TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
SUBMISSIONS - QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
DATE: 26-03-1997 NAME: RODNEY G. KESWA
CHAIRMAN: Rodney Goba Keswa, please come forward. We welcome you General Keswa, thank you for coming to the Commission to give evidence. We will hand over to Reverend Xundu to swear you in.
RODNEY GOBA KESWA:(sworn states)
REVD XUNDU: Properly sworn in Mr Chairperson.
CHAIRPERSON: ... that the statement of Brigadier Keswa was read, sorry by General Keswa was read by our staff to include no perpetrator, but closely to look at it now, there is an indication that there may be mention of perpetrators. We have agreed with General Keswa that in his testimony, he will not mention the names of perpetrators, they will be on record, because they have not been informed, according to Section 13 of the Act.
By agreement between him and ourselves, he is going to go ahead and make his testimony. I wish to place that on record of our proceedings. Thank you Ntsiki Sandi.
ADV SANDI: Thank you. General Keswa, I am going to ask you questions so that we can - when I look at your complaint in 1981 you were arrested and detained by the Security Police in Transkei, after allegations have been made about you. What were you doing at the time, General?
MR KESWA: I was the leader of the Transkei Defence Force.
ADV SANDI: I will hand over to you so that you can tell us what happened.
MR KESWA: Yes. I have written, I have a submission, I don't know whether I can read it as is?
ADV SANDI: You can read it General.
MR KESWA: I am a retired Civil Servant residing at Ibotha Farm, Umzimkulu District. On the 27th of May, 1981, during my tour of duty as Commander of the Transkei Defence Force, I was arrested and detained in terms of Transkei Security Laws.
I was subjected to the most sadistic and dehumanising treatment imaginable. My arrest was reported on the front page of the Sunday Times of 31 May, 1981. As I will for the first time today give the background to my arrest and torture in detention, it will become clear how nefarious the role which was played by some newspapers in their disinformation campaign to justify the violation of human rights, in the South Africa of the past.
Some of the things written about me in that front page report of the Sunday Times, are distortions of the truth apparently aimed at justifying to the general public, my arrest and detention.
I pray that this Commission will find time also to look into the reporting of the newspapers, such as the Sunday Times, during the apartheid years.
After my arrest, I was detained in the police cells in Inqobo. The cell in which I was locked up, had no lights and had a dreadful stench which at times made me sick.
ADV SANDI: General, please pardon me - do you have a copy of this article that you are referring to?
MR KESWA: I do, I do have a copy.
ADV SANDI: Can you please furnish us with a copy? Do you have a copy for yourself?
MR KESWA: I need a copy please. I don't have one on my file, I need a copy of that, if you could make a copy for yourselves, please.
ADV SANDI: Will you be referring to this article as you are giving your talk?
MR KESWA: Yes.
ADV SANDI: You will be referring to this article?
MR KESWA: Yes.
ADV SANDI: We will just go through it very quickly and give it back to you, so that when you have to refer to it, you will be able to do so, thank you.
MR KESWA: Thank you. The afternoon of the 27th May, 1981, marked in most parts of Transkei the beginning of an unseasonal snow storm which was accompanied by gusts of wind and torrential rain. Snow fell on hills and mountains, where for years it had not fallen before.
It was bitterly cold at Inqobo. As I groped around in my dark cell, looking for the prison mat and blankets, I felt an icy gust of wind which I thought came in through an open window.
As I tried to find the window, I discovered the window with no glass. As the snow storm intensified, it blew into my cell through this window, sprays of rain and ice. I tried to shield myself from the rain the wind and the snow, by squatting directly below the glassless window, but the gusts of wind which came in through the window, hit the opposite wall and spiralled inside the cell in a whirlwind which blew up choking dust as it also crept up inside my trousers.
Slowly but surely first my toes froze, then my ankles. As the numbness crept up my legs, I spent the night rubbing
vigorously with my hands, my hands or jogging around and around inside my cell in an effort to wipe off the cold.
When the cocks crowed for the first time, I was so cold my legs so wobbly, that it was difficult for me to move around my cell. When the birds began to chirp and sing, I was still making attempts to prevent my body from freezing.
