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Human Rights Violation Hearings
Type SUBMISSION, QUESTION AND ANSWERS, CHRIS BATEMAN
Starting Date 27 November 1996
Location GUGULETU 7 POLLSMOOR
You have handed us a written statement as well. We have been hearing the stories of the mothers of the seven young men who were killed - some of the mothers of the seven young men. We have heard the witnesses to this incident. And I wonder whether you would like to tell us your experience - what happened and what you can recall from the incident that happened 3rd of March 1986.
Sure I was the Cape Times crime reporter at the time and arrived on March the 3rd arrived at the Thomas Boydell Police headquarters, for the daily 9 am crime conference. The briefing room was deserted, there was nobody there. And I concluded that either they had a quick conference or something major had happened. The latter was the case, I soon discovered, so I went out to where I discovered the incident had happened, to Guguletu, outside the Dairy Belle hostel.
And there I found a cordoned off scene with a Casspir in the middle. I think the police had roped it off, whatever it was, it was a cordoned off scene and the crowd had gathered around. I am uncertain as to whether there was still bodies on the road - in the course of my reporting duties we have seen lots of bodies - I cannot remember. I seem to remember the in fact they were cleaning up the blood on the road at the time I arrived.
I saw, I found Lieutenant Attie Loubser, who was the Police liaison officer at the time on the scene and went up to him and said - Attie what happened? And he said, sorry, you going to have to talk to Pretoria on this one. So I said, come on, it is a local event. And he was adamant that we would have to d to get our information from Pretoria which is partly what subsequently happened.
The police lifted the cordon and we were kept back. They lifted the cordon and they withdrew. The crowd was fairly hostile, but peaceful and I looked around and the most obvious place to find eyewitnesses seemed to be in the Dairy Belle hostel, because it was over looking the actual scene, so I went in. I was reminded when, in spite I was testifying now, that in fact, I did speak to the security guy first who pointed me to where I subsequently - I think I first I found Bowers Mazonke, who isnít here today. And he gave me a version of events, about a shoot-out between the police and a group of men.
And then I went upstairs, as I remember, and in one of the dormitories - and it was a while back, you have to forgive me for perhaps being imprecise. I think it was Cecil Mthutu who I saw first and he described the tail end of the shoot out, in which opposite the dormitory we were in, under a gum tree, police had walked up to a guy - to one of the people they had shot and had in fact fired a bullet into him. While he was per strayed on the ground.
Then there was a separate incident and as I remember, this was General Sibaca who told me this - that there was a guy who either came out from the bushes or was near the bushes at another spot on the other side of the road - as I remember. And police had walked up to him, confronted him, again I was reminded about the kneeing and the belly and the kicking beforehand. I had in fact forgotten that detail.
And the policeman opposite them, sort of turned around and looked for some kind of confirmation which he got from a - I imagine a senior officer. This is Generalís relation of events to me and he turned back around and then shot this guy at virtual point blank range.
I was struck by the similarity of the versions between Bowers Mazonke who spoke about the gum tree incident and Cecil Mthutu and General Sibaca. And I remember saying to them, I spoke in Xhosa to them, or Xhosa/Zulu. I can speak first language Zulu, that this is quite a serious offense. You realize what you are saying? What you are saying has great implications and they were adamant that in fact that is what has happened.
So, I went back to the office, subsequently found out that the policeman who were involved in the shooting were available and at, because we were getting nothing from Pretoria of any precision or any detail. Bishop Lavis police station - as I remember, we went to a police station, it may well have been Bishop Lavis. Where I in fact interviewed the policeman who were involved in the actual shoot out. And they gave me their version of events.
The editor that night at conference, questioned me quite closely. It was Tony Heard and decided that we would run with the stories. And we ran - as I remember across the strap - the top of the front page was - man with hands in air shot gun down - words of that affect. And then the body of the paper - the lead story was in fact the version as was given by the policeman involved in the story.
A couple of days later a general, not a general, he was a Major Mostert - whom I knew from my crime reporting duties came into the newsroom and put an affidavit of sorts in front of me and I think a similar one to Tony Weaver, my colleague. It said in a very sort of [indistinct] fashion - Chris, just sign this and this will be all over and it will be sorted out and I politely declined.
And we - and we then got our lawyers involved. And what followed was a - what I didnít realize - the police had already got to Sibaca at that stage and we then - with the help of the late Tian van der Merwe, who was an MP - tracked down an advocate. The three witnesses to give an affidavit to back up - I had not in fact got an affidavit and you know - from reporting from then on - we kind of got affidavits from the spot.
But in this case we got them after the event. And then, the next thing that happened was - the police served a Section 205 subpoena on myself and Tony, if I remember correctly and then charged Tony who - I donít want to duplicate the testimony, but he was then charged under the Police Act for reporting my story to the BBC, I think it was Africa service.
That is about as much as I can - ja - I just want to add - oh! then there was - oh! then I was banned from crime conference. The police wouldnít talk to me, I was no longer a crime reporter in their eyes. And they - I remember it became a press issue, because they said that journalist had to have special police accreditation at that time to be a crime reporter. And we took up the [indistinct] on that one.
