Facing the Truth (Part One)

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Unidentified Radio Announcer #1: Twenty-two minutes past seven. You are listening to AM live on SAFM 104 to 107. Now to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. South Africa and its people came face to face with the past —

Dennis Neer: At about 12 or 1 a.m. I was awoken by an assault

Thandi Shezi: They were doing — (kicks door)

Male Victim #1: He had a gun in his hand pointed at my forehead.

Zukile Sinama: They said to me you are lying. You are going to tell us the truth, what we want.

Male Victim #2: I was beaten up. And then they said to me, ‘Today you are going to die.’

Mrs. Codolezi: (Wailing)

Radio Announcer: It’s 12 minutes to 7. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission resumes public hearings.

Female Victim #1: They tortured him and cut off his hands. They shot him and blew him up.

Mr. Mcusta Jack: We were lying on the floor and the police was really firing at us.

Lapsley:: The act of opening the magazine was the detonating device of the bomb.

Female Victim #2: Pieces of him and brains, all of it were scattered around.

Mr. Dawie Ackermann: I stepped over the bodies, reached my wife, saw that she had been shot.

FeMale Victim #3: We buried a corpse that didn’t have a head.

Nomonda Calata: (Wailing)

Bill Moyers: They come from all over the country. They come to tell their stories.

Boraine: Will you raise your right hand please?

Bill Moyers: South Africans are on a truth telling mission about their past.

Boraine: The evidence you give before this…

Commissioner #1: Will be the truth…

Commissioner #2: The whole truth…

Commissioner #3: And nothing but the truth…

Boraine: And nothing but the truth so help you God.

Bill Moyers: A past of unspeakable evil is now being spoken.

FeMale Victim #4: My story, and that of my children, is but a minor story in comparison with these others. Our pain is but a mere drop in the ocean of South Africa’s suffering.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu: The past has a way of returning to haunt you. Uh, it doesn’t go and lie down quietly.

(At hearing) I now declare that the Hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is now in session.

Bill Moyers: It is meant to be a new beginning for a nation long divided by racial oppression.

Desmond Tutu: We long to put behind us all the pain and division of apartheid and pray that all those people who have been injured in either body or spirit may receive healing through the work of this Commission.

[interview] We need to say how do we move together. And we are not going to be able to do that without saying where do we come from.

Bill Moyers: Apartheid, white supremacy, was the law of the land. The black struggle for democracy was brutally put down. As five million whites tried to keep thirty million blacks in total subjugation, the government turned South Africa into a police state. The movement for liberation intensified in the 1980s and the world community declared South Africa an outlaw state. Apartheid began to crumble, the racist government was forced to negotiate.

F. W. de Klerk: I wish to put it plainly, that the government has taken a firm decision to release Mr. Mandela unconditionally.

Bill Moyers: After 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela is elected president of the new South Africa in 1994. It is the first time the black majority is free to vote.

Nelson Mandela: Never. Never. And never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another.

Bill Moyers: The agreement to dismantle apartheid was a compromise. Apartheid’s leaders wanted amnesty. Apartheid’s victims wanted justice. The truth and reconciliation commission, chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was born of this settlement.

Desmond Tutu: I mean, here is a Commission that has been set up by our president, the president we elected. And the world is listening.

Bill Moyers: What the world would hear was an extraordinary telling of crimes against humanity. Thousands of former security police, army operatives, local cops, and guerrillas from the resistance movement came forward to apply for amnesty.

ERASMUS (through translator): I am not a murderer. Otherwise, we could have murdered a lot of people.

Sgt. Nieuwoudt:: I did nothing on my own. I only acted on instruction.

Erasmus (through translator): We really thought that the State approved of this in a tacit way.

Makoma: We were not fighting them because they were white. We were fighting them because of their deeds.

Bill Moyers: To get amnesty they must tell the truth.

Desmond Tutu: We are not seeking to humiliate them. We are not seeking to belittle them. We are not seeking — we are not even seeking—to prosecute them. We are just saying that that this is a moral universe, and you’ve got to take account of the fact that truth and lies and goodness and evil are things that matter, and that we’ve got to acknowledge them.

Benzien: On the Saturday I assaulted you…

Bill Moyers: No one could predict what would happen when victims confronted their torturers.

Male Victim #3: Do you remember saying to me that you are able to treat me like an animal or like a human being, and that how you beated me depended on whether I cooperated or not?

Benzien: I can’t remember that I directly said it, but I will concede I may have said it.

Male Victim #3: Can I then also just ask you to remember that while I was laying on the ground, that somebody inserted a metal rod into my anus and electrically shocked me?

Benzien: No, sir.

Male Victim #4: Is it not true that you and Nkosi assaulted me throughout the trip?

Benzien: If you say we assaulted you in the kombi, then I would concede that, in all probability, I did.

Bill Moyers: The victims were often blindfolded during their agony.

Male Victim #5: I’ve never seen this bag being used myself on any other person.

Bill Moyers: Now, with the commissioners looking on, they could see, for the first time, exactly how their torturers used techniques like the wet bag to terrorize them.

Benzien: In that way, cutting off the air supply to the person.

