Special Hearing

Type Prison Hearings
Starting Date 21 July 1997
Day 1
URL http://sabctrc.saha.org.za/hearing.php?id=56358&t=&tab=hearings
Original File http://sabctrc.saha.org.za/originals/special/prison/masondo.htm

CHAIRPERSON: ... conducted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. My name is Alex Boraine and together on the platform on my far left is Mr Mdu Dlamini who is a Committee Member; Mrs Joyce Seroke who is a Committee Member; immediately next to me, Mr Hugh Lewin who is also a Committee Member of the TRC and I think we should pay tribute to him because he has done a great deal of the hard work, planning and preparation together with the group thatís been around him, and finally Mr Tom Manthata who is also a Committee Member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Other Commissioners will be joining us for the second day tomorrow as well as Committee Members.

In welcoming you here to-day I remind all of us of the need which is shared by children on the one hand and prisoners on the other. Children are perhaps the most vulnerable in our society and therefore are wide open to abuse and neglect and many gross human rights violations take place against children.

The other group who is subject and open to possible abuse is the prisoner because when one is locked away then one is subject to those who are charge and control and if they wish to abuse they can do so, very often in secrecy. Against the background of this hearing on prisons and listening to some former prisoners, there may well be many in our society who feel that we ought to be talking much more about crime and about the victims rather than prisoners. That is very understandable against the background of widespread crime but nevertheless it would be quite tragic in our society if the pendulum swung so far so that we couldnít care about prisoners and about their protection.

Today and tomorrow of course we will be thinking more especially about political prisoners and as one person who came to our hearing said, when I was there they said to me you can scream as loud as you like, there is no-one to hear you. Through the work of the TRC with all itís many weaknesses and failings, I think one of the achievements is that many whoís cries were never heard when they were initially made, can and have been heard especially those who endured very severe torture.

Prison reform is a dynamic process and should be seen against the background of our commitment to a culture of human rights where no-one should be left out. What we will hope to do in the next two days is to eliminate, throw light on if you like, an area which has in many ways been a place of darkness. We had hoped that South Africaís most famous prisoner, Nelson Mandela would be here and he may well still, as is sometimes his habit, just dropping in at the hearing of the TRC, we hope he does. Of course I take nothing away from his twenty seven years in prison. When I say that over and above his own personal experience he is a symbol, a symbol because it was actually in a way in prison unfree, where the transformation process began.

Heís also a symbol of the recognition that some of our great leaders and many who are leading us today have spent a lot of time in prison. In fact a great deal of their own political development and leadership ability was developed there so they became, not victims but real survivors. This is a very strange venue for the hearings of the TRC, I think itís the strangest weíve had and weíve been in some very strange places in many parts of our far flung country. Just to my right across there we still have the cells, the isolation cells and The Old Fort has many memories for many people in this attempt today and had seen many famous prisoners including Mart Magandi and Nelson Mandela.

The Old Fort was not only a prison but it became an icon of resistance and I think itís noteworthy that three of our panelists to-day namely, Joyce Seroke, Tom Manthata and Hugh Lewin are graduates of The Old Fort and so itís like coming home for them. I think it is significant of how our country has transformed, that itís possible for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission appointed by the President, to have on itís first panel of Prison Hearings three old inmates of The Old Fort.

The programme has attempted to include a spectrum or if you like, an open window to some of our prisons and prisoners and experiences of those there. Itís totally impossible to do justice entirely to this so see it rather as symbolic of, if you like Robben Island, The Old Fort of Pretoria, of death row, or women in prison and so on.

Finally before we call the first witness today, I do want to say a preliminary word of thanks. First I would like to welcome formally, the Mayor of Johannesburg Councillor Isaac Mogaze and thank him for his support and for his presence here today, we are very grateful and we are honoured by your presence. Iíd like to also express thanks to the Human Rights Information Desk of the greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council for itís assistance in setting up this hearing and providing most of the facilities. To Lieutenant Colonel Vos of the Rand Light Infantry who made these premises available and to David Daniels, the Caretaker for all his excellent help.

Obviously we are most grateful to the witnesses who weíll hear from today and to-morrow and you will forgive me for including in our thanks the TRC staff especially the working group for this hearing Pumla Gobodo, who is busy with the transcription hearing in Cape Town, Tiny Maya who is in East London writing exams, Tom Manthata, Mdu Dlamini, Hugh Lewin and all their assistants in the Johannesburg office. A special thanks to Amnesty International in Kyros in Holland for their assistance with invaluable information.

