TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
DATE: 29 JULY 1997
NAME: JOYCE SIKHAKHANE RANKEN
CHAIRPERSON: In welcoming you I would just like to remind the audience that what you are going to talk about it also takes us back to what we have been talking about, the torture of women and many other experiences which, although have been experienced by men, but they tend to take a different perspective when it comes to women. I will ask Joyce Seroke to assist you in taking the oath and also to facilitate your presentation. Thank you.
MS SEROKE: Welcome, once more. I will ask you to stand up and raise your right hand to repeat the oath. Would you like to do the oath or the affirmation.
MS RANKEN: Affirmation.
MS SEROKE: Affirmation. Stand up please. With your hand raised.
JOYCE SIKHAKHANE RANKEN: (Duly sworn in, states).
MS SEROKE: Thank you.
MS RANKEN: Thank you.
MS SEROKE: Joyce, you have prepared a statement here or it is a submission and I would just like you to briefly go through that what you have given us now and share this with all of us.
MS RANKEN: Thank you Commissioners. My submission is in three parts. The first part is related to a letter I wrote to one of our colleagues or Comrade who I knew was involved in the TRC process. I started this letter by saying that,
"26 Years have since passed since I was among a group of seven women subjected to torture by mind breaking by the apartheid Security Police and yet I often find myself back in the dungeons of solitary confinement, ready to take away my life for no explicable reason. This all happens without any conscious thought on my part. I hate it when my mind brings those terrifying memories, but my mind just does it for me. It was orchestrated to destroy me.
Today as I move around in the workplace I realise that I am not the only, I am not alone in my ordeal. Countless of fellow South Africans who survived apartheid incarceration are in constant battle within themselves to continue to live and work. They are on guard, refusing to succumb to the dictates of the mind breakers who knew the long term devastation, devastating effects of their psychological warfare against the freedom loving South Africans. Today, some of those same apartheid ideologues, the Coetzees, the Bothas, the van Wyks, the Swanepoels and others who brutalised the majority of South Africans in order to maintain power and control have retreated from the State apparatus.
Anchored in the sanctuary of their lavish homes and farms they watch with cold satisfaction as we, the survivors of apartheid, are battling to make South Africa a home for all its people, the brutalised, the unemployed, the poor, the unskilled, the semi-skilled, the professionals, all and sundry, but it is not easy as the result, as we heard about the results of the Western Cape local Government election. Apartheid and its predecessor, that was the colonial racism, were meant to destroy Black, human dignity. It appealed to the lowest instincts, because of racial composition. It set local inhabitants against each other. It arose all possible forms of savagery by embarking on social engineering.
Where else have you heard a people who pride themselves as being products of non-racial love relations, vote for a master race, a political party like the NP. Was the blood of the master race ever pure? As submissions are made to the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, the psychological warfare against the democratic movement, its structures and cadres, especially the women, and the Black population should be one of the main focus.".
Thus, I am very happy to be here this morning presenting to the Truth Commission.
"The apartheid Security and Intelligence machinery singled out the women for persecution as, among other things, a weapon against their menfolk. The Black men were incarcerated on Robben Island whereas the women and White males were detained or imprisoned in mainland jails of Pretoria Central, Nelstroom and Barberton. Psychological torture on the women was aimed at destroying them as militants acting in the interest of banned political organisations to which they and their spouses belonged. A number of wives of political prisoners were either detained in jail several times, torture by mind breaking itself develops paranoia and brings into dominance those destructive aspects of behaviour which, under normal circumstances, can be kept under control or done away with. As a result detainees or prisoners are set against themselves, but also on each other.
Outside the prison environment family and community relations were destroyed, because the former detainees or prisoners could not cope with a normal family and community life or had been turned monsters against the very cause their lives had been devoted to. The devastation of torture by mind breaking had a multiple effect on the children of the women victims. The children were thrown in the streets to fend for themselves. Some swelled the ranks of the liberation movement, the unlucky ones turned tsotsis. Therefore a political statement not only indicting the successive apartheid Government, but also rooting the cause of racism to the colonial era would focus all the other TRC deliberations within the historic perspective.".
