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Type Prison Hearings
Starting Date 22 July 1997
Names J.S. STEINBERG
CHAIRPERSON: We shall now call upon Warrant Officer J.S. Steinberg to come forward. Welcome Mr Steinberg. Before I ask you to do either the oath or the affirmation, I would like you to introduce the gentleman who have accompanied you.
MR JANSEN: Madam Chair, with your indulgence, may I just introduce ourselves. We are legal representatives of Mr Steinberg in agreement with the Department, it was felt best that he be legally represented and that his evidence be structured.
Further with your indulgence, I am Mr Jansen and my Attorney is Mr Muller. We are both from Pretoria. Further with your indulgence, because of that matters for this submission was only finalised late during the course of last week, we have thought it best to lead Mr Steinberg's evidence in a question and answer form. He feels most comfortable with that.
And then he will further be testifying in Afrikaans again with your indulgence, thank you very much.
CHAIRPERSON: I don't think we have a problem with that and however, we shall ask Mr Steinberg to take the oath. Would you take the oath or the affirmation?
MR J.S. STEINBERG: (sworn states)
CHAIRPERSON: Gentlemen, you may proceed.
MR JANSEN: Mr Steinberg, what is your age?
MR STEINBERG: I am 30 years of age.
MR JANSEN: Where are you currently employed and what is your position?
MR STEINBERG: I am currently still employed at the Maximum Security Prison and I am a KB1 in the old system, this was a Warrant Officer.
MR JANSEN: When were you first employed by the Department of Correctional Services, the then Department of Prisons?
MR STEINBERG: In January of 1986.
MR JANSEN: Was this after your matriculation?
MR JANSEN: Why did you select a career in the Department of Correctional Services?
MR STEINBERG: I wanted to make a career in the Department, because this allowed me to be able to take on a trade.
MR JANSEN: Were you also an active rugby player at the time?
MR STEINBERG: That is correct.
MR JANSEN: Did the Department also give you an opportunity to advance your rugby career?
MR JANSEN: Is it correct that you originally joined for four years in the place of normal military service?
MR STEINBERG: Yes, but it had been my intention to make a future and a career in the Department.
MR JANSEN: Where did you begin to work in January 1986?
MR STEINBERG: I began at a local prison.
MR JANSEN: The local prison was then the prison for Black persons, is that correct?
MR STEINBERG: That is correct.
MR JANSEN: For how long were you employed there?
MR STEINBERG: I was employed there for six months.
MR JANSEN: And where did you go after that?
MR STEINBERG: We went to Kroonstad to our Training College, where I received basic training.
MR JANSEN: For how long did your basic training last?
MR STEINBERG: We were supposed to be there for six months, but we did a brief course for three months because of staff shortages.
MR JANSEN: What did this training entail?
MR STEINBERG: We received training with regard to laws and regulations, self defence, the use of firearms and so forth.
MR JANSEN: What is the B Order?
MR STEINBERG: The B Order is the bible of the prisons, how you should go about things in particular situations, how you should act under certain circumstances. It contains everything with regard to the treatment of prisoners.
MR JANSEN: Had there been any particular training with regard to the handling or an explanation of the situation of prisoners on death row?
MR STEINBERG: No, not as far as I can recall.
MR JANSEN: Subsequent to your training, where were you placed?
MR STEINBERG: I was placed at the Central prison in Pretoria.
MR JANSEN: Would that then have been the prison where White prisoners were kept?
MR STEINBERG: That is correct.
MR JANSEN: At that time, which would have been about September of 1986, maybe October 1986, what did you know of the Maximum Prison at that time?
MR STEINBERG: Not very much, although we did know that this is where prisoners on death row were kept.
MR JANSEN: When did you begin to work at Maximum Prison?
MR STEINBERG: Roughly during the middle of 1987.
MR JANSEN: What was your age at that time?
MR STEINBERG: I was 20 years of age.
MR JANSEN: Did you receive any special training for your work at Maximum Prison?
MR STEINBERG: We did receive training with regard to safety and the security arrangements and so forth.
MR JANSEN: Did you receive any particular training with regard to the handling of prisoners who have been sentenced to death or the human situation which you would face in that situation?
MR STEINBERG: No, we received training in service.
MR JANSEN: Prior to beginning to work there, did you receive any information with regard to the process of execution?
