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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Jul 1990: Shabalala, Thomas

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POM     Could you just tell us what's happened to you, your family and what you are trying to do and the opposition you encounter and what this whole conflict here has done to your community and to your people?

TS     I would start by saying that I am the Chairman of the branch of Inkatha under Buthelezi at the area called Lindelani where it happened that I was elected as the leader of that area. I have been living in that area since 1983. We have a population of about 250000 people in the area with the number of 9500 shacks, houses that we have. They are being called shacks, made of these boxes. We have been living there on our own, we had to squat as it is called in South Africa because we had no accommodation, we had nowhere to go. We had our names written on the waiting list to try and find proper homes. Then came the time when the government had said there are no more funds available to build similar houses to what we see in the other townships like KwaMashu, so we had to try and find our way and we started squatting in this area.

     I have been living with my family in G section KwaMashu, G226 where my parents still live. We were 28 in a four-roomed house. I was the eldest so I decided that I'd better find my own place because my family was getting bigger and bigger.

     Now I will come back to this violence that we experience in our townships. We do have violence where people, for instance, I can say our followers don't understand politics clearly. The believe that if you belong to another organisation the one who belongs to another organisation which is not your organisation must be attacked. I have joined Inkatha since 1975. I have never experienced this violence which I see now because Inkatha was the only organisation in the country. At the time the ANC it was banned.

     So we waited until 1983, I think it was August 20th 1983 when the UDF was launched in Cape Town. That very same year, that was the year in which I experienced trouble and for the first time I could see that a human being can be turned to a human torch. Why I am saying that is because it was my first time to experience a person being necklaced.

     Then from 1983 the violence carried on. There was a call which was made clearly, that is on record, that Inkatha members must be attacked. Then from there the conflict started. It carried on, finding that COSATU which is also affiliated to the ANC/UDF they also came out strongly opposing our leader who is Dr M G Buthelezi who is the Chief Minister of KwaZulu. So we experienced this violence from that time until 1985 where really we saw the violence taking place. We saw shops getting burned, we saw houses getting burned.

     It was I who went to the government officials and said I don't think we will overcome this problem. I am prepared to assist with my people from my area to try and stop these hooligans who are burning people's homes. I had to mobilise people from my area. We came down to KwaMashu. It took us three days, we managed to stop the burning of the homes, the shops, schools, this and that. That was 1985.

     Then again we saw the violence came back again now. Really, really now with the ANC unbanned and the other organisations unbanned and with the ANC not accepting that their leader must talk to our leader Buthelezi, I feel it is very difficult for this violence to stop. We are all praying for the day where we will see our leader, Dr Buthelezi, talking to Nelson Mandela because I think that is the only thing that can stop this violence.

TS     Secondly, I appreciate the funds that come from abroad, from EEC countries and other countries, that they do donate. The are feeling, they are sympathising with us blacks in our country, thinking by donating those funds they are helping us, but those funds have turned to be the real weapon killing us, especially we Inkatha members and those who don't want to join the ANC/UDF/COSATU because they use these funds, they don't give it to any other organisation. They don't give it to the PAC or Inkatha or any other organisation except the ANC/UDF and COSATU. So the same funds, why I say they use them they have different organisations, organisations and legal forces, where our children are getting spoiled.

     I say 'our children', I don't care whether the child is UDF or COSATU or ANC, as a father they are our children. The children petrol bomb our homes in our areas. They are next in the Police, they do their job, arrest these children. So it takes a child when the child is arrested, it takes a child less than three hours to find a free lawyer. I repeat this again, a free lawyer. I call it a free lawyer because the relatives of that child and the relatives of that someone who is the culprit who has done the crime, will get this free lawyer and the lawyer will be at the Police Station pressing the Police to release that culprit or that child who has petrol bombed a home or the child has killed somebody. You will find so many lawyers fighting for that child to be released.

TS     And when they succeed to get the child free, waiting for the outcome of the case, you will find that when the child walks out of the prison or the Police Station he walks out with so many children waiting for him or even others. He will walk out of custody as a hero so there is no punishment that child has suffered. He has got a free lawyer. That free lawyer is being paid out the fund coming from abroad, like a legal organisation. I don't say that we shouldn't have them but in this time I think they are really, really creating problems for us. Because if that child can be punished and can go to jail and the parents cannot afford bailing that child from prison and getting a lawyer for that child, the child will learn that he or she must never do bad things again because he will suffer in prison.