I listed here the names of women detainees I knew
"Lilian Ngoyi, Helen Joseph, Ruth First, Dorothy Nyembi, Winnie Mandela, Rita Mzana, Martha Dlamini, Tobozile Ngomo, Shanti Naidoo, Albertina Sisulu, Tandi Modise, Barbara Hogan, Tenjiwe Mtiso and Jenny Schreiner.".
This was the letter I wrote to that Comrade. Then comes the affidavit which I submitted to the TRC itself. In it I mentioned that there will be four aspects that I will deal with which I also interlinked with this letter I wrote. Psychological torture, that is the mind breaking tactics, disinformation on Benjamin Ramoosa and devious tactics.
My detention commenced at dawn, at two a.m. of 12 May 1969. Why at that ungodly hour. They said I was a terrorist, because as an investigative journalist for a Johannesburg morning daily newspaper I endeavoured to inform the world about the brutal effects of apartheid on the Black South African communities. After working hours I had attended to the welfare and educational needs of political prisoners and their families. Both work had been done in the full glare of public scrutiny.
The newspaper featured stories were read openly by everyone and the correspondence between the prisoners and the outside world passed through the hands of the prison staff. It was during the course of interrogation that I learnt that the Special Branch not only monitored the press and prisoners' correspondence, but had informers and applied censorship on information. They were not satisfied with the draconian powers they had of controlling information. Like jackals hunting at daybreak they had to claim a pound of flesh on those of us who were determined to expose the naked brutality of the apartheid system. By pouncing on you in a deep sleep they meant to deprive you of a vital orderly function. They started the anxiety machine immediately and your trauma began at two a.m.
I recall that before my detention another woman in the States, Angela Davis, was arrested at the same time, more or less in the same manner. By 12 May 1969, the date of my detention, some 16 prisoners had died in similar detention. Why, Commissioners, I brought this, it is because men like James Linkwe who was said to have hung himself, died on the tenth of March 1969. Solomon Modipane had slipped on soap on the 25th February 1969. Nokodimas Gaute slipped in the shower on the 11th November 1968. Prison trialist Alpheus Madiba hung himself on the seventh, 1967 and the others. Why I am bringing these names is because these people have been forgotten. That, why I bring this name is that it was not the first time that a person like Steve Biko was brutally murdered. We have heard some of the men being killed in the same way. We have heard Baba Salojee who was said to have fallen during interrogation on September 1964. We have heard Lucs Mafongoshle who they said died by hanging on September 1963.
As the five Special Branch officers, at gun point, whisked me away at dawn from my mother's house to the solitary cell via the death row cell in Pretoria Central, I was convinced that I would die in their hands leaving my three year old, Nkosinatie, an orphan. Commissioners, it is very rare that you hear that in Pretoria Central there was a death cell for women. Black women were hung at Pretoria Central. I think the Commissioners can pursue that aspect of the death row. We hear a lot about the males who were on death row. A month before my detention I had become engaged to Kenneth Ranken, a Scottish doctor. Since the Immorality and Mixed Marriage Act made living in South Africa impossible, I was to follow Kenneth out of the country. Detention put paid to that dream. The Special Branch was determined to separate those whose private lives did not fit in with the details of apartheid and their victims had to suffer the unbearable pains of separation.
Being forced to abandon my baby son, Nkosinatie, was untenable torture. To crown it all, during a torturous interrogation session at Compol Building, a three year old Afrikaner toddler was brought in to remind me of Nkosinatie. They thought I would break down and accept their communist conspiracy interpretation of what I was involved in. They also wanted me to accept the offer of being turned into a State witness. Despite the agonising presence of a toddler I refused to be chiselled into an instrument of apartheid's evils, intelligence and security design. True, I was longing to be with my son, just to cuddle him, but the price to pay for that was worth our cruel separation. It was worth the strains to gain freedom for all South Africans, but then just opposed with the will to survive, torture by mind breaking wormed itself within me, enveloping me with feelings of guilt.
