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Human Rights Violation Hearings
Type HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION HEARINGS
Starting Date 26 June 1996
Mr Ferus was an activist, he was also detained on Robben Island and was often detained and often in prison. Will you please tell us a little bit about yourself and tell us a little bit about Mr Ferus. Iím now speaking to Mrs Esterhuizen first and after that Iíll speak to Mrs Ferus. First with Mrs Esterhuizen though.
All right we can do that. Mrs Esterhuizen prefers that we start with her motherís evidence and that Mrs Ferus must tell us a little bit about Hennie. What kind of a person was he, give us a little bit of a background. What did he do, what was his life like, why was he detained?
He was a very good boy and he looked after me very well once he started working and as he grew older he became very interested in politics. He first belonged to the Coloured Peopleís Congress because in those years, the apartheid era we couldnít like today in ANC, we couldnít belong to the same organisations, there was the Coloured Peopleís Congress and the ANC and then the Indian Congress as well. He gradually became more and more involved in politics and the authorities then became aware of it as a result of that and they started watching him.
He attended meetings, he held meetings and the result of that was he became a thorn in the authorities flesh, a thorn in the Governmentís flesh so they started watching him and they regarded him as a threat. Eventually he realised that he was a marked man. This all happened such a long time ago that I really have to think very hard now. Itís a bit hard to remember.
Well he told me mother, you must just be prepared for anything and at that stage heíd already received warnings but he didnít take heed of that, he just continued with his activities and then on a particular Friday, they came to arrest him and placed him under house arrest, 90 days detention.
For 90 days he was in Worcester and from there they took him to Tulbagh. In Tulbagh he spent some time not quite 3 months, because he then started with a hunger strike in Tulbagh. The cell in which he was kept was very, very small. When in a sitting position both his back and his feet were touching the opposite walls. He consequently went on a hunger strike. Iím sure if Iím correct now but I think he stayed there for about a month. Thatís what he told me after his release.
The Commanding Officer from the police in Tulbagh phoned to headquarters in Roeland Street to tell them that they must come and fetch him because he was very afraid, he didnít want to be dealing with a dead person. This was after his hunger strike had been continuing for about 6 1/2 days, that was his way of trying to get out of this situation.
They then sent him to town and for the next 5 months he was in the Roeland Street prison but, you see what Iím telling you know is what he told me afterwards, he didnít tell me a lot but that is what he told me subsequently after the 90 day period that he served.
In Worcester on night I arrived home, my mother was at home and I was working, when I arrived home my mother sat cleaning his boots and my mother said that heíd sent out a message from prison to say that his feet were very cold and we must please send him his boots. That is what my mother then did, she sent him the boots. After the expiry of the 90 days detention, he came and thatís what he told us.
He told us that he fought back when they interrogated him. As far as the boots were concerned the 2 detectives, he said that he had kicked the 2 detectives who had come to interrogate him and as a result of that they tied him up on a chair so he could not fight back. He told me, Mom then, then they really beat me up.
As Iíve said he didnít tell me everything but he always told me Momma I will tell of all these things that they have been doing to me, there will come a day when I will be telling that to the people but of course that never happened. I was entitled to send him clean clothes once a week on Saturdays and thatís when I noticed that there were blood stains on his vest. I told my mother ... or bucks in jail .. and my mother also looked at the blood stains and said yes thatís what it looks like.
When he came back he said no, that was the result of the interrogation. They stabbed him with some kind of a sharp instrument. Now what was the other thing now, let me think, oh yes Iím a bit confused now.
You see there was another incident and thatís what Iím trying to recall. Nevertheless Iíll just continue now maybe it will occur to me just now. According to the 90 days Act, after 3 months had passed, oh yes, thatís what I wanted to say, in terms of the Act the Magistrate had to come and visit the detainees just twice a month to find out whether anything irregular had taken place and so on. These 2 persons, I canít remember who they were, policemen or detectives who had been interrogating him, he then told the Magistrate what they had been doing to him and laid a charge against them and the Magistrate said, Iíll go into this case and Iíll see what I can do about it.
After 14 days the Magistrate came back and said Iím sorry to tell you but there is nobody who has been touching you. He then decided now Iím going to start doing my own thing and that is when he started fighting back and thatís when he requested the boots because he started kicking and they started tying him to the chair. He said mother that is when they really beat me up and hurt me. He never really explained exactly what happened there.
From Worcester he was sent to Tulbagh and after the hunger strike he was sent to Roeland Street Prison. In Roeland Street things were very, very tough according to what he told me but he did say that a day would come when he would tell the story himself, what exactly happened in that prison. He didnít give me all the particulars.
