SABC News | Sport | TV | Radio | Education | TV Licenses | Contact Us

Human Rights Violation Hearings


Starting Date 29 October 1996



COMMISSIONER: Good morning Mr and Mrs Bapela. We are pleased to have you. Today is also one of those difficult days in Alexandra when people will be reminded of the time in the eighties when the community decided to get rid of inappropriate leaders and that led to civil conflict between the police and community leaders who were trying to set up alternative structures to provide leadership within the community and we hope people will be coming before us who will assist not only us but the community of Alexandra as well to get a clear picture of where you are coming from. Before you give your testimony as it is the tradition I would like you to stand up so as to take an oath before this Commission.


COMMISSIONER: Also I would like to welcome Mrs Connie Bapela who is sitting next to Obed. As it is a tradition I will ask one of the commissioners to assist you in giving your testimony and for that purpose you will be assisted by our chairperson, Yasmin Sooka.

MS SOOKA: Obed, I would like to welcome both you and Connie to the hearings of the Commission. Before you begin to tell us about the gross human rights violations that affected you, I wonder if you could give me a few details about yourself, your family, your own involvement in Alex which led to the incident that you are actually complaining about.



MR BAPELA: Yes my name is Obed Bapela. I am here today with my wife, Constance known as Connie and married with three children. Both of us have been just in detentions for many, many years until 1989 when we finally settled and have been together as a family. I was born in Alexandra and have been an activist in Alexandra since 1976 to date and I have grown to be a leader in the community and also in the province of Gauteng. Presently I am a member of the Provincial Legislature of Gauteng, serving in the committee of safety and security, as the chairperson of the standing committee and also a member of the African National Congress, one of the top officials in the Gauteng province, being the deputy secretary of the ANC. Thanks.

MS SOOKA: Do you want to firstly I think what we will do is deal with the time when the house that you were living in was bombed and then I do want to ask you to deal with your knowledge of the six day war and specifically some of the things which arose during that period. But let's get the question of the bombing of the house out of the way first.

MR BAPELA: The year was 1988 and the month was December. It was a hot day and on that day we had been released from Johannesburg Diepkloof prison known as Sun City. It was the five of us, Mr Moses Mayegiso, Mr Richard Mdagani, Mr Paul Shabalala, Mr Mzonela Mayegiso and myself where we had been charged with high treason, sedition and subversion for activities around the six days war in Alexandra. On the day we were jubilant, very excited and rearing to go home, a home we last saw in June 1986 when we were detained. Getting out of prison is very exciting but we had been following events and news about Alexandra whilst in prison. Some of our colleagues, friends and comrades were killed



during our incarceration. Of significance to me was the death of Comrade Jingles Magoti, a very close friend of mine who it was said got killed during the fight which started between members and supporters of Azapo, dubbed as Amazimzim and the UDF members and supporters dubbed as Amavarara or the Tetarist. So all those things happened whilst we were in prison. That is the post 1986 era. The six days war era. A single shot, it is said, killed him as he was closing the butchery where he worked at 4th Avenue and (indistinct) owned by Mr Jo Manana who himself was also in detention at that time. We also read about the gruesome killings of some of the people that we knew whilst we were in prison. People who were slaughtered you know for fighting for their own liberation and the case that came to mind was that of Mandla of 8th Avenue. I don't know his surname. Mandla was confronted by a group of youth armed heavily and was killed and beheaded. The message was clear, don't associate with UDF or you will go the same way. While this was happening all Alexandra leaders and activists were in prison under the state of emergency and other security laws. There was no one left absolutely, no one to really give leadership and guidance over the community. The question that came to mind was why detain only one group of activists who belonged to the UDF structures, why leave members and supports of Azapo, why then if you did not know them, even when they were on a killing spree did the intelligence network of the police not detect and arrest them for their deeds. The question remained unanswered. Maybe we felt concluding the violence was sponsored by the state covet or structures who saw the opportunity to wipe out the congress structures. While in prison also we read