I was justified to leave my son in the care of my mother whose single hand dress making venture was more of a charity than profitable business, how would Nkosinatie cope with the image of a terrorist mother detained in a jail so that other people were not contaminated by her. At the time, just before my detention, Soweto was covered by a funeral cloud, because ANC leaders had been recently sent to Robben Island. Throughout the country dozens of detainees were dying. At face value Sowetans appeared defeated and scared as the Security Forces brazenly increased psychological warfare on the populous. Some people were duped and cowed. The politically seasoned who were not languishing in various apartheid jails were either under house arrest, banning orders, banishment or in exile. The politically seasoned and sophisticated were engaged in underground activities.
In detention I was determined to continue to be counted with those who stood for humanity. In the clutches of the Special Branch I had to suffer indignity in order to survive. For example, as a woman you dreaded the commencement of your menstrual period, because it became so public under the notice of your interrogator, who were all Afrikaner males. You had to ask them for sanitary pads. With your menstrual flow they made you stand untenably as punishment. The feel and smell of the sticky blood as a reminder of eminent slaughter at the hands of your torturers.
One other woman, Lulu Gwala, in 1976 was given no pads. She wrapped herself in a blanket that absorbed the blood and made her sticky and smelly. The Special Branch, as I said earlier on, were gun-toting White Afrikaner males and settled by them for the, from the minute they raided your bedroom, they drove you in the dark at high speed to Pretoria Central Prison where they locked you in an icy solitary confinement cell and thereafter, with frequent haunts to Compol building and Bahaus torture chambers. I was terrified that one day I would be gang raped by those bullies. After all, what self respecting males, armed to the teeth, swagger with bravado, escorting an unarmed woman whose only armoury is her brains, skin colour and resolve to live a life of love and respect for other human beings.
While under escort and interrogation at the torture chamber I did not come across any stray which could have witnessed my faith. Within the prison yards any awaiting trial or convicted women prisoners who crossed the path of my heavily armed Special Branch brigades would automatically hide their faces to avoid being whiplashed or booted with the accompanying vulgar command, do not look at the terrorist. I often wondered how the pregnant awaiting trial, detained and serving women prisoners coped with their extra burden. Here, Commissioners, I really would like to make a special plea that as some of our South African citizens in the White suburbs complain about the crime, we know that now the scientists are saying from the very day of conception, the messages which a mother gives to the child, develop that baby. Now, those Black women, hundreds and thousands of them who were in apartheid jails were there for pass, being unable to produce the dompas, they were termed to be criminals, no wonder today we have such a high criminal rate.
My anxiety, the anxiety of the safety of the unborn child must have been paramount in their minds. Our cells were shaped in line with each other, like solitary unkept stone grey graves. The only difference was that you walked into your cell with the door being slammed and locked behind you and, at that time, I use to fear that one day I will be walking out of that cell to the solitary confinement of my grave. In this cell I stood there gazing around. There was a small high hole covered with mesh for ventilation. It was cold. The contents of the cell were a damp sisal mat, rolled up and three grey blankets, also damp and smelling of urine.
The ghostly solitude of the night would be broken by the hallow clacking sound of galvanised iron chamber pots falling on cement floors. The loudness of that noise would be intermingled by agonising screams of women and babies. Minutes later you would hear gruelling bark of dogs, grunting as if they were tearing someone into pieces. The shuddering noise would gradually die down. You would hear the sjambokking, the hard rendering scream of the women. Again, these women, the women's section in Pretoria Central, was very much alike to what the male prisoners tell us when they tell you of the singing of men going to the gallows. With the women's section it was women who were being beaten, babies screaming. This was happening all the time at night.
At this point I would like to submit to the Truth and Reconciliation Committee the book Window on Soweto which I wrote in 1975 and was published in 1977 by the International Defence and Aid. In this book I graphically describe detention, interrogation, trials and banning orders which I went through. I have given the Commissioners the extracts of that, you know, of that book, but I must bring to the attention of the Commissioners that the spiralling coil of the needling urges of torture by mind breaking was at its peak. Its freezing loneliness made one wish for death. I keep on harping on this, because I do not know if people realise what went on when the Boers wanted to kill peoples' intellect.
Those who did they not like, because they wrote and exposed what happened in this country. We do hear, rightfully so, about the physical torture which they meted out on women detainees or other male detainees, but that torture was done by the menials. What about the ideologues of apartheid like Johan Coetzee, who after some years, became the Commissioner of Police in this country. Those who would boast to you and say we do not touch a prisoner, we know what we want from you, we are going to break you, you are going to end up on the road picking up papers. That was their aim and you constantly have to fight against that.
