TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
DATE: 28 JULY 1997
NAME: SHEILA MASOTE
CASE NUMBER: JB04279/01 GTSOW
HELD AT: JOHANNESBURG
CHAIRPERSON: On behalf of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission we would like to welcome you to this special hearing on women.
The women who will be appearing today, come from different walks of life and come from the different parts of our country, which is served by the office in the Gauteng region.
They will be telling stories of their pain and suffering. However the way we want to remember them, is not as victims, but as people who have survived the 300 years of turbulence, pain and suffering in our country.
We have a number of women who will be speaking today. Before we begin, we're going to ask Rev Vanessa Mckenzie to open this hearing with prayer.
REV MACKENZIE: Let us pray.
God our Father, God our Mother, we give You thanks for this day that You have given to us. We give You thanks for the gift of life, for freedom, for healing, for reconciliation which You have already initiated long time ago.
Today Lord, we have come to give You thanks for the process of Truth and Reconciliation in this country. We give You thanks for those who are part of that Commission; commissioners and councillors. We give You thanks for that process, Lord, that is already beginning to bring about healing and reconciliation for our people and our nation. Today we want to particularly bring this day before You, to ask Lord that You will lead us with Your Spirit. That as women come to tell their stories, that You will continue to enable them to show the strength and perseverance that they had all throughout their struggle in this land of ours.
We give You thanks today for women without whom we would not be at this place where we are today. And so we ask, Lord, that You enable all of us today to weep with them, to share with them their pain, so that we can move together, so that we can move together to wholeness and to freedom and to liberty in the truest sense of the word. Thank you for Your presence with us. Thank you for Your love for us. And just enable us to move forward today in Your strength. Be with those who will speak. Be with those who will listen. And we give You thanks Lord that You have called people to listen, because so often there's been people to speak, but no-one to listen.
And we just give You thanks and pray that You would be with us this day. In Jesus's precious name, we pray this. Amen.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you, you may be seated. I would just like to explain the proceedings for the day.
We have witnesses who will be accompanied by briefers who will assist them through the hearing's process. We have these translation machines. This equipment is available for those of you who will not understand the language in which the witness is speaking. They are available and translations will come through in English. It is a practice of the Commission that the witnesses will speak in their language of choice. I think on channel one we have - if we could just indicate the languages please. All right. Okay. Thank you.
We would like to remind people that this is a hearing where victims tell their stories. It is not the process whereby the Commission makes its findings. Investigation will take place later and the findings will take place at the end of the process.
This is an opportunity for victims to tell their stories. I'm going to ask Sister Joyce to introduce the first person who will be appearing today; a poet of our people. We are very glad that she has come to share this occasion with us.
MS SEROKE: I'm very happy to be given this opportunity to welcome Gcina Mhlope to this, our hearings for women. Gcina is a famous poet and story teller and she's well-known all over the world and we're privileged that today she's going to start us off with one of her poems.
Thank you very much, Gcina Mhlope. I'll ask you to come forward and speak in the mike. Thank you.
MS GCINA MHLOPE: Good morning. Before I start, I would like to share a quotation from a writer that I have admired for many years; a South African writer, who many young people today don't know, whose name they don't know. But it is somebody whose spirit many times goes around with me too.
I listen to a lot of people and as I grew up I was told that "a person learns until they die". And I keep learning from many great people who have got a lot to share with me. And many times when I visit a new place, I'm always found either with very young people or the very old people. Somehow these two extremes seem to connect with my spirit and I learn a lot that way.
And this is a writer called Bessie Heard. And she was asked in the Seventies, early Seventies, how she thought a revolution will come one day in South Africa and her answer was:
"It is impossible to guess how the revolution will come one day in South Africa, but in the world where all ordinary people are fighting for the rights, it is inevitable. But also, it is to be hoped that great leaders will arise there, who will remember the many years of suffering and out of that formulate new laws to treat people with human dignity and respect. It is also to be hoped that Southern Africa might one day become the home of the story- teller and dreamer, who did not hurt others, but only introduced new dreams that fill the heart with wonder; new dreams that fill the heart with wonder."
That is Bessie Heard talking.
I have worked recently with people who raised my consciousness about women whose husbands are dying in the mines and this is continuing. It's like the earth is swallowing our people. And what do women go through with this? I do not know. I do not have a husband who works in the mines. But this is a reality that we experience as well as we listen to people's pain, as we share with people who talk about these realities and this is a little poem that I wrote, as something came to my mind about this experience.
"Deeper than the dead.
My man, Zolake, works in the mines
Many years he has worked each day, risking his life;
With my mind's eye I see him every step of the way;
With that lamp on his forehead
And as I battle to answer the many questions our children ask, I know very well how he misses us.
Every drop of sweat, as it falls from his muscular body; sends out lightning fast messages that travel underground all the way from the thundering mountains of Johannesburg to find my heart.
They enter through the floor; finding my tired feet; the drops of sweat stop,
And then they start in slow motion;
To caress, to love, to reassure and to remind me of how much I love that man
When I go to wash down at the river, I think of him; I soak myself all over.
Then, as I throw water over my body,
I feel his hands all over me; as his love goes deep and touches my soul,
I know we were made for each to other
To raise our children the way our ancestors did.
He is a healthy man, full of joy and laughter; he was not meant to be buried so far, deeper than the dead men's graves.
Tell me now; what sort of life is that?
Tell me please; what sort of widow am I?
And by the way; where is the gold he risks his life every day for?
Where are the glittering diamonds that sparkle and shine in cruel disregard for the tired lonely diggers?
The gold and diamonds are gone
Gone to faraway countries where they know none of the pain of megapain
They don't hear me shout: I want my man to be with me and our children
Oh, how I dread the day the news will come;
There is another accident at the mines in Egoli, men have lost their limbs and others have died; their names are still unknown.
I tremble and think; if my husband were to die in those mines, I would lose my mind.
Our children I tell again and again to please try to learn in these times of school boycotts and street marches. I tell them to march with their minds; I tell them to think deep before they do anything; to think deeper than the dead; Deeper than the cruel minds that have robbed us of Zuleka's presence; I remind them; they are not orphans, for I am here, andnd that their father's love runs deep, deeper than the dead; yes, deeper than the graves."
Thank you very much.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much, Gcina, for starting for us.
I am going to ask Hlengiwe Mkhize to introduce the next witness for us. She is the head of the Gender Commission and we are very please to welcome her here.
MS MKHIZE: Thank you, Chairperson. I will ask Thenjiwe Mtintso to take a seat. While she is doing so, I would like to extend a special word of welcome.
We really appreciate your presence and we are particularly grateful in view of the fact that you agreed to carry millions of other women in sharing about women's involvement in politics and gender specific struggles.
We know how difficult it is for women, especially in politics, to betray their solidarity, which is the language of politics, and often its solidarity with male counterparts.
But we hope more and more there will be women of your calibre, who, besides that you are given responsibility being a chairperson of the Commission on Gender Equality, who will claim space for themselves. And hopefully lead other women to realise that it's critical, if this country's going to move forward, for women to see it appropriate to betray sometimes their male counterparts and look at gender specific violations.
We really appreciate your coming. Thank you.
MS MTINTSO: Thank you, Chairperson. I will start by greeting you fellow South Africans. It is indeed an honour for me to open this very important session of the work of the TRC. And I think it is proper that I start by first congratulating the TRC, its Commissioners and staff members, for selflessly and very tirelessly taking South Africa through this painful, but necessary route towards the beginning of a new South Africa.
It cannot be an easy road for all of us, particularly for the TRC itself. But in many instances finds itself face with the wrath of those with limited view of the intricacies of this whole process.
I think that reliving this trauma, in front of the TRC members and their staff, who have daily unflinchingly pried opened those wounds; must surely have left their mark on these Commissioners and their staff Members.
I do hope, Chairperson, that there is a system, a mechanism, by which you yourselves will be given an opportunity to go in front of some TRC office of a sort, because I don't think that we want later on to have to come back and to look at you as victims of the TRC hearings.
Chairperson, I also want to take this opportunity to salute the people that are going to be presenting here today. Especially the women that are coming forward to speak for themselves; to speak as actors, as active participants and direct survivors of the violation of human rights. Not as relatives, not as spouses, not as wives, but as themselves; those that directly suffered.
This is not to undermine the experiences of those who suffered because they were relatives. But I think today we are getting an opportunity of hearing the women's experiences as actors. They're being brought on to the centre stage.