from smuggled newspapers what we used to call mpugani, it is a flea in English, and because we used to smuggle and a flea can just enter anywhere, it can be in prison, it can be anywhere so that is why we said the newspapers was mpugani. And by the visits by our families we got informed. We regarded ourselves as lucky or maybe because we were detained because if we were outside we would be victims like Mtlamula Mabilese, Mandla and Jingles Magoti. We wondered what was to happen to us if we got released on bail. We also heard and were informed and read about the new state organisations that has taken over in Alexandra called the Joint Management Committee. JMC's, which were part of the State Security Council. In Alexandra the JMC's started to operate. They had sub-committees such as Stratcom which was called Strategic Communication and Security Committee and others. Among the activities they planned were the so-called (indistinct) Renewal Strategy, led by Mr Steve Bego who was appointed the chief executive officer of Alexandra after the collapse of the Alexandra Town Council under Reverend Sam Buti. They analysed all the demands of the community of Alexandra such as poor dilapidated housing and sewerage, no untarred streets and at the time only Selbourne Street was tarred. The electrification of the township, only phase 1 and phase 2 were electrified at that time. Poor recreational facilities and an end to the bucket system night soil and a better life for all and an end to overcrowding. At that time there were about 40 people in one yard and the situation has worsened now. The JMC found grievances to be legitimate and those grievances were first highlighted by us but still continued to charge me and my colleagues with treason, subversion and sedition for



highlighting those demands. A strategy by JMC was developed to electrify Alexandra and instal sewerage system that ended the bucket system and that was done during the period when we were in detention and in prison. The houses were built in the East Bank but only for affluent people. Rooftops of Alexandra were painted to look nice, tarring of the streets of Alexandra started and the government gave about R90 million to kickstart the project. All this took place when we were in prison. The other strategy was to continue the violence between our organisations, the Congress movement and organisations and Azapo. At the same time there were weekly pamphlets distributed by the South African Defence Force which was a member of the JMC's together with SAP, the Alexandra Town Council and other structures that they were able to co-opt. The pamphleteering and communications strategy was call WAM, which stands for Winning the Hearts and Minds of the People. Pamphlets will ridicule the comrades as animals in the zoo or as monkeys who thought were cleverer than human beings. The comrades were described here as monkeys and the South African government as human beings who were so concerned about the needs of the people and who were building nice houses for them. They prided themselves as the JMC that within a year of our arrest Alexandra was peaceful so-called and that the law and order was now the norm and there was no more intimidation. That people can go freely to work and children can go to school without fear. The army started playing soccer and other games with the school children and the youth. They carried food, fruits, sweets with them in the army tanks and Caspers to give to the youths and then portray a picture of how nice they were as compared to the comrades. Youth clubs



were established by the JMC's, religious choirs were also established and the target was the young people and they started to mushroom all over Alexandra. The youth was organised through their clubs to camps to be indoctrinated by the army and the JMC's and the airforce was to win their hearts and minds. The strategy worked. All of a sudden there were clubs calling themselves Lapoloa named after one of the TV programmes but their strategy was weak for it could not stop the peoples' march to freedom, hence the nineties saw the rise of the might of our people as they gave a final blow to apartheid. Religious choirs continue to exist today but no longer under the programme of the JMC's and their dirty games. It was the Alexandra we read about as we left the prison, the five of us, still leaving thousands of our comrades behind under the state of emergency. We were not coming home to Alexandra unfortunately. One of the bail conditions was that we should not visit or enter Alexandra, not to reside there, never to set our feet in Alexandra. We had to comply with the bail condition. On the same December period other detainees were released to go back to Alexandra. Amongst them was my wife Constance but they were released under severe conditions also, confined to their houses from dusk to dawn, reporting to the police station twice a day, morning and evening before six o'clock p.m. being monitored and police used to come and check them at their homes. The five of us who were still on trial were also given similar conditions to report twice a day at the Hillbrow police station. Being monitored not to go to Alexandra so we did not take the risk for we didn't want to lose our bail privileges. I stayed with my lawyer from Cheadle Thompson



and Haysom, Mr Norman Manrame and his brother Erwin from the Weekly Mail at that time at number 144 Baker Street, Bellevue East just after Yeoville. I travelled twice a day to Hillbrow police station to enter my signature that I have not yet absconded on my bail. I started acclimatising myself to my new temporary home and we were scattered. Richard and Mzonela were staying with some students of Wits in Bertrams next to Ellis Park. Moses Mayegiso the wife had organised a flat somewhere in Hillbrow High Point and Paul Tshabalala also stayed with some friends organised by our lawyer. I was looking forward to a Christmas outside prison. The last Christmas outside was in 1985. Constance will sometimes visit me for I could not visit her. At least she was able to leave Alexandra but she had to be back before six o'clock to comply with her release conditions. On this fateful night of January 6, 1989 I had said in 1988 on the statement but the correct date is January 6, 1989 I had requested Constance to go and sign and come and sleep over as it was past Christmas and new year the police may not check them and as they were doing frequently. Besides the owner of the house had gone on a holiday and I was alone, all by myself and there was a helper living in the servants quarters at the back with her husband and their son Aubrey who was just ten years old and had come for holidays from the rurals. The incident happened on January 6, 1989 and the case number as was reported is 39/01/89. And it was opened at the Yeoville police station. In the evening of the 5th January we cooked, watched TV up to very late, I think until around 12 midnight and Aubrey was in the house with us. Constance was already expecting at that time. As it was already late we organised for Aubrey to



