TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
SPECIAL HEARINGS - PRISONS
DATE: 21st JULY 1997
NAME: MISS DEBORAH MARAKALALA
HELD AT: THE FORT - JOHNNESBURG
DR BORAINE: I would like to invite Deborah Marakalala to come forward please. Deborah Marakalala? Weíd like your cooperation please, will you please take your seats and could we have quiet. Miss Marakalala? Could I just remind you that there are interpreters present and translation services in Afrikaans, English, Tswana and Sotho or Xhosa and Zulu. It is our understanding that most of the witnesses are going to speak in English but if there are those of you who have difficulty following that, please indicate to some of our staff so that they can make sure youíve got headphones so that the translation can be made available to you.. Miss Marakalala we would like to welcome you very warmly. Will you be speaking in English or in some other language?
MISS MARAKALALA: I prefer to speak in Sotho so that I can express myself well.
DR BORAINE: Fine, you will be speaking in Sotho. May I just say that we are delighted to see you and very grateful to you for being with us. I would ask you to stand to take the oath please.
MISS DEBORAH MARAKALALA: (sworn states)
DR BORAINE: Thank you very much, please be seated. Mr Hugh Lewin will facilitate your evidence which you will give in Sotho so those of you who donít follow Sotho, please make sure youíve got headphones so that you can hear the translation on Channel 3 sorry Channel 4. Thank you very much.
MR LEWIN: Deborah Iíd like to welcome you or Josephine or Mogadi whichever youíd prefer, we are very grateful to you for coming. We are going to be talking about a different set of experiences in the next segment. We heard this morning particularly about Robben Island but what we will now be hearing from you is specifically of women and in your own case, dealing with experiences in 1986 and in this area. If I could just confirm, you are from Tembisa?
MISS MARAKALALA: Yes Iím from Tembisa.
DR BORAINE: You work as an editor?
MISS MARAKALALA: Yes.
DR BORAINE: What I would like you to do please is to take us through your experience both as you say in police cells and subsequently at Sun City Prison which is still functioning as a prison. Just take us through that in your own time and your own words, thank you very much.
MISS MARAKALALA: I thank you Chairperson. I wonít say much of when they arrested me. I was arrested at church, I used to work for the church and I was the advice officer there. What I may say is, upon my arrest it was as if they were going to arrest soldiers because they arrived in Hippos, Casspirs and "mellow yellow" cars which were police cars as they were known those days, they even searched the church premises for weapons. Upon my arrest, before they could confirm I am Deborah the one they were looking for, the children of the minister for whom I worked were assaulted by the police in order to find out from them that I was indeed Deborah.
After one of the policemen who knew me confirmed that I was Deborah the one they were looking for, I admitted to being Deborah. I was then taken to Tembisa police station in the "mellow yellow" police vehicle and we were in a convoy. On arrival at Tembisa police station I found that there were policemen in a guard of honour as if a Mayor or a high ranked police official was about to arrive at the police station.
MRS SEROKE: Do not wait for the interpretation, please continue as people can understand and follow the interpretation.
MISS MARAKALALA: As we passed by they assaulted me, Iím referring to the police. On arrival at the police station the police said that they were very grateful and happy because they were looking for me for quite a long time. From there I was taken to one of the offices where I had to wait for some time until my uncle who was a policeman at Lesedi police station arrived. He asked me what I was doing at the police station and I told him that I didnít know as the police brought me here. I stayed there for a while.
There was a process which the police followed, they would come in and out and take me to different offices at three rondavels. I went into one of them and that was when they questioned me about other activists that they were looking for. Some of them had already skipped the country and I stated that I didnít know them but they continued with a list of people whom I denied knowing. I told them that these people were students and we were together in different organisations such as the Parent Teacher Student Association as well as other organisations within our community, other than that I did not know their whereabouts.
Whilst interrogating me they changed from one policeman to the other and I would have to answer questions standing, I was not allowed to sit down. At that time I was pregnant. As they could not get anything out of me during the interrogation they said they would make me tell the truth and they told me to take off my jacket, I did as I was told. At that time they started assaulting me, I became lame from my waist downwards as if I had pins and needles in my body and I lost my balance and fell and messed myself.
After that they asked me if I was prepared to tell the truth now and I said that is all I know about the people you are questioning me about. They asked me whether I was working at the church and whether the ministers were sympathetic to the SACC or other organisations within the community, like when there are funerals would they be present and would they bury victims who had been shot or whatever the cause of death was for that person who was buried.
