TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
SUBMISSIONS - QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
NAME: EBRAHIM RASOOL
THE COMMISSION COMMENCES WITH PRAYERS
REV TUTU: First of all I want to welcome everyone very heartily to this sitting of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Looking at the incident that has been referred to popularly as the Trojan Horse occurrence, we welcome all of you very warmly here, and we want to express a very hearty thanks, first of all to the Athlone Technical College, to Mr Beech and his staff. We are deeply grateful that you have made available the facilities of this college and we are enormously grateful to you. We want to express our sincere appreciation for the witnesses who are present here. We want to welcome you heartily we realise that it is not easy to have to relive the pain and hurt of that which happened during that year. We want to thank you that you are able to do this. We are attempting to get to the truth of what happened and we want to offer you the opportunity to tell us and to describe for us what your experiences were, because one of the reasons why you tell your story, difficult as it may be, it is also that,yes, the wound will be opened, but because we hope you are going to be speaking to an audience that is sympathetic, that they will say to you, we acknowledge that these awful things happened to you or to your loved one and the nation acknowledges that awful experience and in a way the nation is saying sorry, we want to express a solidarity with you and so the wound that is opened may have balm, oil poured into it because it has been cleansed and we hope that it will heal. We hope even more that those who perpetrated such a deed, as they hear you tell your story, tell of your pain and your anguish, that this will touch their hearts and just maybe this will encourage them to ask for forgiveness.
We listen to your stories, also so that, we will find ways of ensuring that something of this kind will not happen again in our country. And so those of you who come must know that painful as it may be by contributing , not only to the healing of our land, to the reconciliation in our land but you are enabling us to say this is the kind of thing which must not happen in a South Africa of the sort for which we struggled. Ultimately, the witnesses, the survivors, when the evidence points that way, will be declared officially victims in the terminology of our act, and that will mean that they will qualify for reparation. So this is part of the reason why we are doing what we are doing. May I conclude by expressing my appreciation as well my thanks to my colleagues here on this panel Dr. Ramashala on the extreme left, who is a commissioner and is also a member of our reparations and rehabilitation committee, she is a professor in Lincoln University in the United States and currently apart from being a commissioner, she has been working with the Medical Research Council, and next to her is Mary Burton, commissioner and member of our Human Rights Violations committee and a former president of the Black Sash. Next to her is Ms Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela and she is a pshycologist who has been teaching at the University of Cape Town, Dr Wendy Orr is the deputy chairperson of the rehabilitation and reparations committee, is the commissioner and is also the convener of our office in the Western Cape, so she is my boss here in the Western Cape and as you know she did quite a bit of work on the medical profession and all about torture and Ms Glenda Wildschut, she teaches at University of the Western Cape in Public Health and also Ruth Lewin and all our staff colleagues who have worked so very hard to get all of this ready and our media persons. Then we want to thank our interpreters here who do a super job of work and want to say thank you to our briefers, who are employed by the commission but there are community briefers as well and we just want to express our deep thanks to those persons who have made themselves available to assist us in this way. Then let us thank the police and all those who are providing security for these proceedings.
I want to welcome, especially, Mr Ebrahim Rasool, who is as you know the MEC for Health in the Western Cape, Dr E Akoojee and Imam Gheerdien, Mrs Omar and Donald and Linda Horowitz who are international monitors from the United States, and then the beautiful people from Habibia Primary School, we welcome you especially, and Bridgetown High. Thank you very much.
I am unfortunately going to be here only for a little while. I thought it was important that I should come here to demonstrate how important we consider what is going to be taking place here. Unfortunately, I have run out of clothes and can't leave one here and keep the other in my office. Thank you very very much. Wendy Orr.
DR WENDY ORR: I would just like to explain to you how the translation devices work. You should all have access to a set of headphones and a receiver. If you don't and you do understand the language, or, you don't understand the language that is being used, please try and share. We ask that if people do understand the language that they hand their translation devices over because we would like as many people as possible to understand the proceedings.
The sound is transmitted from these devices on the stage so if you're having difficulty picking up the sound, try pointing your receiver to these devices. There are three channels, a button on the side, channel one is Afrikaans, channel two is English and channel three will be Xhosa when our Xhosa interpreters arrive, I'm afraid they haven't arrived quite yet, and the button on the other side is the volume button. Please leave these devices on your chairs when you leave the hall for tea or lunch, or at the end of the day because the receivers have to be recharged every day and are of no use to you outside of this hall. I can see that Mrs Asmal has just arrived. Welcome to Mrs Asmal, thank you for coaming here today.
