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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 71

Paragraph Numbers 129 to 141

Volume 3

Chapter 2

Subsection 14

MK actions and state response

129 From the mid-1970s, there were a number of trials of people who had undergone military training, and in many cases detainees were interrogated and tortured before being brought to trial. In most instances, the suspects had not been involved in any operations, and often had not yet left the country for military training, but were merely planning to do so. One of those cases involved Mr Sipho Fielden Hina [EC1863/97ALB], who was called as a state witness in the trial of Mr Joe Mati in East London in 1978. Hina was detained in Port Elizabeth for six months from 7 June 1977 and reported being tortured. He refused to testify and was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment.

130 At this time, the ANC was improving its capacity to wage an armed struggle, continuing to focus on strategic installations. In the Eastern Cape, however, MK’s capacity was still limited. Mr Chris Hani had moved to Lesotho in about 1974 and, while a level of communication existed between activists in the Eastern Cape and the ANC in Lesotho, the infiltration of armed units from outside the country was restricted. People attempting to strengthen the link were quickly hunted down and suppressed by the security police. One example of this was the killing of COSAS activist Mr Sizwe Kondile in 1981, one of the first cases of security police arranging the ‘disappearance’ of an ANC member.

The case of Sizwe Kondile
Mr Gcinisizwe ‘Sizwe’ Kondile [EC0021/96STK] was a Port Elizabeth activist and a founder member of COSAS. In contact with the ANC in Lesotho, Kondile and five others formed an underground ANC cell inside the country in about July 1980. When two members of the cell — Mr Thembi Mbiyabo and Mr Nangamso Ndzube – were arrested, Kondile and the other cell members (Mr Vusumzi Pikoli, Mr Thozi Majola and Mr Phaki Ximiya) decided to leave the country in September 1980.
They went to Maseru, Lesotho, where they met with former PEBCO leader Mr Thozamile Botha and Mr Chris Hani. They were given basic training and told to build the underground in the Eastern Cape. This involved moving back and forth between Lesotho and South Africa. Kondile went into South Africa on a brief mission in June 1981, and returned safely to Maseru in the same month. Later that month he disappeared from Maseru.
The South African Police claimed that Kondile had been arrested in Port Elizabeth on 26 June 1981, but had been released in August 1981. Because he had borrowed Chris Hani’s car on the day he disappeared, the ANC suspected him of being a traitor, and the family suffered political isolation and trauma as a result of this. It emerged subsequently (in the evidence of former police captain Dirk Coetzee to the Harms Commission in 1990) that Kondile had been kidnapped in Maseru, Lesotho, by members of the security police’s Vlakplaas unit. He was detained in Port Elizabeth, then taken to Jeffreys Bay police station where he was tortured and sustained a brain haemorrhage. Colonel Nick Van Rensburg of the Port Elizabeth security police then drove him to Swaziland and handed him over to Coetzee. He was taken to Komatipoort on the Mozambique border, poisoned and shot, after which his body was burnt while those responsible drank beer.
Applications for amnesty for the abduction and killing of Kondile were heard in Port Elizabeth in October 1997. Applications were made by Mr Dirk Johannes Coetzee [AM0063/96], Mr Nicolaas Johannes Janse van Rensburg [AM3919/96], Mr Gerrit Nicholas Erasmus [AM4134/96], Mr Hermanus Barend du Plessis [AM4384/96] and Mr Johannes Gottfried Raath [AM4397/96].

131 Between late 1980 and mid-1982, several bombings occurred around Port Elizabeth and East London, causing injuries and damaging property. Most of these acts can be attributed to MK units operating from Lesotho from the second half of 1981 until May 1983. In August 1981, a member of one of the units was killed in a series of clashes with police while trying to escape back to Lesotho (see below). Another cell member died in a sabotage attempt in January 1983 (see 1983–90); the rest of that cell were killed or put on trial.

132 In November 1980, MK member Gwaza Duckworth Twalo [EC0128/96KWT], who was operating out of Lesotho, disappeared in Transkei. His family heard that he had been arrested and “thrown down a cliff” at the Umtata Central Prison. The Commission was not able to clarify what had happened to Mr Twalo.

133 On 6 August 1981, one person was injured in a bomb blast at Central Square in East London’s city centre. The following day a shoot-out was reported between the police and MK guerrillas in Butterworth, killing two Transkei police officers, including a Captain Ngidi. The guerrillas escaped and later that day were involved in another shoot-out with the SAP at a roadblock near Elliot on the road to Lesotho, resulting in the injury of two SAP members, the death of two guerrillas and the arrest of another. Six days later, there was a final clash between the surviving guerrillas and the SAP on a farm near Aliwal North, during which the two last guerrillas were killed.