sleep in the main house and we all went to bed tired and slept. It must have been around three in the morning on the 6th January when the incident occurred. I was first asleep, we were fast asleep, we didn't hear anything. According to neighbours and the parents to Aubrey there was a heavy explosion which reverberated through the quiet suburb and one of the neighbours, a white woman, heard soon after the blast the screeching of the car tyres, which indicates a car was pulling away at high speed, which may have been used by the attackers. People apparently started to scream to extinguish the fire which has caught the house, shouting at us to wake up and open as the house was burning. It must have taken then about five minutes shouting, even breaking the windows before a response from us. When I woke up I heard a lot of voices screaming, shouting and calling Aubrey's name. I think it was his mother. At first when I heard I thought we have been attacked by the criminals but when I clearly woke up I heard the house is on fire. I immediately responded and then that we were waking up. I woke Connie and went to wake up Aubrey as well and the nightmare began. I didn't know where I had put the key. The house windows and doors were burglared with heavy steel and in the dining room wall, which had the main door leading to the street, it was filled with smoke and some items were still burning at the time. I should think the key was at the door, the front door and wanted to reach it to open. I was choked and blinded by the smoke and each time I went to the dining room wall the flames were coming towards me and I would retreat. It must have been during the third attempt when I said I do it or we all die here. I forced myself with my eyes blinded by the smoke, I could



not breathe because I was choked by smoke but I had taken a deep breath which enabled me to move until I reached the door and fortunately the flames did not catch my clothes. I reached for the key and opened the door and gave the key to those outside to open the grille as I tried to breathe the fresh air. Soon after the grille flung open Connie and Aubrey were fetched from inside the house by others and then others also started moving in with buckets full of water to extinguish the flames. We were all laid on the grass ... (nothing further on tape) ... I should think it was a fire bomb which was used for it only shattered the windows and started burning. There were no cracks on the wall. We stayed outside until sunrise and private clothed police came, took my details and I was later taken to Yeoville police station for a statement. That was the last time I had contact with the police and have never heard anything to date about the incident from them. What provoked me to come and give the evidence was the evidence which was given at the Johannesburg City Council Commission in 1990 referred to Hiemstra Commission in 1990 at which a witness gave evidence to the effect that he was given a task by the Johannesburg City Council security to attack houses in Johannesburg and he was paid for that. Housing plans of Johannesburg Democratic Action Committee members were released by the Johannesburg City Council to this group, which included the house of Norman Manrame and his brother Erwin and that is the house where I stayed. The witness was unsure whether among the houses that he attacked personally it included the Manrame's house. Further information can be obtained from Brigadier Snowball who was investigating the matter of the CCB covet operations which were conducted from



the Johannesburg City Council offices. Again this year during May/June the former security policeman from the John Vorster Square, Warrant Officer Paul Erasmus, in one of his many interviews to the media has spoken about a spate of attacks which included an attack in Bellevue East house where he says they had information that there was a terrorist staying there. What Warrant Officer Erasmus was saying is not new about the incident. After the event in 1990 the police said they had information that the house was apparently attacked because there was a terrorist staying there. This was police information released in 1990. What is not clear from Warrant Officer Erasmus' statement is whether he was part of the group that attacked and which house exactly was attacked in that location of Bellevue East, Yeoville or Observatory because those township suburbs are close to each other, whether it was at 144 Baker Street. The consequences of the bomb attack were that due to Connie's pregnancy she was shocked and was also choked by the smoke for the ten minutes after waking up. She was more frightened for she was not supposed to have been there and the police were going to find out. I had to protect her at that time. When I was interviewed by the media I said I was alone with Aubrey in the house, so I didn't mention her name. But today one can say she was in the house at that time. She became nervous, had psychological effects and was treated for shock by Dr Fazel Randera and referred to the psychologist by him for further treatment. The trial was still going on and one was concentrated on it. In April 1989 we were all acquitted of treason, sedition and subversion and for the first time we were able to come home to Alexandra. A son was born and although now seven years