Male Victim #5: What — what kind of man that uses a method like this one of the wet bag… to people, to other human beings, repeatedly? And listening to those moans and cries and groans, eh, and taking each of those people very near to their deaths. Eh, what — what — what kind of man are you? What kind of man is that?

Bill Moyers: This truth commission was different from other countries’. this one was public.

Max du Preez: It was a week of high drama at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission this week.

Bill Moyers: The stories poured out from television and radio in several of South Africa’s eleven official languages.

The truth could no longer be denied.

Male Victim #6: And you — you were, a stick was put inside your knees and you had to stretch your knees. During that period you were suffocated…

Boraine: Don’t, don’t worry about it.

Desmond Tutu: I thought I knew the awfulness of apartheid. But you see when it ceases to be statistics and it is a real live human being who says this, that, and the other happened, that devastates you.

Max du Preez: That was the moment. That was the moment that we all stopped in our tracks and looked back and said, what have we done?

Bill Moyers: For two years, Max Du Preez reported on the hearings for South African broadcasting.

Max du Preez: This Truth Commission is about the people of this country. It’s not about the deal that the politicians made. It’s not about the Truth Commission for politicians; it’s not about politicians. It’s not about justice. It’s not even about perpetrators and victims. It is about the people of this country making peace with their past.

Female Victim #5: What I would really, really like is, I would like to, to meet that man who threw the grenade in an attitude of forgiveness and hope that he could forgive me too.

Female Victim #6: I would love to know who killed my father. So would my brother, I suppose, because it’s very hard for us right now to do anything. We do want to forgive, but, I mean, we don’t know how to — who to forgive because we don’t know the killers, you know?

Desmond Tutu: We found that very, very many of those who came found the telling, just the telling, in a way, a very cathartic, a very healing thing. Because most of those who came are people who, for almost all of their lives, had been treated as non-non-entities.

Joyce Mtimkulu: This is Siphiwo’s hair. This is the scalp.

Desmond Tutu: And the Mother would say ‘My son disappeared.’ All I have is this clump of hair, because my son, when he was detained was poisoned and when he came out he was lame and em, um, we had to put him in a wheelchair. And all I have is this clump of hair.

Bill Moyers: Why was it so important for you to tell your story to the Commission?

Joyce Mtimkulu: Because I wanted the world to know what happened to us.

Max du Preez: What had been denied, all along. The pain had been denied, the suffering had been denied. They were called terrorists. Communists. And suddenly, it was now, they were being honored.

Boraine: Will you raise your right hand?

Max du Preez: They were being asked to come to the State and say, “Tell the nation.”

Bill Moyers: Mrs. Mtimkulu’s son, Siphiwo, was a student activist in Port Elizabeth in the late ’70s and early ’80s.

Joyce Mtimkulu: They would take a towel and suffocate you with this towel.

Bill Moyers: Like other activists, he was repeatedly detained and tortured.

Joyce Mtimkulu: He was allowed to stand for 24 hours day and night.

Bill Moyers: When Siphiwo emerged from jail in 1982, he was very sick. He couldn’t walk and his hair fell out. Doctors discovered he was suffering from thallium poisoning, used to kill rats. Thallium had apparently been put in his food in prison.

Joyce Mtimkulu: That is the poison, the poison.

Bill Moyers: When he came out of the hospital, Siphiwo sued the state for torturing and trying to kill him. Within days of filing his lawsuit, he disappeared.

Your son was not a criminal was he? He was not…

Joyce Mtimkulu: He was never a criminal. The only thing with Siphiwo it was, he was involved in politics. He was fighting for better education, release of Mandela, doing all he could. He would like to see Mr. Mandela out of prison.

Bill Moyers: For years and years the Mtimkulus did not know what happened to their son. Now at the commission hearings, they would hear the details from four security police who applied for amnesty in their son’s death.

Judge Wilson: When he was released, he was a wheelchair case?

Erasmus: That is correct.

Judge Wilson: At the time of his death, he was still hobbling around with the aid of a stick. He couldn’t walk properly.

Erasmus: That is correct.

Judge Wilson: This is the man, the man you considered so potentially dangerous as an activist that he should be killed.

Erasmus: That is correct.

Joyce Mtimkulu: After 15 years, it’s only after 15 years when I heard what happened to my son. They knew all this time that he was dead, eh, and how they killed him. And they never came out with anything about that. If it was not for the Truth Commission, even today, I should have not known what happened to my son.

Commissioner #4: Did you give the deceased some of these sleeping tablets?

Nieuwoudt:: That is so.

Commissioner #4: How did you do this?

Nieuwoudt:: It was in the coffee that I offered them. I put an overdose of the tablets in the coffee and I gave it to them to drink.

Commissioner #5: [addressing van Rensburg] Did you collect branches and tree trunks?

Van Rensburg: Yes that is correct.

Commissioner #5: Did you then shoot Sipho Mtimkulu?

Van Rensburg: Yes, that is correct.

Commissioner #4: van Rensburg shot the one person and you shot the other?

Nieuwoudt:: That is so, your honor.

