TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
DATE: 29 JULY 1997
NAME: DEBORAH MATSHOBA
CHAIRPERSON: Once more I would like to welcome all of you who have just come in now to support women who are today making statements. While welcoming you I would like to make an announcement that Ms Neta Mogase, Mayoress of the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Council, cordially invites all of you, I suppose, to a cocktail reception which is today at five o' clock in the Mayor's Parlour, first floor, Council Chamber Wing, Metropolitan Centre, Braamfontein on the occasion in honour of todays hearings. If you are interested you can tell any of our staff members on duty here or if you have a cellular phone, which I will remind all of you to switch off, is to phone Ms Themba Mkwanazi. The telephone number is 4077490, but the easiest is just to inform members of staff here that you would like to come. If, maybe, you are outside this, you can just phone so as to make arrangements for parking.
At this point in time I would like to ask Deborah Matshoba to come forward. Deborah, I would like to welcome you. We have just heard a submission from a research group. I would like you to introduce yourself and to tell people about your involvement and also to give a broader perspective about women's involvement in the struggle, the political struggles of the past.
MS MATSHOBA: I greet you all. I have brought, because this is not the first time that I come and stand in front of this type of group, today I will be much stronger, but suddenly I just saw a friend that I have not seen for years, an ex-prison mate, Jubie Mayet, and it almost, you know, shook my strength a bit. However, as I say, one is to be very strong. When people look at you walking up and down the streets or associating with them in social circles they see strength in some of us. They do not know how much you have been shattered and broken in the past.
Briefly, I do not think I am expected to go into deeper details today, except that one focus and one perspective that I would really like to focus on is the behaviour and attitudes of prison warderesses towards prisoners which is one are that has never really been picked up. When I first went to prison it was in 1976 at the Johannesburg Fort. I was very fortunate that at that stage it was Section Ten which is one could relatively call a better form of detention, because you are, you interact with your inmates and the group was very strong and we were very fortunate that we had a veteran amongst us in the person of Winnie Mandela, who had been to the Fort before and, having been familiar with the place, we drew a lot of knowledge and courage from her.
Among the other women who were with me at the Fort was Joyce Seroke, Fatima Meer, Sele Moklana, Wesper Smith, that was in 1976. So it was quite a powerful group of women. The kind of warderesses that we had at that stage, you know, like I say, they knew Winnie and she called them by name and we were also able to familiarise ourselves with. Because this was a powerful group we were able, actually, to dictate terms to them. In the first place we did not even, you know, know why we were in detention. At that stage we were not interrogated or anything. We were just put there and told that we are political prisoners and we are under Section Ten.
The first mistake that they realised they made later was that they had allowed us to interact and to be together. One of the notable changes I remember that we made did not just affect our stay at the Fort, it affected the common-law prisoners who were there. We discovered that the women were not allowed to wear panties. They worked with their overalls, with their blue overalls. How we realised that, anyway, we started confronting and taking up with the prison authorities and it was one massive change that we made that women started being allowed, the common-law prisoners started being allowed to wear panties, but those were the Black prisoners. The White prisoners were allowed to have the full regalia every women needs.
We had interaction with both Black and White prison warderesses and I guess it was mainly because it was Section Ten and this is why we were able to bring the changes that we brought. Like, for instance, clamouring for the release of young children who we heard screaming in the middle of the night. I remember Winnie waking us up one night and saying, women, we are not going to sleep. We started banging doors, banging doors and calling until the Adjudant came and wanted to know what was happening. We said we want to see the Security Police, what are these children doing in prison? The next day the children were released except those that were charged like Sibongile Mkabela and others.
Most of us were released in December. In fact, all of us were released in December. Six weeks later I was re-detained under Section Six of the Terrorism Act. I was intercepted while on a mission to Durban in Vrede by three vehicles driven by Security Police. Immediately after that they hand-cuffed me on to the car and drove me to the female prison in Pietermaritzburg. I was taken to a small, tiny cell in the prison, the maximum section, which we called Gulagud. The first night, in the middle of the night there was a woman next door and we started communicating. I asked her who she was. No, she told me, she was Thandiwe from Klaarwater in Pinetown. I did not know why she was there and one had to be careful.
