TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
DAY 1 - 10 JUNE 1996
CASE NO: CT/00135
VICTIM: PHAKAMILE HARRY MABIJA
VIOLATION: DEATH IN DETENTION
TESTIMONIES BY: SYLVIA MABIJA
Chairperson, the first witnesses that we call before the first hearings in the Northern Cape are the following and I will ask them to please come and take their place at the witness table in front of me. Sylvia Mabija, Shirley Mabija, Thembi Mabija and Henriëtta Manzana, if youíd please come forward.
I would like to welcome you very warmly on behalf of the Chairperson and the Commission and first of all I would like to suggest that if you are going to need these earphones if youíd please put them on now. Are you going to be testifying in English or in Tswana or Xhosa. Then Iíd be grateful if youíd please put the earphones on. Iíd be grateful if you would - first of all can you hear me all right on the earphones, you can - you can hear the Xhosa, right thank you very much indeed.
Iím going to ask you please to identify yourselves because thereíre quite a few of you here which is unusual. So perhaps if you wouldnít mind my just calling out you names and you can tell me if that is who you are:
Sylvia Mabija - thank you very much.
Shirley Mabija - thank you.
Thembi Mabija - Thembi is not here?
And Henriëtta Manzana - thank you very much indeed.
Now we are going to be discussing and looking at - and hearing stories about Phakamile Mabija. Before I ask you to tell that story which goes back to 20 - almost 20 years ago now, Iím going to ask you to take the oath which we have to ask all witnesses.
Now the way weíre going to do that is the following, Iím going to ask you a question and Iím going to ask you - it together and if you are able to answer that question your response is: So help me God. So if you would please all stand, now Iím going to ask you.
SYLVIA MABIJA Duly sworn states
SHIRLEY MABIJA Duly sworn states
HENRIëTTA MANZANA Duly sworn states
Thank you very much, please be seated. Now Iím going to ask if youíll please put that light off on that - fine and only put it on when the person is speaking, it helps with the communication.
You are the very first witnesses and Iím quite sure that you are nerves. If you were not nerves you should be nerves. You have a story to tell it happened a very long time ago, it will bring back many memories and you will feel a great deal of pain. Because those memories are very sad ones and one which caused you great misery a long time ago and you will be looking again to what happened.
And I want you to feel very relaxed - you are amongst friends. For the first time perhaps in your life you have an opportunity to talk to an official Commission appointed by the President of the country and to tell us - to tell this audience and to tell South Africa and indeed the world what happened and what is in your hearts.
Iím going to ask you to be quite brief but at the same time it is your story and we want you to tell it in your own way. From time to time weíll be asking different Commissioners to assist in the telling of those stories but nothing more than that. On this occasion I will be doing that on your behalf. And first Iím going to call Sylvia Mabija and I would like you to tell us perhaps something about the Mabija family and then tell us what happened on that day on the 7th of June in 1977 concerning your brother.
On the 7th of June the police came, there were two policemen and they got inside the house. So we were all sitting in the house in the lounge. So they came in with Phaki and Phaki was dry and looked terrible as a result of being beaten up by the police. So this police the lifted up the carpet and after that they went into the bedroom and they searched. I didnít see them coming out with anything and then after that they went outside with him at the gate. And then as they were going out by the gate they then turned back into the house again and they said him "gaan groet jou mense want jy sal nie vir hulle weer sien nie." So we were surprised and shocked about this statement but anyway we sat down and talked among ourselves. It was not long afterwards then I just took my cousin half way as she was leaving because she was with us and we just heard while we were on our way that Phakamile is dead. When I heard that it was a horrible thing to hear and it even became difficult for me to hear this and this was the most painful experience and I donít even know how I got home.
Thank you very much - take you back - could you switch that one off please, thank you very much. You have told us about the day when the police brought Phaki back to the house and the day he died. Can you tell the Commission about the day on which he was arrested or was detained by the police which happened a little earlier?
I think it was thirteen days because he was suppose to appear the 8th and they brought him the 7th because he was suppose to appear the 8th. The day he was arrested it was very early it was two oíclock or three oí clock Iím not sure about the time but they came to knock hard on the door and on the window. Phaki was sleeping in the front room with his brother Themba so when he woke up we opened the door and they said they were policemen they came in when they were inside they wanted Phaki and he showed himself. So they got inside the house and they looked around everywhere and they started searching the house. And they turned everything in the house upside down and they left the house like that. So they left with him.