Joyce Mtimkulu: Uh, you know, when you look at them, you really see, I don’t know whether I can say, pigs, or what, or what, I really don’t, I — I — I — I have got no words to describe those guys sitting there in that seat in that hall but we must sit and watch and listen to what they say.

Van Rensburg: We placed them on the firewood. We first put down a layer of firewood and then we put the corpses on top of the firewood.

Commissioner #4:: During the course of the evening, on several occasions, you had to keep the fire going and put on more wood.

Nieuwoudt:: That is so.

Commissioner #4: The next morning, did you gather the remains? And throw these into the Fish River?

Nieuwoudt:: That is correct.

Desmond Tutu: And now, they come they tell us and they say, ‘We abducted him and gave him drugged coffee, we shot him in the head, and we burned his body. And as his body was burning here, we were having a barbecue on the side.’ You sit there and you say, ‘have we sank so low?’

Bill Moyers: For Siphiwo’s daughter, Aleuta, who was two years-old-when her father disappeared, and his son, Sikumbuzo the truth is devastating.

Once you knew what the perpetrators had done, did you get some peace?

Joyce Mtimkulu: No. I got emotional and the hatred was there. If now, we could do what they did to us to them as they are sitting there. Or shoot them while they’re sitting there, you take your gun out, you shoot them as they are sitting there. Will that be nice to them?

Bill Moyers: Would you have liked it if you could have taken them to court and have seen them convicted by a jury and punished for what they did?

Joyce Mtimkulu: I’m sure that — that could make things better.

Bill Moyers: You would like to see them punished.

Joyce Mtimkulu: (interrupts) I would like to see them being punished.

Bill Moyers: Justice.

Joyce Mtimkulu: Yes.

Bill Moyers: An eye for an eye.

Joyce Mtimkulu: Yes.

Bill Moyers: A tooth for a tooth.

Joyce Mtimkulu: Yes.

Bill Moyers: Mrs. Mtimkulu attends church several times a week. The truth as told by the perpetrators challenges her Christian beliefs to the core.

Joyce Mtimkulu: Even if I’m a churchgoer, whatever, as they know me that I always go to church and sing and dance and do everything. I won’t just forgive if you don’t come to me and ask forgiveness. To me! They did nothing to the government. They did harm the community, but the actual person is me. They should come to me and ask forgiveness. To me, and then, to God.

Bill Moyers: And that hasn’t happened yet.

Joyce Mtimkulu: It hasn’t happened yet.

Preacher: Our main test is hope.

Bill Moyers: What happened to Siphiwo Mtimkulu was not unique. Here in Port Elizabeth, in the eastern cape region of the country, other leading activists met similar fates.

Nieuwoudt:: They were given coffee, into which the sleeping drug had been poured. And then—

Perpetrator #1: The people were taken out of the garage one by one, and they were eliminated.

Bill Moyers: At the TRC’s amnesty hearings, patterns were emerging.

Perpetrator #2: The burning of a body to ashes takes about seven hours. While that happened we were drinking and even having a braai next to the fire.

Bill Moyers: The systematic abduction and murder of resistance leaders.

Perpetrator #3: What I’m saying is, we did not kidnap them to interrogate them. We kidnapped them to kill them.

Bill Moyers: In the disappearance of the Pebco three, a trio of community grassrooots leaders, their widows would learn not only what happened to their husbands, but where.

Post Chalmers farm. Owned by the state. A kind of a torture or killing farm, where many eastern cape activists were taken. These so-called truth rooms were all over the country. The victims were often told by their tormentors, ‘you can shout or cry as loud as you want to. Nobody will hear, and nobody will ever know.’

Perpetrator #1: The wood was placed in a large pile in the backyard. The people were carried to the wood, put on top of it.

Commissioner: There were three of them?

Perpetrator #1: Yes. And it was set alight and diesel was poured over.

Woman: Get out. Just get out please.

Boraine: Many people within this hall, many of us sitting at this table knew your husbands well, the Cradock Four.

Bill Moyers: The Cradock Four. More brutal deaths, including two rural school teachers whose leadership skills were gaining national recognition.

Female Victim #7: All of the bodies had multiple stab wounds and were badly burned.

Bill Moyers: The charred bodies of the Cradock Four were found shortly after they disappeared in 1985. A government inquest at the time absolved the state of any responsibility. But at the TRC the security cops explained the depth of their deceit.

Commissioner #7: Do you agree that the 63 stab wounds is evidence of barbaric conduct?

Perpetrator #4: Uh, Mr. Chairman, in retrospect, absolutely. Uh, fact is though that, instruction was that this killing should look like a vigilante attack and that a more humane way of doing it would have not had the same effect.

Commissioner #8: Why did you do it?

Perpetrator #4: Mr. Chairman, I have asked myself that question many times.

Bill Moyers: Ten years have passed since the funeral of the Cradock Four brought an outpouring of protest and mourning. Only now before the TRC were the secrets of the state being revealed.