Now, she told me that she was in prison, because she had just murdered her husband. There were moments of, you know, laughing at times under the circumstances. She had murdered her husband and she got sentenced for 12 years, she got a 12 year sentence and that she had just, she had attempted to escape and got caught. Now, she was there awaiting a retrial. I just thought to myself, gosh, who am I sitting next to, you know. Then she wanted to know why I was there. I could sense that she, you know, you know, her level, her class in society, I could just sense how she was and I just had to tell her a story so that we could be friends and I did not know what to tell her.
I started by saying politics, she said what is that? I said, man, you know about the burnings of schools, I have been burning schools. So this is why I am here. I did not know what to say to her, you know, I just had to associate with her and have a sense of belonging. I had to come with a very strong story of something terrible that I had done, but later at night I just thought of, you know, Judas Iscariot, Jesus Christ and Barrabus next to him, getting crucified along a murderer. Anyway that was that and I was given over to White prison warderesses and I could see that they had been told stories.
No single one in Pietermaritzburg, I spent 12 months in Pietermaritzburg, I was never attended to by a single Black face and because I was in isolation there was no way, at all, of communicating with the outside world. With the Black prison warderesses you would be able to conscientise them as time went on and to appeal to their senses and naturally, in a way, you would sensitise them to the point that they would realise that you are there, actually, for them and this is what the system realised and under Section Six there was no way in which they would allow you to be attended to by a Black warderess unless if they wanted to achieve certain results and certain objectives and goals.
These were warderesses who would allow Security Police to come and fetch you at any odd time of the night for torture purposes. It would never be recorded in the books that you have been taken to the torture chambers. The first time when they took me from the prison was a week later. Actually after I had demanded that I wanted to see them, I still came with a Fort mentality. I demanded to see them, because they had just dumped me there after taking me to the female prison and never came to me. I just sat there stewing, you know, and thinking what could it be. I remember the warderess, actually, the senior warderess there, saying to me, how can you, how dare you call the Security Police. Do you not know what these people are going to do to you when they take you? You are better off sitting here not knowing what it is that, why, the reason why you are here. I said, no, I need, I have work to do, I have a child at home, I need to attend to so many things, I have studies to do, I cannot come and sit here and rot here and not knowing why I am here.
They came on a Saturday afternoon, two of them, drunk. Yes Deborah, so you are ready and took me away, left my clothes there and that is when the interrogation began. I just want to interrupt something, Hlengiwe, do you want me to go into details of the interrogation so. Okay. That night I left all my clothing, because I was fortunate that I had clothing with me, because I was on another mission, I was not taken from home where they would tell you that you leave everything, come as you are. The Security Police's name is Roy Otto. They held a braai outside, it was at night in Pietermaritzburg at the police station. They hand-cuffed me and put and manacled my ankle on a big iron ball.
They made me stand the whole night. There was no chair, but I was given a pen to write a statement, tell them everything about myself and my involvement in SASO. I was an executive member of SASO at that stage. I wrote a brief history of myself. It was Saturday. Sunday I continued the same thing. They kept on tearing the papers and telling me to write. The third night I started becoming delirious and my legs were swelling. I think that was on a Monday. By Thursday, no, Tuesday, by the Tuesday I was counting nights and this man started beating me up. He held a towel, strangelled me with a towel and started bashing my head against the wall.
Obviously, I was very, very weak. I was being given food, but I was not made to sit down. I could not sit down and when I collapsed they kicked me. Eventually I must have passed out. I was bleeding. I must have passed out, because when I came to I was lying on the floor, all wet. They must have poured water over me and he threw a packet of sanitary pads at me, got to the bathroom and I could see that I was menstruating and I was just wondering how he realised that. The beating up lasted for a week. I was asthmatic and they refused to give me medication. Ultimately, when they realised that they could not get anything out of me and, perhaps, not mainly because of strength as much as it was actually because of weakness, the way I was physically weak and I could not speak anymore.
They took me to another police station which we later realised as one that they took people to to recuperate, because everybody who came there came in a state. It was a filthy police station, swarming with lice, L I C E, and the blankets stinking and reeking of urine and I was thrown in there. Actually the worst was that I did not even know where I was and I was screaming and shouting. I did not even have strength, because I was running short of breath. I remember somewhere along the line, I was very fortunate that these uniform policeman came, an Afrikaner. I will never forget his name, Taljaard. He told me that he thought I was mad, I was just a mad person. I tried to explain to him and he listened carefully and understood that, no, I was actually a political prisoner and I had just been tortured.
