»I wasn't frightened because I used to tell myself that
I wouldn't be the first one to die in prison.
Also, it wasn't so different from the kind of life
we lived outside where I never knew what was going to happen
from one day to the next«.
Since detention without trial outside of wartime first became legal in South Africa in 1963, it has become an oft-used feature of the legal system there (Foster 1987, p. 1). Since the beginning of the third state of emergency on 12 June 1986, for example, over thirty thousand people have been detained in South African prisons without having been found guilty of any offense. According to Audrey Coleman, who became an expert on detention in South Africa after her son was detained in 1981, many of the thirty thousand people detained after the 1986 state of emergency are still sitting in jail.
One of the government's major goals in detaining so many people is to remove political opposition, not criminals. Another important goal is to frighten people into believing that it's too dangerous to oppose apartheid. But now, as Coleman says, »people who are detained who were not previously politically active often join the struggle«.
While many of the women I interviewed had been detained at some point in their lives, prison experiences predominate in the stories of four of the women included in this section—Elaine Mohamed, Shahieda Issel, Connie Mofokeng, and Feziwe Bookholane. Elaine Mohamed spent seven months in solitary confinement for participating in the production and distribution of illegal communist posters—a punishment that both reveals white South Africa's extremely harsh methods of repression, and reflects the intensity of the government's paranoia about communism. Connie Mofokeng, one of the participants in the Soweto uprising, did not expect to survive her second detention experience; she was the most severely tortured of all the women I interviewed. Feziwe Bookholane describes her trial on charges of terrorism—a charge she denies—and how she dealt with the ensuing six years in prison. Shahieda Issel's interview highlights some of the methods of psychological torture used by South African interrogators, as well as what it is like to live with constant police harassment outside of prison. Audrey Coleman, in concluding part I, provides an overview of detention in South Africa, including poignant descriptions of some of the young children who have been incarcerated for months or years on end.
»The way women experience detention is totally different from
the way men do. I burst into tears when a security policeman
said to me: >I really enjoy interrogating women. I can get things
out of them and do things to them that I can't do to a man.<«
Tens of thousends of people have been held in solitary confinement—some for as long as two and a half years —without access to their families or lawyers (Coleman 1986). Many experts consider that this particularly traumatic form of detention should be regarded as a form of torture when used »for the purposes of interrogation, indoctrination or information extraction« (Foster 1987, p.68). Victims of it come to feel extremely vulnerable, especially women who are surrounded by male guards—an effect about which Elaine Mohamed is particularly eloquent.
Mohamed, a single Coloured woman who teaches at Saint Barnabas School in Johannesburg, is an executive member of the Progressive Teachers' Union and, at the time I interviewed her, was attending training sessions of a feminist group called People Opposed to Woman Abuse (POWA), an organization that assists victims of battery and rape. »Wife battery is a big issue in all black communities, Mohamed explained, »and a lot of women get raped by soldiers«. According to Mohamed, »Oppression, whether of women or men, of black or white, of gay or non-gay, Muslim, Jew or Christian, is all a political issue and must be challenged and defeated«.
When I went to interview Mohamed on 18 May 1987, she described to me how it was to grow up in a political family. She was born in England in 1961, her parents having left South Africa about 1956 »when things got difficult for them here«. They left England for Zambia and then went to Lesotho, where Mohamed got most of her education. Her family returned to South Africa in 1976, when she was fifteen years old. In her interview, discussing her arrests, detention, and solitary confinement for seven months, she dwelt especially on what such treatment means for a woman.
Mohamed is currently studying psychology through the University of South Africa, a correspondence school that has enabled many detainees (including Nelson Mandela) to obtain degrees, as well as black people outside of prison who frequently are not permitted to attend the largely white universities. She hopes to study for an honors degree in psychology in 1989.
Growing Up in a Political Family
I grew up in Lesotho [a small country encircled by South Africa] when it was a lot happier and more peaceful than it is now. I grew up without being racially aware, so I never learned to be racist. My parents had friends of all colors and religions. They have never pushed politics or religion or anything else down our throats. (My father is Roman Catholic, but he was an atheist for a long time, and my mother is Anglican.)
I think that my political consciousness only started in 1977 after I came to South Africa. But although I was very aware from reading the newspapers and talking to people of what was going on around me, I only became actively involved in politics two years later during my first year at the University of Witwatersrand. I joined the Black Student Society and worked with the Student Representative Council and in a local women's group. I was studying for a B.A. in fine art, and I produced and designed a lot of posters for political organizations. I preferred to work in the background because I hate being in the limelight, speaking on a public platform, and things like that. I was an extremely disciplined person at that time, and used to fast for long periods during my first year at university.
My father is an associate professor of math at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and my mother is a chemistry technician there. They have been very politically involved, my mother more so in recent years. She is currently one of the vice presidents of the Federation of Transvaal Women. My father, Ismail Mohamed, has been politically active since the 1950s. He spent a lot of time in jail in 1976 although he was never charged with anything. By mistake, some of his clothing was sent home with blood on it. He'd been attacked by one of the guards who had set an Alsatian dog onto him. I was in boarding school at the time so my mother had to cope with this upsetting experience on her own. My father is on the executive committee of the United Democratic Front and was one of the seventeen or eighteen UDF leaders on trial for treason in 1984. The trial lasted over a year, but eventually they all got either suspended sentences or acquittals.
We're a very close family, perhaps because so many things have happened to us. My father has a history of heart disease and has been very ill. There are five of us: myself, Andrew, and Jenny, with two years between each of us, then there's a big gap between us and Ivor and Ingrid. Ivor is in early high school, and Ingrid is about to start high school. My younger brother Andrew led South Africa to go into exile together with eight others in 1980, but six of them were arrested before they made it. Andrew was one of the two who got out, and he subsequently joined the ANC guerrilla forces. He left just before he matriculated when he was seventeen. He is now considered a terrorist by the government, so it's illegal for us to have any contact with him. We can't even correspond with him because then we'd be seen to be working with a terrorist.
At the end of last year , our family was constantly harassed. We frequently got threatening telephone calls. Then my sister Jennifer was arrested in June or July, though we don't know why. Judging from the threats the police made, we don't understand why they let her go after two weeks. Security police were constantly around my parents' house, and my flat was broken into twice early in December while I was away in Durban. All that was missing was my diary. Security police had been around here a number of times to question the cook, the headmaster, his wife, and so forth, about my whereabouts. Recently mail from my sister had very obviously been opened.
We didn't know why the security police were coming after us, but each member of our family was aware of being followed. Our attorney, Priscilla Jana, told us that the police had made it clear that they are not prepared any more to try to get any of the Mohameds into court. They've had all of us in jail, with the exception of the two little ones. They've even opened a file on the youngest, Ingrid. She's only twelve now, but she's been brutalized by seeing my father and myself being arrested and the house being searched after my brother left. And she knows my mother has also been arrested and held for a few hours for participating in a demonstration.
My mother has held the family together and kept things going. I'm just beginning to understand the trauma that she must have gone through when my brother left home, not knowing where he was and if he was safe. Although we are all very proud of him, it must have been very hard on her to lose her child. Every time there's a report in the newspaper that another »terrorist« has been killed, we know it could be Andrew. I know it was also very hard on her when I was in detention. It's often harder for the people outside than for the detainees themselves because those outside have no idea what's going on or how the detainee is feeling. It was very traumatic when Jennifer was arrested last year because we heard that she had been seen in the hospital, but we had no idea if she was there because she had a toothache or because she needed psychological help. A lot of detainees land up in psychological wards.
I have lived so much of my life in fear, and there's pain wherever I look. There's always somebody who has been arrested or hurt. And when you become politically involved, there is always the fear of arrest. In December , I started feeling terribly afraid that one of my family, or all of us, would be shot on the street, especially after our friend Dr. Fabian Ribeiro, who participated in the documentary »Witness to Apartheid« [shown in 1986 on Public Broadcasting stations in the United States], was gunned down outside his house together with his wife in the first week of December.
When my father was arrested in 1976, the University of the Western Cape fired him less than a month later. They said, »Look, we don't know how long you'll be in detention or what you've been arrested for«. My mother wasn't working at-the time, so we were left without any income. My mother started buying material at the factory and making track suits and T-shirts, and Jennifer used to go door to door selling them. We grew a lot of potatoes, and all we ate for a while were casseroles, potatoes, and carrots. It was crazy to be living in a big house with a swimming pool but have no money for food. My mother would buy a plastic packet of vegetables that were a little bit spoiled for a few rand [South African currency], and that's all we ate for the week. When some friends came that year to share Christmas with us, they brought a bottle of champagne. They were shocked to find that all we were having for Christmas dinner was potato chips!
Arrest and Conviction
I was arrested in the middle of my second year at university on 11 August 1981 under section 6 of the Terrorism Act for producing and distributing posters commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the South African Communist Party, which is a banned organization in South Africa. I was interested in communism at the time, but those of us involved in the poster action didn't belong to a specific group. We were acting as individuals. I was the main person involved, although an Afrikaner called Ben took most of the rap for everything that happened. Ben and I had asked a few others to help us make and distribute a »Workers of the World Unite« poster. We wanted to put it up all over Johannesburg on 31 July 1981, because that was the sixtieth anniversary of the formation of the party. Ben and Gerhard were arrested as they were putting up the last poster. They were interrogated for ten days; then I was arrested after Gerhard gave them my name. The police assumed that we must be a Communist Party cell, but we weren't.
We were detained in solitary confinement for four months before we were charged in early December 1981 with attempting to commemorate the formation of the South African Communist Party and, in so doing, furthering its aims. I think the police detained us for so long before charging us because they were trying to build a case against us. They also wanted to break our spirits and find out if our action on 31 July had been instigated from somewhere else and whether we belonged to a Communist Party cell. We were brought to trial two months later on 8 February 1982.
After the trial had been going on for a while (it lasted a month in all), we decided to plead guilty. It was the first offense for all of us. Although we had already been in solitary confinement for seven months, we were sentenced to a year in jail. But only ten days were to be served, and the rest of the time was to be suspended for five years. We were finally released on 19 March 1982. I spent my twenty-first birthday in jail.
Although we all got the same sentences, I was given ten days' hard labor in prison, whereas Ben and the other two guys, all of them white, were allowed to read and sit around. The security guards made sure that I was aware that the guys had beds while I only had a grass mat to sleep on. They'd say, »These guys are white. They can get peanut butter on their bread but you're not going to get anything«, or »These guys can have extra blankets but you will have to put felt on top of your grass mat to keep warm«. It was a tactic to try to divide us and get us to hate each other, because they don't want whites and blacks to work together.
Seven Months in Solitary
After I was charged, I should have been placed with other women prisoners, but I was kept alone simply to try to break my spirit.
I was arrested on a Tuesday evening. On Sunday the police drove me around town trying to get me to point out the home of Shirley, the sister of my close friend Carmel. I refused to do this because I knew they were looking for Carmel. A policewoman said, »This dolly is going to have the time of her life. I can't wait to start!« That was her way of saying that they were going to force the information they wanted out of me. Because I felt an alliance with her as a woman, I felt more hurt by her saying this than if a man had said it. But I don't know what they did to me, because the whole next week is a total blank to me.
Sometimes I'd just wake up to find the security police in my cell. I became acutely attuned to the sound of keys, because that was how I listened for the police coming to my cell. They would take me for questioning at 3:00 a.m. Sometimes long periods went by without my being questioned, and I began to feel safe and forgot what I'd told them, and then suddenly they'd start questioning me again.
The security police tried very hard to break me. They'd tell me all the time, »You are going to be here for years«. They'd ask me an innocent question like, »What did you do last Saturday afternoon?« I'd answer, »I was cycling«. They'd say, »Do you know that you won't be able to cycle when you leave here because your legs won't have the strength?« I tried to be quite blase with the security police, presenting myself as confident and assertive and not showing them when they were getting under my skin. I remember the humiliation of small things like trying to drink coffee but not being allowed to take my handcuffs off. I tried to get the sugar into the cup, stir it, then lift the cup with everybody waiting for me to spill it down my front so they could have a good laugh at me. I remember my total concentration as I told myself, »I'm not going to spill it«, or »I'm not going to fall all over the place in the van«. These experiences seem so unimportant in comparison with other things that happened to people, like having their heads ducked under water, but they were traumatic to me.
Why Detention Is Different for Women
The way women experience detention is totally different from the way men do. I burst into tears when a security policeman said to me, »I really enjoy interrogating women. I can get things out of them and do things to them that I can't do to a man«. I was terrified by this statement. I felt far more horror and pain about it than when I was physically hit by the police, and I think the police realized this immediately. The first time a major smacked me, I had my hands cuffed at my back and I realized I was going to fall, but it didn't really touch me. Another time a policeman came into my cell and said, »You're not allowed tampons in here. You have to wear pads«. And he shook the pad and hit it against the wall saying, »Put it on«. I found this incredibly threatening. The first week I wasn't allowed to wash or have any change of clothing. After that when they brought in my fresh underwear, they flung it around and said how very small my panties were. I felt far more vulnerable with these kinds of experiences than when I was actually threatened.
