About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

27 Mar 1997: Seremane, Joe

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POM     Let's launch right into it. When I got home the first thing I did was take notes of our last meeting so I've an outline. Maybe first you would tell me the story of your brother, what happened to your brother, what was his name, where he grew up, how he got involved in the movement and what happened to him and how that has affected your life?

JS     Well my brother who has never come back, and it's now more than 12 years, his name was Timothy Seremane and I guess his Chimorenga name was Kenneth Mahamba I got to learn later on. He left in 1976 when I was detained. He was born in the West Rand in Bekkersdal, Westonaria and of course he went to schools all over the country. He was a student by the time I left, I think he was doing matric, and when I got detained it wasn't very long that  -

POM     That was in 1976?

JS     Yes I got detained in 1976 and it wasn't long that I had married so what he did - of course from my assessment he was very politically conscious and a very brilliant young man and I guess also a student activist. When I got detained, I was detained long before the June 1976 riots or uprisings, I was picked up in April. I was suspected of organising students, apparently they had heard that something was brewing. So I got picked up in April and I never saw June 1976, June 16th. I only got to know of it when I was in detention in December 1977. So my younger brother went over to Mafikeng apparently to go and stay with my wife to keep her company but when he got there he was also very active. He organised the young people, students, and pretty soon the police were behind him and then he left the country.

POM     What age would he have been then?

JS     In 1976? He could have been a little over 20 at the time, yes I think he was born in 1956 or so, could have been slightly over 20. So he left and apparently at the time he had a valid passport, I still remember very well he had a valid passport, he just walked through and he went into exile. Nobody knew where he was. Later on the family got wind that he has gone into exile and then that was all and that is still all that we heard until some two, three years from today when two other young people who were with him, who knew him, Mafikeng young fellows who were with him in exile and they told me they were victims of Quatro camp. One actually escaped at Quatro camp after being tortured and this same guy who escaped lost a brother with my brother. They were both killed there and the other one escaped and got married to a Kenyan woman whose family were, some of the family members of that women were in government circles and that gave him protection. When they wanted to re-arrest him back to Quatro camp his in-laws intervened and he got protected and he stayed in Kenya I think or Tanganyika, somewhere there.

     So they brought me the news and the news I got I think about two weeks before the assassination of Chris Hani and then they told me a very sad story, very sordid story and I asked them to do it in writing and they did write, gave me affidavits and signed them and they were willing to justify in front of anybody. But the story in a nutshell is that my younger brother was suspected of being a South African agent and at times they suspected him of trying to stage a mutiny because I learnt he was in charge of a camp himself. He got military training in Bulgaria and later on, I don't know how true the story is, he also went to Washington for academic training, that's the story I hear, and then he came back and still was given the responsibility of heading one of the camps there. But then there was lots of dissatisfaction amongst young people. The two crucial dissatisfactions were, one, there were these students who left the country in 1976, that their purpose of going into exile was to get military training and come back and fight here at home. They were not happy about fighting wars in some of the African continent. They felt that their lives were meant to be sacrificed for South Africa, not Zaire or whatever.

     And the second thing, there was quite a lot of displeasure about how the movement was allocating study opportunities. It was quite clear that if you came from families that are regarded as leadership you had a better chance of getting to study and those who were just from unknown families had it very tough. The other favouritism was that the Soweto lots, people from Soweto, young people from Soweto had more opportunities of getting those study grants so there was dissatisfaction and complaints. Then because in his camp there were such complaints and then he was a very outspoken guy too, then when he took up the matter then they suspected him to be staging or plotting a mutiny but I learnt, according to those fellows, that in his camp he insisted that education was a right and the response from the higher-ups were saying it's a privilege and he said it can't be a privilege, their Freedom Charter says education is a right. So he allowed posters to be put up around his camp, all over, that education is a right and not a privilege according to the Freedom Charter and from my informants he was very, very popular and had all the support of his charges, the entire cadres there, and that put him in trouble, so he was suspected and they just regarded him as a South African spy trying to stage a mutiny and then they got him and he was badly tortured, so I learn, and he was disfigured.

     One of these chappies who escaped actually said he stood next to him, he was being questioned, and he did not recognise him and he knew him very well, the way he was disfigured. He then said to him, "My brother, comrade, please just agree to everything that they ask you, give them what they want even if it is not so otherwise I don't want you to be like me." It is only through the voice that he began to recognise that this is Timothy, my younger brother. So he went on that way, disfigured as he was, he went on that way, they kept on torturing him, he was pulling huge water tanks up the hill and when he fell he used to be beaten up with that kind of disfigured face of his and just one day they decided to blow him up, they shot him. My assumption is that he was living evidence of their atrocities, he was now just  being shot like an animal that has broken a leg and put down. And that's the story that was there.

     Then it comes back to me and I can't understand to this day why nobody ever told me anything. I have met several people and never anybody has told me anything and there was a close resemblance between me and my younger brother. If you saw one of us you would know that we were brothers. The second thing, I learned Chris Hani, the late Chris Hani, went to that camp after my brother had been killed and he spoke very strongly with deep regret that that guy, Timothy, such a brilliant guy, no matter what he did he shouldn't have been killed. So now that gives me one thing that Chris Hani knew me, three months before he was assassinated we met at Jan Smuts Airport, I actually did not spot him, he spotted me and came and gave me a very warm brotherly hug and said, "How do you read the picture now, Joe?" And I just said, "Oh well this is what is happening in the country, there is that phenomena of policemen are being shot and I don't think it is right, we can't be fighting uniforms because some of these people who are shot they have got sons in the movement and they cannot just be shot for the simple reason that they are policemen." And he agreed. He said, "I know", and of course we spoke about all sorts of developments in the country and that was the last thing I saw of him. The next thing it was this thing.

POM     But he never mentioned to you - ?

JS     He never mentioned, and that caused me a great difficulty when there was a protest march about his assassination. I travelled right somewhere from the Supreme Court down to the John Vorster Square, the march was going there, but I could not join the march per se. I was walking right next to the shop windows there, half in, half out spiritually. I found it very difficult that I could not fully participate, I regarded him as a friend but I could not fully participate because I saw it's a painful death, he has been assassinated, but too he has also denied me the information that my brother, almost in a similar way, has been killed and I had that contradiction within me. But I walked that distance up to John Vorster Square alone and it's unusual for me. People who knew me kept on looking at me wondering why I don't join them but I went the full distance with them but I was not in their midst. So that is the trauma.

     So it poses one question to me that the movement today, our current government which is the movement, talk of transparency, talk of accountability and when I look at my circumstances, I nearly got killed in my detention, I think a month before Steve Biko, and when they finished with me they took me and released me and dropped me in my local police station almost like they are dropping me back to  my people and saying take your rubbish, we are finished with it, and that's a semblance of accountability because they picked me up in my home and they returned me to my home. But the movement is not that accountable. They enlist my brother, they take all the trouble to train him and give him all such responsibilities but when they are finished with him they don't come back to me and say, and tell a little lie, and say he did this or that and he got killed. So that is very painful. And what about transparency? So many cases that we know the atrocities perpetrated by the regime, even before the TRC. At least we knew, we saw, some of them confessed even before the TRC when they were under pressure in court cases. But here is the movement, the advocates of transparency, they are not transparent because I don't know what he has done, my younger brother did, what kind of trial did he undergo? Was he given defence? What are the circumstances, what did he say in his defence and what were the charges against him? Did they observe the Geneva Convention? All that, to this day, as I speak now, nobody has come. I have been to Lusaka, met exiles, met them in Berlin, I've met them all over. No single exile has ever said I have seen your brother, he is dead, except these two people who are themselves victims of Quatro camp.