Female Victim #8: I was proud of the fact that I had joined the struggle, that I was a revolutionary. And I was willing to just suffer the consequences, but they wanted me to say certain things so they tortured me for at least seven days. They took a plastic bag with a dark blue (inaudible) I couldn’t get one. Then one person held both my hands down and the other one put it on my head, keep it on for at least two minutes. By that time the plastic is clinging to my eyelids, my nostrils, my mouth, my whole body’s going into spasms because I — I — I — I really can’t breathe now.

Female Victim #9: They made me stand the whole night. There was no chair, but I was given a pen to write a statement. The third night I started becoming delirious and my legs were swelling. This man started beating me up, he held a towel, strangled me with a towel and started bashing my head against the wall. Eventually, I must have passed out. I was bleeding. He threw a packet of sanitary pads at me. Go to the bathroom. And I could see that I was menstruating and I was just wondering how he realized that.

Female Victim #10: You had to ask them for sanitary pads. With your menstrual flow, they made you stand, interminably, as punishment. The feel and smell of the sticky — sticky blood as a reminder of imminent slaughter at the hand of your torturers.

Female Victim #11: He came and he said that that they knew exactly how he was gonna get me to cooperate and that they prepared, he prepared a chemical for me to drink to, to kill the baby and to, he was gonna burn the baby from my body.

Thandi Shezi: When we’re having this, eh, Truth Commission, the Women’s Hearings. Maybe you could’ve come out there, your head cracked. Your skull cracked. You could sit and listen to all the things that were happening during that time to the women.

Female Victim #8: And the only thing that really made me break in the end was when they, they threatened to go back to my house, when my sister was staying with me and arrest, uh, kidnap my 4-year-old nephew, Christopher, bring him to the 13th floor, and drop him out of the window.

Bill Moyers: When you heard, Thandi, about the Truth Commission, did you want to testify?

Thandi Shezi: I didn’t want to. And, actually, first, eh, in fact, I was forced to go and testify.

Bill Moyers: How co — what do you mean?

Thandi Shezi: Eh, I mean, ah, Khulumani and Ntombi and, eh, the rest, and eh-eh, Brandon, and all the people at the Center for the Study of Violence said, ‘Thandi — you need to talk about this. Go to the Truth Commission and testify. I didn’t even ask to want to make the statement, for I didn’t think that they can take away my pain. By talking about it or by giving Tutu my statement what I’m going to get?

Thandi Shezi: [play] I am not going near the TRC, thank you very much.

Bill Moyers: In 1996 Thandi Shezi joined a theater group in Johannesburg whose members tell stories brought to the truth and reconciliation commission. Stories from their lives.

Thandi Shezi: [From play] How can I forgive, whilst I’m no longer a woman? I’m a woman in body, but inside I’m dead.

Bill Moyers: It was a play that helped you find your voice again?

Thandi Shezi: Hmmmm, it was the play and the — we’ve got this Khulumani survivors’ support group where all the victims of apartheid came together and we sit around and we all talk about our past experiences, for we understand that talking is healing. When-the more you talk about your pain, the more you get relieved.

[From play] It was mid-September, 1988 when around about 1 a.m., a convoy of police cars came to my place to pick me up. They were told that I’m a trained terrorist.

The whole family was sleeping. My cousin was sleeping at this side. And I was sleeping in this bedroom, this, my parents’ bedroom and this is our bedroom, the girls’. So, when I went to open the door, as you can see the door is cracked —

Bill Moyers: You mean, they were hitting on the door that hard?

Thandi Shezi: They were hitting on the door, trying to break it down. They were doing (Thandi kicks door). You see?

[From play] When I opened the door, I came face to face with the barrel of a gun.

Male Actor 1: Hey! Where’s Thandi?

Thandi Shezi: [play] There’s no one with that name here.

Male Actor 1: Vandag sal jy die waarheid proate. [Today you will tell the truth].

Thandi Shezi: We were all taken out and the whole family was put right here on the, on the verandah and we were facing this huge bright light.

Bill Moyers: Now, who was standing there? You?

Thandi Shezi: It was my mother, my cousin, me, my other cousin, my elder sister, my two kids were there. And the person was in the car pointing that that was Thandi. And they started beating me. I run to the street. They started kicking, punching, jumping on top of me. And my mother had to plead with them and said, ‘Please. Don’t kill her in front of me.’

Thandi Shezi: [play] Through the beating, my face was swollen, my dress was torn, I was left with one shoe. I was told to sit on the floor. My hands were handcuffed at the back, and another handcuffs for the legs…

There are these rooms underneath the, the John Vorster Square. The famous rooms where people are being electric shocked. That’s where they electric shocked me.

Bill Moyers: How many policemen?

Thandi Shezi: There were four, when they electric —

Bill Moyers: White?

Thandi Shezi: White policemen.

Bill Moyers: And just you.

Thandi Shezi: I was a — alone.

Thandi Shezi: As you can see, these are the marks of the electric shock. There are a lot of them.

Bill Moyers: Do-do they have a rod, or —

Thandi Shezi: They have two needle-like rods. They pour water over you, and they switch this big machine. And they put those rods on top of there and they start shaking.

[play] Then I was taken to another room, which was also very dark and pushed on the floor.