I know a woman who was arrested in 1976 who was very brash and aggressive. Nine policemen interrogated her the first night, and they said, »If you don't talk, we're going to rape you, one after the other«. She replied, »Oh great! The laws in this country never allowed me to have sex with a white guy. Who's going to be first?« And she started taking her clothes off, which totally shocked these guys, and they didn't do it. But this was something I just couldn't say or do.
At the Fort [a prison] they don't have a running-water system. I had three buckets in my cell: one for fresh water, one for waste products, and one for washing my hands in. They brought me a pad when I was menstruating and a clear plastic bag to put my used pad in. When I went to bathe in a big corrugated iron tub every morning, I'd put my pads into a big zinc bucket. These pads were then collected at the end of my menstruation. One day when I was taken to court I saw women prisoners in the courtyard working through a huge pile of soiled pads. I watched them feeling and shaking each pad while policewomen watched them to make sure that no one was trying to smuggle anything out. I couldn't see the point; it was only humiliating, degrading, and painful. Even if they'd found a note or whatever, surely they would not have been able to trace it to whoever had sent it in a huge prison like that.
The room in which I had my bath didn't have a light, but the sunlight used to come through cracks and holes in the wood. I used to see rats' eyes looking through these holes. I threw water at them and banged on the bath because I couldn't bear them to come into the small space I was in. They came because they smelled the blood on the pads in the zinc bucket. Coming into that room on the five days or so that I menstruated was terrifying for me. Bits of my pads would be scattered over the floor because the rats would eat them at night.
I know someone who had rats pushed into her vagina as a means of torturing her. Although I didn't have that experience, it was something I knew about and always expected. But I didn't cry about it because I didn't want to break down in front of the police. That's what they wanted. So I'd just pick up the bits of my pads, but that experience was terror for me. I always felt that the rats were gnawing at me. But how do I explain to someone that I found that more threatening than someone hitting me? It's those kinds of experiences that I couldn't talk about for a long time. Some of them I still can't talk about.
The police I dealt with at the Fort were women, whereas they were men at John Vorster Square [police headquarters in Johannesburg]. I felt very betrayed by what the women police did to me in prison, because I expected more of women. I always liked my breasts because they are very firm. The policewomen would flick them with their nails on my nipples, saying, »It's a shame nobody wants you. You've obviously never had a boyfriend. No one has touched these breasts, else why are they so firm?« I found this incredibly humiliating.
I was body-searched twice a day every day at the Fort, which was also very humiliating. They made me stand astride and do star jumps to check that I wasn't hiding anything in my vagina. I remember policewomen making me strip in front of men and people laughing at me. Stripping wasn't necessarily connected with being interrogated; it was just a normal prison occurrence. They were supposedly checking that I hadn't brought something into the prison. It was quite ridiculous because I'd go to see the lieutenant about something, and I'd get searched before I left as well as when I returned, although they knew that I'd never been left alone. I didn't even go to the toilet alone. Somebody was always watching me.
When they didn't strip me, they'd feel through my clothes, slipping a hand into my pants and bra. I found this much more traumatic than stripping. Sometimes this would happen regularly for a week and then it would stop; then suddenly it would start again. It was the same thing with being questioned. I used to almost blank out when they felt me like that. I learned to step outside of my body and ignore what was happening to it. I became aware of my doing this very clearly one day. One of the sergeants was reading the newspaper while another one was searching me. She made me take off my dress and my bra but not my panties. I looked over at the woman reading the newspaper and chatted to her while the other woman was checking inside my panties that I wasn't hiding anything. I was aware of the search happening to Elaine, and something else happening with me.
I remember lying on the bed with the prison doctor leaning over me and putting his forearm between my legs to examine my throat. When I stood on the scale to be weighed, he ran his hand over my behind and up between my legs and told me to walk across the room undressed. I found this traumatic because a doctor is someone I normally trust.
I'm vegetarian and for the first three months or so, all I had to eat was beetroot, carrots, and rice, and an occasional slice of bread, so I became very thin. They moved me to John Vorster Square, and my parents were then allowed to bring in food for one meal every day, because I became quite ill.
My mother brought food for me on a Thursday or a Friday. The guards would leave it in their car until they brought it to me on a Monday. I couldn't eat the food because by then it was spoiled. They'd say, »She only brought it this morning. Your mother obviously couldn't be bothered about you«. I knew that that wasn't true, but it was very difficult sometimes to hold onto that knowledge. I got food poisoning once because I so wanted to eat the food my mother had made for me. My family sent me other things—like once a week, I might get a parcel with a little chocolate in it. When I came out of prison they told me they'd sent me more than one piece of chocolate because they knew I was crazy about it, but the security police would take it. Someone I know, whose brother is doing five or ten years for treason, told me that they used a syringe to spike the fruit they sent him with alcohol. The police suddenly realized this, which must have been because they stole it. A lot of clothes that my mother brought for me were stolen. It snowed that year, and I only got the warm track suits she had brought for me after the snow was over. But I always knew that I had a family outside who cared about me. No matter how much the security police told me, »Your family has forgotten you«, I knew that wasn't true. Having experienced my father's detention and knowing what we had done for him, I knew my family would be doing the same for me. That knowledge, and remembering that I was going to get out regardless of how long it took, enabled me to hold on to my sanity.
The police told me they were going to give me electric shocks. They took me to a room and told me to sit on a metal chair; then a guy went out and brought in boxes of equipment. They didn't do it to me as far as I can remember, certainly not on that occasion anyway. But I was so traumatized by thinking they were going to do it, I was almost ready to say, »Okay. These are the people that I know«. But I told myself, »Just last one more minute«, and focused on one minute at a time. I was very proud that, despite that scare, I didn't give the police people's names, so I knew that nobody would be picked up as a result of anything that I had said.
I started hallucinating in prison, presumably to try to combat loneliness. I remember someone asking me during the period of my trial, »Elaine, what are you doing?« I kept whipping my hand up behind me, and I said to him, »I'm stroking my tail«. I had conceptualized myself as a squirrel. A lot of my hallucinations were about fear. The windows in my cell were too high to look through, but I would hallucinate something coming into my cell, like a wolf, for example. I hallucinated myself as different animals, as a squirrel, a camel, a giraffe.
And I started talking to myself. My second name is Rose, and I've always hated the name. Sometimes I was Rose speaking to Elaine, and sometimes I was Elaine speaking to Rose. I felt that the Elaine part of me was the stronger part, while Rose was the person I despised. She was the weak one who cried and got upset and couldn't handle detention and was going to break down. Elaine could deal with it. I spoke to my attorneys and Ben, my fellow-accused, about it when I came out. They had noticed it themselves, because sometimes I would say, »I'm not going to do that, but maybe Rose will«. It was something that I almost couldn't stop. I had to learn to control it.
I would sit there for hours pulling the hairs out of my legs by the roots. The continual activity with my fingers and nails kept me occupied. The hairs on my legs don't grow any more because of this. When I got a Bible, I studied it to try to keep my mind alive and kill time, which sometimes seemed endless.
At one stage in my life I had wanted to do interior decorating, so I designed interiors in my head and worked out recipes. I got every civilian policeman who came into my cell to teach me one or two words of Sotho, and I gave a couple of English words to those who had poor English. I sat for hours worrying if my detention would ever end and wondering, »What are these people going to do to me? What have I said? How are the others?« because I didn't know what had happened to Carmel or another chap, Reavell.
I remember crying at night, although I was always afraid to cry, because I didn't want the police to see me like that. I'd constantly tell myself, »You've just had lunch, soon it will be supper time. Exercise for a while. Now you're going to sleep«. And I told myself all the time, »Tomorrow you might be released«. A big problem for a lot of detainees is that they lose hope, but I never did, and I think that kept me together.
My parents had an incredibly difficult time realizing that this person, Elaine Mohamed, was so different from how I'd been before I was arrested. And some of the changes were good ones. That's difficult to say, because it came out of such an awful experience. But it's like when some women come out of rape experiences stronger because they've managed to get their lives back together again. Before detention I rarely spoke to people. I was mainly interested in reading and painting. The comment I always used to get on my school report was that the headmaster didn't know if I was lonely or I just wanted to be alone. I was very shy when I went into detention, but I learned to make conversation with anybody who wasn't a security policeman. I remember one civilian policeman asked me, »Why do you always ask what the time is?« I did it just to talk to him. I'd ask him about his family, where he grew up— anything! I tried to interact with them as human beings because I became so desperate for conversation.
The first time I ever spontaneously hugged somebody in my life was in prison. I had been a very closed person before that. There was a change of duty, and the security police had accidentally taken me down to the ground floor where the civilian women were kept for engaging in prostitution, being drunk in public, shoplifting, and so on. That was the first time I had spoken to ordinary people for about six months. There was a young woman of about seventeen who was arrested for prostitution, though she denied being a prostitute. The next day she suddenly started crying, and I put my arms around her and she cried and cried. I felt so alone in solitary that I had to reach out to try to make contact with people to survive.
I often bite my cuticles when I feel hurt, but I didn't do that in prison. I remember being so proud of that. When I first saw my dad, I said, »Hey, look at my cuticles«. It was a way for me to maintain control.
One time there was a breakdown in the pipes, so there was no hot water on the women's side of the police cells. I remember the police having this argument about whether I should be allowed out of my cell to shower, and one of them saying, »You can't expect a woman to shower in cold water. She'll get sick. Women need warm water and quiet time to shower«. Despite the sexism, there was no way I was going to say, »My God, of course I can handle a cold shower as well as any man can!« So for a time I was taken to the men's side to shower every day and locked into a shower cell on my own.
The chaps there were pass offenders, not criminals. Some of these young sixteen-year-olds were very helpful. They would start whistling when the policemen were approaching. They'd steal Scope—a disgusting, very lightweight South African sex magazine—and lend it to me. That's all the policemen read. I used to absolutely devour that magazine when these guys brought me a copy. I read it twice through from cover to cover, including every advertisement. They brought it from the police barracks when they cleaned there, and pushed it up the drainpipe for me (there was a fairly big drainpipe going into my ground-level cell). When I was finished reading or when they began to whistle, I'd push it back up or tear it up. A young policeman also brought me a magazine to read for a few days. Then one day when I was being taken to shower, he ran his hand down my back and said, »Isn't it time to pay me back for getting you magazines?« I was very angry and told him, »Keep them, then! I don't want anything from you«.
The pass offense guys used to sneak into the women's side sometimes. The nice ones used to bring me a magazine or tell me that they'd seen a political prisoner and they'd given my name to him. Sometimes somebody managed, while they were working outside somewhere, to buy a roll of sweets and throw it up the drainpipe to me. Whenever there was a tapping noise at the drainpipe, I'd rush out and listen eagerly. I remember one horrible guy telling me to take my clothes off and sit with my legs astride opposite the drainpipe. I remember another guy hiding in the cell I was going to shower in, and appearing after the policeman had locked me in. Fortunately, the policeman hadn't left yet, so I called him.
Not all the male prisoners are like that, as is also true of the police. When it snowed, a really nice guy, who was looking after the pass offense chaps, brought me tea in a milk bottle, although we weren't allowed to have any glass in our cells. He felt sorry for me because it was so cold. He never asked me for anything or made any disgusting, indecent suggestions, but there were other policemen who did.
The Aftermath of Detention
When I was released, my parents took me straight to my doctor. He said my arches were severely damaged and asked me what had happened to them in prison. He said that this kind of damage happened to people who were force-marched for days or had weights dropped onto their feet. But I can't remember anything happening to my feet. As I mentioned, I can't remember an entire week at the beginning of my detention. I blank out very traumatic experiences. For example, I had a very bad car accident the same year that I came out of detention, which is also a total blank for me. I do have a memory of waking up in a room where I was lying on the floor with a noose around my neck and a security policeman holding it, but I don't know whether it really happened or was a dream or a hallucination.
I had a lot of problems when I came out of detention. My father insisted that I see a psychologist, which I did for two years after my release. My father noticed that whenever somebody spoke to me, I would look away. I also couldn't look at people when I found it difficult to talk about something. My concentration was terrible because I had no reading matter most of the time. Although I was released from prison over four years ago , I am still feeling some of the effects; for example, my concentration is still terrible. I had previously intended to do an honors degree, but after I came out of detention I didn't do it because of this problem. Although I did get my B.A. degree, I decided I couldn't complete my work in fine art.