MR JANSEN: Had there been, or was there any formal procedure in which people were asked whether they might have had convictions which did not allow them to work on death row?
MR JANSEN: Moral objections against service on death row?
MR JANSEN: Did you receive any information with regard to a particular and peculiar rules that had effect on Maximum Prison prisoners?
MR STEINBERG: We were told that whatever happens inside the Maximum Prison was a secret and you could not tell this to anyone else.
MR JANSEN: How long after your appointment at Maximum Prison were you involved in your first execution?
MR JANSEN: Could you briefly sketch the events of your first three days of employment?
MR STEINBERG: I started working there on the Monday, I was then told to accompany a certain group of people who were receiving visit from their families. In the visitors' room I heard that these people were going to be executed through the course of the week.
These people prayed quite a lot. They sang songs and that was the first day of my work on death row. I had to deal with these people who were going to be executed during that very first day of service on death row.
MR JANSEN: What happened on the Tuesday, the next day?
MR STEINBERG: On the Tuesday, I came on duty. I was placed in the section that had the pot.
MR JANSEN: Could you explain what the pot was? Was that where people were kept in the seven days prior to their execution?
MR STEINBERG: That is correct.
MR JANSEN: So this was a special section in the prison?
MR STEINBERG: That is correct. My daily duties were to unlock, to search their person, to take the person for a shower, to return the person to their cell, to give their food to them and then we would patrol up and down to see to it that the people were calm.
MR JANSEN: Who trained you to do this routine service?
MR STEINBERG: There was a Warrant Officer who worked with us at that time, who briefly told us what we had to do, what we were not allowed to do and you learnt from the old members there. You followed their example and you picked up your habits from them.
MR JANSEN: When were you told that you would be involved in the process of execution itself?
MR STEINBERG: On the Tuesday afternoon I was told that I had to be on duty before six o'clock the next morning.
MR JANSEN: When did you normally report for duty?
MR STEINBERG: We normally reported for duty at about ten to, quarter to seven.
MR JANSEN: And on days of executions?
MR STEINBERG: About half past five.
MR JANSEN: Who told you that you would be involved in the process of the execution?
MR STEINBERG: The Warrant Officer.
MR JANSEN: What did he say to you what would you do, what would you work entail?
MR STEINBERG: He told me that I had to be on duty at half past five, since I was going to accompany some of the prisoners to the hanging room or the gallows.
MR JANSEN: Did he explain to you what the process would entail?
MR STEINBERG: No, he told me to simply watch the other people and that I would learn quickly what to do.
MR JANSEN: How many persons were executed on that Wednesday?
MR STEINBERG: If I recall correctly, it would have been seven persons.
MR JANSEN: What did you know of these people who were going to be executed?
MR STEINBERG: I knew nothing of them except that I had met some of them on the Monday and what I did notice particularly, was that these people appeared pious, or they appeared to be people who had made out their thing with God and that they were able to pray very well and they could even preach well.
MR JANSEN: What was your impression of these people?
MR STEINBERG: They seemed quite proper people to me, or before I started working there, one had the picture in your mind of people who killed other people as very cruel people and these people, to my surprise appeared very gentle and calm.
MR JANSEN: Did you know at all what the crimes were for which these people had been sentenced?
MR STEINBERG: Not at that time, at all, no.
MR JANSEN: Before we return to the events of that day, you were involved in executions until when, subsequent to this?
MR STEINBERG: Up to the moratorium.
MR JANSEN: So that would have been about 30 months, is that correct?
MR STEINBERG: That is correct.
MR JANSEN: Did you subsequently make efforts to find out which crimes these people were found guilty of?
MR STEINBERG: At a later stage, I assisted in our archives and on occasion one would have worked through the case records to take note of the kind of crimes committed by these persons.
MR JANSEN: Was it important to you to know what the crimes were?
MR STEINBERG: To some extent it was important to me to know what kind of crime people committed. You want to know what you are involved in.
MR JANSEN: Thinking back to the first day, could you briefly explain the events from when you came on duty?
MR STEINBERG: I came on duty before six o'clock in the morning. All of us moved into the section. The people who were responsible for the accompaniment and certain other assistants went to or met one another at the cells, in the prison, and we were told which people we would accompany.
The prisoners were unlocked, we searched them. They were then identified in terms of photographs, they were placed in a row or in a queue so that the first person due for execution would be in front.