Okay, fine. I am also aware that a number of children, girl children, after June 1976 uprisings were found to be pregnant when they returned home from detention. They were so thoroughly frightened that they would not allow their parents to do anything about it. The thought of being pregnant with a child of a rapist, a beast programme, for that matter, as a tool of denigration, is something no women wishes. No wonder we have young people roaming our streets, killing and those who do not understand where this comes from yell crime, crime and, yet, they should really participate in the reconstruction process of this country.
Some women detainees endured excruciating agony of losing their loved ones and were not released to attend the burial services. Thus, their bereavement was turned into self tormenting feelings of guilt. I can give you the example of Violet Wynberg when she lost her son, Mark, when she was still serving sentence. Her daughter broke the news to both her imprisoned parents, Elly and Violet. The family members were not allowed to comfort each other. I can also mention my friend, Rita Mzana, who is now a Senator in Parliament, whose husband was murdered in detention and she was unable to bury him as she was also a detainee.
Disinformation was a way of life under apartheid. The current, the radio current affairs programme was its prime misinformation service. Between mid-1964 and 1973 I remember that when travelling in trains, busses and at the work place, smear campaigns about the wrongdoings and the plight of the wives of jailed political leaders was rife. The clinically orchestrated smears were meant to make enemies between families of political prisoners and the community they lived in. Worst still, the isolation, the surveillance, the detention, the infiltration of agent provocateurs around the targeted victims of the psychological warfare made some of its victims develop a reckless militancy of bravado which, in the long term, turned them into monsters, which we, which were easily manipulated by those who wanted to maintain the apartheid system.
In other words, Commissioners, we in this country have seen or know women and men who were leaders in the struggle in this country, but today nobody wants to talk to them. We should ask ourselves why is it that such a good person, such a person who was a fighter, why is that person a monster today and we should put the blame where it belongs and we should assist our former Comrades who have fallen. You do not fall just because you die and you are buried. This, the apartheid machinery of torture by mind breaking was aimed at totally ruining you even if you are alive. Even better when you are alive, because they set you as an example. People quote you and say look at so and so and they have achieved what they meant in the first place.
I would like to mention the issue of Benjamin Ramoosa. Our first charges under the Suppression of the Communism Act were squashed on 16 February 1970, but we were re-detained. Four months later we were put on another trial under the Terrorism Act. This time we were joined by Benjamin Ramoosa on 18 June 1968. Ramoosa was kidnapped from Botswana in June 1968 in violation of international law. Ramoosa was taken to the then Rhodesia, manacled and blindfolded. He was then brought back into South Africa. He was held in detention for two whole years and put on trial with us. On September 14 1970 the State lost the second trial against us, but Ramoosa was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.
The mindless torture to which he was subjected was horrendous. Major Swanepoel at Compol building was his chief torturer. Ramoosa showed us scars from electrical torture. It is my feeling that 17 months in detention firmly imprinted on my mind a death-wish which 26 years later continues to surface. If Ramoosa was in detention for 24 months I would imagine his death-wish was firmly in place. He was granted no remission of sentence, not a single day. He served 15 years on Robben Island, enduring the cold winters of the Atlantic, no warm water to wash. Soon after he was released he embraced the death-wish and committed suicide.
I am just skipping some of them. My plea to the Truth Commission is to all South Africans, we must not let individualistic and selfish ambitions overtake us. We must endure, at all times, to preserve our unity of purpose in strengthening our democracy. It was the civics, some churches and political movements like the ANC and others who joined hands and made our democracy possible. We must fight against elusive tactics whenever the emanate and occur. Our hard won unity must prevail. Thank you.
MS SEROKE: Thank you very much, Joyce, for that well prepared statement. I think it deserves a handshake. It is interesting that in your statement here you actually mention some of the mind breaking tactics which Sheila Meintjies mentioned in her submission as a researcher and you put what she said as a reality. What was research came out as a reality through your experience. I know you briefly touched about how that meant when your child was taken away and you saw a White child, a toddler ... how, what goes on in somebodies mind when these mind breaking tactics are introduced when torturing.