He smuggled an asthma spray and tablets for me and helped me hide them in the cell. We hid them behind the toilets. I was not allowed to see a doctor, but ultimately Taljaard calls a doctor called, took me out, smuggled me. The doctor use to come to the police station, but they would not take me to the doctor. Instead there was this van Rooyen who kept on coming and saying to me, we are waiting for you to die, we have realised your weak point and we do not have to torture you anymore. With your asthma, you will go naturally and we cannot be held liable for that. After seeing the doctor, Taljaard must have spoken strongly to the doctor. In fact, he even said to the doctor we do not want her dying here. If they want her to die they must ...
CHAIRPERSON: Excuse me, excuse me Deborah, can I just ask all the people with cellular phones to switch them off please. This is very, very important for witnesses. We need to make sure that their dignity is restored as they tell, talk about their difficult past.
MS MATSHOBA: On the doctor's instructions I was finally taken back to the Pietermaritzburg female prison where I had started. While at the police station, not where I was tortured, where I was supposedly going to recuperate, the only means, the only ablution facilities I had was a tap outside and if I needed to wash I had to do it very early in the morning. Ask the SAP's to open for me very early in the morning, because if I could go after eight there would be me working on a building outside there in Pietermaritzburg and they would be watching me. The first day I did not realise until I starting hearing them laughing and I quickly ran back to the cell. So that was the only place where I could wash, outside in a tap and I was sickly, but I had no choice except to wash there with a bar of red carbolic soap that they had given me and a piece of cloth that they had given me, because my washing rags were at the, were left at the prison. I had to use the same cloth for the teeth as well.
I spent about three months in that police station until I was taken back to the prison. Prison facilities will also be better, because there will be a basin in the cell and a proper toilet. Here the torture was, meted against me was actually perpetrated by the warderesses and this is why I said my focus would be especially on the female warderesses, how they collaborated with the system. These women would bring my porridge in the morning, leave it outside. I would actually be able to roll my blankets and be able to peep through the window and marvel at the common-law prisoners sitting there and enjoying their porridge, sometimes singing and thereafter taking their chores, their duties allocated and working. I would actually envy them and wish I was one of them, interacting, singing, eating normally, laughing.
Perhaps, after a hour or two the warderess would open the cell, just the door, and leave the bars open and kick that plate of food in. For some time I use to accept it and just continue eating it, because I knew why I was there and the reason why I was there. I always tried to draw a lot of courage and tell myself I am in the struggle and we are in the struggle, because we are assured of victory and I always use to draw courage against those words and I would remember the women that I had been and what courage I had gained from them. In fact, I would always tell myself, not view my situation in isolation and tell myself that I do not know where Tenjiwe is, I do not know where who is. Maybe they are under similar circumstances and all of us have to draw courage. It is just that we are not able to communicate and that was the mental torture, emotional torture that they were meting against me, the warderesses.
They would do the same at lunch. The spinach would look nice and good, but then because mine would already be like the first, it would be clogged and have ants. If it is the mielies, I know I use to get away with it and wash it off, wash the ants off from the basin and eat them as if I was eating a snack. This continued for several months until one silly day I just decided that I would rather be charged for something and belong to those common-law prisoners. This woman's name was Botha, her surname was Botha. I held her against the bars, because she was not coming into the cell, she would always stand outside. I had no physical contact with anybody. In fact, I would have loved to strike a relationship with her and just talk about anything, women talk, anything, but they denied me that.
She opened the cell, threw the plate of food and closed it quickly and this was a daily thing and I just had nobody to talk to, nobody to talk with. One day I grabbed her hair threw the bars and started bashing her head against the bars. I really gave it to her. I beat her up thoroughly and I could not let loose. It was quiet, the prisoners were locked in and it was quiet and it was just time for her to come and feed this animal and she was all by herself, she was screaming and there was nobody. Ultimately, she fell down. I do not know how they saw her, but then they came, picked her up. I was expecting anything from the Security Police, anything from being charged, but the best that I was hoping for was that I would be charged, go to court, be able to talk to somebody.