We then took them one by one to a table in front of the Commanding Officer's office. We accompanied them to this table where their thumb prints were taken away, where they again compared their thumb prints and looked at the photographs again.
MR JANSEN: Where were you in the queue?
MR STEINBERG: I was third in the queue.
MR JANSEN: Who was responsible for the movement of the people?
MR STEINBERG: The Warrant Officer was in charge of the entire proceedings.
MR STEINBERG: After they took the finger prints and made sure that this was in fact the correct person, we accompanied the people to the church where we waited for them to meet with their various Ministers.
There would then have been a brief church service. Some of the people would receive communion for the last time and at about half past six, or there about, I am not entirely sure of the times, the Ministers would then move out and these seven people would then meet again.
Their hands were cuffed behind their backs and they had to remove their shoes. At about ten to seven or there about, we would then move with them down the passage and by then it was deadly quiet.
They still sang and prayed, they greeted their people, their friends, then we moved to the gallows room, through the various gates until we were in the first reception room before the gallows. They would then stand against a wall with their faces towards us.
They were then identified again against their photographs and then the executioner would come to them and ask them about their last wishes. They sometimes thanked us, they sometimes said to us God bless you and after the entire story, we would then put their caps on.
And that was in the waiting room before going through. We then moved ...
MR JANSEN: Could you in greater detail perhaps explain the process particularly with regard to the first day, with regard to these caps?
MR STEINBERG: On the first day I put the cap on wrongly, it has a little flap in the front. You put it over the person's head and then you put the flap back, so that it is upward on the person's face and the face is exposed and then you move through.
MR JANSEN: You said that you put the hood on wrongly. Could you give us a better explanation. How did you put this hood on incorrectly?
MR STEINBERG: I put the flap on the side of the person's head. You are very nervous when you do this and you don't want to ask questions, no one is talking. The only person who was talking and singing would be the person you are taking through for execution. You are very nervous.
And I didn't look carefully how the other people were doing it.
MR JANSEN: Did someone help you?
MR STEINBERG: Yes, the Warrant Officer showed me how to fix the hood.
MR JANSEN: On that day, did you observe the reactions of the persons due for execution as they were waiting next to the gallows room?
MR STEINBERG: No, I was very tense and I was concentrating on doing the job correctly and there was no time to think of any other thing.
MR JANSEN: In later executions, what were you observations of the persons due for execution?
MR STEINBERG: As you are involved in executions, you start noticing other things and you start noticing things which you want to think about subsequently. I started noticing that many of these people were shivering and nervous and tense.
MR JANSEN: On that first day after putting on the hoods the person then would go through to the gallows room, is that correct?
MR STEINBERG: That is correct.
MR JANSEN: Madam Chair, at this stage, unfortunately again due to our time constraints, we wanted to get some photographs, some proper photographs of the physical set up there that was taken by the photographer of the Star, we have unfortunately not been able to get the whole set of the photographs because in a certain sense it is important to know what the physical set up is.
We have however, a copy of the one photograph that was taken by this specific photographer of the gallows itself. Unfortunately it doesn't give you the whole picture of the entire situation, but it does of the most important things, it does. You will note that there are two levels - an upper level, then the trap, the long trap door which consists of two paths which fall downwards and there are bags, stuffed bags on both sides which stop the fall of the - at the bottom part and at the top you will see one entrance. At the bottom part you will also see one entrance although there are more than these entrances towards the gallows.
You see at the bottom a type of a scaffolding and on top of the scaffolding a stretcher. The evidence will deal with these matters if you could just have a look at that in the mean time, just so that you can picture yourself in the place.
CHAIRPERSON: You can continue.
MR JANSEN: Thank you. Could you then continue, when the hood has been placed on the person due for execution, do you look in the person's eyes?
MR JANSEN: When you move through into the gallows room as such, could you explain what on that day, happened?
MR STEINBERG: As you move through, I was third in the queue, so I looked at what the people in front of me did. You accompany the person lightly, you are just supposed to touch his shirt and to walk with him.
Between the trap doors there would have been a pipe railing. The person who was due to be hanged, would go on the left of the railing and the person accompanying, would go on the right. Then on the trap door, there would be two foot prints painted, and you had to make sure that the person was standing on that mark.
