TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
SUBMISSIONS - QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
DATE: 22 MAY 1997 NAME: VUYANI EDWARD MBEWU
CASE: CT/00811 - ATHLONE
CHAIRPERSON: Would Vuyani Edward Mbewu please come up to the stage. Vuyani, can you hear the translation coming through the headphones?
MR MBEWU: Yes, I can hear.
CHAIRPERSON: Welcome to you, it is now afternoon, so I say good afternoon. Thank you for coming here today. Mrs Burton is going to administer the oath and then Glenda Wildschut will lead your evidence.
MS BURTON: Vuyani Mbewu, will you stand to take the oath please. Please raise your right hand.
VUYANI EDWARD MBEWU: (Duly sworn in, states).
MS BURTON: Thank you.
MS WILDSCHUT: Vuyani, hello. Are you comfortable?
MR MBEWU: Yes, very.
MS WILDSCHUT: Alright. Vuyani, you will be telling us about what happened to you in September 1985. Would you go ahead and tell us what happened on that day, but before you tell about the incident, could you tell us how old you were when the incident happened? How old were you at the time?
MR MBEWU: I was 14 years old in 1985. I am now 25 years old. In 1985 on the second of September, a Monday. It was, I think it was the start of a strike where the schools were having boycott actions and I was at Lezuko School in NY4 and I was living in NY21 at number six. School came out very early on that day. By 11 o' clock we had all gone home and we went back to the location. I got home, undressed and went back to the street to my friends. There was a group of us that liked to get together in NY4. NY4 is close to Mannenberg. It is near the railway lines and near the, next to the railway line you have J F Jooste Hospital and you find Mannenberg Road and Mannenberg.
What was happening there is that the coloureds in that area had been attacking delivery trucks. We were standing on the other side of the road at NY4. It was an open field at the time. There are houses that are built there now facing the old houses in Guguletu. There was an open field there and we were watching what was happening in Mannenberg. Police were up and down in caspar's and in police vans and shooting and chasing the people in Mannenberg. What then happened is that because it was very hot on that day I moved back across the road and sat in front of a yard which had, which was fenced off with vibacrete and there was a tree there so I sat in the shade of that tree between two friends of mine I grew up with and they were seated on either stand of me and I was standing under this tree. Most of the others were playing on the field, others were watching what was happening on the other side.
A caspar then came from Mannenberg Road to the road which was leading into Jooste Hospital and they used the gate at the hospital at the time and that was next to the railway line which is now situated near the road. When you leave Jooste Hospital and cross the railway line to NY4 you move uphill, because Jooste is at the bottom and the railway line is on a slightly higher level and then the location on the other side. This caspar came and stopped at the gate. When it stopped at the gate it went back after hardly five minutes. I saw it approaching so when I was seated where I was I did not see it and then I saw it coming again down the road.
The people were playing on the field across the road and those that were watching saw it stopping. In fact, they just saw the top and they saw it going back. While we were sitting there those of us who were on the other side of the road in front of this yard saw those who were on the field playing and watching come running back and some were bleeding, crying, screaming and there were even gunshots that could be heard. When I got up from there I was getting ready to run away. The two that were next to me had already run away and everyone was ahead of me already. Something penetrated my eye and thinking it was probably a leaf from the tree that had fallen into my eye, because things were falling from the tree as well. It was these pellets that they had been shooting us with.
Thinking that it was a leaf I did not what, exactly what was happening, I just heard the gunshots and saw these people running away. Something penetrated my eye and I wiped my eye thinking that it was something that had fallen just, it disturbed my eye and when I moved my hand it was blood and I had actually affected my other eye as well. When the caspar approached, the people that were in it, its occupants were no longer in the caspar. I think that some of them must have been crawling on their stomachs so that people could not see them. When they got to us they did not say a word they just started shooting. I was the last one to run into NY18, because I could not see that well anymore.
