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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 450
Paragraph Numbers 227 to 228
Killing of political suspects
227 At least nine MK operatives were killed in the western Cape between 1986 and early 1990, namely Mr Norman Petersen, Mr Zola Dubeni, Mr Ashley Kriel, Mr Mthetheleli Gcina, Mr Nkululeko ‘Solly’ Mutsi, Mr Anton Fransch, Mr Samuel Baloi, Ms Coline Williams and Mr Robert Waterwitch. This figure does not include the Gugulethu Seven, who were not technically MK operatives. Other individuals who were killed and may have been indirectly linked to MK, or who were suspected of politically motivated acts, included Mr Patrick Welile ‘Deks’ Dakuse, Mr Ayanda Silika and Mr Mpumelelo Rwarwa.
228 It is notable that Kriel, Dakuse, Baloyi and Mabilo were killed while said to be in possession of a single hand grenade. The security forces were absolved of responsibility for all of these deaths in the inquests.
The ‘Gugulethu Seven’
Around 07h30 on 3 March 1986, seven young men were shot dead at the corner of Gugulethu’s NY 1 and NY 111 and in an adjoining field. They were Mr Mandla Simon Mxinwa (23) [CT00700], Mr Zanisile Zenith Mjobo (21) [CT00116], Mr Zola Alfred Swelani (22), Mr Godfrey Jabulani Miya [CT00818], Mr Christopher Piet (23) [CT00100], Mr Themba Mlifi (30), and Mr Zabonke John Konile [CT00108, CT03054]. All seven were shot in the head, in addition to numerous other gunshot wounds. Police officers at the scene were Warrant Officers Barnard and McMaster, Majors Johan Kleyn, Dolf Odendal and Stephanus Brits, Captain Charles Brazzelle, Sergeants John Sterrenberg, Andre Grobbellar and Riaan Bellingan, and Constable Thapelo Mbelo.
The police claimed that the deceased were known terrorists who had been killed during a legitimate anti-terrorist operation. Security forces had allegedly acted pre-emptively to prevent these terrorists from attacking a police bus ferrying senior policeman to the nearby Gugulethu Police Station that morning.
The ‘Gugulethu Seven’ were the subject of an inquest in 1986, a trial in 1987 and a re-opened inquest in 1989. Forensic pathologist Dr David Klatzow seriously challenged the evidence of the police, demonstrating unequivocally that the victims were shot at very close range. In the case of Mr Mandla Simon Mxinwa, Klatzow’s evidence was that shotgun cartridge wads were found inside the skull of the deceased, indicating that he had been shot at point-blank range. The medico-legal post mortems stated further all the deceased sustained multiple and extensive gunshot wounds; Mr Christopher ‘Rasta’ Piet sustained twelve bullet wounds in the head. The outcome of both inquests was a finding by the Wynberg magistrate, Mr Hoffmann, that the seven men had died during a legitimate anti-terrorist operation.
Cape Times journalists Tony Weaver and Chris Bateman published an eyewitness account indicating that the police had shot the victims at close range and that police had shot a man as he was attempting to give himself up. Further eyewitnesses reported seeing a white man shooting a man in the head while he was lying motionless on the ground. Weaver was charged with printing untruths about actions of the SAP and was acquitted. These accounts, together with Dr Klatzow’s evidence and allegations by the parents of the deceased that weapons had been planted on the victims, provided the first serious counterpoint to the official version. The post mortem photographs, photographs of the deceased as found at the scene, photographs of Sergeant Sterrenberg posing over a body and of a policeman stepping against the head of a deceased in the mortuary, combined with the celebratory atmosphere of police after the event as captured on the police video of the scene, also raised questions about the attitudes of the police toward victims. The truth remained buried for a decade until the Commission’s investigation revealed an extensive cover-up by the security forces involved in this incident, even at parliamentary level. A dramatic escalation in armed attacks by MK operatives in the mid-1980s led General Griebenouw of the Western Cape security police to call Brigadier Schoon at the Security Branch headquarters in Pretoria and request the assistance of Vlakplaas. Vlakplaas commander Eugene de Kock evaluated the request and chose Bellingan to lead a team of operatives. Other members were a black security policeman known as Thapelo Johannes Mbelo, white Vlakplaas operative Joe Coetzer and several Vlakplaas askaris, including Mr Gladstone Moss, Mr Eric ‘Shakes’ Maluleke and Mr Jimmy Mbane. In early January 1986 they drove to Cape Town in three vehicles including a minibus modified to conceal weapons and explosives. They were based at Koeberg and briefed by members of the security branch. After a failed attempt to infiltrate Mbelo into a group in Gugulethu, Mbane and Maluleke were sent in. They were given weapons and grenades and went to home of squatter leader Yamile claiming to be commanders from exile. They opened a concealed panel in the minibus, showing their weapons. Yamile believed the askaris and introduced them to Christopher ‘Rasta’ Piet. They soon had the core of the group which became known as the Gugulethu Seven. The askaris started by fixing Christopher Piet’s faulty AK-47, then got the youths to write their biographies, as was standard practice in the liberation movements. Mbane claims that he handed these biographies to Bellingan and the latter conceded at his amnesty hearing that this may have been so. Mbane and Maluleke were reporting to Bellingan and Liebenberg on a regular basis and informed both Bellingan and Liebenberg that these were merely youths, not hardened ‘terrorists’. Mbane said he specifically informed them that ‘Rasta’ Piet was the only one among them with any training. Mbane was tasked to train the youths and gave them basic training in military combat over two months while Eric Maluleke provided political education.
When their training was complete the youths, together with the askaris, planned an attack on a police bus which took senior policemen to Gugulethu police station every morning. This plan was reported to both Liebenberg and Bellingan by Jimmy Mbane. Bellingan has admitted that Mbane pointed out the location for the proposed attack.
Senior officers met the night before the incident, and more than twenty-five heavily armed policemen were deployed after a briefing at Wingfield Naval Base at 03h00 on 3 March. They were aware that two askaris would be part of the group of ‘comrades’. The entire area was encircled and saturated by police from 05h00.
Just after 07h25, Jimmy Mbane, driving a stolen bakery van, began dropping off the seven youths at the site. A grenade was allegedly thrown and the deployed policemen started firing from all sides in a small area of combat. It is alleged that the only one who had time to fire back was Christopher Piet.
The two askaris who had set up the ambush were able to escape and were later rewarded with seven thousand rands each – one thousand rand for every victim. In a process presided over by former Minister of Law and Order Adriaan Vlok, security police headquarters used the video of the incident to get Cabinet to increase the Vlakplaas budget.
THE OUTLINE OF EVENTS REPRESENTS ASPECTS OF THE COMMISSION’S INVESTIGATION INTO THE GUGULETHU SEVEN INCIDENT. WILHELM RIAAN ‘BALLETJIES’ BELLINGAN [AM5283/97], THAPELO MBELO [AM3785/96] AND XOLA FRANK ‘JIMMY’ MBANE [AM8066/97] APPLIED FOR AMNESTY FOR THE KILLINGS. THE COMMISSION WAS NOT ABLE TO MAKE A FINDING AS THE DECISION OF THE AMNESTY COMMITTEE WAS PENDING AT THE TIME OF REPORTING.