They came back to me, it was absolutely nerve-wracking, they would come to my work and they were almost victimising me but fortunately my employer called me in and asked me what is happening, why are these detectives constantly coming here. He was an English speaking man, a very nice man. I gave him all the details and he said itís all right Ferus seeing that you have told me, now I know. Thatís what happened, they would come to my work. The police would come and they would say to my son that his grandmother had died. In those days, Iím sorry if I have to say this myself but I was a young, pretty girl at that time, you have to pardon me if I say this, they told him that I was looking old and grey and they asked him if he was not ashamed that he was causing such difficulties for his mother and grandmother that his grandmother even died because of his behaviour. They also asked him if he was not ashamed to leave his mother under these circumstances and that it was not necessary for him to have cause this experience to his mother and grandmother.
They would then also return to me and they would say to me, Ferus you must tell your son that he must speak, you must let him know that you want him to tell them what they want to know then we will let him go. All of these things exhausted me and I was a nervous wreck.
Yes - yes lady yes - definitely. While he was in detention in Roeland Street, now as I have already told you, I could bring him his clean clothing, and one - there was one day when I went - they told me that Mr Sauerman - he was the highest of the Special Branch.
Mr Sauerman wants to see me at Caledon Square and when I got there, Mr Sauerman was very - very friendly and Mr Sauerman said well all right Iíll tell it in Afrikaans, because he was an Afrikaans spoken man.
He then said to me, Mr Ferus we are not going to waste a lot of time as the proverb goes weíll just start at the very beginning. He then said that he had made enquiries in Worcester to determine what the relationship between I myself as mother and Ferus my son was and that he had found out that we had a very good understanding and a good relationship.
Mr Sauerman then told me that he was going to pick up the phone from Caledon Square and phone down to Roeland Street to call in Ferus, he said that they wanted Ferus to speak because he is like a hard rock, he is hard to crack but we donít want Ferus we want the big fishes, the whales. Ferus is like a sardine in the ocean and we donít want him. Mrs Ferus we want you to tell him to speak, he must tell us what we want to know. He said Mrs Ferus we have the right that if he gives testimony he will be able to go home with you to Worcester and the entire matter would be at an end. ... (interrupted) ...
... thatís all right, Iím just going to interrupt you but I wonder, what we heard from you is that you were drawn into the police involvement in the interrogation of your son and pressurising your son to disclose information and so on and that had an impact on the family.
I wonder if we could pause there a little bit and perhaps speak with Patti and ask Patti to tell us from her perspective about Hennie and also to ask her to tell us particularly what happened after he was released.
From where my mother spoke, Hennie was taken into the jail in 1963 and he was in jail until I met him. He was in detention for 90 day on 3 occasions, taken away from his mother. He subsequently went to Robben Island from the years 1967 to 1971. He then came home and was under house arrest for 5 years which he completed. I only met him after this.
My first experience with the police was after Iíd met Hennie, they then called me in and they interrogated me for a whole day. They showed me Hennieís files and asked me why I was getting involved with this kind of person. I then thought that this must be someone who really has something in him, he was not scared of these people and that is what attracted me to Hennie.
To give one word to describe our lives, we had a life of hell, even this morning we had an experience of the drama and the trauma that I had to experience as well as my children for the 15 years since his death.
We lost our father, he was never home. Myself with the help of Hennieís mother raised the children. We had to beg people to help us when he was in the Victor Verster prison. He was involved in various boycotts here in Worcester and in Ashton and in ... He was well known for his activities.. He made his contribution but he paid a high price. He was never able to experience the fruits of this new dispensation and this new Government, he was not with us to experience this. This is the effect that it had on us and on our friends here today who supported us through the course of these 15 years after we had lost him. It has a continuing impact emotionally. It brings pain to us and to our children who were raised without a parent, without a father.
They heard things from other people about him which they themselves were not able to experience with him. They could never hear him tell the stories about his experiences and they had difficulty understanding who the identity was of their father and that had impact on them.
We also had tremendous financial losses because of these experiences but we belief there was a strong pillar in my life which enabled me to get through this. I donít hate anyone and I donít want revenge against anyone that did things to Hennie as we have a heart and so has his mother to forgive people for what they did.
Every time that these things come to the fore it is a test for me whether Iím able to forgive. Hennie used to say that he wants to see his people truly tree, truly liberated. Liberation for him was not just a change of Government, this is not the freedom of what he spoke, he wanted his people to be wholly free.