I continue to step outside of myself without realizing it. One of the women who teaches with me said to me a year ago, »Sometimes I get the feeling that you've gone off somewhere. I don't know if it's you I'm talking to«. I remember a concrete example of this. I used to undress in my cell quite often when I got very hot because there was no other way to cool down. The concrete cells get either very hot or very cold. Because there were four gates into my cell, I had time to dress when I heard the first gate being unlocked. The day I came out of prison, a lot of people came to my parents' house to see how I was. I suddenly became aware that these people were looking at me. My mother told me afterwards — which is the only reason it's part of my memory now that I'd taken my skirt off and folded it very neatly and hung it over the back of a chair and then sat down again. People were dumbstruck by my sitting in the lounge in front of them all in only my T-shirt and panties.
I needed a very strong acknowledgment of my body when I came out. Because of my disciplined attitude before I was arrested, boyfriends had not been part of my life, so I was very young in terms of relationships when I was released. I remember being in a car with a chap I got involved with and taking off my shirt and wanting him to tell me that my breasts were beautiful. I needed reassurance that my body was fine because it had been hurt so much, or my conception of it had been. Whenever I'd been touched during my seven months in solitary, it had been to degrade or to physically hurt
From Soweto to Exile
»I didn't think I'd come out alive; in fact, I was seeing death.
But I was prepared to die as long as I died for the truth,
and I knew that people would know that this was the case«.
Thwenty-eight years old in 1987, Connie Mofokeng is a single, African woman who used to be a social worker before she went to live in Lusaka, the capital city of Zambia. She fled therefrom South Africa in 1986 because Lusaka is also the headquarters of the African National Congress. Although not—contrary to the police's contention—a member of the ANC when she was in South Africa, she is a hard-working member now. She reported that a lot of women are now actively involved in Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC.
It is a near miracle that Mofokeng is still alive. As well as being poisoned while in prison, she was subjected to electric shocks more times than she can remember. (Mofokeng reported knowing other women who had been similarly tortured.) Looking at Mofokeng with her warm smile and gentle demeanor, I found it difficult to take in the horrendous and almost fatal brutality she had suffered over an extended time, until she showed me the scars on her breasts and back from the electric shocks. Despite the torture, Mofokeng never gave her torturers the information they sought. As is clear from the epigraph, she was willing to accept death for the cause of liberation.
Growing Up African
I was born in Johannesburg, the youngest in a family of four girls. My father died when I was very young, so I was brought up by my mother. I was lucky to be the youngest because all my sisters had to help my mother in the house whereas I did not. She was a domestic worker who struggled a lot to earn enough to educate and take care of us. She had to work at night as well as during the day. When I was about twelve years old, she explained to me that very few black people live better lives than we did. She told me that because whites dominate, they do less work but earn more money than black people. She also told me about the ANC and the struggle of black people to change the situation.
I joined a youth organization during high school when I was fifteen or sixteen years old. That was when I learned that education in South Africa indoctrinates whites and domesticates blacks.
The Soweto Uprising
I was eighteen years old and living in Soweto in 1976.1 was a member of the Soweto Student Representative Council [SSRC] at that time, then later a member of the Soweto Student Organization [SOSO] but not very active in it. Later, after the arrest of the leaders, I became the secretary of SOSO. The government passed a law to force us [Africans] to get all our education in Afrikaans because they wanted Afrikaans to be known to all black children. But we didn't want to have all our classes in Afrikaans, so SSRC worked hard to stop this from happening. They decided that on 16 June 1976, the first day all subjects were to be taught in Afrikaans, all the students should stay away from school. Instead, we planned a peaceful march to make our demands known to the authorities.
When we were marching peacefully on that day, the police started to shoot at us with tear gas at first, and then with bullets. Thirty-five people died on that day. More died later, and many people were injured.
I had to go into hiding for some time after that. When they knocked on my door, I didn't realize it was the police at first. Then I looked through the window and saw many cars and torches [flashlights], so I knew it was them. Someone must have tipped them off that I was there. They detained everybody in the house, but they let all the others return in the morning.
First Two Detentions
They never charged me with anything, but about eight policemen beat me and kicked me, even before I said anything. They didn't give me a chance to talk until they thought they had exhausted me. I had discussed this sort of behavior with my comrades, so it didn't come as a surprise to me, but it was tough. I had been told not to talk, and I thought that meant that I must keep completely quiet rather than that I mustn't reveal anything important. As young and inexperienced as I was, I kept quiet, and maybe that's why they kicked me so much.
They interrogated me to try to find out who said we must stay away from school. After I realized that they were hitting me more because I wasn't saying anything, I said, »All the students who were marching decided to stay away«. But they wanted to know the person who started it, which I refused to say. The interrogations lasted over a period of about six weeks. After that, I sat in my cell day and night for three months in solitary confinement without reading material. It was very hard for me. A day seemed like a month, and a month seemed like a year. I never knew if it was morning or evening. Others had written poems and slogans or drawn pictures on the wall, so I read what people had written and wrote my own poems and stories on it with little stones.
Outside prison the police don't admit that they have killed detainees. They say that the people who have died in detention have committed suicide. Inside they told me they were going to kill me, and they told me about some of the people who had died in detention. I believed them, but I wasn't frightened because I used to tell myself that I wouldn't be the first one to die in prison. Also, it wasn't so different from the kind of life we lived outside where I never knew what was going to happen from one day to the next. And conditions are even worse now. Kicking small kids or a woman and her child is nothing unusual to the police outside prison any more.
They finally let me out after three months. I had been in standard eight [tenth grade] when the Soweto uprising occurred, and I was expelled from school for being detained. Fortunately, my father was a priest who was well known, so one principal who knew my family allowed me to attend his school.
What happened to me happened to about one hundred fifty of the other young people who had participated in the Soweto march in 1976. About thirty-eight of the one hundred fifty were girls. The number who were detained was much higher if people who only stayed for a short time are included. If boys were carelessly dressed, that was enough for the police to detain them. With the girls, they'd pick up those who their informers said were involved.
The SSRC and SOSO had dissolved by then, because all the leaders had been arrested and faced trials and the other members were too afraid to continue.
My second detention was in 1979. I was one of the people who organized the funeral of Comrade Matsobane who died in prison on Robben Island [a maximum-security prison for black political prisoners]. We were all arrested, but I wasn't held for very long.
The Vaal Triangle Uprising
I moved from Soweto to Sebokeng, a new township in Vereeniging, which is in an area known as the Vaal Triangle. I helped to form a women's organization in the Vaal Triangle in 1984 called the Vaal Organization of Women, and became its secretary. I also participated in an action committee that worked toward the formation of the Vaal Civic Association. I was elected as its chief representative and an area committee chairperson in Zone 7 of Sebokeng. People in the Vaal couldn't pay the high rents. The lowest rent there was fifty rand [$25], but people only earn about sixty rand [$30] per month. So we helped to organize the very first rent boycott as well as a boycott of the community council which had just started. The community council is made up of puppets who are working for the government. But the people have to pay them, despite not having the money for this.
The Vaal Civic Association organized house meetings in all areas of the Vaal Triangle and called mass meetings on 24 and 25 March 1984. Many resolutions were passed, one in favor of a rent boycott. We also demanded that the community council resign because nobody had voted for them; that all the shops, taxis, and garages of the community council must be boycotted; that on the day of the rent increase, nobody should go to work or school in protest, and the buses and taxis must not operate; and that the people at the meeting must tell those who weren't there about all the resolutions that were passed.
Two days after that meeting, the police came to my place. They said I must tell people that they must go to work on the day of the stayaway. I told them that the people were going to march peacefully to the administration board on that day to present their demands, and I emphasized that there would be no violence on that day. I said that the people had decided to do this because when they keep quiet, the administration board thinks they are happy. I also told the police that the people themselves had decided not to work. It wasn't me who had told them not to. They responded, »You must go and tell those people to go to work. Otherwise, we're going to lock you up«. But there was nothing that I could do. I met with other members of the Executive Committee and asked them their feelings about the police's demands, but nobody was willing to try to stop the stayaway.
On 3 September, everything stopped. People were to meet at a certain Roman Catholic church and march to the administration board quite a distance away. When the marchers passed the home of one of the councilors, they shouted, »As a person who's also a resident of the Vaal Triangle and who is also going to pay a higher rent, come and join us«. But instead of joining us, the councilor took out a gun and started shooting at people, injuring some of them. People were very angered by this and started to stone his house. The police then arrived in a helicopter and also started shooting at people. (Other helicopters were flown to other areas like Sharpeville, Bophelong, and Boipatong, and the police shot people there also.) The people became more and more angry at what was happening, so instead of taking their demands to the administration board, they started stoning, burning, and looting. Some of us tried to control people, but things were totally out of hand by then. After the councilor had killed about five people, people stoned his house until they got him out of it. Then they stoned and burned him. He was the first councilor to be killed. The whole Vaal Triangle was on fire.
We tried to take injured people to the hospital because no taxis were running. Ambulance drivers were also afraid of being stoned and shot by police in the townships, so they refused to help. People who were injured but not unconscious didn't want to go to the hospital for fear they would be arrested. But some nurses were willing to help the injured people, and UDF sent out mobile units to assist them. The upheaval continued for a whole week.
When I went home, my mother told me that the police were looking for me, so I went into hiding. But I continued to work while in hiding, making pamphlets to tell people to stay at home because it was dangerous to move around. On 18 October, I was arrested due to my own carelessness. Because I had managed to visit my lawyer in town without being caught, I went to town again to make some pamphlets and to collect some documents from my workplace. That's when they got me. They were also looking for my friends who were in hiding, but fortunately, when they heard I was arrested, they were able to skip the country.
I was taken to John Vorster Square in Johannesburg. A policeman had told me in 1979, »If I see you here again, I'm going to be very tough on you«. And they did treat me much more harshly than before. They told me that they were going to kill me. They kicked me before even asking me anything. They gave me electric shocks on my bosom and on my back. It was like a burn. They beat me with a baton and threw me against the walls. They kept asking me who my contact was in the ANC and what work I'd done for them. I told them I had no contact. They asked me why I told people to revolt, saying that everybody in the Vaal Triangle blamed me for what had happened. They accused me of having brought all the activities of Soweto to that region.
For about six days they gave me no food. But I didn't feel hungry. I only started to feel hungry when I was alone for some time in my cell. The cells were very filthy. The food was terrible. The porridge was half cooked. I wasn't allowed to change my clothes, and I wasn't allowed visitors. They were hiding me from other detainees, and only one comrade saw me by accident. At some point near the end, they allowed me to wear clean clothes and get food parcels, but they would keep the fruit until it spoiled before they brought it to me.
They continued torturing me for about six months. They put me in a cold bath before assaulting me. When I started to become dry, one of them would say, »Take her to the bath and make her wet«. I think maybe this stopped me from bleeding because I noticed I didn't bleed at all that year. They undressed me for the electrical torture, but they put me in the bath with my clothes on. I can't count all the times I was shocked. It was as often as they took me to the office to interrogate me over a period of many months. After a while I wasn't even sure that I was still alive. And they kept me in solitary confinement for the whole time, which was over a year.
There was only one woman among the men who tortured me. One woman was also there during the interrogation, but she just sat there doing nothing. It's hard to know which kind of torture was the more painful. I had become a thing. I even thought that I was dead. On the eve of the luly 1985 state of emergency, I was taken to the hospital unconscious from the torture. That is where I learned that some doctors are collaborators. I was there until August.
I never told them anything. I was so angry because of the way they treated me. What's the use of talking when people are hitting you? I became a very stubborn person, though I wasn't that way by birth. But in truth, I wasn't working with the ANC then. If I'd had a way to work for them, I would have, because I wanted to work for an organization that would destroy apartheid. But all my activities were actually quite legal, and they simply blamed the ANC for everything that happened.
I always knew that if I had a chance to escape, I'd do it. One day the watch policeman wanted to sleep with me. I fought with him, and fortunately he didn't manage to overpower me. I pulled his hair, and he fell down. The door was open so I left my cell. I wanted to run away, but I realized that if they caught me, he'd say I was fighting with him to escape. Then the case against me would be very serious. So I stayed in my cell where police found me after they came running in thinking that I had escaped. So the watch policeman's story that I tried to escape wasn't very convincing. But when I told them what had happened, their reaction was to assault me. Two weeks later, a prison inspector asked me and the other prisoners if we were having problems. I made a statement to him about what had happened on that day in my cell, but the only thing they did as a result of my report was to transfer me to another prison.
This wasn't the first time something like that happened. They would usually try to sleep with me when they came to look into my cell in the evenings. When I heard the door opening, especially in the evenings, I had to be ready for anything. I often couldn't sleep because I felt so unsafe. But they never succeeded because I used to fight them.