It was already late at night and they took me to Sun City which is the Johannesburg Central Prison. At Johannesburg prison they took fingerprints and I had to hand over all my particulars, my physical address and such. They then took me to the cell. I was locked in there alone and they came to collect me the following day. We went to Kempton Park police station. On our arrival I was taken into a cell, thereafter we went into the office where "the twins" as we referred to them, arrived stating that I behave as if Iím innocent whereas I know what was taking place in the locations. One of them slapped me through my face and one stated that he would kill me if I donít tell the truth.
They continued to ask me questions but the day before they asked me who and where Takkie Boy was, as well as my younger sister who had skipped the country. I told them that I didnít know their whereabouts as they were just people I worked with at the organisation.
During the night they took me back to the prison and on arrival I did not change the clothing I had on, I was smelling like before, rather confused, sick and swollen. After a few days I asked to consult a doctor and they told me I would not be allowed to consult a doctor but I persisted and they told me a doctor would come, however the story kept on like that, the doctor would come.
There were some women in the prison when this happened who decided to start a hunger strike because they couldnít understand why they were in prison or what the charge was. The prison authorities knew that I was on a hunger strike, however I was not as I found a way to get food.
The one day I felt weak, I lost strength and late that afternoon I started vomiting. I still asked to see a doctor but I was told the doctor would not come. On the third day I collapsed, that was the time I was actually having a miscarriage and I was taken to Johannesburg hospital where they found that I did have a miscarriage and my baby was in a tube. I was there under male police guard. They inserted tubes and I was handcuffed to the bed so that I could not escape. During my time at the hospital it was male policemen who were guarding me. My family never came. There was only this sister who came to see me and the police who guarded me on shifts.
I cannot remember the number of days that I spent at the hospital, I presume it was about seven days. The day I was taken back to the prison, I was wearing grey socks and a prison blanket, the one that they put on me when they took me to the hospital. On arrival at the prison during the day, I went to the cell in which I was before I was taken to the hospital due to the miscarriage. There were political detainees outside undergoing exercises and when I arrived they were locked in cells. They unlocked my cell and I went in. I found that somebody had vomited there and there was blood and urine all over the place, it was stinking which meant that the cell hadnít been cleaned since I left for the hospital.
The following day I asked to consult the doctor. Women who were in prison told the sister in charge that I was sick and I must consult a doctor. I saw a doctor and he gave me perbex tablets. After some time I discovered that these tablets were given to someone who had bladder infection, these perbex tablets. I didnít go back to the hospital to have the stitches removed and I could not get treatment thereafter.
I stayed in prison for a long time. Time and again there were hunger strikes and I had to put up with the cold and take part in the hunger strike through which they would guard you and when you became weak they would call a doctor or a policeman and tell them your problem. I was to go back to Johannesburg hospital for a checkup, this was after there had been a hunger strike.
What used to happen which I didnít include in this statement was that I stayed there for a long time without seeing my children, I could only see them after a year. When I left, my youngest was about two years old and I heard from someone who was a common-law awaiting trial that my child was sick. The day I saw my child was after Iíd been on a hunger strike.
We were not given any study material but the book I received was a Bible which I read from the first page to the last. I stayed in the cell and looked at the walls trying to find a way to escape, that was all you could see. That was the kind of life in prison. You would wake up in the morning, get porridge which was half cooked, during the day you had lunch, after that you would have supper and you were locked in a double door cell. If there was something you deemed to happen, you would have to engage in a hunger strike.
What I want to state again is that when I left for a checkup at the Johannesburg hospital, I was transported in a van most of the times which had this section where they would have police dogs at the back of the van and I would normally be handcuffed and sit where the spare wheel was. As the van was travelling you swayed from left to right.
MR LEWIN: Take your time Deborah. Deborah it might help if I ask for some clarification and ask a specific question. Could I clarify what your legal status was at the time, you mentioned being dropped at the prison by the police, who actually took your fingerprints for instance, who looked after you in prison, the prison authorities?
MISS MARAKALALA: It was the prison authorities but I donít remember what they call them, warders I suppose? If you went for a checkup they would call the special branch officer who arrested you and he or she would take you for the checkup.
MR LEWIN: Was it explained to you under what law you were being held?
