TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
SUBMISSIONS - QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
DATE: 22 MAY 1997 NAME: SANDRA ADONIS
CASE: CT/01110 - ATHLONE
CHAIRPERSON: Our last witness for today is Sandra Adonis and I ask her to come to the stage with her briefer. Sandra, being the last witness is probably the most difficult of all, because you have to sit and hear so much pain and heartache and tears, but you know that you have your own still to tell and we thank you very much for your patience and we welcome you here as our last witness of these special hearings today. Mary Burton is going to swear you in and then lead your evidence as well.
MS BURTON: Thank you.
SANDRA ADONIS: (Duly sworn in, states).
MS BURTON: Thank you. Are you alright, you are feeling comfortable and you can hear me alright? The microphones do also provide sound amplification so if you do not hear me very well you can always wear them to hear in English as well. Well, thank you again for the long day that you have waited and for coming today to speak in front of us. You are going to tell us about your own experience as a young teenager and about that of your husband. So please go ahead and tell us in your own words.
MRS ADONIS: It was in 1985 when I started being involved in politics. I was about 15 years old and I did not have any background of politics. I always heard my grandfather use to say, he use to talk about politics and Vorster and, you know, all these things he use to make them bad, but when I got to realise why he was going on about these people, seeing how our Government was handling our people, it hurt me and I decided to get involved. At the age of 15 in 85 the school started or they decided rather to have SRC’s at these different schools. Just give me a moment and as all the schools voted for these SRC’s I was elected from my class to be a representative for them on the SRC. In majority vote I was chosen by the school as a Chairperson, then decided by my principal that I was too young, too immature to be the Chairperson. He decided that we should vote amongst each other and then people that was older than me, standard nine and matric, voted me as Assistant Treasurer. Anyway, I also served on the Action Committee in Athlone, Ned Damon Senior Secondary.
I remember quite vividly that there was one day that I had to leave school after one of the teachers told me that the police came looking for me. I left the school and I went to the lawyer's offices, because I did not know which to go, because now I knew I could not go home. There would be no home for me now. I mean, as much as I wanted to, my family could not protect me and then, well, I just had to get somewhere and by the time when they started looking for us all the other people of the Executive was missing and then a few weeks after that it was the Trojan Horse case. Shaun Magmoet then was at the same school as I was and being the only person at school, well, I just managed to get to school sometimes, and that particular morning after the shooting one of our teachers told me that Shaun was shot and, of course, being the only person left of the SRC I, it was my duty to convey the message to the students and I felt like, you know, being 15 and also feeling like a mother at the same time, because I was just thinking also what would it have been like if it was me, because, I mean, I just left them a couple of hours before this whole happening. Also seeing people being shot like Jonathan Claasen standing opposite me on the opposite side of the road was not an easy thing to just put at the back of your mind.
Then it was all, the whole thing of the exams that we could not write and all that, because we took a stand that we are not going to write exams. Basically, I just use to go and have a look at what is happening at school and what people is doing and who is the people that is writing exams. It was my duty, because I was on the Action Committee. After that my principal said, I do not want you on my school any more. I forced and I forced and I forced, eventually 86 he said to me finally, no, I do not want you on my school any more, because you are an instigator. I left school, I had no alternative, because I do not know whether he informed the police whether I am there, but whenever I seemed to just be away from school then the police would come looking for me there and then I decided, bull shit, I am leaving, I cannot cope with this any more.
I got a job, not a job, like, I just got a casual job where I worked for about a month. Well, I could not, like, keep up with this, because certain things happened and I was instructed also, like, to do things and in the same time I got involved with the people of Bonteheuwel, that is Bonteheuwel Military Wing. Although we have done things that we are not very proud of, but the reasons why we have done it we are proud of them, because today we can stand with our heads up high and say that we together with the nation, we have done it.
In any event, in 1987 I went, I decided that I cannot live my life without education. I went to a school in Bonteheuwel. I practically begged the principal there to take me back and I promised him that I will never participate in politics again although in my heart I knew that I will not be able to withdraw myself from my activities and, in any event, I went on trying to do, finish my schooling, but, as you know, we were all connected somehow so your Comrades would know you by name or by face. Later on I got involved again, like, within the SRC and I was chosen again to be the Chairperson of the SRC which was quite difficult for me, because, like, I promised the principal that I am not going to be involved and, as much as I tried, I could not, because my beliefs were too strong. I, because of my own background as well, my father is a white and my mother is a black or rather a coloured, as they want to call it, so called.
I never had a family life with them. My mother was a domestic maid at the so called whites. So, like, I feel that I had a difficult childhood from the start. So I hated white people and I hate the Government for doing things to me and to my people and because of that I could not, I mean, I could not deny my people my fight as well. I felt that it was not just theirs, it was mine and, in any event, I got involved in BISCO. This was the Bonteheuwel Interschools Congress and also, as I said earlier on, BMW, excuse me, the Bonteheuwel Military Wing.