Chairperson, I as the chairperson on the Commission on Gender Equality, am particularly pleased that this hearing is taking place, because I think it is the beginning of giving the voiceless a chance to speak, giving the excluded a chance to be centred and giving the powerless an opportunity to empower themselves.
If reconciliation is to take place, South Africa can no longer ignore the experiences of women, which we must say up front, is quite different from the experience of men, even those that went through the same torture that many of us went through.
Chairperson, you have congratulated me for coming forward, but I must be honest with you that I am a coward. This is why I want to congratulate the women who are here, because they dare stand up, they dare open those wounds. The personal cost may be high. They may have to go back home and deal with the pain that has opened today, but the overall profits are a lot, because as they are speakin here today, they speak for many of us, like myself, who are still cowardly to talk about the experiences we went through.
When today they make their sobs, they must know that there's a flood of tears from those who did not even dare to come here today. They must know that when they make their sighs when they remember, that many of us are groaning inwardly, because we are not yet ready to make those outward sighs of the pain.
As they try to free themselves today of the burden, they must know that they are freeing some of us who are not yet ready, Chairperson. I speak as one of those. I speak, Chairperson, I could not sleep last night, because I sat with myself, I sat with my conscience. I sat with the refusal to open those wounds.
There was a logic, Chairperson, as a Chairperson of the Gender Commission, that told me that I have struggled. I have actually approached some of you to then say: why are the voices of women not heard? I have fought that this voice must be heard. I have said that until those voices are heard, we cannot as a nation sayL never again.
The logic, the politics, everything was very clear, Chairperson, but the emotion was not clear. There was that conflict. Even as I tried to draft the other day when your statement-taker came to me, I tried to fill those forms and I said: can I face the consequences? The consequences which I could not imagine had happened, Chairperson, because they are known to me.
What I know, is that I have sat for years, I have build an armour around that pain. I have nursed that pain, I have owned that pain. I seem to refuse to move away from that pain. I seem to gain strength from the fact that it is my pain.
The women today have gone beyond that stage that I'm still fighting to get beyond.
Chairperson, many people wonder why we want to focus on women and heard their experiences. International experience, some of which is recorded in documents like the 1995 Belgin Platform of Action, tells us that crime against women and children during war, take a very specific and different form to that of men.
Firstly, the way the forces, the enemy forces want to show that the men of that particular country, the other enemy, is weak, they do that through sexual abuse of women. Because women are supposed to be these people that are protected by these men. So to attack a country and attack its collective masculinity, is done through raping women and children in those countries.
Secondly, women - men rather, in anger, in frustration, in hatred, they use the bodies of women and children as their terrain of struggle, as their battle ground.
Thirdly, the basic animal instinct of women at war is satisfied through the abuse of women and children.
The evidence that comes from Yogoslavia, that comes from Burundi that comes from Ruanda, bears testimony to that.
Special hearings for South Africa become necessary, because those experiences, Chairperson, are not in Yugoslavia, are not in Burundi, are not in Ruanda, they are here in South Africa.
We have just gone through a war and our bodies have been used as a terrain of struggle by men.
Secondly, Chairperson, I think in the overall, many a time when stories are being told about struggling, the stories of the women's struggles are forgotten. They are hidden. Even when they are told, they're told as a postscript; incidentally there were women. But the essence of this history, is a history of men. It is not her story, as other people would say; it is the story of the man.
Women in the struggle in this country have, Chairperson, struggled. This is particularly Black working class and poor women. When we today talk about sisterhood, we need to take that pause, Chairperson. We need to fight for the sisterhood. We need to recognise that sisterhood, but we need to take a pause and say: who are the sisters of 1997 and look at the sisters of the potato campaign, look at the sisters of those women who were removed, forcefully removed. Look at those mothers who had to have their children in the streets. Look at all those experiences and centre them so that as we build the sisterhood, we know where we come from.
This is why we are here today, Chairperson, I am sure, to talk about these struggles. To take pride in the struggles. To cry about the struggles. To laugh about the struggles, because it was not only tears, even during those tears, we still laughed.
In this audience, Chairperson, there's a young woman who I met when she was 17. I did not meet her, I heard her voice. There were many of them, they were under Section 6 of the Terrorism Act, we're all at number four, you could hear us talking and laughing and sharing jokes and singing, as Mhlope was singing here.
I remembered our songs; we laughed, they were 17. They had spent a lot of time behind those bars. They are not here today, Chairperson. They're not ready, because since 1990, since the unbanning of the organisations, Chairperson, nobody has gone back to those children, to allow them to open up and today, we hope that they can come forward and sit in public and tell you how they were raped and tell you how they were tortured and tell you the pain and tell you their loss of childhood.
It is very difficult, Chairperson. It has to be done. When you have packed your bags as a TRC, there is this work that's still to be done. When the TRC opened its work, Chairperson, I attended its first sessions, in East Londen, because one of the first woman to speak there, was the wife of a person, Abed Amohably, whose cell I occupied immediately after his death; whose experiences I was able to tell, because my own tortures showed me how Mabetla had died.
I have had opportunity to meet her subsequently, Chairperson. She is still hurting Chairperson, because the TRC's own mechanisms have not managed to help her through that pain.
We're having these special hearings, particularly because women's experiences under apartheid were different from those of men. This is particular so for women who are survivors or who were victims of the violations. This is, because embedded in apartheid and racism, there was also sexism and patriarchy.
Sexism and patriarchy rendered women in general the worst victims of apartheid, in many ways. This is particularly so for Black women, Chairperson. I am sure that the speakers here today will give a graphic picture of this difference.
I can only highlight the fact that particularly because of the intersection of patriarchy and apartheid, women's vulnerability at the hands of the security police, was worse than that of men.
Physical and psychological torture were the order of the day, for both men and women who came into the hands of the security police. But for women, lurking behind every encounter with the security police, there was the real possibility of rape or sexual abuse, which in many instances was translated, it materialised.
The sexual abuse, Chairperson, need not have taken the form of rape alone. It took many forms. Because as such, Chairperson I am not ready to open up, I will generalise about these experiences, because women have talked about them, have documented them; those that have been ready. Some of us have not.
For instance, I am sure that women will confirm, that when you come into to the clutches of the security police, statements like, "you have joined these men, because you have failed as a woman, you have failed to find a husband, you have failed to look after your children, you are a failure" This is why you have joined. You are not a proper woman".
Another favourite statement would be; "you are with these men, because you are a whore, you are an unpaid prostitute, you have come to service these men".
This consistency of drawing away from your own activism, from your own commitment as an actor, was perhaps worse than torture, was worse than the physical assault, because you could deal with that. But when, even what you have stood for, is reduced to prostitution, unpaid prostitution.
That, Chairperson, I am sure, is worse than a man who we have seen in the last weeks. The treatment that was displayed in Cape Town of the bag over your head and the strangling. Women have gone through that, Chairperson. Women have been made to sit on those imaginary chairs. Women have been made to stand the whole day, whether they were menstruating or not. As your blood flows down your legs, security police have gained strength from looking at your blood and asking you to drink your own blood.
Men have suffered their torture, the physical one, but to stand in front of men for days on end with your menstruation drying up on your legs, is not a torture that has been experienced by men. It is for that reason that the women who stand here today, are our heroines, Chairperson.
I'm not taking away from the experiences of men. I am saying it was important that these women tell their story. It is a pity, Chairperson, that the nation has not had opportunity to prepare women to come forward, because the women that are here, are hardly a third of the women who suffered in this country.
The patriarchal nature of our society must also be reflected in the extend which women were susceptible to trace of harm to their own children and family, if they failed co-operate. If you were in the clutches of the security police and the hand of a child, the photo of a hand of a child, is shown to you and you are told that is your child, your comrades were running away from us and we killed your child.
END OF TAPE 1 - DAY 1 - SIDE A
... the responsibility, the role that had been given by society to protect your own children.
As if that was not enough, Chairperson, when men were tortured and suffered in the hands of the police and they stood ground against the physical abuse, there was a sense of respect - where the tortures would even say "hy is 'n man". There was that respect for that man. But when a woman dared, when a woman dared refused to cow down, to be cowed down; then that unleased the wrath of the torturers, because in their own discourse a woman, a black "meid" a "kaffermeid" had no right to have the strength to withstand their torture.
They could understand a man, but not a "kaffermeid". So the torture in that way began to be even more than it would have been had you been probably a White male or even a Black male.
