TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION 

UWC HEARING - DAY 3 - WEDNESDAY 7 AUGUST 1996

 

CASE NO: CT/00792

VICTIM: SHIRLEY GUNN

NATURE OF VIOLENCE: TORTURE AND DETENTION BY POLICE

TESTIMONY FROM: SHIRLEY GUNN

 

CHAIRPERSON: Please stand, I am told that you want to do an affirmation, certainly do that.

SHIRLEY GUNN Affirms to speak the truth

CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, you may be seated.Mary Burton will facilitate your testimony and I am going to hand over to her now.

MS BURTON: Thank you Denzil, I am trying to get as close to this as possible so that people can hear and if you would do the same thing please.Welcome and thank you very much for coming today to testify at this public hearing.When we decide how to ask people to come to these public hearings, we try to make sure that there is a balance in many ways.And one of the ways is to ask people who have been well known figures in the community and also people who's stories were not so well known and we are fortunate in having here today woman who have played strong leadership roles in the community and are well known as well as others who's stories may have been noticed at the time, but have slipped away.So we are very grateful to all of the people who have come here to testify but thank you very much for coming because you really have been a role model in - over many years and it's important that people should hear from you in your own words of the experience that you had wrongly defamed as a saboteur and detained for a long period with your very young child.So please tell us in your own words and at your own time, the story you've come to tell us. --- There are two Human Rights violations that I have chosen to focus on, there could be many more, but I have decided to focus on those two only.The first is being accused for Khotso House, the explosion there and the second is the torture that my son and I enjoyed in 1990.The first part is difficult because it's become - my story is[indistinct] in a kind of a legal framework and when one speaks about one's experience and the Law they don't easily mesh.And so I am going to try and tell you in my own words, forgive the improper way to any legal fraternity around here.But I will tell my story in my way.In - on the 31st of August 1988 we read with shock and horror about an explosion that took place in Johannesburg.The pictures in the paper were completely horrifying and shocking and 21 people were injured.And at the time nobody owned up for doing that.And I was in Cape Town at the time, I was a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe, and on the 10th of January the following year 1989, I happened to have been eight months pregnant at the time, I learned at four o'clock over the radio that a Major Jaap Joubert reading out a statement in Pretoria, accusing me of Khotso House.Well there was absolutely nothing I could do, it was a horrifying experience since I was in the underground and what in fact - what had happened right then as he blamed me and he was reading this statement on behalf of Mr Adriaan Vlok, that - that they would kill me when they saw me.It was from that minute I was on death row.Conditions in the underground were very-very hard, and we observed the strictest of security and were extremely disciplined but this was one massive blow.And I could obviously - I had to carry on and it was in 1990 after the unbanning of the ANC at a point in my life where I as a woman, really needed to be with other woman and I really needed to be with my mother too, specifically.And - and my sister and a whole - we had organized a way of getting together and we were going to the Karoo and I was - this - all -this didn't work out because I was informed upon.And the Security police captured me at this venue in the Karoo in Victoria West.And there I was with my infant, who was 16 months old at the time, the wanted terrorist they had, they now had me.Of course I mean my conscience was clear, I was a committed member of Umkhonto we Sizwe and we - it was not policy to go to bomb a place like Khotso House.And I personally was horrified that I was accused of that atrocity.But there I was, I was in their hands.I knew of my innocence in this matter but it was a blunder that they had me and that they had me alive.Their boots, the boots of their vehicles and there were numerous vehicles there at the time, in this remote rural area, were filled with huge big metal cache's full of military wear, they were intend on - on killing me, but they didn't have me dead, they had me alive.And since I had raised my infant in the underground, under these very-very-very hard conditions there was absolutely no question about the fact that he was going to come to me because - with me because I was the only person that he really knew.That fear that I lived with, and still live with in a sense, it's - you can't describe it, I was put into these vehicles, there was hardly enough space, I don't know how they organized it, because the boots were full, but I was packed up, and we were taken on a hell raising trip back to Cape Town, thrown around, around the bends, I ended up in - for the night in Table View, then taken to Culemborg, booked in under Section 29, taken to Wynberg police cells and that is where we were staying - we stayed for a while.We stayed in that cell in Wynberg until a certain - until my son had returned to me but I'll go into that in the Human Rights violation.I - as a result of my arrest, nobody fell, nobody was arrested, I managed to keep my cool, I was petrified because I was in a situation where I was number one bomber in the country and it was a huge blunder on their part.And I - from minute to minute didn't know what they were going to do with me and my son, they had us, and they could do whatever they liked.Finally I was released and there were some very-very minor charge that was pinned on me, a very insubstantial charge of a Makoroff pistol that they said was mine.And