|Siphiwo Mtimkulu. The young student leader who turned into a ghost, who turned into ashes. But this week was the start of the great telling of one of apartheid’s most heinous crimes. Four security policemen, two generals and two colonels faced the nation to unravel the secrets surrounding the deaths of Eastern Cape student leader Siphiwo Mtimkulu and his friend Topsy Madaka. General Gerrit Erasmus who gave the order for the killing; General Nick van Rensburg, a multiple killer who assassinated one of the young men; Colonel Hermanus du Plessis, co-conspirator; and Colonel Gideon Niewoudt, also a multiple killer, torturer and liar who fired his bullet into the other activist. For many years these killer policemen denied any complicity in torturing, kidnapping or killing Mtimkulu or Madaka.
|Full Transcript and References
|Because it was the first time I was going to hear about how my son died, so I can say it meant a lot to me after so many years. This thing has been hidden. // I came to the hearings because I am interested in this thing, because I was three months old at that time.
|This week the four security policemen owned up to the activists’ execution on the night of April 14 1982.
|The following evening, did you give the deceased some of these sleeping tablets? // That is so. // How did you do this? // It was in their coffee that I offered them. I put an overdose of the tablets in the coffee and I gave it to them to drink. // Did you collect branches and tree trunks? // Yes that is correct. // You and Mr. Van Rensburg, or was it you and Mr. Van Rensburg who carried them out? // Mr. Van Rensburg and I carried them out. // Did you then shoot Siphiwo Mtimkulu? // Yes, that is correct. // And the warrant officer for Topsy Madaka? // Yes, that is correct. // Van Rensburg shot the one person and you shot the other. // That is so your honour. // We placed them on the fire wood. We first put down a layer of fire wood and then we put the corpses on top of the fire wood. // During the course of the evening, on several occasions, you had to keep the fire going and put on more wood. And the next morning Captain Du Plessis and Mr. Niewoudt collected the remains. The next ...more
|It was a harrowing week for the families and friends of the two activists. Some cried; others broke down. Many were angry. They listened to a tale of incredible cruelty committed by men who said they were misled by the policies of apartheid government.
|I was very upset about that, looking at a man who pulled a trigger to kill my son. And there is no evidence they are giving that Siphiwo did … there was no reason for them to do that, I can say. They should have prosecuted Siphiwo. // No, no forgiveness at all. // Why not? // Because they killed my father … and I am feeling the most pain. // They are people of no description, not even evil. I can’t describe them; I haven’t got words to describe their cruelty. They are the people who must be taken out of the community; just throw them anywhere where you can keep them just by themselves. // They should die also. // Why do you say that, because this is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? // Because they kill, so they must die also.
|The story of Siphiwo Mtimkulu started in the late seventies with his rise as leader of the Congress of South African students in the Eastern Cape. The security police turned their attention to him.
|My impression with great piety your honour, my impression was that he was extremely militant because of the conflict of the black ideology and the white really came to the fore. // He was a leader among the people involved in the schools unrest. He was also responsible for chasing pupils out of the schools, he together with another group, of the pupils who wished to attend school. // He was the contact to collect the pamphlets from the late Chris Hani, which had been drafted by the ANC in Lesotho. He just received the pamphlets with a purpose of distributing it here internally, in the country. // He was a speaker at all these meetings and where they incited the crowd to violence. In this regard I just wish to point out that the politicization was taking place openly, the incitement to violence was done in a subtle manner. And particularly after the meetings, groups who had already been instructed to do so then further incited the masses to violence.
|Mtimkulu was arrested and incarcerated for several months. When he left prison a few months later he was a shadow of his former self. Two days after leaving jail, he couldn’t’ walk. Medical tests revealed that he had been poisoned with thallium while in detention. He was confined to a wheelchair but miraculously he survived. The policemen denied this week that they had anything to do with his poisoning.
|Because I did not have any part in it. // If you say that you didn’t have any part in it, that’s now personally, do you have any knowledge of it? // No I didn’t have any knowledge of it. // Before I told you what thallium poison was more or less did you know anything about it? // No your honour. // Did you administer poison to Mr. Mtimkulu or do you know that anybody did? // No I don’t know. // So you also didn’t give him poison? // No I didn’t, definitely not.
|They are still lying because they are denying the poison. They are just telling us about the killing now; how they killed, how they were preparing to kill them.
|I think we were dealing with Mr. Mtimkulu’s role. You say he addressed meetings? // That is correct. // Did he do so from his wheelchair? // He did so your honour. // Did the fact that he was confined to a wheelchair affect his competence as a speaker? // No. // As a political speaker to state it more clearly? // No, not at all. // The fact that he was in a wheelchair, did he use this as an example of what the agents of the apartheid regime allegedly did to him? // That is so your honour. If I remember correctly, the terminology that was used was ‘this is what the system had done to me.’
|The fact that he was in a wheelchair, did he attend meetings in his wheelchair and address the meetings from his wheelchair? // Yes that is correct. They transported him from one meeting to the next where he addressed these meetings and used as an example that whatever the system wished to do to him he would continue with the struggle.
|When he was released he was a wheelchair case. // That is correct. // At the time of his death he was still hobbling around with the aid of a stick, he couldn’t walk properly. // That is correct. // Is this the man that you considered so potentially dangerous as an activist that he should be killed? // That is correct.
|Topsy Madaka, Siphiwo’s close friend was also under surveillance. // Your honour, according to the information which we had Topsy Madaka was involved in a covert underground structure, a structure which was responsible to act as a courier between Lesotho and South Africa. Also to recruit scholars for military training outside of South Africa.
|Du Plessis and Van Rensburg presented a plan to General Erasmus to have the two activists eliminated. // And what is the ultimate conclusion which the three of you reached? // Our final conclusion was that there was no other way, detention or any other thing than to eliminate this people. // And when you mean elimination, you mean to kill them? // That is correct.
|There might have been an even more sinister reason for the killing of the two activists. Days after Mtimkulu had decided to sue the Minister of Police for torture and poisoning the four men plotted his death.
|It must have caused you some considerable concern, Mr. Erasmus? // It was a difficult situation, it was uncomfortable. It was an embarrassment for the South African Police. // Yes highly embarrassing and highly dangerous, would you agree? // That is correct. // And it was two days after that summons were issued that discussions commenced between you and your co-applicants about murdering this person who’d institute action against the police. // Correct yes. // A somewhat unfortunate coincidence, wasn’t it?
|The Amnesty Commission will have to decide whether the security policemen made a full and frank confession. But what remains clear is that the manner in which a hero died disturbed the Eastern Cape community this week. Moments after Nic van Rensburg admitted his complicity in the killing there was chaos in the hall. An unknown man armed with a ballpoint pen stormed onto the stage.
|You know, I’m sick because I’m crying. I haven’t got even a chance to talk to you because I’m very upset. // When it comes from the horse’s mouth you know, from the person who had done the thing, really it’s touching my heart. And everybody I’m sure is touched. It is very sad, particularly his closest people, his family, his children. That’s why they cannot cope with it now. // It’s a sad story. We can’t manage that story, to see somebody flying like a fish. I don’t know how one can say. It’s a terrible story that gets in my heart, very sad story.