Chairperson, women under banning orders; again if there was to be comparison of the pain, I would think that the women under banning orders and those that were banished, suffered even more than the men. The security police stopped at nothing, because they had to peep and prey and check; not because you were a political threat, but they had to prove a point; you were a whore. They had to find you at it in the middle of the night, wherever you dared to go.
This once again is not unrelated to the expectation that the women were the whores, the women were the prostitutes. They were not the revolutionaries, they were not committed; how could they?
I think, Chairperson, the sexual harassment and torment can only be told by the women who are here, ready to come to you. It cannot be told by me, because the stories that I carry, I as Christian say are still my cross, but I still want to carry, for some reason. Perhaps I still want to torture myself.
Perhaps I still think that they make me what I am. Perhaps I think that when they are outside there, the tension in me will be removed. Because that torture started when I was very young, Chairperson. My activism started when I was 13 and I have been carrying this for all those years and perhaps the lack of readiness, I hope the South Africans will understand. Because it may be that something from me will be removed; something that makes me.
Chairperson, again I think in relation to that, being a Black woman and being in the hands of very beefy White security police, our experience is that I am sure that the Black man or the White males or even the White women, would not be able to understand. Because there was again that play of power roles here. The power of the White and the power of the male. And the lone helplessness of a Black woman, and sometimes I got very angry with thin Black woman. Even the weight mattered, because it removed again some stereotype of what a Black bitch should look like.
Again, Chairperson, socialisation into patriarchal societies has given the women the role of being care-givers, of being healers, of being supporters; ever ready to care of others. As a result women turned not to focus on their own pain. They need to be held and really have time to heal themselves.
I hope, Chairperson, these special hearings today are giving women that opportunity to bear themselves so that our society can help them to heal. I hope this is the day when we acknowledge the need to recognise the women's needs for their own space; their own space to heal themselves. If we did not offer women this opportunity, South Africans would have been the poorer, as these experiences of women would never have been recognised, respected, recorded and lessons learnt, so that they should never be repeated.
Above all this nation could never seriously talk of reconciliation with such pain and grief locked away amongst it citizens.
Chairperson, I have talked about the experiences at the hands of the security police, whether women were in solitary confinement or in the so-called Section 10 or in the so-called Section 22 or whether they were under banning orders. or whether they were abducted. But there is a yet another body of experience which I am not so sure if it is going to come out today.
There is still the experience of women in the national liberation struggle itself. There is still the experience of those women in the camps, Chairperson. I was in those camps, Chairperson, but that is an experience that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission will have to find. It will have to be talked about, because it is yet another experience, different from that of the security police, but having its own dynamic of womanhood.
I hope that today also Chairperson, we'll get answers as to whether women were never perpetrators. I don't know if the women who are here today - I don't see the signs of women who I would have thought would have been here today. Because there is this tendency to project women as this passive observers, helpless under these violations. And witnessing these violations, but not being participants in these violations.
Today as other violators and perpetrators loudly refuse to come forward for one reason or another, there is a loud deafening silence on the part of those women who were perpetrators. We know there were women perpetrators. We know the sisterhood that we are here talking about today.
Some of it is artificial. As we go to the women's conferences and hug and kiss, we are kissing with some of the perpetrators. It is okay that we kiss, but it is not okay that they do not come forward and talk about the role that they played.
There were the boys at the border. They received packages. In the media there was space given to the boys at the border. Their parents, their sisters, their parents were egging them on, onto Angola where we were, onto Namibia were the terrorists were, onto all the forward areas where we were.
Today those women are not here. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has to find them, Chairperson. We cannot build gender equality in this country when those women build on those falsehoods.
Besides these women as supporters, as wives, as partners, they were active, Chairperson. Those who went to jail, know that in number four were looked after by White warders. wardresses. Those who were in Potchefstroom with me, those who were in Ungtungu with me, I was never looked after by Black wardresses, because I was this vicious terrorist. I was looked after by White women; some of them today say we are sisters. Some of them today say, Chairperson of the Commission on Gender Equality, I have forgiven, Chairperson, but they must come forward. Torture was not only done by men, Chairperson. There were White women. There were White women. Not all the women were tortures, but there were White torturers. Where are they, Chairperson? Why is the Truth Commission silent about those women torturers? I hope they're coming tomorrow, because I don't see them in the list today.
It is only when they come forward and face these women here and hark in reality and tell their own story, as the perpetrators, that we can begin to say we are on the path to reconciliation.
Patriarchy must not be allowed to shield these women, because they claim they did this for their partners, for their husbands, for their brothers. We cannot allow patriarchy to be used when it suits other people. Patriarchy has got to be eradicated in all its forms.
Chairperson, as the TRC wraps its formal part of the work, as it publishes its report and as it breathes a sigh of relief for a job well done, we must know that the job continues. The mammoth task that still lies ahead is the continuous and consistent struggle for justice and protection of human rights, especially gender justice and gender rights.
The frightening statistics of violence against women and children which has reached in my own view, Chairperson, genocide levels, has to be addressed. We cannot hope that there is going to be yet another TRC to address that, because in these sessions we're backward looking. We've got to take the process forward; we've got to look in the now and the future.
We have just come out of this war. Part of the violence against women and children, is because of that war, but part of that is operation of patriarchy itself, because when male control and authority is in any way challenged or threatened as it is getting challenged and threatened every day in our country, it turns itself to the most violent forms and with women and children, their bodies being used as, once again, the terrain of anger and struggle.
Democracy, reconciliation and nation-building remained threatened so long as patriarchy in all its forms and all the forms of patriarchy, Chairperson, are violent forms of patriarchy. They are actually a violation of human rights. We cannot limit human rights to what is in the act. Gender inequality and gender injustice is a violation of human rights. It does not necessarily mean that we must have the hearings, but it means we must have the process of eradicating that.
As we today look back in our gruesome past, we must realise that our present and future remain in jeopardy, despite the good work of the TRC, if the violence against women and children is allowed to continue.
The South African society needs to be mobilised in the same manner that it was mobilised against apartheid. In the same manner that we won that war against apartheid. Why are we not mobilising and engage in that war against violence against women and children? Why is the nation continuing as if nothing is happening? Why are these massacres allowed to happen? Why is this genocide? Why are we allowing it? Why is it being made a role of women?
It is not the role of Government alone. It is the role of this society, because if we do not do that, one year, two years down the line, we will have to have that Truth and Reconciliation Commission once again for us to come back and retell the stories that we suffered under democracy, Chairperson.
Within our own homes, the domestic violence in our own homes, the violence in our streets, the violence in the work place, the violence that's permeating all of our society. Most of the time what is being highlighted, are the hijackings. I am not undermining this. I am not undermining the deaths. Look at the wall down Wits. That wall; look at the faces. Ninety nine percent I went there and looked and registered, 99% are faces of men; where are the women who have been killed? Where are the women who have been raped? Where are the women who are getting battered in their own families? They are not in that wall. Why are they not in that wall?
Is that your work, Chairperson, as we build reconciliation? Because I get angry when I pass that wall. I get angry that the women's own suffering is not being recognised by this country. I get angry because the TRC is silent about that. Because it is happening now. It is not happening in the days of apartheid, it is happening now.
Chairperson, I hope that these hearings, the first of their kind, will be conducted with sensitivity, respect and dignity; not only from yourselves, good Commissioners, but from the members of the public and from the members of the Press, because I don't think that the women that are here today, are here for sensationalism. They have dared take the risk of opening up. And I think that the Press as the educator in this country, owes it to them to respect them and to report on them with that dignity. After all that they have gone through, they deserve that from every member of this public.
The whole purpose, Chairperson, will be lost if, as we centre these experiences of the excluded, we lose sight of the vulnerability and fall victim of that sensationalism. I know, Chairperson, that the Truth Commission has got the programme of therapy, but I hope it can be sustained, because my own experience in the few months has been that some of the women whose wounds you opened, we did not pay enough time or give them enough opportunity to heal once they left these halls.
I have been to Cape Town where there were hearings, Chairperson. I have been to Port Elizabeth. I have been to King William's Town. There are wounds that have been left gaping there. It may not be the duty of the TRC alone, it may be the duty of the public, of all of us, but those wounds, they need to be addressed, Chairperson. You cannot open them in this hall and leave them gaping. Somebody has got to take responsibility.
There was a hearing that was held in Cape Town, a hearing after the TRC had been there. I was then called to a post TRC hearing. It happened three months after the TRC had been there and it was called the post-TRC hearing, because the women were expressing their anger against the TRC.
