. Matabata Leghou was one of them who was the principal teacher at Morris Isaacson. There were many other people. I see Thomas Manthata, he was here, he also belonged to this group where we came together, about ten of us, Fanyana Mazibuko was one of them, several people who were called upon.
And I sat with these nine men in this committee that was called a Committee of Ten where we tried to deliberate about what a local authority is about and we were given only three months, that within three months we were expected to come with an answer with what we thought should happen in Soweto. We came up with a blueprint. We worked hard to work on this blueprint that we were going to present to the
I am very grateful today to talk about some, I think there was a man called, I can't remember his name but he must have been in the Town Council of Johannesburg, a Mr Moss, I am not too sure whether I am right, I stand to be corrected, but he worked with us. We went to libraries in Soweto to try and learn more about what a local authority should be. As I say at the end of three months we presented the blueprint to say this is what we thought should happen, little realising that we were annoying the powers that be in South Africa.
On the 19th of October 1977, if I remember well, I was sleeping, in the early hours of the morning, round about three, four in the morning, I heard the hoofs in my yard. I saw the torch at my bedroom window and I knew the police had arrived, but I didn't know for what. My little boy who was about, my youngest was about 17, 18 and we were only two, my husband had died by that time, and I ran into his bedroom and said "Bobo the police are around, I am sure they will be knocking at the door soon. You get up and watch that they don't drop anything that is wrong in this house, that they are going to turn back and say they found in my house. I know you are young, but you have just got to be vigilant child and follow them where they are". And at that time they got to the door and knocked and I opened the door and they got in and they said we have a warrant to search your house. I said you are welcome to do so.
into every room I got into the bath and finally they realised I was in there and they knocked and "Gaan uit, gaan uit, gaan uit". Of course I had to "gaan uit" and walk out and get dressed. They were very impatient. They were pushing me. They were very annoyed that I even stole to go and get a wash. But I still didn't know why I was being collected. It was when they dropped me after I had got dressed that suddenly I saw the nine men that I was serving with on the Committee of Ten who were sitting there, and as they saw me they said we have been praying that they shouldn't go and collect you.
And that's how we were sent into detention for doing this gallant work of creating a local authority for our community where other countries would have given us medals for doing this, but our medals were nothing else but to go and serve in jail for doing this gallant work. Forgive me for taking your time to interpret some of these things.
MS MKHIZE: Thank you very much for that exposition. So on the basis of what you are saying community efforts or initiatives were again repressed if you say all of you who formed the Committee of Ten were then arrested, is that what you are saying?
MS MKHIZE: Then in your statement you go on to talk about other efforts like to communicate with liberation movements which were outside the country at the time like the African National Congress, can you talk to us about those endeavours?
Mr van Zyl Slabbert and a few others, I think they must have read the mood in the country that something was wrong, and they took up this mission of going outside South Africa openly and I think perhaps if they had been Black men I am sure they would have been arrested, but because they represented this community where the government was ruling the country, the Nationalist Party, and those men I want to believe, I am not sure, I could be wrong, but they must have felt that the time had come for South Africans, regardless of the colour of their skin, to talk. They left South Africa and went out. I am not too sure of the countries they went to, but I know these were the offices of the ANC that they had to go out and deliberate with them.
I don't have my papers in front of me because more often than not when I write anything on paper and I start talking about what has happened I disregard that paper and I go on and tell the people what, even if it's to give them just the feel, but I know that he went with a group of other White men to go outside South Africa to go and talk to the ANC. And I can only but imagine what must have gone through the minds of those who were in government. They must have been very angry, but the time had come when the truth had to be placed on the table where people felt we had to talk.
had led this country, the Walter Sisulu's, the Nelson Mandela's, men who today have almost captured the international world, you see it when you sit before TV when he's outside the country that everybody, even the Queen of England on the 8th of July 1996 was almost bowing down to him. The children of this country saw him and all of them, I am sure they were saying if I can only touch the hem of his jacket I will be happy. We all saw it. We are witnesses to what happened just last week when the President of this country was in Great Britain, and all these things were brought about by the men who said to hell with everything, we are going to talk to the ANC and find out what this ANC is about, what gives and what takes. The ANC which many children were killed because they were suspected to be members of this so-called notorious organisation, political organisation, but an organisation which we felt we had no choice, some of us, but to remain members even if your mouth was shut that you should not talk about it. You should in a way even turn against this organisation by not admitting that yes I am a member, and you knew in your heart of hearts that you were a member.
MS MKHIZE: I just want to thank you in a very special way for the exposure, for the trip, the painful one that you have taken the Commission through. I have one question which I will ask you and after that I will hand you over back to our Chairperson. All what you have said it communicates suffering, pain, anger, and if we are looking at other international examples, for instance taking the examples of the Jewish community and the holocaust experience we have realised that people have different ...(indistinct) and issues that they struggle with over the
years, I would ask you a question and say do you think the South African community has mourned what it went through on June 16 and many other subsequent years sufficiently? If yes or no I would ask you to just give us a perspective as to what is it that you think we should begin to embark on so as to promote healing at a deeper level? I heard that you said even if you die you will still be having some pain which indicated to me that you are showing us that many people are injured. So I just want your perspective in terms of healing and national reconciliation as to what steps need to be taken.
