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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 234
Paragraph Numbers 278 to 292
Abduction, interrogation and killing
278 This section deals with a different category of killings – where the primary purpose was to obtain information, and death followed, apparently in order to protect the information received. Victims in almost all of these cases were suspected of having links with underground military structures or with networks that provided support for such structures. The purpose of interrogation was to gather intelligence on issues such as modi operandi, guerrilla infiltration routes and possible planned operations. This information was considered vital, not only to enable countermeasures to be taken, but for the ongoing and effective penetration of such structures by agents or askaris.
279 Amnesty applicants suggested that such intelligence had value only for as long as the ‘enemy’ was not aware that the information had been uncovered. Detainees – even those kept in solitary confinement – sometimes managed to smuggle out information about their detention and interrogation. Moreover, in the nature of clandestine work, once a detention was known about, old routines, codes and meeting places would be regarded as compromised and therefore changed. It was for this reason, the Security Branch argued, that it was preferable to abduct rather than officially detain, and to kill the abductee once information had been extracted. In some instances, the Security Branch attempted to ‘turn’ (recruit) the individual; where this proved unsuccessful, killing was regarded as necessary.
280 This modus operandi allowed for greater freedom to torture without fear of consequences. It should also be noted, as is evident in some of the cases below, that confessions and admissions were sometimes obtained only after brutal torture. The possibility that a number of people so targeted had no real link to underground military structures cannot be excluded.
281 Eastern Cape political activist Gcinisizwe Kondile [EC0021/96STK] was killed by the security police in August 1981. Mr Kondile was first detained by the security police in 1980 while a student at Fort Hare University. After his release, he fled to Lesotho where he continued to be politically active. In June 1981, he was apprehended by the security police after entering the country in a car owned by Chris Hani.
282 Amnesty applicants have presented two different versions of the circumstances leading to Kondile’s death. Captain Dirk Coetzee [AM0063196] says that Kondile was transferred to Jeffrey’s Bay in the eastern Cape where he was held for two months and severely tortured. So serious was his condition that the police feared he would die. Deciding they could not afford “another Biko”, the upper management of the Security Branch decided he should be killed and all evidence of his existence destroyed. This version is confirmed by a Sergeant Danster who guarded Kondile at the Jeffrey’s Bay police station. Danster referred to the use of torture, including ‘tubing’, electric shock and assault.
283 To cover their tracks, the security police officially released Kondile from custody on 11 August 1981 and then immediately re-arrested and held him secretly in the ‘white’ quarters of the Jeffrey’s Bay police station.
284 C section head, Brigadier W Schoon, ordered Dirk Coetzee to meet with Major Archie Flemington from the local security police office at Komatipoort. The Port Elizabeth Security Branch arrived at Komatipoort with Kondile, who was then taken by a group of security police members – including Coetzee, Flemington, Nick Janse van Rensburg, Sergeant JG Raath [AM4397/96], Captain Paul van Dyk and two others from Ermelo – to an isolated spot near Komatipoort. Here he was drugged with “knock-out” drops acquired from General Lothar Neethling’s police forensic laboratory, shot and cremated over a log fire for seven hours until all traces of his body had been destroyed. During the cremation, the group drank and cooked meat at a separate ‘braai’. Coetzee related:
The burning of a body to ashes takes about seven hours, and whilst that happened we were drinking and even having a braai next to the fire. Now, I don’t say that to show our braveness, I just tell it to the Commission to show our callousness and to what extremes we have gone in those days … the chunks of meat, and especially the buttocks and the upper part of the legs, had to be turned frequently during the night to make sure that everything burnt to ashes. And the next morning, after raking through the rubble to make sure that there were no pieces of meat or bone left at all, we departed and all went our own way.
285 Other amnesty applicants disputed this version of events. The Port Elizabeth Security Branch applicants stated that Kondile was transferred to their region after interrogation in the Orange Free State. After two weeks of interrogation with assault at the Jeffrey’s Bay police station, Kondile agreed to act as an informer. However, Major Du Plessis [AM4384/96] alleges that he then personally discovered a concealed note from Kondile to the ANC. Du Plessis realised that Kondile had deceived him. Kondile had been briefed about Du Plessis’s informer network (including a person in the UNHCR who provided photographs of refugee applicants to the police) which would now be compromised. After discussions with his immediate superior Nick Janse van Rensburg and the Divisional Commander, then Colonel Gerrit Erasmus [AM4134/96], it was decided that Kondile should be killed.
286 Kondile was taken near Komatipoort where they met with Captain Dirk Coetzee. He was tied to a tree and shackled, given some food and cold drinks, after which he became unconscious. Sergeant Roy Otto (now deceased) then shot him through the head, after which his body was placed on a wood fire and burnt until morning.
287 Acccording to amnesty applicant Lieutenant-Colonel Anton Pretorius [AM4389/96], the Soweto Intelligence Unit (SIU) had in 1983 succeeded in penetrating and infiltrating MK structures in Swaziland. Deep-cover agents RS269 and RS243 had succeeded in gaining information about arms caches, infiltration routes, lines of command and so on. Through a Soweto-based source, SWT 66, they had managed to establish the linkages between the Swaziland structures and MK’s Transvaal military structures.
288 During 1983, they received information that a courier from Swaziland was expected in Johannesburg. The courier, Ms Nokuthula Aurelia Simelane (aka MK Sibongile), arrived in Johannesburg in September 1983 and was abducted by the SIU from the parking lot outside the Carlton Hotel where she had planned to meet her contact. She was initially taken to the Custodum police flats in Norwood and kept for several days in a tenth-floor storeroom. During this time she was intensively interrogated and, according to an amnesty applicant, badly beaten.
289 From Norwood, Simelane was taken to a farm near Thabazimbi, where she was apparently kept in an outbuilding for a month, possibly two.
290 According to amnesty applicants Anton Pretorius and Lieutenant Colonel Willem ‘Timol’ Coetzee, [AM4032/96] then head of the SIU, she agreed during her initial interrogation and torture to become an agent for the Security Branch and her removal to the farm had been organised to facilitate the necessary training. Coetzee claims that the arrangements surrounding this recruitment were discussed with his superior officer as well as with Section C at Security Branch headquarters. Pretorius and Coetzee said that, after three weeks, Simelane returned to Swaziland but that all subsequent pre-arranged contact and communication with her failed. These applicants said they believe that her defection was discovered by MK and that she was killed as a consequence.
291 A number of other members of the unit involved in her abduction also applied for amnesty. At least one of these, however, disputes the Coetzee/Pretorius version. According to this applicant, Simelane continued to be tortured at the farm in Thabazimbi. After about two months, she was put in the boot of the car, handcuffed and in leg-irons, and driven away. This was the last that black members of the unit saw of her. Her physical state at the time was such that returning her to Swaziland would not have been possible. “She was very beautiful. But by the time they were finished with her, she could not be recognised.”
292 The applicant indicated that, after he was back in Soweto, he asked one of his superiors about Simelane and was told not to ask questions. He subsequently heard that she had been shot and buried in Rustenburg.