TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
JOHANNESBURG CHILDREN'S HEARING
NAME: AUDREY COLEMAN
____________________________________ DR RANDERA: I think we should start and I would like to therefore call Miss Audrey Coleman.
MS MKHIZE: Order please. Welcome to this afternoon's session. I just want to announce the order in which we will be asking you to come forward. The first person now after lunch, is Miss Audrey Coleman. Audrey Coleman. She will be followed by the second person who will be Miss Diana Scott, who will be followed by Prof Ransom, that is witness number three.
Number four will be Madlhadi Moremi. Number five George Ndlozi, number six, Marjory Nkomo, number seven, Fatima Moosa, number representative of the Junior Rapportryers, number nine Miss M. Ranhla.
Miss Coleman, we have been with you since this morning. I would like to welcome you and having looked at your submission, it fits in nicely from what we heard earlier on based on Dr Coleman's presentation and the students' play.
I would ask you to summarise your submission, so as to give Commissioners an opportunity to ask you specific questions. Please go ahead.
MS COLEMAN: Well, because of the lack of time, I thought that you have my submission, it is an overview of what our experiences were in the detainee office. It is the debriefing of detainees. What we did for the submission was, we did 485 cases from our books as a sample for you and from that 485, we chose 200 statements in full which we have furnished to you.
So that you get a feel for what the children were saying. I think you are giving me about 10 minutes, is that correct, well in that 10 minutes, I am just going to not even give you an overview of this document because I don't think there is any point, I would rather just tell you about a particular case that I feel that should be looked into and why and that is the case of Nixon Perry who was 16 and he was killed in the Welverdiend police station.
He was taken in with a group of children, they were taken in individually and interrogated and assaulted and his friend said, and I have the statement, that Nixon went into the room, they heard him screaming and then there were silence.
The interrogators came out of the room, they closed the door, they went into another room and went on with the interrogation. Well, Nixon was killed by those policemen and the post-mortem showed that he had severe head injuries and bruising all over his body.
Now, there was a next death in detention, which was a man by the name of Clayton Sithole. Clayton was the reason why President De Klerk set up an independent Commission of Enquiry into his death.
Although we had been calling very strongly for an independent Commission of Enquiry into Nixon's death, that was totally, we never, ever got a response from the President on that issue or from the Minister.
But he had the Commission into Clayton Sithole and he had committed suicide, which we had expected. I don't know the circumstances, I don't know whether he was assaulted and tortured and that is why he committed suicide, but he committed suicide, but the 16 year old was not looked into.
Thereafter there were two more deaths. One of Michael Zungo and another young man, both of which are in my documents and I would ask the TRC to investigate as to why there wasn't independent enquiries into that and actually investigate those cases for me.
Then I thought, I don't know if there is much point, but I thought I would just tell you about a young man who worked in our offices when he came out of detention for the fourth time.
He was taken into detention when he was 15 and he was the most charming and delightful young man. He is what you would call a young leader. He just had the most wonderful personality and he worked in our office and during that time, he did a film for us at our request. He appeared in Children under Apartheid.
The reason why I am telling you about Sithole Edblumo is because I know you have heard about him before, he was eventually executed - one shot in the head after being on the run after having on the Wednesday in our offices, being taken by the Security Police to John Vorster Square, four days later he was found, he was interrogated in John Vorster Square for four hours, he was then released from interrogation, he was then - he told us because he came back to the office, he told us that he had been questioned only about the film, why he had made the film and they wanted him to admit that the DPSC had made him say that he had been tortured and assaulted, well that child was tortured and assaulted and he was held in solitary confinement.
And that was on the Wednesday and on the Sunday he must have died, because his body was found on the Monday. And that was, you know, I know because I was in the office myself when he came back from having been interrogated, that that was the reason for the questioning, the Children under Apartheid.
Now, what I would like to spend a bit of time on talking about, is the destabilisation, because in all the years of monitoring, repression, which I did in the office, I think the horror for me was the destabilisation period because up to that time, people knew who the enemy was.
