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Human Rights Violation Hearings


Starting Date 23 July 1996

Location SOWETO

Day 2


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CHAIRPERSON: We will ask Reverend Dale White to come forward. Welcome Reverend White. It has been a long wait for you since yesterday. I will ask you to stand.

DALE WHITE: (Duly sworn in, states).

CHAIRPERSON: I would ask Hugh Lewin to assist you in giving the evidence.

MR LEWIN: Dale, thanks very much for waiting this long for us. As you have heard much of the testimony which has come before us in the last two days, the one element that has not actually been covered directly, has been that of the Church involvement. We know that you, as Murphy Morobe mentioned briefly, the role of Welgespruit, has been mentioned, but just very briefly. I think what we would like if you could outline to us the role of the Church at that time and specifically what happened at Welgespruit and elsewhere that you were involved in. Thanks very much.

REV WHITE: Members of the Commission, I am grateful for this opportunity to bring to your notice the ways in which the local congregation, particularly of St Pauls Jabavu and the associated role I had for 30 years at the Welgespruit Fellowship Centre, was impacted and changed by the events of 1976. I apologise that you do not yet have a written deposition from me, but that will be available shortly after today. May I proceed?



MR LEWIN: Please do.

REV WHITE: I would like to say that this is an evaluation of that Wednesday, June 16 1976 and I make it to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on behalf of the many people who I worked with at that time. I feel privileged to appear before you as a Commission of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to share in hindsight what was unleashed in the uprising against colonialism and apartheid on that fateful in Soweto.

For me it began as a routine staff meeting day with my Rector, the then Reverend David Inkwe, to review the state of our work in the parish of St Pauls Jabavu where, since 1972, I served as an associate clergyman. We were unaware of the portent when, at his request, we adjourned the meeting at 10am because David said, I am worried, the school children are marching today to protest Afrikaans as the language of the oppressors as the medium of instruction through black Bantu education schools. As a South African born in Port Elizabeth and raised and educated in the 1950's at Cape Town University and Grahamstown Theological College I was blessed to be accepted as a white clergyman working in Soweto from 1972 to 1992 in the parish of Jabavu.

It was unusual for a young white South African to have lived in Kliptown, a hundred yards from Freedom Square, to live in the ghost streets of Sophiatown dwellings which had been raised to the ground and removed and to experience the mass removal of 2000 black families from the ghetto of Western Native township to Soweto. Even more grouching was to minister to the social and spiritual desperation of 2000 coloured families removed from their houses from all over Johannesburg city into the two roomed shack conditions in



the Western Coloured township. No changes had been made, only the race of the inhabitants, but the whiphand of apartheid, absolute subjugation cracked ominously on and around the bowed heads of those displaced people. It is grim that I speak of this unspeakable abominable dehumanising event as a privilege. However, it placed myself and my ministry as a Priest in a vicarious, unique position to share in the struggles and life experiences of the oppressed of that time. It is from this perspective and standing rooted in the two separated worlds of apartheid, both the white and the black, as a welcome, but now unaware descendent of my own colonial settler past.

June 16 can be memorialised as the beginning of the end of apartheid. It was on that day that the roar as yet untested energy of youth erupted and a new spirit of uprising of the oppressed was born, flowered and seeded the future of liberation we enjoy in these days. It was a real social moment in the history of our land which struck at the jugular grip of Bantu education on the subjugation of the minds and hearts of the black people of South Africa. Many look back in horror and ask from the side of the white oppressor, why did we do it, how could we do it, shoot unarmed children in the dusty streets of far off Soweto to impose Afrikaans upon them. The maim of death tortured destruction unbridled armed power, why was it unleased so viciously. That provoking green Chevrolet car firing on neighbours passing the time of day in the streets of Soweto. It was the chill of fear of the arrival at a junction of change that loosened the rampaging spirit of destructive heart of dehumanising apartheid.