     So it just leaves me with that kind of thing and when I come back to my norms as an African you cannot deal with people that way. At least one, if he died, they should have come and said he has died and bring back something, one of his possessions. In my language we call that ..., that is to give up and let go, we see from this little exhibit that he is no more. They hardly do that, so that even if I take them merely on African culture they have still violated, and grossly violated, because we don't know where his bones are, where he is buried, buried in a shallow grave or what, nobody knows. And I think a responsible government really owes us that kind of information and apology and more than that they should take this responsibility of going to exhume those bodies even if they can't identify them now, just have a common grave for all of them so that all of us who don't know what happened to them could just gather there and say, well this is it. But up to now they have not done it and I intend getting to the TRC on this matter on the basis of those affidavits.

POM     You said that when Deputy President Mbeki made the first submission to the TRC that he listed your brother as a traitor?

JS     Yes, yes, I got a document shortly after the Deputy President appeared the first time in the TRC and he gave out names of people who died elsewhere in combat and Quatro camp and I got a list later and he is listed as a traitor.

POM     Did you ever enquire of his office or of anybody why he was listed as a traitor?

JS     I have not done so. I tried once to get audience with the President because I was now fearing for these two young people, one is in a provincial security force with the police, currently, and one is in the defence force and I was fearing that if I went to the TRC I have to disclose their names and they may be endangered and I tried to make an appointment with the President. I actually even spoke to the secretary, Mary Mxadana, who turned me down and I tried the legal adviser, Fink Haysom, and he said really it's hard to get there but then the general thinking is that all people who have got anything to say should go to the TRC. But I said I think mine is a special case, I actually told the secretary, Mrs Mxadana, that I am bothered these young fellows are in the force, one is in the defence force one is in the security police, our security police, their lives may be endangered and I wanted to go and ask, it must be an internal thing, they must give me what I want. I don't want to make capital out of it but I could not have access and I gave it up. If that was the answer that I must go the TRC then, well, that was it and I didn't attempt to try it with any other member of the government. I  just said I will go to the TRC because I am convinced they will always write me off in that fashion. But, believe it or not, it was just shortly after I had made that attempt and then this other fellow, who is in the North West province, his life was attempted, they shot at him ten to fourteen bullets and he came in and told me. I said, "Who are these guys?" He said, "No, these are the guys that were guards at the Quatro camp, now they also hold positions here, I guess they want to rub me off", because they had heard that he was going to appear.

POM     Before the TRC, so they tried to shoot him?

JS     Yes, that's what he said. There was a case, he lodged a case, a charge against them and they also counter because in his defence when he shot back I think he injured one on the leg, but his car was riddled according to what he tells me, I didn't see it personally, riddled with bullets and so I don't know, he was in that dilemma, and it confirmed that I was right. But I did not know but those were possibilities knowing how people operate in politics.

POM     I think you also said, Joe, that your family was concerned about your going before the TRC, that you would make yourself vulnerable to - ?

JS     Yes my family is very concerned, especially not only my relatives, my real family, my younger sisters are saying, now you're going to start trouble again. The regime was against you for speaking up. Mangope, Bophuthatswana, was against you for speaking up, Now you're going to say that thing again and you've already written publicly in The Weekly Mail & Guardian, I had already published an open letter and it was published, and they said now you're poking trouble.

POM     An open letter from you?

JS     To the movement.

POM     When was this published, do you remember?

JS     About two years ago, times moves so fast. I have a copy here, I'll find it for you and I'll post it for you. I have a copy. Then they said, no we don't think you are right to go there, we would like to know all these things but, brother, please, you have exposed yourself enough, three governments, that's enough, and we paid a price. They were saying my wife paid a price, was summarily dismissed, accused of being a member of the ANC after 21 years of service having set up the Department of Welfare, she was the first social worker in so-called Bop, or the erstwhile Bop, and for all these things she was told that she was an ANC member and she was dismissed. Those are the kind of sufferings, and my younger sisters they were suspect all the time, all the time, wherever they were going to work if they heard that they were my younger sisters things would be tense and almost running but they regret why they had employed them. So they were pleading with me but I said I have to go, I owe my brother that and I know, I am sitting here too, well they even mentioned that, now they will even kick you out of that commission, don't you think there's a possibility? I said, well anything goes. I've always offered myself for the truth so let it be. I  have no doubt when I appear there many, many people in government are going to begin to be nasty towards me even if they don't do anything, I don't think they will like me.

POM     You said you went to Lusaka to meet with the ANC regarding your brother and you were given the cold shoulder?

JS     It was not really regarding my brother, I had gone there for a conference on development but then we were met by the ANC, it was a delegation, and from my department when I was with the SA Council of Churches and through my own I said let it be a representative delegation, we must not just involve church people or from within the constituency of SACC and spread around, one guy from the university, another one from there, another one from there, and the present Secretary to the President, Mrs. Mxadana was one of the people in the delegation and because it was my departmental responsibility virtually I was the leader of the delegation. So we were met by the ANC people and then there was a meeting and as they were speaking I could sense that serious business was going to be discussed and I halted the chairperson, I said, "No, no, just wait. I have a feeling that you're going to talk about serious things but you have not cleared our credentials, you don't know who we are really and we have come here not for ANC business, we have come here for an ecumenical trip here on development and I hardly know who you are." But I knew who he was, we were together on Robben Island but years had gone by and I just said, "I don't know who you are so anybody who speaks to me must make it very clear in what capacity he speaks to me and he must also know who I am, you've got to check my credentials thoroughly." Then the chairperson was sort of hostile, he actually mocked me, he said, "You behave like a South African spy." And I said, "No, I don't behave like that, I am just wanting to know", and he insisted and then I came out quite clear, I said, "No, I behave like a revolutionary, I have never gone out of the country for revolutionary training but I think my mindset, I've gone through the process and I don't know what kind of revolutionary training that you got that you can just have a bundle of people, you haven't checked their credentials and you want to talk serious business. You may think I'm funny but I want to tell you I am from South Africa right now and people are being necklaced, they are dying, simply because people handle information carelessly and like here if I don't object we will go away and information may leak somewhere and who is going to be blamed? All of us and people may get injured and I don't want that."

     Well he got my point even though he didn't say it in so many words and I could sense he changed their agenda and now we are exchanging just information, general information. This is what the situation is in South Africa and analysis and they told us this is what we do, we're having education projects and the like and that was general information. That was fine. That was the last gathering I attended. I knew the following day there were several other meetings but I was never involved in them.

POM     You were sidelined?

JS     Yes I was sidelined until I came back, and when I pieced these things together I began to say maybe they spotted who I am. They knew the name, but I am sure they made the connection with my younger brother and that was that.

POM     Then you also began to be cold-shouldered by the SACC?

JS     Well it was quite a funny thing, yes, in so many very indirect ways because when we came back, and that was a function of my department, then there was this problem about exiles and a team was set up without my knowledge and it was the business of my department. A team was set up and it went out, whether to Lusaka or where, to go and speak to the disgruntled exiles and I was just kept out and I never knew what their findings were but I surmised that I am listed as an undesirable. But that's it, and of course things got worse, worse, worse and I got on challenging people in the SACC quite clearly that I was saying the trend now that we are taking is that now we want to jump on the bandwagon of the government in waiting, whereas prior to that we were very conscious of state/church relationships. Now does that change simply because it is our government? And that brought lots of tension and unhappiness and eventually I decided to resign.

POM     Right now how would you regard the TRC? I recall before you saying that as far as you could see at the moment it is really a tool of the ANC.