Because I was sick from the torture, they had to take me to the hospital. I finally managed to escape from there. I was very fortunate that a car was coming by as I came out of the building. I stopped the driver and told him I was going to town on business and asked him for a lift. He was attracted to me, and I made it seem that I was also attracted to him. He asked where he could pick me up later, and I said, »You can pick me up this evening at the same place you dropped me today«. That's how I escaped.
But I was nervous, especially when I saw someone looking at me for a long time. I decided not to go to the comrades because I no longer knew who would be safe. I went straight to my family, who took me to another place. From there, I met up with some comrades who found a place for me to stay that even my family wouldn't know about. They were afraid my family might not be strong enough to remain silent if the police asked them where I was. The police locked my family up forsome days, including my seventy-eight-year-old grandmother, to try to get them to say where I was. They looked everywhere for me but couldn't find me.
I didn't leave South Africa for some time because I was so sick. But finally I escaped to Botswana. I stayed there for some time, too; then I came to Lusaka. I've been here for over a year now, working for the ANC.
I don't think they would ever have released me. Either they were going to charge me with terrorism or kill me. They were even talking about a murder charge against me because of that councilor who was killed. They might have blamed me for that murder.
My period stopped until July 1986. The doctor said there was a blockage in my fallopian tubes because I had been kicked there. But it came back after I had received a lot of medical treatment, and they told me that I can still have a baby. Also, I couldn't hear with my right ear because of being kicked and hit there. It's better now although sometimes I still can't hear properly. The electrical torture made it very painful for me to wear a blouse, even after I arrived in exile. And I couldn't wear a bra.
I have also had a severe stomach problem. For a very long time, nothing used to stay in my stomach when I ate. Although I was vomiting all the time, my stomach kept getting bigger and bigger. I also developed a lot of pimples on my face. I still have the scars from them. All these problems made me look quite horrible. The treatment I got in Botswana didn't help, but the treatment I got in Zambia for about six months did. When I was taken to Moscow for further treatment, I thought my stomach was healthy again. I thought I'd only be there a month. But I had to stay about three months because they found so many complications. The doctor told me the poison had been eating away my intestines, and that they would rupture without an operation. I believe a slow poison had been put in my food deliberately.
But I am happy to be alive, and I know what I'm fighting for. Every time I go to the bathroom and see my scars, I feel angry. The doctors tell me I will have them for the rest of my life. But the revolution has already started and will be completed very soon. The only victory remaining is a military one. Politically, we've already won.
Six Years Inside
»My youngest child was three years old when I was first detained.
Early on in my detention, I was very concerned about her,
but it got to a stage where I even forgot about her.
Maybe that was how God protected me, because if I had thought
about my child all the time I don't think I would have come out sane«.
...an African, spent six years in prison, longer than any of the other women I interviewed. She was forty-four years old and separated from her husband when I interviewed her in her apartment in the so-called white section of Johannesburg; she was living there with her twelve-year-old daughter, her youngest child. The Group Areas Act, which makes it illegal for people of different races to live as neighbors, has not been rigorously enforced in a few city locations in the past few years—in part, because of the extreme housing shortage for black people. I could see, when riding the elevator in the high-rise apartment building in which Bookholane was living, that many other black people were making their homes there.
Although living in Johannesburg now, Bookholane comes from Port Elizabeth, the port city where she engaged in most of her political activities. It is situated in the heart of the militant eastern Cape area, where government repression is now so intense that it was difficult to find people, particularly blacks, to interview there. The large majority of political activists in Port Elizabeth appeared, when I was there, to be in detention or in hiding. As Bookholane said, »If there is a consumer boycott in Port Elizabeth, then virtually no black man is going to buy from town. People in the eastern Cape are the most militant in the country«.
A nurse by profession, Bookholane began her political work by treating people who had been injured by government forces. Greatly affected by the murder of her stepson by the South African army, she decided to take on the risky task of helping young political people to escape from the country. This led to her conviction on a trumped-up charge of terrorism.
Bookholane described all but one member of her family as »political fireworks«. One of her sisters, currently a member of the African National Congress in Lusaka, left South Africa in 1977 for political reasons. Two of her other sisters are active in women's organizations.
She speaks here eloquently of how it felt to be incarcerated for so many years, particularly the torture of long spells of solitary confinement. More surprising for many people, however, is her description of the trauma of being free again: »It got to a stage where I almost wished that I was still in prison«. Three years after her release in 1984, she was still suffering from the experience.
Growing Up African
I was born in Port Elizabeth in October 1942, the first-born of seven children. I went to various boarding schools; then, after passing my matric [final examinations at the end of high school], I joined a Catholic convent. During my seven years in the nunnery, I was the only black nun. The mother superior told me, »You'll feel out of place here because you haven't lived with whites before«, and, »You can't have recreation with the other nuns because this is a community of whites«. I was expected to read books on my own during recreation. I was even given different food from them. My meals were leftovers from the wards like sliced polony [cheap sausage], bread and jam. I told the mother superior that I wouldn't stand for this. »I may be from a poor family«, I told her. »I may be black. But my parents didn't feed me such food at home«. In my seventh year, I wrote to the bishop to get a dispensation, and I left the convent. It was such a bad experience that I didn't go near a church for a very long time after leaving there.
I decided to become a nurse and worked at the Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth for a while, then was transferred to a day hospital in a township called KwaZakhele. After completing my midwifery training, I married an actor, Fats Bookholane, who already had two children. In 1973, I gave birth to a daughter who is fourteen years old now and staying with me here. Thabang, one of Fats's children, also lived with us, and I looked after and educated him.
I started to get politically involved for the first time when I was working in the day hospital during the 1976 and 1977 uprisings in Port Elizabeth. These started in August, just two months after the Soweto uprising. I was looking after bullet victims, and I found out firsthand that some of them simply happened to be in the streets, coming home from work, when they were shot. Despite their lack of political involvement, those who had been shot were automatically held prisoner and charged with whatever the police deemed fit. After I saw a number of children getting killed, I decided I had to do something about it.
I started working together with some doctors to remove the bullets and treat the wounds of injured people off the record. We had to keep what we did secret because we would have been in trouble if the police had found out about it. People knew who to contact when they needed this kind of help, and we treated injured people wherever they happened to be. We also carried them to the doctors' rooms when necessary, but some doctors volunteered to go to where the people were.
I was very close to my stepson Thabang. We would go together to meetings and funerals, and I became very aware through these experiences with him of what was happening politically. He was very active in the student movement and in the 1976 uprising in Port Elizabeth. It was very painful for me when he decided to leave the country in 1977, but he said he couldn't stand it here any more. I missed him a lot. He joined the ANC when he was in exile, and he was killed together with seven other ANC members in the Maputo raid into Mozambique by South African forces in 1981. The police were disguised as blacks. They say he was the last one to die because apparently he saw through their masks and realized from the way they were talking that this must be a raid. Then a confrontation took place, and he was killed. I am told that his one leg was literally tattered.
I was in prison at the time, and my husband couldn't go to Maputo for the funeral because the South African authorities wouldn't give him a passport. My mother and my sister tried to attend it, but they were held up at the border, so they only arrived the day after the funeral.
I was in close touch with other students besides Thabang. They would come to me for help in drawing up their protest pamphlets. I started working with five other people, two in Johannesburg and three in Port Elizabeth, to assist students who were being sought by the police in getting out of South Africa. I was responsible for helping them to get from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg. Two out of the six of us were women.
We heard that the first group of students who left the country in 1977 had gone to Swaziland. Some of them went to further their education, and some went for military training. People were so afraid of being detained, they often didn't care what happened as long as they got out of the country. We began to be bombarded with children and parents asking us to please help their children to leave. We realized what we were doing was risky, so when we were finally detained it didn't come as a surprise. The other three Port Elizabeth people in my group were caught about three weeks before me.
Detention and Trial
On 23 March 1978, I got a phone call at the hospital where I was working, requesting me to go to the matron's office immediately. I was on my way there when I met a nursing sister who told me, »There are four white guys standing next to the matron's office who look like security police«. Some people knew that I was involved in something because of all the groups of children that would come into the hospital. So I rushed to the loo [toilet] and hid there. But finally I went to the matron's office.
These guys were standing there, and it was as if they already knew me. I said, »Hi«, and they said, »You had better take your bag. We are picking you up«. Shivering and scared as I was, I decided to put up a front. I said, »May I ask who you are?« They said, »Yes, we are from security«. They took out their identity badges and said, »We are detaining you under section 6«. I asked if they had a warrant, and they said yes, and one of them brought it from their car. I was too nervous about what would happen to me to read what was written on that piece of paper.
Six white men were waiting for us at the police station. They were very excited that »the nurse« had been found. They fired so many questions at me it was impossible to answer them, so I told them, »Guys, I cannot respond to all these questions. I am confused«. So one fellow said, »You are not going to address us as if you are here with doctors and matrons. We are the police«. Then they removed my glasses and boxed my ears. One of the others said, »No, no, no! Let us not assault her now. The time is still coming for that«. I was then taken to an identification parade. Some people who had been arrested said that they knew a nurse who helped people to leave the country, but these children didn't know me.
The colonel came in to tell me that they had a search warrant to search my house, so we went in nine cars to my home. I had a number of cards from a friend of mine, Olive Theodora, who had signed her initials O.T. at the end of each card. They were bubbling over with excitement thinking this was Oliver Tambo [the president of the ANC]. And there were a number of letters from Frances Baard [a well-known political activist] who is my husband's aunt, which they also confiscated. They said that they thought they had found a stronghold of the ANC.
My husband had been very close to the late Steve Biko, so pictures of him were on the walls. The one fellow said, »Remember when we used to come here to look for Fats«. The other guy responded, »]a, we should have detained that guy a long time ago«. And the first fellow said, »No, you've got it all wrong. The one who has been doing underground work is his wife, so we have the right person now«.
A policeman called Wilken was there. He had featured prominently in the Biko case, so I knew of him from newspaper stories. Wilken asked me if I knew of him. I said, »No, I don't«. He said, »That means you don't read your papers. I'm the one who featured prominently in the Biko affair, and I know how to handle cases like yours«. From there they took me to a police station outside Port Elizabeth and locked me into a cell.
My cell had a cement floor, one small window, and the toilet system was a pit privy which was full, with no way to flush it. They said it was flushed from outside and the flusher was out of order. There was no mattress or bed. And the blankets were so dirty and full of ticks that I told myself I wasn't going to sleep in them. But it was so cold that in the middle of the night I stuck myself in between the blankets and slept.
The police didn't believe that I and my colleagues were only involved in sending children out of the country. There had been a bombing in Port Elizabeth in early 1978, and they were trying to force us, by assaulting us, to admit that we knew the people who were responsible for it. They said they knew that the ANC uses educated people for this kind of thing. The truth is that no one in my group knew people who were bringing arms into South Africa and engaging in bombings. But they told me that the riot squad would deal with me if I didn't cooperate. After this threat was made, the warrant officer said on the phone in my presence that he was withdrawing from my case because he knew no one could guarantee that I'd survive after the riot squad had handled me, and he didn't want to have to testify to the fact that he was present when it happened.
The warrant officer's stand spared me from the riot squad but not from being assaulted. I was beaten on my face and became semiconscious, so I don't know exactly what happened after that. My eyes were so swollen up I couldn't see. I remember getting antibiotics in capsular form after a while. By this time I had been detained for over two months. When the swelling subsided, I was taken back to Port Elizabeth.
The police were now satisfied that they had arrested our whole group. They said that all I needed to do now was to give evidence against the other five people, then they would let me out and find me a job in some hospital. I said, »To hell with it!« So they said, »If you don't, you'll just stay here«. They thought they could break me and force me to be a state witness. They sent lawyers to tell me that I wouldn't get less than fifteen years if I didn't testify against my colleagues, whereas I'd be free if I did. I said, »Fine. They can go up to twenty years, but I will never turn against my own people«. They left orders that no one should be allowed to see me, no food parcels should get to me, and so forth.
Time passed and another lawyer was sent to tell me that the police had told him that I would be inside for ten to twelve years, and he thought that the best thing for me to do was to give evidence. I said, »My dear friend, go back to the other lawyers and ask them to give you some kind of education«. He said, »I know if you do this, you will lose your associates«. I said, »Besides losing my associates, I don't want to lose my dignity«.
By this time I had been charged, and on the way to court they said, »Feziwe, we are giving you one last chance. You are now going to court, and Shun Chetty [a lawyer] refuses to get you representation because he says your case is hopeless. You are going to get convicted, but you still stand a chance if you give testimony against the others«. I said, »My dear people, let me go to court and get convicted. I don't mind getting convicted for doing what I have done«. In court I found out that they had been lying about Shun Chetty because he had obtained legal representation for me.