On behalf of the Commission on Gender Equality, I would like once again to thank you for offering me this opportunity to open this hearing. I would like to pledge our support as the Commission for the work of the TRC and to extend our solidarity and support to the South African women who are about to share their pain with us today. You are opening the way for gender equality in this country and many of us salute you and pledge to follow your path.
I do want to say that, Chairperson, even as I sit here and I narrate in broad and general terms, that pain has been opened. If it happens like that to me, who has not even started to open her own pain, how much more to those who have taken the risk to come and open.
I thank you.
MS MKHIZE: Thank you very much. You have literally run away from us. We wanted to thank you while you are sitting over there. Your input has really highlighted quite a number of issues which I suppose not only this Commission, but the Human Rights Commission and the Commission headed by you, will struggle with for the next 10 to 20 years.
In particularly the aspect where you're looking at liberation movements. That's going to be the most difficult one, in view of the fact that people will be expected to look closer home where their base is and their support and also corridors of power where decisions about them are made.
We thank you very much. I hope your opening words are going to encourage the women who are sitting with us today, to realise that it's important and it's acceptable for people to look at their own personal life; not only to share about their husbands and their sons, but to look at their own personal injuries; as a right to healing and reconciliation.
We thank you very much, Thenjiwe.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. Before we call our next witness, I am going to ask Gcina to give us another poem, please.
MS SEROKE: Whilst Gcina is moving to her seat, I just want to tell you a little more about her.
She was born in Hammansdale in Natal and she's a short story writer and story-teller, a playwright, director of Zanindaba story tellers, has worked many years with the Market Theatre and other theatres internationally.
MS MHLOPE: I'll be brief again, I'm just watching time and all of these things.
I want to sing a song that sometimes I have spoken to somebody who is democratic and free writer. He said to me, you can't sing a song like that man, things have changed, you must stop it. This is an old song and someone will bore you with an old song, because these are democratic times.
MS MHLOPE SINGS POEM
This is a poem that was written for a friend of mine. I lived for seven years in Alexander Township and while I was living there I was living in a single sex hostel and the weird things go on in a single sex hostel. But we won't go into that. I would just talk about a friend of mine and what was and who were the baddies, you know, and the story of the baddies.
And this is a story, a poem, that was written for her. It is called "Sitting alone, thinking". The mid-eighties were strange times too.
Lately I have more than once found myself sitting alone, thinking. Not that I have such a lot of time to just sit and think I am a busy woman with a heavy schedule. I have to try and keep up with the fast world around me. But then, somehow, it happens, right in the middle of all the hustle and the bustle. Everything just stops, and I find myself sitting alone, thinking, would Mr President be a better man if he had a womb and breasts full of milk? Would he be impressed by the number of children jailed all in the name of peace, law and order? If he had just one 10-year-old in detention? Would the smell of teargas and the sight of bloody bullet wounds be so appetising as to bring that strange smile on the President's face; if he had a womb and breasts full of milk? These are the kinds of visions that come up to me as I sit alone, thinking, yhinking of my very best friend, as she sits in a jail cell longing for her little baby, her painful breasts so full of milk
My friend had a child of only three weeks. Her baby was three weeks old and she was detained and she was not allowed to take her child to jail.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you Gcina. We would like to call our first witness, Sheila Masote, to come to the witness stand.
The Commission has often been called a Kleenex Commission, a Commission of Rears. Today I think, as we share the pain of the women who are coming to tell their stories, I would like to remind us that there's healing in tears and that there's no shame in crying.
And, that in fact, the women who are coming to tell their stories, have in fact survived the years of violence, but the violence for women is not yet over. Most of the stories in this country as the opening address said, are stories about men.
The women are often very secondary in those stories and yet domestic violence in this country continues unabated. Young children, young women are still raped and women don't have the peace of mind to walk freely. There is no real freedom for women in this country.
So today, as we look back on our past and we look back at the stories of these women, we need to realise that women in this country all over need to mobilise, to make sure that the women of tomorrow have a safer South Africa to live in.
I'm going to ask my fellow Commissioner, Hlengiwe Mkhize, to lead Ms Masote's story. Thank you.
MS MKHIZE: I would like to extend a special word of welcome, especially to our mother, Mama Tupe. We are grateful to have you here.
But to you, Sheila, I say please don't do that to me, this is your time so that you can speak. I will request you to stand up so that you take an oath. Okay, Sheila, you'll manage. Yes, that's very, very important. I will ask you to stand up and to take an oath.
SHEILA MASOTE: (Duly sworn, states).
MS MKHIZE: Thank you. Sheila, I will ask you to be ready to share with other women about your own experiences having grown up within a family which was deeply involved in liberation struggles in this country.
I know how difficult it is to look back at many years of suffering within one's family and to talk about it. But this is very, very important for you, number one, and for your family and for many young people who grew up in families which were directly exposed to the atrocities of our past. Thank you.
MS MASOTE: Thank you. Can I start?
MS MKHIZE: Yes. You can start by just introducing the person next to you and your name and where you are working and how you like to talk to your story.
MS MASOTE: I'd like to greet everybody and to thank the Truth and Reconciliation Committee for this opportunity to come and just share the purpose of why I am here is to share, not to make, maybe to show that we've gone through a lot or to get praises or you know, shame or sympathy; just to share.
I'll compose myself. I am sorry. My start is a bit cold. Next to me - I'm with me, Mrs Benja Mathopeng, wife to, of course my father, the late Zef Mathopeng, president of the Pan African Congress of 1986 to 1990 when he passed away.
On the programme it says I'm here to speak about - on behalf of the family. No, that is not what I am here about. My mother has put in a submission as aN individual and representing the family.
I then felt, yes, I'm part of the family, but I refuse to be family and have no identity as Sheila. The problem that I have always suffered and I have always said to myself is that I don't seem to be having an identity like belonging to me. I'm always either Zef's daughter, Mathopeng's daughter or Mike Masote's wife. Or no, Masote's mother and Zef Masote's mother. But no, I feel I am me. And this is why I am here.
As a little girl, as a teenager, as a woman, as a mother and as a builder and as somebody who has really contributed in the struggle, I may not have been seen in the forefront, but sometimes I believe they also serve who are on the stand and wait.
Therefore I - it's such a big story that I have. It's a long life. I am 52 years old and most of it I have been born in a family that's been through the struggle. And I should be presenting a statement, maybe this big. I know others are as big as this room, but mine has also formed a part.
But I tried to summarise here in picture form, because so that I keep in focus. I have here some of what I was stripped of. And I have a ball, representing my crumbled world.
I was born in a very, very up family; my father and my mother both teachers. Of those days, the royal readers, the best and they stayed in the best place. When so it had started, it was not so. It was Orlando-East and then into Orlando-West. And this is the elite. This is where you find the Mandela's, the Sizulu's, the Nefews.
They were hurting Barbara, my sister. People have whipped her. I am sorry. Bear with me. I cry a lot. Sometimes it's anger, sometimes it's pain; it's a mixture.
And this was a beautiful place. Many people know my father as a politician. But let me tell; my father - I'm just giving you this background so that when I come to me - I'm not omitting my mother. I start with the late.
My father was a cultural man. He was the first president of the TATA - the then Transvaal African Teachers' Association, which later became TOWATA. He was the first chairperson of the then Johannesburg Bantu Music Festival, that has brought forth all this Eisteddfod, all the culture that you see, the coming up of Dockare House.
During those days, it happened right in Orlando West, (... indistinct) musicals and all that. I'm trying to show, my mother herself has been a teacher, a conductor, a singer with the Colera Churavoice. You may wonder why I - where I get these tales from. I'm highly cultured and I need no apologies; I am. I am married to a highly cultured man. The only man, the only Black in Africa who holds a liscensiate in (... indistinct) teaching.
He's a teacher and he's the only man who has started and established an orchestra, purely Black. So I know what I am talking about. But all that has crumbled. I'm not boasting.
Now, I want to tell you; my mother still runs a choir of children, young girls. Their called the Nightingales. They started way back in the fifties, 1952 she says. It's a community programme. All of us, the Barberas, the Smetombi, they have come through this choir and have passed. The age group is between about six and then fourteen, because as we grow up to be teenagers and she couldn't handle us. We passed on and we had other interests.
But she has kept - that is why the girls of Orlando was (... indistinct) cream and I am part of that cream.
Here is Barbera.
Now, I am saying to you, my crumbling world was; I had a family that was home and togetherness. My school work suffered a lot, because I had a lot to carry on me. I couldn't study, I couldn't be worried about my dreams. I needed to be a lawyer, at one time to be a social worker. Yes, a teacher, because you would look up to your mother or your father.