JS     At the beginning when things were unclear, and there is still much that has to be done, my personal view is I believe the truth has to be there and there must be justice but I don't believe in selective truth, I don't believe in selective justice, and what we are seeing is they are unearthing very energetically what the regime has done but there is very little that we get what the movement has done, the excesses they have gone to. For instance, the Deputy President appeared there, in all honesty they should have said this is what it is, and anybody, if they don't want to disclose openly, say Timothy Seremane's people can come to us, we have got a full account, here is a document. Nothing.

POM     It's like they just really further besmirched his name.

JS     He's dead and they are still fighting him and they don't give reasons and that's the general attitude. When you say I have lost a brother in Quatro camp, even the people think, oh spy, that's fine, and I don't believe that crap, I don't believe it.

POM     Do you ever think of approaching Frank Chikane directly and saying you're now a chief adviser to the Deputy President and I want to find out why my brother's name was on a list of traitors when he went before the TRC?

JS     I don't think I will gain anything. Like I said, when I resigned from the SACC, Reverend Frank Chikane was the General Secretary and the tension built, quite heavy tension, between us because I was quite outspoken and sometimes I challenged these things. He knows for a fact. And I begin to say, my kind of feeling is that there are many unforgiving people and very sensitive people to criticism, criticise them, stand on a point, differ with them, you become unpopular and it spreads like wildfire, even now their constituency who know nothing about the issue begin to hold that position.

     Let me tell you an example, when we were moving towards elections, just popular people were nominating and saying this one, this one, this one. I learn where I live in Mafikeng and I got it from one of the ANC guys, he comes to me and he says, "You know you've got a huge popular following who want you to stand as a candidate either at the national parliament or at provincial but there is just one stumbling block, there is also a hard core that says you are anti the movement." Then I said, "Why do they say so?" Then he tells me, "No, you have criticised the movement about Quatro camp and that is why they are fighting." Were it not for that they would have perhaps said put your name forward, because at that time it was not necessarily - they were coming up with names whether or not you were a member of ANC it doesn't matter. They said just come up with people who have meaning and role in their communities where they can command a fair amount of following and people have confidence. And that's just to show you what happens. Those people were not there.

     Just a fortnight ago I was sitting with a person, I will say a friend, we had just met in the midst of a friend that I know, and we were just talking about the general things and then came up this whole thing of the TRC. Yes, the regime was filthy and that and that. And I said, yes, that's true, that's what power does. For instance in Quatro camp, for instance I will be going to the TRC, I intend getting there, I have got a strong desire to get them to talk about Quatro, my brother. And this guy says, apparently, the way he said it, he was talking, he is a member of the ANC, he says that will be betrayal, you are a traitor, you cannot take our movement there, you cannot. Are you still a member of ANC? Then I said I am a member of nothing, but I just want to know the truth. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. And then we got into this argument about just war. I said I don't know, maybe you can convince me, but both sides think they have been fighting a just war but the bottom line is this, they have gone to excesses, both sides, and I need to know. I am part of them, they need to tell me, they need to be accountable. Whether they can be termed that they were fighting a just war or an unjust war they have an obligation towards their own people. We voted them in and we serve the government and they are obliged to inform us. If they don't want to go public with the information but they must go to the affected people and give them the truth. So I am just trying to show you how it is. It will take a long time for people really to be made sure and accept criticism in a democratic mature way and say this is criticism, we differ, and stop blackmailing you and paint-brushing you.

POM     Every time you criticise you're a traitor.

JS     Yes every time you criticise you are a traitor, or when there are important things that you can make a contribution you are kept out. So it happens.

POM     What about, this is related, I know we talked about it the last time, President Mandela's and Deputy President Mbeki's demand that the name of all informers be made public?

JS     It's a dicey thing. If they don't do that then people will guess and that's how, when people will be victimised, rumours will be flying around. But on the other hand if they also disclose people can say all sorts of things - I wasn't alone, I was with Joe, and that kind of thing. There are so many things and that information they will rely mostly from the people who go and confess, from the previous regime who may involve people unnecessarily and unfairly because, for instance, I had, the Weekly Mail again, I was reported assassinated and I was listed with David Webster, and I was very much alive and my assumption is that they deduced from their records maybe I was earmarked in the hit list and they got rid of David Webster but they missed me and so when they got a full list that these are the people who have been assassinated and Joe Seremane is one of them, and I was very much alive. And the reason is not mere coincidence, I used to frequent David Webster's place quite a lot so that maybe I was spotted and I was listed, I must be hit, but they didn't hit me, they hit David and other people. So these are the dangers. One Security Police could have been fed with nonsense by another that don't worry, maybe assigned to watch me, say, don't worry I've got him, we work together. And that's what they were doing to us when we were being interrogated, arrested, they would come and try to set one against the other and say, well Patrick has told us everything, Patrick operates with us, don't see him like that. And I will begin, if I don't think, I begin to suspect you and keep away from you.

     When I was detained in 1976 that was the kind of thing I got. They said we know you are a courier between people in exile and you meet them in Botswana and you bring in guns, banned literature, and I said no I never go there. They said, "No, we know, you were with us in the President Hotel in Gaborone in Botswana", and I said, "I have never been with you." They said, "Look here, we'll kill you. Do you remember you got in and sat in a certain position and we placed you in a different position? We said keep away, keep your face away, there at the entrance where you were facing our South African spies and we made you face the opposite direction but actually held your face and turned it over at an angle. Do you know we were doing that to get a photo of you?" And I could not understand these white security police, but they were describing exactly what had happened. I was with fellow comrades in exile and they were telling me all what these were telling me, so you can just see.

POM     So they were setting your fellow - you said, I think, that man who was there beside you -

JS     I met him in London.

POM     You met him in London.

JS     I met him in London at an auto bank and I just spoke in Afrikaans, "You have come to steal money here", and it is a surprise to hear Afrikaans in London, and I laughed, I said, "No this is me, this is Joe." He said, "Oh Joe, here is a telephone number and address, please say I was busy rushing to a meeting", I think it was an Oxfam meeting. So I said, "No I'll see you." When I went round the corner I just tore that thing and chucked it away but I was at peace with myself. If he did it just fine, I'm safe.

POM     Was he at that point still working for the ANC?

JS     Well he was in exile I don't know for what but he went into exile. So what I am trying to illustrate is that I could stand up and say he was a spy and he could be unfairly hit and they could have said, those people, that maybe that guy is completely innocent. They were watching and they had the area bugged so they were hearing anything or using devices that they could hear our conversation. The poor guy could just be innocent and they are building up this whole thing and catching up when he twisted your face this way he was actually making you, facing you towards our cameraman, you see he's suspect, so that this whole thing is very dicey but at the same time there is need that people should know.

     For instance, these young people, that was their quest. They said they are not going to rest, these people who came with the information, victims of Quatro camp, they said they are not going to rest until the people who perpetrated these atrocities should not be in top positions otherwise this country is going to get into serious trouble. They are the worst dictators and mavericks and these guys, that's why I'm so concerned about their safety, they are in the force you see on both sides. If somebody doesn't like it they can just get shot, accidentally shot. So that is why I really wanted to say to the President I've got this, but I don't want to endanger the lives of the people, young people, neither do I want to jeopardise their careers. These young people they had to say it, they couldn't keep quiet, they know me very well, they knew my brother, they were friends and some of them I almost like raised them, so how can they keep this thing away from me? So please Mr President let's get this, this is what I need. How do we do it? I was satisfied as long as they would just tell me but I didn't have access and I won't blame the President. I don't think they told him because I couldn't go beyond the secretary and the legal adviser could not help me and I spoke to him personally and he was not refusing but he said these were the set procedures, I don't know whether he will manage, keep on trying. And I told them why I wanted and he said, "I understand your point", but Mary just dismissed me, "Oh these are stories we hear, go to the Truth Commission."