Can you imagine, cold and shivering and bleeding and lying on the floor naked. Well, I was half-naked. My dress was torn into pieces. So, it was like I was naked to them. Maybe that’s what gave them the advantage of coming back and raping me.

Bill Moyers: They came back, all four of them?

Thandi Shezi: They came, they — all four of them. They said, I’m going to hate myself after they are finished with me. And of course they did manage to do that.

Bill Moyers: They made you hate yourself?

Thandi Shezi: Uh, they make me feel guilty and I hated myself. I, asked myself so many questions: Why, in the first place, did I involve myself with politics? Uh, eh, the mother of two kids. What was I doing?

They took me to a district surgeon whom they told —

Actor: She’s a prostitute. She injured herself while trying to escape

Bill Moyers: What about the men who beat and raped you? Have they been identified? Have they come before the Commission?

Thandi Shezi: No. No, I haven’t heard a word.

Bill Moyers: So, the only way you could find out is if one of the four or all of the four applied for amnesty.

Thandi Shezi: For amnesty. It’s when we are going to find out. If they didn’t a-apply for amnesty, we won’t know.

Bill Moyers: You’ll never know. You don’t know their names?

Thandi Shezi: I don’t know their names.

Thandi Shezi: [play] You do not survive this, but you carry on living.

What I did during that time maybe that make me to be sane up to this day.

Bill Moyers: What did you do?

Thandi Shezi: [play] Uh, I divorced myself from that body which was being violated. I let them to devour the body with rape and my soul and my spirit was at the corner, watching the body, for I couldn’t take it, to see my body being misused. So I had to remove my soul and my spirit and put it in the corner. That’s my wish at the Truth Commission that I told them that, I wish to go back to collect my soul, for the real Thandi is still there at the corner. The Thandi that is talking and moving, is not the real Thandi.

Bill Moyers: So many of the voices of victims at the truth and reconciliation commission were those of ordinary and poor women who had lost husbands and children.

Female Victim #12: I’ve lost a son in 1986 by the name of Victor Jeffrey Hope.

Bill Moyers: Loved ones who may not have been known beyond their block or neighborhood.

Female Victim #13: My son was killed by ANC.

Female Victim #14: I also lost a son. His name is Samuel Masilela.

Bill Moyers: Mamelodi is a township near Pretoria, the nation’s capital, the heart of the former apartheid regime. These women, like Thandi Shezi, joined a group called Khulumani, Zulu for “speak out.”

Female Victim #15: In 1986, on the 26th of June, my son disappeared from home.

Bill Moyers: They share the stories they will tell at the truth commission.

Mabel Makope: I had a little baby. She was about three weeks, the third one. When my husband never came home, it was on a Wednesday.

Female Victim #12: During that day there came my younger sister, who came and told me that my son was shot in KwaNdebele.

Maria Ntuli: He used to tell me every now and then that, “Mommy, when I’m big enough after I’ve completed my school, I’m going to be a lawyer.”

Bill Moyers: Maria Ntuli lost her son, Jeremiah, in a case referred to as the Nietverdient 10. On June 26, 1986, 10 young men in their late teens failed to return to their mothers’ homes that night. For 10 years, there were rumors they had gone into exile. For 10 years Maria waited for her son’s return.

Bill Moyers: That’s Jeremiah.

Maria Ntuli: That’s Jeremiah.

Bill Moyers: What’s your last memory of him in your mind when he left that day?

Maria Ntuli: He was busy in the room washing. After that he dressed himself, said to me, ‘Mommy, I’ll be back, eh, at about 10 o’clock in the evening.’ I said, ‘Where are you off to?’ He said, ‘I’m going out with friends.’ And that was the last time I see him.

Bill Moyers: How old was he at that time?

Maria Ntuli: He was 17 years old.

Bill Moyers: Rhudi Mphela works with Khulumani. He helped Maria and the other mothers prepare for testifying at the TRC.

Mamelodi Mother: During the night he didn’t come back, then I started searching for him. I couldn’t find him there and Mamasela told me that her son is not at home also. The children went missing on the 26th, the same day, all of them.

Bill Moyers: Soon after the Mamelodi mothers testified, a group of security police applied for amnesty for killing their sons.

Bill Moyers: So you did not know what had happened to him, really, until the perpetrators applied for amnesty.

Rudy: Exactly.

Bill Moyers: If it had not been for the Truth Commission, then you wouldn’t probably—

Rudy: Even today, nobody would’ve know what had happen — what has happened to them.

Bill Moyers: It was a grim story the mothers heard that day.

Jack Cronje: Joe Mamasela infiltrated a group of young activists in Mamelodi.

Bill Moyers: Brigadier Jack Cronje told how his team killed Maria’s son, Jeremiah, and his friends.

Jack Cronje: — to receive military training.

Bill Moyers: The boys were approached by a government agent posing as friend of liberation. He recruited them for special training across the border, telling them they, too, could become freedom fighters. It was a trap.

Jack Cronje: As they were taken out of the Kombi, members of the military pressed them down to the ground and injected them with something. They were then put back in the Kombi. This Kombi was pushed down a, uh, incline. And then the Kombi was filled with explosives and blown up.

Bill Moyers: And why would they drug and blow up a vanload of teenagers?