The six of us were charged with acting in concert to incite people to undergo military training. They had found two state witnesses to tell that story. They are the people who destroyed us. They just made it up. One girl from Port Elizabeth gave evidence in another case here as well. They were going around testifying against people. The state witnesses reported that when we bade them farewell, we said, »Train well. Then come back to overthrow the state«. We now believe that they were both plants. The one student who had frequented my place had taped everything we said. They were being paid to spy and to lie. I wish I knew why they did this. The woman had appeared to be a great person and was very dynamic. It was hard to believe that she could stand in that witness box and say the incredible things she said.
We were convicted of terrorism and sentenced on 4 April 1979, over a year after I had first been detained. The first accused was sentenced to nine years in prison; the second, a woman, to three years, two of them suspended; the third was acquitted; I got eight years; my fifth co-accused got ten years; and the sixth one was acquitted. We appealed against the severity of the sentences, and after a year my sentence was reduced to five years; the sentence of the person who got ten years was reduced to eight; and the sentence of the one who got nine years was reduced to seven.
My first reaction to being searched when I was an awaiting-trial prisoner was one of absolute horror. They had to call the major of the prison because I said, »I refuse to undress in front of this crowd«. The prisoners had to stand in front of everyone stark naked while the police opened up their buttocks. I saw it being done to other people, and when it was my turn I said, »I'm very sorry, but I cannot undress in front of this crowd. To me this is not decent«. The major said, »O.K., go into this room. They will search you there«. Because I put up that kind of protest, they didn't treat me like the other prisoners. I also said, »I refuse to speak Afrikaans, and I refuse to stand up for you«. And they left me in peace. But all this changed after I was convicted. They insisted I stand up for them when they entered the cell.
I was in Potchefstroom Prison for almost a year. I became ill with typhoid while I was there. When they changed my treatment in the hospital, I developed strange scales on my skin. When my mother came to visit me, they said, »You have come on the wrong date. It is supposed to be her husband visiting her today«. And when my husband came, they said, »It's the wrong date. It's supposed to be her mother today«. They did this because they didn't want my family to see the condition I was in.
There were cockroaches and worms in the food, so we went on a hunger strike several times to protest this. After our third hunger strike had lasted eleven days, they decided to transfer us to Klerksdorp Prison. I gave a wardress there a hard clap on the face when she threw my toilet bag into the yard. I was charged for assaulting her and given thirty days on a spare diet and three months in solitary confinement with all privileges withdrawn.
Solitary confinement was the most terrible time for me. Even the Bible was confiscated. It got so that I didn't know what day it was. My cell was directly facing the section where they execute people. When I stood at the window, I could see the visitors of the people to be executed. I saw the people crying on the day of execution and heard the prisoners on the other side praying. It was a kind of torture that I thought I couldn't stand. They kept me in segregation for eight months that year, not just the three months they had told me I'd get. There is a prison regulation that says, »For a prisoner to be segregated for longer than three months, the approval of the state president must be obtained«. But apparently the state president didn't know about it. When Helen Suzman [the most liberal member of Parliament] came to see me and the others who were segregated, she reassured us that we would be removed from it. The following month we were put with others.
But trouble started again with the food. We were given bread for supper one night which tasted of tobacco, so I didn't finish eating it. In the middle of the night, two of the people who had eaten the bread started vomiting. They had to be given injections and other medicines for their condition. When the doctor came the following morning, he wanted to know exactly what had happened, so I told him that the food had been poisoned. Immediately after that episode, I was moved to Pollsmoor Prison [in Cape Town] for a year on my own. I was again in solitary confinement because I was the only prisoner being held there under the security act.
Being segregated was the hardest part of prison for me. It got very boring because I didn't have anything to read. The only person I saw was the one who locked and unlocked me. I couldn't even see the prisoners who cleaned the passages. I wasn't allowed to receive letters from home or to write letters to anybody. I didn't know what was happening around me. I was very worried that I would become mentally deranged. I wondered how a person feels when they go mad. I still don't know how I survived. It took me time to try to recall what date it could possibly be. I decided to keep a calendar and play Scrabble with little pieces of toilet paper to keep myself going because I realized that it is very easy to lose your mind.
Children were not allowed to visit until 1982 when I was in Kroon-stad Prison. When I saw my [youngest] child for the first time since I had been imprisoned in 1978, I was so excited. But at the end of the visit when I went back to my cell, I was so upset that I hoped and prayed that they would never bring her to visit me again. The pain afterwards was too much to bear.
My imprisonment upset my husband very much. At one point he had run away because the police were looking for him, thinking that he must be in the know about what I had been doing. He didn't take care of our child properly, which was another trauma for me. Being an actor and traveling all over the country, he didn't have the time. He would leave the child at various places with friends, until I put my foot down and insisted that she must go to my mother, which she did.
The Aftermath of Detention
I was finally released in January 1984. I am grateful to the people in the office of the Eastern Cape Council of Churches because they organized for me to see a psychologist on the very day of my release. She prepared me for what would happen. She told me, »I know it is very exciting to be released, but you must remember that you have been out of this society for virtually six years. Your child was not at a stage to understand that you had to go to prison because of politics. She has been wondering what has happened to you, and for a time she will be withdrawn, and then she'll become very dependent on you. You have to go through these phases with her until she understands and pulls herself out of them«. My child is twelve now, and she wants to be with me all the time. She has been severely psychologically affected by all this. I am still trying to nurse her as much as I can because I was not there for her when she needed me most.
I have been scratched off the nursing roll. This means I can't get a job nursing because I am not registered. I would like to be registered because nurses have a lot of privileges now. But I got a job immediately after my release working for the regional office of the South African Council of Churches as a fieldworker for interchurch aid in the Port Elizabeth region. I am now working for an organization which funds small self-help projects. Most of the funding comes from overseas. We have set up various projects like soup kitchens, creches [day-care facilities], sewing groups, and garden projects.
My mother felt I wasn't ready to be in my house on my own after my release, so she said, »We'll take care of you«. My brother and child were staying with her and I agreed to join them. When I was still in prison I told myself that the first thing I would eat when I got out was bacon and eggs with toast and ice cream. This food was now available to me, and my mother and brother would leave the house and say, »Eat whatever
you like«. But when they returned, they found that I hadn't eaten a thing. I don't know why. I was scared that they would disapprove, and I was afraid to cook. I was afraid to be in groups of people, and I always got anxious when a group of people came to see me.
People didn't understand that I had been totally out of touch with what had been happening outside prison. I never saw any newspapers. UDF wanted me to address a rally, and AZAPO [the Azanian People's Organization, a black nationalist group] people were calling me to take part in their annual general meeting. I told people that I couldn't address rallies and organize people after six years inside. I wanted people to understand that I was very confused psychologically, and I didn't want to get more confused. I said, »If you'll just leave me in peace, I will go to these rallies and these meetings until I can see for myself what it is that I need to do«. It got to a stage where I almost wished that I was still in prison. I felt I wasn't ready to be out making decisions. My brother understood this because he had talked to a psychologist who had prepared him for my reactions. Even now over three years after my release, I can carry around fifty rand for two weeks and not spend it. I go into shops, but I find it hard to choose things.
A fellow who was released recently after eight years on Robben Island asked me, »How do I handle this situation?« I said, »You just have to tell people that you aren't well yet«. I have seen people destroyed by coming out of prison and not knowing how to handle it. I am fortunate because I have a job, but many former prisoners have been unable to find work. Their grants are cut off and some can't even afford a pack of cigarettes.
Despite all these problems, I have never regretted my political work or my experience in prison.
Balancing Motherhood and Politics
»I started to cry. But then I said to myself, >The only thing they
can do is kill my body. They are not going to get my mind,
and my soul will live on in my children and in other people.>»
...has faced with extraordinary strength the double task of trying to be both responsible parent and dedicated political activist: »I have to be strong because I have three kids and people have a lot of faith in me.... There are so many of our comrades in hiding, and they expect those of us who are not in hiding to take the struggle forward. It's my duty to do that«.
A thirty-year-old, divorced mother of three in 1987, she lives on her own with her children, then aged thirteen, eleven, and nine. Issel's ex-husband, Johnny, is a well-known political leader with a long history of persecution by the police. After their marriage ended, Sha-hieda became a political leader in her own right, although she has clearly been subjected to more police harassment because of her connection with him. Her loyalty to Johnny—even after their divorce—in the face of police attempts to divide them, is quite touching.
Unlike many mothers who feel constrained by their responsibility to their children to stay out of politics, for Issel, motherhood increases her motivation to participate in the liberation movement. She has also chosen to involve her children in her political activities. Leila, her thirteen-year-old daughter, started to make political speeches at the age of seven (see chapter 23). And Issel's two younger sons were also politicized at young ages.
Today Issel continues her political activities despite constant and sometimes devastating harassment, the inner turmoil and despair she sometimes feels, and the painful dilemmas risk-taking places her in as a mother.
Issel attended college for two years. She took a one-year course at the University of Cape Town on marriage counseling and community work, and also holds an accountancy certificate from the Technicon in Cape Town. She is currently working at an advice office, an agency that advises and assists members of the community in myriad ways, from helping them to deal with evictions to seeking help for an aged parent. When I asked Issel about her political affiliation, she said she had been the secretary for the past two years of the Mitchells Plain branch of the United Democratic Front—the largest grouping of legal anti-apartheid organizations in South Africa today.
Always referring to herself as black, Issel did not identify herself as a member of any specific ethnic group (although she may have, had I asked her to). She is a practicing Muslim who lives in a Coloured area called Mitchells Plain, a place of luxury compared with the African townships, with its own quite modern-looking shopping centers. But it is modest compared with the white areas. Issel's parents live nearby, which makes a crucial difference to her life, since her mother takes care of her children when she is arrested, detained, or in hiding.
Growing Up Muslim
I am the second eldest of four children. I come from a very strict Muslim family which is a bit old-fashioned. Although I am a Muslim myself, I don't practice it much mostly because I don't have the time, but my heart is there, and I encourage my children to practice it every day.
My parents aren't rich people, but they wanted the best in life for us. They really struggled to rear us in the proper way and to give us an education. I was the type of child who would question my father at length on everything. I liked reading, and he had cabinets full of books, and he used to like us to read good stuff. But my father used to get very upset with my questioning. Firstly, because I'm a female. Secondly, I'm his daughter and I am the soft spot of his heart, and he was scared that if I became involved politically, I would be taken away. He explained what people like Ray Alexander, Albert Luthuli, and Nelson Mandela [all famous anti-apartheid leaders] had gone through, and told me that they had never achieved very much. We had heavy debates about these issues. My father didn't like white people at all, but he has changed over the years due to my involvement. He came to trust me and have a lot of respect for my political work.
My mother was not political herself, though she was forced to become politically aware later. When I came out of detention, I said to her, »Mommy, I don't have the courage for this situation much longer. I've got three kids I have to see to«. And she said to me, »My daughter, you are on the right path. There is no turning back«. I looked at her in amazement, wondering, »Is this really my mother saying this?«
Our family comes from a place called Worcester, which is a very small country place [near Cape Town]. There were Boers [farmers] in Worcester who would buy kids from their parents: they would give the family
one rand fifty [$0.75] to keep the child and have him work on the farm for a couple of months. And when it came to Friday, the farmer didn't pay the child in cash but, instead, gave him liquor. The child became drunk because his body wasn't used to liquor, so children were in a constant state of drunkenness. This practice is known as the »tot system«, and it happened to a lot of children in Worcester. It starts when they are very young. My cousin Ann was about seven years of age when it happened to her.
We went to Worcester every holiday because my father was born there, and his mother, father, and brothers, all live there. One holiday when I was about thirteen years old, I and my two sisters were a bit naughty and we wanted to make a bit of money by working on the farm. When we got there, we saw young kids lying around drunk and a guy standing there with a whip. We got so frightened by this sight that we left right away. We didn't dare tell our father. The tot system is still used for women on the farms in Philippi [a white farm area] near here, but I'm not sure if children are still involved. We have received a lot of complaints from the women there at the Advice Office, but we don't have the power to do anything about it.
Marriage and Early Political Activity
I was still in high school when I persuaded one of my sisters to go with me one night to a weekend seminar. We could only go for a couple of hours because we had to be back before my father came home so he wouldn't have any idea that we were out.
Because I feel women are doubly oppressed in South Africa, the first organization I joined was a women's organization. Most men still think that women should play a subordinate role. I have been at a number of workshops where men object heavily to women being there. They think our role is in the kitchen. But I'm not going to stand down because I'm female. I support the need to have a separate women's organization at this time, and I have participated in the United Women's Congress. I feel that women have problems which can't be addressed in a broader organization. It really helped me to be in the Black Women's Federation! It's not that we want to be on our own. It's merely that women need to get the confidence to speak up.