I, for some reason, they did not even take it up. Instead they called the Magistrate, they did not take it up at all. On the contrary, they called in the Magistrate to come and visit me and he wanted to know what I needed. I guess their conclusion must have been that I have gone insane. Perhaps, that they have achieved something which could have been a possibility. So, at that stage one thing that they normally allow somebody and that I knew that they allow somebody was a Bible, but until that time they had never allowed me anything. Not even a single piece of reading material and for the first time I was, the Magistrate allowed me to get a Bible from home. In fact, I was told that I could write a letter home which they read, obviously, and I was not supposed to write an address or anything, but later I saw the letter at home and it had the prison stamp so it showed that I was in Pietermaritzburg and that is how my father was able to trace me and find out where I am.
And he brought that Bible and some change of clothing and he must have told my friends too, because Joyce also sent me a pair of pyjamas and some slippers. So it was the first time, I think in about ten months, that, at least, my family knew where I was and I was given that Bible and they never, it is still surprising to me that they never laid any charges of assault. The only thing is that there were some bits of changes, because that warderess, I never saw her again. She never came back to me except the day when I was being transferred. They brought in somebody else and they started allowing her to go outside for 30 minutes or a hour for exercise and once a week I was allowed to go and have a ten minute shower.
Then I was transferred to Bethel Prison. They just came one morning and told me to take my belongings and I got into their car and they drove off. I did not know where I was going to. Then it was the Bethel Prison and they started changing their attitudes. My meals changed in Bethel. I was actually sleeping on a bed in the hospital section. For some strange reason I had overcome my asthma. Up to this day, it just left me, up to this day. Never had an attack again. I mean, it was amazing how those cosmic powers, whatever it was, worked on me and removed my shortcoming and I started becoming very strong, because I knew that I did not have that weak-point that they capitalised on.
In Bethel they gave me, treatment changed. I started getting food on a plate and slept on a bed and I was told that I could help this nurse, the prison nurse, who was working there, to pack her medicines. I spent about two weeks there. Then the next thing they brought this Magistrate and he asked me what did I want, what my needs were and I said I would like to see my son and I would like to see my parents. Two days later my sister, Thembi, and my dad came, but they did not bring Sichaba inside. I had gone to the police station to meet them there. They were given a 30 minute visit and the Security Police were around and for the first time, actually, what was strange, I was very tough, I was not crying or anything. I cried that day and Thembi left very worried, because I had shown a sign of weakness and the only reason I cried was because I had hugged somebody, I had talked to people, I had seen real people.
Strange enough, when they came in I said I did not, my dad came first and I said to him he must tell my sister that she must not come inside with my son. I did not want to hug him or anything, especially because I knew that I was in one of the worst moments of Section Six, that is when the Security Police start being nice to you. It can really break you. You can go very strong when they beat you up and you become stubborn and you stand your ground, but once they start being kind to you it can, it is a very, very delicate spot and I had known about this, because I had been thoroughly trained in my political sessions. We had had good training, we had interacted with the likes of Harry Gwala, we had interacted with the likes of Zeph Motupie and we knew exactly how their torture goes. It is just that when it happens to you it becomes so different, but I was very fortunate that I realised that and I was worried and scared.
I was given magazines from Rooi Rose, Fair Lady, you name it and the next week the Magistrate came with a statement which was read, written and typed and said I should sign it, because they would like me to be a witness, a State witness in several trials. It was several statements, actually. I refused and told him that, actually, I am not use to talking to Magistrates and I am not use to this kind of life that I am having and to me it is things I just do not want it. He spoke to me, I think, two days later again and I said I would like to see my Pastor. If you could get my Minister here, I would like to talk to my Minister and they were getting worried.
I started making demands that I knew would be impossible to them and, anyway, the ultimate thing is that I refused to sign the statement and the next day Roy Otto's ugly face showed up. I packed my things and I was taken to Middleburg Prison. What surprised me in Middleburg is that I was in a section where there were males in this tiny cell, in this tiny, in fact, it was inbetween, but it was next to, it was on a yard on, of, on its own and the female side was this side, the male side was this side and there were other male cells opposite me. It was like 15 months down the line now that I was in Section Six and for some strange reason I was happy to be back in that tiny cell and on the floor where they made me take out my blankets during the day and stuff like that.
The first day when I got there I could realise that these warderesses here have been thoroughly indoctrinated. It was Cara Botha and Cara Botha and Marayna Haramse. I will never forget their names. They were actually meant to be the most terrible, but, ultimately, one Saturday, again in this area there were just these two White warderesses. When they opened my cell they kind of jumped away. I am sure they must have been told that I am mad and I beat up warderesses, something, but they really treated me like something and for, some reason, I use to enjoy that, because I would walk with impunity and they would run away. The intimidation was the other way round.
