TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
DATE: 28 JULY 1997
NAME: THANDI SHEZI
CASE NUMBER: -
HELD AT: JOHANNESBURG
CHAIRPERSON: We call the next witness, Thandi Shezi. Gcina.
MS MHLOPE: I will do two poems. A poem that comes from a time when I was in struggling to make sense of what was happening around me and also to try understand where my mother was coming from.
So I'll do that one and also I'll do a poem that is more recent; that is looking at situations that we are experiencing now also.
"Where do they come from, Tell me, tell me, where do they come from. Tales so brave, tales so strong, Tell me, where do they come from, Tales so brave, tales so strong. Some are so funny, so crazy, unbelievable, some are so funny, so crazy, unbelievable. They come from the bones of memory. Watch my eyes, hear my voice, I tell you true. These tales are from the bones of memory. These tales yare from the bones of memory, of memory, of memory, of memory, from the bones of memory, from the bones of memory, from the bones of memory, from the bones of memory.
This is the wedding dancer; and my mother did not like the fact that I ended up in show business. And she was very well known when she grew up in a place called Mount Frere, Umchazie and she used to dance in weddings.
And many people think there's a lot of my mother in me and the more I think about it, the more I realise indeed there's a lot of my mother in me. But when I was writing this poem, there were not a lot of situations to look at that reminded you of the times that my mother was happy and dancing and well-known and doing what she was really good at and loving.
So, this is the Wedding Dancer.
MS MHLOPE SINGS POEM
"Mama, they tell me you were a dancer They tell me you had long, beautiful legs to carry your graceful body. They tell me you were a dancer."
MS MHLOPE SINGS POEM
Mama, they tell me you sang beautiful solos. They tell me you smiled and closed your eyes. Always when the feeling of the song was right, they tell me you smiled and lifted your face up to the sky."
MS MHLOPE SINGS POEM
"Mama, they tell me you were always so gentle. They talk of a willow tree, swaying lovingly over clear, running water in early spring. When they talk of you they tell my you were a slow dancer."
MRS MHLOPE SINGS POEM
"Mama, they tell me you were a wedding dancer. They tell me you smiled, lifted your face up to the sky with your arms curving outward just a little, and your smile, your feet shuffling in the sand -tche tche tche tche tche."
MS MHLOPE SINGS POEM
"Mama, how I wish I was there to see you. They tell me you were a pleasure to watch. Mama, they tell me I'm a dancer too, but I don't know - I don't know for sure what a wedding dancer is. There are no more weddings, but many, many funerals, where we sing and dance, running fast with the coffin of a would-be-bride or a would-be-groom.
Strange smiles have replaced our tears. Our eyes are full of vengeance,
Mama, dear, dear Mama, they tell me I am a funeral dancer.
This poem is called a Leader Remember. I talk about the bones of memory, because this is the era of the story- teller. Lovely stories, painful stories, there are funny stories, all kinds of stories.
This is the time of the story-teller and every single person in this room has got a story to tell and more must be told.
This says Leader Remember.
"Leader Remember the time you spent fighting for your freedom and that of your people. The time you played hide and go seek with you oppressor men
Till they caught you at last
Put you in chains and lead irons
Threw you in jail
Believing in his heart, that you'll never again see the light of day
Leader Remember how strongly you fought your freedom-loving spirit kicking hard and refusing to die. Your vision for a better day, giving you power and endurance immeasurable.
In that cruel torture chamber, while your body lay on the cold cement floor your spirit escaped through the window, and went to mingle with other spirits of countless freedom fighters deep in Africa's Rain Forests. Where the equatorial moisture whispered that timeless message. All freedom fighters know. Don't give up, don't give up.
Here, take with you love, self-respect, selflessness. Fight for your people
Leader Remember the day you walked out. The very minute, the very second as your right foot stepped outside outside the gates of that jail, feasting the air, sun in your face. The joy that washed over you like bucketfuls of honey. The pain that touched your soul like a poisoned arrow of wasted years and potential. At the same time, you eagerly greeted the mammoth task that lay ahead. You vowed and promised to do all in your power to build a better future for you and your people.
Leader Remember the long suffering women and men, the dignity they lost; think of the very young and the very old; the hunger they learned to live with in the land of plenty.