When dawn eventually broke, I had the first opportunity of looking around my cell. What I saw still haunts me to this day. The wall on the one side of my cell was smeared with faeces, the spot where the night soil bucket stood, was a pool of urine.
The metal night soil bucket was old and rusty, it obviously had never been cleaned in years. The blankets were old, threat bare, smelly, dusty, coarse with tell tale signs of perverse sexual acts. I tried walking towards the door, but I staggered about sick to the bottom of my gut.
I crest to the floor and hit my back against the iron grill door. I wanted to scream or shout, but I could not because my voice was hoarse.
As I pulled myself up from the floor by holding onto the iron bars of the iron grill door, I remembered stories I heard when I served in the South African Prison Services about tactics of killing someone without laying a finger on them.
This was it, I concluded. This was such a tactic to kill me. I resolved there and then that I would not die that way. Whoever wanted me dead, would have to kill me physically. With a peculiar and to me familiar clang and rattle of prison keys, the door of my cell swung open. All I saw was a hand, shovelling into my cell a dish of prison mealie porridge for breakfast. I almost dived for the dish,
not to eat the porridge, but to use it to warm my legs.
The porridge was ice cold. Later that morning I was led out of my cell to the offices of the Security Police. I was staggering all over the place because my legs were numb. The Security Police Officer who had come to see me, gave me some paper and pen and ordered me to write down the so called charges against me as he dictated them.
My fingers could not hold the pen, the were stiff with cold. The police officer asked me to warm my hands at his paraffin heater. As I did so, my hands hurt like hell. Eventually I wrote down the charges as dictated to me.
There were about 20 and they ranged from accusing me of being a terrorist, a communist, a traitor of being against the institution of Chieftainship in Transkei, of having travelled overseas meeting Russian Generals and other such ridiculous nonsense.
The Security Police Officer advised that I respond in writing to each allegation and that - for good measure gave me some more paper to write my "confession" and to plead for forgiveness so that I could be released soon from detention.
I was returned to my cell. Later the same day I was moved to the police cells in Tsolo. At Tsolo I was locked up in a cell behind which was the station's diesel electric generator. Every day after sunset, the diesel generator was started up and its noise made sleeping very difficult for me.
This was obviously another attempt to disorientate me by denying me sleep and perhaps cause me to confess and "I could be released from detention."
The blankets I was given at Tsolo were infested with lice of all sizes, big ones, small ones. I reported this to
my guards and requested to be allowed to purchase insecticide from my own pocket to kill the lice. I was laughed at.
I was denied ablution facilities for two months. For two months I couldn't even wash my face, let alone have a bath. I was given "food" worth 45 cents a day, that is I was allowed 15 cents worth of food each of the three meals per day.
In contravention of Transkei's own Security Laws, I was kept locked up 24 hours per day, I was denied the prescribed half hour's exercise in the open, before and after midday each day, as required by Transkei's own legislation at the time. As was to be visited at least once a month by a Magistrate and or a senior police officer, to ascertain my wellbeing in detention, this was not done.
After two months, my endurance crumbled. The cold cement floor, the lack of exercise in the open, the loneliness, the brutality of it all took its toll. I had suffered from haemorrhoids before my detention. In detention the piles got worse and started to bleed.
At one stage I passed out and came to in Dr Mbekweni's consulting rooms. I don't know how I got there, but after the doctor had treated me, I was returned to my cell. One night during July 1981 I noticed that all the doors of my cell were not locked.
The wind was blowing rather strongly and the doors were banging on their frames as they swayed on their hinges. I got up and tested the doors, indeed, they were not locked. Immediately I recognised the trap for what it was - an attempt to lure me out of my cell and ambush me as I walked out.
I would then have been shot "while trying to escape from custody", and that would have been the end of my life.
I stayed in my cell till the following morning and told my guards about the clumsy attempt to lure me to my death. After I had been interrogated several times by the Security Police, it became obvious that the so-called terrorist, communist charges against me, would not stick. A fresh set of criminal charges ranging from theft of use of a Government vehicle, mark not theft of a Government vehicle, theft of use of a Government vehicle to fraud, were trumped up against me.
These also failed and eventually I was acquitted by the Supreme Court in Umtata. To understand and see it in its proper prospective, this sordid and manifestly evil campaign, I would like to give the Commission a background of a series of incidents which culminated in my eventual detention.