They knew that they were fighting an Apartheid system and they knew they were fighting the system. And so therefore they coped, they coped with their detentions and they might have had psychological damage, they might have had all sorts of illnesses and terrible things happened, but what happened from the 1990's was just unacceptable, it was violence at the degree that was just awful and I was in Boipatong the morning after it occurred and what I saw there, actually blew my mind.
It was a very organised, systemised attack on the people. They described the painted faces and sometimes they would see the white of the hand. Women and children were killed, pregnant women, it was horrific. Now why I am talking about that is that I think that the TRC has a particular duty to address the traumatised society that has occurred from the East Rand, the unleashing of the violence on the trains, Soweto and all the other places that it happened.
You can't expect that society to return to normality. I can't go into all the psychological effects because we don't have time, but you've got a traumatised society, you've got families that are split and broken, you've got orphans, you've got all sorts of things that had happened and I think until we deal with what has happened, I don't think we are going to be able to rectify what has happened in the 1990's.
Sure, you know we had repression for years and then that is the one thing I wanted you to look at, is maybe addressing, maybe counselling services, but real, good counselling services that are accessible to the communities, to get school teachers trained so that they can pick up children that are disturbed in the classes, the universities to have some sort of counselling service.
Because those are the people, the youngsters who have come out of this period. The universities shouldn't be disregarded, they are also places where you have got young people who urgently need help. And then the other thing I wanted to say to you was really my conclusion, was that no one, no one didn't know what was happening in this country to children, everyone knew.
We made all sorts of deputations and delegations to Ministers, we spoke about it, we spoke overseas, we weren't just being rash, we had facts and we had figures.
But the response was to discredit, to ban, to censor rather to address the situation and I think for a President, and there were a couple of Presidents in that period, to deny knowledge of and to accuse maverick policemen or soldiers, is so grotesque as to laughable.
Were they the ones who were banning, were they the ones who passed the censorship laws to stifle any revelations of the reality of what was happening? Were they the ones who withdrew passports from people informing the world of what was happening and were they the ones who did not set up an independent Commission of Enquiry into the death like Nixon's? And were they the ones that were responsible for the Boipatongs and the operations of that ilk? I say it was a carefully managed system and a President or Minister has to be made to answer for this traumatised society that we have inherited today.
For that they have to accept responsibility.
MS MKHIZE: Thank you very much, Audrey. I would like to ask you this question. In your submission, you refer to the plight of the young White teenager, I should think you are referring to what was happening at that time, and you said many had to grabble with the idea of being conscripted into an army to fight a war that they didn't necessarily believe in.
And you haven't said, we haven't heard much about that. Can you just indicate to us as to what exactly happened. What were your observations at the time?
MS COLEMAN: Well, of course I didn't have very much sort of personal, in a formal way, but within our society I was very aware that the youth in their teenagers, the White youth had to decide were they going to go into the army?
They didn't have a choice really but you had the, I can't remember, I think it was 1983 that there were 166, the group of 166 who refused to go into the army. It was a very big stress on teenagers to know that they were going to go into the army. I know that my eldest son went into the army and he was very, very unhappy in that army.
And he, I don't know what would have happened to him if he had been sent up to the border in Angola or wherever, because he could never have done it, but I think that for youth to have had to do that and to be involved in Angola and Mozambique, a lot of them didn't believe in the political correctness of going into those places, but they didn't have a choice and so I do believe that a lot of them are traumatised probably from acts that they saw or even did themselves.
It was just a side of the coin I think that we should look at otherwise it wouldn't be correct.
MS MKHIZE: Okay, thank you very much. I will ask Commissioners to ask you questions of clarification. Wynand Malan?
MR MALAN: Thank you Chairperson. Miss Coleman, thank you also for this presentation. I think I have only two questions. The one relates to the information that you gave us, period 1960 through 1989, you say about 50 000 youth under the age of 18 were charged, taken to court.
MS COLEMAN: That is the figure that I got from the Human Rights Commission, from something very close to me, so you will find it in that document.
MR MALAN: I did see it there, but I want to contrast this in a sense and ask follow up on that. You also say in your submission, or no, they say in their submission Dr Coleman in his submission stated that about 20 000 youth under the age of 18 were detained without trial.