I tried to keep my head above water and I am still trying to keep my head above water.They at that time, you know there was absolutely nothing I could do because clearly it was the right that had been responsible for that atrocity and not us in the library forces.Precisely who, I didn't know, and I only knew in December of - or November of 1994 when two Security policeman made a confession and submitted that to the Goldstone Commission, their names were Broodt and the other one was Willem and they in protective custody somewhere.Where they said that they had been responsible, and that Mr Adriaan Vlok had personally congratulated the forces for their tremendous success in creating havoc and(indistinct)and for that particular bomb.And at that point I thought you not going to get away with this.And I laid a criminal charges against Mr Vlok, both individually and severally which means that in his individual capacity as I sued him - I am suing him, for R500-thousand and because he happened to have been the Minister of Law and Order at the time, I sued the Minister - the ministry as well for the same amount.The claim has different elements to it, but there is legal fees and there is damages and there is reputation, there is lots of things that is built into that, the detail is not important here.That - this has taken a legal course and to date they have offered a settlement which I will tell you about, but they are trying to say that the case is prescribed, the case is prescribed because I didn't come forward after a three period to say I didn't do it and so and so did it.Well I didn't have that information and unknowing that information, I acted promptly.And so I maintain that my three years of prescription started from the time that Broodt and Willem made their confession to the Goldstone Commission and not when Mr Kotze - Mr Vlok blamed me on the 10th of January 1989.What concerns me is that this is a matter that is of public interest, that it's a criminal act and must be dealt with correctly.That by hiding behind a technicality prescription we are defending the culprits of the past, not we, but the new ministry which happens to be the Minister of Safety and Security and Mr Vlok is now represented by the State Attorney.They hiding behind their technicalities and it is wrong and justice must be done.Now that's the one matter.Implications of that are tremendous and you might want to ask some questions, I might add more detail.But I want to focus now on - on the form of torture that they used against me in 1990 when I was captive. After - after a few days of interrogation and I knew these men were up to no good, they had -they were asking me about details of my life.Which had been public knowledge and I could add not more than they knew, they had me, they wanted me, they had me, but I still had to tell who I was.It was most bizarre, they started saying to me that I am a very terrible person, that I can put my son through this episode.That I had chosen to give my life for the liberation of our country.That I am subjecting my child to these conditions in a prison and to grueling interrogation sessions.And that if I had any heart, I would him over to my family or I would hand him over to them and they would - they would put him in a place of safety.Of course I couldn't begin to - to entertain this thought, it was too painful to begin to consider, I knew - I know the contents of the Child Care Act, because I am a social worker, by training, I specialized in community social work.I've also worked in a children's home in an institution which catered for 75 children in need of care, I know as a house parent exactly how much time and loving and giving you can give to a group of 16 in that case it was I had 16 children that in care of.And there is no - there is no way that the quality of love and care that I could give my son, despite the appalling conditions.It was going to be better then what they had to offer.And my son, because of the way we had to sacrifice, he didn't know people beyond myself that he could trust, and he was breast fed.Most of his sustiments came from breast feeding.it was something I just couldn't entertain.And then on the 3rd of July - 5th of July, two social workers arrived at Culemborg where I was interrogated every day, the one social workers name was Ms Robertson and I don't know what the other's name was.And they said that they were coming to removed my child.And I tried to argue with these people, I tried to find out what the morality of it is, what - to what their conscience, what their conscience felt, how they could do this you know.My child I put him on the table I showed him that despite these disgusting conditions in which we were being held at Wynberg police station, and here in Culemborg, which was concrete and not a kind of place for a toddler that he was in perfectly good hands and in good condition and they had no right to remove my child.And I tried to reason with them, I tried to argue with them, I asked them where they graduated, I asked them bits and pieces about themselves, I tried to get into their heads, I said they could take a stand if they felt that what they had been ordered to do was wrong and they said it's no good my talking, but they have a warrant for my - for the arrest of my 16 month old baby and they were going to take him away.I was mad, I was absolutely mad and Haroon at this stage could detect my distress and he started crying, and they took him away from me and I followed them to the grid at the entrance of Culemborg and they forced me in and they took him out and Haroon was screaming, he was screaming for me, his arms were stretched towards me and - and he was shouting for me.I was utterly hopeless there was nothing I could do at all, but I turned around when I heard - I turned around and I went straight back into that room where I was always interrogated and I went to the window where I was never allowed to go, you not allowed to have a glimpse of blue sky.And I decided