I had no trust at that stage. It went. The church, I couldn't trust, because I didn't belong. Why all this happening to my family? Why all this happening to Orlando West? My friends and my neighbours, they got away from me, because the special branch always came to my home. They harassed my family. They went to the family, to the neighbours, to the children I played with and they threatened their parents.
And we didn't have structures, support structures. I lost - I'm talking about this as a young girl - I lost role models, because at that time in the sixties; that's when everybody was moving away. The Emplateles, everybody, they're my levels, the Mgees, my close family friends, my parents, the people that were good, were going either in exile or in prison.
The frequent imprisonment of my father first, which was we knew, and then later my mom, then myself, my husband and above all, I'd like to make it clear that one thing that also broke me was this - as a child I didn't understand - I know there's now peace, there's ANC.
And at my home, there was wintate nephews - wintate Susulu, wintate Mandela and Mr Rabarocketh. They used to come to my home and hold meetings with my father and they were fiery and when I grew up I learned they were the youth league.
And later on, just from the blue I hear there's now peace and how even our teachers changed. Yes, people have to be strong in all allegiance to their parties and there I was in the middle.
Now my father I see other people coming. I say where are those? Where are (... indistinct) when he used to my home? That is the president, wintate Mandela. I just want to show you how close - he would always be having a sweet. "Where's Sheila?" He's always been having this ... indistinct) of a voice. Even when he was in prison as I grew up, I used to always think of him and I used to write more to him than to Susulu.
And I miss that. And he would always say "You're still so beautiful." I remember the first time when he came back out of prison to come and see my father, I was there; now as Mrs Masote. "Where's Sheila? Oh, you've grown to be such a beautiful young woman."
And I looked at myself. Thirty. Me, a young woman, beautiful? But I'm trying to show that was the world that crumbled and why? Because the system brought all the split and where was my mother in all that?
I come to my family's breaking. The main thing was society. I would also say this communal living; I could go to granny next door, I could go to Memama. And I knew I would find help. If there was no milk at home, it was easy for us to go and ask for it. Or just to visit and play next door. I knew I'd come back healthy and well and well fed.
My mother would go work and she knows her children are safe. Our keys, door key, would stay at the third house from your house. Next time the next time. Nobody would come and steal. Everybody would look after it.
But all that crumbled, because the special branch had to come in and tell people; these are terrorists. You dare be seen associated. And then my family, that is my whole family. Then my father got dismissed. When they did the introduction of Bantu Education, joblessness came and my mother had to follow suite, loose her teaching post, because she can't go and work for the system when my husband has been -
My extended family; they started fearing us. My brother went into exile. There was loneliness. There was non-stop harassment of the special branch. There was a series of imprisonment.
My father, you know it's better I think, because I haven't experienced. I always think, maybe if my father had gone once of maybe life imprisonment or long term, I would then cope. But then he would come, go three years, come back, stay with (... indistinct) us in the house, then going in and out, then he goes again, then banishment.
And where was I as an only daughter? And you know as daughters we're very close to our fathers. And above all, I could see my brothers turning into alcoholics; those that remained. I have a blind brother, but you won't believe. He used to drink like a fish. One day he would be travelling all over working so good with directions, but he would be dead drunk the very next moment. I'm not exposing, I'm just showing you.
My mother was very frustrated, unsupported and lonely. In all this, all this torture, I have the world and my family and down there is a big load. And there was who as a girl child?
I won't read through my story. I have it in paper, but I would like to say with all that, I used to go for ballet, I used to sing, I was a little girl in tutus, ribbons, pretty little thing; the only daughter of a well-off family.
I'm not omitting my brothers, but I'm speaking here for myself. They can come and talk about themselves. And it all went, because when ballet was stopped for Black little kids. It was taken at least to the Coloureds. Maybe they felt it was better. And I stopped. It was one of my major skills.
I resorted to ballroom dancing. Then that's where my conflict with my mother - I love my mother and I would like to say to you people what I'm mainly saying and that even my daughter there is worried. And I've come alone with my mother and she has suffered and I'm not trying to be - we're just trying to show the suffering we went through together.
I have seen my mother break down. I have seen my mother when she did least expect it that I know, crying, sobbing. I had questions as a daughter. Mom, what's happening?
Then PAC's policy was that women should stay at home, should not participate. That is why even in the visuals, even when the toy-toys it was for us, our women folk, we wanted to, but the policy was looked after. It was all by way of trying to say when we go out to jail, when we go out and be killed, you look after the children.
So my mother was always there for myself and others. So I would always say, Mama, what is happening? And they were not told. The husbands wouldn't share much. And therefore this started to make me - because I didn't understand then - have an attitude towards my mother. Why, why doesn't she share with me? Why doesn't she understand? Why does she beat me up so much? Why?
Because she was frustrated. And I was the only one close to home. My brothers turned to, like boys would have it easier maybe, they would go to bands, play, they started the all-rounders and the all blind band that started in the sixties, seventies and later on they joined Lebachunes. They have been outward-going. I was always at home, looking after my mother.
She started to be sick. She would be going to hospital sessions. I would be the sole person in the house, exposed to if people wanted to rape me. Fortunately it hasn't happened for me. It almost nearly happened, but never happened.
There was other things, traumas that I had. My home was now very cold, very needy, very - no friends. Except a few friends, later on, that did come onto the scene. I went to school with her, among other things. And she was supportive to me in many ways. I'm not saying everybody moved out, but I'm saying the world crumbled.
I would like to say, my adult life; all this time there was - the police, I think, have always thought I'm the strong one of the family. Yes, I look weak outside, but yes, I am very strong. I have carried a lot. I've carried even things for my mother. Even when she wasn't away, I was carrying for her.
Sometimes I wasn't even in her way. I remember even when my father was very sick, terminally ill, when he was released from prison. To my mother I looked like I don't know my role. I am forward.
But she was very sickly, because of her hip transplant. But because she's also a firm and strong woman, we had to be hitting against one another. And I had to put my foot now and again. She had to be swearing at me. It was very clumsy and some scars are deep.
Some of the things I'm not ready to share, but we've had a lot of unpleasantness with my mother. And I think that was one of the things that have killed me.
I think as a teenager, one thing that my mother had never - I didn't know how to handle me, because she didn't have energy. Maybe she's a social worker. She was chased away at the third year, Janof Meyer, not for the inability to do her work, but because she's wife to an activist. Because of my father's activities.
Again, second time, she's losing out on her profession of her choice. And those things; who was there? It was me. When my mother wanted to bash somebody, it was me. I must say I have been very much abused; by stick, by mouth, by just non-performance, maybe by denials of my rights as a child, which I may not go deep, because maybe people may think it will (... indistinct).
But because I'm sitting here with her, I see this as a chance that out there, like I am here to represent other children, that want to speak, but maybe think (... indistinct) as we are socialised girls and women we must be quiet.
Just to encourage people to say I've taken the step. My story may not be worse than others. I may not even have put it. I have rehearsing it so much; so many good things have come. But on stage now, I'm leaving out a lot.
I remember when I was phoned to come and talk about myself. I was saying to myself, hey, how do I? And I spoke to my daughter and my children. They said, granny is now eighty years. Will she handle it when you talk that you were not happy with her? I said, she went through it. She can't hurt because I've said it. It may be the last straw on the camel's back, but so much has been done to her. She's been strong. When other women I know outside here, for having killed so-and-so, did this; it was outward and insane. But with the lacks of (... indistinct) it was internal and who do you think received the family. She was breaking the very family she was trying to keep together.
And this I carried along even into my marriage life. I also bashed my son. I almost killed my son. Today he's in Switzerland. He is the finest journalist and the Lord dear hold the man in school. I'm trying to show you how cultured we are.
But the sister at the age of about eight, saw him go up; he was about six, hanging himself, trying to hang himself in a tree when we were staying in Pefene. Because I used to bash my son. I would give him money at about four when I knew everybody has come back from school. Everybody is coming from work and Vugane's stores in Orlando West, was a busy shop. And I'd give him money just to go and buy a bread or go and buy things I don't have done.
And when he goes, I know he's so short. The counter is up there, he will be asking for help. I would be calling him to pick up a fight. (... indistinct) As soon as this thing dries, you've had it, my son. My son would run. My boy would run.
And as soon as he sees that saliva hit, spat, undressing, he doesn't even wait. That is now how he knew socialise by his mother. I would take a sjambock.