MISS MARAKALALA: The first time I was told that I was under Section 15, Section 50 not 15. After fourteen days they told me that I was detained or arrested under Section 28 or 29. After five months I was told that I have been detained or arrested under Section 5. After six months was the first time I saw my mother.
MR LEWIN: And throughout that time you were always in detention in isolation on your own?
MISS MARAKALALA: Yes. What I tried to explain was that as you left for a checkup still sick, on arrival there you were handcuffed and when you consulted the doctor your legs and your hands were still handcuffed. There would be a chain on your hands which was connected to the legs and as you passed through the passage at the Johannesburg hospital people would be rather shocked to see what was taking place because you actually looked like a bad criminal. You couldnít even explain your facts to the people who were observing this. In the checkup room which they referred to as the OPD, a place which was designated specifically for you, you could not mingle with others. Obviously people would look at you and wonder what it is with you, you would look like some sort of animal, you were not yourself anymore. It would be difficult then because you wouldnít trust the police in your company or the doctor who was to consult with you, you trusted nobody. You just asked whether you would be alive to get home the next day.
I had been signing a lot of documents which said that I was being arrested. They would tell me you have been released but we are arresting you again. What I want to share with you is that I remember one day, I think it was in July in 1987, they assaulted me at 5 oíclock in the morning then I was taken to the political prisoners who were youngsters from Manzenville and Krugersdorp, sister Bennet and amongst them was Kone. The special branch was on John Vorster Square and we were summoned in one by one, as my turn came they said these youngsters were leaving. I was told that Iím being released, Iím a free woman now and I could go. I was very jubilant, tears of joy rolled down my cheeks and I started preparing to go and see my family. When I came to the reception area, the prison warder accompanied me and I signed and they took fingerprints as I was released. It was then that the Security Branch came, telling me that they are detaining me under Section 3 of the State of Emergency Act. I said Iím released but they said no, we are detaining you and we have this document to back that up.
MR LEWIN: Deborah was anything ever referred to by the police in terms of your miscarriage.
MISS MARAKALALA: The police told me that it was because I didnít eat that I had a miscarriage. They didnít know that I did have something to eat, there was water and sister Bennet gave me my biscuits but the police didnít know of that, I was the only one who knew but for the sake of the hunger strike I was not supposed to eat. I was the only one who was pregnant at that time and I thought maybe they might feel sympathetic towards me because I was pregnant and not eating. I didnít tell them that I was eating.
White females were our warders and even if you told them that you were suffering from a headache, they would say that it was not so and you were lying. My lawyer Priscilla Djara would come and ask them why they didnít take me to the hospital and she would tell me that their response was that I was faking it. She would say that, that person was ... you saw there was blood and she vomited in her cell but they would say I faked the whole incident. They didnít care what happened to me even when you asked to see a doctor, they would come to after a long time or rather the prison warder would not come. As they changed shifts you wouldnít know with whom you spoke previously to consult a doctor. That was our life in prison. Whilst sick you would be given perbex tablets or panado tablets.
MR LEWIN: Deborah could you, because we need to try and tie up now, could you just tell us how long were you in prison and was it always at Sun City.
MISS MARAKALALA: It was one year and three months.
MR LEWIN: And during that time you were never charged?
MISS MARAKALALA: No, for the first six months or rather the first two, three or four I left for the hospital and after I had been to the hospital there was this long document that they wanted me to sign because they wanted to charge me, using that document but I refused to sign. They tried all ways to get me to sign it. From the time they took me to the police station for interrogation, they wanted me sign the document but I refused.
MR LEWIN: You mention also the fact that you werenít allowed to see your family and you were kept isolated. In your statement you also mention another result of your miscarriage and what happened, what happened to the father?
MISS MARAKALALA: What was told to me when I went for a checkup again was that I cannot bear children anymore because they extracted a ... tube. The one that is remaining is damaged. I did undergo treatment and part of the fee was paid by the state. After I was released I did receive treatment for this ... tube at the hospital and after the treatment was completed I could have a child.
DR BORAINE: Thank you, are there any other questions from other Commissioners? Then it remains for me to thank you warmly. You have had to relive again a very bad period of your own life and experience, I know this is upsetting but I hope that in being able to share your experiences, you will help us to avoid this happening again to other people and in that way youíll be making a very strong contribution. Thank you very much indeed for coming.
MISS MARAKALALA: Thank you.