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Type Prison Hearings
Starting Date 22 July 1997
Names THERESA RAMASHAMOLA
CHAIRPERSON: We shall now call upon Theresa Ramashamola. Welcome Theresa. We are sorry that you were kept so long, but as you know, we had to go through these proceedings.
I will ask you to stand up and repeat the oath after me.
THERESA RAMASHAMOLA: (sworn states)
CHAIRPERSON: Theresa, would you prefer to speak Sesotho? Hugh Lewin will facilitate the process as you will tell your story.
MR LEWIN: Theresa, I will speak in English and it should be translated. Can you hear?
MR LEWIN: You can? Is it coming through clearly?
MS RAMASHAMOLA: Yes, I can hear the Sotho interpretation.
MR LEWIN: Theresa, thank you, thank you very much for coming and as the Chairperson has said, we are sorry that there has been a delay in your coming forward.
You were also part of the Sharpville 6, with Duma Khumalo who has come this morning and what we would really like to ask you is to talk about your time on death row. You have given us a statement which outlines some of the terrible things that actually happened to you from September 1984, before you were sentenced to death.
For the purposes of today, if we could ask you just to deal with those very briefly, but then to tell us a little bit more about that one sentence where you say in your statement, we were inside for eight years and seven years on death row.
If you could tell us please a little bit about that time and what it was like, because it would have been something quite special for you as a woman. Please in your own words and in your own time, tell us something about that, thank you.
MS RAMASHAMOLA: I would explain about the time on death row. I think that is the time you are requiring me to state about.
MS RAMASHAMOLA: Whilst on death row, it was quite difficult for me, because what hurt me was that as most people talked to me, were saying, asking why were you the only woman on death row. That hurt me, I couldn't understand what kind of a woman was I who was this unfortunate to be on death row and what I was arrested for, if we trace back in time, we cannot find anything.
If I did such deeds or rather I was supposed to have sentenced to death, what hurt me was that I was on death row for somebody I never touched personally, I never threw a stone at that person.
Even Mabuti and that woman said, as I said, I don't remember deep in my heart saying that this minute is said aside for anybody to tell the truth. I will say the truth that I didn't kill Dlamini. I did nothing. I did not even throw a stone at him.
To stand on death row, to be killed, I would think that I would be hanged for somebody I didn't kill. I could have killed myself, committed suicide, but I asked myself why would I do that or escape because I didn't do such a thing.
I was frustrated at that time, I couldn't understand what was happening to me.
MR LEWIN: Where were you actually held Theresa, could you tell us that? Where was death row, in Pretoria?
MS RAMASHAMOLA: Yes, that was in Pretoria Central Prison.
MR LEWIN: You were kept separate from say the other members of the Sharpville 6?
MS RAMASHAMOLA: Duma and the others were at the male section, I was at the female section. When we left, I met them when I was informed that we are going to be hanged. I never met anybody when I received visitors, some of the prisoners would come, because it was lunch. I had a visitor.
They were told not to have eye contact with me. They will just come and get food, you know, and hurriedly go back and eat. That is what made me cry. I could not understand why I was estranged from others while still alive.
MR LEWIN: Could you tell us a little bit about what life was like in those years when you were awaiting execution?
MS RAMASHAMOLA: I remember the day when I heard that I was going to be executed. Father Patrick arrived, I could see his expression was sad. It is like he cried before.
He tried to fake his expression, asking me how I felt. I said to him, I feel quite happy, I polished my shoes. I have fixed my dress. He felt me how I felt, I said to him, I am fine, there is nothing that I felt at that time. There was the police Sarah Matahole, she worked well with the police who were investigating our case and some of the White policemen, she was investigating our case whilst we were still on death row.
I just had this shock, this woman came when I had visitors, trying to eavesdrop and the way she entered the room was not satisfactorily. She would talk to Father Patrick alone and said to me they are calling you.
He would not tell me why, because he already heard. As I left for that place, Sarah told me that we have to leave for the hospital. On arrival there, three men entered. The one that I remember is Arno, Warrant Officer Arno.
As we entered the hospital, he asked me if I am Theresa, asking me in Afrikaans, I confirmed that I was indeed Theresa.
He asked me where is my mother. I said I don't know where my mother is. He said to me you must not tell me that, I am asking you where is your mother and I said, no, my mother is overseas. I said that my mother went overseas, that is what I heard.
And he said your mother went overseas and she thinks that we are not going to kill you, you are going to die. He has never told me anything, he just told me that I was going to die and I picked it from there that when somebody is taken to hospital, he is going to be killed.
And when they arrived at the cells, you will be discharged. I recalled Roos de Vos, the other one that when they were executed, it was at the hospital. I thought now I was going to be killed.
He said I must stand on the scale, weight scale and then he took out a rope, he measured the circumference of my neck and then measured my height. Thereafter he measured my (indistinct) and then he said to me don't think that you wouldn't hang. I said to him if I would be executed, it would be fine, but if I didn't kill I wouldn't be hanged.
