Human Rights Violation Hearing

Starting Date 04 June 1997
Day 1
Case Number JB3863
Original File

CHAIRPERSON: May I ask that Mrs Liberty come to the stage, please?

Mrs Liberty, welcome. You heard me earlier. We have studied the documents that you've made available to us. But we would like to hear in your own words your story.

I will ask Mrs Sooka to administer the oath and then Dr Ally will you assist you in leading your evidence to us.

Thank you for the moment.

MS SOOKA: Thank you. Mrs Liberty, will you stand, please, so I can ask you to take the oath.

FLORENCE B LIBERTY: (Duly sworn in, states).

MS SOOKA: Thank you, you may be seated.

DR ALLY: Good afternoon to you, Mrs Liberty. I had the pleasure of being introduced to you during the lunch break. I hope you feel welcome.

We're very pleased that you have come to the Commission and we know that you're going to speak about something that is obviously very painful; the killing of your husband, Eric Robert Liberty; an incident which took place in December of 1989.

I'm going to ask you if you would just please go through what happened and also if you can tell us something about Eric, because I see that in the statement, in the time of his funeral, there was a bit about his history and his background.

So we appreciate hearing from you, thank you.

MRS LIBERTY: It all started in 1987 when Eric became involved in community work. His community work started in church, being a devoted Christian, he chaired the parish council of St. Martin Depores.

Through this he became very much aware of the sufferings of people, people living in poverty, people being homeless and children digging in bins for food. That touched Eric a lot and that made him very much active in the community.

He started by chairing the Justice and Peace Committee of Witbank and then from there the problems started, because being active in the Justice and Peace Committee he had to go to the council to complain about people that are living in very bad conditions and children that are not having food and the people that are squatering in very bad conditions.

From there, he started getting lots of phone calls, threatening phone calls, threatening letters and pamphlets, because of his being so active.

Wherever we went, we were never private. Wherever we went, we were followed. And we would always notice that there was one or two cars that are following us.

Our telephone was bugged. We couldn't be private on our telephone. And we - the house we were knocked up any time of the night by the police, searching the house. I couldn't understand what they were looking for, because, to my knowledge, Eric was doing a good job; working for the community.

It went further when Eric joined more and more action committees and he became a very active member of the ANC. At night, midnight, two o'clock, early morning hours, taps would be open in the yard.

I used to go out, because I realised that the person - maybe they're trying to get Eric out of the house. I would go out to close the tap and then at the stage teargas would be thrown into the yard or thrown into the house.

Afterwards he was being detained; he was detained for more than four times; the longest period for about a month or more, he was detained. Whilst he was detained, I was also detained for a few hours, because I was questioned.

I had to tell the police what was Eric's involvement. They wanted me to tell them at what time and where he would have meetings. The words of this man - has was at the security branch - I remember his surname was Mr Etsebet.

He said to me, I must just tell him, what time will Eric go to a meeting and where. He said to me, Eric said you have lots of financial problems. I can help you, he said to me. He said to me in Afrikaans, he said, "die een hand was die ander hand."

I said to him, you want me to take money from you. You want me to sell my own husband, my own people. I said to him, my husband does not tell me where he goes and what he does. All I know, my husband is doing a good job. He's working for the community.

I wasn't, I didn't sleep until that night. I was really tired after a few hours. I went home.

Afterwards Eric arranged, because we had lots of crime in Schoongesigt, I was living a Witbank at that time; he arranged for a gathering for gangsters to have them, instead of being in gangsterism works, to be more involved in a democratic movement and work to do better things than being gangsters.

That day was a very bad day. Instead of having a peace rally that day, it was more like a war, because before he could actually start with what he really wanted to do, the police were all there. Lots of police, lots of vans. We were surrounded.

Eric was grabbed in front of all those people. He was beaten and he was thrown into a van. He was carried by about ten policemen.

My daughter, who was 11 years at that time, was there and my sister in law, sitting in the audience, she also witnessed that it was a terrible experience for my daughter. Because, as they threw him into the van, all ten of them at that time, shot teargas into the van where he was already pushed in.