I now understand what he was speaking of because the pain of the mothers and the fathers as we worked through the session through the course of this week, I realised that we were speaking about pain, that todayís speaking would not bring healing of this pain. It is the inner person who has to be healed. This is the pain that we have. We mothers and parents go back and we have prayer meetings and we realised that the true inner hurt is such that I have only a single thought that I want to share with the Commission. If you just leave us like this, it wonít help us. Many of us spoke for the first time today, opened up for the first time and for the first time experienced the freedom to share their pain. This opening will only hurt more if we simply leave it like this.
I have realised that in the isolation experience of 15 years, there was a lot of pain which we as a family experienced but we worked through this together. We must take each otherís hands so that we can become a strong nation, a healthy nation and build a healthy nation for the future.
I am not here to make recriminations against anyone or the people who did this against us. All the other mothers who are sitting here, we donít want to aim arrows at them or at their children, we must rather take hands and advance into the future.
Patti you giving us a very powerful testimony right now, and the sense that you feel that Hennie had actually contributed to -towards our own liberation in this country for all of us is very powerful in the way in which you understand that. But you are concerned about the way in which Hennie died, can you just give us an idea of why you feel suspicious about the circumstances around Hennieís death, can you just give us an idea of what your thoughts are about that.
When Hennie was taken into Victor Verster prison in the year that he was out, a father or a husband. During that time they hurt him a great deal. We gained information and we all agreed that we would make a case and we actually won the case in the Supreme Court. I was informed that we could make a claim, he was still in prison in Victor Verster at the time and he had agreed that we could make such a case. We began with it and then Hennie died.
It was during that time when he died that we were informed that we cannot continue with the claim because he was now deceased. People were concerned and felt that it might not have been death due to natural causes. We never took this entire matter up because we had no facts with which to work but there was a lack of certainty hanging in the air in this regard.
You also mentioned that when we asked you what the Commission could do for you that you want to speak briefly about your daughter, would you give us some idea what it is what you want from us with regard to your daughter.
Iím not sure whether this is appropriate but at the time of Hennieís death I was three months pregnant. For the six months after his death I was extremely emotional because Hennie was always locked up and he was not able to help us financially or otherwise. He wasnít able to help his mother or to put any money away to look after us. A lot of his rights were taken away from him.
After his death I found things out. For 15 years I had to again and again find forgiveness in my heart. When I discovered that Hennie had no license for instance, I was wondering how he could have had a license when he was in jail all the time. I had to pay for his car and there were all kinds of financial obligations that we had to take care of, we had to take care of our children. All of these worries had an impact on my life with ... consequences.
I believe today after a lot of sessions with one of our children that she was emotionally damaged, sheís no longer able to concentrate. There was clear direct consequences due to her fatherís involvement and the fact that I and Hennieís mother had to take care of the parental responsibilities.
As I said people left us these thoughts of suspicion about the circumstances surrounding his death. People cared for Hennie and he was loved by the people of Worcester. They were not able to accept his death.
Okay, so you feel that itís a community concern more than a concern for you - okay. Then just lastly Hennie has made - there is reference made to him in the long walk to freedom the book by Nelson Mandela - what was the reference, what - what was it about?
There is reference to Hennie and Hennieís contribution, the way in which theyíd experienced it. He saw Hennie as they were on Robben Island together, as well as the warden in his book mentioned the contribution that Hennie made. As the previous speaker said that language was a problem, they were able to use Hennie who also had the kind of personality that enabled him to communicate with people so he was a sort of link between various groups of people.
The struggle I have inside me is that I find that Hennieís death, we still speak of him every day, itís as if he is still alive in our hearts because he was such a person with strong values, values on which we can live and on which we can rest and which are foundations for our lives. I feel that his children who are everything to their grandmother, have been forgiven and there is a responsibility that people bear towards these children. I might die to-morrow. These are my fears and Hennieís motherís fears. Iíve learnt to work hard and Iím able to work but if I die what happens to my children.
Patti I was extremely humbled by many of the things that you said in your testimony. I think you right to say that these kinds of experiences are a test for ability to forgive. I think you right, therefore we should not take it for granted that when people come up here, coming up with the - a sense of forgiveness, I think what you also pointing out is that we begin to process of forgiveness after processing - our experience of the pain, our re-experience of the pain, what it meant for us to share the pain publicly.
And thank you very much for reminding us of our responsibility to the witnesses who come up here, not only for the particular day that they come to give evidence, and their testimony, but the fact that we have to ensure that once that pain has been retouched, we then have other processes that will make sure that, that pain is content, thank you Patti and thank you MRS FERUS.