In my own family, my mother used to take my father's underwear to him. She'd iron his shirts and do all those typical sort of things. But I've grown up in a different society, and I feel that for her to do these things is oppressive. Fathers must also participate in the household.
When I met my husband, Johnny, he belonged to SASO, the black South African Students Organization. He was the regional secretary at that point and very actively involved. In October 1977, he was banned along with many other individuals and twenty black organizations. He only respected his banning order for one day. On that day nobody could come into his office or talk to him, but on the second day he said, »This is nonsense! Who's going to respect this piece of paper?« Not him! He was arrested for breaking his banning order quite a number of times. One time he got a one-year suspended sentence as a result, and another time he was in prison for seven days. After a much longer detention, he came out with a lot of new ideas. I was quite glad because I didn't really like the Black Consciousness idea [stressing the need for black people to separate themselves from whites] he had subscribed to. It was very important for all of us to go through, but as the times changed, we needed to change our ideas and develop a new strategy. And people like Braam Fischer [a well-known Afrikaner leader in the anti-apartheid movement who died in prison] and Neil Aggett [a white medical doctor and trade-unionist], who was killed in detention a couple of years ago, and a number of other white people, have shown us that being a good person doesn't depend on your color; it depends on what is inside your heart.
When I got married, we didn't have a house of our own. Because Johnny was banned at the time, there was no place he could get work. I was just out of college and pregnant and couldn't get a job immediately, which made life very difficult. We had to live on fifteen rand [$7.50] a month, which was extremely hard. Often we would not have food in the house. Milk for us was a luxury. I couldn't buy new clothes, and we lived for five years without a mirror. I married just after I turned eighteen. But when I was about twenty-one, I moved back to my mother's house because I couldn't take the poverty. Also, it had been really hard for me having a child and being only eighteen. Because my husband was banned, he couldn't move to my mother's house with me. But one evening Johnny pitched up [arrived] at my mother's, and the police knocked on the door just at that moment. It was a very frightful situation. We thought they had come because of another contravention of his banning order, like that he was not supposed to be in that area. But they were actually bringing papers to show that his banning order had been lifted. So then he got a job with the Food and Canning Workers' Union, and we could buy a house here in Mitchells Plain. Altogether, we were married about ten years, but my husband's banning order was lifted for only one of those years.
When I was pregnant with my first child, the police came to arrest my husband. They had already given him his banning order and had harassed him a great deal. I wanted to know why they were taking him because he hadn't done anything to contravene his banning order. They said it wasn't necessary for me to know, and they started insulting me, and I got furious. When I saw the way they were handling Johnny— they had him on the ground—I became very disturbed. So I walked over to the senior officer and gave him a karate chop in the neck, and I kicked him on his leg. He lost control and couldn't handle Johnny at that point, so Johnny got away. They were furious. I had gone mad, but they were a bit frightened to touch me because I was already eight months pregnant.
The police threatened to lay charges against me as a result of my attack on one of them. They also told my father what I had done, but he just said it wasn't his business. He brought us up to believe that if somebody threatened us and we were in the right, we have to defend ourselves. We used to train a lot. My father does weightlifting, and every night at our place my brother and my sister's husband would train and they would teach us how to do street fighting.
The police were quite scared of me also because of what I said. For instance, when they came to detain Johnny, I would say, »My husband does not leave this house unless a doctor comes here and states that he is in a very healthy condition and not in any state to commit suicide«. If he then killed himself in detention, it would be known it was because of his treatment by the security police. So I would get a doctor to come and sign a statement. The police used to freak out about things like that.
When I took food parcels to Johnny in prison, I would stand there waiting day and night with my baby tied behind my back. The police would remove me, and I would fight them, then stand there again. Finally, they'd take in my food parcel. Johnny had to sign that he'd received it, and I'd insist on seeing his signature because I wanted to see whether or not he'd been killed in detention. That was the type of person I was then, but I've calmed down a lot now, partly because the police have become so vicious and violent. People just disappear. Now, if I see them in the street and they say, »Hi«, I say, »Hi«. If they swear at me, I'll swear at them. For instance, a policeman came to read Johnny his third banning order. This guy could not read English, but police are now forced by law to do this and to tape-record it as well. It was so embarrassing for this guy. I really pitied him, and we asked him if we could read it for him to lessen his embarrassment. He said that he had to read it in his own voice, which took him three hours. But he really appreciated our offer, and up till today, he would never treat us badly. When we moved here to Mitchells Plain, we went to a rate [tax] payers' meeting, and we both spoke quite a lot. A couple of meetings after that, Johnny was made chairperson of the rate payers, and I became the secretary. We participated very actively in a health campaign, and I got all the women together, and we had art classes on a Saturday morning and got the children together in our yard. So that is how people got to know us in Mitchells Plain. Our involvement started by getting people's confidence in us.
Police Harassment and Detention
I was not detained at all while we were married, but I was harassed a lot by the cops because of Johnny's involvement as well as my own. Immediately after we divorced, I started playing quite a leadership role in Mitchells Plain. From that time on, police harassment intensified, and I would spend weekends in prison or be taken there for a day of questioning. Then about two years ago , I was taken in for a month, then released for about two weeks, and then taken in for another three months.
During my first detention, the sexual harassment was mostly psychological. There would be about ten men there, and they would force me to say who I was going out with. They'd ask me personal questions about my love life for four hours on end. It was very embarrassing. They'd swear at me and call me a dirty person. They'd take out a list of names of people that I'd supposedly slept with. In fact, I had been married to Johnny for ten years, he had been my first boyfriend, and I've never known any other man in my life. Because they know I'm that kind of person, they knew how to embarrass me. They would tell terrible, dirty stories, and I've never been sworn at like that in my life before. They'd call me a slut and say that my children will become sluts, and I don't even want to repeat their dirty words. It's very embarrassing. For me, all this is sexual harassment.
They never explain why they detain you. At that time a lot of the houses of the Labour Party MPs [members of Parliament] were attacked by hand grenades, and since I was one of the leaders in Mitchells Plain, they figured that I was the commander. Johnny is still considered the commander of the whole western Cape, so they thought surely he would be in contact with me locally. The idea that I would have a hand in any grenade attack in Mitchells Plain I found extremely absurd.
After my divorce, I worked at the Advice Office. People's rentals were so high they couldn't pay, so they were being evicted. I was working at the Advice Office and felt that we had to respond immediately to the situation. We had a protest march from the Advice Office to the city council's office, and we rallied people on the way. Most of the participants were women, many pregnant or with babies. There were about fifteen men and sixty women. People made their own placards, and we made it very clear that it was a peaceful demonstration. When we arrived at the city council, it was surrounded by police in lorries [trucks], casspirs [military vehicles], and helicopters. The colonel in charge came into the rent office, where I was on the phone with the head councilor trying to get her to promise that people wouldn't be evicted. The colonel, who was four times bigger than me, got so upset that he pulled me by the hair, threw me against the fire extinguisher, and then hit me. He took a gun and shoved it down my mouth and said that he would shoot me immediately. Next he lifted me up with my clothes all torn and threw me down the stairs. After that he started kicking me. The people outside got very upset. All this had happened right in front of them, so they became violent and charged him. The police then ordered them to disperse within three minutes.
The colonel had assaulted me so terribly that my leg was broken. But the police had the audacity to say that my participation in the hand-grenade attack on a man called Fischer was the reason for my leg injury. I had laid a charge against them for assaulting me before the Fischer attack had even happened. A doctor had examined me, stating the condition I was in after the assault.
In court, police officer Van der Merwe said of me: »Your Honor, this lady claims to be a lady, but she is no lady at all. The policemen were all lying on their backs«. He was suggesting that J had beaten all of them up! Meanwhile I was in such pain from the way he kicked me that I had to lie in bed for a month. I couldn't even walk. And he expected the women who saw it all to say and do nothing. They had attacked the policemen, but they didn't hurt them to such an extent that they had to get medical attention. They merely gave them a fright because those people really adored me. They were not going to tolerate my being attacked—especially by a man. But it was I who was blamed for what happened. I appeared more than seven times for charges against me, though the case was finally kicked out of court. But I am still under three suspended sentences.
I spent one month in hiding. I couldn't sleep at home and had to leave my children with my mother. I would wake my mother up at 3 A.M. or 6 a.m. to bring her money for the kids. She wouldn't mind if I didn't, but I felt I had to support them and I also wanted to see them. I missed them. I get very upset if I can't be with them for a couple of days. One Sunday morning, I walked to my mother's house, and as I arrived, the police pulled up. So I walked out the back door, climbed over the fence into somebody else's yard, and escaped. Things like that happened all the time, 'til one night I couldn't take it any longer. I had worked until two o'clock in the morning. We still had to distribute pamphlets that night, and I went home because I had messed up my suit with ink and I wanted to change my clothes. Also, I wanted to go to my home. I was hardly in the house half an hour when the phone rang. I didn't want to answer it, but I thought maybe something serious had happened. It could be my parents. So I picked up the phone and said, »Hello«, but there was no answer. Then before I could get out of the house, the whole place was surrounded. That's how they got me.
I refused to open the door to the police because I was very scared. The whole riot squad was outside my door. There were two big trucks, four police vans—what we call »chicken vans"—and about ten cars to arrest me. It was amazing. When they kicked the door open, Colonel Du Preez said, »Don't shoot! She is not armed«. They had all these machine guns with them. Then they took about four hours to turn my whole house upside down looking for grenades. I don't know where in God's name I would have obtained such things. I showed the police that I had the support of the people on my street by greeting each and every woman and man. They came out of their doors and stood outside their homes. The colonel looked quite impressed with it. He said, »No, no, no! Give her a chance. Let her greet the neighbors«.
Living in hiding was terrible because although my mother and my whole family were very supportive, I felt guilty putting so much responsibility onto them. Also, I could not be seen anywhere, I had to meet with people in a secretive manner, and I couldn't sleep at home. Yet I still had to work, and I was under a great deal of pressure. And the police harassed my family, even my granny. They went to her place twice to look for me there. They arrived with all their machine guns to intimidate my family and the neighbors. They searched all the houses in her street on the morning that they arrested me. The people were sitting with their Bibles praying for me.
I was detained again after the 1985 state of emergency was announced. They didn't give me a chance to take any clothes when they came to take me away. They just took me in my nightie to the Mitchells Plain police station and refused to allow my father to bring anything to me. The following morning they took me out onto the grass and told me that I was being released. I thought, »Thank God! I'm going back home«. Then they said to me, »No, no, no! Hot so quick! You are being redetained under section 50«. I felt sick to my stomach, but I had to go back to my cell and sign the papers for section 50. I was then taken to Pollsmoor Prison [in Cape Town] where I stayed for a number of weeks.
There were quite a number of women detained with me. Though we all had single cells, we saw each other at exercise time. The detention there was O.K., except the food was very bad. We decided to go on a hunger strike, so we were then separated and couldn't exercise together any longer. The hunger strike made me quite weak, and since I was also menstruating, I would faint. After two weeks, people started being released. After the second month, only about ten of us were left. Julie Esau, who also came from Worcester, was one of them. One morning they took Julie and me to Caledon Square Police Station [also in Cape Town]. Our lawyer used to tell us, »When you are at Pollsmoor Prison and they question you, you shouldn't worry. But when you get taken away to Caledon Square Police Station, then you should start to worry«. Julie and I were taken in different cars to Caledon Square.
I had a curly perm at that point, and this guy in the lift said to me, »Oh, you've got nice curls«, and started playing with my hair, then gave it a pull. »This is just the beginning«, I thought. »The rest is coming. I'm not going to get upset about it«. In the foyer of the Caledon Square Station, I saw the most hated man in the security police—Colonel Mos-tert. He asked me, »What have you got on?« I said, »I've got a dress on«. He said, »I want to know what you have on underneath«. I replied, »I've got underwear on«. Then he wanted to know the color of my underwear. I said, »I've got black panties on«. Then he said, »That is not all I want to know. I want to know what is inside your panties«. I thought, »This man is totally crazy«. I said, »Look, this is my personal affair. It has got nothing to do with you«. Then he walked over to me, pulled at my dress, and started unbuttoning it while he said, »Well, if you won't tell me, I'll find out for myself«. I was very intimidated, but I said, »I am menstruating. I've got a tampon in«. I was completely devastated. I didn't know what to do, and I prayed to God to help me. I was afraid that he would rape me. I thought, »Oh my God, is this what is going to happen?« I've always heard people speak about it but I had never been subjected to it myself. But I couldn't even scream. I just stood there saying nothing. By the time he had unbuttoned my dress, another guy walked in, but Colonel Mostert wasn't even embarrassed. He said, »I am Frans Mostert. That is normally how I introduce myself«, and he shook my hand.