My daughter was in a state, because she thought that he was killed, she thought that they shot him. I had to console and tell her, no he wasn't shot, it was teargas.

And then he was locked up for holding an illegal gathering. Whilst he was in detention, they wouldn't let Eric be detained with the other comrades. He had to be alone in a cell. And Eric was fighting for that, because he wanted to be with the others. They said to him, you're not supposed to be with the others. You're not one of them.

Because of that, Eric went on a hunger strike. He was on hunger strike for about more than three weeks and because of that then they had him locked with the other fellow comrades.

He was then released and he came home. Repeatedly we were so harassed, phone calls. In front of my house there was an electric box. The following morning when we woke up, there would be printings of him and so on.

What I noticed; Eric's name was spelled with a C. And all the threatening letters and the pamphlets and things written on the side of the electric box; it was spelled with a K. Eric was a K. And I noticed that it was only the police.

When we went to the police station, or whatever thing where the police were involved, they would spell his name the way it was spelled on the papers and threatening letters that we used to get. Whilst Eric's name, we spell it with a C.

He was then detained again. That time he was from work. They stopped him in the street in front of the house. They didn't give him a chance to come in the house. He had to get out of the car and get into a Kombi. It was a red Kombi. It was the security branch people and they took him.

Fortunately, around there was a little boy, one of my relatives. He gave the car keys and said to him and said he must go call my sister to tell her to come and lock up and so on.

He was then detained for another few weeks. On, after being released, he came home. I had a householder who stayed with him, because in 1989 I went to college to further my studies.

One night, the police or the security branch came home; about midnight, according to what the household told me. I wasn't there at the time. She phoned me to tell me that I must come home, because Eric's life was really in danger.

That night, she said, she was awakened by a lot of noise in the house. It was midnight, maybe early hours, I don't know. When she got out of her room, because she was living in the house, she, in the passage, she found Eric on his knees with quite a few, a lot of policemen.

One had the gun on Eric's head and he was on his knees. They were shocked to see her, because I think they thought Eric was alone at home. They were much aware that I was at college at that time.

They shouted and asked her, what are you doing here. She looked at Eric and she says, she said to them, no, I live here.

And they just fled of. They didn't talk and they just left and left Eric there. And okay, Eric got up and went back to bed.

The following - after that he was detained again. August, he was detained August in 1989. The 14th of September he was released. And at that day when he was released, he tried to contact to me as I was at college at that time.

He had problems contacting me and problems getting hold of his car, because his brother had his car that time. So at home, the police said to him, phone your wife and tell her what time are you going to see her.

And they were sitting there. And Eric made a call to me whilst they were sitting there. According to him he said to me, they said to him, tell her what time are you coming to fetch her, are you going to fetch her.

He told me that he can't come tonight as it was late already. I'll come tomorrow morning. He gave me the time. He would leave at about between four and five.

The next morning, Eric was on his way to Johannesburg to come and see me after being released. He was then followed again by these two cars. He said it was two cars. Near Springs on the highway, they pushed Eric off the road, forced him off the road. The car overturned and maybe they thought Eric was dead, because the car was a write-off.

Fortunately he didn't die. A person travelling from Swaziland stopped and he helped Eric. But Eric was too scared to go to hospital. He insisted they take him to my sister who was living in Boksburg.

So this person took Eric to Boksburg. And from Boksburg from my sister phoned me and told me that I must come immediately to Boksburg; Eric was in a car accident.

I went to Boksburg, saw Eric. He had a - not a fracture, but in any way, his neck was seriously injured and his arm was also injured. And we took him to Hillbrow Hospital where he was operated, because some of his veins was not active, blood wasn't flowing through his veins.

So he underwent an operation. I went back to college at that time. What I didn't say; every time Eric was detained, it was the same Kombi of the security branch that fetched him. So it was the same people all the time.

From there, after Eric got better, he came home. The year was over and I also went home for the holiday. Three weeks before Eric was killed, a friend of us and another guy that I'm not so sure, I don't know, I think it's Samuel Solly, I don't know, came there with a car and they asked Eric to fix the car, because they were going to Swaziland for the weekend.