I learnt a lot while in this place. I became very strong and still I did not get an asthma attack. It was the most tiniest cell that I had ever been given and I think the idea was that I should get, you know, claustrophobic and it never happened. I started, in this area what was strange is that it was such a tiny cell that had no window, but it is a place where I really learnt prison life and I was able to smuggle, to smuggle even a paper. Those male prisoners talked to me at night. They taught me how to use the toilets and it was called telephone. Drain your water, use your cup, use your cup they told me, they spoke to me through the window at night. My drinking cup, I used it drain the water into the bucket and we communicated very fluently and safely through the toilet.
They asked me where I came from, I told them, but I gave them a wrong name and when I told them I came from Daggies, so they said, no, there is a prisoner who has just been released from here. His name is Zwele so and so. We know his address and everything so we will send you a pen and a piece of paper and you write a letter and we will post it for you and they taught me how I could do it. We worked on the warderesses' weaknesses. We knew that they would never touch my blankets. I had to roll my blankets and put them outside in the yard and the male prisoners use to pass and then put the pen in there and the piece of paper, envelope. You just seal it and then put it back in there. There is no Nona who can touch those dirty blankets of yours. They would never go near them.
And food use to go in there too, from the kitchen. I remember one night when they sent me a whole bar of Sunshine D margarine and I did not what to do with it. I was so scared that the warderesses would find it out. And it was a place where I was surviving. I would handle my blankets, they just told me that you must always make sure when they open your cell and you take your blankets back, you must handle it very carefully so that nothing should fall, because you never know what we have put in there. I even saw a press cutting of my son in there. From everything, you name it, even a birthday card. They were able to smuggle a birthday card. I do not know how they bought things and these were long-term prisoners who were on their way to Barberton or so, hardcore prisoners, criminals. Real, real criminals who had murdered, who had done robbery and they were in transit in that area where I was kept and they were the warmest people to me.
I have never seen their faces. I do not know where to find a man by the name of Chiliz and a man by the name Nambi. I started striking a conversation with the warderesses. They were surprised why I was so happy. I was very happy, because I could read anything, I could write home and they were shocked one day when my father rocked up and knocked at the prison gates to look for me and they were wondering how he knew, because after Zwele took the letter home, he came. Anyway, this woman was crying, one of the warderesses. Somebody had come so, I was near the gates, it must have been her boyfriend and she was screaming and crying and they were talking, conversing in Afrikaans and I had overheard their conversation.
So later she opened for me to come and fetch my blankets. Her eyes were red and I asked her why are you crying? Not your business, why are you asking me, do not speak to me. I said, why are you crying? She said go back. I said I am not going into the cell until you talk to me. I know why you are crying. Your boyfriend has come to say goodbye to you. He is on his way, he was going to Katimamolelo, being posted there. I said who is he going to fight? See, you are in the same position as I am. You have been told that I am a terrorist. I had a conversation with Marayna. I said, Marayna, he is going to get killed at the borders and it is my sisters and my brothers who are going to kill him. Why do you allow this?
She melted and she listened. She listened and she cried. She cried and later she opened the cell and asked me if I had a family. I told her I have got a son, I have got a husband and I come from a respectable family. She changed her attitude. Both of them started changing their attitudes whereas all the time they were actually asked to, they had been actually asked to treat me very brutally and this is how warderesses, prison warderesses collaborated with the system. They worked on their minds and gave them the impression that she is a terrorist that has just been caught from the border.
Six months later I was released from the Bethel Prison, but we had been friends with these two women. I was released from Bethel and from Middleburg. I was ecstatic and had left some of my belongings. When I got there they took my wedding ring, they took my wrist watch, my jewellery and the magazines that I had been given earlier. They had taken most of my things and I left them at the prison and I was told that I was being released. I had been released and I was driven to Krugersdorp, but when I got to Krugersdorp later in the evening I was told that, no, I am not being released, I am being re-detained at the Fort and I was again driven to the Fort. That was now after 18 months I was driven to the Fort.