Do you know whether there is any record of how many of those or what percentage of those, were eventually also charged? Surely there is not a clear ...
MS COLEMAN: I am not sure of percentages, but there was a period when they began to charge them quite a lot because of the response from outside, it became very embarrassing for them to have detained them, so a lot of kids were charged with public violence, arson, that sort of charge and in most instances, the cases were withdrawn.
The case of Sithole for example, he was charged with attempted murder with a friend of his and of course it was just a trumped up charge, but I am sorry, I can't give you those figures, maybe the Human Rights Commission can.
MR MALAN: What I am really exploring is these are not two hard and separate categories, I mean detentions without trial, very many of them did eventuate in criminal charges and prosecuted?
MS COLEMAN: It was a tool being used to depoliticise the reason why they were trying to criminalise the political activities of the children. They actually didn't have a charge, I am talking generally now. Obviously there were the odd cases, but in the main the larger percentage, there certainly were trumped up charges and it was a direct result of the work that we were doing in exposing the detention of children.
They didn't want people to know that they were detaining an 11 year old and a 12 year old, it didn't suit South Africa. There was a sanctions campaign going on. They didn't want to be projected as being that sort of government and therefore this was a tool which they used and it really was a tool, because you saw the majority of cases. In fact some cases never ever went to court, you know.
MR MALAN: If I may follow on that, you have been referring now really to the - and you have a paragraph on that criminalisation of political activity, now that was a bit confusing when I read it because what ...
MS COLEMAN: What page is that?
MR MALAN: You refer there, this is page 5, you refer in the second paragraph under that heading, to the 50 000 children under the age of 18, that were charged with various crimes.
Common charges you say were public violence, arson, stoning of vehicles and occasionally attempted murder.
MS COLEMAN: That is what happened to Sithole yes.
MR MALAN: Now reading it as I've just done under the heading, it leaves the impression, but I hope I understood you incorrectly, that you see that as political activity? Not?
MS COLEMAN: No, it was taking political activity and criminalising political activity.
MR MALAN: Would arson be a crime or would it be a political ...
MS COLEMAN: That is exactly what I am saying to you, that you take Sithole for example who was charged with attempted murder. That child wasn't a murder, he didn't even know this teacher, Ngweni and neither did the other fellow that was charged with him. That was the whole tool that they used to depoliticise.
MR MALAN: No, I heard you saying that. My reference really is you put that under one heading, you refer to 50 000 children being charged. You are not saying to us all 50 000 of them were charged really because of political activities and that none of them were involved in criminal activities?
MS COLEMAN: Those children who were taken into detention without trial, were charged with criminal offences but had not necessarily been involved in any criminal offences.
MR MALAN: I heard you saying that, I am sorry for pursuing that.
MS COLEMAN: I am sorry ...
MR MALAN: Sorry for pursuing this, when we talk detention, you refer to 20 000, here we are talking of children charged, the figure is 50 000.
MS COLEMAN: Oh, I see.
MR MALAN: And yet you say, you present that under the heading of criminalisation of political activity which leaves the impression again that none of them were criminally culpable.
MS COLEMAN: Okay. I get you. I will look at those figures and I will send them to you, okay. I might have made a mistake there, all right?
MR MALAN: It is really just for an understanding ...
MS COLEMAN: No, absolutely.
MR MALAN: But I get your argument and your perspective about detention taken through for that very purpose. And then just a last question on my part is the part that you ended up with in reading on page 15.
MS COLEMAN: Sorry, can I go back? It does strike me that maybe outside of children that weren't held in detention, that is where that 30 000 comes from. They were not necessarily held in detention.
Do you see what I mean. Say they were walking down the street, something happened, they were picked up, they were taken to the police station and they could have been charged. So that is where I think the discrepancy, they didn't land up in detention, but they were charged.
MR MALAN: I appreciate that. I am not querying the figures.
MS COLEMAN: But I will check those.
MR MALAN: The last question you say and your husband also responded to some questions on this, especially the 1990 to 1994 period and the August 1990 escalations where he left us with his clear perception that there must have been some coordination, organisation, decision, some conspiracy I think was the concept, the term that he used.