134 As a result of the Commission’s investigations, the remains of the four guerrillas were found buried in unmarked graves on a farm in Aliwal North. The remains of Mr Senzangabom Vusumzi ‘George’ Khalipha, [EC2318/97PLZ], Mr Anthony Sureboy Dali [JB00216/01GTSOW], Mr Thabiso Isaac Rakobo [JB02461/01GTSOW], Mr Joseph Lesetja Sexwale [JB02462/01GTSOW] and two others were exhumed and reburied; Khalipha, who was the only one from the Eastern Cape, was reburied in Port Elizabeth. The man arrested near Elliot was Mr Mveleli ‘Junior’ Saliwa [EC2691/97UTA], who had been driving the group. He was subsequently put on trial in Umtata.

135 The first Transkei terrorism trial was held in 1981. Among the accused were Mr Mzwandile ‘Kaiser’ Mbete [EC972/96ELN], Mr James Kati [EC0309/96WTK], Mr Mkhangeli Matomela [EC0121/96KWT], Mr Alfred Marwanqana [EC0670/96PLZ] and Mr Mveleli ‘Junior’ Saliwa [EC2691/97UTA], who had been captured during the August 1981 shoot-outs. Some were members of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) youth league. Matomela and Marwanqana were finally acquitted in 1982; all the other co-accused were convicted and given sentences ranging from five to thirteen years’ imprisonment. Most of them had been in detention for more than a year before being charged, and most spoke of torture by police. Marwanqana, who had been jailed on Robben Island for ANC activities in the 1960s, fled into exile soon afterwards. He and two of his children, Thandiswa and Mzukisi, were killed in the SADF raid on Lesotho in December 1982.

136 In 1982, COSAS activist Siphiwe Mthimkulu [EC0034/96PLZ] and his friend Tobekile ‘Topsy’ Madaka [EC0766/96PLZ] were abducted from Port Elizabeth and killed by security police. In his amnesty application, Port Elizabeth police officer Mr Gideon Nieuwoudt referred to attacks on police officers at the time and claimed that the two activists were linked to these attacks and to a spate of bombings. This was used to explain the context in which the two were assassinated. However, it appears that while Mr Mthimkulu and Mr Madaka were linked to the ANC in Lesotho, they were part of a ‘propaganda wing’ involved in pamphlet distribution and were not involved in the armed actions.

The case of Siphiwe Mthimkulu
Mr Siphiwe Mthimkulu [EC0034/96PLZ] was a student activist in Port Elizabeth from 1979 until 1982, when he disappeared. He was chairperson of the Loyiso High School Students’ Representative Council and an active COSAS member. It is also widely believed that he was an underground member of the then banned ANC.
Mthimkulu was involved in the COSAS schools boycotts of 1980–81 and a campaign against Republic Day celebrations in 1981, which involved the distribution of ANC pamphlets in Port Elizabeth. Along with other COSAS members, he was detained on 31 May. After being shot while trying to escape detention, he was treated in Livingstone Hospital. He was held at the Security Branch headquarters in Port Elizabeth as well as Algoa Park and Jeffreys Bay police stations and was subjected to extensive interrogation and torture, including suffocation, electric shocks, sleep deprivation and being forced to stand on bricks for many hours.
He was released without charge on 20 October 1981, after five months in detention. He made a statement to his lawyer and instituted a case against the Minister of Police for assault and torture. The day after his release Mthimkulu complained of pain in his stomach and legs and was soon unable to walk. Fighting for his life, he was admitted to Livingstone Hospital. In November, he was transferred to Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, where his hair started to fall out. Neurologist Dr Frances Ames diagnosed poisoning with thallium, an odourless and tasteless poison unavailable in South Africa except to the state.
In January 1982, Mthimkulu returned to Port Elizabeth in a wheelchair. The police claimed that a top-level investigation into his poisoning was being conducted. On 2 April 1982, he instituted a second claim against the Minister of Police, this time for poisoning. Within two weeks, he had disappeared.
Ms Joyce Mthimkulu, Siphiwe’s mother, last saw him on the morning of 14 April when he left for Livingstone Hospital with his friend, Mr Tobekile ‘Topsy’ Madaka, who often helped COSAS members with transport. After visiting the hospital, Mthimkulu spent the evening with other COSAS members, including Mr Madaka, Mr Lulu Johnson, Mr Tango Lamani and Mr Themba Mangqase. Mthimkulu left Johnson’s house that evening with Madaka and Mangqase, dropped Mangqase off and arranged to return to Johnson’s house later.
They never came back, and it seems that Mangqase was the last person to see them alive before they were abducted. About a week later Madaka’s car was found at Sterkspruit in the Transkei, near the Telle Bridge border post with Lesotho. Madaka’s passport and Mthimkulu’s wheelchair were inside. The two families received anonymous telephone calls claiming the youths were safe. Enquiries on behalf of the Mthimkulu family at the time ascertained that Mthimkulu was not in custody in South Africa or Transkei. Enquiries through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the Civil Rights League, the ANC and churches in Lesotho, and a trip to Lesotho, confirmed the Mthimkulus’ belief that he had not gone into exile.
In 1986, security police searched the Mthimkulu’s house, claiming Siphiwe was back in the area after being trained as a ‘terrorist’. In response to questions in Parliament, Mr Louis le Grange, then Minister of Police, said the police had no knowledge of Mthimkulu’s whereabouts and “had not communicated any information about him to his relatives”.
In April 1990, Mr Dirk Coetzee revealed at the London sitting of the Harms Commission that Mthimkulu had been poisoned, kidnapped and killed and that this had been arranged by Brigadier Jan du Preez of Security Branch headquarters in Pretoria and Colonel Nick van Rensburg of the Port Elizabeth Security Branch. Coetzee alleged that Brigadier Jan van den Hoven had had the rare poison flown to Van Rensburg, who had it administered to Mthimkulu before his release from detention. Coetzee claimed that Du Preez had told him about the killing.