I ran into another yard there in NY4. When I got into that yard I had to run away again, because the dogs wanted to bite me and they were, I had to run back in the direction of these policemen. I then ran around the house of the Ngeto family in this other road and I was in front of them. I was not running any longer, I was staggering and I got onto the corner of NY18 and another road and I sat there. I was then taken to hospital where I was admitted for two weeks. That is all I have to say for now.
MS WILDSCHUT: Vuyani, can I just ask you a few questions just so that we can understand your story a bit better. You were in hospital, at Conradie Hospital for two weeks. Was there anything wrong with your eye?
MR MBEWU: Yes, there was. The pellet shot had penetrated my eye and I did not know then whether I could see or not, because they had covered my eye with cotton-wool and I was kept in hospital for two days. Then fed things appropriate to someone that was going to be operated saying that they were waiting for my parents, because my parents had gone down to the Transkei to visit and my parents came during those few days that they were going to operate on me. They spoke to them and accepted that they were going to operate on me and when they referred to me I refused to accept it.
MS WILDSCHUT: So the doctors were not, did not operate on your eye to try and fix it?
MR MBEWU: No, the operation was never performed. I thought they were going to try and remove the pellet and it was apparent that they were going to be unable to do that without damaging my eye and that it was going to be better for them to take it out and replace it with whatever they were going to replace it with. I was asked to be shown what my eye was like, because I had not seen it yet and I saw that it was bad, but rather than having an eye similar to the one that I have got now put in. There was, both were not going to work, they were going to be dysfunctional so I saw no point in having my own eye removed and having another one put in. That was why I refused.
MS WILDSCHUT: Can you see through that eye now, Vuyani?
MR MBEWU: No, it is blind.
MS WILDSCHUT: So you only see through one eye?
MR MBEWU: Yes.
MS WILDSCHUT: What you said in your written statement to us is that you tried to lodge a claim. Can you tell us about that?
MR MBEWU: Early in 1986, it was quite a while after I had been discharged from hospital and it was quite clear that this, I would never regain sight in this eye. My parents and I sought out an attorney who could assist us with my problem. We found one, although I have forgotten the name, but in my statement before Priscilla here at the Truth Commission, I am sure that I have mentioned the name of that attorney and I believe that the attorney has since retired. After having consulted with this attorney, the attorney kept advising me to come back on certain days. So, there was someone that use to assist me at the time by the name of Clive, my cousin's son who lives in Guguletu, Tandakolo. Tandakolo was present when this incident took place so in thinking that there were, there might be some details relevant to this matter which I would probably not have been able to remember, he was also called in and the attorney attempted to assist us.
Firstly by trying to establish where these police were from who had shot at us. I had not considered or I did not realise at the time that there was a difference between railway police and State police who were driving around in the caspars' and the attorney took us one day, took us in his car and we went to these camps around town. The army camps where he would stop in the road next to these camps and pretend that there was something that he was going to look for inside and while the soldiers or police were in and out there, we had to look at the uniform that they were wearing, because no one could even identify the number of the caspar, because it had stopped on that side and it had gone back in that direction. So when we got to the second camp Tandakolo said that these people who did this to us had on this uniform.
So this gentlemen investigated and in his investigations he came back with a, during the course of his investigations he came back with a report that evidence has been found that this matter took place on the date that we mentioned although I do not know whether he was going to keep calling us since then. Eventually nothing, we heard nothing about the matter.
MS WILDSCHUT: So nothing came of the claim?
MR MBEWU: No, nothing came of it. Up till now when I was called, firstly, by the Black Sash and submitted a new statement. The attorney who we consulted with at first tried to play an effective role, but we do not know what became of the matter.
MS WILDSCHUT: Thank you very much Vuyani. I do not have anymore questions to ask you so I will hand you to the Chair. Maybe some of the other panellists might want to ask questions. Thanks.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you Glenda. Are there any other questions. Mary. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Thank you Chairperson. Vuyani, I would like to ask you if since the day on which you were injured, what your life has been like.
MR MBEWU: Since I realised that I had lost my eyesight I have never been confident again.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: It is quite evident that this is still a source of great pain to you and we would not like to cause you anymore pain than we have beyond the relation of your story, although if you like, you may answer the question. We would appreciate it.