Just one more announcement, if you have a cell phone could you please turn it off while you are in the hall and could you also try if you have to leave while a witness is giving evidence, please try to do so as quietly and as unobtrusively as possible, because it can be quite disruptive. Thank you.
The Archbishop is now going to unobtrusively excuse himself. Thank you.
REV TUTU: You will notice that as soon as I have left, it is an all women "dinges" here.
MS PUMLA GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Thank you Archbishop, we really appreciate your "dinges", your coming this morning, in spite of your busy schedule. We really do and I'm sure the families and people present this morning do appreciate this. Thank you very much.
I just want to announce that I am taking over the chairing from the Archbishop this morning and my name is Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela. The Archbishop has introduced the rest of the panel. We would like to call up the first witness and before we call up the first witness, if the first witness could get ready, we ask Ms Glenda Wildschut to call the, to do the roll call for us, to let us know who is appearing this morning, and then the first witness will come up please, thank you. Ms Glenda Wildschut.
MS WILDSCHUT: Madam Chair, today we will be hearing witness from the following persons: Ebrahim Rasool, who will be giving us a community context statement; we will then be hearing Moegamat Shafiek Magmoed in the matter of Shaun Magmoed, and Georgina Williams and Theo Williams in the matter of Michael Miranda. They were shot and killed by police in 1985. We will be listening to Zainab Ryklief who will be talking about her own experience and that of Shafwaan Ryklief,Ghalieb Ryklief and Shaun Magmoed. Shafwaan Ryklief and Ismail Ryklief will be talking about their own experiences and then Charmaine Jacobs will be speaking about the matter of Jonathan Claasen, who was also shot and killed by police in 1985.
Amina Abrahams and Toyer Abrahams will be talking about Toyer Abrahams and Ashraf Abrahams who were shot and killed by police in 1985. We will then also listen to Basil Swart who is a teacher in this community , and will be giving a context statement in respect of teachers. Sharifa Fridie will be talking about Abdul Kariem Fridie, who was shot and killed by police in 1985.
Ebrahim Akoojee will be talking about Abdul Kariem Fridie and he is an eyewitness in that killing. Chris Everson, Dennis Cruywagen and Willie de Klerk are reporters who covered the incident and they will be talking about the conflict that ensued post the shooting event in 1985. Thank you.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Thank you very much Glenda. At this point ladies and gentlemen I'd like us to stand to remember the three young people who died. The three young people and every person who died. We will give a moment's silence please.
Thank you. Please be seated. We would like to call Ebrahim Rasool to come up on the stand please.
Good morning Mr Ebrahim and thank you for coaming this morning. It is our procedure to initiate you into the process and we ask Dr Ramashala to do the ceremony. Thank you.
DR MAPULE RAMASHALA: Mr Rasool, do you want to stand? Do you want to swear or to affirm?
MR RASOOL: I'll swear.
EBRHIM RASOOL: (sworn states)
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Thank you. I would just like to remind the camera people, camera persons to speak to our media liason officer, Christel Terblanche about taking pictures. if you could handle that Christel. Thank you. Over to you Mr Rasool.
MR RASOOL: Thanks very much chair person, commissioners, I must say that I understood in the last two, three days, why so many activists are reluctant to speak because suddenly I have doubts about your memory. You discover that so much that we've experienced are compacted and it's difficult to try to unravel all the various experiences, the various killings that we've been either witness to or that we have experienced. But I think it is important none the less that we do so. I think my job is a little bit easier in so far as I'm asked to give a context statement and can try and be relatively dispassionate about some of that and so I say that with great respect to the immediate families and friends and survivors of some of the things which have happened.
I think the Trojan Horse killings would, I think symbolise at that moment in October 1985, both the growing desperation of the apartheid government and the increased brutality with which they responded to unrest and protest within townships in the Western Cape, both coloured and african. I think that what made the Trojan Horse killings not simply go unnoticed was the fact that it was captured by international cameras and was beamed to the world so that it could at that point already start to serve to strengthen the resolve of the international communities to the fight against apartheid.