137 In response to these allegations, Mthimkulu’s parents, Sipho and Joyce Mthimkulu, expressed the wish to see the place of their son’s death and to retrieve his bones for a proper burial. Madaka’s parents had both passed away in April 1990.

138 The cases were scheduled to be heard at the first hearings of the Commission in East London on 15 April 1996. An interdict brought by Brigadier Jan du Preez and Major General Nick van Rensburg in the Cape Town Supreme Court ruled that the Commission should not hear the matter before these officers had been given time to study the allegations against them. At the second Eastern Cape hearings of the Commission in Port Elizabeth on 22 May 1996, Ms Mthimkulu collapsed when she was informed that once again a court interdict prevented her from telling the story of her son’s disappearance. A crisis situation was defused when thousands of demonstrating COSAS members were allowed into the Centenary Hall in New Brighton and given an assurance that Mthimkulu’s case would be heard at a special hearing of the Commission in the same venue on 26 June. An additional interdict brought by Mr Gideon Nieuwoudt also specified that Ms Mthimkulu could not name him as one of her son’s torturers. The ANC organised demonstrations and marches in Port Elizabeth protesting against the silencing of the Mthimkulus.

139 The Mthimkulu and Madaka cases were finally heard at a special hearing of the Commission’s Human Rights Violation Committee on 26 June 1996 at the Centenary Hall, New Brighton. On the day before the hearing, a Cape Town Supreme Court ruling overturned the previous decisions and ensured that the evidence of Ms Mthimkulu could be heard. Various COSAS activists also gave evidence, handing in a list of COSAS activists who had died in this period and naming a number of Security Branch officers as torturers.

140 In January 1997, amnesty applications regarding the deaths of Mthimkulu and Madaka were received from Port Elizabeth Security Branch officer Gideon Nieuwoudt, Colonel Nick Van Rensburg, Major Hermanus Barend Du Plessis and Colonel Gerrit Erasmus. At a press conference in Port Elizabeth on 28 January 1977, it was revealed that the bodies of Mthimkulu and Madaka had been burnt and their remains thrown into the Fish River near the disused Post Charmers police station near Cradock. The Commission took the families to the site of the killings and disposal of the bodies. At the amnesty hearings later, the security police admitted to having abducted and killed the two activists, but they denied all knowledge of torture and poisoning.

141 Because the audience and families did not feel that the whole truth had been revealed, and because of the attempts by the security police to prevent the case from being heard on previous occasions, the amnesty hearings were fraught with tension and anger. At one point, a part of the crowd obstructed the armoured vehicle in which the amnesty applicants were being transported from the hall.

THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT THE SAP WERE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ABDUCTION AND KILLING OF POLITICAL ACTIVISTS IN THE EASTERN CAPE — INCLUDING MR GCINISIZWE KONDILE WHO WAS ABDUCTED AND KILLED BY MR DIRK JOHANES COETZEE, MR NICHOLAS JANSE VAN RENSBURG, MR GERRIT ERASMUS, MR HERMANUS BAREND DU PLESSIS AND MR JOHANNES RAATH ON 26 JUNE 1981; AND MR SIPHIWE MTHIMKULU AND MR TOPSY MADAKA WHO WERE ABDUCTED AND KILLED BY MR GIDEON NIEUWOUDT, MR NICHOLAS JANSE VAN RENSBURG, MR GERRIT ERASMUS, MR HERMANUS BAREND DU PLESSIS, MR JAN VAN DEN HOVEN AND MR JAN DU PREEZ.
THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT THE ACTIONS OF THE SAP AND THE NAMED POLICE OFFICERS AMOUNT TO GROSS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS FOR WHICH THE SAP AND THE NAMED POLICE OFFICERS ARE HELD RESPONSIBLE.
 
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