But that night we were invited for supper. So I said no, Eric can't work on the car. We are invited. We're going out. Then we left that night. He didn't work on the car.

They said they were in a hurry, they were going to Swaziland. But Eric didn't work on the car. And so he didn't work on the - so we went out and then three weeks after it was Christmas Eve, the 23rd in fact of Christmas.

The same people with the same car, came again. They wanted Eric to work on the car to fix the car. I actually asked the guy, I said, but three weeks ago you were here. You said you needed the car, because you were going to Swaziland. Now this car is still not fixed, but you were going to Swaziland?

No, they wanted Eric to work on the car? Anyway, Eric worked on the car. He fixed the car and at about ten to eleven that night, Eric said to me they're just going for a ride. They're going to test the car.

I didn't want him to go. I said, no it's too late. Tomorrow we have to be god-parents at church for a relative. No, he says, we're just going to test the car, we'll be back just now.

They left. It was hardly an hour. And the young comrades came to tell me that Eric was stabbed. I ran up, the boys literally carried me, because I couldn't move. When I got to the shop, there was no sign of Eric.

What I didn't say; in the letters which we used to get they used to say that they're going to kill Eric, we're going to rip your heart out of your body.

And that night, Eric's whole chest was opened. His ribs was standing out. His lungs were on his chest and his heart was (... indistinct).

I looked and I saw, my God, and I remembered the letter said; we are going to rip your heart out of your chest.

The following day, I went to the police station, to the state mortuary at the police station. I went there and the policemen looked at me and they asked me what I was - I said to them, no, I'm here to identify the corpse of Eric Liberty.

And the one policeman was very cold and very cruel. He said to one of his colleagues, " Oh, ons het hom! Mandela se seun is mos dood."

In front of me it was very cruel, it was very painful. Never the less, we went in and when they opened, Eric wasn't clothed, he was just in the drawer and I saw again.

And then he came up again, his heart was now, at that time, really out and it was put right on top of his chest.

We went home. Eric was killed. We are suffering emotionally. My children are growing without a father. It's very painful to realise the way he was threatened, the way they said he was going to be killed; and later it was done.

And the boy that actually did the killing, his father is a policeman. The killing happened right in front of his house and the witness that saw the killing, ran in to call the father of this boy that was killing Eric.

He closed the door, according to what the witness says to me. He said to me, don't involve yourself in matters. And he didn't want this boy to go out to this boy. He said, he pushed him and he ran out.

And what's more scaring to me is the witnesses are all dying one by one in unnatural causes. The witness that saw the actual killing, died in a car accident, just the following year.

Afterwards the killer, Godphrey, also got shot. And now the owner of the car, who came with the car, also died, also died in a car accident.

And what I noticed of this car one day when I was driving from town, I saw the same car and I thought, but this is the car that Eric was fixing. And I looked and I noticed that the driver was a policeman that was driving the car.

Now those are all the things that are bothering me, they're worrying me, because the witnesses are dying and now here is the car and it's a policeman driving the car.

I didn't stop the car. I didn't talk to the policeman. So I don't know who it really is.

DR ALLY: Thank you very much for that, Florence. I see your other name is also, is Pam? Pamela.


DR ALLY: Because I see on the funeral they speak about Eric survived by his wife, Pamela and children and I see that is the other name that you use.

Florence, are you okay to answer some questions? Or would you prefer to just take a little bit of a break? Or can I continue?

MRS LIBERTY: I don't have any other answers. I'm just concerned about why, since Godphrey killed my husband, every time we had to appear in court, they said he was mentally sick.

I know Godphrey; he was one of my pupils at school. He never had a mental problem. But since he killed my husband, every time we had to go to court, they said he was mentally ill. And that ... (intervention).

DR ALLY: And Godphrey was one of the people who came that night, who asked your husband to ... (intervention).

MRS LIBERTY: No, he wasn't with. When they ... (intervention).

DR ALLY: He wasn't with?

MRS LIBERTY: When they went to test ride the car, for some reason, they stopped at the cafe, where Godphrey was there and according to the witness he asked Eric, or I don't know, something was happening there.

So Eric had to take him home with the car and then Eric went with the witness who saw the actual killing.

