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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
29 Sep 1997: Seremane, Joe
POM Joe, to pick up at a point where we had talked about the last time but it is something I would like to tease you out a little on, and that is what seems to me to be one of the more momentous decisions you made in your life when you decided to go before the Truth Commission and more or less put it to them that you demanded to find out the truth about your brother. Could you again go through some of the, not anxieties, some of the mixed feelings that accompanied that decision particularly in view of the fact that many people in your own family said, Joe, you had better leave it alone, let sleeping dogs lie. And it was a matter of saying that there occasions in life when you can't let sleeping dogs lie no matter what the consequences.
JS In my mind it wasn't an easy decision to make because firstly I was more concerned about the safety and even careers of the young people who told me and then there was also this fear that prevailed within the family that I may be victimised or even killed for that matter. But on the other hand I had this heavy obligation of a younger brother who is lost and if I just left it there I felt that it would be almost like betrayal and insensitivity and of course all around when you think of the threats and consequences that you may face, even some of my relatives were saying you will lose your job for that matter, and that made it even worse. It created another dimension that I felt that if that's the case my salary is as good as blood money and I had to search myself, lose everything and do what I have to do for my brother or have everything and not fulfil that obligation as an elder brother, and I decided to take the other route that's to do it whether it's unpleasant no matter what consequences, and it wasn't so easy.
When I got there, the night before the hearing at the TRC, I had to sit and it was hard, I thought I would go with some written script but I couldn't get by to do it and then when I got there I almost - I don't know what happened but I had something to say as though it was well-structured and that was fulfilling and after that I felt in a way satisfied that, yes, I had begun to discharge my obligations as an elder brother to my brother who was killed. I generally just said no matter what consequences, after all it's the second time that I had to make such a decision, first when I got into the struggle and I knew that we were going to get involved with a massive regime, very powerful, and I made a struggle that I am going to lose my life and for the sake of my freedom and liberty then if that's the price then I must pay it. Again, as I sit here, I may lose my life, but if it's for the sake the truth and in honour of my younger brother so let it be, I must lose my life so that it was more or less the same sacrifice and decision I had to make.
POM Now the affidavits from the two young men, they were submitted to - ?
JS Yes I submitted them to the TRC although they were not signed. They are unsigned affidavits. The signed ones I sent them to the earlier commission which I never got receipt of or acknowledgement of those affidavits and then I submitted identical copies which I sent to the TRC, but they are not signed.
POM Did the two young men have to appear as collaborators or were their affidavits sufficient in themselves so that they didn't have to appear?
JS Well I don't know, the commission has to decide what to do, but when I went there I went there alone, those young people were not summoned and up to this late hour it seems as if they have got a problem. Almost like the hearings are over and they can be summonsed to come and give their thing but this is what I've been requesting.
POM And they haven't been summonsed?
JS No, no, and I have requested they should be summonsed so that the truth as they know it should come out unlike only ANC saying this and that. I mean I didn't disclose the sordid detail of what they did to my younger brother because they know. I wouldn't be the one to come up with all those finer details and now I would expect that the TRC should really listen to those finer details from these very chappies.
POM Are you able to provide me with copies of those affidavits?
JS Yes I could do that.
POM OK. That would be very helpful just to quote from them. Did you get the feeling that the commission was taken aback by what you had to say and the passion with which you enunciated?
JS Yes, well I had that feeling that they were surprised. In fact even everybody, the audience, I think they were surprised that I took that line. Generally people would expect me to go and talk about how the system oppressed me or how I was tortured. Now I came from another direction, I was actually accusing, in a way, accusing the movement and they looked all stunned. I was just asked one or two questions and I spoke the full length, the first question, and then I took over at the end and then I was asked one or two questions at the end. And there was that quietness and I felt that everybody was thinking about what I had said.
POM Did they supply you afterwards with a written transcript of what you had said?
JS No they have not. All I got I got from reading the news broadcasts. They have not given me anything.
POM So you don't actually know what you said?
JS More or less.
POM You just said it!
JS I just said it, yes. One would say the spirit moved me and I had to say it. I said it from my guts.
POM Now you had mentioned - did you get any warnings or insinuations that by giving testimony like this, it was like losing your job or perhaps putting your job in jeopardy or putting your life in jeopardy?
JS From people I have had that, insinuations, and some of them even direct, blunt hints that please don't do that, you run the risk of - and those are people who are non-committed to all this, just well-wishers and people concerned, that don't you think it's risky, Joe, don't you think you're going to lose your job, don't you think that you're going to get ambushed one day, don't you think you're going to be harmed? You must be very careful, some of the people are around the country and they are armed. Those were the concerns that have been expressed and I didn't dismiss them, I haven't dismissed them as nonsense. I am keeping them to the fore of my mind and it means I've got to watch all the time.
POM What do you do? Do you vary your movements?