POM     Do you see the Truth Commission performing, what is the concept of justice that underlies the Truth Commission? Stories come out but where is the justice? Would you consider it justice if you found out what happened to your brother, who shot him, when he was shot, who tortured him, how he was tortured, why he was tortured, what charges were laid against him?

JS     Yes I will be happy if I get all those details, who shot him, what did he do. If you ever kept records give me the record of his trial and let me read it myself, and who shot him, when, why, where is he buried, how deep is he buried. I even want to know that. How deep, a shallow grave? A normal six foot grave? Now your responsibility, go and exhume the body and let us give it a decent burial according to our own customary rites. Why deny me that? All that. What did he possess? If he ever studied give me his books. We want something to remember him by. And I would say now that is justice. I have had it, it's happening from the other guys. I am not hearing anything from members of the movement except platitudes, shallow information. What does it mean? If my Deputy President, a person I respect very well and I guess he loves me too, he knows me, to see him, no matter how busy he is, and I respect he's got a lot to do, just to pick up the phone and say, "Joe, do you know the ceremony?" And of course the argument will be, there will be many Smiths and Williams and O'Malley's, do you think I should phone all around? But you know how it is when you think there is a chance, even a slim chance, that somebody can tell you and say I have picked up the surname, it's your brother. Then I would say, can you follow it up? How did he die? You have access, you have influence, you're a leader, how did he die? Please furnish us with that information, and I have a plea, can't he be exhumed and brought home, his remains brought home, we must have that.

     We had, when I heard, within three weeks time after my hearing, I went to my church where he was baptised and I went to the priest and said, "Priest, one of your kids, your children that was baptised in here, is no more going to come. I learn he is dead. You should be burying him but there is no body to bury." And he was kind enough to say, "Let's have a memorial service", and we had a full blown memorial service. Nobody, I mean the cops weren't there, and those two fellows volunteered, travelled all the way from Mafikeng to Bekkersdal to go and tell the congregation where their young confirmant ended and how he had ended. And they spoke quite openly and in that there were activists from all sectors, PAC, ANC, what, and I remember some of the young people were furious. I had to stop them, those who perceived themselves to be PAC, they said we are hitting back. They came to me, "We are going to hit back." I said, "You don't do that, please. Even if it's true but you were not there and these who are here were not there. Why fight? Let's just hope one day we will hear the truth and time will judge and time will heal this wound." And I quelled all possible potential internecine strife.

POM     I remember a year ago asking you were you going to go before the TRC and you said you were and a year has gone by and you still haven't. Are you unconsciously postponing it or what your family says, the fears of your family doesn't make it easy for you to do so?

JS     No I don't think it's any of those things. I have considered everything and I am willing to face anything. I think my only weakness is perhaps procrastination. I am so tied down I keep on saying, oh, when I've finished this bundle of work I will go there, after all I can follow them all around the country, they are in Cape Town, when I've got space in terms of my work I will go and appear. But it's not happening and I am beginning to feel very guilty about it because the time is running out for the TRC and I will just say now, have to say let this work stop. I cannot now continue not going to appear before the TRC because there is work to  be done. It's almost like, it's blood money. I value this work because I will get a salary at the expense of my brother. No, I don't like that. I am still determined and maybe I should just garner the plug to stop working and going there. I still want to go there but I know I don't take it easily, I am convinced there will be a price I have to pay even if I am not harmed physically but in terms of relationships, being ostracised, there is a price I am going to pay but I am willing to pay it.

POM     You say you're no longer a member of the ANC. Did you just - ?

JS     Well I started off as a young person in the Youth League and when the more radical PAC came in that was an answer to our generation who were sick and tired of what we called vanguard soap-box politicians, fiery speeches from over the weekend, come Monday we're back, we're slaves. Peaceful protest people get shot and we said no, no, no, we can't go on that way, and then the answer was PAC and I was arrested and sentenced to six years, but in prison I began to see, think deeply.

POM     How many years did you spend on Robben Island?

JS     I spent six years, 1963 to 1969. Actually the President and the comrades found me there. They came in 1964 and we were there in 1963.

POM     So you were on Robben Island before the President?

JS     That's right, yes.

POM     And you were a colleague of his, a comrade of his, a prisoner on the Island?

JS     A prisoner on the Island, he was also a prisoner but they were segregated from us because they were regarded as influential leaders so they were kept aside.

POM     He would know that you were on Robben Island?

JS     Yes he would know that. There were various ways we would break regulations inside prison.

POM     And still his office would not allow you to see him?

JS     We would go to the isolation section where they are and he would have all the chance of meeting this one and that one, this one and that one, and sometimes you move close to the fence and the guards are not quite aware when they are working, you got to know him. And when he was released accidentally, just by sheer accident doing my SACC job somewhere in the Western Transvaal, Zeerust, that day there was a rally and he was there and as we spoke he had difficulty in talking the local language, Setswana, and somebody just said, "Joe, please man, go and interpret for the President", and I went, well he agreed, and I interpreted and he was very happy that I did it well because he delivered his message now more smoothly in English and after that I prepared lunch for him and then I was invited by his spokesperson who was a former colleague of mine in the SACC, Saki Macozoma, let's go and have lunch with the President, the community had prepared food for him, then we sat and Saki said, "Do you remember this guy?" and he says, "Joe, very well", and he has very magnificent memories, "I think I remember you. You were just a tiny little boy, you are a big man now." So I said that from a distance I would say I know him, whilst he was still a lawyer he was our idol, not even politics, he was one of the first black lawyers, very brilliant and we admired him and people followed him around like they are following football, a popular football club. Every hearing where he is there will be people from far away, buses, to go and listen to this brilliant young black lawyer. So that, well, I made my own observations and I say well we have apartheid as a problem but then I discovered what I call the human factor, that's the problem, how we interacted as activists, comrades. People have sacrificed to be on the Island. For me it was almost atrocious, the back-stabbing that was going on, the ostracism that was going on, people being victimised unfairly on rumours.

POM     On the Island?

JS     Yes, amongst ourselves, tensions that were there. It was the PAC/ANC at loggerheads. If there were guns at that time I am telling you people would have got killed. Maybe I would have killed, maybe I would have been killed. Then I  began to see even the hypocrisy in the whole thing, I began to say it's the human factor and slowly my mind began to see that to be in a political group or party you are actually wearing a straitjacket, you cannot speak your mind as you see things, you must couch them according to what the party wants you to say and to me I found it very difficult that no, I am in a struggle for freedom and that is not freedom if I am put in a straitjacket. If we use this empty word 'majority', say therefore 'majority' is right, let's go and kill, the majority says so, that does not necessarily make the majority right. We've got to look for more essential elements in anything that we want and not go by the numbers. So I began gradually, and the tensions I didn't like. We went in most of us friends across the political spectrum and when we got there we were no longer on speaking terms according to our political groups and I said no, no, no, this is divisive and I began to change slowly and I have decided like - and I didn't know that I'll end up in the SACC but when I got there it was again and it was very similar to religious or denominational tensions and I said, hey here is an answer, ecumenism, I might as well have my brand of political ecumenism, I am willing to support any one right group, any correct group no matter which. And for that I was arrested in 1976, it was because I was now living that philosophy. If anybody came to me, those who were going into exile, I have helped ANC go into exile, PAC over the borders into exile, BCM, Black Conscious Movement, over the border.

POM     You were then working with the South African Council of Churches?

