TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION 

UWC HEARING - DAY 3 - WEDNESDAY 7 AUGUST 1996

 

CASE NO: CT/00306

VICTIM: COLINE WILLIAMS (sister)

NATURE OF VIOLENCE: DETENTION AND DEATH BY BOMB EXPLOSION

TESTIMONIES FROM: SELINA WILLIAMS

WILHELMINA CUPIDO

 

CHAIRPERSON: ... is almost in the middle and then to your right is your mother, Wilhelmina Williams and on your left is Basil Snyers, welcome to you.I assume that all three of you will say something.

SELINA WILLIAMS:

I am going to talk on behalf of the Williams family and Basil is Robert Waterwitch's uncle and he is going to talk on behalf of their family.

CHAIRPERSON: Okay, will your mother not talk?

SELINA WILLIAMS:

No.

CHAIRPERSON: Not, okay, I just want to know who should be sworn in that's the reason why I am inquiring.So in that case the two of you will be testifying, Selina Williams and Basil Snyers, so can I ask you to stand to take the oath then please both of you.

SELINA WILLIAMS Duly sworn states

BASIL SNYERS Duly sworn states

CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much you may be seated.Dr Wendy Orr will facilitate your evidence and I am going to hand you over to her now, thank you.

SELINA WILLIAMS:

DR ORR: Thank you Chair and welcome to Selina Wilhelmina and Basil.Today Selina you going to tell us about your sister Coline and in the past few months, we've heard about a number of young people from the Cape Flats like your sister, who took part in the struggle for liberation, who were recruited by MK, some of them gave their lives for the struggle, others were very-very badly tortured.We heard in our first hearings from Basil about the death of Anton Franz, we've heard in these hearings about the death of Ashley Kriel and the terrible torture of Mohammed Ferhelst, Colin de Souza and Yazir Henry.They were all men, now we going to hear about a woman who was your sister.Can you tell us your story and her story. --- Firstly my sister was detained in 1986 and she was detained for about 11 months.And then in 1989 on the 23rd of July she was - she was killed in the Athlone bomb blast.Two people died in that bomb blast, it was my sister Coline Williams and Robert Waterwitch.Two days later two of Coline's friends approached us and told us that she died in the bomb blast in the Athlone bomb blast.And we were told that we had to go - to see a lawyer in Athlone Mr Moosa and from there they will escort us to the mortuary.We went to the mortuary on the 26th of July 1989 and that's where we've met Robert Waterwitch's family and we were asked to identify the bodies of the deceased.When we went in the - in the mortuary, the first body I saw was Robert Waterwitch's, and I passed on and I went around to go and see my sister's body. At first my mother didn't recognize my sister's body, but surely I did.Her - the reason why my mother didn't identify her body was because her eyes was out - her eyes was out of her - out of her sockets and it - something strange I noticed is - the only thing that blasted in her face was her eyes.It was just that her eyes was out - it was out of her sockets and nothing else in her fast blasted, I mean your nose is your highest point in your face, so when your face blows, that's the first thing to go.And that was strange to me.And then we were escorted from that room out to another room where we - our statements were taken.And what happened then is immediately as we entered this room there was one policeman that was very upset about my - about me being there, my presence.He asked me who I am and what I was doing there and - but nobody took any notice of him and he got quite upset because I am thesplit image of my sister.And he insisted on wanting to know who I am, so I just told him I am Selina and but that wasn't enough for him.And he was sitting there and he was getting all warmed up and - well he was - he was really feeling out of place there and he was - he was a disturbance in that room because they were busy taking the family statements and what about the deceased and when last we saw the deceased and then later on he was removed by his colleagues out of the room.And that's also something we found very strange for him acting that way.And at the time - ja we were asked to go back home and later that day we would expect policeman to come around to our homes and get stuff from the deceased.And that afternoon the police arrived at our home in Bonteheuwel and they collected Coline's passport document and some - some of - some documents.But they didn't - they didn't find what they were looking for because I think they were looking for explosives and then also at that time there was - we - we were very confused the family we didn't know what was going on because at the mortuary the police told us that Coline and Robert were responsible for their own deaths and according to them it looked like they've blasted themselves.And they almost wanted to let people know that it was a suicide.And on the other hand there was also pamphlets from the ANC's side going around, having different speculations saying that they might have been interrupted that night and they might have been arrested before the time and tortured and that the police could have been responsible for the bomb blast.And up to today we don't have anything conclusive about that, and that's one of the reasons why we came to the Truth Commission is just to conclude that story, just to find out what really happened to my sister.And because the police were also using it at the time it was the campaign was against the October elections, the municipal elections.And at the same time Patrick McKenzie was - he was using my sister's death - he was saying that my sister was responsible for her own death and that MK, the ANC didn't train their cadres properly and he was sort of smearing it in our faces again.And because they campaigned against the October elections, it was smeared back in our faces.And ja that's the reason why we came forward is just to clear the story what really happened and ja and to conclude it, I think that's all.