There are some special names that I would like to mention. Firstly Cathy Cathadra who is the Chairperson of the Ex-Political Prisoners Association, we are delighted that he is free if you like, to be here today. Lala Chiba, Barbara Hogan and of course the Mayor who I have already welcomed.

At lunch time today for those of you who are interested there will be a very brief tour of those facilities that are available and still reflect something of The Old Fort and the old prison. We are now going to proceed immediately but before that Iím going to ask you to join me in just a moment of silence as we remember so many people who were detained, who were in solitary confinement, in detention, many years in prison and who are not here today and perhaps have died and so many of their loved ones. Let us just spend a moment in silence. Thank you.

Our first witness today is Mr Andrew Masondo who is a Robben Island graduate and I would be grateful if he would come up please and take his seat at the witness stand here. In each case one of the panel will seek to facilitate the evidence that the witness that is going to be given and in this case itís Mr Mdu Dlamini who is on my far left. He will assist Mr Andrew Masondo who of course will be making his own presentation, itís not for us to put words in his mouth.

Mr Masondo I would like to welcome you very warmly, we are very glad to see you and we hope that you feel comfortable, a little more comfortable than you did when you were on Robben Island. I also hope that you will find this opportunity of some help as well. Please be seated.

MR MASONDO: Thank you.

DR BORAINE: Mr Masondo will you take the oath or the affirmation?

MR ANDREW MASONDO: (sworn states)

MR DLAMINI: Good morning Mr Masondo.

MR MASONDO: Good morning.

MR DLAMINI: As the Chairperson has already expressed our appreciation for making the time to come and share with us your experiences from the time you had to leave a useful and constructive career teaching Mathematics at Fort Hare and your involvement in the MK to the time that you found yourself in Robben Island. Your statement is very well presented and I prefer not to disturb that so I ask you to just go through your statement. Perhaps we might stop you now and again for clarifications before we forget but I think itís quite proper that we allow you to present your statement the way you have prepared it, thank you. ... (not audible)

MR MASONDO: Firstly I would like to make a point about the prisoners in Robben Island. I happened to be one person who enjoyed both sides of that prison. I was amongst the first ten MK members on Robben Island so most of the MK people who were there were my guests in my Republic.

I want to say that whilst we are going to talk about the human rights violations it would be unfair to the men I was with on that Island to portray them as just simple victims who passively accepted human rights violations. I can safely say for most of us who were there it was the continuation of the struggle. I can also say that a great deal of the penal reforms that took place in this country were as a result of the sacrifices of the men who were at Robben Island.

I remember when Neville Nfigile ... and I were communicating to them and I said, here we have men sitting and see each other grow. That was the impression you got when you got into that prison. The other thing that I also want to put on record about the prison is the role that the politicians played in that prison. In other words, whether we were PAC or whether we were ANC, we believed that the struggle continues, we believed that we must have an underground organisation in that prison because I was taught by Govern that wherever I am there must be an ANC branch, therefore when I got to the Island I made sure that I gave them the structures of the African National Congress.

It was necessary for the purpose of us being able to meet the difficulties that we had because if we didnít do that we would have become just individuals and as individuals we would have been weaker and suffered greater. I think the fact that we organised ourselves was an important aspect to be able to meet the problems of the situation.

I was arrested from Fort Hare, I remember I actually was not allowed to be a member of MK by the leadership but I just found myself being a member. Govern had said I should have nothing to do with that organisation but it was difficult not to be part of an organisation that believed that we must do something to change the situation that was killing our people, both psychologically and physically.

So in spite of the fact that I was a lecturer in the Department of Pure and Applied Mathematics, I happened to also be amongst the first two Blacks to study Applied Mathematics Honours at Wits. I was part of Umkonto weZizwe and at first I was asked to just form units of Umkonto weZizwe by the late Minnie, Umkaba and Keingo but then I realised that you cannot tell people to sacrifice their lives without showing them how to do it. That is how I also became active as a Commander of that region.

Robben Island was a place where apartheid like in all prisons, was carried out. Before we talk about the day to day human rights violations of individual prison warders, the mere fact that you were Black your clothing was different as if the weather treated you differently. Your food was different as if you became hungry in a different way. It was not a mistake that the situation in that place was like that. I remember the nicest piece of bread that I ate after two years of not eating bread was when I went for a further charge and my wife bought me brown bread and vienna sausages, I just dealt with the brown bread and I forgot about the sausages for the time being. The food was a problem because you were with comrades, in fact I think it was even more painful for people like Kacy and Lalo who as comrades found that they could actually eat bread. Even the amount of sugar in your porridge when I was still in the main section, was different. The Black got a teaspoon and the others possibly got two teaspoons. The meat was half of that which the others got so it was institutionalized.