JS     Yes but on my own because I live in Mafikeng, I was a port of call for everybody. It was spread right over and I wasn't selective, no you are ANC, no I can't, no you are PAC I can't, when it was valid it was valid. When I said it's dangerous to cross today I didn't do it selectively, I told all and sundry don't do it now, go back and maybe try after a month, the guards are very active. And this is how I operated and to this day that is my approach and it was strengthened by my ecumenism approach that I gathered when I was in SACC and it actually even strengthened when I went to Dublin where I did ecumenism and to me it's just like interacting, ecumenism you can apply it anywhere, the togetherness, fellowship of people and interacting fairly and very sincerely and honestly with one another, being mutually supportive and when you have to say you can condemn and that which is right, do it openly and it must be understood that you are making a contribution.

POM     Are you bitter or have you passed that point?

JS     No I don't think I'm bitter. I am a slim guy you know, if you're bitter it drains you so that I am just wise to the ways of the world, the ways of how people live but I'm not bitter, but I do get hurt now and again by what is happening and I do sometimes almost regret why have we spent so much energy for this kind of hypocrisy, for this kind of sham when you struggle like now I say, but this is not a struggle, where we are encouraging all wrong things, if we want to protest we pull down our own hospitals, our own buildings and what have you. That's not what I went to Robben Island for. So then you have that, of course they say well it's madness of every generation, we had our faults too but let's strive for better things.

POM     So when I come and see you in three months time you will hopefully have gone before the TRC.

JS     Yes hopefully I will be there in three months time. I hope, in fact if I can do it even long before three months time I will be happy just to get this thing off my chest and feel that I may die now. If I can die without that I am going to die a sad guy, I have not fulfilled an obligation towards a brother who was unfairly killed and I still maintain unfairly killed until I am convinced otherwise. Even if evidence convinces me that he was a South African spy, an agent, I still say who are you guys to rub off my brother, one of your own. Why didn't you pack him up, send him back and frame him with a charge he must go to prison and he would have been saved because the regime was more under surveillance better than you. Yes people have died but not as many I think in your hands. I have gone to prison, I was tortured but here am I still alive. And some of these guards I don't feel fear, fearful when I see them, all that experience sometimes makes you friends. Hello Piet, hello Joe. Things have changed. Yes, they go, those who meet me, things have changed. I say, yes I told you. They say, well we were all blind.

POM     So these were some of the guards who were in the Quatro camps?

JS     No, no, no.

POM     Guards who were - ?

JS     No, of the regime, and I wonder why those in Quatro camp can't be like that. It makes me sad, these things make me very sad. If I can go back into the political arena that's the first criticism I'll get, family of spies, and it's a lie, it's hypocrisy causing tension, dividing people further and further. The whole thing smacks of hypocrisy but political leaders who wield power can do that and people die, die, die, then they come after many deaths let's sit around a round table, peace treaty and they get the accolades. They are wonderful people, the magic ones, and they are actually the engineers of the conflict and why should they be awarded anything? Award the people who give their lives, who die, even if it's posthumously, say you have paid and list them. So that's the ways of the world where the list, I regard the list an expedient or expendable entity.

POM     Do you at this point agree with some of those who say that at the moment the TRC is not being even-handed, that it's concentrating almost exclusively on the perpetrators of gross violations of human rights on the -

JS     Yes to an extent, they haven't done much to keep the balance, yes, they haven't done much, and not only me. I would like to hear many people. Few have gone and said my son was killed by the comrades, for what? There are no answers coming but they know and they are there. The first victim, they know who did it. Why didn't they come?

POM     The first victim of the necklacing.

JS     Of the necklacing.  Why don't they come and say it wasn't an order, we did it on our own, I confess. Very few. The scale is too tipped on one side.

POM     Do you think if I was the mother of a boy who was necklaced and I went before the TRC and demanded to know the truth, or told the truth and pointed out who did it because everybody in the community would know who did it, do you think then if I went back to my community that my life would be in danger, that I would be ostracised?

JS     Well yes there are those possibilities and very strong possibilities. If a guy three weeks ago told me that if I appeared then I am a traitor why should I humiliate the movement. You see those are the elements that ... and start planting new stories about you to fit the moment and you get ostracised and even killed by the mad ones, the zealots. So there is that danger.

POM     When you do go, I say when because I know you will, your family will be fearful?

JS     Yes they will be fearful. They have expressed that. It's not going to go away. They will always be watching. If I'm two hours late they will think, is it because he was there? They will always be fearful but I will go there and say, so let it be if it must happen, after all I think I'm destined like any other person, you have to come to an end of your journey in life. How it comes we don't know but you can't always be running away. I have to say it, it's unfortunate, fate has had it that way that I must go through these things and experience that and that one must do so much only to get that it seems like it's a slap in my face, this is your reward the Seremane family, with the little you have suffered but you deserve this kind of reward.  But if they went they would know that no, I mean they came and disclosed. Like Africans I don't even care about the TRC set up or politically how they should do it, just come like Africans in our culture, all will be forgiven and we will let go, it is no more.

POM     Thank you ever so much.

SABC TELEVISION PROGRAMME ABOUT JOE SEREMANE - 1997.

     I wonder why people think this Joe Seremane comes from the banning of PAC, not from the womb of PAC. PAC was a political vehicle as much as the ANC or any other organisation.

     I went to Robben Island willing to lose my life, showing my people, but my people actually meant a selective group, those who thought like me politically. I was willing to lose my life for, or maybe if I was generous, those who looked like me who were black. That's hypocrisy. We are human beings. We've got to find each other as human beings. I found wonderful whites and I found devilish blacks and the other way round. When you walk the path you become known as men, you become nobody's friend. On both sides you may be rejected for wanting to go this way. OK he's an AWB but he's a human being.

     Joe is a bridge builder and too many people understand that about him. Joe is a man (this is KB Maglogma) who if he's made up his mind about what he wants to do it's very difficult for anyone to change his mind.

     He's a very resolute person and he is one of the most deeply committed Christians that I have ever met. He is a man of love (Beyers Naude) he's a man of stature, he's a man of compassion, he's a man of forgiveness. He understands the Afrikaner in the white community. On the other hand he knows exactly what his own people are suffering and he identifies himself with them and with the young people in a remarkable way.

     (Desmond Tutu) It is a wonderful kind of poetic justice, a kind of divine irony that somebody who got into trouble with the then authorities because of opposing this policy of snatching people's land from them but now he should preside over the process of the restitution of land. Wonderful.

     The emotional issue of land has been at the heart of black/white confrontation in South Africa for the past three and a half centuries. Over the past forty years nearly four million people have been uprooted as a result of the apartheid policy of forced removals. When the new democratic government came to power in April 1994 impatient and frustrated communities have angrily demanded the immediate restitution of their land. By April 1996 more than 7000 claims had already been submitted to the newly appointed Commission on the Restitution of Land Rights. The commission is caught in the crossfire between those that occupy the land and those that want their land returned. The wisdom of Solomon is needed. Joseph Seremane, relatively unknown to the general public and something of a loner, was appointed Chief Land Claims Commissioner and heads the five person commission on the restitution of land rights. But who is this man Joseph Seremane?

     He stood out as a man of great integrity, a man who understood the history of forced removals and the pain and suffering that was incurred in the process and that he was in many respects the suitable candidate not only because of his understanding of the subject matter that he was dealing with but his ability to bring about reconciliation, his ability to bring about negotiated settlements.

     On the issue of land there must be justice. Taking it back, I will just work them off and take this land back. But it's not, that's not justice either.