On the Cape Flats, which by that time was already rocked by the start of some of the mass action, it only served to spur people on to fight apartheid even further. The scene of the Trojan Horse killings, I think had become the famous unadvertised gathering place of anti-apartheid protests, particularly student protests. I'm speaking particularly of the square that was bordered by Klipfontein Road, Belgravia Road, Thornton Road and Alexander Sinton High School. The square, I think, lent itself to that kind of protest because of it's educational institutions, the walls that were in the area, the transport routes, the sympathetic community and so forth. And it was then in Thornton Road where the Trojan Horse killings had occurred.
By this time, as I'd said, the school boycotts were, had already started. There were many student meetings and the police were quite keen to deal with these meetings what they called illegal gatherings, marches from school to school, the stoning of police vehicles, the barricades that were erected within the square and the general atmosphere of defiance that existed. And I think that it's only in that kind of context that the operation that we now come to know as the Trojan Horse killings could be conceived, planned and executed.
Just very briefly about my own role in that period. I was on the executive of the United Democratic Front in the Western Cape and was playing a role in terms of co-ordinating the struggle against apartheid. Secondly, I was also general-secretary of the "Call of Islam" which was a muslim organisation committed to fighting injustice and providing a platform for muslim involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle. Thirdly, I was a teacher in Mitchells Plain, more particularly the Spine Road High School in Mitchells Plain where we had experienced some of the first hand ways in which the police had dealt with particularly student protests.
The political atmosphere at that point was informed by quite a few events, already by that time we had the risings in the Vaal triangle, particularly around Sebokeng, which started towards the end of 1984. We had just bus loads of UDF activists and other anti-apartheid organisation activists had also returned from the funerals of Matthew Goniwe and his comrades in the Eastern Cape, and I think that we had come back with a sense of what the government was capable of and a sense of outrage that those kind of killings had happened in the Eastern Cape. The state of emergency had been declared in many parts of the country not just in the Western Cape. There had been some killings that had happened, the most notable that sticks in my mind, was the killing of Ebrahim Carelse in Salt River - That had already preceded the Trojan Horse events. Many of the leadership of progressive organisations and the United Democratic Front since the Pollsmoor march had already gone into some kind of underground life and also of course the Pollsmoor march that had taken place as I said also, we had been since July 1985 seen the beginnings of student boycotts within the Western Cape which had the effect of politicising students across the Western Cape and significantly across the railway lines, meaning both African and Coloured students had been embarking on fairly united student protests and boycotts and it was in that kind of political atmosphere that the Trojan Horse killings occurred and I think that the outrage and reaction to the Trojan Horse killing, I think, can be gauged by the fact that government had to declare a state of emergency a few days after the Trojan Horse killings had taken place.
I want to just turn to the event around the Trojan Horse killings, I think that it has been presented largely as one days events but I think that if the truth be told the Trojan Horse was an experience that occurred within a period of five days starting on Tuesday, 14 October 1985 when the actual killings had taken place. I must say that I was not at the scene of the killings when it happened - it was just after 5:00pm Tuesday, 14th when I was at my parents's place in Primrose Park when we heard of the events that had occurred in Thornton Road in Belgravia. There were very few details that were available at the time and I suspect that the initial news that went out didn't contain too much details, there was no exact sense of who had died, how many had died, how many were injured or how it happened. Two bits of information, I think, reached many people immediately after that and the bits of information were of course fairly subjective. It was a sense that the massacre of children had taken place in Thornton Road and that the police had brought about this killing by disguising themselves. So that was the sense that went out immediately after the Trojan Horse killings and I think that I together with hundreds of other people, were drawn by those two bits of information. We were drawn to Mrs Ryklief's house in Thornton Road and as someone who was fairly known as a leadership figure in the U.D.F. and the Call of Islam, I was able to get to speak to people and to start piecing some of the events together and, based on the information volunteered by those who were there already, we heard the story of the police using an unmarked vehicle. I think that the common consensus at that point was that this vehicle hadn't just made one drive through Thornton Road but that in fact, it had made a few turns up and down Thornton Road without initially being subjected to any stoning and that when it was eventually stoned after a few of it's drives down, the police then emerged from crates, started shooting in all directions and then followed some of the fleeing people into the surrounding houses and I think that, we were stunned to see the way in which the Ryklief's house particularly was pock marked with bullet holes.