Jack Cronje: This was preventative. We had to eliminate them to prevent that they would come back as trained terrorists.

Bill Moyers: So, they said that they thought your son and the others would grow up to become terrorists.

Rudy: It’s on record. That is what they said. It’s on record. At their amnesty hearings.

Jack Cronje: Were they to return as well-trained terrorists, then they could have struck anywhere in the Republic and I wouldn’t have known how to prevent them from doing so.

Bill Moyers: Sort of, preventive assassination?

Rudy: Exactly.

Bill Moyers: Do you have any idea where he’s buried?

Maria Ntuli: No, not yet.

Bill Moyers: Do you still want to know that?

Maria Ntuli: I still want to know the place where is he buried.

Bill Moyers: In the spring of 1998, the truth commission took the mothers of Mamelodi to the place where their sons were blown up. There were no bones or remains to be found here, however.

Maria Ntuli: That is our culture. You can’t just throw a — a child’s body away. Never mind, he can, they can bury him where he is. Our culture, you must have, eh, the grave of your family next uh, just where you live.

Bill Moyers: The name of the place, Nietverdient, means “not deserving”.

Priest: Holy Father, with this water cool our hearts, our bodies from the heat of the sun.

[with crowd] Christ have mercy.

Wash away the blood stains of those who have died unjustly, especially (unintelligible names)…

Maria Ntuli: It was a very important thing for us to go there.

Maria Ntuli: You know what made me angry? They didn’t tell us the real truth.

Bill Moyers: Who didn’t?

Maria Ntuli: The perperators. What I saw where we have been the other day is not what they said at the hearings.

Bill Moyers: They describe one thing at the hearings and you saw something else with your own eyes.

Maria Ntuli: Yes.

Rudy: What they said at the amnesty hearings is that when they took these boys to this area, they arrived at that place and then they gave these boys liquor. And after these boys got drunk, they sort of injected them with a poisonous solution and then these boys died. And then what happened, they packed the Kombi with a lot of explosives inside and they set it alight and they threw it down a ditch about 500 to 1,000 meters down. And so, we were quite surprised only to find that it’s a flat surface like the table.

Bill Moyers: What did that make you think?

Maria Ntuli: They are still hiding something.

Priest: Reconciliation is in our hearts. It is only when we open our hearts to God. So that through His holy spirit he can move us.

Maria Ntuli: Jeremiah sacrificed his life for this new South Africa. It’s always going to be in my heart. That open space…for my son.

Jack Cronje: I don’t think I have to say I’m sorry, uh, and I’m not going to say it. Uh, for what I did. I’m sorry for the relatives and the victims, yes. But what I did, I’m not sorry about. Because I was doing my job, and I, th — what, uuuuh, I thought it was right.

Bill Moyers: Brigadier Cronje gave the order to kidnap and kill Jeremiah Ntuli and his nine companions in June of 1986.

Man #1 Brigadier, you are still under oath.

Jack Cronje: Yes.

Bill Moyers: He was commanding officer of one of the most notorious hit squads during the 1980s. they did most of their work around Pretoria. the nearby township of Mamelodi, where Maria Ntuli lives, became their killing field.

Jack Cronje: Of course I was doing my duty and I was doing it for, one for the Nationalist Party, and, uh, as I thought, for my country. Uh, I thought I was doing the right thing.

Bill Moyers: Together Cronje and four security police under his direction are applying for amnesty in more than forty cases of torture, bombing and murder.

Commissioner #9: I call Warrant Officer Paul van Vuuren.

Bill Moyers: Paul van Vuuren earned the nickname The Electrician.

Paul Van Vuuren: We used a gas mask, assaulted him, and executed electrical shocks on him.

Bill Moyers: To gain amnesty, they must prove a political motive. They claim it was a time of war and they were just doing what the government wanted.

Bill Moyers: So, you always took an action that you believe was an order from above?

Jack Cronje: Yes, we got orders from above.

Bill Moyers: Every time?

Jack Cronje: Not every time. But uh, we had a, we had a, a, you call it a blanket authority to, to do that.

Bill Moyers: And that would come from…?

Jack Cronje: From headquarters. I knew what they wanted, and, uh, it was, it was impossible for, for, for them to give a specific order every time we had to do a job. I mean, I knew what was going on in my division so the, other, other people, uh, I knew who was the activists and they couldn’t give me an order for each and every one.

Cronje [hearing]: I kicked open the door of the bedroom he had fled into. The light was on, and I started shooting at the man. I killed him.

Paul Van Vuuren: And we grew up in a certain way, um, that to us the blacks were Communists.

Jack Cronje: You learn that in police college.

Bill Moyers: What did they teach you?

Jack Cronje: Well, eh, uh, uh, there was definitely apartheid, and we must, we must, we must, we must, eh, uh. uh, we must see that the blacks don’t overrun the country and don’t, don’t take the country from us. And then, uh, uh, uh, a man like PW Botha stands up and he says, “Eliminate them.” Uh, and now he’s, uh, saying that uh we didn’t understand the word, the meaning of the word “eliminate.”

Bill Moyers: What did you think when you heard that?