You say that a President or a Minister has to be made to answer and I am not asking you to name, but if we talk the conspiracy language, it implies that some people were not informed and others were informed.
If you have any specific ideas about this, won't you share this with us perhaps after this and not in public at this moment in time, because I don't think it would be fair to mention names where people haven't been given due notice.
MS COLEMAN: I don't have names. What I am saying to you is that if you are a Managing Director of a company and you know that there has been an organised onslaught onto a department, something went wrong, there was fraud through organisation or something within your company, you are going to make it your business to find out what happened.
If you are sitting on the State Security Council, you must know what is happening in your country and there could never, and believe me, I was there, there could never have been an operation of that nature that wasn't highly organised.
MR MALAN: That is appreciated, I think we share that. The question is still the distinction between kind of political accountability and moral accountability and the real criminal culpability in terms of the seed of the conspiracy that was really the nature of the communication, but thank you very much. I think you've clarified that for me too.
MS MKHIZE: Piet Meiring?
PROF MEIRING: Ms Coleman, thank you for your submission. I just want to know during the difficult times when so many horrible things happened to children, what counselling services were available to them and to the parents and added to that, are there sufficient counselling services available today because it is an ongoing problem.
MS COLEMAN: Yes. The Detainee Parents' Support Committee had a very good panel of Doctors and we have a very good panel of Counsellors. In the main it was just gratis, they didn't earn money for being on those panels, and they used to debrief us.
When they came into the Detainee Office, they were debriefed, they were then taken, referred to the Counselling Service etc. Unfortunately a lot of the children might have gone for their first appointment, but didn't necessarily follow up so much because first of all it was costly to get transport, second of all a lot of them were damaged psychologically damaged, and they did not necessarily see the reason why they should go for counselling.
They didn't necessarily have the energy to do it, to make the effort, but we had it there, it was there for them. As far as availability you said for now, that was what I was asking for. I don't believe we are addressing the real trauma that has occurred in this country.
And that we should be setting up trauma counselling services that are really accessible to people in the townships in particular. So that they can go for counselling and I also believe that the teachers need to be aware of a disturbed child, because they can pick it up, but if they don't have a service also, but they need to be trained, it is a training. Does that answer you?
PROF MEIRING: Thank you so much.
MS MKHIZE: Joyce Seroke?
MS SEROKE: Audrey, it has been repeatedly said that parents abdicated their role and their responsibility to such an extent that children found themselves being agents of change. Now through your experience in the Detainees Parents' Committee, what were the reasons and did you ever try to find out from parents if at all, if they did abdicate, why they did so and to the detriment of the children?
MS COLEMAN: That is a hard question. I think that first of all the parents were very tied up with their daily living, with trying to make a living.
I think the children had far more courage and therefore they were able and they were freer to work. I personally in the Detainee office, saw the parents, the mothers absolutely distraught trying to find children or trying to parent and not being able to. They didn't have access to their children in prisons and in the townships itself, I would say that the difficulty for parents was that life is hard and they were basically having to administer to their needs.
I would say children are freer and were able to go out and take the political leadership, if that is what you are talking about. But as far as being interested in their children in detention, I never found a parent that wasn't very supportive of their children. They might not have agreed with their political ideology either.
MS SEROKE: I say this because throughout my experience, I found that the parents especially the mothers, were the ones who would go out of their way, going from prison to prison, looking for the children and giving up their jobs for that matter and so that is why I want us to really find out why people should say parents abdicated?
MS COLEMAN: I think they are talking more of maybe a political abdication, that the parents did not take up the thrust of opposition maybe, isn't that what they mean?
Because we did find that the parents didn't necessarily agree with their childrens' political activity, but when it came to their problems of being detained, the parents were there for them.
MS MKHIZE: Dr Randera?
DR RANDERA: Audrey, I just want to ask one question and that is related to somewhere in your submission you talk about the work that you did with psychologists, lawyers, Doctors. Now as I understand it, that refers to perhaps individuals and selected groups of people.
I want to know what the response of organised professional bodies were to what was happening in the country in that period that you are looking at?