that I was going to go on a hunger strike, that was all I could possibly do to try and get my child back to me.And I declared within a few minutes that, that is what I intended doing, that I was not going to eat and I was not - and I was not going to eat until they brought my child back to me.And they looked very shocked and soon after that, soon after they had taken my child away, they put me in a vehicle and they drove me back to Wynberg police station on my own and I was locked up again.I was completely and utterly numb, I couldn't think about Haroon, I couldn't think about - I couldn't focus on how I felt, because I would have broken down, I would have snapped if I had thought about what I felt, I dissociated myself from this experience.And the interrogation intensified, they brought out Spyker van Wyk, they brought out these people, I mean I named my son after Iman Haroon and here was his murderer in front of me.But what I did in this cell, I just went on this ritual, I asked them for a mob and I asked him for disinfectant and I wanted to clean it you know it was absolutely disgusting.The toilet, this was when Haroon was still with me, the toilet didn't work and when you flushed the toilet, the contents filled to the top of the bowl and it flowed out of the bowl and under the bed and into the yard, it was quite disgusting and we had to watch the toilet paper and the contents flowing out under our bed.And it was freezing-freezing cold, the doors had to be standing open, we had to sleep in a bed so that the warden on - the police woman on the other side of the yard, could look at us at all times, that's how we were guarded through a yard in the freezing cold, we were meant to live under those conditions.But anyway once Haroon has gone and I was feeling as numb as this, I thought let me just mob this place and I demanded disinfectant and it stunk, the mob was black, the water was black, there was really no good in doing this exercise at all, but I went through it.And I think I felt a little bit cleaner having done it.And that night I realized, well my breast became incredibly sore and any woman who has known how difficult it is to express milk in the freezing cold, will bear a testimony that sitting on a high bed which is like a hospital bed, it's high, in the freezing cold, with the doors open, it would have been, it would have been warmer sleeping on the street on - on cardboard.Because at least you could pull something over your head, I wasn't allowed to do that.I had to express this milk, and I realized what a fool I was, how could I declare a hunger strike because that was going to effect to my breast milk and why should they decide when I should stop feeding my child.And I just realized that this - that I couldn't go through with this and that I was going to have to express milk as much as I could to keep my system going.And I had decided the next day when I was fetched at 7:30 and taken to Culemborg and interrogation carried on, I decided I was not going to - I was not going to go - carry - continue with the hunger strike, but I allowed them to masquerade in front of me.I wanted to see what was in their minds and they had bought liters and liters of juice and they had it in the fridge and they kept on offering me juice, because I said I was going to drink.And then they threatened to take me to some prison in the Free State to deal with me, because I'd gone on a hunger strike and then I'll be further away from my child.And then by finally sort of mid morning I said no you haven't got me, I am not going to go on a hunger strike, because it's not your decision that I terminate now - feeding my child.And I could see this sort of they a little bit deflated.And instead I said that they must take the milk to my child whether he is, that I will express regularly and they must take it to him, because that is what he knows, and that is what is going to keep him strong.And they refused to do that, and I carried on, I carried on, doing this, expressing my milk, expressing my milk and then 8 days later I was in the Wynberg police cells, they returned my baby to me.He was visibly depressed, his eyes were sunken into his head and he was thin, it was clear that he hadn't eaten, he looked at me, there was this sort of glassy look in his eyes, it took some time for him to - to his eyes to warm up a bit and his body to warm up a bit and for him to feel that he was back with me.And he started feeding okay and then he hopped off the bed and he potted around what I though was now the clean cell and he was back at home.He was okay, you know it didn't matter that this scummy place that I was in, he was okay, he was with me and that was what mattered.And this was absolutely marvelous somehow, well everything that they had tried to do, to break me and I think I omitted some very important detail, that in the time that he was gone and the interrogation intensified, they repeatedly told me that I was hopeless, useless, not fit to be a mother.That if I listened at night in my cell in Wynberg police cells, I would be able to hear him crying, because he was quite nearby.And they even brought a tape recording of his voice and there was so much(indistinct) in my son's voice as he called my name, mamma, mamma on the tape.And you know my feelings I can't - it's not easy to describe it, I was dissociated from what I felt.But he was returned to me, 8 days later.And the following day it was a Friday, the investigating officer, the Security policeman came and he said he was taking us - the two of us away, he didn't say where.We were booked out of Wynberg police cells, thrown in the back, me handcuffed, my hands behind my back, and Haroon clasping onto me, still very-very destroyed by this experience and clingy and indigent and - and they went on this wild sort of amateurish recollectence where they would go around circles and throw us around in the backseats, trying to see whether they had picked up a tail whether the coast was clear, whether