Leader Remember, the promises you made. The hope you represent, Leader remember. You now stand at history's cross roads, compass in hand, the walking stick of your people's experiences, helping you feel for the potholes as you lead the way, Leader Remember. Corruption and lies will no doubt double the pain they once knew, Leader Remember. Betrayal hurts much more than the sting of a million scorpions. Leader Remember
We wish you peace in your heart.
We wish the eagle's sharp vision. We wish you the ancient African tortoises's wisdom. We wish you the mighty elephant's memory
So Leader Remember. The mystic equatorial moisture whispering that timeless message all freedom fighters know. Don't give up, don't give up. Here, take with you love, self-respect, selflessness. Fight for your people. The fight is never over, Leader Remember."
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you Gcina.
I think that poems that you've given us today, certainly touch on the very many sensitive subjects. You talk about our relationships with our mother and we're really very grateful to have had you here today.
We are grateful for whatever it is in our culture that has produced someone like you so that we can talk about our pain, share our laughter and our sadness as well. I thank you very, very much for sharing this morning with us. Thank you.
I would now like to call Thandi Shezi to the witness stand please. I would ask people in the audience who have cell phones to please keep them switched off. It's not very comfortable for the witnesses, in fact, to have the ringing of the cell-phone in the background. This is a moment for the witness to tell their story, and we'd ask you to respect that as well.
Thank you Gcina for being with us.
Mama, thank you for coming today. We know that it takes incredible courage to come and speak and tell us your story in front of all these people. But it's important for other people to hear of your suffering.
I have asked Joyce Seroke to assist you with the telling of your story. Joyce.
MS SEROKE: Thandi Shezi, may you please stand up so you can take an oath.
THANDI SHEZI: (Duly sworn, states).
MS SEROKE: May you please inform us who's the lady accompanying you, sitting right next to you?
MS SHEZI: This is my aunt.
MS SEROKE: We welcome you here. We thank you very much for accompanying Thandi so that she can come and relate her story.
Thandi, you are coming to relate to us about September 1988. Just in brief, if you can tell us, what happened up until when you were detained and you ended up in jail.
MS SHEZI: I was participating in the struggle. I was in the ANC Youth League and I was also involved in WETRO, which was the Women's League.
In September the police arrived at about one am, but before they arrived I told my mother that I think, I've got a feeling that today something is going to happen, I think police are coming to arrest me, because other comrades had informed me that your name was on the list of the special branch.
My mother said you must run away. I said, no, if I run away, they're going to beat all of you here in the house and even the children. I don't want you to get hurt. And they came and arrived at me. There were lots of cars. It was as if they're coming to fetch the president. They kicked the doors and they beat up everybody in the house and they said, where are the guns, because I'm always with terrorists I'm also a traitoress and they also want guns.
They didn't get any guns. They beat me up until my mother pleaded with them that please, if you want to kill her, take her away from here and kill her away from me. Just come and show me her corpse.
So they took me away. We drove all around Soweto whilst they were picking up other people. When we arrived at this police station, I can't even remember whether it was John Vorster or Alexandra. When we arrived there I had already been heavily beaten. I'd been assaulted and even the clothes that I was wearing, they were torn. I was almost naked at that stage.
They sat me down and they phoned others. They said, today we found the terrorist. There was also a person who was there by the name of Sam. They said he's and Askari and Sam said it is better to - you must - you had better tell them where are the guns, or else you won't live long. I said to them, I'm not in a position to tell them, because I don't know anything about guns, and then they arrested me. They handcuffed me behind my back and they also chained my feet and they beat me up for about 20 or 30 minutes.
They realised that I wasn't talking. Then they unchained me, they unchained my legs and Sam took the white sack and put it on my head and then he tied it at the back.
CHAIRPERSON: Please take your time, Thandi.
MS SEROKE: You can drink water if you think it's going to be better.
MS SHEZI: After that he took me away and I still had the sack on my face. He took me to another room. I don't know where this room was, but it was a dark room. When they arrived there, there were two policemen there. The one was Van Heerden, but I can't remember the other one. They said do I know Silver and I said, no, I don't.
They asked me where did I train, I said, no, I'm not trained. And they poured cold water on me, they poured acid on this water that they were pouring on me and that acid got into my eye and today I can't see properly in the other eye.