And what you wish, would not happen, you might even die before me. I said that out of anger and frustration for the way he talked to me. Afterwards we went back to the cell.
I don't want to tell lies. I was a Christian. I used to pray. I didn't fear death. I even asked them why are you killing me, or rather when are you killing us. Then I said to this other guys, let us accept that we didn't kill that person and let us accept that we are going to be hanged.
There was this other one, Ritmo Gowena, who didn't agree to die at that age and I said to him, we didn't kill that person, but they are forcing it. They want to kill us. We are only left with a day to be hanged. It was on a Thursday. They came to me on Monday, but I was saying this on Thursday to them.
Afterwards this White policemen, I said to this Major at this prison, wouldn't it be better that you don't just organise a pauper's funeral for us, organise a proper funeral for us, not like animals who would be dropped like it has been said is done with people.
This woman said I must make an application requesting our parents to buy graves rather than being thrown down. This Officer didn't take this letter or application to the authorities, but tore it up. Even a dog at times, you might even dig up a grave for it. We don't know what takes place there, but we heard that it was quite difficult there and it hurt.
MR LEWIN: How many people were in that section - that you must have been the only person there?
MS RAMASHAMOLA: On arrival, I was alone. I stayed there for about a year. After a year, rather I found Mama du Bruyn there. After being sentenced, she was released. I was alone through the whole year.
After that year in January or February, Roos de Vos arrived. After Roos de Vos, Lisbet Witbooi arrived. After her Sandra Smith arrived. After Sandra Smith, Mabisele Nqobo was the next one. I have forgotten the other girl's name. She has since been released from death row, but she is still in jail.
Roos de Vos and Sandra Smith, after their death, I experienced a lot of difficulty. They were from Cape Town, they didn't know me. They used to tell me that you, because I asked for the documents written to my case, explaining everything to them, they said to me, you won't be hanged, there is nothing you have done.
Roos said that I was going to be killed. Please take care of my child, but Roos would not tell me that Roos worked for the de Klerk family. Then that person was killed and then he got the death sentence.
After the killing of this two people, (indistinct) found me there, it became very difficult for me to believe that I would be released or not. After two years, Mabisele Nqobo left and was released. From death row, he went home after his release.
This other girl who I said I forgot her name, was released and went to Cape Town, I was there alone.
MR LEWIN: And Theresa, could you explain to us, I mean, were you all kept separately, in separate cells and when did you get a chance to talk for instance?
MS RAMASHAMOLA: We were separated individually. I was not supposed to meet this other prisoners at all. If a prison would be constructed because of me, there would be a place designated alone for me, so as not to meet others.
I was the first, or rather in the first cell, and there were other eight different cells. There was a hospital where White people stayed in. I was right in front of the kitchen.
On my window, or rather through the window I could see people. The other Warrant Officer, Emily Kekana, who is Black, I asked her, this thing of hanging people, does it exist. She shouted back at me and I got shocked that she got happy about it.
She even said that she was going to close the window so that I could not see other people, because I was going to die. I couldn't understand why a Black person would react like that to me. I was during apartheid times, but I could not remember, recall, White people talking like that to me.
Emily Kekana and Sergeant Sarah Matahole were ill-treating me. The rest of them treated me with soft gloves, if I may say so. I didn't have any problems with them.
MR LEWIN: Where did you get your strength from, because you obviously were very strong in that time that you were waiting, where did you get your strength?
MS RAMASHAMOLA: On a daily basis, people in my company, Sergeant Wozwani, Maponya, Gwebo - a lot of them and some of this young White policemen who were there, I don't recall them telling me what to do. They would come with music, play music and bring sermons to me.
There were some that enjoyed that. When I worked with this two people, I could see that I would be killed the next day, but with the other Sergeants who were sympathetic to me, I felt I could be released any time. Even at that very moment, hence I gained strength and courage.
They would tell me that your case has got support outside, the whole world is praying for you. That gave me a lot of strength. I thought that having the whole world praying for us, maybe our prayers would be answered.
MR LEWIN: Theresa, that day when Father Patrick came and you were going to be executed in five days time. Just take us through those last few days and your feelings.
MS RAMASHAMOLA: Through the five days after Father Patrick left and I heard that I will be hanged, I don't want to lie. I don't remember crying. Whether I was then mad, I was just a human being, just a thing.
I just hauled myself all over the place, not knowing what is happening. I remember one day asking them what would I do not to feel whilst being hanged and I asked how much I had and I was told I had R380-00.
I required to ask all the food I needed, I wrote them all kinds of dishes. I thought maybe they would allow me to buy brandy straight, and then they would hang me without feeling it, then I wrote it down, the straight of Whisky.
They came back to me, I said to them maybe if I drink or take this Whisky, I would not feel it. Now this took us a step back, I knew that I didn't kill this person. The food arrived. When you are awaiting death, you don't even eat like a pig, it eats much better.
You eat up everything, even the peels, so that when they kill me, I would have balance and when they say you are not going to have any more food, I would have something in my stomach. You eat everything with the peels.