Thank you Selina I am going to ask you a few questions then, and then ask Mr Snyers if he wants to add anything.The time when Coline was detained at Pollsmoor did she tell you anything about that experience when she came out, what had happened to her in prison? --- When Coline came from prison she was a very withdrawn person.She was very quite, she didn't talk about her interrogations but she was very cool about it.She just said she just want to go on with her life, she just want to leave it there and carry on.And - but she never talked to us as family members about it.And that's just the type of person Coline was, she never discussed - she was very private.And she never discussed her interrogations with us although she mentioned one interrogating officer because at the time this guy was also interrogating one of - one of her friends and she said oh! he was by me as well.And - ja.

Do you perhaps know that persons name? --- It was Jan Louw.

Did you know - did the family know at that time that Coline was a member of MK? --- I did not know.

How old was Coline when she died? --- She was 22 years old.

And how old were you? --- I am 23.

And when she died? --- I was 16.

So it must have been a really awful experience to have to go to that mortuary. --- Ja.

Before we carry on I am going to ask Mr Snyers if he would like to add anything on behalf of the Waterwitch family, so could you just pass the microphone over to him.

BASIL SNYERS:

DR ORR: Basil as I said to you this morning you obviously can't get enough of the Truth Commission because you've come back again to tell us about the death of another young person and that's Robbie Waterwitch, so would you like to add anything. --- Ja Wendy I came here this morning because Robbie's mother - for two reasons that she gave me, was not prepared to testify, since I acted on behalf of the family ever since Robbie's death, she's as usual given me that task which is - which is most uncomfortable on one - on the one hand but I am actually glad that I am here because I didn't anticipate the day to be dedicated to women.So I am here also dedicating it to Robbie's mother particularly.Hettie, his mother is a very-very staunch Christian, a very staunch Roman Catholic person, comes from a very well known Athlone family of that church and therefore a great believer in the - in Salvation through that - through that route.So her one reason was as she put it, she accepted God's will, her God's will and the other reason I think if I can remember she said she had to get on with her life, it sounds very similar to what Shirley said earlier, and to what Zubeida and Selina's mother also had to experience, that things had to - things had to go on.In Hettie's case, she had another son, who was an invalid after I suppose about seven years of his life, he suffered from muscular dystrophy.He died two years ago or a year ago at the age of 20, ja just before his 21st birthday, which ironically is the same age Robbie was when he died in 1989.So those are the reasons that Hettie is not here.And the reason that I agreed to take her place today is that this perpetuation I think of - of what I am beginning even - even to be angry about, this perpetuation of a sense of denial on the part of many people.A sense of almost arrogant denial of the past, a denial of accountability, a denial of the fact that there were those people who had to endure the suffering, the torture, the death, the maiming on the one hand and there were those who had virtual power over life and death.That the latter group for me doesn't seem to show the commitment particularly to the TRC which has been structured which has been created for that very purpose in the interest of ultimate reconciliation.That doesn't seem to come through, that doesn't seem to come across.I don't want to ask awkward questions to the TRC officials here today, I think they have endured a lot of that in the Press and public generally.But that can't be said enough, I can't endorse enough what Shirley in particular says about - about this whole process.So I am here to corroborate with Selina's story.The family certainly was not aware that Robbie was a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe.I was not aware personally, although Robbie was a member of the Belgravia Youth as they were then called, the UDF Youth in Belgravia of which he became of the pivotal leaders.Robbie was one of the students at St Columbus who was responsible for the creation of the first Student Representative Council at that school, a body which was denied that school for a number of - for all the years before then to exist.Robbie was one of the pioneers to establish an SRC and to link that SRC with other SRC's that had sprung up during the period '85 to the present.So in a sense Robbie's political consciousness was formed very much during that time.But what is significant and I think this was also well documented, is both Robbie and Coline's Christian commitment, because it was their Christian conviction in respect of justice and values that enabled them to make that transition from being ordinary high school students and after that university students, or tertiary students to full time activists in the interest of South Africa.So that it's not enough for Robbie and Coline and others - so many others to have died for the very South Africa that we - that we are seeing taking shape although it's slowly.It's not enough for them simply to have died(indistinct) ... we should establish the truth about how they died at least.