JS Well I vary my movements and I've been saying if I had enough money I would buy a new car every week, change the car so that they don't know it. I don't keep to fixed routes, neither a fixed routine. When I knock off work where do I go to? Nobody knows where I go as far as I'm concerned. The night spots that I used to go I am no longer going to them. People knew them. I would go to the Jazz Club in Johannesburg, Kippies, but I've refrained from going there. I just say that I mustn't be around an environment where people can make excuses and say well so-and-so they attack us, we're drunk or some such thing. If they must attack me then it must be quite plain that I've been attacked. Although I don't know who would do it, I don't know who my attacker would be if there is an attacker. I have watched closely, some of the political figures, I haven't met them but I have just recently met one or two and watched them and I think they have detached themselves from that. I didn't see any indications that they are annoyed, any signs that they are annoyed by what I did. They have just been as normal as I know them but I don't know what happens in the lower strata because that's where irrationality exists.
POM I remember you saying that before this you had gone to the office of the Vice President, gone to the office of the President.
JS I haven't gone to the Deputy President's office. I phoned, I wanted to get to the President and telephonically I tried to make arrangements. I couldn't. I couldn't get through.
POM This was before the TRC?
JS No, before I went to the TRC. The TRC was already in place but then I was trying to avoid that in trying to protect those young people. I said I would be good with an internal quiet hearing, I would be satisfied as long as I get the information I'm needing but I was told to go to the TRC and I just felt that if they can't comprehend the consequences like I fear these guys may be exposed. I had no choice but to do it. And I don't know how they feel about it.
POM This is the President who is somebody you spent time with on Robben Island?
JS Well not intimately as such but -
POM But he would have known you?
JS Yes I think he would. I mean when he was released and when he started his road shows after his release I interpreted for him in the Western Transvaal and then we had lunch and he was told who I am and he gave me the impression that he remembered that small boy on the Island, although we were not living in the same cell but from a distance we could see them. So that's the first thing and I guess there have been lots of reports about me, perhaps to him. I don't know.
POM Have you felt in the period since you gave your testimony to the TRC, have you felt relief? Have you felt disappointment that there was this blurb of publicity and then it kind of looked as if it has been swept under?
JS Well to an extent I had that slight relief, I call it slight relief, I was worried that I would keep on procrastinating and then it won't be done but I will manage that I just got in maybe at the tail end of the whole process. That gave me some relief and satisfaction. And secondly my involvement worried me a little bit at the TRC. It seems as though I still have that feeling, it seems as though the political organisation or the government or party that's in government is in a way being let off scot free. The kind of things that they say and there is no probing into what they are saying, it doesn't please me very much. It's like, well we respect the master, he who pays the piper calls the tune. I can't believe, now, now, I'm from the TRC now that they investigate this and then they tell me what the ANC is doing. They're not answering my questions, the ANC, they're telling me how much they think he was a spy, how many guns he stole and what he did. I am not asking that. I can't defend him, he is no more, he can only defend himself but he is no more. They have to respond to what I am saying.
POM But who were making these allegations against him?
JS The ANC, I hardly know who it is, I hardly know it. The investigators told me they are not going to disclose names, and, well, maybe for good reasons, but I don't know, I don't know. But the government can go and pull out those files today and demand that they must be given those files of the TRC and I am sure they would get them and I don't think it would be easy for me to do that. I am just talking to faceless people as far as I concerned. And they seem to miss the point. They think I'm crossing swords with them as an organisation. I've got nothing to do with them as an organisation, I'm just talking on a pure humanitarian basis, as a human being and I am saying this is it and if you buried those boys that died in a mass grave, all I'm saying when you exhume that grave, I won't even expect you to identify the exact grave and bones or skeleton of my younger brother. That's not it. As long as you exhume them en masse, all of them, and come and bury them in another mass grave so that we who know that they are our brothers and sisters can say that it is here where they lie, they are resting, but painful as it was, we are not sure who they are. Well that's it. And they can go on vilifying them as much as they like. The question is I see it as just a campaign of justifying themselves, vilifying people who can't speak for themselves and the living ones, why don't they come up? That is why I really feel those two young people must be given a chance through the TRC to say this is it. I don't know whether they are going or not but I believe they must say it. What I gave them is not the end of the story.
POM Are those two young people afraid to go before it?
JS Well I wouldn't say, Padraig, I wouldn't say they are afraid, they were willing to do it.
POM They were?
JS Yes they were quite willing. I haven't met them since then. I am sure they have heard that I have gone there but no one of them has come to me to say, well we're ready when you need us. Nobody has come to me. And I don't know, I can't just imagine and they are human, they have to be careful. One is in the defence force and one of them is in the security force of the North West province. They are facing real threats, so to say, or the likelihood that they can get inconvenienced. I don't know. I haven't met them since then. I don't know how they feel about what I have done and I really want to know if they think I have offended them I would like to say sorry but you must understand my need. If you felt that I must listen to what you told me and keep quiet then you shouldn't have told me, you should have left me in the dark. But I have a feeling that they are quite prepared, it's just that somebody must approach them. The investigators must approach them.
POM So in essence you're left with the situation of where you made very serious allegations backed up by signed affidavits where the investigators have done nothing to - ?