After that, they took some things like Maglite(?) and they put this on my body and they used this electrodes to choke me and today I still have scars.
They choked me until I bit my tongue, because I was trying to breathe with my mouth, because my nostrils weres closed by the sack. They choked me until I bit my tongue and my tongue got torn.
They left me at the stage when I told them that I'm a member of IFP, I don't know anything about ANC. They spoke among themselves for a while. After that, they took me to another room. In that room they just shoved me inside the floor of that room and then they were discussing what they're going to do with me.
And one of them, one of them said, we must just humiliate her and show her that this ANC can't do anything for her; if we do this humiliation act on her, she will speak the truth.
Then the four of them started raping me, the four of them. The whole four of them started raping me whilst they were insulting me and using vulgar words and said I must tell them the truth. They said if I don't tell them the truth about where the guns are and where is this other person they're looking for, they will do their utmost worst.
But after they finished raping me, they took me to Sunset Prison, Diepkloof Prison. At Sunset prison they refused to accept me, because I'd been very much assaulted and injured. So they took me to the doctor.
The way I had been assaulted and had been injured, I couldn't speak for myself, I couldn't talk. When the doctor asked me what had happened, I couldn't even explain to the doctor what has happened to me, because my tongue was swollen in my mouth. I couldn't speak.
So they told the doctor that I was a prostitute, that I'd been arrested in Hillbrow and when they were trying to arrest me, I ran away, so that's why I got injured.
So they took me back to Sunset where I was kept. When I arrived at Sunset, the White wardens there, they were insulting me regular and calling me names.
I was released on the 1st of December 1988. After they had released me, there was a person who was posted next to my home to watch on me. I reported this to comrades that I can't even go to the shop, because they were harassing all people. They were arresting my relatives, asking them, questioning them on what I was.
So I was all by myself all the time up until my mother sent me to Natal and stay and try and cool off there in Natal for a while.
When I came back, one person, Mugate was arrested and I was asked to come and give testimony how they tortured us until people agreed to accepting the statements, implicating themselves, although they didn't know anything about that. One of them threatened that if I talked, I would be killed.
MS SEROKE: Thandi, at that time when you said you are IFP, what did you - did you think that things would get better for you when you said you're IFP and you're not ANC?
MS SHEZI: Yes, I thought things would be better for me, because I knew special branch were working very closely with IFP, because I had been a person who had studied in Natal. So I knew IFP. I though, maybe if I, and I knew if they asked me anything about the history of IFP, I would be able to relate it, because I knew it.
MS SEROKE: As you realised that it was difficult for you to give any answers; during this time when they were raping you, all of you, I mean, all of them, were you able to request them to, to ask them, to plead with them to stop raping you?
MS SHEZI: During the time when they were raping me, I had already been injured and the tongue had been torn after the electric shock. So I was in no position to speak at that stage. They were just doing whatever they wanted. There was really nothing I could do at that stage. I was helpless.
MS SEROKE: How did you feel about your womanhood when you were violated in this way by the police?
MS SHEZI: I was very deeply hurt. As result, there's nobody I've been able to relate the story to. My mom is hearing this for the first time. Other people might have only known this through counselling, because I've been going through counselling at Wits, because I wasn't able to speak about this. I just kept it in myself. I thought it was going to be my secret. I thought I'd done something that I deserved to be treated like that.
MS SEROKE: The whole time you were quiet and not sharing this with anybody and you say even your mom is hearing this for the first time that you were gang-raped. How did you feel about this?
MS SHEZI: Within myself it was very painful. It was very painful. Even now I'm suffering from a womb. It's as if there's something jumping inside my womb and I still have those physical pains. Even other people tell you you're just cold. Even if I get involved with relationships, they say to me I'm frigid and I'm just cold. Because if I get involved with a man I get very scared. I can't allow myself to be involved and love the person.
MS SEROKE: When did you start receiving this counselling after this happened to you?
MS SHEZI: I started going to counselling when I joined Kulumane last year. That's when I started going for counselling, because I was a reserved person. I wasn't able to speak. I am a shy person. People just used to know that I've just been arrested, detained and assaulted, but I'd never really related the full extend of what I suffered.