I was very tense and I was actually grabbing the person I was accompanying and the man who was going to execute the people, came and he placed the rope around their necks and he would then pull down the flap on the hood and just before he pulls the lever, the Warrant Officer then slapped my hand and at that moment, I looked away. I wanted to know why he slapped my hand and he said to me the way in which you are grabbing onto the person, you would get pulled down through the trap door yourself.
MR JANSEN: What were your observations immediately after the persons fell below?
MR STEINBERG: When I looked down, I noted as the people were swinging from the momentum and had their spastic movements, I noted how they moved.
MR JANSEN: Did you know what these movements were? Did you at that time know that these were involuntarily spastic movements, or what did you know about these movements?
MR STEINBERG: What went through my thoughts is that this person is now dying.
MR JANSEN: What happened subsequently?
MR STEINBERG: As a group we then moved down to the bottom part of the gallows room where the person would be hanging. I saw the members, you will see the platform under the bodies. They moved the platform under the bodies.
MR JANSEN: Before we get to that, during the process of execution, who would be in that top part of the gallows room?
MR STEINBERG: There would be the accompanying warders and then other members of the Correctional Services, who were responsible for taking part in various processes. The Head of the Prison, the Commanding Officer, the executioner and someone from the Department of Justice. And then a Doctor.
MR JANSEN: Were there any people in the bottom part of the gallows at that time?
MR STEINBERG: No, no one was allowed in the bottom part of the gallows during that part of the process.
MR JANSEN: After the execution you say that the people moved to the bottom part of the gallows room, what then occurs?
MR STEINBERG: A scaffold trolley is pushed in beneath the bodies as they hang and the - we had a stainless steel trolley in which you move the bodies. That was all prepared. We then waited for the Doctor.
The Doctor would then come down and he would check on the various bodies. Once he had confirmed that the people are in fact dead, we would then remove the clothing off the people. We would untie their hands and we would take a tag with his prison number which we would then tie to his big toe. It had a little tag on it.
The people who remained at the top, the Warrant Officer, always did this. We had a different trolley, or rather a jack trolleying system with which the rope would then be released and there was a circular rope which we put around the body of the person who was then hoisted upwards, which allowed the executing rope to be untied from the person's neck and the person was then slowly hoisted down.
We took the person's hands and feet and placed him on the trolley. Two other people would then take the trolley, move the person to the coffin. The person would be in the coffin and the coffin would be closed properly. This is what we would do until everyone was entirely finished.
We then cleaned the place out, we then hoisted the coffins down to the Chapel so that people would be able to have a final church service if they wanted to.
MR JANSEN: To return to the very first day, what reaction did your involvement in this execution evoke from you? How did you respond to your experience?
MR STEINBERG: That particular evening, I could not sleep. I really bothered me. And then I started smoking. It was on that day that I started smoking.
MR JANSEN: Later in the two and a half years of your service, you became involved in other facets of the process of execution? Is that correct?
MR JANSEN: There has been testimony before this Committee in this regard, but could you briefly explain how the administration of the process of execution actually took place?
MR STEINBERG: The Department of Justice would inform the Chief warden of the Prison that certain people would be due for execution. He would make an appointment. He would then come and visit the Prison.
They called this old uncle Squalla, it is the person who puts you in the pot or take you out of the pot. Then the entire prison was locked down, all the cells were locked and it was entirely quiet.
We were then instructed to collect a certain person from his cell. We had a map and we knew exactly where everyone slept in the prison. You would walk down, you would go down to the person in the cell, you would tell the person to pack up his stuff and we would then accompany the person to a reception office.
There would then be a consultation between the person who was due to be executed and the person from Justice and the person from the Department of Justice will then tell this person whether he was due for execution in seven days or whether there was an alternative sentence.
They would then take the finger prints of the person. The person would be asked about the closest family members or other persons, whether they wanted to arrange for visits since the Department arranged and paid for say train tickets and so forth, for visits from next of kin.
The person would then be undressed, socks, underwear, the person would then be weighed, the person's length would be noted down, the circumference of the person's neck would be measured and the person would then be told what he could take with to the pot.
The person's clothes were returned so that he could dress and he would then be accompanied to his cell.
MR JANSEN: In that period of time prior to the execution, there would often be a stay of execution or there might be a stay of execution. Which mechanisms were in place to ensure that stays of execution were not lost or were not delayed?