they could take me to this unknown destination.And they drove and drove and they went over the mountain and then finally they dropped us off at the Caledon Vrouens Gevangenis.And there we were kept in the sickbay, the women's sickbay.It was attached to the woman's section, it's a medium term prison.And there we had three single cells, onto a passage and there was a bathroom and there was also a basin where one could do washing.The facilities were certainly better than they were at Wynberg police cells.But there was one huge problem, and that was that the only contact that I had with the world was a bell in my cell.And I tested it and tested it and I kept on reporting that this bell does not work, and they must come and fix it, because I had - if the bell doesn't work, how am I going to communicate with them because there was nobody sitting with me at all times.It was much later that I worked out how the communication system worked out - functioned in that prison and I'll describe it to you.In the men's section in the passage there was a board and on the board there were cell numbers and if you rang your bell the flap would flip up and they would, if a warden was walking passed they would see that prisoner X in cell 40,000 wanted assistance.And then they would come to you, but two days after Haroon was returned to me, and we were now in Caledon Vrouens Gevangenis, he became extremely ill and I really was extremely worried.I have done - I studied as a nurse, I was a student nurse after matriculating, and I did more than my first year of pediatrics because I loved it, and I had a sick baby on my hands.He was not only traumatized psychologically, but he was physically weak, he was thin, he was still depressed and he had diarrhea and he was vomiting and he was just going down, down, down.And I pressed the bell, and I pressed the bell and there was no response.Then I finally I mean I really got desperate and I carried on ringing and then finally in the night somebody came -a man came out on the outside of the cell and he shouted it was howling that night, and he shouted are you ringing the bell, and I was shouting at him I am ringing the bell, I've got - I need medical attention, my child is very ill, he is vomiting and he has diarrhea and I need a doctor.And there was silence, so I stood on top of the locker and I yelled through this - this mesh windows, dirty window, yelled the same thing and - and then his footsteps just disappeared into the night again.And he was gone, and I had to nurse my baby and he was very much weaker by the next day.And I reported this incident to the major in charge of the prison, Major Koen and a doctor Basson finally was sent to us and the doctor Basson said to me, there is nothing wrong with your baby, he just has chronic diarrhea and vomiting, there is something wrong with you.And I was so angry, I was so powerless and so angry that this was the attitude of the people that were looking after my baby, I wasn't at all confident that they were going to treat him properly.And it took a long time for Haroon to pull through.He was so weak that I mean I had to carry him everywhere, he couldn't walk again, he had to sort of learn to walk again.And of course living in a concrete environment for a toddler is very hard and stressful because toddlers fall and they hurting themselves all the time, so you have to all - at all times watch and it was a very strenuous thing that we had to go through.And finally after 60 days - 64 days of hell and fear because as I've described to you they had this wanted person, I didn't know what they were going to do with me.I shouldn't have been alive, their story didn't work with me alive.But they finally released us and I have since then been struggling with a condition known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder where one is very-very anxious, depressed and marginalized.Anxious in the sense that I think it's possibly a rational fear for mother's to have that their children can go missing or can get stolen, you have to watch your children, that's your responsibility.But mine was not a fear, it was a reality, my child had been stolen and there was every good reason that it could happen again, and that my anxiety was exaggerated.We couldn't leave each other, see - allow each other to get - we were unable to allow each other to be separated.And - and depression, at a very deep-deep profound level, it's lifted in waves, and I must say the last wave lifted during or just after the election campaign, I was engaged again in work that I love and that is working with people on the ground and their houses, organizing them and there was such a tremendous reception you know when I went into people's houses and told them to vote for Solly Moosa and why and so on, and they shared at such an incredible deep level somehow they knew Shirley Gunn they had known my story and they just related at such a deep level, they brought out pictures and it was really very good for me.And I know just exactly how much I want to be part of things again, what has kind of happened to me because of how I've suffered.I - the - what's happened - sorry - just gone off.The dilemma that I think that most ordinary parents experience in their life ant that is the tussle between their professional selves and their maternal selves or their parenting selves.it's a dilemma that we all spaced with, but mine is more exaggerated because of what I'd gone through.And I've left here at 3:30 - not because - or 3:15 not because I haven't wanted to listen to the next testimony, because I wanted to go and fetch my son.So it's affected me in that way, that I don't fit into the ordinary kind of structure any more.And maybe I will someday, maybe I mean I - maybe I will overcome but I am not there yet.And I agonize and I pain that I am not able to be really part of the transformation of our country, working in a - working as my colleagues are.But it's because I am tied to this experience.Maybe I should stop here.