Then I met my husband, Jacques Adonis. He is deceased. At the time when I met him he just came from detention after nine months. For the time that we have had a relationship before we got married things was okay. Although we were still not at home, still roaming around, still not sleeping at home, still not being able to really see our family and spend even a whole day with them. In the time I left home, my house was, they searched my house in every corner possible. What they were looking for I do not know and these were Mostert from the Loop Street Security Police and then when I joined up with them in Bonteheuwel, it was a certain Captain van Brackel who started harassing me. Again, they would invade my parent's place searching and digging for whatever they were looking for and there was a time when there was heavy conflict amongst the Comrades, because of these Boers and because they wanted to plant hatred amongst us and they wanted to put our struggle back, they planted hatred amongst us. As these conflicts went on, one particular night I could not go back to where I was hiding and I had to sleep at another ladies place and I am not going to mention any names and the next morning van Brackel was at her door knocking. He found me lying in the bed and he did not know it was me. He went downstairs and he came back up, like, in a matter of five to six seconds and he said to me, wow, you are the person I have, we have been looking for for five years and I am not going to let you go again. You have run away from Mostert, but you are not going to run away from me and he said to me, you are a terrorist and you should come to me.
In any event there was, like, but by the time when he got hold of me I knew their checks and I was preparing myself all the time for this day. You know, it is like you prepare yourself for death, because you do not know what is going to happen and even if you want to prepare yourself how much, you will never be able to prepare yourself really. Then I decided to have a bath that specific morning and not just going with the, because I thought to myself, well, Section 29 or what the hell, I do not know, for the next 14 to 15 days or maybe three four weeks I might not be able to see my family, I might not get clean clothes. so, well, I will take a bath. Whilst I was in the bath he started shouting from outside, if you do not finish up now, I will come in there and I will fetch you and I said to him and then I realised that this door could not lock. I said to him, if you dare enter this bathroom I will certainly lay charges against you for attempted rape, because I did not have any clothes on.
In any event, I finished off and I went with them. I tried to relax and I could not. I had a hell of a headache by the time I got into their car, because I was expecting the worst of the worst and then I just had to sort myself out while I was sitting in this car and a certain Mr Strydom, I do not know what his rank was, Strydom, but he was always with this Captain van Brackel, he asked me now, why do you hate policemen. So I said, I do not hate policemen, in fact, I just hate what they are doing to my people and then I, because I thought, well, I have to say something to these people to get them out of my hair and I said to him, in fact, I would also like to be a policeman, a police woman one day and I think I played right into their hands and then when we got to the police station, in fact, the lady who we left behind said to me, "jy sê niks". Which means she is trying to implicate me in something and then he said, van Brackel said to this woman, well, I have got two big hands and I will just slap you, I will not ask questions. Anyway, so I said to him, well I will charge you for assault then if you do anything to me. I was, like, trying to hit back at him all the time, but also in a very gentle way not to have him think that this is a stubborn woman, because once you show stubbornness, they would show no mercy.
Then we went to the police station where they questioned me and later on told me that they are going to give me a form to fill in as, to become a policeman. Eventually they said to me they could not find any forms, that I should write out a letter and signing my name underneath. So up to today I do not know whether they have used this letter against me, but I hope to find out some day if they did use it or whatever they did with it.
Then I would like to come to my husband, Jacques. He was also a member of Bonteheuwel Military Wing and, in fact, I think he would, he was even more involved than I was or rather to a certain extent. There was then at the time when, just a few months after we were married and I think we were, I was about 19 or something like that, I cannot remember, when one morning van Brackel and this, I think he was a Lieutenant, yes, Strydom walked into our place and they said to my husband, you are running away again you bastard and they took him out of bed and they took him with them. The last time I have seen him he had clothes on, he was decently dressed and then the search started. They told me that I am going to find him at Bishop Lavis Police Station and then I went to Bishop Lavis Police Station and, like, he was not there.
I went home and I phoned there and they said I should phone Belleville. I phoned Belleville, nobody there. Phoned Belleville South and I just went on and on and on. I think it was for about five days it went on like that and I do not know if any of you people can imagine what it is like looking for somebody and knowing that this person is in the hands of people who are very dangerous, who are capable of doing anything, even capable of killing and by the time I got hold of my husband he was at the Belleville South Police Station. I had such a shock when I saw him, because he was full of blue and purple marks and I asked him, because we could not, like, really speak, it was one of the ordinary policeman that took him out the cell and they still said to me that I am not able, they are not able to let me speak long, because if the security branch people come and they find me standing there talking to him, they might lock me up as well.