old he has learning deficiency but he is at a normal school and we fully suspect it was the effects his mother had suffered. What I want to know is who did it, why they did it and also what I want to know whether I was that terrorist who was staying in that house and what I want to know from the police is when receiving information that there was a terrorist staying there why didn't they verify because they knew that I was staying there because when we left prison they wanted us to give physical addresses of where we were going to be staying as part of the bail conditions and we did provide those addresses and I was staying there. Or maybe the attack was aimed at Norman Manrame who was a human rights lawyer. Or maybe because Norman was once active in Jodac, Johannesburg Democratic Action Committee before taking full time employment with Cheadle Thompson and Haysom as a lawyer. Or maybe because his brother Erwin Monrame was a co-editor of the then Weekly Mail which is now Weekly and Guardian with Anton Harper. These are the questions which remain unanswered today. And I think that is how far I can go in as far as the incident of the attack in that house is concerned.

MS SOOKA: Was there ever an investigation into the matter after the bombing, did Norman or Erwin ever get any kind of details, a follow up report from the police?

MR BAPELA: Well I didn't get the answer - there is this noise from outside.

MS SOOKA: Once Norman and Erwin came back did they ever get a report from the police on any kind of investigation done on the incident?

MR BAPELA: My information came from the police, they were also shocked, they had a commission set up by the



Johannesburg City Council to investigate CCB operatives which operated from that building. They were never called also to come and testify at that commission so they only read about it also in that commission, so no police came, no one has ever contacted them.

MS SOOKA: I think you have certainly posed a number of questions on that particular incident and the Commission has taken note of those and will probably ask its own investigation unit to look into the matter, particularly the references that you have given. Could I now ask you to tell us about the six day war please.

MR BAPELA: The events that led to the six days war started in 1985, around June I think, when a lot of townships in South Africa were aflame. There was a lot of activity and uprisings in most of the townships at that time and Eastern Cape was leading at that period I am mentioning and this sort of inspired a lot of other townships in the belief that the activities in the Eastern Cape reminded them of the M plan, the Mandela plan which was known in the 1950's and then people wanted really to also begin a process of establishing those structures of the street committees, the block committees and the yard committees within their own areas, within their own townships and also in the Transvaal, the then Transvaal, the main activities was the start of the rent boycotts were started in the Vaal, Sebokeng and Sharpeville townships and then it spread to Soweto and also Alexandra then came into the picture during 1986. And also during 1995 there was the consumer boycott which was organised and then the Transvaal had its own committee, the Transvaal anti consumer boycott which operated and then those activities really also were happening in Alexandra



where people were stopped from buying from white shops and then only to buy in the black shops. So those then are the events then that built on the mobilisation which was there in Alexandra and around January there were shootings that occurred at shops which are Third Avenue and London Street and then I don't know what provoked the incident but what we read was that the security guard who was employed there shot at some youths who were coming to buy or were playing around at that particular area. (Loud background noises).

MS SOOKA: Perhaps we should just hang on five minutes, if we could ask the police just to find out what is actually happening because it is making it very difficult to hear. We will take an adjournment for just five minutes.



OBED BAPELA: (s.s.) (continued): So then one of those youths who was shot was Michael Durari and then I think that that provoked the whole situation in Alexandra, that killing. At that time he was a pupil at Alexandra High School and then during the weekend on which he was buried, which was the weekend of the 15th February, the funeral took place at the Alexandra stadium and then after the funeral they wanted his parents to go and wash their hands and also be provided with whatever and the police came and tear-gassed people at that funeral and that provoked the youth of our township really then to mobilise and then attacks you know started where police became the targets and then Alexandra then was in flames for a period of six days and that is why we lost about 19 people during that particular period in time but then my colleague has prepared extensively on that period, Mr Bennet Lekalakala and I think



he will dwell much into the events and other incidents that took place during that particular period in time.

MS SOOKA: Could I ask you to just tell us a little bit about the formation of street committees.