Incidents which earned me the attention of the Security Police in both South Africa and Transkei, the first incident I want to refer to: some time after the Sharpville massacre, the leader of the PAC was imprisoned in the then Potgieter Street Prison in Pretoria, where I worked as a young prison warder. Because meals given to Black prisoners were the most inferior in South African prisons, it was mostly mealie pap or incubi, boiled mealies, we - I and together with other youngsters at the time, worked out a scheme of swapping Sobokwe's midday meal of boiled mealies for mealie rice which was a ration given only to Coloureds and Indians.
This swapping of meals was discovered, unfortunately for us by White warders and reported to the authorities.
Secondly, when the ANC leadership was rounded up
through out South Africa and sent to Pretoria for detention, Chief Lethuli, then President of the ANC, was on his admission to prison assaulted by a White prison warder - one Gouws, whom the Transvaal Attorney General refused to prosecute for the assault.
This refusal did not go down well with particularly the Zulu speaking prison warders, who were in the majority of Black personnel at the prisons' barracks where we stayed.
We the youngsters in this group, tried to persuade those of the Zulu personnel who had witnessed the assault to go to the police and make sworn statements.
These attempts leaked out and as I was among the group that was branded agitators.
Thirdly, whenever opportunity presented itself at that Pretoria Prison, we smuggled coal from where it was stored inside the prison, to a small kitchen in the section of the prison where ANC detainees including our present State President, were kept.
This enabled the detainees to prepare their food brought to them from outside the prison. Again, our smuggling activities were discovered.
Fourthly in the 60's, I registered with the University of South Africa for the Bachelor of Arts Degree. I was then the first Black member in the history of the South African Prison Service to do so. One of my majors was a discipline called Native Administration.
Among the recommended works for study were books such as The Reverend Nabaningi Sithole's book, African Nationalism and Chief A.J. Lethuli's book Let My People Go.
This field of study earned me the wroth of the South African Security Police. My residence was raided and
searched on numerous occasions.
Fifth, just before the Transkei State was created, I was transferred from South Africa to Transkei. After my arrival in Umtata, I was approached by the then Head of BOSS. BOSS, was the Bureau of State Security in Transkei, a certain Mr Brown, who tried to recruit me to join BOSS with a promise that eventually I would be its head in Transkei.
I refused the offer and I am positive BOSS did not take kindly to my refusal. In March 1978 I was transferred from the Transkei Prison Service to the Transkei Defence Force as its Commander. Within a matter of two or so months of my assumption of command of the TDF, the Transkei Government broke diplomatic relations with South Africa.
This left the Transkei Defence Force in a quandary. We could not train our soldiers in South Africa, neither could be obtain military stores, we had to look elsewhere for training and ordnance, ordnance being military stores. I had to design and launch a strategic plan to seek help from the international community.
I labelled this strategy plan code "Operation Lullaby". Now each letter in that Lullaby stands for a specific purpose, which I will gladly explain if you so request. Operation Lullaby was amazingly successful.
I want to pause here and say what I am going to say next might just have international repercussions, is the first the very first time I disclose it. Transkei soldiers were trained by the United Nations Organisation.
They are living examples, I sent them to the United Nations on Transkei passports and the attended courses there and they came back with certificates bearing the United
Nations Code of Arms.
I was able to send for training in other countries my officers and men and I was also able to purchase in a variety of countries overseas, military stores. This success did not endear me to the Security Police in South Africa and Transkei and neither did it win me friends in the Transkei Public Service.
Seventh, after the break in diplomatic relations between South Africa and Transkei, both NATO through the United States of America and the Warshaw Pact Countries through Poland, showed an interest in Transkei's coast line.
The Poles sought the TDF's assistance to obtain permission from the Transkeian authorities to operate a ship along Transkei's coast, "to study fish shoals". We assisted the Poles and the permission was granted.
The Americans were keen on recommissioning a Second World War landing strip at Msikaba - they spoke to me about this and before we could ... (tape ends) ... over sensitive areas in South Africa, with cameras fixed on its belly, the persons concerned were declared non grata in South Africa, and were repatriated to the USA.
This was the end of the American interest in Transkei's coast line. Again these operations were picked up by the Security Police and they did not endear me to the Security establishments in South Africa and Transkei.