DR ALLY: That's Stefaans Jurgen?

MRS LIBERTY: Stefaans Jurgen.

DR ALLY: Who is dead? He died in a motor car accident?

MRS LIBERTY: He died in a car accident, yes.

DR ALLY: And Godphrey Mkweno, who was actually charged for the murder, he was later himself shot?


DR ALLY: How as he shot actually?

MRS LIBERTY: I don't know. It happened in Witbank.

After the murder, after my husband's death I moved back home to Middelburg. I just heard that he was shot dead.

DR ALLY: And the three people who were - there were three people that night who came to ask your husband to work on the car?


DR ALLY: And of those three people, you say, that two have - who were those three people?

MRS LIBERTY: The one is a friend, Victor Kirk. He's one of our family friends.


MRS LIBERTY: And the other one is, whom I thought, is the owner of the car, who died in the car accident. I don't know whether it's Samuel or whether it's Solly. I can't remember.

DR ALLY: But Victor is still ... (intervention).

MRS LIBERTY: Victor is still alive.

DR ALLY: And what did he say about this car and the owner of this car, because you said you saw this car subsequently being driven by a policeman?

MRS LIBERTY: A policeman, yes. And none of them ever came back to me. I did send messages that they must please come and tell me and explain what had happened to my husband.

DR ALLY: And he was a friend of your husband, Victor, or a family ... (intervention).

MRS LIBERTY: He was a friend.

DR ALLY: You know, one of the - something that you mentioned in your statement and; I mean this is not to take away from the pain or anything about your husband's political activities, but you did say that he was trying, before he died, to bring gangs together?


DR ALLY: These were criminal gangs?


DR ALLY: Is there any possibility that he may have made enemies of any one of these gangs by this attempt to try and bring these people together; to try and talk peace?

MRS LIBERTY: I don't know. Not that I know of.

DR ALLY: He was never ever threatened ... (intervention).

MRS LIBERTY: It was the same guy that actually killed him; just a few days before he was killed, we passed him and he greeted us.

DR ALLY: Godphrey?


DR ALLY: Was he, was he involved in any of these gangs. Do you know?

MRS LIBERTY: He was one of the gangsters, yes.

DR ALLY: And his father was a policeman?

MRS LIBERTY: His father is a policeman.

DR ALLY: So there's - just a little bit about these gangs. Can you just tell us about these gangs, because one of the, one of the things that's becoming clearer and clearer to us, in many hearings in many different parts of the country, is the way in which gangs, which start out as criminal gangs, get caught up in the political conflicts.

In Ermelo we saw that there was a gang which was called the Black Cats and later got involved in the political conflict taking place there between UDF or ANC and the Inkata Freedom Party.

These gangs that your husband was trying to bring together to talk peace, were they linked in any way to any of the political struggles, battles that were taking place, siding with any political organisation or grouping?

MRS LIBERTY: No, I don't think so. What he did, that's why he was trying to encourage them to be more involved in working for the community.


MRS LIBERTY: Well, it didn't happen that day, because before he could do anything, he was locked up.

DR ALLY: And Godphrey - do you know the names of these gangs? Can you remember what they were called?

MRS LIBERTY: The one they called the Bad Boys. The other one, I don't know.

DR ALLY: And Godphrey was a known member of one of these ... (intervention).

MRS LIBERTY: One of them, yes.

DR ALLY: But he was also know to the family. You said that you actually had taught him and that you obviously, your husband obviously knew him well enough for your husband to agree to actually drive him to his house?

MRS LIBERTY: Yes, he knew him very well.

DR ALLY: And then in front of Godphrey's house, this is ... (intervention).

MRS LIBERTY: It happened in front of, yes, his father's houses.

DR ALLY: In front of his father's house?


DR ALLY: Did the police, did they go any further beyond, because Godphrey was charged for this murder?


DR ALLY: Did they go with any other investigations or was it just Godphrey who was going to be tried for the murder of your husband?

MRS LIBERTY: It sounded to me if it was just Godphrey. I don't think they went any further. They never came back to me. I never heard anything. Every time I just find out that the court is, there's going to be a hearing. I would go.