POM     What about your own family?

TS     My own family, my mother and my father, as I've said, we lived in G Section KwaMashu where our church, the whole house was burnt down. They locked the front door with a padlock and the back door and they poured petrol and they threw petrol bombs while my parents were sleeping inside with the kids. Only that I wasn't in with my wife because at the time I had just got accommodation at Lindelani.

TS     So as the house was burning my old lady, she is about 70 years old now, at that time she was 67, she managed to get the rest of the family, because they were fast asleep and with the smoke in the house they didn't know what was happening. It was just my old lady that was awake at the time. She managed to get them out, wake some up. They woke up running, not knowing which side the door is. My old lady had to field them out, until there came the time where my old lady got burned as she was taking them out, getting back to the house her body was burned until she collapsed inside the house. They managed to get her out. At that time the fire was too big. Only one child, a two year old baby was left inside the house and was burnt into ash.

POM     What happened to your mother?

TS     My mother went to hospital. She stayed in hospital for 3½ years. My father stayed in hospital for about 1½ years and they are out now. My father just died recently because after that incident he never recovered properly. He just died about two months ago. My old lady, she is still living in the same house, even if I'm pleading with her to leave the house. She feels she must die in the same house. She likes her house. I did rebuild the house for her and she's happy with the house but still my family is being victimised because I am well known as a man who is very strong under Inkatha. After me winning the case where it was alleged that I killed the children.

POM     Which? After?

TS     After the case that I had which was at the Supreme Court where I was charged for killing a child, a UDF child, which I didn't do it really and the Magistrate just found me not guilty. There were 35 witnesses, all of them gave different evidence and the Judge when he was summarising said that in his life being a Judge he has never heard so many lies against one person. And I was acquitted of that charge. I explained my position and how I got involved where they said I killed the child, I had gone there because there were some hooligans who came to the school and ordered all the schoolchildren to walk out. I went to a place and they said they wanted to kill all the Inkatha children that were schooling at that school which is near Tezuma(?). I managed to come in time when they were walking with everyone from the school.

POM     Who were walking?

TS     These ...

POM     Were they the same age as the children or older?

TS     Some were older, some were the same age as the children but it was a very big group. They were carrying petrol bombs, knives. They were armed, because of which when I was about, say 90 120 yards away, I fired two shots in the air so they disbanded and the people had to run away for their lives. So somewhere else in the same area on the very same day somebody was killed in the house which I never entered and they tried to link me with that killing. The reason for me to fire on that day was that there was a breakdown, a car that was broken down on the main road. I realised that these children were going to burn that car into ashes and that was the only path. Transport was not moving, there were no taxis, no buses on that particular day after people saw this incident. So I protected that path and I knew they were going from there to the government offices because they were going towards that direction. I saved the government offices and then I was arrested after a week. They went and made statements that I shot this guy. When they gave evidence in court it was nobody came out straight to say that it was really me, they were just telling different stories and I was acquitted.

PAT     Where were the Police?

TS     At the time when that incident was taking place? There was a police van that came towards that area. I tried to stop the car, I told him, 'Please help me, there's a problem here. People are going to get killed.' He was too scared. He left me there, he drove away. He mentioned it in court that he saw me there, he saw what was happening but he just drove away. I told him to help me, 'These children are going to burn this house, they are going to burn the government offices and many people are going to be killed.' He gave no help at all.

POM     Was he a KwaZulu policeman?

TS     It was a KwaZulu policeman, yes. I don't blame him, he was an old man. He feared for his life. At his age he couldn't do anything and knowing that how much - the Police, whether it's KwaZulu or SAP, there is nothing that you can do. But I feel that he should have gone to the Police Station and summoned help so that I could get assistance.

POM     In your experience, how would you rate the KZP, the SAP and the SADF?