Thank you very much, could you just tell me how long was it that he was detained before they brought him back to search the house.
I think it was thirteen days before, they brought him on the 7th instead of the 8th because it was that fourteen that the police just arrested you without telling you the reason why?
Thank you very much, did you see him during those 14 days in prison?
I saw him once but he didnít want to speak to us. When I came with my brothers in Transvaal Road and as he came out he was unable to talk and it seemed difficult for him to talk in front of the policemen who were with him because he felt intimidated and it became obvious to us that he felt threatened and intimidated by these policemen.
Thank you very much, can you tell me how old was he when he died?
Tell us just a little bit about him, what kind of man was he?
Phakamile was a very good child and he hated everything that was wrong. He was a person who was involved with the scouts and church activities and he was involved in everything. He was involved in everything, in all the church activities, at school, sports and he was a person who wanted the best and who was goal orientated and he committed himself in achieving his goals. He was a person who was a visionary who channelled all his energies to accomplish the best of things. He wanted success - he wanted the good things to succeed. He would say "I want a plan to succeed and when it succeeds it should benefit all". He always wanted his dreams to come true and be successful. Everything about him was so amazing because he was such a great person. And about the fact that he killed himself - that is not true - there is no such a thing like that.
Thank you very much, was Phaki working when he was arrested and if so, what work was he doing?
He was a teacher at Zingisa.
Thank you and just one last question before I ask someone else questions. Did he belong to any political party, was he involved in politics at all?
I donít remember but I think he was a youth (nomad?).
Thank you very much, Iím going to ask some questions of Shirley Mabija now, so if you could make sure the microphone is very close to you - pull it very close. Ja thereís lots of room - you are Shirley Mabija. Again a very warm word of welcome to you, I know itís not easy. Perhaps you would tell us what you remember about those times. Sorry could you put the light on.
I remember the 7th of July 1977 I was with the adults and the children at home and the two policemen Oscar Ntsiko and Du Plessis they came inside the house with Phaki. I donít remember the colour of their car and Phaki came and having the looks of being beaten up and he didnít have his spectacles on, and he didnít have his belt on his pants as well. And I didnít hear him saying anything because he was not clear in his speech. The got inside with him and they lifted up the carpet not knowing what he was looking for and they went in the bedroom with him. And then I came in and asked him and I said "Phaki, would you like a cup of tea?" And Oscar said to me "Wie het gesê ons soek tee?" at that time they went out with him and they turned ack at the gate and came back to the house and then they said to him "Groet jou mense want jy gaan nie vir hulle weer sien nie. After that they left with him and that was the last time I saw Phaki alive.
Thank you very much, did they find anything in the cupboard or in the room?
No, they found nothing.
When they said you must greet your family because you will never see them again, in what language was that said?
And can you remember - I know itís a long time ago so think carefully - can you remember who exactly said that?
It was Du Plessis but Iím not to sure but I think it was Du Plessis. And Oscar was also speaking. I donít know what Oscar said but I know that Du Plessis did say that. I was looking at Phakamile and because of doing so I didnít have much time to listen to what the policemen were saying because I became sick when I looked at Phakamileís face.
Of course I can well understand that. You mentioned Oscar, is that Oscar Ntsiko?
Thank you, when did you hear about Phakiís death?
I heard in the afternoon after my sisters came in as they told me they have met someone who told them. And this person said to them that Phaki died after he fell at Transvaal Road.
Thank you very much, what happened after that was there an inquiry or an inquest or [indistinct] Did you attend the inquest?
There was an inquest, we were taken I canít remember how many days after - it was on Monday or after the funeral I canít remember but we were taken myself and Sis Ntsiki, we were taken to Transvaal Road. We were interviewed there. I canít tell which floor was it which policemen was it - I canít remember at all because we just get in the building - you donít even know which floor you are going or where you are going, they are watching you whereever you go and they ask you that you must - dan praat - praat - praat dan moet jy net praat. Nou ek kan rerig nie verstaan nie, ek kon nie sê watter vloer was ek of wat nie.
Thank you very much, I asked your sister about your brother. Do you want to add anything at all about who - what sort of person he was and particular do you know if he was involved with any political party. Did he attend party meetings, was he working for someone?