MS RANKEN: I think what happened with the South Africa Special Branch was that they studied people. We know that they had a psychological profile of a detainee who they had targeted. For instance, they would ask you very personal questions during detention and you wondered where did they get this information from and then you realised later on that they have actually been making a profile of you and they knew how they were going to get the information from you. Therefore, they used different methods on detainees. Of course there were common methods they used, but they also used different ones according to how they wanted the information from them.
You asked about the question of mind torture. The very fact that you were put into solitary confinement. For a person like myself who was a journalist, I was a journalist, I moved all around the country, I use to write and this was my life. Not so much the money I earned, my life was the pen and the paper and they knew that. That depravation on its own will make you break down. Ruth First, in her book also confirms this. When she was a journalist and also they used the same methods, depravation of what you really need to make your life go on and they break that and you are food to them. So that is one of the ways and, of course, there is also the emotional side of it. What now they use, term, emotional intelligence.
It is not only your intellect which is important in your life, it is also emotions, your relationships with other people, how to deal with these people. So, when they brought that child they knew how much I was in love with my son. They knew that I would break down immediately. So this is part of the warfare, part of the game. They put the child there. They knew she will crack, she will do what we want and I refused to do that. That is why I am saying that enduring race which I was in, fighting for change in this country, I think, was a price to pay for the separation with my son. I was not going to break down. So that is another way of the way they dealt with us. I hope I have been able to.
MS SEROKE: We also note your request to the TRC about looking into women who are on death row. Just last week we had our prisons hearings and I do not know whether you watched the media about that hearing, because one of the things it highlighted was the, you know, what happened to prisoners who are on death row and, fortunately, we also had a woman who was on death row, Theresa, sharing her experiences. She was one of the, so called, Sharpeville Six who were sentenced to death and I think the TRC was very fortunate to have those two people, a man and a woman, highlighting their experiences in death row and, I am sure, through following Theresa's testimony and statements, the TRC would be able to further mention that in their recommendations, but I think it is also important to raise the fact that on that day we had Paula McBride, who had a submission on death row, and she came out very strongly in that submission to the TRC that we should look into the possibility of looking at the death row and the death penalty as a gross human rights violation. So, we have got those recommendations from people and I hope that would satisfy your need to, for us to dwell in this area. Thank you. I would hand over. Thank you very much.
CHAIRPERSON: Yasmin Sooka.
MS SOOKA: Thank you. I thought, I just want to take, I was very happy when you read the names of the people in the early 1960's who, in fact, found their deaths in all the different manners that you described whilst in the hands of the Security Branch and, I think, that I am very glad to say that in most of the names that you mentioned, we actually have received submissions from the families of all the individuals that you name. So, certainly, from our perspective we have not actually forgotten them, but it was good that you reminded us that there was a period pre-Steve Biko, when people died in very strange circumstances in the 1960's.
However, you raised quite a number of issues and I would just like to get your feedback on this. You raised the question of many people, whilst in detention are asked, in fact, to turn State witness. We have a number of people who after spending a number of months in solitary confinement are then given statements to sign which then incriminate their fellow Comrades. We have the incident of Shanti Naidoo who at the trial of her Comrades then refused to turn State witness. It is a very difficult issue. Their are people who do not, perhaps, have the resources and the strength to survive that moment of vulnerability and they do break down. In fact, many of them go on to become informers, because the State did exploit that vulnerability.
The Commission is being faced with this issue that people are saying that we should release their names where we have them. What would your view be on how one should deal with those people who did turn State Witness and, secondly, how should we deal with the question of informers, particularly, in the media world where it has become quite a major issue?
MS RANKEN: I think, Commissioner, it is a very difficult, you know, question you are asking me. I think if we understand why we had apartheid in this country, that apartheid was aimed at dehumanising all of us. I think there is not a single South African, especially the South Africans, maybe, who came from the White community, who would say I was not collaborating with apartheid. You know, I am making a sweeping statement, you know, right now, but apartheid benefitted, as you know, largely, the White community. Therefore, one can say they were just as equally responsible for what happened to those who ended up in detention, who did this, who were brutalised by, you know, apartheid.