MS SEROKE: So you started getting counselling in 1996. So it means from 1988 up until 1996 you have been keeping this inside, this painful experience inside yourself. How were you coping during this long time?
MS SHEZI: I wasn't coping, because when this whole thing had started - when I started feeling this anger inside me, I would beat up my children. I'd be angry with my children. Even with my mother, I used to fight with my father, because deep down within me I was trying to grapple with this painful experiences, going through.
I also used to sing for the choir then. That's the only way I could get some of peace of mind, but during the night I used to have all this terrible actions.
MS SEROKE: But did you also - did you get a chance of going to the doctor and relate this to the doctor?
MS SHEZI: No, I didn't do that. I was not able to tell this to the doctor, because I felt I will be revealing the secret I was keeping inside me. All along I had thought I could keep this inside myself and just retain it up until I die. But through - going through counselling I think I got assisted there so that in order be healed. They told me that in order to be healed, I must talk about this.
MS SEROKE: How do you feel now after sharing this here?
MS SHEZI: I feel a bit better. I really do feel better, but what I would like to say to people, they shouldn't feel shame for me. They shouldn't really give me any pity. I don't need any pity from these people, but I just want to share this pain with people, but I don't want any pity from people and I don't want to - another thing that made me talk, I thought, I felt if people knew about what had happened to me, they will start calling me names.
MS SEROKE: Thank you very much, Thandi.
MS MKHIZE: Thandi, if I may just ask a question so that you can clarify your story here? You said they went to fetch and then they, because they said you're an ANC activist in 1988; was the ANC, was there any base of ANC?
MS SHEZI: No, there was a youth league then.
MS MKHIZE: Were there many women who were activists?
MS SHEZI: Yes, there were a lot of them. Yes, there were some. Dorothy Sekela, Thande, Tembe, there were quite a number of them. Some of them had been detained for a week or two, but I'm the only one among them who was detained for a longest period.
MS MKHIZE: In your knowledge, all these people, during the time you were involved in the struggle, what were the activities you were involved in?
MS SHEZI: We used to hold meetings and helped people who were being evicted from their houses especially and I personally was working in the underground unit and with this very Silver they were looking for.
MS MKHIZE: When you say you were working underground, could you explain to this Commission what exactly were you doing?
MS SHEZI: We used to have missions of attacking the soft targets like Rand offices and places we knew that there were Government figures and like the Government places during that time. So my task was to transport the material, the ammunition and also to check out the place and give information and take this information to Silver.
MS MKHIZE: You have also related to us that at the time when they arrested you they wanted you to give them information about this Silver and lead them to where this Silver was. Could you actually just explain to us, you have related a lot of things that they did to you, could you relate to us that when you look back, how did they link you up to Silver and how did they get to know that you're related to Silver?
MS SHEZI: When I was released and I tried to find out how did they know about me; they got to know this through a lady where Silver was hiding, who told them that the person whose always with Silver is this lady. And also they gave them information, she gave them information on where they could find me.
But this cop said they looked for me for two months, looking for me.
MS MKHIZE: You have also related to us that there wardens would look after you. Where they women or male?
MS SHEZI: They were females.
MS MKHIZE: And the way they treated you; do you think was it any better than how male police treated you?
MS SHEZI: I think it was slightly better, because I knew with males they would really brutalise us, but the female wardens they were not as brutali as the male wardens, police.
The female used to hand over their assault and brutalisation to their male counterparts. Even when they came to assault me, even though I couldn't take it any more, there was a time when I put them in the cell and I beat them up, because I had already been gone beyond, I had been beaten so much.
They said I'll stay there 30 days, drinking water and "ryswater" and I told them I am not going to drink any "ryswater". I will just be on hunger strike, but the way they were scared of this hunger strike; they called me. This male policeman took me to town and they were pleading with me that I must co-operate with them and I must give them the information they wanted from me.
They told me that my children and that my children had been handed over to welfare, but my father - and if they were not told, if I didn't tell them the truth, they would kill my children.
There were a lot of things they were using to threaten me, but I think I'd learned to know that there were a lot of misinformation they would give you as part of their harassment and to confuse you.
MS MKHIZE: Thandi, please excuse us the way we're questioning you. There is also something you have said. I'd like you to expand a bit on it and clarify it.