MR BAPELA: Well the idea as earlier said was an idea which we saw developing in the Eastern Cape and fortunately at that time I was working for Media and Resource Centre and one used to travel a lot to the Eastern Cape to go and trade organisations on media skills and pamphleteering and so forth so one was exposed you know street committees you know operate and function and the order in which they brought into the community and the respect of their families and their committee as a whole that it brought. So we then started sharing the idea with other comrades in Alexandra about you know having to start in Alexandra establishing street committees so that people can take their own destiny into their own hands and then show that they are able then to live as human beings and as a community sharing and then the sorrows and sharing the joy you know together as a community. So the discussion started around November/December for such an idea of the street committees and then a group of us then was mandated to begin discussions with the Alexandra Civic Association, which was led by Mr Mike Bia to say why don't you build a strong organisation, a mass based organisation and this is the format and thus how we need to do it where you move from area to area, street to street, yard to yard and then begin to establish these committees. Explain to the people first and then thereafter the people will appoint their own committees and so forth. And a structure was then you know put together as to how should the structure look like and



how many members should be serving in a committee. And those discussions did not bear any fruits unfortunately and then when we realised that the Alexandra Civic Association did not want really to adopt that structure and to start building its organisation on it. We then approached Mr Moses Mayegiso who was a leading trade unionist known within the country, a member of Numsa and then to say can you be the leader of this new organisation. That will then be structured along the street committees and so forth. And after some series of discussion by those comrades who were mandated, unfortunately I was not part of them because at that time the police were looking for me for a trial in Cradock so I had to be very careful. I used to come in during the night in Alexandra and speak to the comrades and leave and they would do the rest of the work and then go on hiding. And so they managed therefore to convince comrade Moses Mayegiso and he accepted and then a series of meetings between the students organisation, the Alexandra Youth Congress at that time started with Moses and the others to meet with the people in their yards, called committee meetings where they will explain the structure and then people would go back, discuss and then begin to establish democratically those structures and then elected people democratically to serve them. And then this sort of really spread throughout the township and then it was at that time when the people were moving from street to street when the incident at the funeral of Michael Durari and Alexandra was engulfed into a six days war.

MS SOOKA: One of the structures that also came into operation was the peoples court and in fact at your trial I think part of the charge was running peoples courts. Do you



want to tell us a little bit about that as well.

MR BAPELA: Yes, the whole idea of a peoples court I think it started in around 1985 by the youth who were continuously mobilising each other around the consumer boycott. So what happened in Alexandra during that also was that the youth then formed themselves into anti-crime patrol groups, moving from one shebeen to the other, telling the youth not to be drinking in the shebeens and whenever they found youths they would then take them out and tell them to go home and if you are a student they would tell you go and study so that you study and pass and as a result crime came to zero in Alexandra. The type of funerals that took place ever since were the people who died because of natural causes. There were no longer such deaths caused by fights and stabbings or gun shootings and so and it worked, that anti-crime campaign and then whenever they found knives or weapons on the individuals they would take them away from them into one centre where they would then destroy them and so, so it worked and as a result of that then people began to have confidence in the youths for this very good wonderful work and they started bringing problems to the youths to say I have got a problem with my neighbour or I have got a problem with my next door kin or I have got a problem with my wife and so forth, so forth. All sorts of cases that had now flocked into the youth and obviously they were quite selective, they were only looking for those violent type of cases and then they would start putting the complainant and then the perpetrator together and say can we talk amongst ourselves really and resolve this matter amicably. And then peacefully and go back and stay together as neighbours or as friends and so forth. So it was more to give advice than



really to prosecute or to sentence people. So it sort of spread throughout Alexandra wherever there was a group of youths that would go out on an anti-crime then the residents would go to them to say we need your assistance and so forth and they did the work quite excellently and without any sjambokings and sentences. But unfortunately as time went around after the six days war when now everyone was angry, it was the deaths and Alexandra was unsettled and some of the youths got excited unfortunately and when people were brought instead of resolving those problems according to what they have been doing they started trialling people and prosecuting them and in some instances then they would sentence them to sjambokings and so forth, so forth. So it then became a norm in those peoples courts and those were the part of the activities and when we were arrested obviously amongst the charges under sedition and subversion was that we had run those courts but the intention there from the State was that we have taken over the justice administration, which is the function of the South African government and was now in the hands of the people and therefore we were therefore furthering the aims of the ANC and the South African Communist Party, that of overthrowing the State and replacing it with the organs of peoples power which were in operation at that time and hence then they were charging us with that. There was no evidence that said I myself did sjambok anybody or any of the accused did sjambok anybody but they just took all those things and then put them on us because when you are on treason it is everything that was done and whether you are there or you are not there or at a given point you are in prison but when charges are formulated you find yourself in that situation.



MS SOOKA: But would you not say that part of the strategy was in a sense to form an alternative government structure in Alexandra by the use of street committees and peoples courts?