MR STEINBERG: None of the gates were locked and there were always staff on duty, so that if there was a phone call to the Chief warden's office, we would be able to receive the message very quickly.
MR JANSEN: On evenings prior to executions, were there persons on standby, particularly for this purpose?
MR STEINBERG: There were no particular people due to be on standby, but the Chief and the assistant-Chief had to ensure that they were at home on those evenings and quite often they would visit the institution during the evening.
They carried two way radio's so that if the member on duty at night, would be able to get hold of the Chief either by radio or be telephone.
MR JANSEN: With regard to the funerals of the people who were executed, could you inform us somewhat more extensively?
MR STEINBERG: Are you referring to the funerals?
MR JANSEN: Yes, where were they buried and what administration was involved?
MR STEINBERG: In the course of time I became involved in these arrangements also. After the entire ritual of execution, after the family had the church service, we then received documentation in our reception office and we then went to the Department of Internal Affairs, Home Affairs, and we registered the death of the persons, there were death certificates.
We then went to SAFA, who made the arrangements with regard to transport, coffins and so forth. We made the arrangements for the funeral and I then returned to my work. Ten, fifteen minutes later the SAFA truck would arrive and in the back on the prison, there was a specific garage used. The person would stand outside, the door would close.
Our own members would collect the coffins and place these in the little bus or truck. We would then depart. If it was a Black person, we would go to Mamelodi. We would then bury them there.
If it was a coloured person, we would take the person to the Eersterus cemetery and White people, if I can recall exactly, it would have been at Zandfontein or a similar cemetery, where we then buried them, but I am not exactly sure about the last fact.
MR JANSEN: Do you know whether records were kept of where which person was buried?
MR STEINBERG: If for instance we went to Mamelodi, we would first go to the Mamelodi municipal offices where I would meet a person who would accompany us to the cemetery. I would believe that they must have precise records of whom were buried where.
MR JANSEN: Were the families of the persons executed, allowed to know where the graves were?
MR STEINBERG: No, not at that time. No family would go with us. I had heard that the family might make a request for being informed of the grave number of the particular person after a period of one year as far as I heard.
MR JANSEN: During this period of two and a half years, could you give us any indication of the numbers of execution sessions in which you were involved?
MR STEINBERG: It would have been on a weekly basis, sometimes on a monthly basis. I would have been involved weekly or monthly.
MR JANSEN: This continued involvement with these executions, did this have any impact on you personally?
MR STEINBERG: Yes, at a certain stage I noticed that I was becoming very aggressive.
MR JANSEN: And in any other way, did it affect you in any other way?
MR STEINBERG: I would rather not say anything about this.
MR JANSEN: What were the comments of your colleagues with regard to this? Do you think that they might also have experienced certain changes in behaviour?
MR STEINBERG: Yes, I have come a long way with some of these people and you can see the first day you meet them, many of them did show certain deviant behaviours. But I don't want to give detail with regard to this.
MR JANSEN: Did the staff involved with the process of execution, ever experience counselling or psychological care?
MR STEINBERG: Not at all, not during my period of service.
MR JANSEN: Were there ever any enquiries whether this process affected you or not?
MR STEINBERG: At a certain stage there was a query made whether people would want psychological assistance or work from social workers, and apparently about 75 percent of people indicated that they would appreciate such care.
MR JANSEN: Did it ever happen that of the members of the Department refused to be part of this process?
MR STEINBERG: There were members who asked not to be part of this.
MR JANSEN: Did it ever happen that a person during the process could not continue with the process - the process of execution?
MR STEINBERG: Yes, there were people that I know of who became physically sick. I know of a particular person who ran off and who could not cope with the process of execution.
MR JANSEN: What went through your mind with regard to your continued involvement? Did you ever doubt whether you should be involved in this process or not?
MR STEINBERG: At a certain stage we did not want to make use of younger members. You became so habituated to your work, that it was almost like an addiction. You wanted always to be present.
This was your work and it was almost like an addiction.
MR JANSEN: Did you begin to identify with this work that you were doing?
MR STEINBERG: Yes, absolutely.
MR JANSEN: There is only one further aspect. Can you recall whether there had been any particular or special accommodation of persons for instance of the Muslim faith?
MR STEINBERG: I was not personally involved, but from what I had heard there would have been special allowances for members of the Muslim faith.