MRS LIBERTY: Then they would say, no, the case wasn't ... (intervention).

DR ALLY: Wasn't going to be heard that day?

MRS LIBERTY: Yes, because Godphrey is mentally ill. He would be in Weskoppies for two to three weeks and he'd be back home again.

DR ALLY: Is Weskoppies an institution for mentally for ... (intervention).

MRS LIBERTY: It is a mental institution, yes. And then he would, after a while when he is back home again, he's okay. And every time again for the trial then, they say he's sick.

DR ALLY: And did you have a lawyer representing you?

MRS LIBERTY: Yes, immediately after the killing, I went with Stefaans Jurgens to Nelspruit to Mr Mosjapelo, a lawyer.

Godphrey gave a statement there. Oh, not Godphrey, Stefaans Jurgens gave his statement there. But nothing happened.

DR ALLY: And the lawyer didn't ... (intervention).

MRS LIBERTY: No, he came once, but I was too emotional. So he just went back again and I never saw him again.

DR ALLY: And the funeral, was it a - were you supported in the funeral? Did the comrades come and was there ... (intervention).

MRS LIBERTY: Yes, they did.

DR ALLY: Because of his, Godphrey's activities, political activities and work within the community ... (intervention).


DR ALLY: Eric's, I'm sorry.

MRS LIBERTY: Yes. The ANC actually arranged the whole funeral.


MRS LIBERTY: They made all the arrangements.

DR ALLY: Thank you very much. I'll give you back to the Chairperson.


MS SOOKA: You know, I'm just wondering this - do you think this, his killing was related to his trying to bring the gangs together?


MS SOOKA: Do you think that he was possibly, that possibly the reason he may have been killed, is because he tried to bring the gangs together rather than it being political? I just wonder?

MRS LIBERTY: No, I don't think so much it's because of bringing the gangs together. Because of all the threatenings and the phone calls and the harassment of the police, following us on the road, pushing him off the road, it wasn't the gangsters.

MS SOOKA: Do you think the gang was just used?

MRS LIBERTY: That's what I think. I think they were used.

MS SOOKA: So every time you went to court, you say that Godphrey would then - the people would say he was not fit to stand trial?


MS SOOKA: So the matter would then be postponed again?


MS SOOKA: And at what stage, how long after the matter started, did the proceedings sort of die out completely?

MRS LIBERTY: I don't know. Maybe two, three years after the killing.

MS SOOKA: And since then, nothing?

MRS LIBERTY: Since then nothing, yes.

MS SOOKA: Did you try to make enquiries of your own?

MRS LIBERTY: I did went once.


MRS LIBERTY: And they just told me that Godphrey was not fit.

MS SOOKA: And were you ever called when the magistrate said that this man is not fit to stand trial?


MS SOOKA: And so he can't bring proceedings against him?

MRS LIBERTY: No, before I could actually enter, I was just at the door to find out in which court or what; they would tell me, no, Godphrey is sent back, because there won't be a trial.

MS SOOKA: And you actually suspect that the police were behind his killing?


MS SOOKA: I see.

MRS LIBERTY: I suspect that, in fact, he was also pretending to be mentally ill. He wasn't mentally ill.


MRS LIBERTY: Perhaps he was told to act like that, because when I saw him in the community, in Schoongesigt, he was well.

MS SOOKA: Is he - you did mention that some of the witnesses have died in mysterious circumstances?


MS SOOKA: Now you mention that Godphrey himself is dead?


MS SOOKA: How was he killed? Was this in a gang war fare or ... (intervention).

MRS LIBERTY: I just know that he was shot.


MRS LIBERTY: I don't think it was in a gang war.

MS SOOKA: I see. Thank you.

CHAIRPERSON: Prof Meiring?

PROF MEIRING: Mrs Liberty, just a few questions. I'm sitting here listening it happened over a long period of time that you were harassed and threatened and then eventually eight years ago your husband was killed so cruelly. How did you and your family cope with what happened to you?

MRS LIBERTY: After Eric was killed, I went back to college again, because I wanted to complete my course. The family were the only people that were helping me.

PROF MEIRING: How many children do you have?