MR BAPELA: Well we were involved in a political struggle. We were involved in a struggle for liberation and then yes as activists and as comrades that was the problem and that was the intention, to undermine the South African government, to make it ungovernable obviously, as was the problem of the ANC it has called from exile. And I think it is a just war and a just struggle that we engaged ourselves in and we pride ourselves in that particular struggle because today here we are, having liberated South Africa and its people and then beginning to transform it and then so that this quality of life that would then be there for the rest of our people.

MS SOOKA: One of the things you mentioned in your evidence is the formation I think of vigilante groups and it is quite interesting that you talked about being in the Eastern Cape because a similar kind of problem was experienced where Azapo was infiltrated and state agents formed vigilante groups and you mentioned that in Alexandra you had the Amazizi.

MR BAPELA: Amazimzim.

MS SOOKA: Amazimzim and could you tell us a little more about that please.

MR BAPELA: Yes, during that period I think it was the strategy of the South African police to identify a group of people that they can infiltrate and use against our own organisations and our own people, our own comrades and Alexandra did not escape that and maybe just to start by



saying that in April when they could not find anybody or any gangster or any grouping in Alexandra that they can use against ourselves they themselves as the South African Police went into Alexandra and attacked the community under the disguise that they were Amagawas. At that time in Soweto there was a group called - a gangster called Ama Cabasa and it used to terrorise members of the Cosas, Congress of South African Students and students in general in the schools of Soweto. It was quite a fearful type of a gangster which used to kill. And so the police then fashioned themselves along the activities of those Ama Cabasas, pretended to be a Ama Cabasa because they used to wear cloths on their heads when they went on a mission of attacking. So they put those cloths on their heads, but then they had their uniforms on, the blue shirts and their navy blue trousers, but their blue shirts were not inside their trousers, they just pulled them out so that they pretended to be that group of Ama Cabasas who were on an attack. And from the direction that they came from is the Wynberg police station and then entered Alexandra, attacked all those targeted areas and they attacked all those areas where it was places of our meetings where in some instances it was our own people, our own leaders who stayed in those places and attacked during that night. And when they left Alexandra they retreated back to Wynberg police station and I think if the reconciliation has to work in Alexandra that incident really has to be spoken in the Truth Commission and one of them really should come forward and say we did it and we understand why they did it because at that time in Alexandra it was a no go area for police. All policemen who stayed in Alexandra had fled Alexandra at that time of the



six days war because they became the targets and Tebi was one who stayed in Alexandra, had to leave Alexandra under escorts and so. And also there was a campaign you know that was there to isolate the police campaign. Socially to isolate them, they should not drink in our shebeens, they should not fall in love with our women and no woman should be in love with a police. This was the serious campaigns that were there and they were rejected completely by then and I think it aggrieved them that they have to flee their own homes, they have been rejected, they can't fall in love with women in Alexandra, they can't drink in Alexandra, they can't buy in any shop in Alexandra because that was how far they went to the extent and hence their attack and I think if they can really come forward and say we did it and we are sorry for what we did I think the community will be very happy. And just in June before the state of emergency was declared the incident that provoked the Azapo UDF fight was a meeting of the Alexandra Youth Congress in Dagani camp which was held at the church at 9th Avenue between Selbourne and the other street, I just forgot the name, I think it is John Brandt. So that meeting was there, I think it is number 45 or 41, that church. The meeting was held there, the church was full and then when a sniper from Azapo came through the window shot and killed Matamola Mbelese and I think that then provoked the incident that it was this group that attacked because some of the people who were outside guarding the meeting, because at that time we used to guard our meetings because police would also come and attack and after having attacked Alexandra as Ama Cabasa. So after that incident obviously then it sparked the whole violence between Azapo and (indistinct) and I think as we said that



they were infiltrated, I would fully agree that yes they were infiltrated because not everybody who was Azapo was in that particular mood of fighting and so forth.

MS SOOKA: Is there anything else that you would like to add to your evidence that you have given already?