Then he briefly told me that, what they did. He said to me that they have blindfolded him and they first, I think they beat him up and then they took him into a car where they drove for about five to six minutes and they took him out of the car and they took him into a building which sounded very empty with long passages and they took him into some kind of room, whether it was an office or, I do not know. He was hand-cuffed from the police station and they took off the handcuffs and they hand-cuffed him on the chair on which he was sitting. The next thing he felt was the wires that they connected to his fingers and to the back of his, to his back, to his toes as well and whether it was water, but I think it was mentholated spirits or something and they dabbed it to these wires. The next thing he felt was like his whole body was going to burst into pieces the way they given him this shock treatment and I think they have done this repeatedly and he collapsed for a few minutes. By the time when he got to, they tried to shock him again, but as they did that he moved to the front and he pulled off his, whatever, scarf or whatever it was and he saw Captain van Brackel, Strydom and, I am not sure, but I think Pikke was also with them.
Then he also said to me that he was not, like, kept separately, he was kept with the criminal people that, I mean, that, robbery and whatever and, like, one of the lawyers came there and as he called to one of the lawyers, they ignored him. They never even gave a glance in his direction which is quite upsetting if you know these are the lawyers that is working with us all the time and you know for a fact that these people know me and now suddenly these people do not, this person does not want to recognise me just because, maybe, they think that I have done something that is criminal. Then after the seventh day he was released. Not even charged, just released and I actually never heard of van Brackel after that, but I am telling you he has not tortured me, he has interrogated me by questioning me, but what he has done to my husband is, I think, the worst, because then my interrogation started. My life started being a mess.
My husband was, like, quite, he would, like, sometimes go off his trolley. He would be like a mad person and because he knows that his anger, his frustrations that he felt at that time were supposed to be directed at the State, but because I was the nearest person to him, he lashed out. Well, I understood to a certain extent, but, I mean, how much can a person take and being involved since 15, not really having enjoyed a teenage life. In fact, I said the other day to one of my Comrades, you know, it is only now that I realise that I have, like, I do not know what it is to go to a bioscope on a Saturday afternoon or even to a disco, like, many young people do today or maybe that time as well. I mean, I never had friends really. My friends, my compadres was my Comrades. Those were the only people that I could trust at that point in time and sometimes you were not even sure if you could trust them and, as I said, like, my husband was just, got worse and worse and worse. I tried to get him to counsellors and things and he would not accept, like, being counselled. He would not accept being told by other people, because what he use to say to me is that, I had enough of people telling me, I have had enough of people trying to rule my life for me and I will do as I please and, like, he was never this kind of person before. I did not know him like that and always afterwards he would say he is sorry, but, I mean, as I said, how long can a person take somebody saying sorry to you.
Just like these very Boers who have been interrogating us and torturing us, is trying to say to us today, we are sorry, we did not mean that. We do not need their apologies. Well, I do not need them, because I think my life is messed up as it is, directionless. I mean, I have lost my education and I have lost my childhood although we have in return received our freedom and our democracy in this country, but to what extent did we, as the Comrades, members of BMW gain. I do not think we have gained anything, because we are still in the same position as we use to be, unemployed, homeless, abandoned and there is nobody that looks back and say, well, these are the people that has fought the struggle, that has been part and parcel of the struggle and has brought us to the point where we are now. Not any recognition, I mean, and I do not want recognition for myself, but I believe and I have never ever hear anybody say anything in recognition to the youth of that time. In fact, this is the first time that I have seen there is some people who are interested in who we were and who we are now. Thank you.
MS BURTON: Thank you very much. The story you have told is so rich in so many aspects of the experience of people of your age and I could see that some of the time you were actually reliving those moments in your own history. It has given us as extraordinarily vivid picture of what it was like to be 15, to be thrust into a leadership position in a SRC and the other unfolding things that happened to you. It is true that the SCRs' at that time were a testing ground and a training ground for leadership and they pushed people, perhaps, beyond what anybody should be pushed and they created leaders. Our first witness today spoke about how people have aged years in weeks and I think that is something that happened to you. You spoke, for instance, of the way families could not protect their children. One of the most terrible experiences for parents is not to be able to provide that haven for children. You have spoken of disrupted education. I think one of the things we really hope for for young people like you is that it is not too late. I know how hard that is sometimes to accept, but is, there are opportunities.
I thought it was very valuable that you said, just in passing, that some things that you and other people in BMW did are things that you are not proud of. One of the things we have to remind ourselves in this hearing about children and youth is that things were done which were wrong things to do which hurt other people, but that was part and parcel of the reality of the time and it is important that that is acknowledged. As you said, you may not be proud of the things you did, but of the reasons why they were done and you spoke, I think, one of the big tragedies of the way that the system broke peoples' trust in one another and we have heard other stories like that today of people being accused of having informed against others or people being forced to inform against others and the damage that does to trust and in human relationships which is very hard to come back from, to learn to trust people again. So, I thank you for that really, really rich testimony. I do not have any questions. I do not know if any of my colleagues do. No. Then I would really just like to thank you very, very much and to wish you well. Thank you.
MRS ADONIS: Thank you.