     Joe Seremane and his family were also victims of forced removals. As a young boy he grew up with his parents and grandparents in Majabulaville, the black township near the mining town of Randfontein. Majabulaville was declared a black spot in a white area and in the late 1940s it was razed to the ground. The land is still unoccupied.

     So many memories go through my mind. There is happiness and sadness. I think of the people that are no longer there I used to love, my Grandpa because it was his property, and I think of my childhood and the loss of having to go away from the place you love and you had no choice. This is the place where one of our best journalists would come from. Dr Fisher lived directly opposite this house here. And I've come a long way. I'm thinking of actors, Patrick Njovi, Patrick Yamabowa, they all come from this place. I think of our first sports people, I think of the best boxer.

     It has no meaning to them but it has a meaning to my grandfathers, it has a meaning to my parents, it has a meaning to me. Now my kids are lost, they are distanced. The traditions are lost. Here you knew you wouldn't offend and abuse anybody because all these people here were almost like a family, you had to account to all of them. Today we meet in London and those who come from here we talk, I tell you, we measure our success from here.

     Well I remember the first time in my life that I ever went to such a situation as having to cross the sea and I remember the time one my best friends was on the left hand side, the hands and the feet were just like that. We had to go to the toilet in that fashion and we slept that way. We were younger then, there was little fear that was there but at the same time it was adventure so we had a mixture of things in a hurry to get to the area and to see what the Island is all about, what prison is all about and some way being nagged by the fact that driving through the country that was perhaps your last time to see it. Six years was like a lifetime.

     In December 1963 Joe Seremane arrived on Robben Island to serve a six year sentence as a political prisoner.

     When I listen to people who came later, in the seventies, and they talk of Robben Island, I sometimes doubt if they are talking about the Island that we know. We are almost a separate group here. It was real hell. For instance, my hands were very soft, I was pushing a wheelbarrow and not only that I also worked here removing night soil too, buckets full of night soil. It's unimaginable and when the buckets clog in the cells you just have to do something with your bare hands.  With a chisel you had to break stones, you had to dislodge stones and of course you fell in love with it, you got used to.  You'd fall in love with it and your chisel was distinctly cosseted, a special feel for your hand. If you use any other person's chisel you would feel strange but with this one when you are used to it, it becomes part of your make up, just do it easily you see. Now chip off the stones, preparing them for the hammer makes your job easier and after chipping it off you have your hammer and it goes easier. Breaking the stones you are preparing for your meal in the evening. If you don't do the right quota you're not going to have food, so beginning to pay for your day because then you also have some kind of safe when it comes to this. Really you would have two, one is hidden, another one here is for the stones. So your buddies of course will know. Everything that's valuable you put in there, next morning you just come and ...

     Control my mind, they can't capture my mind, they can't tie my mind in chains. My mind is free and I'm going to use it.  At night there was this horrible thing that some of us, there would be people from mainland who did not understand the fog from the lighthouse, there was this huge I don't know how it looked like, I don't know, but it was a very loud sound, they say it was warning ships, it carried ... go with the fog. Voom, voom. It used to haunt me and annoy me and those of us from the Transvaal didn't like that sound. It's a heavy awkward wet sound and then of course we had the seagulls here. It's like they are mocking you, laughing at you that you are in prison. And of course they would be dropping their droppings, they spat you in the face or in your porridge because we used to eat in the open and there was no dining hall. We sat outside especially winter mornings we would be outside there, very cold and these birds would be flying as though they are laughing at you.

     Joe Seremane was in the company of several prominent present day leaders who were also imprisoned on Robben Island as PAC supporters. They preceded the 1964 arrival of Nelson Mandela and the Rivonia trialists. Among them were Advocate Dikgang Moseneke, a lawyer, businessman and ex deputy leader of the PAC,  Bishop Stanley Magoba, head of the Methodist Church, Bishop Winston Ndugane of the Anglican Church, businessman Gary Magamola and Advocate Fikile Bam, Presiding President of the Land Claims Courts.

     As we inter-acted with warders here there was one guy who used to call me Vark, and later on we called each other Vark. He used to say you ... vark, every time he saw me and I got angry and I said, no man this guy, now I am going to say it to him. And then when you said you ... vark, then I said you ... vark. And later on I said I am going to say it before him, and then apparently the same thing was happening. We would rush to say ... vark first. Later on it was just a joke. I remember the day I was transferred from this prison, it was early in the morning and he was going and looking through the windows in the big vans there. When he came to me he said, nie, nie my vark nie, and I said oh vark, vark can yo ...  and we held hands that way. Vark ceased to be abusive, it was an affectionate term.

     Joe Seremane grew up during the 1940s and 1950s in the union of South Africa. That was the era of the pass laws, of the hated pass books, of curfews forcing natives to leave white areas after dark, the era of the so-called colour bar with separate amenities for Europeans and non-Europeans. Apartheid was not an Afrikaner monopoly and Joe never forgot that English South Africa also practised racism.

     My parents died, they never, ever had the opportunity of getting into a white church and when we visited the priest we knew that as black people we had to visit and we entered through the front gate but never, ever entered that house through the front door. All  blacks were expected to enter through the back. Even then we didn't enter the kitchen, they just took it for granted that we were hungry and we were not hungry. My home, my experience when he went there because he used to visit and my mother pulled out her best cutlery that we ourselves were not allowed to use, it was for special guests, he was getting it. But when I went to his place he was giving us out of jam tins which my parents told me never to use tins because they are rusty and you may get poisoning. But here was this guy who was supposed to save me doing exactly that. Then I began to question politics and gradually I drifted away from the church because it was just like a whole lot of hypocrisy. When they kneel down and say Father give us our daily bread, they got bread in abundance. When we knelt down Father give us bread, there was nothing, we were getting just crumbs, but when he gave that - he shocked us and we actually said yes, Father is a white man. Suddenly we discovered that Father is a white man.

     Joe's father, Edward Seremane, was a mining clerk in Randfontein. Both parents, and in particular his mother Sophie, were staunch Christians and raised their six children in the Anglican Church.

     It came as a shock, as a betrayal because as we grew up the Queen was the saviour of our people, therefore English, but when we opened our eyes we saw that, no, no, no, these are more crafty than the open Afrikaner who tells you go to the devil once and for all. These can pretend, keep a straight face, were not honest about it, but they were most pious talking about inequities of the other group when they were just doing it in a more dangerous way, subtle. I mean there is a phrase or idiom that says God help me from me friends, for my enemies I know.

     The 1952 Defiance Campaign, the first national civil disobedience campaign against discriminatory laws in South Africa also reached the black mining community of conservative Randfontein. Joe and his teenage friends used the white entrance to the Post Office. They were reported and given a hiding by the police.

     As a black child my experience has been a very bitter one. I have been chased around like a hare by whites, whites on horseback in my area where I lived in Randfontein area, it was actually an Afrikaner guy who we ultimately called Lang ... because every time he got hold of you he would give you such a beating and say .... kaffir.  ... meeting for the first time and he got the name Lang ...  And all those experiences. I remember seeing my parents being brutalised in our own, my grandfather's, property which I believe was freehold property. I saw my father being dragged out of bed in the early hours of the morning. They said that he was residing in the area without a permit. That was another aspect that my parents ... and I regard up to this day that my parents were very polished people and didn't deserve that type of treatment and I saw them being pulled out of bed half naked and that was shocking and I have seen my mother being slapped by a young white ticket examiner in the train for no reason at all. And all those things built up and made me resent and hate whites.

     Joe Seremane's parents later moved to Bekkersdal, a poorly developed black township in the Randfontein district.