I remember the now pitiful posturing Mr Jaap Strydom,



the one-armed bandit as he was known, of the Department of Bantu Education and Training. A changed name was the only process that the Cabinet Minister, Treurnicht, brought to that deep rooted crisis. The confusion of teachers of whom 750 attended the crisis meeting, hastily at four hours notice, at the Methodist Church Centre. They had locked school gates in vain attempt to restrain the police from entering and beating up children in the Church yards, seeing colleagues and children shot and been themselves victims of mass arrest and teargassed even while in police cells. They tried to stem this tide of brutal repression and to restore order to learning, only to have children locked in classrooms and fierce Alsatian dogs released to tear and maim young girls and boys. They took the drastic step aimed at shocking their racially separated education authorities and agreed to resign en-masse within 14 days if police were not withdrawn from the schools and orderly teaching restored. 503 Brave teachers then resigned, but the juggernaut rolled on and the leaders were indefinitely detained.

St Pauls Church in Jabavu, Soweto, had begun a programme in response to parents who in 1972 appealed to the clergy to do something about the employment of their children who had matriculated from Bantu education schools in Soweto. The story of one woman touched me. Father, we worked hard as a family to put our boy through matric. He passed his exams well. For months he walked the streets of Johannesburg looking for employment, showing proudly his matric certificate, but now, Father, he works alongside his father on the factory floor and as a family we ask why did we save and slave to get him a matric when he is wasted now



working in a job which needs no education.

In a small way we used the July vacation as a careers guidance for preparing the matric and for preparing for the matric examinations. What wonderful talent was identified as each year more and more pupils from all the schools in Soweto gathered in July. For the first time physcometric testing, contacts with business houses and professionals found their way to support gifted black children with scholarships, bursaries and job opportunities. Within two years this became an annual winter school and as a side effect brought together the brightest and best of Soweto young people. This social mission extended into the schools, reached Head Masters and pupils and the Reverend David Inkwe, my Rector, was elected to be Chairperson of the School Committee who took on the Department and took them to Court on the ruling that Afrikaans should become the medium of instruction. The parents, the teachers and the pupils won the court case, but lost the battle and the Parliament simply changed the Laws to get the way of the Minister, Treurnicht.

As a Church and congregation we committed to non-violent organised descent against this apartheid invasion of the hearts and minds of school children. Whenever protest, wherever descent, wherever people could resolve to organise for change the congregation was ready to involve themselves unstintingly. The words of Saul Ellinsky rang true for us. When men speak, they exercise their moral principles. However, we were to discover through pain, sorrow and struggle that when men act they have to resort to power principles. One of the crucibles for testing the spiritual and moral fibre of our parishioners fell upon me after eight SOWETO HEARING GAUTENG PROVINCE


months working as a Priest in St Pauls, Jabavu.

She was an elderly faithful woman in the congregation who took me to one side after Church on Sunday morning. Simply and with deep faith she asked me a question. Tell me, Father, as a white person does God hate us as blacks? What sin have we committed that we are punished so much? The white people drive in cars, have beautiful homes and their children are blessed with everything they want, but we, we suffer, we struggle, we cry because we cannot make ends meet. Why does God bless these people? What great sin have we done to deserve this punishment? The corrosion of apartheid had deeply entered the spirit of this woman. The abomination with which my mind and soul reacted to this plausible lie racked me for days thereafter. Defeat in the heart without hope showed the spectre of the racial segregationist obscenity of apartheid. Where the very victim of this apartheid blamed herself in guilt and despair. Why was I born black, she asked, to be dumped among the wretched of the earth. This insight into the spiritual pain and struggle and doubt sown in the nighttime of human oppression galvanised the Gospel of Hope in my own ministry.

I saw how apartheid was crushing and bending the spirit of black people to conform the man-designed image of inferiority. No wonder why, with arrogance, Dr Verwoerd could enact Bantu education as the designed, prepare blacks for their place in the hierarchy of oppression. Not to give them hope in developing their innate potential, but simply to become pawns in the racist society, to be educated to know their place. This outrage was tempered by the oft repeated words, the Bible and sacrament that mankind is



created in the image of God, that is equally idolatry to shape mankind in the image of man as it is to represent God in the image of man, beast or carved representing.