I think those who broke down in detention, if they were to come and say to South Africans we broke down, we understand, we were there. We have met quite a number, we talked to them. South Africa is reconciling. I do not think they were the enemy. The people who were the enemy, it is these ideologues I was mentioning. The Johan Coetzee who even when TRC started they said there was no torture, we treated the detainees very well. He challenged the, you know, TRC to take to court, he wanted to take to the TRC to court, but because the people of South Africa had resolved that the TRC will be there and will continue, he has failed, but I think in his failure, it would be good to bring him in front of the TRC to say, why is it that he did that. He was Mr Clean. He was a mind torturer. He did not stab, he did not put the electrical shocker on, you know, sexual parts of his victims, but he was behind those menials, the men who did that. He was the paymaster of those people.
Okay, so we have to look at this in terms of that somehow. The people who did break down, I think they should come and say, yes, we did and I think South Africa, the South African democracy is so strong that they, it will say we understand this has happened to you in your life. They may not expect forgiveness, because I do not think people are expecting them to say forgive me. People are expecting that they should accept that they did fall. I think earlier on I said, you know, people who fell, it was not just a question of falling and dying at the hands of the enemy, it was also at what they turned you to become later on. Others have become monsters, okay. That is part of falling and that is what the enemy enjoyed and that is what they are enjoying today, people like Johan Coetzee, you know, Swanepoel, Rooinek, okay.
So, I think, if we look at it in that way the press, the one which is responsible for taking a very simplistic, you know, answer to this question, they will have to go and dig and find out where Johan Coetzee is, where Rooinek Swanepoel is and ask those people why did they turn people into this. I think they will find the answer there.
MS SOOKA: Thank you. Joyce, you also alluded to a matter which also is a human rights violation, that which, in fact, the Truth Commission has not been tasked to deal with as have a number of other issues, the Pass Laws, for instance. You talked about the Immorality Act. I know that it is quite personal for you to talk about your own experiences and if you do not feel free to discuss that, that is okay, but we have not really had the opportunity to deal with that, because, quite frankly, our mandate is to deal with gross human rights violations, but I was wondering if, while you are here, you could just give us a very brief comment on the Immorality Act and your own experience.
MS RANKEN: I have often said to people that, you know, the Immorality Act was a denial of what South Africa was all about. Before it was even instituted how many mixed people did we have in this country? How many cross cultural marriages or relationships did we have in this country? That was a testimony that, you know, that South Africa, you know, people have gone beyond, you know, just being a specific racial group, a specific this and that. So, it was the denial of the reality which was there in that country. So, I knew in the heart of hearts that one day it will just pass, because even before changing this country, Immorality Act was outlawed, even before there was political change.
Therefore, it was not really the issue in South Africa. It was, the issue was power, political power, the issue was economic power and in whose hands it fell and they just used Immorality Act as one of those methods of dividing the South African population. Just as they did with the homelands, the ethnic question. So, that is how I saw it. It is nothing special being married to a person who is White. It is nothing special. It is like when you marry, you know, the person you fall in love with. It is nothing special, you know, in the true sense of the word. It is two people falling in love.
CHAIRPERSON: Joyce Seroke.
MS SEROKE: Joyce, you mentioned the censorship through informers. I just want to inform you about a hearing, a special hearing on the media that we, the TRC is going to organise for next month and I wonder, I would, as a journalist and from what you have experienced, I am sure we would like to have a submission from you, as a journalist, particularly related to that hearing which will only deal with the things that happened through the media and the misinformation we are talking about here and, I think, it would have more importance if it came through that hearing and I am just making this invitation in case you did not hear about it. Thank you.
MS RANKEN: Thank you.
CHAIRPERSON: Joyce, thank you very much. It is pleasing to note that there are people like yourself who, although they have gone through this difficult journey, but who are thinking about these things. Much as you are sharing about your personal experiences, your statement clearly reflects your commitment to even what should happen during the phase of healing and reconciliation. We really appreciate your coming forward today. Thank you very much and also thank you to your son. I hope this is Nkosinatie behind you.
MS RANKEN: Yes, that is him.
CHAIRPERSON: Yes, okay. Thank you very much for coming with your mother Nkosinatie.