Thank you very much Shirley, I think that everybody will share with me a sense of being very deeply moved by your story and the vividness with which you portraiture us.The questions that I have are perhaps relate to some of the earlier part and the comments also I think the issue of prescription for example is one that we've heard from many people.The frustration at not being able to pursue a case because of time has elapsed during which no action could have been taken.And I believe that, that's something that the Truth Commission must look into.Also the question of the responsibility of the State, even though it is a new State for what happened in the past.This is something that we've learned from Truth Commissions in other countries, that it has been part of the healing process when the new State accepts the responsibility for the actions of the old.So I hope that in those areas, there may be progress that we can make.And would like to clarify of the status of your claim is at the moment. --- Well it's just hanging there really, the next step is - oh! well in fact on the 31st of July the Supreme Court ordered that the State Attorney hand over all documents related to the matter, the investigation into Khotso House.The affidavits given over to the Goldstone Commission, all these documents be handed over so that we could proceed.And that date lapsed on the 31st of July, we now in August.At the time of writing this a couple of days ago, well not - well updating this, we did not have that information yet. But the legal - the legal course is on track, the matter must be heard in the Supreme Court.

I have no more questions at the moment, thank you.

CHAIRPERSON: Perhaps just on the legal issue as well just to see to what extend the Commission could be of assistance.Is there any doubt whatsoever about the fact that the statement which was released on behalf of Mr Adriaan Vlok, was false concerning Khotso House and your alleged involvement. --- It was totally and utterly false and fabricated.

And has there been some further development very recently in regard to that incident, and the police? --- Well yes, I believe that quite a number of policeman, who have been involved in Human Rights violations, outstanding Human Rights violations including Khotso House, have - are feeling the ground as to whether they going to get amnesty and I think that they have approached the Truth Commission.

So to your knowledge at this stage there has been an approach on behalf of some police personnel. --- Yes.

Seeking or investigating the prospects of getting amnesty in regard to that same incident at Khotso House. --- That's quite correct.

And of course implying in that process that they have been responsible.

--- yes.

For that incident. --- Yes.

Thank you for that.

