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Special Hearings

Type Prison Hearings

Starting Date 22 July 1997

Location Johannesburg

Day 2


CHAIRPERSON: Before we ask the next witness, I will ask Hugh to make a short announcement.

MR LEWIN: Thank you Madam Chair, I just want to make note of the fact that we have actually been joined by someone who has a very special place in these hearings.

Going back a good 30 years, for the first time when there was a break through in conditions or reports about conditions in prisons, this person came forward and over the next at least 25 years, she was the lone voice. In many ways she was the guardian angel for those of us who were in prison and for prisoners.

Whether they were people that she agreed with politically or not, she was always fiercely there and I would just like us to acknowledge the presence please, of Helen Suzmann, thank you.

CHAIRPERSON: Our next witness is Leuyanda Tyatyam who is going to talk on behalf of John Nyeka, who died in detention. We greet you Mr Tyatyam, we also greet you. We opportunity that you have come before us. Could you please just stand up and take the oath.

LEUYANDA TYATYAM: (sworn states)

CHAIRPERSON: You may sit down. Please feel free and talk about what you have come to tell us about.

Before that, we would just like to tell you that Mr Manthata is going to ask you questions and lead you in giving your evidence with regard to your grandfather.

MR MANTHATA: You have already started, can you please go on.

MR TYATYAM: My grandfather and I were separated in 1960. He was a builder in East London and there was a struggle. He was arrested in East London.

My grandfather always used to complain that he was treated very badly in East London and when he realised that he couldn't take it any more, he decided to fight against it. That is fight the policemen or the warders in East London.

And when he chose to fight, he physically fought them, because he was quite a big man, he was huge. And they decided to make a plan, they told him that they were going to give him a pick and a shovel so that he could go and dig a hole.

And he was not aware that he was digging his own grave at that time. He dug this hole and this policeman was standing there, guarding him. We were never told as to the identify of that policeman. He only heard later on when he died, we were called to his funeral and my grandfather started digging this hole, whilst this policeman was keeping guard on him.

And after having dug the hole, this policeman killed him. He died in such a gruesome manner because he was not able to take the treatment that was metered out to him at the prison.

There were certain women with whom he was arrested, who later got out of the prison, but he never came out. He had so much anger in him, he fought the warders. This is when they instructed him to dig a hole and that is when the policeman killed him.

We never saw him, we never even went to the funeral, we were never called. We never saw him. ... (tape ends)

MR MANTHATA: Leuyanda, do you know the year the grandfather died?


MR MANTHATA: Do you know the year the grandfather, is it the grandfather or, the father, do you know which year your grandfather died?

MR TYATYAM: My grandfather died in 1960, he died in 1960 in East London. But what I am not clear about is the date as well as the month because I was still very young at that time, I was about ten years old.

MR MANTHATA: What about, what information did you get from your father and mother with regard to what they could have tried to do and perhaps they couldn't because of other reasons?

MR TYATYAM: When my grandfather died, it was not like now, that people are enlightened and you know where to go or maybe you are called to come take the body or the corpse, it was very difficult at that time when my grandfather died because he was not on death row.

His was regarded as a purely criminal act, he assaulted the prison warder. That is why he was given a pick and a shovel so that he could dig a hole, though he didn't know that he was digging his own grave.

And that is when the policeman killed him.

MR MANTHATA: Perhaps my question should have been, who told you this story?

MR TYATYAM: The person who related this to us, were the women with whom he was arrested, that is a certain Nyondo woman. Her name was Buyiswa, but I don't know where she is at the present moment.

They were arrested together during the Black consciousness movement and Buyiswa and the rest were released. They were the ones who told us that he had been killed in the prison.

MR MANTHATA: I don't know if I will be correcting you, because if I hear you talking about Black consciousness, that Black consciousness, you know, came into the fore, either late 1960's or early 1970's. Now you are talking of the grandfather having died in 1960.

MR TYATYAM: My grandfather did not die in 1970, he died in 1960 in East London. If you have heard about the prison called Kwanqononqo which is in East London. When we were told by Buyiswa, he was in prison for six months, because he couldn't take the treatment that was metered to him at that prison called Kwanqononqo, that is when he became aggressive and he fought with the warders and he ended up assaulting one of the prison warders.

He was arrested with a group of women. I do not know about the rest, but I do know about Buyiswa Nyondo, they were arrested in East London and it was in 1960, I am not mistaken.

Then after he had been arrested, he was sentenced to hard labour and he just couldn't take that because he regarded himself as a political prisoner, so he did not see any reason why he should be sentenced to hard labour.

That is when the policeman said he must dig a hole. I think if people or investigators could go there, they could find more information with regard to my grandfather's death.

MR MANTHATA: Leuyanda, I have no further questions. I will hand back to the Chairperson.


MR NTSEBEZA: I just want to get some clarity. Who told you this story about your grandfather? The story, who told you about your grandfather's death?

MR TYATYAM: My father told us the story, because at that time he was alive, but he has since passed away. He passed away in 1993.

MR NTSEBEZA: Was he a politician?

MR TYATYAM: Yes, he was. He was a member of the PAC. That is correct, he was a member of the PAC. He was arrested for political activity, or linking himself with the PAC.

MR NTSEBEZA: And when you heard that he had been killed at the prison in East London, was there any person who was held responsible for the murder?

MR TYATYAM: No, nobody was held responsible, nor was there anybody charged with regard to the murder. Because we were living in difficult times then. When a person had been killed by police or warders, people would take action and the body would be released, but the situation wasn't like that during our time.

MR NTSEBEZA: You were not able to even get his body?

MR TYATYAM: No. I wasn't even able to say my last farewell to him.

MR NTSEBEZA: In East London, are there any people that we can speak to if we would like to investigate the matter further because we would like to investigate this matter?

MR TYATYAM: My opinion is that if you could go to that prison in East London and talk to the authorities there to try and find out as to how he died and who killed him.

MR NTSEBEZA: How did he die?

MR TYATYAM: He was shot. He was not hanged. He was shot.

MR NTSEBEZA: That is what I wanted to clarity.

CHAIRPERSON: Any more questions? Mdu?

MR DLAMINI: I just want to follow up Mr Ntsebeza's question. You said there was certain women with whom he was arrested. Do you still know these women or do you have a list of their names?

MR TYATYAM: Yes, I do know of one woman, that is Buyiswa Nyondo who stays in Stutterheim or was staying in Stutterheim.

MR DLAMINI: If you could please just give us her full name as well as her full address so that we can contact her if we need any further information?

MR TYATYAM: We were staying at the same place, that is Stutterheim. At the (indistinct) mission and the Nyondo family still stays there, that is Buyiswa Nyondo's place or home.

CHAIRPERSON: Leuyanda, it is apparent from the way in which you rendered your testimony, that you were very close to your grandfather, you loved him very much.

And you still think a lot of him, that is a very clear fact. We don't even need to ask you any further. We know that you are going through a very traumatic time, because you said that at that time you were still very young, you were ten years old.

But you know what happened, you had certain aims and he was your role model, he also loved you. As Dumisa has already pointed out, that this matter could possibly be investigated further. We don't want to give any promises, but we do make an undertaking that we shall investigate the matter further so that there could be some clarity as to how he died, who killed him and why wasn't there any investigation with regard to his death.

It is not a minor thing, we still have some more hard work to do and a lot of spade work in order to get to the surface of this hole heinous deed. We thank you very much for having come before us to relate this story with regard to the death of your grandfather, thank you very much.

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