Because I was a sick person Phaki said to me Sisi Iím in Christian, Iím not sure, Youth. We want to go to Pietermaritzburg before he got arrested and he said to me Sisi donít you want go with us so that we can have a rest so that your mind can reg? And I know him as a teacher he was an elder at the Catholic Church. He was a Scouts Commissioner. He was everything and he was a good boy. He was helping the orphan children within the family - our uncleís children - uncleís children who donít have uniform - he used to buy uniform and open up accounts for them and buy for everybody - he had a good heart. I donít know about politics, I really donít know Iíll be telling lies. I donít know if he was in politics I donít whether was it a PAC or an ANC I donít know a thing. I only know him as an ordinary child - a good child - who listened to his parents - an even though he was young I used to listen to what he was telling me - I took him as an adult although I was older than him.
Thank you - thank you very much, thatís very helpful. I just - can you remember if you think back now did the police ever say why they were taking your brother or what did they accuse him of because he was obviously never tried - he was detained like so many other people but did they ever say any thing about why?
They never told us why they arrested him. Even today I want to know why did they arrest him - what did he do - because I donít understand why did they arrest him? I really donít know and I want to know? Even today, its years and years but I donít understand why did they arrest him and I want to know why did they arrest him? I want to know the reason why? Because I can not wake him in the grave and ask him Phaki what did you do why were you arrested? Because I donít know him as a criminal - I know him as a child a good child who was listening to his parents - I donít know I canít even say -even when we were young at home - when we were young and if we donít want to go to school - and we were naughty, we sometimes werer naughty but Phaki was straight forward the rest of his life, he was well behaved. We used to get out of the way sometimes, Phaki was not like that even in the township nobody can say that Phaki did a bad thing - or if he stole something or beat somebodyís child or stab anyone - I donít know I also want to know why he was arrested?
Thank you very much and thank you for your help. Iím going to ask Henriëtta Manzana just a few questions now. Ms Manzana you are a witness, not a member of the family but a friend of the family and can you tell us I understand that you were actually working at the Transvaal Road Police Station where Phaki was being held. Tell us what happened and what you saw on that day.
I saw Phaki coming from upstairs - I first took food to him and Oscar said I must put it down and I had (indistinct) water he was shaking and said I must put it down he will eat when he comes back - when he comes back from (indistinct) when he came back I saw Phaki went through the window - they never brought him to me and they only brought him to me knowing that I am his grandmother - Maynard (indistinct) is my sisterís child at Empangeni - his motherís name is Mary-Jane Nomaramba - they never told me that my sisterís child has come back - we will kill him now - we just saw him flying from on top (indistinct) when I was sending tea to Maynard - kyk daar is my kind hy val af - I went down trying to save him so that he can fall on top of me - I couldnít save him. I went to him and once said "get off there" and said "I wonít get off you can shoot me if you want to" Oscar said on top you must die you dog Oscar Ntsiko said you must die you dog. He stays in (indistinct).
Thank you, thatís a very painful memory, I want to just ask a couple of question. Ms Manzana where were you when you saw Phaki coming - falling from the window? Where were you - inside the building, which floor were you? Were you outside, where were you?
I was on the third floor making tea. (indistinct)
And which floor was he when you saw him last?
Thank you, do you want to add anything at all?
I went to Major when I was on the ground and said Major the dog is mine the law is yours. Major asked where was he? I said he is on the ground and we went there with Major and he saw him there and he asked who did this and I said it is Oscar.
Thank you very much, I just want to give an opportunity now for the sisters too - if thereís anything that weíve left that youíd like to add before I hand back to the Chairperson.
The sad thing is this - that makes my mother hurt, my mother now Ö
Itís okay, take your time donít rush it. Perhaps a little water would might help? Sylvia thereís no hurry at all, just take your time, we can pause for a moment. I can ask perhaps one of the others if theyíd like to add anything - itís up to you.
Okay Sylvia while you just recovering a little bit Iím going to ask Ms Manzana just one last question. If you could make sure that sheís got the microphone, Iíll come back to you in a moment, Sylvia.
Ms Manzana can you hear me all right? Thank you very much, just you mentioned right towards the end that you had spoken to a Major. Can you remember the Majorís name?
I canít remember his name. He is tall - I canít remember his name.
Do you feel you can carry on now or - youíd like to try, okay.
Since this happened to Phaki my mother got sick - my mother canít do nothing - sheís just a parcel - sheís got a head sickness - Iím struggling with her because she canít sleep - she canít sleep during the day and at night - and I go everywhere day and night - everyday in my life - so I donít have good health - my father also died because of this - he had a heart attack - so I would like to see the perpetrators - what did they do - why did they kill Phaki? - Iím not in good health - I canít have good health - if there is any help that you can do for my mother - and to take her to the doctors so that she can be better than she is.