Jack Cronje: Eliminate. It was only one, only, only, only one, one answer to that, meaning to that, and that’s kill them.

Bill Moyers: That’s how the order would come to you, eliminate.

Jack Cronje: Yes.

Bill Moyers: And you knew that everyone understood the word meant to kill.

Jack Cronje: Of course. There’s no other meaning for the word.

[hearing] The reason for this was to protect innocent policemen and also to eliminate activists and terrorists involved in serious crimes.

Max du Preez: Probably 90 percent, probably more than 90 percent of all the cases in terms of human rights violations and, and amnesty cases before the Truth Commission happened between ’84 and ’90. Six years.

Bill Moyers: 1984 and 1990? Just six years?

Max du Preez: Just six years.

Bill Moyers: Recent history.

Max du Preez: Those were the years of PW Botha. And that’s the other part of the big picture that I think it’s very important to understand.

Bill Moyers: The 1980s. The white government declared a state of emergency which was met by increasing defiance from the black townships.

SADF officer: As long as the people behave themselves there won’t be any problem from the security forces.

Male Voice: They must disperse peacefully.

Activist: Persons have been shot at, some fatally.

Bill Moyers: As the demands for democracy grew more aggressive, the government of PW Botha cracked down. Openly and secretly.

So, there’s no doubt in your mind that during the 80s, the government was carrying out an all out war against the Blacks.

Max du Preez: Oh yes, no doubt about that. The government in the 1980s, there was, the, the police especially, were above the law. Uh, I have no doubt in my mind that their, that they knew that the top structure of the leadership of the black resistance had to be killed and humiliated and tortured and harassed. And they were.

Commissioner: The type of person whose elimination was decided upon, could you tell us?

Paul Van Vuuren: It was normally a high profile activist or terrorist.

Max du Preez: On Monday this past week, five senior security policemen applied for amnesty at the Truth Commission.

Bill Moyers: At their amnesty hearings, Jack Cronje’s team revealed that their favorite working hours were late at night.

Jack Cronje: At approximately 1 a.m. that morning we initially attacked the house with stun grenades.

Bill Moyers: Their favorite accessories were ski masks and gloves. Their arsenal could include everyday material.

Paul Van Vuuren: There were two wires coming from the telephone. You took that and you connected it to the person, to his feet or hands. And then you turned the crank and you put electrical shocks through him.

Bill Moyers: They planted weapons on dead victims to make them look like terrorists and provided booby-trapped hand grenades to unsuspecting activists, who blew themselves up.

Jack Cronje: Brigadier General van Merwe gave me express instruction to use the hand grenades and to make these available to activists in order to eliminate them.

F. W. de Klerk: In dealing with the unconventional strategies from the side of the government, I want to make it clear from the outset that within my knowledge and experience, they never included the authorization of assassination, murder, torture, rape, assault, or the like.

Bill Moyers: FW De Klerk, the last president under apartheid, tells his version of history at the truth commission. However, his predecessor, PW Botha, in power during apartheid’s most brutal years, defies a subpoena tp appear.

PW Botha: They want me to apologize. I am not prepared to apologize.

F. W. de Klerk: I stand before you today neither in shame, nor in arrogance.

Bill Moyers: FW De Klerk does apologize.

F. W. de Klerk: I, and many other leading figures in our party have already publicly apologized for the pain and suffering caused by former policies of the National Party.

Bill Moyers: But he distances himself and his party hierarchy from atrocities committed by the security forces.

F. W. de Klerk: There was never any reference that I can recall in any way whatsoever of our policy being, using terrorist methods. Yes, firm action. Yes, using and, and applying extraordinary measures. Yes, going underground. Yes, spying. Yes, having covert action, having a state of emergency, putting people in camps without trial. All that, yes. But not murdering people, not assassination. It was never part of the policy.

Bill Moyers: So after you’d committed one of these acts for which you’re seeking amnesty, did any superior ever congratulate you?

Jack Cronje: (laughs) Yes, sometimes.

Bill Moyers: You’d go back and say, ‘Job is done…’

Jack Cronje: He’d phone, phone you and say, ‘Uh, the people who got hurt, uh, on that side, uh, was that you?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He says, ‘Well, good work.’

Commissioner: On the 27th of June, 1986, 10 youths who’d been lured into leaving the country to receive military training from MK were killed by members of the Security Police and Special Forces. Their bodies were placed in the vehicle they were using and was blown up.

Bill Moyers: The commission challenged de klerk about the specific killings of Siphiwo Mtimkulu, the Pebco Three, the Cradock Four, and Maria Ntuli’s son and his nine friends.

F. W. de Klerk: These are the incidents with regard to which I said this morning, the recent information on atrocities I find as shocking and as, abs — abhorent as anybody else. It came to me as just as shocking a revelation as to anyone else.

Max du Preez: I think that’s one of the biggest disappointments of this whole process was when people like FW de Klerk, the former state president, stood there and said, I acknowledge now that these things happened, but I did not know at the time and I certainly did not order it. And it’s not true. It is not true. I personally told him, uh, about the police death squads in 1989.

Bill Moyers: You did?