MR MBEWU: For example, since 1982, I was still very young then. We use to enjoy playing football when we were children and we use to play it quite often. We had our own team and at the time of my injury I was still playing for that team. It was the, the team was called Four United Brothers. So I realised then already that I would never be able to continue playing football, because I would be unable to see my opponent. I would only be able to see what was happening on my left, but not on my right.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: In other words, the most important thing in your childhood was taken away from you in that fashion?
MR MBEWU: Yes, that is correct.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I am going to put one last question to you, Vuyani. At the time you say the people were at the stadium, what meeting was that or what was happening at the stadium? That did not come across very clearly in your testimony.
MR MBEWU: The field where we were was not a stadium as such, it was a field which we levelled out for ourselves or which we used for ourselves. As I said we established a team while I was growing up and at the time we were not familiar with smoking dagga and smoking and so forth, so that place was a rubbish dump where people would cross the road from their homes and just throw their rubbish there and we took the initiative to clean it up ourselves. We went and we chopped off trees, solid wood to erect the poles for ourselves and on days where we did not go to school, like that day for example, we would go and fetch our ball and go and play. So anyone who wanted to join us, because we did not always play as a team.
So then we were playing by ourselves and I think what made people even more furious was what happened in Mannenberg and that is why people came to stand there to watch. Not that many of them were concentrating on the football, because it was just a friendly street game, it was not really a match. So people were interested in what was happening in Mannenberg. So the police left Mannenberg Road and came to shoot us without us having done anything.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: You did not do anything?
MR MBEWU: No.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Thank you Vuyani. Could you, last, tell us lastly about your appearance before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission public hearings. What made you come here today? I would just like to explain that, interpretation may say something different. I just want to know what it means for you, but we would like you to tell us what coming here today means to you.
MR MBEWU: Firstly, I would say that many people, even those I grew up with and those that I am living with now, the concept that I am blind in the one eye is news to them. I also never ever said to them that I can see, but when they look at me they might see that something is wrong in my eye or they might not pick it up, but I would never say to anyone that there is something wrong with my eye, but I would never hide it from anyone who would ask me whether I could see in this eye and I would tell the person that I am blind in this eye and tell them why.
My presence here today is, if nothing else, the uselessness for which I lost my eyesight. I see no reason why, but because of the time and the circumstances which were prevalent at the time things like this happened. So to me being here and relating my story, it was a source of great pain, endless pain for me, but today it is just one of those things to, the fact that I cannot see, because I live with people. I do not isolate myself from anyone, I participate in whatever they are doing except those things that I cannot do because of the limitations of one eye. It is not something that I always think about. I try to push it out of my mind and try and do what everyone else is doing although I limit myself where I know that I cannot do certain things because of the constraints being sited in one eye only.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Thank you very much.
MS WILDSCHUT: Vuyani, thank you very much for coming to share with us your story. It has touched many of us, but what I find interesting in your story is that you were busy doing the things that young people do. You were playing, watching soccer when this incident happened. You were engaged in an activity that is expected of young people to be involved with and doing that you had to experience this incident and loose the sight in your eye, in your one eye, but I also noted in your story telling that you are the kind of person that takes initiative. You and your friends were busy cleaning up the field, taking away the rubbish and creating a space where you could play. It was something that is meant to be for young people, that young people should have places to play and that you should not have been removing rubbish, but you and your friends have taken that initiative to do that so that you could have a space to play. So we really want to thank you for being somebody who has been involved in taking up those kinds of initiatives and involving yourselves in the community in which you live, but also thank you for reminding us that we need to be involved with other people and we need to connect with other people so that we can feel supported by them especially when we are feeling that we have, injustices have been perpetrated against us. Thank you very much.
CHAIRPERSON: Ladies and gentlemen, we will now break for lunch. Please can I ask you to leave your headsets on your seats and we will reconvene at a quarter to two sharp. Thank you. Please stand while the witnesses leave the room.