You have illustrated something which we have seen so many times. That the death of one person - the killing of one person brings so much sorrow and grieve not only to this loss of life but also to members of the family and you have obviously suffered very deeply as a family.
We have noted your comments about your mother and the psychiatric treatment and we will certainly do everything we possibly can under the circumstances.
Can I ask you a final question is there anything else you would like the Commission to do if the Commission was able to assist in any way?
I would like my mother to get treatment - maybe there will be something better because Iím not in good health - Iím also sick - at night when I sleep I must hold her in my arms - I sleep with her - I must make sure that she is not moving because she wakes up and wants to go out - so there is no good health at all.
Thank you very much, weíve also noted that you have asked us to try and find out any details surrounding the death of your brother and we have noted that as well. Iím going to hand back to the Chairperson in chase any of my fellow Commissioners may which to ask any questions.
Thank you very much, are there any further questions - Denzil Potgieter?
Thank you Chairperson - Ms Manzana I just want to clarify your evidence. Is it correct - do I understand it correctly that you heard at one stage after Phaki fell - the deceased fell you heard Oscar the policeman saying something?
Yes - when I was on the ground floor where Phaki died - Oscar was looking at Phaki and said you must die you dog.
Sorry, before you saw the body dropping passed the window, did you hear anything in the building?
I didnít hear anything he just came from the top floor - I didnít hear him crying - I didnít see him doing anything - I just dropped the tea and went down to the ground - trying to hold Phaki - but I couldnít save him because he was already on the ground and he was lying facing down. When I went to him - Mtshisana said hey - and I said thatís my childís son you can shoot me if you want to.
Thank you, yes.
Thank you Chairperson, perhaps Shirley could assist with this. How long was it after the police brought Phaki home that you heard that he had died?
It was about an hour - if Iím not telling lies - even an hour is too long - and we heard that he has died.
We thank you. We donít know sometimes what to do because we repeating the same thing - with things that are happening - we say weíve got the freedom now but is the freedom that came by sacrifice of many people - that came by broken hearts that were experienced by many people - we thank you for giving yourselves just like Phaki because it was a long time hearing this story of his in our church. We will try out best to investigate this to get the truth of it so that you the family can also forgive and you must know that he was arrested for this when he died he died like this we say that God must strengthen you knowing that this actions were not in vain. Thank you.
STATEMENT - COMPLAINANT SYLVIA NONTSIKELELO MABIJA
On 27th June 1977 the police arrived at my home to search. There were lots of them who came with SAP cars. They told us that they were looking for Phakamile [Phaki]. At the time Phaki was asleep on the couch with his younger brother. The police then left with him. My other brothers had tried to visit him at the police cells at the Transvaal Road Police Station but in vain. After some days, the 13th day of his arrest, two policemen came with Phakamile to our house.
It was about 14:00 when two of the policemen came home with him. The two policemen were Oscar Ntsiko [deceased] and Van Wyk. We could see that Phaki was in pain as he did not even want to speak to us. The police led him to a carpet in the front room where they lifted it but there was nothing there. He was later led out into the yard. We tried to speak to him but he did not answer.
When they were about to leave the gate Van Wyk told Phaki to greet his people as he would not be able to see us again. Van Wyk came in with him but he did not say a word. They then left.
After about 45 minutes we heard that Phaki had committed suicide. This was unlike him as he had a strong character and he was also the community builder. As a result of this incident his father had suffered from a heart attack which had resulted in his death in 1983. His mother had been affected by her sonís death to such an extend that she is an invalid. An inquest was held but nothing come out of it.
STATEMENT COMPLAINANT - SHIRLEY MABIJA
On 7th July 1977 I was sitting with the family at 3048 Miti Street at plus-minus 12:30 when two or three policemen arrived with Phakamile Mabija, my brother. He did not have his specs on or his belt. His lips looked very dry. The policemen would not let me speak to him. He said that he did not know what they wanted from him.
The black policeman - Oscar Ntsiko and the other policeman took him outside to the gate and then brought him back. They told him - groet jou familie, jy gaan hulle nie weer sien nie. They then took him away.
At 3:00pm on that same day we heard from others - [neighbours] that he had fallen out of a 6th floor window at Transvaal Road police station.
A white and black policeman came to tell us that he had died. Sergeant Mkhosi was the black policeman. I donít know who the white one was.