I was taken to a large room where about ten policemen started questioning me. After I sat down, one of them pulled me up and said, »You've got no right to disrespect us like this. You have to stand when you speak to us«. »O.K.«, I said, »Fine, I'll stand. Whatever you say«. Then he said, »Now, show us how you are going to faint. We know that you have this problem of fainting«. They had received a detailed report from Pollsmoor Prison about what I and every other detainee had gone through, so they could use this information against us. They used their knowledge of my divorce in this way. They would say how Johnny had left me for another woman; how I am stupid and the other woman is more intelligent; that Johnny thinks nothing of me; that they—the police—respect the other woman more than me. These were all ploys to make me feel bad. And they also wanted me to rebel against Johnny, which I refused to do. Whatever problems Johnny and I have, that is our personal business, not to be used politically. Johnny was a Christian, and they could not understand how he could be with a Muslim woman. To them I was a dirty person.
When Mostert questioned me, I said, »I don't know anything about what you people are asking me«. Here and there I would give a bit of information to satisfy them, but nothing that they could use against anyone. They got very mad, and Mostert walked behind me. I didn't expect him to hit me, but he gave me one shot from behind, and I went sprawling over the floor. I got up, and he hit me again. I started to cry. But then I said to myself, »The only thing they can do is kill my body. They are not going to get my mind, and my soul will live on in my children and in other people«. So they were actually wasting their time, which I told them.
They also assaulted Julie in the room next door, and I had to hear her screams. It was awful and made me feel completely helpless. Then they brought a tape in with what appeared to be my sister speaking. She said that the family was disgusted with me and that they didn't want anything more to do with me. But I had a strong belief that my family would never say something like that. They next brought in another tape
in which my daughter was screaming that she was being raped. This finished me completely. I just looked straight ahead, but I couldn't function. They left me on my own for a couple of minutes, and at that point I felt that I was going to jump through the window. They had left it open, and there were no bars on it, and I felt I couldn't take it much longer. I felt that I'd never, ever want to have anything to do with politics again. I asked myself, »How did I get myself into this situation?«
Then a policeman pulled a gun on me which he said didn't have a safety catch. He held it at my head and said, »I know you were thinking that you were going to jump through that window«. I felt devastated. »They can even read my mind«, I thought. I felt so at their mercy. They kept me there the whole day until the following morning, questioning me all the time. I had to stand all that time, too, and my feet were quite swollen when I was taken back to Pollsmoor Prison the following morning. Then they measured my neck and Julie's neck to make us think we would be taken to Guguletu [an African township near Cape Town] to be necklaced [murdered by having a gas-soaked tire put around the neck, then set on fire]. They did it to scare us, and it put me in a hell of a state.
Julie and I traveled back to Pollsmoor together in the car, but we were not allowed to speak to one another. They had a gun between us at all times, and if we had dared to speak one word, we would have been shot. The minute we got to our cells, we flaked out completely. We went into such a state that they had to give us sedatives for quite some time. It was the first time I went through an experience like that. Other people have been harassed much worse. Johnny has been assaulted much more than I was—but for me, it was quite an experience.
Later I found out how they made the tapes of my daughter and my sister. They get to know how you speak. Then they find somebody with a similar voice. They have equipment that enables them to listen in to what you say inside your house. They listen to your telephone conversations. They get to know what problems exist in your family, and they use this knowledge so they can make the tapes seem real. When I came out of prison, my father told me that they had gone to my home many times. They wanted pictures of my children to see how they looked. They went to the school to get my daughter. When you are already in a terrible state, not thinking very clearly, it is easy to believe it is your family speaking.
My children could not play outside because the police harassed them so. They would also phone up the neighbors and say real weird things about me. Because I am a divorced woman, they'd say I am jolling (fooling) around with their husbands. When I got out of prison my father took me to the neighbors and told them that his daughter would never behave in that way, so the neighbors didn't believe it. The police even wrote to the neighbor next door saying that I am a weird person, and the neighbor came to show me the letter. So we laid a charge against them. We had taped all their anonymous telephone calls to us, which would often be very rude, full of all sorts of swear words, and these calls were traced to the police. Although we got lawyers to lay a charge against them, they refused to accept the case.
After coming out of detention in 1985, I went away for two weeks. I was completely disoriented and could not even take being with my children for half an hour. I was quite devastated. I couldn't even walk straight! And almost immediately after I came out, I was charged with possession of banned literature. They then changed the charge to »furthering the aims of the ANC«. I just got off that charge a couple of months ago.
Having children makes me more determined to fight for liberation. My reasoning goes like this: I have three children whom I love very much, but I also think of the thousands of other children who have to go through much worse experiences than my children have to go through. And when I'm detained, I know my mother will always take care of the kids, so that is one problem off my shoulders. In fact, we have an arrangement to that effect. I would never allow the cops to take me away and leave my children behind. Once when they came, I was alone with my kids, and I insisted my children go with me. And my thirteen-year-old daughter also intervenes and says that I am not going anywhere unless she goes with me, and the police feel a bit pressured by something like that. Sometimes they wait until my mother comes to fetch the children. My children are very aware of the political situation.
Their father would also take responsibility if he could, but he is not in a position to. Being politically involved sometimes means I am out of the house most of the time. I may be home for just half an hour in the day, maybe at breakfast or sometimes not even then. But I have a very good relationship with my children. I always try to make it up to them; on a Saturday we may go for lunch somewhere, or we may take a drive and spend some time together. But it is difficult, and they do complain; »You don't have time for us«. I explain to them why I have been so busy, and then they understand. The main thing is that I explain my involvement to them.
I normally take my kids with me when I hand out pamphlets because I want them to see and understand what I am doing. One time my youngest son was pulled into a police van to be taken to the police station and I got so upset, but he said, »Mommy, I want to go. I want to ask the police 'What is wrong with giving out these pamphlets?' He must tell me why this pamphlet is banned and why it is wrong«. My daughter Leila also challenged the police on this occasion. I didn't have to say anything.
Many black children in South Africa today are very political. For example, just before I was detained about two years ago, I went to the town center with my youngest son Fidel who was dressed in a UDF T-shirt. In the middle of the road, a five-year-old stopped him and said, »I like your T-shirt. Amandla!« [the power salute of the liberation movement]« I looked at my son who was only seven or eight years old at the time, and I said, »Fidel, aren't you going to respond?« He said, »I'm not sure, because nowadays you can go sit for two weeks in prison for just saying Amandla V So I said to him, »But you have to respond to this young son here, otherwise I will have to take off your T-shirt and give it to him because you aren't worthy of wearing it«. So he turned around and he said, »AmandlaV Judging from an incident like that, I would say that the children are quite aware. They know who the enemy is. They speak politics. They know when things go on. They have to survive.
When Leila, my thirteen-year-old, was seven, she read a message from her father at a meeting. She does »speech and drama« at school, and she read it very beautifully. The people in the hall went berserk. They shouted so loud »Attack the terrorists«, that I was afraid that they were going to go out of there and do something. The police were outside, and they saw people's response, so they wanted to know who gave Leila the message. We sent her to stay in a safe place, but the police then harassed her school, and every day they sat parked outside the house waiting to see when Leila would come home. My husband was in detention at that point, and I was in a state of nerves. I got all these advocates [lawyers], and we studied section 6 of the Terrorism Act to see whether it was legal for the police to harass a seven-year-old child. We discovered that it was. I was so upset. But they couldn't find her.
I've traveled a lot and one time I saw a mother working on a farm in the rain with her seven-day-old baby wrapped in a newspaper lying there screaming. I got so furious about this that I screamed at the white boss of the farm, and I asked him what right he had to let the child lie there like that. He just swore at me, saying it was none of my business. I witnessed lots of cases like that. For me, the more poverty I see, the more determined I am to fight for our liberation. There is no turning back for me now.
South Africa's Internment Camps
»Anyone involved in opposing the system is in danger
of breaking some law or other because the definitions
of what is illegal under the Internal Security Act
are so wide. By giving this interview, it is possible
that I could be accused of making subversive statements«.
....was fifty-four years old in 1987 and had graduated from high school but not attended a university. Born of South African parents, she married her husband, Max, when she was twenty years old. He is a successful businessman, and the Colemans live in an affluence characteristic of upper-middle-class whites in South Africa.
Both Audrey and Max Coleman, white South Africans, were radicalized by the detention of one of their four sons, and became active members of an organization called the Detainees Parents' Support Committee (DPSC). Although Audrey has no official position in DPSC, she has become an informal kind of ambassador for them, traveling all over the world to publicize detention issues, particularly the detention of children. Last year, for example, she spoke to the media and other audiences in Britain, Sweden, and France, including an interview with President Francois Mitterrand of France. When in South Africa, it is she who often finds herself speaking to the press, embassies, and foreign visitors.
The South African government threatened to impose a restriction order (the new term for banning) on Coleman when she was away publicizing the Free the Children Campaign in Europe in 1986. She refused to be intimidated by this, merely informing everyone she spoke to of the government's efforts to stop her work. The government, whose actions are frequently arbitrary and unpredictable, decided not to carry out their threat after all. Today Coleman continues to be undaunted by the risks she takes. »Personally«, she said, »I feel the need to speak out today more than ever before, because people are becoming so frightened and intimidated that I feel that the people who are able to, must do so«.
Coleman had testified to the United Nations earlier in 1987 about the detention of children in South Africa, and here cites a few telling cases, while also providing a valuable analysis of why black children are so politically active and sophisticated in South Africa today.
Coleman pointed out to me that by the government's own admission, between June 1986 and June 1987, children constituted thirty-four percent of the approximately 25,000 detainees held under the emergency regulations, including children as young as twelve years old. Thirty-four percent of 25,000 comes to about 8,500 detained children. High as these figures are, Coleman maintains that forty percent is a more accurate figure. And this policy of detaining children is not new. During the 1985 state of emergency, 2,106 children under the age of sixteen were held, the youngest being but seven years old.
These and other facts (such as, that »people who oppose the government are being killed more often now") lead Coleman to conclude that »there is greater repression today than there has ever been before in the history of South Africa«. She believes that the reason for this is that the government is finding it impossible to deal with the growing discontent of the majority of the people. This is why they declared the third state of emergency and severely restricted the publication of information about the conditions of detention. »If they were running decent prisons and everything was above board, why would they worry if people wrote about them or went to see them?« she asked. She went on to argue that »if the townships were being properly run and it was just a matter of wild animals running around necklacing people, they'd want the press to be in there to show the world what sort of people these are«. Not surprisingly, the DPSC has been included in these repressive efforts. Their offices all over the country have been raided by the police, and in early 1988, DPSC was one of many anti-apartheid groups to be banned in a mammoth repressive action. The Human Rights Commission is now carrying on the work previously undertaken by DPSC.
Since this interview, due to the success of the Free the Children Campaign, there are now approximately one hundred children detained (Coleman, personal communication, September 1988). The government has expressed its disapproval of Coleman's role in this campaign by refusing to renew her passport since 1987. She believes her testimony to the United Nations in March 1987 also contributed to their anger. It took the efforts of Senator Edward Kennedy, and the United States Ambassador to South Africa, Mr. Perkins, as well as many other well-known people, for Coleman to be permitted to attend her son's wedding in the U.S., »on compassionate grounds«. For this to be granted, Coleman had to sign a paper promising that she wouldn't make any public speeches (Coleman, personal communication, 6 June 1989).
Coleman's analysis of detention as South Africa's version of internment camps provides a valuable context for the accounts of Elaine Mohamed, Connie Mofokeng, Feziwe Bookholane, and Shahieda Issel, as well as those of the other women in this book who have lived through this traumatic but commonplace experience.
Growing Up White
My parents' attitudes were typical of conservative whites, but I had been aware of racism and the iniquities of this society as long ago as I can remember. I have a brother, who is ten years older than I, who educated me politically. He was chairman of the now-banned Congress of Democrats in Cape Town [a radical white anti-apartheid organization], and was held in prison for three months during the 1960 emergency. After that he was harassed, and eventually left the country in about 1964 on an exit permit with his family. He moved to London, where he's lived ever since.
Amongst his friends were leading political figures, like Dennis Goldberg and Ivan Schermbrucker. Ivan had a big influence on me and taught me at a very early age about the rights and wrongs of our society. I was very young when I began speaking out. I remember challenging a policeman when he loaded a group of black people into a police van because their reference books were not in order. My parents didn't agree with the political stand my brother and I took, and our two sisters weren't politically aware or interested.
I didn't participate in politics when I was a young mother because I was involved in bringing up my four sons. When the boys were grown, I decided it was time to get involved in community work. I began working in the Black Sash Advice Office [a largely white women's political organization; see chapters 16 and 24] about twelve years ago, and eventually became national secretary. Working in the Black Sash was a very important step in my life, and I definitely grew as a result. I couldn't have gone on living in South Africa if I hadn't started speaking out.