When we wanted to, we were not allowed to even read the Bible by people who very, very serious about being a Christian state so again we had to battle so that we could read. Fortunately after a time we were allowed to study and again our spirit of improving, we broke all the rights of Colleges, we used lectures of various colleges to teach people even without the permission of the authorities.

The actual human rights violations amongst the human rights violations that we had was basically the humiliation. You know you would wake up in the morning, they come to your cell, the main section before I went to join the other people in the civil cells before the new prison was built, whilst we were in the D Group section because that prison was actually an ultra-maximum security prison. There are only two of them, Barbeton and Robben Island. That place was actually regarded as a place for the worst criminals and amongst the worst criminals were ourselves.

If you were arrested for murder or any other crime and it was your first offence, youíd be put into B Group and that gave you a lot of privileges but if you were a political prisoner you would then be put into a D Group. Being a D Group meant at the time you received one letter in six months and wrote one letter in six months. Being a D Group meant you could only get on visit of thirty minutes in six months. Those were the type of things that you got. I never reached the A Group, I continued to be D Group for half of my sentence then I became a C Group for a short time and when I was about to become a B Group, I was demoted from B to D again.

One of the reasons why I was demoted was that at one time I got out of my cell and found two old men being harangued by a young boy because I found Madiba and Uncle Walter, they were asking this young chap why is our food brought so late, itís going to be cold and I heard him say they think like six year olds. I donít like young people who donít have respect so I tendered to say to him, you know you are a six year old and that was a very serious matter. Oucamp was there, I always had the misfortune of having Oucamp around whenever I did something wrong and when I got there they reported that I had to be made a D Group and that meant I lost the right to study.

Now these people, youíd come out of the cell and theyíd search you, youíd look at them in the face and theyíd say Polko because everybody was Polko, Polko hoe kyk jy jong? (what are you looking at?) and then weíd have to turn and if you didnít turn theyíd beat you up with a baton or even a truncheon, maybe they were shy to look us in the face and didnít know why but they didnít like it, theyíd hit you for that.

From there youíd go to get your food which was lots of porridge which they probably dished out some time ago, maybe at four oíclock or six oíclock and it was nice and cold. Theyíd encourage you to get your mugs with kicks and batons. That was normal, you didnít regard that as something of violation of human rights, that was part of the life that you had in that place.

Where things really went wrong was in the workplace. I remember we had to just do hard labour and during my life there I worked in two quarries, I worked at the Landbouspan (Agricultural Team) and I worked at a job that I didnít like, taking out seaweed because sometimes that stuff was rotten, so I preferred pushing the wheelbarrow which was supposed to be one of the ways of torturing us. If you had been busy writing with chalk and pencils, a wheelbarrow can be a very interesting instrument but ... that wheelbarrow has a steel wheel and itís rickety and somebody fills it up, at one time the Kernels brothers we were coming to the team and said to the people, those that have got licenses could they come one side, all the chaps were very happy as they were going to drive trucks and things but they found themselves pushing those wheelbarrows and we used to call some of them "the break my heart". It was a very, very painful thing. You would find that in no time you have blisters on your hands and ... they would say, look at them, look at them they think they will govern the land. They had a very great sense of humour.

I think Johnson will remember when they dug a hole for him in the Landbouspan (Agricultural Team), they covered him and when it became a little bit hot, he wanted water so they just pissed in his face and they said look at them, they were very, very, amused because that is how they amused themselves.

The one time there was a PAC chap who had just come to prison and was in the Landbouspan (Agricultural Team) and he knew, he answered back and then the Kernels brothers started beating him. Unfortunately they have been brought up in ... I donít like people who beat others just for fun so I got angry and I told them no, no you canít do that and they said, oh teacher you are a very smart teacher arenít you so they went and they filled the hundred pound bag of mieliemeal, you know the container, they filled it with sand and then chaps took it and put it on my back.