They - and the Cape - all Cape Times reporters, as best memory served, refused to have that special police accreditation. It was a bona contention of journalistic circles at the time. Then, they banned all the Cape Times reporters from talking to the police. They put a blank ban on the entire Cape Times. I canít remember how long that stayed in place, because we went to Newspaper Press Union. Questions were raised in Parliament and eventually Louis Le Grange lifted it.
Ja, that - basically after reporting the story, I effectively couldnít operate as a crime reporter anymore. I could have, but that - you know the daily crime conference was one of the main sources of daily news and if you wanted to be a competitive crime reporting newspaper, that was an important source of stories.
And just a footnote would be - I was taken aback at the [indistinct] that my story caused, because I saw it as a straight reporting job and which I got both sides of the story. And I think it was the context in which it took place that turned it into something way out of proportion to the fairly simple task I have performed, and that - ja.
Mr Bateman, we are going to have to just go back a little bit and try and get some clarity to help us - in a sense we get to reconstruct this scenario. You were actually physically in the hostel, you went up stairs - you know exactly where this hostel is.
Ja from the aerial photographs you have before you - are you able to place on that map where those hostels are located? Yes the bushes - the bushes are on top. NY1 is running down the page - on my right hand side of the page, so itís on the left...[intervention]
You - you began to tell us a little bit about the fact this incident created quite a [indistinct] there in the press circles and so on. Why do you think that you were banned from coming to the press conferences, the court team - what happened?
I think the straight - I think the straight truth is - is that I was considered as a security risk. I had been fine up and until then, but this - the way that I had it, was that from - from this moment on I was then considered a serious security risk. That was my impression, itís my belief.
Thanks Chairperson. Thank you sir for coming here. When we first started, before we had our first hearings in Cape Town - you assisted us to a very great extent. The documentation that you have collection of clippings, the collages - you have made over the years, your testimonies, and that was a great help for us, because often people donít know about it - or didnít know at the time about the work that we are doing and we had to use a lot of the material that you gave us, to be led - to lead ourselves to people who were involved at the time and thank you very much for your assistance - for that .
And further than that, to perhaps ask you - a question that is not very related to the facts as such. That what does it take a person like yourself - the nature of our history in this country - is that of racism. And that often there is no relationship between black and white people.
You were a journalist - you were writing on a story and I do not believe that, that was purely professional interest. I know that you went to the funeral and that you in fact spend a night in Gugs. And I just want you to share with us - what is it about you - about you - you are a white person - you did not only report on the story - something that happened in a black township. Your life was in danger, you went there. You spent hours there with people.
What is it that drives you to relate to people at that level? And drives you to be so concerned about a tragedy that happened in a totally different area? I mean, divided totally from your own existence. Not only in terms of the geographic boundaries, but just also in terms of what apartheid things stood for? Why is it that you do share at that level?
I think, the short answer is an accident of birth. I grew up in a trading store in Kwa-Zulu Natal. And my early playmates were Zulu children, and it was ja - it was something I was, I am very grateful for and that I am able to relate on a level which a lot of white South Africans are not.
And just a word about the TRC was - is that - this is the first hearing I have attended and I was struck at the strength of my emotions and listening to the mothers testify. And I just have a belief that if the people in Constantia were to really listen to that, that it would add an enormous amount to the reconciliation of our country.
Thank you and I think you have tasked in a fundamentally - at least what I consider to be a fundamental aspects of race relations in this country - that if you donít know people, I mean if you donít know them as people - then there is a difficulty in relating to them as such.
I have a - my memory is several hours later. I canít remember - I seem to remember we went back to the office first. And then telephonically established where the policeman that were involved were. And went out but I - my best memory is - it was several hours later.
And what was the impression that you formed about the version of the police and the version that you had heard from the persons that you spoke to in Guguletu. Did it strike you then that there - there was a mutually destructive element about the - these two versions?
Thank you, we - we want to pay a very warm tribute to yourself as an individual person, but also maybe more generally [indistinct] tribute to those of your colleagues in the media - who were amongst the only people who were able to tell our story.
We - we are constantly be saying to people that in - being engaged in the struggle, it was important for us to be able to tell South Africa - but especially to tell the world our story. And we are enormously grateful that there were people like yourselves who did do that and when people did hear our story, indeed - what it was about - the world supported us. And today South Africa is free and I said in one other occasion, that the media - to some extent can be looked upon as having been the midwives to the process.
And we - I mean we clobber you now and again when you are nasty to us and you donít tell nice stories about us. You tell - you tell people about our cars and things like that and we get a little annoyed. But seriously - we do want to take our hats off to you. In that you - many people actually, in other parts of the world perhaps arenít aware of how dangerous it was to tell the truth.
That it was a very great cause and we are enormously grateful to you and I see to Tony Heard - maybe stand and let us salute you as well. You were editor of this newspaper at the time and you got into trouble. We are very grateful and we salute you as well. Thank you very much.