MS KUZWAYO: Yes perhaps I do and if I don't please stop me immediately and say maybe you didn't hear me. I must say I was particularly happy that in my travels, particularly after writing my first book "Call me Woman", it gave me an opportunity to leave the country, because for a long time the government of South Africa had refused us and sometimes even taken our passports to move out of this country and somehow I managed you know even to express this in writing and I sent the book out and moved it underground to see that it goes outside because it would not be published if I did not do so. But this gave me an opportunity to go outside.
You talk about the Jewish people, what one saw, what they suffered, as well as the Black people in America, when one saw all these things indeed it was a consolation to know that we were not the only people who suffered, and yet at the same time your own suffering is your own suffering, you begin to monitor it. I think what really hurt me and still hurts me to this day is what happened to the young people in the Black community. Maybe if all children in this country had suffered that I wouldn't feel so hurt. But I cannot get
over the fact that the National Party, in particular, singled out children, changed their education, and gave them an inferior education so that those children could be children who were going to remain the slaves of White people in South Africa.
And today it's very difficult, we talk about violence in this country and violence that is carried out by young people in this country. They get you out of your car, or they see your car standing somewhere they come and take it away. And these kids have been changed into murderers. And I want to believe that if Native Education had not been changed the situation would be different in South Africa today. Now it gives an impression that Black children are thieves, murderers, they are everything else that is not good.
Whilst I do realise there was this racism in other countries because this was happening to White people promoted by White people it did not give the sense of racism. But South Africa up to the 27th of April 1994 I want to believe that unlike other countries it was promoted as a racist country. Other things that happened in other countries there was no racism.
I hope I have answered the question Commissioner that you brought forward. If I did not forgive me, maybe I am clouded in my own mind about the abuse of Black children in South Africa by the racist government of the Nationalist Party.
things that you have said. You have talked about leaving the teaching profession because you said that you were teaching children poisonous things, what exactly do you mean by that? And what was the difference between education under Native Education and Bantu Education please?
MS KUZWAYO: The very fact Madam Commissioner that the institutions, the educational institutions that served Black people, first they were not established by, not even by the United Party. The United Party as well as the Nationalist Party maybe they, particularly the Nationalist Party government, they never even helped to promote the Native Education that up to that time was serving the Black communities. It was that Native Education that promoted all the educational institutions that were established by missionaries from outside the country. They made sure that these institutions, educational institutions went on and they helped to make sure that the teachers were paid salaries. They were able to make sure that the children that went to those schools were educated.
To the contrary the Nationalist Party closed those institutions, closed the Lovedales, the Hilltowns, the Adams Colleges. The ones that survived were those that were run maybe because they had some money by the Marionhills which were run by Catholic schools and also perhaps the Anglican schools which maybe the countries from which they came still promoted and tried to pay the teachers that were in these schools. There was a vast difference between Bantu Education SOWETO HEARING TRC/GAUTENG
and Native Education. Native Education is what produced the Motlana's of this country, the doctors, the lawyers, the educationists. But to the contrary the Native Education - I am a little diabetic, or a lot diabetic, I'd like to get some sugar water just to drink it and this will help me to go on. I don't want anybody to sympathise with me. It is because it is a condition that I need to look after. I have sweets here and I knew with this strain I would have - and don't feel guilty about it, I don't want Commissioners in front there to feel that they have put me under. I live with it.
MS KUZWAYO: I want to say in no uncertain terms that there is a completely great difference between Bantu Education and Native Education. Native Education is the education that went on in those institutions that were put up by missionaries from the international world to promote the
education of Black people in this country. And it is this education that was so very different from Bantu Education. I want to say in no uncertain terms there is a major difference between the Bantu Education which was introduced to promote slavery or semi-slavery for those who received it, as against the Native Education that produced, made Black people to be able to stand their own, even at international level it is the education that my children said to me Mummy you got this education but what is going to happen to us with Bantu Education. Thank God that some of us still managed to help our children to go on to become somebody's. In certain communities, certain families in the Black communities managed to make sure that their children get the education by even sending them to schools that were able to produce children who became some people. They sent some of the children out to Lesotho. Some of these families sent their children out to Swaziland and paid a little more to make sure that their children were able to become something, not the products of Bantu Education. Bantu Education is a curse. It was a curse in the Black community. And we hope that some day the National Party will apologise because it is the Bantu Education that produced the children that have promoted violence in this country, because they rejected that and nobody listened to them when they said this education is not education, it is a curse in the community.
The very fact that Bantu Education was never equalled in the White community with something that would have probably been called Boer Education. They gave us Bantu Education, but never equalled that with Boer Education.
very, very grateful to you for coming to share your own experiences with us. I think you sight a problem which is going to remain with South Africa for a very, very long time to come. Thank you for sharing that.