Buttressed and inflamed with this vision, I returned to my ministry and our congregation as a messenger of hope. My preaching found new voice and conviction. My style changed to suit this message while the anger of righteous justice infused my action within Church and society. This inner change proved contagious. Hope for the hopeless was the way forward into bread for the hungry and liberation for the oppressed. Colleagues and congregation caught the scent of this message and began to trace the footpaths to freedom with a new purposefulness. It was in the climate of emerging black consciousness when through broadened self awareness people strove against self-doubt to new feelings of their own worth and the first voices of black, too, is beautiful, worthwhile and of human stature began to be heard. Once blacks grasped that they could take hold of their own destiny, they delinked their handed down identity as determined by the ruling whites. This was the spiritual cauldron in which the new generation of young leadership began to find themselves and it foretold the demise of the apartheid state. When people are no longer prepared to be their own oppressors then the oppressor could no longer enjoy the spirit of his privilege and in the lager. These small beginnings of confident, organised descent flourished in the hungry hearts and minds or aridly oppressed people, but we were to learn that things hoped for are not yet real. A whole generation of endurance was to be called forth before liberation would dawn.

Who could realise that on the dusty day in Soweto the



first organised confrontation between placard bearing youth and pistol shooting police was the opening salvo on the stage of modern South African liberation history. The results of the vicious response of the State were that the older liberation formations in exile received an injection of up to 4000 new recruits into their midst. Wherever there was a school, black pupils rose up against the imposition of Afrikaans in a rolling mass reaction. Starting in Soweto it spread to the Witwatersrand into the most rural areas except in the homelands and the independent states. Then it spread into coloured and indian schools and finally began deschooling society from racism in the period after 1994.

After two decades in 1996 a new inclusive national liberated educational system came into place to win the hearts and minds of young people of all South Africans to a democratic, non-sexist and non-racial society. It was not a struggle without pain and loss of life, sacrifice of learning opportunities, it was matched by hard run concessions against political tyranny, economic stringency and abandoning fear which matched with emerging hope, but a struggle that as if by a miracle, vindicated not only the oppressed, but the oppressors and every willing liberation of the spirit. All have to overcome the inherited legacy of colonialism and repressive apartheid, all need to dig deep down into the depths of their being to discover their human potential and to root out the remaining dehumanising habits of their heart, but to return and unpack the historic import of that historical and unique social moment in Soweto on Wednesday 16.

The carrying of 13 year old Hector Petersen's body was a walking pieta of the struggle of youth to undo the



shackles of the past and release the potential, all imprisoned life giving energy in the human kind can achieve. Where as many expected the flashes of violence to burn out and disappear like an untimely fireworks display, the years stretched on into 1978 and 1979 with a brief abandonment of violence against children in 1980 and 1981. This long lasting row of incidence blanketed the country with systemic, reactive violence on the part of the system between pupils and police in the segregated townships, disrupting the regular schooling nationwide.

At St Pauls Church in Jabavu as the assaults by police on children in schools spread and the police supported attacks by hostel dwellers on township residence increased, a war of physcosis showed itself. The weekly reports by parishioners to the congregation at the end of Sunday services showed that up to 40 members of our congregation were being held in the Modderbee prison under preventative detention. The Rector was asked to visit and to help families to get to this remote from Soweto Prison. One member of the Church choir suggested that as an act of solidarity with them we should stand and sing Nkosi Sikelel i Afrika, the struggle national anthem banned then by the Government as a closing hymn at the end of each Sunday service. This was adopted and practised and at the end of every service. At Sunday at 12:20 we all stood to sing and we learned that those gathered in prison also stood up to sing it.

The rotation of Bible readings for August 1976 were given to me to preach and they were on the Biblical themes of peace. As I struggled to remain true to the text like turn the other cheek, love your enemies, this proved too



much for many militants in our congregation and at the end of the service a lively debate erupted among the congregation. We cry peace, peace, but there no peace said one. Look at how the police and the children acted during this week, but our faith says while many were, that we must stop and forgive our enemies, spoke out another person. Whereas many disagreed with the divisiveness in the congregation. We all left quite dispirited by the differences we had experienced and 15 House Churches were asked to meet and discuss the matter further in that week.