That is what used to happened to me, my friend. I would beat him. I would beat him. I don't know what for. I would beat him until my neighbours jump over the fence. "Shiela (... indistinct) Shiela."
That is what my son went through. I went through the same. I did it. I don't know what it is. I have done lots to my daughter. Today she is a lawyer. I'm trying to - I'm not boasting, I'm showing when you have the will to live you can beat the worst of forces. The worst of military forces, the worst of detention, genocide and if you are a woman and to tell yourself; my God is there. I'm not going to give up. I'm not going to give up. Those people are not my Maker. I'm not going - and the bus should stop here.
Today my children have advanced. Zef, named after his grandfather, always says, friends I don't know what suffering is. And that for me is, is a joy. I sing hallelujah and praises to my God that I have overcome.
I have gone through therapy. I've tried. I've associated with people. People who are supportive to me like the speaker was saying; her friends have been the youth, those very young and the old. Those are my darlings. I have gone to other mothers, because my mother has broken down. She needed other mothers. She didn't see she was very defensive, denial. I had to move out and look for other mothers. And they've build me and I'm saying that those structures that the SV's broken down, threatening, scaring people, let's come together.
Grannies, where are you? Little girls, where are you? Who tells about mysteries? And who tells you about what's a lining? Do we still tell stories to our children? That's what has happened. My children can tell. I didn't many stories, because I didn't have a granny. But one thing my children always give me credit for, are always giving me joy when they give me feedback. Hey, mama used to tell us story. Sometimes you could see, no, you're making it up. Then tomorrow it's Elan, tomorrow it's Sarah and they say, no, that was a school name. You know, at home she would be called Elan and then at school and at Sunday school, she's called Sarah, because now I had to make stories.
MS MKHIZE: Yes. Thank you very much. I'm sorry to interrupt you. You have really brought before us the pain ...
MS MASOTE: Yes, and I haven't spoken about my imprisonment and ...
MS MKHIZE: Yes, I'm coming. I'm just giving you the break so as to help you to focus. You can have something to drink, but basically what you have done, you have really brought before us the pain and the suffering of generations of children, born in activist families.
We appreciate what you have done and we hope this is the healing mud for you, not only for you, but for your daughter as well; as she's looking at you and her brother, your son, where he is.
Sheila, having said that, I would really like you to tell the Commission about your own detention in 1977.
MS MASOTE: Yes, I was detained, because in 1976 my father was then arrested for his political activities and they say in sighting the 1976.
And here I want to pause and say; I see histories being distracted and my father's name is never mentioned; whether it's mentioned by the way. I see, I'm not jealous, or I'm not saying it shouldn't happen.
I see we have a monument, like Hector Pietersen monument, but I don't see us talk that when our leaders were in prison, children came too; I was there and I was there and I saw it, came from ballet, the high schools, the ... indistinct).
They came to my father and he wept with them, because their main story was Africans. And they mobilised against it and they were marching, because he was one of the leaders, the main leader who was instrumental in that.
And when the whole erupted and lost direction, today, very little is said. And I'm saying I'm honouring you daddy wherever you are. You are our leader.
So in 1997, because he was arrested in August, just after the riots and he was accused that the list number one, were accused number one for the 1996 riots.
My mother then was taken and we went with my mother, because all my life from childhood we were looking for my father each time he was arrested. It was more from Pila to Pospo. All the prisons, I know them all. Not the inside, because as a child, we were not allowed to go into prisons.
And in 1997, then my mother got detained, because she was in Jansens, looking for my father. Then I followed her. I was pregnant. I followed with my husband to look for her. With the help of ... indistinct) and others. And we looked for my father. And we discovered that he was kept in Pietermaritzburg. Excuse me.
My mother too, we thought, she should be there. Because nobody told us. Then we went with my husband. The first visit we were allowed just to say to us that they must write and we want to make sure; are they in this prison.
Who told you to come here. We had to go through a lot of interrogation. But we were not allowed to see them, because they were under Section six. So what I did, I said, please can you make them write a list of what they would need. I'd like to buy something, because I wanted to make sure I see their handwriting. Can I buy them stuff? Yes, you are allowed.
So my mother made a long list that went to the other side of the page. Petti-coat, lettuce, sweets, stockings you know, and I was happy. My father just two, vests and a woollen cap and I was glad he's there.
I was happy and I know my mother made a long list, because she was trying to send messages; I'm alive, I'm here, try and do this; we're alive. So, the first time they took it and they took, because we were doing this from our pocket at the time, I could - and then I said only the old top, daddy. Ten rand, ten rand, blessed things that we bought for them.
The next visit, which was in December 1977, into January, we were then, my husband was told we were going through the same process of making the list, going shopping, coming back and when I came back, we were there with my husband and the one; I don't know their names; the one gentleman said, policeman said; I'm sorry Mr Masote, I've got bad news for you.
And I thought, oh, my parents are dead, what. So I braced myself and he said; we're detaining your wife under Section six; of what, I don't know. And the rest I didn't hear. And then he was saying, Sheila, you mean Sheila is - and please stop touching her, because now she's a prisoner. You please go. You're not supposed to say anything, telling her.
All I could say was, darling go, because my daughter was then six, my son, Klutana, was four years old and Zef was not born then. But she's not well, she's in a family where - what do I do? No, we'll look after her. She's starting with Unisa. She didn't bring her material. She has to write in January. We'll send for those. Her clothing is at the station, because we had to leave our clothing at Pietermaritzburg station.
So I got in to cut a long story short. But then I got a lot of, not so much physical hitting, yes I've got that until - but most of it was hunger, was sitting and being given a pile of papers to write statements, being told your mother is giving us a lot of information about you and what you have been doing in Botswana and ABC. Please go on and it must really be like what your mother has said.
And I thought all these years these people have been doing a lot of harm to my family, I don't think it's true. But then I got kicked. I was put in a cell. It was about this big. Halfway is the cell where I stay, halfway is the yard; the yard which had no ceiling, but just barbed wire and burglar proofing and here was the cell and down there was a toilet that regularly at the count of, I think about 23, one two three, whaa and it went on day in and day out.
It was very high, a small light there and there was this mat where I could sleep.
The room was filthy, full of lice. The walls - as I was thrown in that wall, it had all the graffiti of blood, whatever. Some were saying, fuck Jesus or some was saying God saves or I was in here and left. There was no date.
And then it was the first time I ever got into a cell. I've been a teacher, I've been a mother, I've been a musician, I know my father has been here, but is this the real world? I went through all.
But then what was worse, behind the cell was a little road I couldn't see, but I could judge. And then passed that wall was a big building, the post office of Pietermaritzburg and as I was kicked and I lost my pregnancy I was left there and I said, but I was all bleeding.
The lady was talking of blood, oozing down your legs and drying up there. That is what I went through and I called please call a doctor then. Please help me, I'm dying. I shall die.
They left me. I don't know how long, whether it was days, I couldn't tell. Whether it was two days or it was a day, they didn't come to my help. But when the doctor finally came, he gave me, whatever he gave me, I was then - the door, this door was opened to go into the yard to wash. There was a tap there. There was a drain.
And up there were men, cleaning windows of the post office. And as I was there washing, hey, you know I'm not racial, tribalistic, but you know I wouldn't even name. When they scold vulgar, they really can do it.
Asking me questions of when last did you have sex? Hey, look at you? Are you bleeding because - They were looking at me and at first it was not the world I'm used to. I've been taught to respect other people's privacy.
I knocked at the door if I need to go to bedroom, somebody else's bedroom or somebody's room. But then I just though what do I do, because they were saying, if you don't wash today, we've got to close and just wash your things Mrs Masote and dry them and come back. You won't have another chance to go out.
That is one of the indignities I suffered. And my husband was later arrested. He was done the same. Not bleeding, but kept and interrogated. My children had to - there was no granny at my father's house. It was only John staying there and looking after it.
My house was shut down, because I was married. Then my children were taken to my in-laws. We almost, I don't know, there's a lot. But the names of the people, I cannot - for me to go out, I had to call a Mr Dreyer. I don't know whether they call him Captain or what. I don't know what his rank is, but he was Dreyer yes.
And I called him and spoke to him and said, please, I'd like an interview. He took his time, but when he came, all I said, I'm appealing to you as your daughter. As I look at you, you're almost my father's age. And I'm sure you've got grandchildren.