Early in 1980 Intelligence reports warned me of my impending detention because when the Transkei Defence Force was established in 1975, sons of Chiefs in the first intake of recruits to form the nucleus of the Transkei Defence Force, were promised that only them would in future command the Transkei Defence Force. Surely as things turned out
after my detention and removal from the Transkei Defence Force, only the princes in Transkei and in the Defence Force have succeeded one another as Commander of the TDF.
Finally, when I was detained, the Black officer who had succeeded as the Head of BOSS had become Commissioner of Transkei Police and Head of the Transkei Security Police when I was detained.
After my acquittal by the Supreme court in Umtata, I instructed a firm of attorneys to suit the Transkei Government for the blatantly illegal things it did to me while I was in detention.
In stead the Transkei Government passed legislation to indemnify itself from such action. I could not do anything more. It is my submission Chairperson, and your Honourable members, that jointly of severally the nine incidents I have mentioned, amongst numerous others, convinced the powers that were in Transkei that I deserved this most abominable and vicious sadism that I was made to endure.
I believed in 1976 and still believe today, that the politics of the proponents of separate development did not reduce the people of Transkei to sub-humans or lesser people, we deserved a place in the sun that shines over all the peoples of the earth. Operation Lullaby proved this point of view if proof were needed.
But because of my dedication to the service of my people, because of my unswerving loyalty to them, I now know the pain, the grief, the anguish and the agony of such loyalty.
I also request this Commission to assist me recover those things the Security Police seized from me when I was detained. I had newspaper cuttings which I pasted on empty
file covers, particularly newspapers of cuttings of members of the old South African Police pointing their revolvers at gym dressed school children, the police were pointing revolvers at school children who were wearing gym dresses during the 1976 Soweto riots. I also had a newspaper cutting showing Hechter Petersen being carried away after he had been shot by the police.
I also had a collection of flags I had collected during my tours overseas which I had provided with a nice stand. I used to hoist this in my office and these were also taken.
I would like them returned to me please.
And that this Commission must investigate who the person was who ordered my detention. That person must appear before it to explain why I was detained and treated in this sub-human manner.
I feel very bitter about what was done to me and the experience still haunts me to this day. I thank you.
ADV SANDI: Thank you General. I thought you were going to explain about the Lullaby to us. Maybe you've missed that point.
MR KESWA: The first "L", sir stands for let. "U", stands for us. The second "L", stand for listen, the second "L" stands for learn. "A" stands for ask, the last "BY" stands for buy. In other words sir, as we were people who had no way to be educated we decided to go out to other countries so that we can learn and ask and listen. Ask and listen.
After that we would buy whatever we wanted to buy. We did so, we bought things in these countries, we learnt new things in these countries, we learnt by asking and by listening, thank you.
ADV SANDI: Thank you General. Maybe my colleagues are
going to ask you questions, but for now I will hand over to the Chairperson.
CHAIRPERSON: Reverend Xundu?
REVD XUNDU: Thank you Mr Chairperson. Except for the allegations you've mentioned, and that you mentioned that you were helping Lethuli and others, in your tours are there any people you suspect maybe they told the Government that you are trying to overthrow it?
MR KESWA: Honourable sir, what surprised me is that when the police, the Security Police arrived in Inqobo, telling me to write down the allegations, these allegations were connected with the trips I had overseas.
Sometimes I wouldn't even tell my wife when I was taking these trips, even my assistant wouldn't know because we knew that we were from Transkei and we were not welcome in other countries, due to political reasons.
But I thought that there were people amongst the Defence Force who took the things that I did and they accused me of trying to overthrow the Transkei Government, that is why I ask or request the Commission to bring forward the person who gave orders for me to be detained.
CHAIRMAN: General, ... which by your own admission is coming to light for the first time, I am not aware of ever hearing it or reading about it anywhere and indeed it is a surprising revelation. What I want to know is the statement relates of course to the training of Transkei soldiers by the United Nations Organisation. I would like to ask two questions.
The UN is known to have played a major role in galvanising the countries of the world against apartheid and especially against the creation of (indistinct), I find
it very difficult to understand exactly what logic the UN used to actually train soldiers for the Transkei. We are running after revelations of the truth and it will be very interesting just to hear the year in which this happened and how the UN was persuaded to take this position.