You said you were working underground. Could you actually explain to us, that as a woman, what the role did you play, what role did you play to actually make you trusted in that male dominated area and their activities underground?
MS SHEZI: I think the comrades I was working with in a Umdane, this unit, they trusted me. Maybe they saw bravery in me. I used to be able to withstand difficulty. They were not even too alarmed when they heard that I'd been arrested and detained, because they knew I was a strong person, I could withstand difficulties.
MS MKHIZE: That is why you say you don't need any pity. You don't see yourself as a person who needs any pity. You see yourself as a hero.
MS SHEZI: I do want people to empathise with me and share the pain with me, but I do not want them to reduce me to an object and see me as just nothing.
I realise that in many times that when an actor is - when an actor is acting in a story they tend to identify that character the actor's doing. People associate that person with that story. But I also think that I will fall into that role of being identified with that kind of character, you sort of seen a story where people identify with the particular character.
MS MKHIZE: Thandi, it does show that in all the painful experiences you went through, it seems the rape experience was the most painful one, that you cannot be able to go through, but as far as you're concerned; what do you think should be done to help other women who could be in the same position, or went through that same position?
I can see that you don't want - one of the things that you don't want the community to see them as bad people since they raped, but as a person who has been involved in counselling and you have played a role in counselling other women; what do you think will help other women in a similar situation?
MS SHEZI: I think what could help them, is that our Government must make a women centre where women can go and voice their innermost feelings and concern, because it would seem in most cases our Government looks after male needs and I think we played a very important role in the struggle and the history.
And some of our guys, the males who were beaten up, but then they didn't have to go through that sore that we went through, but if there could be like centres, counselling centres and give women something to do, give them an opportunity to express themselves.
As I have spoken here, I'll go home with this trauma, but fortunately I have been receiving this counselling, but what about somebody else who have experienced similar situations and they just go back with the wound having been opened and thereafter they don't get any assistance in the form of counselling and support.
So if there could be some kind of centres where that could support women who have gone through similar experiences.
MS MKHIZE: Thank you very much, Thandi.
CHAIRPERSON: Thandi, put the earphones on so that you can -I'm going to ask you the questions in English, but you'll be able to hear in a language of your choice.
Are you able to hear me?
MS SHEZI: Yes.
CHAIRPERSON: Okay. Some of the questions I'm going to ask you, is in a sense really going to deal with some of the trauma you experienced again.
You mentioned in your statement that you were tortured. Now, part of what we have to do is in fact, record all these allegations of torture, so that we can have a sense of understanding of what the different methods were, that were in fact used throughout the country, so that we can begin thinking about ways of retraining people so that torture actually doesn't take place in our country again.
You mentioned that you were tortured by way of suffocation. I wonder if you can just give us some more details, please?
MS SHEZI: The sack they put on you, it's a square sack and the material they used; it's as if it is made in such a way to suffocate you, you cannot breathe, it can't allow the air you breathe out and in. You're able to breathe through your mouth, but you can't breathe through your nose.
But once they've put water in this sack, it sticks to your face and then it closes your nostrils. Now the only way you can breathe is through your mouth. But when they electrocute you, you get shocked and as you're shaking from this electrocution, then it closes your mouth and you cannot breathe and also your nostrils are blocked at that stage. You cannot use them for breathing.
CHAIRPERSON: When they tortured you, did they take off all your clothes?
MS SHEZI: There was no need for them to unclothe me, because the very clothes I was wearing, they were completely torn off from my body. They were just holding onto my waist and it was completely torn. I was almost naked at that stage.
CHAIRPERSON: You have mentioned that there were in fact four men who raped you. Now, were all of these men White or were there some Black policemen amongst them?
MS SHEZI: They were all White males and they were speaking Afrikaans.
CHAIRPERSON: Can you tell me how long you were actually held by them in prison?
MS SHEZI: I was arrested in September and I think it was three months and I was released on the 1st of December.
CHAIRPERSON: And during this time, your treatment in prison, did the women wardens come and see to you when you were menstruating? Where you given any of the things that women need during that period?
MS SHEZI: Yes, they were giving me those things, because I was in a single cell. The cell, there was like a toilet, there was a bed and a toilet and a basin. I was not even allowed to get out of the cell.