Can you bear you grandchildren going through what my children, my father's grandchildren are going through? Would you bear your daughter going through this? And I think in a way it touched him, because I don't know why I was left, because I don't know why I was in there in the first place.
But one thing I want to say is one thing that kept me alive, I also took a pin from, when I came from the office, because now and then I had to be taken out, to be shown a big book with pictures. Do you know this? Whose this? And I took a pin and I scratched on the wall; there was my family. (... indistinct) those are my children. And there was my mother's family and there was my in-laws' family.
And I would play; oh good morning Tondi, oh you're going to crash my child, you must - and oh mama, I know mama and oh granny, how - and then I would play detector, make-belief I'm there. You know, those kind of things to keep myself alive, to hear my voice, because sometimes they would leave me for a long time.
Sometimes they'd come in and just interrogate, question me, tell me there's a flood, there was a flood in Piville. And they were telling me; your house also in Piville is under floods or that place and you believe anything.
And that is why I started to smoke. I became a chain smoker. Because, in stead of food, they'd throw cigarettes for me and would tell; hey, I'm your friend. Smoke, you'll be better. And I did all that. And it took me ages and I stopped smoking in 1984, but was worse for me; I nearly lost my family as well.
One of the things they asked my husband and at a stage were harping on him and even when they visited, was that, why did you marry into Mathopeng family? And I'm not saying I'm speaking for him, but one of his choices, or one of the ills we fell into was that he gave me summons right in the year when my father's case was going on 1979 when it was going towards its end.
I couldn't bear. I'm just talking as a woman that even my husband had to break and give me that final blow. And friend, everybody, (... indistinct) he's such a leader, he's such a good man, he's a conductor, oh he's graceful, oh Sheila, you don't, you never even combed - I'm even better in my old-age. I was very simple, short. Those were normal. I've been a tom-boy all my life.
They looked at my outer, they never knew I'm rich inside. So all those things coming to me as a woman. When other women should have rallied and say, no Sheila, let my take your children when you go to Beth-el, because I had to. My mother was sick, like I said; every other week to go to Beth-el and change my father, make sure they changed during the trial.
And I followed, but nobody came to say Sheila, let me help. Maybe I never asked, because I thought or I assumed nobody was there to help.
MS MKHIZE: Thank you very much, Sheila. I mean, I'm sure fellow Commissioners and the audience at large and other witnesses, they will agree with me that it
END TAPE 1 - DAY 1 - SIDE A
... multi-levels of abuse, of human rights violation. You are referring to what happened within the family to our children and to friends. It must be overwhelming and confusing.
Having said that, I will ask you one or two questions and hand you back to the chair so that they can clarify and ask you questions of clarification.
If I may ask you, as I have acknowledged that it must be overwhelming for you, when you look back now; what you went through, do you think you suffered a lot by virtue of being a girl/child in the Mathopeng family?
Did being a girl add to all the pain and suffering you went through as a child?
MS MASOTE: I definitely feel so. Why? Like I've said, the boys always get it easy. They always - sometimes defy the parents. Mothers give in quicker, or whatever. I've got sons myself, but I haven't had that experience with them. But as a girl/child, besides any, I think society first of all has demands on me. I have to have a conforming way of living, I have to be a good girl, I have to, I don't have to voice or even raise my voice. That was at least my teaching. I have to pretend that things are right even when they are not right. And above all I had take over a mother role at an early age and I couldn't be me. I had to be Mrs Mathopeng. I'm not taking over her, but made in the house. Because I would want to say, if I'm not there, then my mother cannot survive. It can't happen without me. I've always been the child whose there, and as a girl, I think, yes, even the relatives would say; you know, how can you of all. If there's the boys, it's understandable they can give your mother problems. But you as a girl should know better. You know, and whatever, And you know, whatever that even when my father passed away, he still left it on me to say, "esryakgadi"; the aunt in the family. I don't know how to put it in English. The only girl in the family of Rachad in the family, my name should never really (indistinct)....
So I've always stood up there and part of why I nearly divorced, is because I realised when I look back that I left my family to suffer. I left my husband. I was looking at my home, at my father, because at the same time I'm running after his case.
And even when he came back from prison, I had to be there. And even my husband have said, yes, for the first time my wife I'm beginning to enjoy you, now that your daddy has passed away. I'm not begrudging it, but I'm saying you are warmer. You are giving all your attention to me.
Yes, I suffered as a girl, more than if I was a boy.
MS MKHIZE: Thank you very much. Just another concern. When you - before you were detained, here it says that you were detained because you were visiting your parents a lot, but were you at that time politically active yourself, in your own right?
MS MASOTE: I shall put it this way. From my childhood I developed a block. I hated politics. I hated this gogga that took my father away from me. That destroyed my home. When I asked why is my father (... indistinct) I'm doing this to save my nation. I hated that nation. What is that nation that I can't touch? Where is that nation when we're going through all this anger.
And therefore, most of the time I was looking to, yes I was very supportive and I didn't become actively involved in going to meetings and whatever you know. But I was always there for people who came. When the people were running away, we carried them. You know, that kind of low profile. Yes I was, but at the same time I had torn conflicts. A split, I don't know, personality, or view of politics.
It's until, as things were unfolding, that I understood. And maybe my imprisonment re-emphasised that all these people are suffering, or my father, is this what he's going through and is this the meaning of it all? I'm not doing it for personal gain.
MS MKHIZE: You also mentioned that you lost pregnancy while you were in detention. Do you associate that with any of the experiences in detention, or how did the doctor explain that?
MS MASOTE: I must say that maybe, one, talking now, looking backward, because when my mother was taken, it was in November, I already knew that the writing is on the wall. I had that premonition I'm next.
At that time I decide I'm going in exile. And I went into, that was in October, I went into Botswana. And my husband took us there with my two children. We stayed for about two months and it is Pamla of Apla who was very instrumental in saying to me weigh your options Sheila, are you sure you want to go in exile?
And at the time, I'm saying I think I was also not becoming very healthy. But the last straw was, yes, when I was kicked in prison. That, yes, I lost my pregnancy. But yes, I may have lost it because the overall circumstances that I was going through, maybe, but then it didn't happen fortunately outside prison, but it happened there, or unfortunately. I don't know if I'm answering here.
MS MKHIZE: Thank you. Chairperson.
MS SEROKE: Sheila, a while ago you described yourself as a tomboy. Why would you call yourself a tomboy when you were showing characteristics of strength? You were the only one who was left behind, looking after your mom and your family. Why do you think your character and your strength should be interpreted as being a tomboy?
MS MASOTE: These are - I'm failing to explain it in English, to express myself in English - that's the word that was eluding me, but we always - I believe first of all I'm stronger than all the men that have come in my life, but because the way society interprets strength as for he, this macho, but then the tomboy in this case was: I'm strong, I'm carefree you know, I assumed character of being boyish. I used to wear my brother's shorts. You know, I became, I don't know, a carefree kind of person and not prim. I was rebelling against the image of a girl that should be conforming, soft, gentle and always saying, hear me, you know kind of, but I just began at an early to be able to speak up, but then I would get beaten up for it. And that is why this phrase, tomboy, I don't know.
MS SEROKE: You described your mom's anguish and bitterness and anger at what was happening to her and her husband and how it was now transformed into the kind of abuse you got from your mom; the beatings, the swearing and so on.
How - and you transferred that to your daughter and your children.
MS MASOTE: My children.
MS SEROKE: And your son, especially. At what stage did you come to recognise that in spite of that, your mother still loved you?
MS MASOTE: I think I've always known deep down that my mother loved me, but I was always confused. Outside she was very warm. I mean outside when we were outside home, with everybody. All the children would run to her. She would take even my best dress to look at the neighbour's child who was needy and she would give. And sometimes consulting, sometimes, most of the time not even consulting with me; she takes my best. Maybe I do it now and again with my children. But what I'm saying, she was very warm outside. But I knew deep down she loves me, because like I said, I was the best dressed. Bamakukushi and their Tandikukushis couldn't come close to me. They tried to compete, you know like young mothers and nobody could touch my mother in as far as dressing up her little girl.
But then at the same time, why I so hated church was, I was always in stiffening. It's those days of stiffening and those nice body and oh, then I dare not; she's a very neat woman. You can see even at eighty she walks tall. She's a strong pillar. She's well dressed.
I dare not sit down then and play like other children. I would feel it if there's something wrong. I would feel something and then I look towards at where mother sit, I would find here gloating at me. And I would slowly look at what's happening and I would see my nice dresses touching the soil or somebody sitting on it. And I would have to be standing, or when other children are playing - that was the kind of obsession.