MRS LIBERTY: I have two children.

PROF MEIRING: One is called Liezel?

MRS LIBERTY: One is called Liezel.

PROF MEIRING: And the other one?

MRS LIBERTY: Allistair.

PROF MEIRING: Allistair. Liezel was the daughter that saw her father was being humiliated and threatened in the house that day?


PROF MEIRING: Did she receive treatment afterwards? You say that she was very, very anxious about what happened and she felt very bad.


PROF MEIRING: Were you able to provide psychiatric help for her or counselling for her?

MRS LIBERTY: The counselling we got after he was killed.

PROF MEIRING: So the family, all of you, did receive counselling?


PROF MEIRING: Did the whole family receive counselling after this thing happened?

MRS LIBERTY: Myself and the children, yes.

PROF MEIRING: That's good.

MRS LIBERTY: For a few times, but until now my son, last year he had to get again some treatment. Because up till now he can't really get to terms with it. He becomes very angry and very aggressive when he talks about his father.

PROF MEIRING: I can imagine that. Thank you very much.

CHAIRPERSON: Mrs Liberty, you say you taught Godphrey. What was his age at the time of your husband's death, more or less?

MRS LIBERTY: Eighteen, 19.

CHAIRPERSON: Eighty nine was the date of ... (intervention).

MRS LIBERTY: Eighteen or 19.

CHAIRPERSON: Eighteen or 19. So he was a youngster?


CHAIRPERSON: Mrs Liberty, thank you very much. I, in reading through the documents, also read through the funeral programme, the obituary.

Were the pain that people appearing before us experienced - sometimes I get the impression that people are able to accept and live with it. Other times it's clearly impossible to work through it.

Not having experienced similar pain, I don't know how I will handle it. And I think one never knows, until it happens. But again, referring to the obituary and the funeral programme, to the extend that, as a believer of one's beliefs in immortality, or to the extend that one may not believe in immortality, the memory of an individual is at least some resemblance of immortality.

And I think that is saying it to you, in terms of his activities through his lifetime. And I think to all of us. He will certainly be remembered and to that extend always be present.

Thank you for having come to us. Thank you for having shared with us. We'll see to what extend we can follow up. You will appreciate that as difficult as it was for you, it will be almost as difficult for us.

But whatever we can do, we will try to do and we will in due course report to you. Thanks again for having come to us.

Ladies and gentlemen, just before I ask Mrs Sooka to extend a few thanks to various people here, may I just explain a little?

I think it's important that when we receive the statements, we select some of them for public hearing on the basis of their being representative. We try to do preliminary investigative work to see what more information we can gather.

We take all the information from the statement, we analyze it, we process it and we put it in electronic medium onto computers where we can take it off from again. All our statements we've treated in exactly the same way.

We, in the end, through a long process where we also corroborate the information, because we don't simply accept anything that comes before us. We establish the voracity, at least on the balance of probabilities and then we make our decisions in the Human Rights Violations Committee as to whether a Human Rights Violation did take place or not.

If such a violation did take place, then clearly we also take it further to establish which persons, individuals, would have been victims, in our opinion, of the violation.

Those names then are sent forward to the Reparations and Rehabilitation Committee for them to deal with. But before we take it there and before we get to any final decision; wherever any perpetrator was implicated in the statement that we received, we send a notice to those perpetrators, if a finding could reflect negatively on them, so that they also have an opportunity to add to our information base, to disclaim or to put us their side of the story to the extend if they are implicated.

But our focus remains on the victims. And the whole process, also of the Reparation and Rehabilitation Committee, is a process that focuses on victims. We do not administer any reparation. We only peruse all the information.

That's really the Committee of which Prof Meiring is also a member, representing them here at this hearing today. And they look at each individual case. Then they establish a policy and criteria which the whole Commission has to adopt and we are presently working on this. We've already done an enormous lot of work on this.

Eventually our recommendations go to the State President through Parliament, through Select Committee processes and whatever our recommendations and criteria are, they need to accept or reject, or amend.

Eventually Government and Parliament accepts the responsibility and they deal with the programme of Reparations.

The other side of the activity comes through the process of ... (end of tape)