Fortunately at that that time I was not as old as I am, I was still a bit tough so I went carrying this thing and they called a young prisoner, a criminal prisoner who came from Vosbank, Aubrey, they asked him to trip me and he did exactly that, he tripped me from behind but fortunately having been a sports person when I realised that I was falling, I broke the fall. Unfortunately you canít break a fall properly with more that three hundred pounds of weight on you. The aim was to have the bag land on my neck so I did this, I did land that side. As a result I hurt my left arm, my shoulder.

I then continued to work and I reported the matter because when I got to the hospital Chief Warden Nel said, what is your problem teacher and I said look at my arm I canít use it and he said donít worry Polkos donít get ill. After a time this hand deteriorated and I couldnít pick up anything, it started getting cold so they took me to Somerset Hospital. I only went there for one day. Unfortunately people got interested in me and somebody wanted to buy me a cup of coffee and when I came back they said no, you are not going back. They treated me with ultra violet rays and I also exercised because I didnít like to be an invalid in jail.

I recovered, I was discharged and I went to the team again. As we got there I took my wheelbarrow because I had become a professional wheelbarrow pusher so I got in but I hadnít taken off my cap so they said caps off, take your caps off but I couldnít do two things, I mean you canít hold a wheelbarrow with one hand. Just when I was going there Kernels came and said, yes teacher you are being hard assed again so I said to him, how did you expect me to take off my cap when I was falling in.

Then the ... came Piet, he pointed a gun at me and started beating me, ... started beating me. For me it was a very, very difficult thing, Iím not used to people beating me and I donít fight back but I had to endure that so they beat me up. I donít think I would have recognized myself when I left there, I was bleeding through the eyes, bleeding through the nose, bleeding through the mouth, I was nice and rotund and I went back into hospital for the next six weeks. Iím wearing spectacles presently because I think from that time they tampered with my lenses as I became short-sighted.

I came out of that one and went back to where I formerly worked, the team. We were trying to build a dike on the North Western Quarry. I never knew that you could actually build a dike without cement and stop the water. We just used to put sand and whatnot but you see the Kernels brothers, they had a great sense of humour. Evert again says no, no those people are not working hard enough, now we had been pushing wheelbarrows up and down but he says itís not enough and puts two wheelbarrows here. When you come theyíve already loaded so you canít rest and when you come back he wants you to run and you find this one is loaded.

I looked and this thing and I say to myself, I still have thirteen years to do no, no. I then said to Evert, look here Iím no longer working, I gave in my card so they took me to isolation and locked me up. I spent a day there and the following day they took me back to work. They did the same thing for about nine days ... (interrupted)

MR DLAMINI: Mr Masondo can I just interrupt for a while. Iím sorry to be doing this to you but in the interest of time and other witnesses who are still going to come for the day, weíre left with only eight minutes so can I ask you to pick up the highlights in the eight minutes at our disposal, thank you.

MR MASONDO: Time and again the ordinary chaps had it tough. I remember one time they wanted us, just to go to the toilet you had to say Baas and if you didnít they refused you. At one time a chap had diarrhoea and they refused and he messed himself up. I remember also again at ... who gets into trouble time and again, he and some chaps were tied up at the quarry and at that time I was working in a punishment team and when I came back they said I wasnít working when I had been working the whole day so I was taken to the office.

A number of them had gone on strike again because they were tied up and I was included with them and they beat the hell out of us. Thatís when I decided after that to sue the Government for this and it was actually Bram who took my case, a great man. Unfortunately I donít have time to talk about Bram.

What I had said at that time was I wanted the case taken so that we are able to take up the question of the wanton beating that was taking place. We also took up the case Mlamboís case of being buried there. ... and Aaron Molito were going out so Johnson and I arranged that when they get out we should publicize this and the police did come but I donít know whether Johnson knows what happened. All we know is that they came and investigated but we donít know whether they did anything.

In conclusion let me say this. What has happened was, the tendencies would be to go for the Kleynhanses and all these people but you see thatís not the point, the point is that these people were indoctrinated and they did those things because they thought that they were serving a system and I as a person, I donít even want to bother to know where Kleynhans and them are. I canít be going around and looking for people like them, I have to build this country and if we spend our time looking for the Kleynhanses and the other people, from my point of view we wonít have time to work and I think there is only one thing we can repay those that died in prison, those that died in detention and that is to make sure that what they died for better work so that people donít talk of too much crime in this place, they talk of progress. That is what will pay some of us, thank you.

MR DLAMINI: Mr Masondo just a moment. I would now like to hand over to the Chairperson as there might be questions, Mr Chairperson? I know about the time but there might be questions. I want to just to underscore what Mr Masondo said in his conclusion. In his statement the last paragraph says, I wish for a prosperous future for this land. I think those are great words especially coming from somebody who has suffered in this way, thank you.