My brothers have more details - Themba and Abraham Mabija. The incident was reported to the Transvaal Road police station.
STATEMENT - COMPLAINANT MARY-JANE THEMBILE MABIJA
I was Phakamile Mabijaís cousin. Some time before his death on 7th July 1977 the police were looking for him because they suspected that he was politically active. In June 1977 they arrested him for stone throwing at the Recreation Centre in Thulana Street, Galeshewe. He was with other members of various youth organisations.
During his detention at Transvaal Road police station he was taken to various friendís homes. The police were looking for documents. They went to the home of Juliana Shirping - a colleague of mine and Phakamileís.
Juliana sent for me and asked me to bring some boys to her house. She wanted them to move a wardrobe out of the way and take Phakamileís documents out. After a while she sent these documents to me. There were documents/information about police organisations. I got scared and took them to his parents home. We then realised that Phakamile was politically active.
On 7th July 1977 I heard that Phakamile was dead. My cousins can tell you more. See CT/00635 and CT/00135.
Phakamile Mabija was detained on 27th June 1977 after an incident when buses were stoned by commuters during a bus boycott in Kimberley.
He died in detention on 7th July 1977. The finding of the inquest wat that he died of multiple injuries following a jump from the 6th floor window at Transvaal Road police station in Kimberley. He allegedly broke loose from the police escort from the toilet and plunged to his death.
WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS OF THE TRC?
Find who killed our brother and get an explanation for killing him.
Phakamile Mabija lived in Vergenoeg, 1038 Mintzi Street. He was the church warden of the Galeshewe parish of St James, and a full-time youth worker for the Anglican church. Politically he was a affiliated to the ANC.
DEATH IN DETENTION:
Phakamile Mabija was detained on 27th June 1977 after an incident, when busses were stoned by African and Coloured commuters during a bus boycott in Kimberley. Phakamile was due to appear in court on 8th July 1977 under charges - under the Riotís Assemblies Act.
Phakamile died in detention on 7th July 1977, the day before his scheduled court hearing. He plunged from the 6th floor of Transvaal Road police station in Kimberley.
An inquest into the death was held in August until September 1977. The verdict was that Mabija died of multiple injuries following a jump from the 6th floor window. Nobody was found responsible for the death. The Magistrate was JH Booysen, his assessor was Professor JA Oliver.
WITNESSES AT THE INQUEST:
According to the Police the detainee committed suicide. Colonel JD du Plessis, then Chief of the Kimberley Security Police, explained at the inquest that normally all windows are locked. On that particular day he and a Mr Van der Merwe had opened a window in Van der Merweís office to allow fresh air in. Sergeant Oscar Ntsiko explained that he escorted the detainee from the toilet, when Mabija suddenly broke loose and ran into Van der Merweís office. He rushed after him, only to see the detainee crash through the window. Du Plessis and Van der Merwe were in the office at the time. The Head of the Security Police in the Northern Cape read from an alleged ANC pamphlet that urged detainees to commit suicide. Lieutenant CHE van Wyk told the Court that he had instructed Sergeant Ntsiko and Constable MG Matsheka to take Mr Mabija home to fetch a document.
The deceasedís mother Dora Mabija told the inquest court that during his detention her son was taken back home to look for a document. When this was not found a white detective had said to her son, say goodbye to your family, you will not see them again, Colonel Du Plessis disputed this statement.
The district surgeon Dr TC Robertson identified a fractured skull as a cause of death. In addition the independent pathologist, Dr BA Mahler, said Mabija had cuts on his face, hands and liver. The cuts on his hands could have been caused by clutching glass. Lacerations of the liver could have been caused by assault.
Mabija family: Jack Unterhalter, SC instructed by
Commissioner of Police: CF van der Heever, instructed by
Deputy State Attorney.
OTHER POSSIBLE CONTACTS
The very reverend Tom Stanage, vicar-general of the diocese of Kimberley and Kuruman.
Canon RA Kraft, director of Education of the Anglican Church.
Many allegations of torture involve Transvaal Road police station. Accused and witnesses of the Kimberley Terrorism Trial 1982-83 were mainly held at this police station. They reported several incidents of torture to the Court. Cases involving the alleged tortures of Phaki are as follows:
Mr Luthando Charlie [from Vergenoeg]] was collected by Captain C van Wyk, Sergeant Du Plessis, and a Van der Merwe and later assaulted. Captain Van Wyk threatened to re-arrest him if he revealed anything that happened to him.