MS COLEMAN: You are touching a very sore point. We made several representations to the MASA, the medical body. We were totally dissatisfied with the role of the District Surgeons. In many, many cases they saw torture and they never reported it, never did anything about it.
One of the Doctors that I spoke to, said that he didn't put his neck out because he felt it was better to maybe help the child than say anything and get thrown out of the job. I think he was trying to justify.
I think the Wendy Orr stance was the right stance to take. The lawyers in general were certainly I couldn't, we had such a vast panel of lawyers that I was perfectly satisfied with them. But the medical profession I certainly found was appalling. And also their response, you know, as a body to the approaches that were made, was not satisfactory.
DR RANDERA: And just a follow up. I know it is your personal perspective, but why do you think these bodies were responding as they did?
MS COLEMAN: Well, it is why most of conservative society respond as they did. I don't know if they felt threatened, whether they felt there is no smoke without fire. I once spoke at a National Council of Women Day and I stood up and I started talking about what was happening. I wanted them to know what was happening to children in this country.
And a women in the front row, a very nice lady said, troublemakers. And I immediately said to her, what makes a troublemaker? Shouldn't we be looking at our society to see why our children are becoming troublemakers, what is the environment that they look at? Why is criminality so high today, why is there so much rape and killing?
And I think that that is something people in the Northern suburbs and in the conservative people, really didn't want to know. It was too far away, it was over there. I think they felt happier being that side. And it wasn't a popular view any way.
DR RANDERA: Thank you.
MS MKHIZE: Tom Manthata?
MR MANTHATA: I don't know whether I have not gone through this document. What was DPC doing with the youth that was getting missing after being detained? And according to your experience could your document still be available to us to help our investigative unit with regards to those youth who are missing or who went missing?
MS COLEMAN: Yes, all our documents are available to you. We've got a whole library full, so you simply could have all the documents you need.
I think that the missing was one of the weakest links in our organisation because we were so absolutely, you know, we had more cases than we could deal with, we would get unless the people themselves came to report, we never had the ability to actually go on with the tracing of those missing and that was a big weakness in our organisation.
We just didn't have the time or the capacity.
MR MANTHATA: Audrey, I must congratulate, you did a very sterling job. I mean together with Max and Detainee Support Group. Are you still in contact with the groups that you used to work with, because here we are seeing this mammoth work of debriefing and as you put it, to try to heal this groups from the trauma.
Are you in a position to help us in this kind of work, in particular, perhaps I am complicating my question. It even goes back to what you were saying about the White youths who objected to being conscripted and we know that once they were conscripted, part of some of the way to dehumanise them, was this intense training to hate the Blacks. One wonders whether at this stage too, there are ways or groups that can help to debrief those groups in order to encourage you know, inter-racial coming together that in itself would help in ending this trauma that you are talking about?
MS COLEMAN: Yes, I think that is going to be a very hard thing to address, because those groups are disparate, they have grown up and they are wandering around the society and I don't know how many people actually admit to having a problem or even recognise a problem. That is also a problem, we have got to recognise that you are disturbed.
So I am not sure and I don't know of groups that are actually working and I am certainly at this moment in time, not in a position to do that short of work. But it would be interesting and I would like to chat to you about it some time.
I think it is an interesting thing to look at.
MR MANTHATA: Thank you, no further questions.
MS MKHIZE: Ms Coleman, thank you very much for coming forward. Also in your document it is indicated that you were a founder member of this organisation and I am sure having heard what you have been dealing with over the years, we believe you will also take care of yourself.
This morning, I mean before lunch, we saw young people over-identifying with people who suffered whom they never met, but getting into roles, actually crying. So I just think the task you had set for yourself, was a big one and as you were preparing this document, I should think you relived the whole experience and the memories of children you worked with, who died in the process, must be vivid today.
We noted all the names that you have mentioned and our investigative unit will follow all those cases through.
MS COLEMAN: Thank you.
MS MKHIZE: We thank you very much for coming forward.
MS COLEMAN: Before I leave, there is a mistake. I am not on the Human Rights Committee, I am a Detainee Parents' Support Committee person. So this evidence all comes from the Detainees ...
MS MKHIZE: Thank you very much.