MR BAPELA: Yes, my addition is that there are five policemen who really owe an apology, who owe information to the community of Alexandra. That is Captain van Hysten who is still active in the police services up to now, Sergeant Alex - I just forgot his name but a very notorious police who killed a lot of our own people, including Michel Kukunene. Sergeant Mtebi who was very instrumental during the 1976 killings, who is now a preacher, a repentant person, a person who is now a community activist, who can stand up and shout Amandla today. If he can really come back to Alexandra from where he is residing, Spreadview, to come and really tell the committee of Alexandra what really happened and apologise and tell them that he is repentant and that he is one of them, he is now a comrade. Also Zele who was instrumental to the killing of Vincent Tshabalala and the harassment of the committee of Alexandra, particularly activists. And also Magade who was deployed at the Brixton Murder and Robbery Squad. And one former police of the peri-urban police Sindani who was responsible for the death of his neighbour, Meisie Tshabalala, at 14th Avenue during the six days war. If really this can really come forward and say the community of Alexandra embrace us, we are with you and then we were involved in a struggle and then we defended the wrong system unfortunately and give us an apology, I think the community will really greatly welcome them. Number two is the incident I have already



described of the Ama Cabasa attack. We want information, we want to know what really happened on that day. April 1986. Thirdly is that a befitting honour to be given to all our heros and heroines in Alexandra who paid the ultimate price, whose blood nourished the tree of our liberation. As we celebrate the 85th anniversary next year of Alexandra I think it would be a befitting honour if we could really give them that particular honour by creating tombstones for them or one big tombstone for all those fallen victims. And lastly to the government of South Africa to declare Alexandra as a presidential project in honour of its people who are still alive today, who have carried the flag of freedom all these years since 1912 when Alexandra came into being, who remained an inspiration to all other towns, cities, rurals and other areas and who had sacrificed for the struggle of liberation in South Africa. Thank you.

MS SOOKA: Thank you. I will hand you back to the chairperson.

COMMISSIONER: Thank you very much Obed for a moving story of your past and the past of the people of Alexandra. I will ask other fellow commissioners to ask questions.

MR LEWIN: Thank you, Madam Chair. I would just like to ask one question. You mentioned Paul Erasmus, you have mentioned a number of other people, you have also in your original statement mentioned the fact that you felt you had been informed on by an informer who is still in the employ of the police. You have said let these people come forward, let us find out who they are. What will your attitude be when you know them and when you know who they are and you discover for instance that they are still employed say by the police, by government?



MR BAPELA: I think the person I have mentioned just for records it is Sergeant Sam Mdawa that one I said was one of our members and then turned into a police. Some of them I do meet in my work as the chairperson of the standing committee on safety and security. They are very good friends of mine and I think we go well with them. But it is not enough really for them to befriend me alone because I have already reconciled, I have accepted them and I think they need to come to the community that they have aggrieved so that the extent that change in them, the repent that now they are to the people of Alexandra and I think I as an individual I have long reconciled and I have welcomed and accepted them as a new people who are prepared to build a new South Africa.

MR LEWIN: Do you think the community is sharing your reconciliation, your feelings of reconciliation? One of the people you mentioned now for instance, his name has cropped up in a large number of the testimonies, you say he is now a minister. Do you think the community shares your feelings?

MR BAPELA: Well from when I met him I think I was convinced that he is a changed man and I think we do go through terrible things once in life where we aggrieve a community on many, many ... (nothing further on tape).

COMMISSIONER: ... appearing in the amnesty hearing is that they were responding to the violence of the groups of the day. Would you say that things like consumer boycott, rent boycott, were these violent?

MR BAPELA: Consumer boycotts and rent boycotts were not violent. Those were very peaceful means of advancing our struggle for a better life, of advancing our struggle for



freedom. And I think we used them as peaceful means really to send a message to the then previous regime of South Africa and I don't agree with those who are applying for amnesty who say they were responding to a situation. They had legal ways of dealing with a situation, they had those legal - the courts were in their favour, the justice was in their favour, and then they had all range of laws that they could have utilised to ensure therefore that they bring to whatever stop but not the covert methods that they used of killing and attacking people at night without arresting them.

COMMISSIONER: With the killing of Isaac - sorry at the burial of Isaac the police attacked. Would you say that the response of the youth on that day and for that occasion was a planned and organised response?

MR BAPELA: No, it was not an organised response. No one knew that that was going happen. At the time Alexandra was just organising itself into street committees, block committees and yard committees. And when the funeral occurred people want to give their last respects and they were provoked by the police by tear-gassing them and that anger therefore provoked the situation. It was not planned and no one had really planned for it. We never knew that it was going to happen.

COMMISSIONER: Would you have an estimate number of people who were killed just on that day or injured on that day of the burial of Isaac?

MR BAPELA: I don't remember the figures but Mr Bennet Lekalakala who has gone through some statistics on those particular, they may provide a hint on the number on the day itself.



COMMISSIONER: Then you come onto a very vital question of reconciliation. Do I understand you to mean that there has been first reconciliation between the ANC people and the Azapo people?