MR JANSEN: Would that involve certain aspects with regard to the person due for execution, to handle this in terms of the Muslim faith?
MR STEINBERG: Yes, allowances would have been made for certain privileges with regard to how they were handled.
MR JANSEN: Persons who did not want to be involved in the process of execution, what would have happened to them?
MR STEINBERG: These people were used for different posts at the gates for instance. Some of the members who could not handle it at all, were transferred or asked for transfers.
MR JANSEN: Were there any particular privileges involved with being stationed at the Maximum Prison, financially or otherwise?
MR STEINBERG: We did receive financial privileges for working at the Maximum Security Prison.
MR JANSEN: In conclusion, did it ever happen during those two years, you must have had considerable contact with the persons due for execution, is that correct?
MR STEINBERG: Yes, one had a lot of contact with these people. You actually got to know them very well.
MR JANSEN: Which cases or are there particular cases which stayed in your mind particularly with regard to the merit of the death sentence?
MR STEINBERG: Cases that were very interesting to me included the Upington 14. I could not understand that 14 people could be executed or found guilty since there were no proper witnesses. These people were simply pointed out and I felt that it might well have been wrong to hang 14 people, to want to hang 14 people when it was not possible to these 14 people being involved in the murder for which they were accused.
I think for instance of an old gentleman and his wife.
MR JANSEN: Are these part of the Upington 14?
MR STEINBERG: Yes. This old uncle was a very gentle man. He was no longer a young man, he was quite old, he couldn't walk ten steps without being out of breath and when I looked at his wife, she was a large woman but not at all very healthy and I could not see how they could think that these people might be involved in what they were accused of.
But that was just my opinion. Another matter which everyone knows of, we are still talking about this man, it was an old Zulu uncle, if I can call him an uncle or an "oomie". He never slept on the beds, he slept on the floor and every morning when we unlocked him, he greeted us very kindly.
When we accompanied him to the bathrooms, he first made a certain Zulu dance and he could not understand why he was in this place. As we became familiar with him and through our Black staff, he explained to us that someone made trouble at his tribe and murdered someone there and that he was selected ... (tape ends) ... and that this was a tradition.
I felt that it was wrong that we with our modern society were trying to interfere with the traditions of these people and I found this difficult to understand.
MR JANSEN: Thank you Madam Chair.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much for leading this testimony in the manner that you did. I shall now hand over to Mr Ntsebeza, who is going to facilitate the questioning.
MR NTSEBEZA: Thank you Chairperson. Just a few questions Mr Steinberg. I think part of this particular exercise is to try and find to what extent the dehumanising experiences that you underwent affected either those (indistinct) or their colleagues.
So that we can assist the nation in making sure that such things never occur. And I can't force you to say things that you would rather not talk about, but we would be the poorer if you were not able to tell us in much more detail the things that affected you.
You indicated here two things that I would like you to expand upon if you are able to. You said you noticed that you became aggressive and then you said you would rather not say anything more about that. If you are able to, I would ask you to give us an idea of some of the things that you would rather not say anything about, for the reasons that I have explained.
Secondly, you did indicate that your colleagues showed deviant behaviour and your counsel indicated that they didn't really require you to give details thereof. I personally would like to get details of those sort of deviant or evidence of deviant behaviour, but again, I can't really force you to do so, but it would make our work all that much more meaningful if we could get those details.
MR STEINBERG: Yes, sir, aggressive. What I mean by that is that you get to a stage where little things, for instance a person who walks in front of your car, or a person who actually bumps against your car, things like that made you aggressive, caused you to want to fight.
I am not referring necessarily to myself personally or my colleagues, but there was abuse of alcohol as a result of the stress. In retrospect, I am a different person now. I was several different persons, I went through several stages and I had to sort things out for myself and in looking back, I was aggressive, I stopped playing rugby.
My wife refused to go to rugby matches with me, because I spent more time in the cooler than on the rugby field itself because you were sent to the cooler for dirty games, rugby tactics on the field.
And there was a lot of stress in the marriage and the family. You couldn't tell your family, your wife about the kind of job that you did, you kept it to yourself and they didn't understand what actually went through my head and I believe that was also applicable to most of my colleagues.
It is as if you lacked something in your life, which you were always pursuing and you tried to quieten that by means of alcohol or aggression, it is actually very difficult to talk about it.