My son, Keith, was detained in 1981. He was twenty-one at the time and an honor student at university. He was—and is—very opposed to this government and was outspoken in his criticism of the apartheid system. He was an editor of a student newspaper which deals with grassroots issues, and was detained together with his co-editor. I was shattered by Keith's detention. I had previously dealt with families of detainees, but to experience the removal of a loved one oneself is different. He was taken away and put into a prison. He had no rights other than to a Bible and one hour a day of exercise, and we were powerless to help him.
It is very important to understand that ninety-five percent of the people who are detained in South Africa are not detained for breaking the law. We went to see Louis Le Grange [the minister of law and order at that time] about Keith's detention, and were told that he had done something terrible and that he was going to be charged in a treason trial.
Keith was held for five months in solitary confinement. After the fifth month, we got a call from him saying, »If you're doing nothing, would you like to come and fetch me?« It is in this arbitrary fashion that people are released. Keith had been interrogated for something like seven weeks, but they never assaulted him. It could have been because my husband had told them at the very beginning of his detention that Keith had a bad back, and that if anything happened to him, he would hold that captain responsible. Keith said that they looked as if they wanted to hit him, but they never did. When he was released, he was banned for two years in order to silence him.
The Detainees Parents' Support Committee
When Keith was detained, Max and I joined DPSC, which had just been formed in August of that year. DPSC was a spontaneous coming together of the families of detainees to share our problems. At the beginning, I was only thinking of my son, but very soon I and others realized that detention will occur as long as apartheid exists, so we have to fight the whole system. The committee included people from all groups—black, Coloured, Indian, and white, though the majority of the detainees come from the [African] townships, where most of the harassment and repression is taking place.
Many of the people on the committee didn't have a political background like my husband and I. They were parents who didn't necessarily agree with their children's politics. They included people like Professor Koornhof whose daughter was in detention and whose brother is Piet Koornhof, now South African ambassador in New York. Professor Koornhof demonstrated with the rest of us on street corners with placards saying, »RELEASE MY CHILD, HELD [SO MANY] DAYS« and »RELEASE ALL DETAINEES«.
We only opened our office in 1985. Until then we worked as an ad-hoc committee and met at the university. DPSC grew very fast, and township people began to seek us out for help. Then in 1983 with the formation of UDF, with which we are affiliated, we were able to set up structures throughout the country. At the last national conference, forty-four areas were represented. Our office is now staffed by five workers chosen by the township people. I and a couple of others work here purely on a voluntary basis. We also have committees in small outlying areas. These are the structures that the police try to break at a time of repression. In many areas, the structures have been totally broken in the last couple of years by detaining all the activists.
We publicized detentions for the first time. We demonstrated outside police stations and the supreme court with our placards. I came to learn that a criminal has more rights in South Africa than a political detainee. We had to fight to get even small things like food parcels and clean clothing in to our loved ones and to make people aware of what was going on. There was a tremendous response to DPSC from the townships where most of the detentions had occurred, but where people had never had such support before.
Our work informed people about the type of person being detained. We wrote profiles of the detainees and a monthly report. These were disseminated both locally and internationally. Ex-detainees began attending our meetings and speaking about their experiences of torture. There had been rumors of torture, but allegations had not been openly made before. We compiled seventy-nine affidavits of torture into a document called »The Memorandum of Torture«. Of course, the government tried to discredit DPSC but did not succeed.
In 1983, DPSC started monitoring public violence cases because we observed that young activists involved in democratic opposition were being charged with public violence and other criminal charges. We realized that the government was trying to criminalize political opposition. By 1985, we could no longer monitor public violence cases because the numbers had escalated to something like twenty-five thousand cases in one year.
During the state of emergency, we're not allowed to give food parcels to detainees, so instead we give their families twenty rand [$10] a month to take to the prison so the detainee can buy food. We used to give track suits to all detainees, but because of the enormous number of detainees —at least twenty-five thousand in the last eleven months—we couldn't keep doing this for everyone.
We take a statement from all detainees when they are released, and we arrange for them to see a doctor and a psychiatrist. We feel that all people who have been in solitary confinement need help. We have a panel of lawyers who we instruct on behalf of the families to represent the detainee while in detention. They obtain confirmation of the detention and apply for visits. When the detainees are released, the lawyers get statements from them about their detention experiences and, where necessary, enter into litigation on their behalf. The lawyers also represent the detainees who are charged.
We also monitor allegations of assault and torture of detainees, as well as allegations from township victims who have been shot or assaulted. Also, all the information from the different centers comes into this office, so we get a national picture of what is happening rather than a fragmented one. For example, people will ask, »Don't you think that torture is just occurring in one area? That it's just one mad policeman who is doing it?« And we're able to say, »Absolutely and emphatically not. Torture is nationwide. Even the type of torture and the way it's done is occurring systematically throughout the country«. We put the responsibility firmly at the door of the government because we know they are aware of what is happening. We believe that torture is part of the strategy to break people as well as to gain information. The number of detainees we are now seeing suffering from severe trauma is horrendous. People are being held for such long periods in detention that they feel forgotten and lose hope of being released.
Most of the people seeking our help are women. They are the ones who are most involved with the detainees. In the majority of cases where it's the child who is detained, the mother plays the main role. It could be because they're not working and have more free time than their husbands. But I see a lot of very concerned and worried fathers here as well. When wives are detained, their husbands are just amazing. They take off from work and try to fill the gap in the home as well as tend to the needs of the detainee. In some cases, the husbands have spent many hours trying to locate where their wives are held. And in the rural areas, men are more politically involved in this work than women because the women play such a subservient role there.
The plainclothes police stole our posters when we were demonstrating. An instance of this was when my husband was dressed in his suit ready to go to work. He was demonstrating with his poster outside John Vorster Square when a plainclothes policeman snatched his poster and ran down the street with it. My husband ran after him. The next day on the front page of the Star newspaper was a picture of Max Coleman running down the street after the man. This was a fine advert for the DPSC—one we could never have afforded. These recurring incidents put us on the map.
Many parents are harassed during the detention of their children. Homes of detainees' parents are petrol-bombed. I've also noticed that the security police are bullies. The parents in our group who were the weakest were the ones who were harassed the most. They were called in to John Foster Square, the husband taken to one room and the wife to another, and lectured to. One such case involved a mother. She was screamed at and asked, »Aren't you ashamed of your daughter?« She was told that her daughter had never loved her. They reduced her to tears. She was very relieved when we explained to her that this was part of their strategy to alienate her from her daughter. This type of sharing and knowledge that the committee has enables us to inform people about the divide-and-rule strategy of the system and enables people to withstand this type of bullying more easily.
The Brutalization and Politicization of Children
Black children who grow up in the townships are growing up in a very violent and insecure society. They are watching, daily, their parents being beaten up, their homes being broken into, their brothers and sometimes their mothers or their fathers being taken away. Out on the streets, they see the army, the police, guns, tanks, shooting. They see all the violence of a war. So even from the age of two, some will pick up a stone when they see a soldier or a policeman because they're frightened. They don't have to be told to pick up that stone; it's a natural response to feeling insecure. The youth are having to fight with stones against very sophisticated arms. They try to protect their homes by putting furrows along the roads so that the casspir [a large army vehicle] will fall into it. And sometimes they put stone barricades up across the roads when they know that there are going to be rent evictions and their families will be thrown out of their homes.
The majority of the people in the townships totally identify with the ANC, and Nelson Mandela is their leader. You ask a little child, and they'll tell you that. Many parents don't know where they get this information from. It's the children who are in the forefront of the struggle. There's no question about that. At the age of eleven, if they're intelligent kids, they will be harassed because they are already articulating certain demands. They're not necessarily stoning or burning, but they are a threat to the state even from that tender age. I can hardly believe what comes out of the mouths of some thirteen- or fifteen-year-olds. I feel I am talking to politicians. They understand that they're living in an abnormal society, that their education is unequal, that their parents are struggling and cannot pay the rent. Some children see their parents get up in the early hours of the morning to catch the bus and come home late at night because of the distances they are forced to live from their places of work. The children are no longer going to accept what their parents have endured all their lives.
The outbreak of unrest in the schools in 1976 politicized the children irreversibly. Their leaders were put into prison for many years at that time, but they saw what happened. They were part of it. They don't need television or newspapers to tell them what is happening. They are there living it. So that's why we're seeing the children being targeted. But the police efforts to intimidate and harass them are not going to work. Because if you brutalize children by taking them into prison and trying to subjugate them into submission, it won't work.
Children in Detention
Very young children have reported to this office after their release from detention. For example, eleven-year-old William Modibedi was one of four children detained in one family. The reason given to the lawyer by the minister of law and order for detaining this child was that he was one of the ringleaders of the boycotts. So that little boy was held for three months until our lawyer took up his case. The authorities gave all sorts of reasons why William had to be detained, like that he was a very, very dangerous person. Shortly thereafter he was released, but his three brothers are still in detention and have been for a long time. When William came out of prison he had lost four teeth. He told me he had been electric-shocked and very badly assaulted. I said to him, »William, what did they do to you?« And he showed me. He said a big white man had smashed his fist into his mouth.
The reasons the government gives for the detention of children are that they have been involved in necklacing and other criminal acts. But I believe that those involved in criminal acts are charged under the Criminal Procedures Act, and that the detained children are mobilizing the townships to oppose apartheid in a democratic manner, and so cannot be charged with an offense. Being a student leader is enough to get them detained. I know the case of a kid who was seventeen in 1985. He was detained on the first day of the state of emergency, then released seven and a half months later on the last day of it. We heard that he had been tortured, so we sent him to our doctors who proved that this information was correct. In fact, they believed he had suffered brain damage as a result of it, and arrangements were made for him to see a neurosurgeon. But he was redetained under the second state of emergency before this could happen, and he has been held in prison ever since. So from 1985 until now [May 1987], he has been out of detention only about four months of the two years.
I asked his mother to ask the police why he was taken in again, and the reason they gave her was that he was a student leader. Similarly, as soon as they know someone is a street committee member, boy, they're in there! People are not allowed to have meetings or to boycott. Street committees have been set up to mobilize people very quickly by word of mouth. When someone in the community blows a whistle, everyone immediately comes out to either witness what is happening or to defend their homes. In addition, street committees are targeted by the state because they are a very effective way of mobilizing people.
The security police also detain unpoliticized kids to frighten them. There was one case which shook me, as hardened as I am. He was thirteen years old. He came into this office a couple of weeks ago with a friend who had been detained. His friend was sitting talking to me, and because I love kids, I said to the other little boy, »So you missed being detained?« And he looked at me and said, »No, I've been detained«. And I said, »For how long?« And he said, »Nine months«. I didn't have his name on my list because his mother had never heard of us. He told me he had left home barefoot to go to the shops for his mother. A car was parked in the street with a friend of his in it. As he walked past the car, his friend pointed at him. He was immediately picked up by the police. He said, »Please, can I go home and get my shoes?« They said, »No«, and took him off to be questioned about stoning and burning a house. He denied having done either, so they said, »Fine. If you're not going to admit to doing it, we're going to hold you here«. He said he couldn't admit to doing it because he hadn't done it. They said, »O.K., you're going to stay in prison for ten years, and there is nothing anybody can do about it«.
That little boy was held in prison for nine months believing that he was being held for ten years. He wasn't assaulted or physically tortured, but what they did to him was certainly mental torture. They didn't even speak to him again after that first day, and his parents were never notified about what had happened to him. For two weeks they went from one police station to the other, to the hospitals, and to the mortuary, looking for their little boy, but they couldn't find him. Eventually when a neighbor whose child was in detention went on her biweekly visit, her little boy said, »You know, Mommy, who is here? Eugene«.
There are thousands of children being held as awaiting-trial prisoners on criminal offenses, and some are held with hardened grown-up criminals. The terror for them that results from that is absolutely mindblow-ing. Children are often brought into court without the knowledge of their parents and without a lawyer. Some kids have been sentenced to six years for throwing stones. I happened to go into a court in the eastern Cape just after the Langa Massacre [the murder of twenty African mourners by the South African police in 1985], and I saw a little twelve-year-old sitting there. His feet didn't even reach the floor. He was there without a lawyer and without his mother's knowledge. It's the children who are not represented who are getting the longest sentences.
The children who are being brutalized cannot grow up into soft, caring people like the present anti-apartheid leaders are. The UDF leaders who are standing trial for treason are the moderates in this country. They are still saying, »We want to negotiate«. One told me, »When we come out [of prison], we're going to be told we're redundant. Where did our talk of negotiations get us?« These kids are definitely not going to want that. They cannot experience what they're experiencing now, and choose a peaceful solution. I don't know what will happen when these children become the future leaders.