I think I bought food worth R80-00 and at half past one, I had devoured the whole of the food I bought. I couldn't understand why I ate so much, but I ate up everything.
What I didn't eat was their chicken because when they know that they are going to kill you, they bring this chicken. All the time they have not been bringing the chicken to you. We had a believe that this chicken had something they poured in or they mixed the chicken, so that you die.
I took the chicken and gave it to my fellow prisoners together with the food to the amount of R4-00 that I said I would rather give it to my fellow prisoners. They asked them if they wanted the food and they agreed and I said I don't want the food.
MR LEWIN: That means that you learnt only at the very, very last moment that you were not going to be killed?
MS RAMASHAMOLA: I didn't know that I was not going to be killed or hanged, or rather I had the believe that I wouldn't be hanged. I just pulled myself that whatever comes, let it be.
MR LEWIN: But when did they actually tell you?
MS RAMASHAMOLA: They told me on Thursday, we were supposed to be hanged on Friday. They came to me on Thursday, telling me that we are no longer going to be hanged, I could not understand it. I thought he was laying to me.
And I asked myself, why are they coming for me during the night when they come for others during the early hours of the morning. Or rather they want to get rid of me quickly as possible. If you might have been there, they would guard almost 24 hours. On the balconies on top of the cells, there would be this guards, guarding us all the time, whether we killed God or what we did, we couldn't actually come to terms with that.
On your way, leading to the male section, there are warders on both sides until you reach the cars.
MR LEWIN: How did you feel when you finally realised that you were not going to be hanged? How did you feel about how they had treated you through this process?
MS RAMASHAMOLA: It was much the same like we were going to be hanged. We still had some days to wait until they gave us the date to be executed, now you can understand that I lost faith at times. It would come and go.
You never knew when you would be told the truth that we would be hanged or not, and that would be the end.
MR LEWIN: And Theresa, how do you feel now?
MS RAMASHAMOLA: At the present moment, I don't want to lie. As far as life is concerned, personally if they would have hanged me at that time, it would be much better. It would have been painful then and that would be it.
MR LEWIN: Thank you very much.
CHAIRPERSON: Any questions from Tom Manthata?
MR MANTHATA: Theresa, you state that if they would have killed you, your problems would have been resolved.
MS RAMASHAMOLA: This personal life problems, you see if a person says to you I would take you and you will work for me until you have done enough, then you would tell me whether you want to resign or not, I would not let you resign.
But now it is very difficult, you are facing reality now. And you lose your job on the other side. It is a very painful experience. You don't understand how you lose your job, what is the problem surrounding that. There is no explanation there. You just lose your job and there is no money.
It is a difficult thing. If I was not alive now, I would not have a lot of debits to my name, owing anybody. If they said we are going to release you if there was nobody who was going to give you a job, I wouldn't have a problem.
I would have lived in that prison for 25 years. Not that they take me and said I will work there. Now on my release there is nothing. The kind of live I am living now, our fellow people are leading us in a very harsh way than before.
MR MANTHATA: You are not referring here to problems more like the problems you had in jail?
MS RAMASHAMOLA: I put them all together in one basket. I haven't had counselling up to so far and there is nobody who is telling me how to go about receiving counselling. Maybe I am asking people who are quite down.
MR MANTHATA: At the time of your arrest, did you have a baby?
MS RAMASHAMOLA: No, I did not, but people say so.
MR NTSEBEZA: Since you are here, and you are indicating the sort of problems that you have, now if the Commission were in a position to assist and I am not promising anything, what would you like to be assisted by?
MS RAMASHAMOLA: It is a difficult question for me to address. I cannot say I request of the Commission to do one and two and three for me. Maybe it can assist me to continue my studies and undergo counselling, that might help me.
CHAIRPERSON: Theresa, we thank you greatly for having come here to tell us about your experiences. We are very sympathetic that you prefer that you would have died when you look at the problems you are facing now.
Whilst we would be grateful about your release, we never thought that there would be a person who would say it would be better if I was hanged or served my jail sentence term, but I say to you, please have strength. There is God for us all.
And I would just like to just give you a small paragraph from Theresa's biographical information, which struck me as very interesting for me. Theresa was born in Sharpville in 1960 and that is when the Truth Commission has been mandated to start examining the gross human rights violations and actually it says her mother was in that group that was protesting and she happened to be pregnant with Theresa and fortunately she was amongst those who were not injured.
So 24 years later, in Sharpville, on September the 3rd, her daughter was struck on the head by rubber bullets and the rest was history and which she is sharing with us now.
Theresa has told us that she wasn't as lucky as Duma who had the privilege of working, of being helped by warders like Mr Steinberg who had just been testifying. She has shared with us that her perpetrators were women and they were not sympathetic.
We shall be having our women's hearings next week, on the 28th and 29th and some of the things the women requested, was that we should not only consider the White people who were perpetrators to women, we should also look, consider Black women as perpetrators as well.
And it is very sad that Theresa in death row, should have had those sad experiences from her own people and from women, for that matter.
Thank you Theresa for sharing with us.