I had hopes when they were driving me to Krugersdorp, because that is where I come from and I really thought I was going home, only to be told later in the evening that, no, Jimmy Kruger has issued a warrant of my arrest again. I must, I am going to the Fort. I was driven to the Fort. Fortunately, this time it was Section Ten and that is where I found Jubie that night, Jubie Mayet and Gladys Manzi. I was a size 43, I weighed 43 kilograms and I must have looked terrible, because they really cried when they saw me. I wondered how I looked like. I had never seen myself in the mirror for the past 18 months, I had never seen my face and I remember Jubie and Gladys insisting that I have to go for a check-up and they insisted and called prison authorities that I have to and I was taken to hospital and X-rayed and pumped with a lot of vitamins and stuff like that.
I had no hair, you know, my hair was just pulling out. It was just pulling out, you could just pick it out and I remember Jubie making an egg mixture and rubbing it on my hair and friends like Joyce and Helen Kuzwayo sending me some cosmetics, baby oils and stuff like that to nourish my skin. I drew courage once more when I got to the Fort. The International Red Cross came to see me and the other ones who went to Middleburg, who drove to Middleburg to go and fetch the belongings that they had taken away from me, my rings, my watch and brought it back to me at the Fort. I drew courage from the two women that I met there. Actually when I saw Gladys Manzi and the wounds that she had all over her body, she had also come from Section Six, she told us, and her home was in, somewhere in Kwamashu or Umlazi, in Natal though.
She did not know where her children was and she was staying in Johannesburg prison. We shared experiences. I told her, anyway, I also come from Pietermaritzburg and yet I am in Johannesburg, so they could take you anywhere, the furthest from home the better for them. For instance, when I was in Middleburg I later learnt only from those common-law prisoners where it was, because I went there blindfolded, I did not know where I was going to.
Six months later I was released. I think Jubie left first and I remained with Gladys and we spent yet another Christmas in prison and a few days later after Christmas I was released after Jubie had made a lot of noise when she, when she left us at the Fort she started making a lot of noise outside in the media about our conditions and the conditions in which we came. Later they came, after six months, and took me away, said I was being released and I had no hope, basically, that, I thought they were going to take me to another prison. I promised Gladys that I would be visiting her, because she had no visits at all. She was not getting any visits. We were usually getting to see our people and there was nobody who was visiting her.
On the day that they said they were releasing me they slapped me with a five year banning order, restricting me to Krugersdorp. I thought about Gladys that I had promised to pay a visit. I told her that I will come twice a week. I have never seen Gladys anymore, but I remember how we use to massage her back, she was in pains. I do not know where Gladys is up to this day. I spent the five year banning order until 1983 and invariably the only thing that followed one after that was the victimisation, the White victimisation each time you get a job and the system would still follow you and intimidates your employers, but, ultimately, one is proud to say that there are success stories, there have been strengths that we drew from the past.
Unfortunately, one terrible sector of my life that it effected was my marriage, because things would not work out. My husband grew impatient. As a matter of fact, during the five year banning order when they restricted me to Krugersdorp, Peter originally comes from Pretoria. In a nutshell they were telling us that we cannot stay together still. Otherwise, if he wanted to be with me he had to live with me at my home which is what he did most of the time, but man's pride and being a woman, he could not stay with me fulltime at home.
I am fully employed today. My employers realise what I have been through. I do not take advantage of that, but one has been so affected that one is very sensitive. I am very sensitive and one means it especially when it comes to males, Whites, I am very sensitive and I retort very sharply. I have brought up my children, I managed to do that and I just want to say thanks to the TRC that we are able to talk about these things, to undergo this healing process and, as I say, this is not the first time and I feel very strong today that I did not behave the way I have behaved during the, especially the first time. Thanks.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very Deborah. This is a different kind of a perspective in the sense that when we started we heard a researcher talking about women's stories here and there and generally research issues, but you, Deborah, you have taken us through a life of a woman which has not been told much in this country as to their levels of involvement and levels of sacrifices that women have had to make. The story centres around you, but it also talks to the experiences of many other women. Thank you very much. I will ask my colleagues to ask you just a few questions aimed at clarifying your experiences. I will start with Joyce Seroke.
MS SEROKE Well, it is very tough for me to react to Deborah's testimony, because I was part of it, but I just want to ask a few questions. You mentioned that it was easy to conscientise the Black warderesses and could you also show how they were trained to show their superiority of the White warderess as against the Black warderess in the same prison?