DR BORAINE: Mrs Seroke?

MRS SEROKE: Mr Masondo you say that you joined Umkonto in 1962 and later on you were arrested, why were you arrested, what had you done?

MR MASONDO: Iíd sabotaged pylons, electric pylons because according to the regulations of MK I couldnít shoot people so I had to deal with the pylons. You know when we started we were not supposed to kill people.

MRS SEROKE: Why did you do this, what was your mission and what was your ambition in doing this?

MR MASONDO: I grew up in the location, I remember sometimes the police would come there, a vivid picture I still have is one of an old lady who was hit with a ... and she had a baby on her back, she fell. I have seen people arrested for a pass as they go to Betsani. They come back, Iíve known them, they come back and I look at them, some died in there. Those were serious offenses, just a pass. Secondly, I am a teacher at heart and I think a good one too as I was taught by one of the best Applied Mathematicians in this country, Professor Blacks. I go to Fort Hare and I teach and when I want to take people to go and learn from the same man, suddenly Blacks canít go and do senior degrees at Wits. I have seen what my people lived in. Maybe I as a person might have survived but I think that life needed to be changed. This country in my opinion was losing some of itís best people.

You know I was with a chap at Wits, Vorster who was doing honours in Afrikaans and I did Applied Mathís and instead of two years, I did it in fifteen months because I want to go but I didnít have time. I wanted to go back and do my UED. He did his honours in two years. When I finished UED we were taken together as lecturers and where his salary started thatís where mine ended. Simple discrimination. I belong to a class that was a bit privileged. What now about the ordinary person? I think for these reasons I was prepared to get out and make sure that the things change.

I continued to lecture because I had to teach. Thatís something I would never leave but I continued to sabotage.

MRS SEROKE: Thank you.

MR MANTHATA: Mr Masondo perhaps this is a follow-up of the question raised by Joyce, did anybody or was anybody killed in the pylons that were blown up?

MR MASONDO: I donít know but van Niekerk who was the man who was trying to make sure that I get hanged, you see I sabotaged one pylon and ... the area that was without electricity was five hundred miles by one hundred miles so it was a big area. Van Niekerk in trying to prove that I was a murderer, he then tried to count the number of hospitals there and said to me, I think thereís a possibility that you have killed people there but ... who was my attorney said he is not interested in a concatenation of circumstances. He only wanted him to tell him that, in that hospital so many people died. At any rate even if they died it would have been unfortunate but I wasnít at war. You see I had to choose between sitting and saying how unkind these people are or doing something about changing the system and Iím not the type of person to do that so for me, if they found that people died and they hung me I wouldnít bother. Iíd taken a conscious decision. Even in Robben Island I wasnít surprised at those people doing those things to me because I knew they were at war with me.

MR MANTHATA: Was this deliberate that they could not distinguish between Polko and MK?

MR MASONDO: Yes it was deliberate but I didnít bother because I think those men were my comrades and whether they called me Polko or they called me MK, it didnít matter to me.

MR MANTHATA: And this arose out of the extreme fear they had in terms of the resistance that was carried up by the two organisations?

MR MASONDO: Tom, you must understand I was brought up in an organisation which was non-violent for many years. In 1960 they shot people so in my mind, Iím sorry that I sound bad but in my mind I was prepared to, if people could shoot people who were just marching like they did with the 1976 ... I would have killed. Make no mistake about it, I would have killed to stop that garbage.

MR MANTHATA: My last question is, this whole thing of having twins, brothers being on the staff of the prisons, I donít know whether you have an idea whether this was characteristic of a number of prisons and whether this kind of nepotism was calculated?

MR MASONDO: No Tom I donít think it was nepotism, you must remember the type of person who worked in prisons. The poor White, for instance there were five Kleynhans children there and as you know that the situation in those prisons was that only those that couldnít make it were sent there except for the top structure. That was the easiest job to get so if your father was a warder you sort of grew up in that thing so you also wanted to be a warder. I donít think, maybe Iím wrong but I donít think it was nepotism. You see it was the situation, they were just being used. They too were in a very serious state.

MR MANTHATA: Thank you.

DR BORAINE: Mr Masondo thank you very much and thank you especially for your enormous generosity of spirit having suffered enormously and constantly working for the good of your country, thank you very much.

MR MASONDO: Thank you.