But it's also a story of how someone like Dr Akoojee had rallied to the scene and had been able to aid some of the victims immediately. It is also the story about he struggle afterwards to identify those affected by the shootings. I think that as the news spread that after sunset, as we said on the Western Cape, after magrieb and that's the evening prayers for muslims, a crowd in Thornton Road started growing. The police had also sent a contingent by that time to the vicinity of the Alexander Sinton High School to monitor the crowd that was there, and I think that there was lots of anger at the fact that the police had come back into the area and particularly we because it was a largely muslim crowd also. We then engaged in Arabic recitals and chantings of religious devotions in order to try and contain some of the anger that had been built up, and I think that even at that point it would be fair to say that many of the non-muslims particularly our christian community had also become very familiar with the muslim chant called the Tabkier and so I think that those were the things that we tried to do.
I think that as the night grew the situation got more tense because the police had now moved away from the Alexander Sinton High onto the open field, close to, closer to the house and the crowd had also swollen as the news had grown. The next occurrence was that some of the crowd had spontaneously wanted to march towards the police, to try and get them out and they went a few metres but I think we managed at that point to contain them by saying that what we will be doing is that we will be trying to find out the identities of the victims and that what we will further do is, that if we don't get those identities we will hold a meeting, a mass meeting in the St Athens Road Mosque, on the Thursday night - and so I thought that the most important thing that we did was try and channel the way in which people responded to the Trojan Horse killings. I think much of Wednesday the t was spent trying to get a sense of the identities and so forth. So I think that the next significant day was Thursday, 16 October and I think that that day is particularly noted for the killing of Abdul Kariem Fridie but because of the confusion around identities, because we had no sense of who was dead and who was alive and so forth and whether the identities of some of the dead, whether they were in fact muslims also. I think that there was a great pressure on us to try and release the bodies as soon as possible too because according to Islamic law, youv'e got to bury the bodies at the soonest opportunity that you can and so there was enormous pressure for the identities of the victims to be known, particularly the dead, and the release of those bodies from the State Mortuaries, so that the burials could take place within the prescribed period and so I think that support for the meeting later that night in the St Athens Road Mosque had grown and so I think much of the day time was spent with lawyers, particularly from E. Moosa and Associates trying to release the bodies and preparing for the mass meeting later that night.
The meeting at St Athens Road Mosque itself was packed, both inside the mosque as well as the courtyard of the mosque, and it is one of the largest ones and it wasn't only muslims who were in that meeting. I would say that it would be fair to say that the mood was both electrifying and angry. I think that just the sheer disbelief in the operation that had led to the killing immediately of the three children, I think we may have come to understand that killing of children wasn't as exceptional in South Africa as it would be, but the way in which it had happened, I think that that was the informing bit of outrage through that meeting. Speaker after speaker in that meeting denounced the government, exhorted the community to get rid of apartheid but I think that as always also demanding the return of the bodies so that we could deal with the religious aspect and others of it.
I think that that mood was further intensified by the news that the police had effectively surrounded the streets around the mosque that night. We were told that particularly the intersection of St Athens Road which leads off Thornton Road, that that was blocked off and I was part of a delegation which then walked down St Athens Road towards Thornton Road in order to negotiate with the police because we were coming to the end of the meeting, we had said that there is a need for calm and dignity while we await the bodies and so forth and that we wanted people to disperse quietly and this was done by a fairly senior religious leader sheik Dean, but the police had, and as we came close to the police and started in fact to speak to them to ask them to just clear out, we suddenly heard the shots in Buckley Road which was the other street which adjoins the mosque and also leads off Thornton Avenue.
I think within the next few seconds the delegation of about three or four people that had gone to speak to the police had to scatter and find their ways behind cars and so forth because then there was just complete chaos as the shooting happened both in now Buckley Road and St Athens Road. When we reached the mosque we heard that Abdul Kariem Fridie had in fact been shot and again we got some of the doctors, again Dr Akoojee was fairly central to it. We got some of the doctors to give some immediate treatment but also I think to take the body to a medical facility. We heard that late Abdul Kariem Fridie had died and we had also then by that time got a sense that the bodies would be released and that the burials could in fact take place on the Saturday.