She had an obsession. She wants to - it was as though my mother was cleansing something. What's wrong with me? Why did my husband leave me? I'm talking now as an adult, looking back, but I always knew that she loved me. She wanted the best for me.
I'm doing this for your beauty and all that. She took me to ballet, but there was no warmth. There was no closeness. There was, there wasn't. There was times when she broke down and she would do what I did to Glukano. I loved Glukano and I love all my children.
So I knew deep down that she loves me, but there was something I missed and I then resorted to going outwards. She would chase me away from home, for having gone to a ballroom dance function, for three solid nights. In that, I didn't use a bra, because my breasts was beautiful. In that dress and a panty, she would say to me I don't care and maybe she care and I know now she did.
She would say I don't go care where you go out; go, and I still say bravo Sheila. I never went to boys. I never went to the partners I danced with. I went to a granny somewhere. I would pick up on a granny and I stayed and you dare go and talk to mom. (... indistinct) you'd get it my friend.
That was my mother at that time. She wouldn't allow anybody to intervene, but I'm saying I knew she loved me, because at the end she would take me in, because maybe other people talked to her and maybe she feels no, it's enough.
And when I look back and even on my father's deathbed, because I've grown up to that point; asking myself what is it that I've done to my mother? I asked my father; daddy, in your presence, can you intervene, can I speak, can I ask my mom so that I ask for forgiveness.
Then my one statement that has made me really soften towards my mother as that she said, I also was abused as a child. And that for the first time; and this is about six years, seven years ago, for the first time I started really to crumble this wall.
Because for me it was real. For me it was real war against my mother. It was. Even my grandchildren, my children, I didn't allow to them to go to my mother. She knows. And I'm sorry for that. I didn't know - even she speaks to them even now, I still have that - she speaks to my brother's children who stay with her.
I want to intervene and I know sometimes it is horrible, because I see her, I think it's coming, it's coming soon and then I get surprised she's not hitting them like she used to hit me.
I still have that, but it was broken when she told me, she suffered as a child. And she suffered more going through this. Those things were evoked by what the system has been doing to her.
Then I began to understand my mother. But I would say there was nobody, nobody to hear, nobody I could turn to, nobody she could turn to. Maybe she did and she couldn't be ready to listen or to change.
I hope she is now as I'm talking, because I'm ready. I've been working at it to say, let go. You know she's used to holding onto the family, that she doesn't know when to let go.
MS SEROKE: Ma'am Mathopeng, I know you made a statement. I wonder if you wouldn't want to share and react to what Sheeia has said about your bitterness and your anguish and how she felt unloved in the process?
MS MATHOPENG: My chest, I am not in a good frame of mind to say anything today. All I can say is, it's good news that a - it's good that I came here and to hear what Sheila has to say. I genuinely, most of the things, I did not know. For instance, to be exact, I stayed alone in my house when my husband was in prison and Sheila had three children. I had no child to send. I had - up to now I've got three hip replacements. So you can imagine the suffering plus depression and everything. I asked Sheila to give me one of the children, not this one, there's a bigger one whose in Switzerland now. That child has always been closest to my heart, that was the second born.
And Sheila - I could see she wasn't willing. One time she would say; I've got to - go and ask my husband. Then I said no, what tradition now are you dishing me up. We don't go to husbands. We go through - the way to a man's heart is through his wife. So if I talked to you, you'd represent me well to your husband. I can't go to your husband. If you want to talk to your father and ask for money, you've got to through me.
I mean that's the education we were brought, you see, into. So I was trying to show Sheila, no I can't go there. You can talk to your husband. But it never materialised and I know I had a child, but one day when she was in spells of anger, throwing bottles, breaking my glasses and telling me off; the first time in life Shiela ever talked to me.
It is very recent. I think it is recently that she had gone to a psychiatry doctor. Then I began to see Shiela talking, telling me, you know as a teenager, you know teenagers tell their parents where to get off and what they want to do. This is me and it's not you.
We have never had such experience in the house. So now Sheila was telling me all those things. I said, oh so, now you are a teenager today. Now you know they cheek their parents and just tell them off.
But she told me and said; me, not one of my children, I can rather eat porridge without meat, drink water and I go to bed. You can eat chicken and spice and what not, but no child of mine will stay with you.
That is when I learned that all these years I have been a liability to my daughter. Perhaps even to my other children. I didn't know. I'm happy to also to hear when she says there was nobody who came forward when I was depressed, I needed somebody to say; not this one, or let us go out and to forget about this. It was me alone there, because the police were harassing me and nobody would come to my house.
So then I acted alone and I didn't know whether I was right or wrong, but I had to make a decision. After all, I was a mother and father and god of the house. I had to look after my children. And I've looked well after them.
Today we're all stressful and that is why I feel one thing among other things with the TRC, my family needs counselling. That's what I feel. We need counselling. Sheila has brought us closer to it, but it is not enough. As she says I have also suffered, but I didn't put it so grossly as that I suffered as a child.
All I meant is, I didn't get certain things like the children of today can get. Like we, as children, we didn't have to carry lunches of R10,00 rand and get onto taxis and all that. We had to get a slice of bread, buy it from the (... indistinct) of our town for a penny and that was enough. That was all we had for the day until tonight.
Well, those are sufferings. But I didn't put them so badly as that I was being abused. One thing I wasn't abused. The only thing is just that my - we were only three children and I was the eldest at home and I lost a father at the age of six, when I was the eldest child. And I had to go and stay now with my grand-people.
And you know what it is when you stay - I was born right in Johannesburg. I had to go to Bloemfontein outside and stay with other people there and I think the treatment was never good there. That's what I was trying to say.
Perhaps other things could have happened, but in short that's what I meant. Yes, because ...
MS SEROKE: Thank you Mrs Mathopeng. I wasn't challenging you.
MS MATHOPENG: Yes.
MS SEROKE: I just wanted to bring out that the suffering that women have gone through under the system, also can really bring problems to a family, especially when there is stress of harassment and so on. And that it was in that line and mood that I asked that question.
MS MATHOPENG: Yes.
MS SEROKE: To show what the system could do to families, especially mothers in their relationship to their children.
Thank you very much.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you Sheila and thank you Mamma Mathopeng. I think that what you've said today, is really something that's very rarely spoken of. That often in the homes of activists, the people who are the most needy, are the children. And activists usually look after everybody else and they don't really concentrate on their home.
And so one finds with a lot of children of activists, that they actually block out in the early years, the whole question of politics, not realising that it's in fact part of our lives. And because there isn't time to talk about them, because the figures are always seen as these very superior beings, there isn't really room to criticise them and to talk about your own perspective of them.
I think this is one of the problems of the legacy of the past; that in fact people need to get the space to talk about these issues. But you also eluded to, I think a much more difficult problem, which is the fact that the family system has really been broken down by apartheid.
I think one of the major challenges of the Truth Commission in the days ahead when we talk about rehabilitation, is how do we restore the role models. You alluded, Sheila, to the role models not being present there. I think the fact that they want mothers to teach their children or grandmothers, about the womanly aspects of growing up into young womanhood, what to do; these are problems and challenges for the TRC and for our society as a whole, because we know that we have groups of young people, who've grown up with no adults.
Nobody to teach them about morality, about ethics. And I think we've seen the effect of that in the criminality that's taking place in our society. Because the biggest legacy of apartheid, is the breaking down of the family tradition and the family system and the fact the women were taken away from their households, often meant that there was nobody to guide young people.
It is a challenge. Not just for us, because we'll be there, we'll be coming in for a moment and by next year we'll be gone. But our society needs to think very, very hard about what we're going to put into place. How we're going to ensure that counselling facilities exist in places where counselling is a myth and a dream, rather than a reality.
It's a challenge that we need to look forward to in the next few months, because it's all our problems. Crime is all our problem. The breakdown of society is all of our problem. It's not Government's alone, it's not the Commission's alone.
But I thank you for having the strength to come forward today and to confront your own ghosts, because that I think we need to break the silence, because all of us have ghosts that we keep and we live with. I think you did something very important. You touched what nobody wanted to talk about; the myths that exist in our own homes. Thank you very much for sharing, both of you.
I'm going to ask that we now break for tea and that we come back at five to 12, please, thank you.
MS MASOTE: I'd like to say, I don't know how much all this has meant to me or it means to me. Especially, we really kiss with my mother, we really hug, but we have started and today is one of it, we've done it in public.
And thank you very much.