It is something which I have now made peace with, it is something which I tried to for a long time, to hide it away somewhere and most of my colleagues also - they just put it in a cupboard and locked it up and it is not a pleasant thing to unlock the cupboard, because you want to forget these things.
MR NTSEBEZA: Have you in fact undergone any counselling of any sort either then or before you came to testify at this Commission?
MR NTSEBEZA: Do you think that you, it is a good thing for you to do?
MR STEINBERG: Yes, I think I ought to go for treatment. In those days we didn't do it. It would have been nice if the Department had encouraged us individually or as a group to go for counselling. At that stage you didn't want to go for counselling, because you were always scared that you were running the risk of being seen as incapable of doing your job.
You were actually afraid of being discriminated against, as being seen as a softy. We were men and we didn't want anybody to think that we were too soft to take the pressure of the job, so we always carried this personal feeling, perhaps anger or this frustration, you carried it around in you. You tried to control it.
I considered to go for counselling. I feel good now, I don't know how it would have affected me in another ten years. It is difficult to project into the future. You think you have it under control, but perhaps there will come a time when I won't be in control and then it will be a good idea - counselling.
MR NTSEBEZA: Now the decision for you to come and testify in these testimonies, do you regard it as part of a healing process for you or did you just come here? Or did you come here because you felt there is an obligation for you to come?
MR STEINBERG: I think there is a measure of an obligation, yes.
MR NTSEBEZA: Do you think it is going to assist you to adjust to the reality of what happened to you, seeing where you are today in relation to where you were about ten years ago? What do you think for you as a person, this exercise is going to do? What is the value for you of this exercise coming to testify here in a manner in which I think most of your colleagues have not done or would not even do?
MR STEINBERG: I personally didn't want to come here. Now that I have actually given my testimony, I actually feel good about it. What will happen later, I don't know.
I don't know whether I will be mocked by my colleagues, whether I perhaps said something that is wrong to say. That we will find out in due course.
MR JANSEN: Madam Chair, could I just interrupt there. I would like to place on record the fact that during the discussions about the drawing up of this hearing, we did get a very firm undertaking from Correctional Services that they would place as much assistance as possible for you and that there would be no come back at all from an official point of view and I think I would like to record that.
MR NTSEBEZA: Now, I have also heard accounts that some of your colleagues made light of the executions. Some of them referred to them as films and they would remark about how an execution that was going to take place, is a film. Did that thing come into your experience or is it evidence of some of this deviant behaviours that you said your colleagues sometimes had. In other words did they feel as concerned about these executions as you have testified, or did some of your colleagues make so light of these executions as to make no difference to them?
MR STEINBERG: I think it did make a difference to each individual person. He can laugh at me, he can tell me anything, but I tell you now, each execution affected everybody.
And perhaps he won't admit it in a group context, but tonight when he goes to bed, he knows in his heart that it did make a difference. The person who says it made no difference to him, he should really reflect, then he has no soul.
Really, I believe that it made a difference, it affected each and everybody, it is a sensitive issue. It is something which we didn't easily discuss amongst each other.
MR NTSEBEZA: Now, we and I think this will be my last question - we come all of us, come from a past that divided cemeteries. There was Mamelodi for Black people, there was Eersterus for coloured people, etc, etc.
Now, you have described to us in a fairly graphic detail what happens after the trap doors have been opened and Joyce has recalled what Chris Barnard says happens to a body that has been dropped when the trap doors open.
Bowels get loose, the spinal cord gets snapped and I would suppose and he says it in a colourful language that I don't have, that people (indistinct) themselves, unless certain precautions had been taken. In a word, the bodies become a gory mess.
Now, and it was your tasks to clean up the mess and I think in a sense that was one of the most dehumanising aspects of it for you. Now, South African society being what it was, were there any occasions in which you as White wardens were expected to clean up mess of Black people who had been executed or was separation carried even in those areas, Black wardens to clean up the mess of Black people who had been executed, or didn't it really matter at that level?
MR STEINBERG: I can give you the assurance that it didn't matter whether it was Black or White, if you walk into the gallows, then everything happened in a professional way.
You no longer thought in terms of Black and White. Many, many times I had to clean up the mess after a Black person had been executed. It was my job, it was what was expected of me. I cleaned up the place afterwards, there was no apartheid there.