MS MATSHOBA: The best place where I could, where I will focus the example is at the Fort, because at the Fort we were able to interact with both groups. For instance, the White warderesses were referred to as Nona and the Black warderesses were referred to as Vakashe, which means visitor. They are visiting Johannesburg, they come from the rural areas and they had to accept that. They call Vakashe, your name is Vakashe so and so and these ones were Nona Huistig and when Nona appeared Vakashe had to stand at attention, for instance, and Nona should pass and they had different kinds of uniforms. The Vakashes' had a mustard, darker colour and the Nonas' had a lighter colour and they wore hats. The Vakashes' had to wear berets and they were not supposed to wear shoes with heels, they had to wear laced up shoes, the Vakashes'.
So, when talking to them at the Fort one would work against these, exactly these weaknesses and these immediate needs that they had. For instance, that you need self-respect. This is your country, you cannot be a Vakashe in your own country. Why do you accept to be called Vakashe? It is a job and then we would start bribing them, actually. They were underpaid and we use to get, like, good food, because we were getting visitors and bribe them. It was very easy to talk to them and conscientise them to a point where even when the Nonas' were not there they would quickly, Eunice was very good at braiding hair and she would braid our hair and they became our friends and they would smuggle messages out. They knew and we made them understand that we accept that they are only in this because of work, but it does not mean that they must do the dirty job for the Nonas and that is what I meant, Joyce.
CHAIRPERSON: Yasmin Sooka.
MS SOOKA: Deborah, I just want to ask about, were, we know from what other prisoners have said, that often common-law prisoners were used to spy on political prisoners and it is not usually a practice that they should be kept together, but in your instance it seems that from the beginning you were not really kept in a separate place for political prisoners, but that, in fact, you often had common-law prisoners with you. You mentioned that your experience in the Middleburg prison that, in fact, they were the ones who taught you to smuggle and to talk and that was quite a useful experience, but did you have the situation where, in fact, they were also keeping an eye on you so that they could pass that back to the Security Police?
MS MATSHOBA: No, Yasmin, actually, you see, even though I mentioned that I had contact with them, it was not physical contact. We spoke at night, because they were there, you know. I never saw their faces. They actually never saw my face, I can safely say. They do not know what I looked like, but we could talk at night. So, spying on me would have been impossible, because I was alone. Most of the time I was all by myself and there was virtually nothing much that they could spy on. One only had to be very careful. Like I say, I told them stories, you know, that were actually not the real things why I was there and that I knew that the Security Police would know, even if that woman had gone and said, no, she says she is a student at UNIZULU and she burnt the college, they would know that she is telling a lie, she is not, you know, and one only had to be careful.
MS SOOKA: We do not actually have time to explore another aspect, but you know the earlier submission talked about this question of equality and, in a sense, there was an exploration of what really are we defining as gender equality, because unless we are more focused about defining it, we will not really be able to deal with some of the problems which are actually coming through, but if you could, in the next few weeks, deal with your own perspective of yourself as a Comrade used in the same way as men were and what that relationship actually was and your experiences, were they different, because you were a woman. Did you experience that there were certain things that you were actually not allowed to do. I think we would certainly like to capture that. We just, unfortunately, it is another angle to the one that you have actually given us and we would certainly like to get that perspective from you as well.
MS MATSHOBA: Okay.
CHAIRPERSON: Deborah, thank you very much. You, also, I would like to congratulate you for really having the courage of being prepared to open the wounds. As you said, that today you experience this process differently. I should think you were much more in touch with yourself and you allowed yourself to be vulnerable and to weep when thinking about certain experiences of your life and I hope this is a beginning of your own healing and, also, as a person who has been leadership since your student years. This is an opportune time for you to take a lead in assisting other women whenever opportunities avail to talk about what they went through, especially what you said, it ties up with what was said by Sheila Masote yesterday, how human rights violations of the past tended to impact on families and also the second generations.
She spoke about her relationship with her children which also was affected by her own experiences and you touched on that as well. That is also something which I think people, like yourselves, will have to be in the forefront in helping families to restore those essential relationships and letting children express their anger, frustrations without seeing that as an attack. We thank you very much for coming.
We would now adjourn for tea. If we can all try to be back here by ten to 11. If, please, if you can be back here at quarter to 12. I did not realise, quarter to 12.