The next Sunday one of the House Churches came with an exciting compromise. In the Eucarsest we have the special ritual of the kiss of peace, they said. We have not got peace in our society, but we can use it to generate peace among us here as a worshipping community. We were soon singing choruses and circulating with relieved greetings amongst all and a real sense of the peace of the Lord being among us. This practice spread contagiously to all the Anglican Churches in Soweto in the following months. Even more startling was a change in the attitude towards children and young people in Church. As one parishioner explained to me, these young people have taken up our struggle, they are on the frontline. We have buried so many we feel they should be blessed because we do not know if they will die between now and next Sunday. That is why, no longer, we chase them like flies off the front benches to make way for the adults. We must respect and protect them now. This reversal of a deep african custom that elders must be given pride of place and honoured as wide patriarchs, now in Church they are being recognised. At the end of service being solemnly blessed while young men and women are being



listened to in the Council meetings and are consulted regularly with the Church leadership. This reversal of generational status will later become a problem in families, but arises out of necessity as the schools became the site of struggle, of planning and of organising stay-aways. A framework for boycotts of white owned shops as blacks bring to bear their productive muscle and their retail purchasing power and begin to impose collective action in the whole of Soweto and enforce conformity to it. It is this enforcement that reveals the weakness of the school child-based strategy of communication which can forestall police prevention of action.

Each household had a school-going child and so the message gave instance compliance to all from this and these mobilising actions. However, the men living in single sex hostels were without families or children and did not receive the messages and were seen to be breaking rank from community actions. As they flocked to the work on the trains or returned home with purchases made in the city and therefore gangs of youths monitoring conformity to the decision of the community, attacked them with and that led to counter-violence from the hostel dwellers. The police seized on the hostel housing between 20000 and 30000 males spread throughout the different townships of Soweto and added fuel to this first fire of repression. The deaths, rapes and destruction of property and looting of household effects added to the tale of woe of the report back congregational meetings and House Churches. However, the damage was done and the rift between male hostel dwellers and family based residence would be exploited in the future politically and by a sinister third force in the future.



By the middle of 1978 the congregation was receiving reports of people being fired by fearful white bosses, approached by State security police blackballing their employees, being retrenched by hotels less patronised by tourists, shops, offices and factories as the economic depression deepened followed in the wake of township violence and the beginning of a decision to promote economic sanctions taken by Church leaders. This non-violent world solidarity action programme against the injustices of apartheid, racially legislated was seen as pressure, strategic and necessary to change the powerful alliance between business and State in maintaining the status-quo. This produced a crisis of conscience within our Church as more and more people lost their jobs as a result of disinvestment, divestment and the United Nations backed sanctions campaign.

On the one hand this had to Bishop Desmond Tutu championing the cause of this international economic pressure by voicing the willingness of families to suffer further economic depravation when weighed against the vicious oppression of apartheid and increase the load of suffering rather than the degregation of apartheid. It was a case of choosing between the lesser of two evils. Outright armed insurrection and destructive warfare and the power principles of organised direct resistance and boycott. As the number of unemployment rose in our congregation the after Church meetings started to collect funds for feeding needy families, gave advice on job opportunities and places of work where young, unemployed teachers and expelled university students and retrenched workers and senior school pupils joined then in a Church action supervised by Natal



University academics to generate a picture of what is the real reality of unemployment amongst blacks. No statistics were being kept on this segment of the South African population. Unemployment was standing at 2% amongst whites, asians and coloureds where unemployment was short term and seasonal.

However, since colonial days, policies to force blacks off the land to migrate to mines and farms, to keep them circulating by creating pools of unskilled labour treated blacks as a different category of workers on contract and excluded from all senior places of management by the Group Areas Act. The scientific results of a 25 page questionnaire administered in the Transvaal and Natal and the Western Cape, the security police inhibited the project in the Eastern Cape, sponsored by the Churches showed that the black picture of unemployment. These first statistics showed that the structural unemployment among blacks was standing at between 19% and 23%. An alarming result of racial, economic factors which parked unemployment among the black segment of the population. The main academic who served with, was served with a banning order, but the debate was initiated by this Church initiative springing from within the St Pauls congregation.