MR BAPELA: Well at the moment as we are talking here today I think we are no longer enemies with Azapo. There is complete reconciliation between the two groupings but then the unfortunate thing is that those who were involved at the time are no longer there and they are no longer a part of Azapo and they are leading another life, a life which one could then say is the life that Eugene De Kock also after he was discharged from the police started leading. I think they are leading that life now. They are into criminal activities unfortunately, are no longer a part of the organisation that they did belong to when the events took place in 1986.

COMMISSIONER: You have given us here the names of police, I don't know whether you could be kind enough later hereafter to try and get our unit their addresses personally, that is where they are so that should the TRC consider reconciliation programmes for Alexandra they should be able to reach these people with ease.

MR BAPELA: I will gladly do so.

COMMISSIONER: I have no further questions.

COMMISSIONER: Just two short questions which you are free not really to respond to. The first one I would like to know were there cultural or political reasons why your wife didn't make a statement so as to begin the process of healing as well by breaking the silence publicly as to what happened to her while she was pregnant. For us as a Truth Commission that is critical. I am surprised Yasmin Sooka



didn't raise that since she has been charged by the Commission to facilitate gender specific hearings and we have already had one in Kwa-Zulu Natal. The second question it relates to what you referred to as the just war. It is a big problem for us as a Commission because we have numerous witnesses who have made statements to the effect that their rights were violated, their beloved ones were killed in some instances by the people who were in charge of the peoples courts. So as you were saying you feel proud that you did that and this is why we are benefitting today, I was conscious of those people who on a daily basis are deeply hurt and saying they won't heal till such time that people who set up those structures come forward and publicly apologise so my question to you is do you think in the process of a just war so many things went wrong especially around the peoples courts?

MR BAPELA: Maybe to deal with the first question. I am a gender activist myself, there are no cultural or traditional custom rules that prohibited Constance to give a statement but then she wanted to give her own statement during the women hearings of what she suffered. I mean she has been in detention as many times as one can no longer count. She was one of those people who was in custody the longest amongst the women in Gauteng I think. People were just coming and going and she just stayed there in the state of emergency and she just wanted to talk about those issues and then I think when the women hearings takes place in Gauteng she will be amongst those who will be giving a testimony there. On the second question I must say that in the conduct of the struggle it is true that there were things that went wrong in many instances but then the wrongs were not planned by



the organisation, the wrongs were not planned by the leaders and therefore those wrongs when they occurred people had to come in and say stop it. In some instances we did succeed, in some incidences we did not succeed, where people tell you who you are and they just continued with those particular activities. And that was the situation unfortunately where in some areas we could not really give maximum control on. And then just to be specific on occurrences on the peoples courts, the peoples courts were set not by us as leaders, not by us as organisations but it was the residents who demanded them by frequently going to the youth and say may I solve your problem now and (indistinct) until we are solved. Those were the incidences when we went deeper, as we were preparing for their cases too but how they came in to being because all of a sudden we were charged with these peoples courts. We then got this other information that people demanded and wanted them and because they found solace in them. But the unfortunate as I earlier indicated, was that some people got excited after the events of the six days war. Alexandra changed completely. There was complete anger that dominated Alexandra then but a period prior to there was that very good organisational control over the situation and unfortunately the deaths and the massacres that then followed really worsened the situations and one will not therefore say that everything that was done thereafter could be justified as just because the wrongs you know did occur unfortunately but not because they were planned or mastered by certain organisations or leaders.

COMMISSIONER: Just before you leave. I would like to thank both of you really for coming forward to share and also to support the people of Alexandra. The story that you have



told us is one of those sad ones. As I was listening I was imagining a pregnant woman sleeping in a house and all of a sudden having to jump around for her safety and also I would like to share, I suppose your gratefulness for being alive today. Many people in the eighties who were trapped in those circumstances didn't survive. Also I would like just to affirm what you have said and to thank you for your spirit of reconciliation. In this community in particular you have referred to different political groupings, to people who assist the security forces and to the police themselves. The call you have made is the call that we have been making since we started that, it is only if people come forward and apologise and talk to the people whose rights were violated that we can begin to talk about healing and reconciliation. I thank you very much for coming forward. How we will proceed we will ask Mr Bennet Lekalakala to just take five minutes in giving a perspective. We are told that he has a written statement. He is not coming here as a witness so the Commission will be happy to get a copy of what he is talking to. And then after that we will break for tea.

Broadcasting for Total Citizen Empowerment
SABC © 2022