TS     I feel that the Police are the same all over. The only people that we as a community, the people, they try to use, whether it's the SAP, KZP, they get in between them. They are being trained to do their work and be neutral but some of the organisations they go to them and are trying to hide them, take their side. But to me the Police are the same and I hate no policemen because I think without them the violence that we experience now, if the Police were not there and the SADF were not there, and KZP were not there, it should be worse. People are calling for them they don't need the Police in their areas, those are the people who have been calling, as I also support that the government should get rid of the death sentence. But the people who also call for this and for the death sentence to be abolished they are having their people called from the Chief and they are sentencing people to death on the street and they don't give the people a chance to appeal if he has been found guilty and sentenced to death.

POM     When you're taken before a People's Court what's the procedure? Are you allowed to speak on your own behalf? How many people judge you?

TS     Usually there's a group of people maybe between five and ten, sometimes more than that but there are really guys who are being sentenced to death at that committee. There are usually not more than ten because we have some of them calling themselves, 'Committee of Ten'. So you are being allowed to talk, I've heard because I've never been there, but I have people even now when I am talking to you whom you can call who can tell you what they experienced and they can tell you exactly how many people were there when they were sentenced. I believe once the judgement has been passed that you are being sentenced to death there is nothing that you can do, you get killed.

POM     Do you think maybe a few of the people outside would talk to us?

PAT     Is there such a discipline in your area that's not possible in the other areas around here. Why is that?

TS     I can say firstly, I won't say it is me that is so strong. I can thank God to give me the power. I always believe in that, that God gave me the power, because when I talk to people I teach them, I tell them about bad things and I use myself as an experiment, the things that I have said and how I am being treated by the organisation and the people because I don't want to join their organisation. So I tell them this is how you must behave, you must always cool down. With the treatment I'm getting I can be very rude but I feel very happy because I always quote in the bible that, 'Jesus, nobody likes me', and I always see my leader, Buthelezi, the way he works around the clock helping people but many people don't like him. So I feel very proud.

PAT     What do you think of Nelson Mandela? Do you expect that he may have done more to try to end this violence or is he asking ...?

TS     I respect Nelson Mandela who is suffering with his health. He went into prison for so many years for what he believed in. But I know what is happening now with the violence. When he was in prison and when he was about to be released, when we were all saying for him to be released, I felt that if he comes out he will talk to people maybe he's got a strong voice to tell them to leave violence. He had the power to stop violence but now, seeing that he's been out for so many months, I am really puzzled whether he really wants violence to end or not.

     The reason for me to say that is that I am trying to speak for this is my own opinion. I have got a feeling that he feels to talk, he wants to talk to Buthelezi but he fears his supporters. He's afraid of his supporters as he has mentioned when he was in Bisho that he wants to talk to Buthelezi so that they can end this violence but the problem is that his followers or his supporters will cut his throat. That is what he said. I feel he wants to talk to Buthelezi but at the moment it's just that he's frightened for his supporters. I feel he should come out strongly when his supporters say that, tell them that there is a need for him to talk to Buthelezi and the need for stopping violence.

     If he is so brave and if he goes around the world as he has before talking to people, even people that he has never seen in the past, I think he should be brave enough to talk to his own brothers in the same way and if he can spend four or five hours at the conference, he is not prepared to spend two hours trying to save lives, then it makes me doubt him whether he is really serious. Does he really want to stop violence?

PAT     Do the KwaZulu Police and the SA Police in your area co-operate with you? Is that part of your briefing with your leadership that they are able to better maintain order than in some other areas?

TS     I can say I have no problem. They work in my area and they are very happy. You can even interview them both differently, they feel very safe in my area because that's an area where they can even walk with their uniforms, not even carrying a gun. So I talk to both teams. If somebody does something wrong or maybe[because there was just a] before where SAP felt that they were better than KZP, so I said to them, 'You people are the same.' Whenever I talk to them I speak to them that they are the same no matter that you are the SAP, the KZP, the SADF, you are people all there to protect us and to maintain law and order.

     I always speak to them and with me, in my area, they are very friendly because I make sure my people must never get in between them and divide them. There are incidents in my area, an experience where they nearly came to fight, both teams, and even with the SADF I remember one day where I came right in time where a SADF black soldier wanted to fight with a Sergeant of the KZP on the street. I caught them, although it was dangerous for me, they had guns all of them on both sides, I said, 'Look people, stop this. You mustn't behave like this in front of people. You all must get together and talk. If there are any problems sort it out'. They agreed and they left.

POM     Thanks very much.

PAT     Thank you.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.