Thank you Mr Snyers was there an inquest into the death of Robbie and Coline? --- Yes there was.

And what was the outcome? --- I think Selina said and I want to reiterate that, that the State's finding was that they were responsible for their own deaths.That they had died as a result of a bomb explosion.

So the implication was that they were planting a limpet mine at this particular venue and something went wrong and they blew themselves up, was that the story? --- That - that was the State's story.

H'm - I have nothing further to say at this stage, I'll hand over to the Chair.

CHAIRPERSON: I think Selina wants to(indistinct) ...

SELINA WILLIAMS:

--- Ja I just want to add something.It's just months later after their deaths was we received some goods from the mortuary which was leftovers from the bomb blast, it was clothing and stuff that belonged to them like bags and there was something that I mentioned to the police with my statement, is that, that particular day Coline had sanitary towels in her bag and because I passed it on to her and I saw her putting it in her bag.And what happened is that months later after their deaths, when their goods were returned, I found the sanitary towels back - back in the package which the mortuary have sent us and something very strange about it is that how could sanitary towels have - how could have - how could it survive a bomb blast?

DR ORR: Thank you for bringing that to our attention.

CHAIRPERSON: Just - oh! you want to - you want to add something Mr Snyers.

BASIL SNYERS:

--- Ja just to support what Selina also said earlier I meant to mention that when we went to the mortuary on the 26th of July 1989, the first time that I had met Ms Williams and Coline - sorry and Selina, it was I think in discussion with Selina and her mother that I had noticed, I noticed the same policeman that Selina referred to, who for me showed an unusual interest in - in her.And asking her questions and being a bit unsettled, that I do remember because I got the impression that perhaps this was - this was going to happen to the family of the Waterwitches as well, maybe this was perhaps a tactic for them - of them to unsettle the families in anticipation of an inquest that both families obviously were beginning to press for.I thought I'd just make that point.

CHAIRPERSON: Yes well - well thank you for that, I was going to ask about that.Have you got any idea who that was, the - this policeman that was acting so strangely?

SELINA WILLLIAMS:

--- No he was removed from the room and nobody mentioned his name.

And while you are talking, what was Coline doing when she died, was she a student, was she working, what was she doing? --- She was a drama student.

Where? --- She - at the Joseph Stone Institution.

And Mr Snyers, I assume that Robbie was also studying?

BASIL SNYERS:

--- Ja - ja at the time Robbie was a student at UCT, I think second year BA-student.

CHAIRPERSON: Thank you, there no other questions I am going to ask Wendy to thank you.

DR ORR: Before I make my final concluding remarks I would just like to assure you that in fact our investigative unit is investigating the circumstances surrounding Coline's death and I'd like to read briefly from firstly our research notes and then our investigators notes.The research notes say, at the funeral attended by 5000 people, that was the funeral of Coline and Robbie, a pamphlet allegedly distributed by the ANC MK's stated that both Coline and Robert were well trained operatives and that it was unlikely that they died by their own carelessness.There was a question as to whether their bodies had been placed at the scene after capture and torture or whether they were trying to remove the bomb at the time of the explosion.An inquest was held at Wynberg Court, but the major part of the inquest had disappeared.Circumstances of the deaths may have been a possible spiking of a land mine.Investigations looking for more information are ongoing.And then from our investigators reports, it has been established from discussion on and off the record with a person formally employed by the Directorate ofCovered Collection, the DCC, that Coline Williams and Robbie Waterwitch were part of a cell which had been placed under surveillance by DCC personnel and further that the limpet mine which is said to have killed the two activists, may have been spiked by a DCC employee who had penetrated the cell.A senior official of the SAPS has informed the investigative unit that the forensic report concerning this particular incident needs to be closely scrutinized for inconsistencies.And just a comment that the inquest conducted around the deaths was in fact officiated over by the same Magistrate who officiated over the Ashley Kriel inquest and we know what the result of that was.So I would just like to assure you that we are indeed investigating this incident and are giving it very-very careful attention and I do hope that one day, we will be able to provide you with the answers and the information which is obviously so desperately needed and so important to you.And I want to pay tribute to the Williams family and the Waterwitch family extended family for sacrificing their children and I do hope that coming here today as Shirley said will be part of the process of healing which will eventually be given to you.Thank you.