MS BURTON: There is a question I would like to ask about the social workers who came to you and then took away your son.Were they employed by the State and they said they had a warrant to take him. --- Well interesting I mean whether they were employed by the Welfare and Social Service or the Health and Social Services or by the police, but they were acting on the instructions of the police, they had a warrant for his arrest.Ms Robertson was the chief social worker at the time, most people that have worked in Child Welfare know her.She came with another woman, I remember in the course of speaking to them, one graduated in Potchefstroom and the other one in the Free State or something.They were both professional social workers and they did this.

And is there anything ... (intervention) --- And can I add.

Ja. --- When I was in New York I addressed an audience of social workers and allied workers,(indistinct) ... psychologist and so forth about Human Rights abuses in our country.And there was a woman an aboriginal woman at this conference.And she spoke about how young aboriginal children are removed from their families by social workers and taken to white families and told that is the only way their children have a future.And she spoke about social workers as the enemy, that is what I experienced, social workers performed the work of the enemy.

Are there things that you would like to ask for the Truth Commission to do? --- Yes millions of things.As I've been sitting here I must say it has been very-very difficult to focus on my matters.I think we are people with over developed senses of responsibility, and I've been sitting here in this audience and listening to the stories of men and woman and there are so many things that are untied, there are so many things that have still to be done, so many murder dockets that have to be opened, some many re-inquests that have to be re-opened.We have to pursue the truth with all vicar, I don't think we can sit back and say just by speaking that's enough.This is part of it, and I am very-very-very grateful that I've the opportunity to be part of this, because I think it's pulled me out of feeling that extreme marginalisation, it's pulled me closer and I feel very grateful for that.But that's not the end, that's the beginning and all these outstanding matters must be dealt with and we must have funds as Zubeida had requested we must have funds for the casualties, the people that are sitting here, with physical pain that can't afford to pay medical bills, there must be a fund for this people.And I agree I mean apartheid has cost so much to put in place, to keep in place, to force in place, we must have the money to deal with the victims.And that money must be found, we can't say we don't have that money.

Anything else. --- Yes, my boy Haroon has two request, the one is he wants to meet with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, he would like to meet with him, but more urgently he wants to meet with the President.And I would like you to help me facilitate that meeting.I think that when we talk about affirmative action, when we talk about the role of woman in our society and the role that we have to play, and reintegration of people like me, cadres like me, then we must understand what systems must be put into place, because I want to work and I want to be productive, but I don't fit in out there so easily.And - and we must make allowances for people like me so that we can be productive, and we can be fully part of what's happening around us.And I want that very-very deeply. Any more questions?

I have no more questions. --- I have got one more question, I want to just explain something that you know - you know whilst we listening to how we as woman have been exploited by the system, how they(indistinct) ... how they exploited the very-very fundamentals of being a woman and that was being a mother, how they exploited that in order to get to me.I want to tell you a funny story of how you know senses of humor in fact have helped kept us together and I must say I mean I've had very few laughs for a long time.But I want to explain something to you.At Culemborg when I was interrogated, I don't want water - I use to say to these men, these big white men, that they must clear out of the room because I wanted to express my milk now, I was in agony.And that I needed hot water, and only the woman could be present naturally, and I was brought big container - a big container of warm water, which cooled down very quickly because it was a wide - a wide pan and as soon as it was cold, I could no longer really express milk very easily, so I asked for more.But I want to show you something that if you pour a little bit of water in a liter of water, a little bit of milk in a litre of water, it goes milky white.And these buckets of water - of milk were coming out of the interrogation room, pans of them and the men were hopelessly intimidated by this.So times we have to seize being a woman and take advantage of that.I didn't add that I have also a second child and her name is Hani, she is named after Chris Hani and she is beautiful, very blessed.

Thank you Shirley, I said you were a strong woman, it takes strength also to bring us that relieve of tension in an almost Shakespearean way.Thank you very much.I think we have taken very much to heart the things that you have said about our task, out task as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission because there are things that we are chart with doing and we must fulfill that responsibility as best we can.We're also very conscious that this work of reconciliation and recreation of our country is a bigger task than ours alone and the country as a whole needs to embrace it, to bring about the kind of things that you are talking about.The space for people to heal, the space for people to be themselves, the space for people to be productive and contribute to the nation building.So thank you very-very much for your contribution today, we very grateful. --- Thank you.