Max du Preez: Yeah.

Bill Moyers: As a reporter?

Max du Preez: Yes.

Bill Moyers: You had investigated them?

Max du Preez: Yes.

Bill Moyers: And you went to the President?

Max du Preez: Yes We gave the — the President uh, then it was, it was still Botha, and after that, when it was de Klerk. We gave them the evidence, and then we published it.

F. W. de Klerk: We are dealing once again here with allegations made by people in amnesty application who are trying to pass the buck.

Bill Moyers: Did you feel betrayed?

Jack Cronje: Of course I felt, I feel betrayed. I mean, uh, uh, they’re making us out as criminals and we’re not. We — if we didn’t do what we did, they wouldn’t have been in power for one day.

Bill Moyers: You kept —

Jack Cronje: We kept the Nationalist Party in power.

Bill Moyers: Brigadier, was there ever a time that an order came down and you thought about it and, and said, I’m sorry, sir, I can’t do that?

Jack Cronje: Uh, I could’ve said no to any of these orders. I could’ve, could’ve refused to do it, but what would’ve, would’ve happened to me? I would’ve retired as a constable. So, I just had to do it. And I was, uh, I was I — I felt I was doing the right thing.

Desmond Tutu: Whilst one says yes, the leadership has to take a great deal of the blame, all human beings are moral creatures. Each single human being has to say that I have to take responsibility. If I’m told, go and murder, and it’s not the same thing as go and fight. And maybe kill in the process of fighting. Uh, but go and murder. Go and be part of a hit squad. They did. They carried out quite dastardly acts. Eh, they have to, they have to take responsibility.

Commissioner: We’ve heard a lot of evidence about how you people went into houses and you saw some person there that you didn’t know so you killed them.

Paul Van Vuuren: Yes, we have heard evidence to that effect.

Commissioner: So wasn’t it important to find out who was in a house? How many people were there, whether there were innocent people there? Or did you intend to kill everybody you found?

Paul Van Vuuren: No, that was not out intention. It was our intention to eliminate the policemen.

Bill Moyers: Was it, was it hard to go public with this? What about your family? Do they understand?

Paul Van Vuuren: Um, I don’t think no, I don’t think they understand quite what was going on, but um…

Jack Cronje: Well, they never knew what we were doing.

Paul Van Vuuren: They never knew what we were doing —

Bill Moyers: You couldn’t go home and talk about it.

Paul Van Vuuren: No.

Jack Cronje: Of course not.

Paul Van Vuuren: So, um, at the end of the day, I think, it’s gotta, the impact on them is, is traumatic. And, um, I would like, they’re looking to you through new eyes, y’know? You’re a totally different person for them now.

Today I am uncertain as to where I stand and how I ended up in the position which I currently find myself in.

Desmond Tutu: And for many it’s been the first time that their families have heard that my husband, my father, who would get up in the morning, appearing to be doing a normal job would actually be going to an office where he tortured people. And quite a few, it cost them their marriages. It’s costly.

Bill Moyers: So, making the truth public is a form of justice?

Desmond Tutu: Absolutely.

Bill Moyers: The death squad operatives who wreaked such havoc with the hearts and lives of the Khulumani women were taken to court in 1996. This may have motivated their amnesty applications.

Mabel Makope: I can’t forgive them. And then they don’t tell-they never came to me and tell me, we have killed your husband. They tell the Commission because they don’t want to go to jail. That’s what I think of them.

Bill Moyers: Do you think they’re getting off?

Mabel Makope: They’re getting off.

Paul Van Vuuren: We shot him to death with the generator.

Bill Moyers: Mabel Makope’s husband, Andrew, was tortured and electrocuted to the death, his body then blown to bits by Paul van Vuuren and his colleagues.

Paul Van Vuuren: Why we blew them up was that it had to appear that they were planting a land mine.

Mabel Makope: Why couldn’t they come and give me the corpse, at least, the remains I should bury. I want to go and see the place where they’ve blown him up because they said I won’t find anything. They would — there’s no remain. Then, at least, if I can see the scene where they’ve blown him to pieces, maybe that will make me somehow, I don’t know.

Male Voice: Singing.

Bill Moyers: While Mabel and Maria search for the bones and ashes of their loved ones, the truth commission is exhuming bodies all over the country.

Digging, digging, digging. They’ve discovered state farms that were turned into graveyards by the former regime. They get a lead on where one body is buried and discover ten more at the site.

Max du Preez: Virtually every victim that had come to the Truth Commission with a dead relative or husband or son or whatever, the first thing they said was, we need their bones. Whatever, whatever you do, that’s one thing, we all want to know who killed him. But the most important thing is, can we have the bones please? Because that is, we will rest once we have had those bones in our hands and give — given it a proper burial. And — and those words, “proper burial,” probably the words most repeated in the Truth Commission. I think that’s a very human thing. It’s not a — a strange little African culture. My people certainly are like that. I think it’s a universal thing. It’s closing, it’s going through the virtual, it’s, it’s a whole process.

Bill Moyers: Closure.

Max du Preez: It’s closure.

This transcript was entered on April 1, 2015.

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