     Bekkersdal, which is a small township, population maybe 20,000 30,000 in those days. That is a milestone for the community that we actually put together a little group and Joe went and bought himself a trumpet and I got myself a trombone and in fact this is where I got the name Slideman from because I was playing slides trombone and Joe gave me the name Slideman. I always say to myself had it not been for Joe Seremane I would not have been part of this, he was like my elder brother. He is the one that introduced me, he is the one who sent me out, go buy this, go and buy Downbeat magazine, let's read about Satchmo, let's read about Ella Fitzgerald. I didn't know about that, but little by little I became part of it.

     I loved jazz. I usually say jazz is my second religion but I don't confine myself to that, I go through the whole spectrum of music, whatever music I can find. I find it helpful because it makes it possible for me to understand a people through their music. Were it not for the political experience, for the prison, I think today I would be a musician, so to say.

     ... House in Johannesburg's Eloff Street was a haven for aspiring young black musicians. Father Trevor Huddlestone was the patron saint of a generation of highly acclaimed black musicians such as Miriam Makeba, the Manhattan Brothers, Keepie Moketsi. The Huddlestone Jazz Band was a young Hugh Masekela as lead trumpeter. Hugh Masekela was Joe and Gaby's teacher for a brief spell. Almost forty years later Joe and Gaby reminisce with the now world famous Hugh Masekela about those days.

     Growing up in an area of deprivation when there was so much available, we were only 14, 16 year olds, you must understand that, a very impressionable  age.  We had ANC youth leaders but we just felt that we could no longer accommodate the existence of people in our midst that in fact were slave drivers and we ended up as radical young black kids.

     In April 1959 a group of Africanists in the militant ANC Youth League broke away to form the Pan Africanist Congress. The PAC credo was Africa for the Africans, the dream of the United States of Africa focusing on the pride and dignity of being black. The first elected leader was the charismatic 35 year-old lecturer in African languages at the University of the Witwatersrand, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe. Sobukwe launched a non violent campaign against the pass laws of 1960. This culminated in the Sharpeville massacre. A state of emergency was declared and thousands were arrested. Sobukwe was imprisoned for instigating the campaign.

     But then when the sixties came we said we can't just be talking soap-box talk politics, Saturday, Sunday, this fiery talk, Monday we go back we're slaves. Our generation said no, we can't go on this way, we need to change things drastically and the only way, seeing what the government is fighting, then we need to talk that language, we need to fight it because when they speak to our people, when our people protest, they fight, they shoot and therefore we're going to fight back. They kill, we're going to kill them.

     There was perhaps nothing that could change their minds and if you spoke to them, and I came from my own analysis and in the end to make them see sense, to make them understand that I am a human being, I have to hit them where it hurts most and I believe that to hit anybody ... they are kids, they are very young babies, and I felt that that was the solution, that would knock sense into the white people's heads if we start chopping their children's heads off then they will start understanding that they are dealing with people.

     In April 1963 in a countrywide swoop Seremane and hundreds of supporters of the banned Pan Africanist Congress were arrested. This happened shortly after several whites were killed at Bashie(?) River Bridge and in Paarl by Poqo, an extremist off-shoot of the PAC. Joe Seremane and Gabriel Makamora were each sentenced to six years on Robben Island. A report of 1st July 1963 reads: - "For being officials or members of PAC and of furthering its aims and objects the state witness, whose name cannot be published and who was let out after giving evidence, was able to see his three month old son for the first time. He told the court of several meetings held in Westonaria and addressed by Joseph Seremane, branch secretary, and Gabriel Makamora, chairman."

     Joe was sent to Robben Island a month before he was due to leave for the United States on a bursary to study music at Berkley College.

     You are a bird in a cage.  The slightest opportunity that you can get of getting out even if it is just for a few minutes, a few hours, you will take advantage of that. So you would like to go and then of course there was this whole question of ...

     After the three year sentence ended in 1963 Sobukwe was kept on Robben Island for another six years in terms of a special Act passed by parliament. This notorious Sobukwe clause made it possible to detain indefinitely without trial. Sobukwe was kept in isolation  and forbidden to talk to any prisoner or warders. This controversial leader left a deep impression on friends who are still alive.

     He has got a divine sense of mission and he has got a magnetic personality.

     Sobukwe, was hero-worshipped by his supporters and Joe called his second son Robert Sobukwe Seremane.

     He needs to challenge everybody who is anti-white to say I don't stand for anti-whitism. I stand for the Africans and the Africans are not necessarily black or white. Africans are those who owe loyalty to the cause and destiny of Africa, they may be whatever colour.

     After his release from Robben Island in 1969 Sobukwe was banned and restricted to the magisterial district of Kimberley. Joe visited Sobukwe many years later and they became lifelong friends.

     It was an old police vehicle which was tilted to one side and there was a crowd and the crowd was actually mocking at the police, fix up the van, fix up the van. When we stopped that was a major ... when we stopped he threw off his coat and just threw it on the deck and just walked through the crowd and walked past. He was well respected, very respected in Kimberley and they gave way.  Look at this guy, great guy. So when he came back I asked him directly, I confirmed it, why do you do this? Why do you help those dogs? I called them dogs. Why do you help those dogs? And he said calmly, very softly, he said to me, "Look Joe you must give them love to change them to be better people." And that shocked me. That was my first ... I never saw him in that context. I just knew that when it comes to whites, being my oppressors, I should just be angry with them, especially policemen, and that he was a magnificent person.

     After his release from Robben Island in 1969, Joe Seremane was banished to Mafikeng, capital of Lucas Mangope's Bantustan that was later to receive so-called independence as  Bophuthatswana. Joe was banned from teaching.

     And when I got banned it was my first taste of the rural areas and it was the worst of the worst and people hardly knew what their rights were. They were just being pushed around and I couldn't take that. I was proceeded by propaganda, state propaganda. With Lucas I became state enemy number one in Bophuthatswana for talking out.

     For the next twenty years the dictatorial Mangope government was to experience Joe as a thorn in their flesh. He made a stand on behalf of ordinary people through his letters to the press and a critical newspaper column, by participating in community affairs and organising protests against dictatorial local council decisions. Joe had been summoned by Mangope to appear before -

     (This is his wife, Esther. Joe and his wife were intimidated. This is his wife, Esther.)

     ... to be with people, they are afraid that if they are seen with me they will get sacked from work or they will get detained also.

     A very hard thing, my wife was highly expectant with my second son I think, a very hard thing, the security police ... at the police station. I was mad, I said look here, you guys, if you ever do that to my wife you have got to fight me, you've got to fight my wife and I will try and ... at my unborn child.

     We waited for the chairman. He came in and when he came in he just said, "Mrs Seremane, you know that you are Mrs Seremane, Joe Seremane's wife, who is an ANC, for PAC and all that so will you recuse yourself." I put my head up and I went out.

     Joe never lost his interest in music. He started a jazz appreciation club and wrote a regular jazz column under a pen name.

     I have always loved music and through my love for music, for art and theatre that I got ... because I was taking young people to Johannesburg, into theatre, and I wasn't aware that I was under surveillance by the security police that I was taking them from the rural areas through to Soweto to be politicised in preparation of the unrest and uprising of June 16th 1976.

     In April 1976 Joe Seremane was detained in terms of Section 10 of the Internal Security Act. This provided for preventative detention without trial.

     That is why I was saying for six years, and nothing compared to the 28 months of detention under the Terrorism Act. They never told you anything, you had to tell - you asked them why, they would really knock you. You could only infer from their actions what they suspected you of doing.

     It was a terrible period because I had a baby of eight months and he was detained in 1978 and being a breadwinner even though I was also working. When he got detained it brought some problems to me. I started asking myself whether I would be able to cope with the family but I did cope with the family.