MR KESWA: Honourable Chairperson, I hope one day God will spare me to write a book about this incidents. I don't want to pretend it wasn't, it was easy, it wasn't a piece of cake.
I will just say it took old fashioned strategy planning. The boys I sent, let me disclose, to Geneva in Switzerland to train, trained with other boys and other youngsters from all the parts of the world. I believed through my studies and through my general interest in international affairs that the United Nations must champion the cause of the underdog.
I took politics out of it and talked to people as human beings and it worked. Thank God it worked. Those boys are still alive, they have their certificates. They are the only ones in South Africa with United Nations certificates, and for good measure, I sent them to Switzerland on Transkei passports. I did it.
CHAIRMAN: Mr Sandi. Thank you for that answer, General. Mr Sandi?
ADV SANDI: Thank you Mr Chairman. General, earlier on when you started, you made a reference to this Sunday Times newspaper cutting and apparently you were going to bring our attention to certain parts of it, would you like to do it now?
MR KESWA: Yes. Yes, please. There is a paragraph there which says I travelled extensively overseas, studying penal
systems. If you look at that article, that is a blatant distortion of the truth. I travelled extensively overseas studying, military systems. I was not wanting to learn about prisons, I had already stopped working for prisons, I don't know what I was going to do about that.
... to discredit my achievements and there is another allegation that I wrote a book Outlawed Communities, I never wrote a book. That was a manuscript I wrote whilst I was still in the Prison Service, studying as a student of the University of South Africa. I was interested in prison gang warfare and I got permission from the South African Prison's authorities to conduct that research and I published a manuscript which incidentally was serialised by the Sunday Times, but I never wrote a book.
And there is also an allegation there that I was arrested because of ANC activities which were banned in South Africa and in Transkei. The fact of the matter was that I was branded a communist, I was branded a traitor, I was branded someone who hated Chiefs and Chieftainship.
I assumed because there is an alliance between the ANC and the South African Communist Party. Anyone who is a communist, therefor is anti-ANC or things like that. But those allegations, they are distortions.
ADV SANDI: Are you able to remember some of the countries you visited whilst you were abroad?
MR KESWA: Yes. I went to Belgium, I went to Turkey, I went to Switzerland several times, I went to Austria, I went to the UK, Italy, Israel, I spent some time there. I went to Kenya, I went to Zimbabwe. Those are the ones that come to mind.
ADV SANDI: I suppose in all these countries you would
meet people from the army or Heads or state. How far would you be from those people, people who were the politicians of the countries concerned?
MR KESWA: Not directly. I would go to a country and seek intermediaries, a connection, to try and establish a link with the military of that country. I didn't go directly, for instance to Austria and went to the Commander of the Austrian Defence Force, I couldn't do that, because of the politics.
Every time I had to try and get the politics out of it and meet the people behind the politics.
ADV SANDI: Thank you General.
CHAIRMAN: General, thank you very much. We can have you for the whole day and get quite a lot, but we don't have the time to do that today.
We thank you for sharing with us a very profound submission to the Commission. Apart from the unique revelations that you have shared with the Commission today, you have confirmed a number of things which many other people had been saying to us.
The question of newspapers and how they were reporting events, we are - you will be interested to know that we will be having a hearing which will be focusing on the media and what the media's role was in this period that we are investigating.
Because they like to pose now as custodians of our democracy but you are sharing with us some very concrete events of misinformation.
You have shared with us conditions in prison and your particular quotation of a tactic of killing someone without laying your hands on him - a number of people will confirm
what you have shared with us.
You have shared with us something which I think is unique, how the regime violated its own laws in the process of its repression so that they would create conditions of how people should be treated in prison and continued to violate it, have it in the statute but not implement it, go against it.
And of course how the regime attempted to co-opt you to the bureau of State Security. These are very interesting revelations which you have shared with us, apart from many others that of course we are hearing for the first time.
We wish to thank you very much for this testimony and we convey to you our sincere sympathy on the fact that on your way to here, you had an accident just as the gate here. We went to see your car just now and we saw how badly it is smashed. We hope that you will be able to get it fixed and we are very sorry.
Thank you General, and you can stand down.
MR KESWA: Thank you, sir.