The Friday, I think again, much organisational work had occurred to work towards the funerals and irrespective of the fact that the three children who had been killed in the Trojan Horse incident, that they were all said to be christian. We had used the Friday sermons at the mosque in order to remember them and to invite people to the funeral service the next morning. But I think that what happened the Friday night was particularly significant, I together with some activists in the Call of Islam had been at the Muslim Judicial Council Offices, which is in Kashul Avenue, again another road leading off Thornton Avenue and we were doing some printing there when some people came to say that the army had now moved into Belgravia.
We went to look as unobtrusively as we could and indeed the army was taking up formation down the streets of Athlone and from there commenced with a door to door search, door to door visit within Athlone. I think that the common belief at that point was that it was an attempt to try to intimidate the community ahead of the funerals. We went back to the embassy offices, locked the doors and of course when they came to knock, we didn't open our door.
The last day that I think as part of the whole Trojan Horse sequence was Saturday, 18 October when the funerals took place. We had the christian funerals occurring in the morning altogether drawing thousands of people and all of those people came to City Park the afternoon for the ginaaza or funeral service of Abdul Kariem Fridie. Both of these were large funerals. They were conducted I think it's fair to say in the spirit of anger and outrage but it remained calm and dignified and peaceful throughout, and I think that we were amazed at the kind of discipline that could be exercised given the experience of the community in the preceding days, and the other thing that was crucial was that it brought people together irrespective of their colour, irrespective of their religion. I think that both funerals had such an inter-faith sense about them that I think the community had truly united around it.
In conclusion, as I said the Trojan Horse killings was not a single event, I think it was part of a process that was building up in the streets of Athlone in the Western Cape and it's repercussions were felt right through to the declaration of the state of emergency within the Western Cape.
I think that the most significant thing was that the funerals had taken place on the 18th, by about the 24th most of the leaders of the United Democratic Front of student organisations, of religious organisations had been rounded up and detained and on the 25th October, the state of emergency had been extended to the Western Cape, and so I think that that would show the immediate impact of the Trojan Horse killings.
I think that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has an important role to play, I think not only to continue giving dignity to the sacrifices which many people had gone through but maybe also to show an aggrieved community the greater meaning of their sacrifice - Because as we start to put the Trojan Horse incident together with massacres and events throughout the country, I think that maybe what we are starting to do there is to paint the picture of how apartheid was eventually brought to an end so that what may seem to be a moment of intense personal or single community grief becomes part of an overall movement that had in fact rid us of apartheid.
Many would believe the T.R.C. to have a limited mandate but I think in particularly in the case of the Trojan Horse killings we had a sense that insult was added to injury when Judge Williamson acquitted the police involved in that and the attorney-general in the Western Cape refused to prosecute them. So I think that while it's mandate may be limited in the judicial sense, I really think that the community particularly of Athlone and the Western Cape needs a message to go out that their experiences during those days, that their experiences are acknowledged and are recognised, that irrespective of what was said in the courts, that what we felt was real and I think that if nothing else, that I think is an important sense that we must get from these hearings. Thanks very much.
MS GOBODO- MADIKIZELA: Thank you very much, Mr Rasool. I will ask if anyone of the panel if you want to make comments.
I just want to pick up on something that you mentioned earlier on, you, when you started your presentation, you mentioned that the process in the comm (tape ends) ... can capture fully what it meant to be involved in those traumatic incidents and I agree with you absolutely. The irony with the Trojan Horse event in particular is that the term "Trojan Horse" conceals rather than reveals what it was all about. There was a lot that happened as a result of it and I think that the facts and the difficulties that there are in general in talking about trauma makes it extremely challenging for survivors and families of the victims to talk about their pain and I think that we should accept that this is a normal thing that happens with talking about trauma. It is part of the experience, the psychological experience of talking about trauma, there is an avoidance of talking about trauma, the repression, the denial but at the same time there is a need to talk about it, and I think that, when people talk about their pain it puts them on the road to healing of their pain and we should acknowledge that and I think this is part of the reason that we opened up the commission to public testimony and I would like to mention that in fact, there are many people who have proved the fact that this ambivalence. Some people who have come today initially didn't want to come but at the same time they decided that after all they want to come. So that's ambivalence all the time.
I think it was George Orwell who called it double think when we deal with issues of trauma there is that tendency that people find it uncomfortable but they find the drawing need to talk about their pain and we welcome the fact that families of the victims and survivors do come to talk about their stories. Thank you very much.
MR RASOOL: Thanks very much.