That was your job and you did it professionally. If I could call it professional. No jokes were made. We didn't even smoke there. How could I put this, it was in a way sacral, there was no time for jokes. We had respect for death and there was no faveolity. There was no discrimination, not as far as I was aware.
MR MANTHATA: Mr Steinberg, good that you make reference to the Upington 14 and that Duma too has been here, that I don't know whether in your training was there any element of kindness or good that you could do to the people on the death row, that is people who is just due to be hanged?
Perhaps to make it clear and to be short, this is even referred to by Duma in his statement that one of the greatest service that the warders did them was to create divisions amongst the people on the death row. I remember this existed with the Sharpville 6 and this existed with the Upington 14, where we even have to seek the services of AMSA, that is the mediation group, so one is saying when you get to relate as you put it, with that other Zulu speaking gentleman so deeply as to even know things that you can divide, people on the death row who came in a group, how was this accounted for? I don't know whether you ever had an example of that, that is creating divisions amongst people who are due to hang, knowing what emotional stress this would add?
MR STEINBERG: We did our job and I really don't want people to refer to us warders as barbarians, we did our work to the best of our abilities. And you will always in each group, you will find somebody who has a tougher, hard nosed attitude than the rest and there were times when you spoke to these people and they spoke to you. There were times when perhaps you told them to read a certain verse of the Bible.
There were times when you actually prayed with them in the visiting room or in the church, that is only human and I think it is inhuman to refuse an invitation by anybody, whether he is on death row or a beggar in the street, an invitation to actually pray together. I think it would be inhuman to refuse.
We talked to them about the Bible. I hope that answers the question.
MR DLAMINI: Thank you. Just one question relating to the families. Earlier on Paula shared with us and I think you alluded to that in your presentation, that the families were not allowed to see the body and also you said that even the burial was conducted by the State.
My question is what was the reason for refusing the family to see the body, was it an extension of the punishment or was there any, perhaps a good reason for that and the follow up is, if the families were to request that they bodies should be exhumed so that they can have proper family burials, in your opinion, do you think there would be a problem with that? Just those two questions.
MR STEINBERG: As far as the exhumation of the bodies are concerned, I couldn't answer you on that, it was policy and perhaps that was an application which they should have directed at the Department, my Department.
And the other question, we did allow families to place wreaths on the coffins, we weren't that inhuman. What I would like to say is that I don't think it would have been a very pleasant sight. I know what a person who had been hanged, looks like. I know what the facial expression looks like, it is not a pretty sight.
If I had been a parent and my child had been executed in that way, I wouldn't have liked to have seen the face. I think that was the biggest reason. It would have been extremely traumatic and could perhaps have been psychologically very damaging for such a parent to see his child in such a state.
And I think that was the reason to spare the family that anguish and I think it was a good thing. I think it was a good thing not to open the coffins.
CHAIRPERSON: Mr Steinberg, we thank you very much for having come forward and opening up yourself in the manner that you did.
And in a way, this confirms what Duma said about you and the positive remarks he made that if it had been somebody else, he would have objected and would have exposed the rope so we thank you and we know how you and your colleagues feel about the work that you have been doing.
And I would just like to also thank your counsel for the manner in which they conducted this interview, so that such rich information should surface which people would never have known about.
And in conclusion I just want to read one paragraph, one small paragraph of Paula McBride's submission when she talks about the warders and the jobs that you had to do. "Many of the warders in Pretoria Maximum Security Prison were young and inexperienced and there can be no doubt that their time spent on death row has had a permanent effect on their lives. Despite the relationship of authority and control, other relationships did develop as is inevitable when humans live in close proximity to one another. In many cases, these relationships ended with the warders escorting the prisoners to their deaths."
And exactly what you said, is what Paula has said and in the end, she says "the prison service was at the end of the chain". In other words, you guys were at the end of the chain, before you came the law makers, the State President and most importantly the Judges who passed the sentence of the death.
MR STEINBERG: It is a pleasure.
CHAIRPERSON: Ladies and gentlemen, as you are well aware, we have exceeded the time limit for this interview and we felt we should not cut it short, because we felt it was very important that you should hear and go through this process, so as a result of that, we are very much behind time and we are only going to have 15 minutes for tea and we would be very grateful if you would move as quickly and as energetically as possible, so that we can come back in time to start for the next round.