     It was so base, the things they did to me, I'm very honest about it, I told nobody. So low that even, my wife was ... to say all sorts of things, but I should ...  It's unimaginable, it's so base that to repeat it is almost like doing it to somebody. I just told her about one of the things.  I had a pin in my cheek and give me tea knowing that I am terribly thirsty, the previous day they denied me water and cleaned my tin and I take it out, you can just see. There are worse things that they did to me. There are too many. You know it's almost like you're asking me to relieve myself and eat the shit. I can't.

     Wide-scale torture was a common feature of detentions and since 1960 dozens of people have been murdered while in police custody. Joe Seremane was held in solitary confinement for 28 months.

     I was tortured. I still remember very well, and before Steve Biko lost his life I should have lost my life, I was tortured. I felt that I was dead, I was badly beaten up, I was tied legs and feet and hands and suspended between two chairs. They had electricity, electric wires shocking me, they had a gag put into my mouth and tied there. I was gagged,  blindfolded, they were forcing water into my nose. They were beating me up. I had such severe pain that I wasn't feeling pain any more and funnily enough at that point where I wasn't feeling pain any more I became calm, the fear just melted away and I became calm and I just said yes I can feel now and I accept the fact that I am dying. I could feel the motions, bring life into death, I could feel myself moving to that place. But precisely at that moment when I said, "God receive this soul", they stopped torturing me for no apparent reason and I became convinced I heard a soft and firm voice saying to me, "I have created life, they are not going to destroy it." And precisely at that moment they stopped torturing me, for no apparent reason and they removed all these torture instruments around me. One or two of them tried to slap me every time they approached me, they sort of stopped so that at that stage I was weaker, I was so weak and frail, what is it now that surrounds me, what power that these guys are afraid of me and prior to the beating they would strip me for looking me straight in the eye but at that moment I looked them straight in the eye, they were the ones who couldn't look at me. I said these guys, it's not that they were afraid I was dying because the very same people in the next two or three days somebody died in their hands and I can't believe it, it's a mysterious moment and it stayed in my mind and it made me think about thing that I was rejecting my faith. And from then on religion has changed. One of the worst guys came one night to the cell and looked at me, he just looked at me and said something to me like, "You know I am a patriotic Afrikaner policeman and you are a terrorist. I have a duty to do for my country. I've got to defend my country against terrorists such as you, Joe." He came for two or three days and repeated that, that I am a terrorist and he was a patriot, he had to defend his country from such as me. And he said that, "I don't think God wants us to treat each other this way. I want to tell you one thing Joe, my mother and I pray for you every night." It was very ... and also he changed completely from what he was.

     It was a different Joe Seremane who returned to Mafikeng at the end of 1978. He joined the South African Council of Churches and applied for a job at the Department of Justice and Reconciliation.

     Through this kind of work I am doing I would have an opportunity of fostering, thanking God for an experience, the way He and the way also the Council looked out for the welfare of my family, and to me not even being a churchgoer at that stage.

     For more than a decade Seremane's major responsibility was the community which was already uprooted by forced removals. He played a crucial role in assisting the Baralong people and other communities in resisting and delaying forced removals. The Baralong were one of the very first communities to return to their land in April 1995. Today as Land Claims Commissioner Joe visits veteran campaigner Chief Simon ... to discuss resettlement and development problems. In 1970 the Baralong community was occupying an arid piece of land outside Mmabatho. As Director of Justice & Reconciliation in the SACC he did establish communities throughout the country.

     (Sheila Duncan - Black Sash) And the work that was done in the Council, particularly in the Department of Justice & Reconciliation where Joe Seremane worked, was of the utmost importance because once that programme got under way the exposure to the international church was able to happen, the full horror of what was going on was exposed.

     The SACC was involved in a bitter and escalating conflict with the Christian National Party government. During the mid-eighties under two states of emergencies tens of thousands of people were detained and all political parties and organisations were banned. The SACC remained the only voice free to speak out against human rights violations. Dozens of church workers and priests were arrested. Joe Seremane was arrested in Bophuthatswana for distributing SACC and Black Sash pamphlets opposing forced removals.

     (Tutu) And the government supported by the white community in this country said we were communists, we wanted to overthrow the government, we really were supporting terrorists.

     And in it Joe comes in to change and he wants to suggest something. You know people become jittery, negative and all that.

     The townships were burning. State brutality radicalised the black youth who resorted to counter-violence and necklacing opponents. Joe Seremane who 30 years previously rejected Christianity and had been a radical white hater, was asked to mediate with the angry youth in his home town of Bekkersdal in this highly emotional situation with the youth rejecting the churches. He had the moral courage to reject violence.

     There are many weaknesses in the church, I can tell you that, up to this day. There are many, many irregularities but we are trying to change them and you cannot change them by just being on the touch line like in a football game.

     (Joe Seremane - 1987) ... options have not been tried and through my experience I think you can achieve quite a lot without resorting to violence and for that you become very unpopular so you are insensitive to the suffering of people. But I would say to people I am still suffering, my people are suffering, my children are suffering, I am not being insensitive. I am just trying to extend myself beyond my present circumstances and I don't want to be totally ruled by my anger. I have to channel my anger into something more constructive. You reach a point where you are in no man's land and that's the price.

     (Beyers Naudé - 1987) And he has interceded in so many situations where there were serious conflicts and he risked his safety and his wife's in order to reconcile people and in order to ... with the authorities what they were doing.

     (1987 - in Soweto) ... they are being brutalised. What sense of justice would they ever accept and now they are going to be ... (unintelligible)  

     (Charles - our Charles from Namibia) I cannot forget the day when he realised that I, this Charles Ndabeni, who was a son of this man who was turned a key state witness against him, it was my father, a close friend of Joe Seremane. But when I was employed he didn't know who I was. It took some time and when they realised I thought that it was going to be a total breakdown and they accepted me and helped me to understand the other side of me, the bitterness I had against my father and with his interaction and his guidance I did something that will forever change my life when I brought the two of them together. I wasn't sure as to what was going to happen and there was no movement for about a minute. Suddenly I saw Joe rise up from his seat and going closer to my father and they just hugged each other. It was an emotional experience for myself. But Joe, I understand why he did it. Some of us were very strong, he was subjected to torture, any person could succumb. You know there was a lot of understanding on his side that helped him, my father, to say this is a real man of God. Very few can do that, can go the distance in helping the other person to understand that there is no bitterness, there is no revenge, there is no anger. And this is who Joe Seremane is.

     Joe Seremane made a personal pilgrimage to the little stone church on Robben Island. Much has happened in the life of this ex-convict since he arrived on Robben Island 35 years ago and all this has helped change the man who now heads the newly appointed Commission on the restitution of land rights.

     I thank God that he has helped me and many others to be alive at this time, but my circumstances have changed and I thank God for that, not only for myself, for many other people. ... come back and what we need is prayer for strength to heal those wounds, to reconcile.  I think of my brother who was not that fortunate, he never set foot on the Island but he went into exile and he has not come back and I will never meet him again. We have just heard that it is 12 years that he is dead, not that anyone has been honourable and honest enough to come and tell us. I thank God that many of us, many people who have this kind of wound ... I think if I am prepared to forgive, I am prepared to forgive them for that and throw in my lot to support the good things that they are doing, why shouldn't I pray and forgive also the ones who jailed me, also give them forgiveness and I pray for strength to do that. To do that I think is very difficult, to forgive, but I am praying that myself and the country we must learn to forgive each other so we can reconcile and build a better country, that we never have to go back to the things that I have seen, I hope.

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.