A warden used to come in to give me food and all those other things that I needed like changing clothes and the prison clothes, because I didn't have my own clothes there.
CHAIRPERSON: You also mention in your statement that you recognised an Askari and you even mentioned his name. How did you know that he was an Askari?
MS SHEZI: When I was released, when I told them the person
who was there, whose name was Sam, they told me it's Sam from Alexander who was an Askari. He's burned in the face. He'd been banned by comrades in Alex, because of the scar. Because I was able to describe this person, because he had a burnt mark on his face.
CHAIRPERSON: When you came out of prison, did you, were you examined by a doctor? Did you go to a doctor and ask him to check you out?
MS SHEZI: No.
CHAIRPERSON: Not. Did you lay charges against the policemen concerned?
MS SHEZI: Yes, I did lay the charges. They told their lawyer, Chris, that they would not take this case forward. They did put some reason why they wouldn't, but I don't know what those reasons were.
CHAIRPERSON: When you were raped, after the rape, did any of the wardresses who were attending to you; did they know about the rape?
MS SHEZI: No, they didn't know.
CHAIRPERSON: But after this, were you treated in any way, properly? Were you taken for any kind of medical examination.
MS SHEZI: Yes, I was treated by the jail doctor.
CHAIRPERSON: Who had decided that or when you went to lay the charges, did the police decide that they don't want to press charges against these men?
MS SHEZI: Yes, the letter that I'd got ...
CHAIRPERSON: What did it say?
MS SHEZI: They said Adriaan Vlok said that there are no charges that are going to be laid against those policemen.
CHAIRPERSON: And the name of your lawyer so that we could get more information from him?
MS SHEZI: Chris Naidoo.
CHAIRPERSON: Chris Naidoo. You also talk about the fact that your partner left you and in fact said that you were very frigid. Did he not realise the impact that the rape in fact had on you?
MS SHEZI: No he didn't know. I actually didn't tell him. At that time I didn't tell a single soul about it. I thought I was a person who had a problem. That is why they raped me. That's why they did what they did to me. I though I was to blame for it. I didn't want people to know about what had happened to me.
CHAIRPERSON: When you talked about the fact that there were other women who were part of your group, but they had spent shorter times in detention. Now, when all of you came out, you said to me now that you didn't speak about it. Did any of them discuss with you what kind of experiences they had in prison?
MS SHEZI: Yes, they used to talk about assault, that they'd been electrocuted and being insulted also, but they didn't go any beyond that. We didn't discuss about other things.
CHAIRPERSON: How - I know that you've said that you're going for counselling now, but I'm very happy that you've in fact come forward to talk about your experiences.
But how do you feel? Do you feel that openness in fact begins to heal? And how do you feel about other women sharing their experiences in this way?
MS SHEZI: What has really helped me is Kulumane Support Group, because I saw other people relating their own experiences in Kulumane; talk about their painful experiences.
I then also decided that maybe that's about time I related my experience. I shouldn't keep it forever hear. And the Kulumane helped me to go and see a psychiatrist for counselling, because I was becoming very violent. I wasn't very tolerant of other people and I would get very violent when I was talking to other people. I have become completely intolerant, because I think that's how I was trying suppress this feeling and experience that I've gone through.
CHAIRPERSON: You mention during your testimony that you felt you were responsible and perhaps you'd in fact invited the sort of attack on you. Now having gone through counselling, do you accept that you in fact are not to blame?
MS SHEZI: No, I realise that, I realise that that was the way I - the whole experience had reduced me into feeling I'm worthless and thinking that I am guilty of something. That was also the way that you used to break you down and make you feel humiliated and feel you're completely worthless.
CHAIRPERSON: Are you working now?
MS SHEZI: Yes, I am working. I work as a field worker at the Kulumane Support Group.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. Is there anything you would like to add before we finish with you today?
MS SHEZI: No.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much for coming and sharing your pain and your suffering. I think you are an example to other women, of how talking can in fact help to heal so that one can create a sense of self-worth about oneself.
We're very happy to have heard your story today and we hope that we'll in fact be able to take forward the matter which you couldn't press charges against and actually enquire into why charges were not preferred against those men.
Thank you for coming today, Thandi.