The exposure of the real nature of unemployment became headline news and led to various programmes and projects and public awareness. Reverend David Inkwe sponsored a Church conference on unemployment through the South African Council of Churches. This spearheaded a new concept of disinvestment and boycott of the formal business sector while re-engaging with people at the base to start up development projects and initiatives as an alternative,



reparational activity and this was launched as a two prong organised strategy and brought to the forefront the concern for distributive justice among people from the north in the countries, the industrialised countries.

At home in St Pauls Church, Jabavu, we discussed the final two non-scientific questions added to the questionnaires that had been used. What would you want to do about your unemployment and who do you want to do something about it? Through the answers came a clear message. We want to work together in groups. We want the Church to help us. Considering the contradiction of job seeking by individuals who were enlightened by this group response to the crisis of unemployment, generally it was I am looking after myself, Jack, first come, first served, last one in, first one out. All the slogans among the employed, but in black culture people seemed to be saying touch one, you touch all, pass one, pass all.

From the Church base we started, therefore, to search for co-operative forms of self-employment and initiated at St Pauls the first factory in Soweto. A factory is defined as a fixed building employing more than ten workers, using water and electricity in the production processes. This is the legal requirement we learned. So, when we got solidarity contract in September to supply the Dutch Churches with 250000 memorial candles at the price of R1,00 we became creative. Four church yards set up Zozo huts for ten workers on the ground. Intermediate technology was made to produce candles using gas to heat, not electricity and by November the first export order was delivered to the Churches in Holland. Unemployed workers from families were recruited and trained in production and running the first



productive co-operative in Soweto which set loose in the wider society skilled community workers as new employees passed through this first economic based resistance project. We learned the hard road of experience despite the setbacks of business and the roll back employed by the security police stimulated public servants and inspectors and prohibitive Sasol prices on the control of imported wax. Nothing succeeds like success and soon self-help projects were being launched and nurtured in the urban and rural areas.

Initially the hard marxists were against development saying that only a poverty encapsulated rural population would revolt and activities would simply delay the revolution. However, people cannot, came together and banded together to fight poverty through self-employment in the informal sector and today this sector is recognised and is receiving support from our Government and business sector as the most able to create affordable jobs as an answer to structural unemployment.

MR LEWIN: Sorry to interrupt. Is there some way you could wrap up.

REV WHITE: Yes, I am going to wrap up now.

MR LEWIN: Yes, thanks.

REV WHITE: I would like just to talk about in Jabavu, the Apelging Community Centre was erected in 1984 in memory of the people and children of Soweto and they helped build and set the foundations and build the walls to roof height. It was in the evening, in the early morning that the whistles started sounding in White City, Jabavu, as third force, two combi loads of third force people tried to burn down the centre which had been established in 1984. It was built as



a submission and it is as a tribute to those who suffered and so I therefore would propose to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that you consider supporting a set of memorials, particularly, I would ask that we look at the Apelging Community Centre and that we look at this as a living memorial which will bring young people and others together to study the history and the background of our struggles for freedom. We would also ask you to look to supporting as best you may, the S A Noble Loriets Peace Park based at the Welgespruit Fellowship Centre. It is these two memorials that can keep alive the knowledge about our past and our struggles, but remain open to bringing peace in the future. Therefore, I close with what I feel was a very real prayer said each day and Sunday in our Church. It is a prayer for Africa. God bless Africa, guide her children, guard her leaders and give her peace, Amen.

MR LEWIN: Dale, thank you very, very much for that, for the practicality and as well for the spiritual message which comes through and informs all of what you have said. I will hand over to Hlengiwe at the Chair. Thank you.

CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much Reverend White. We thank you for giving this Commission an important perspective which is the role of the Church at that time and how you envisage that role to be continued in this era. Because the Commissioners do not have your statement I will not give them an opportunity to ask you, but to ask you some questions. As soon as we have got your statement we will certainly be in touch with you if there are any issues that needs to be clarified. I thank you very much. Thank you. REV WHITE: Thank you and I apologise that you do not have the written statement yet.





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