JS Well they have not contacted those two, that's the truth and I'm not criticising them. They have not contacted those people. They may be using a different method or modus operandi but to me common sense is that when Joe comes in with a little bit of information, doesn't disclose - I wasn't with these people there. I can't say the Minister of Defence did this and that and that. I don't know. But they can point fingers and say so-and-so did this, the current minister of this and that did this and that and that, and those things must be unearthed. I know how awkward it is for people who are already in position that things will be hanged around them, but it's the same thing like they are levelling all these allegations against people who are silent. These people are silent. Why don't they come and give the detail that here this boy was a spy and this is how we tortured him and this is how we disfigured him and because of that we decided to shoot him outright and kill him and this is where we have buried him? They are not coming with all this and I listen to the security police of apartheid disclosing that, hey we gave this guy sleeping tablets and when he was drugged we shot him behind the ear and after that we carried him and put him on a woodpile and burnt him on a stake and he burnt. After that we took the ashes and chucked them into the river. They are disclosing detail, not this list that he's a spy, he did this. They are not telling what they did to him, they are not telling it. It's just a vague thing 'executed'. What does that mean? The detail. How on earth did you kill him? And when they say, these young fellows, he was totally disfigured, how did you manage? Did you examine afterwards to see the damage? What did you do to his facial bones? And when they shot him, why did you shoot him when he was already that helpless? If you have got that much of evidence you should have kept it. You were going to be in the police, you are in power now, you would be using him against those who were his handlers. Why did you do it? Oh well, they will argue, we didn't have - But you kept them in a water-tight prison so they couldn't go. And why wasn't I given the opportunity to go and see him and maybe dissuade him if he was a spy? Why do you call me comrade when you know at the back of your mind you are hurting me, you disfigured, and when you come back you don't even tell me and when I go to the TRC you continue telling these lies. You are making it a political issue, you are running around, you want to justify yourself. Don't come and tell me crap. Don't play games. I'm not playing games. It's the truth I want, I want it to make it easier for me to forgive, to forgive, and account in my heart of hearts and say this is how my brother died. Fairly treated or unfairly, he misbehaved, I must also be able to pass judgement, if I must pass judgement, but I can't just pass judgement on one side of the story and I have heard this other strong evidence, young people telling me, we were there, we were with him, we escaped and they were accusing us falsely of being spies, we were not spies.
Of course they have to work, somewhere they have to work, and they are doing what they can do, what they have been doing all these years. They managed. But if they have this information I can't imagine how unfree they feel because I would feel very unsafe if my organisation is not really disclosing detail and keeps on telling lies, propaganda. Then I would say things have not changed. And that's my feeling. I feel if the government is going to go on this way, or the ANC is going to go on this way, we are in serious trouble. It's not over yet. Many atrocities are still going to be perpetrated if that's the way they go on. I would be hanged I am convinced, I would be hanged if I stood up and accused the President of something that I know which is not pleasant. They will just mow me down, but they are not that honourable to say we have wronged and this is it. To me it's just platitudes. No, there is nothing so shallow, just to be running around with a list, these guys are spies, they stole guns and the hell I don't know what we're going to do with guns. They were right in the camp, supplied with guns, in the middle of a desert. You supplied guns, you still steal guns. It doesn't make sense. They didn't have the capacity that they could build an army within an army themselves. I don't believe that story, I really don't believe it. I don't think it merited that kind of treatment. They could have just redeployed them, scattered all around, or some of them just take them and throw them over the border, let them loose. Throw them back and they must go and answer for themselves to the security police.
POM As I understood it, Joe, from you, is that your brother - that one of the issues in the camps, and I've heard this from other young people I've talked to, was that they didn't know what the hell they were doing in Angola. They thought they had gone abroad to fight a war for South Africa and suddenly they're fighting Cubans.
JS That's what I have heard, yes. That they went out of the country in a hurry during 1976 and their solution was that you know now we must get military training and we get arms and come back and come and continue, but it was continuing, they were fighting fights elsewhere and they said we can't be dying for Angola, we're not going to get anything out of this. We want to die for our country, that's the purpose. The other issue that I learned they were dissatisfied about was the whole question of educational opportunities. These were just for a select few, the other unknown kids didn't just get those opportunities easily and then they started quarrelling and complaining and they were told that education is not a right. And I learnt from these two fellows that my brother was very outspoken. He said you cannot say education is a privilege. On the basis of the Freedom Charter education is a right. And I learnt at the camp where he was in church he had all these posters around, education is a right according to the Freedom Charter, and that pleased many because the young guys were still students at heart. Fighting was part of it but they wanted to advance themselves.
POM But it's like as though there was this elite in the organisation and their children got the opportunity to get bursaries and go abroad or whatever.
JS Yes to study and even stay abroad, yes they had better chances. The ordinary man was just menial, cannon fodder. Come liberation we see this emergence very clearly. If they left here as a leader then they almost have a guarantee that they will have leadership positions. What about the other unknowns? And I think these are legitimate complaints which did not merit that they should play games and say these young fellows were mutinying. No it's no such a thing. And how did they expect us to feel? I just can't understand how the government or the ANC expects us to feel when they continue this way. I am more than disappointed. I am angry and I am just saying, goodness me, this is one time where almost I feel like it's a curse to try and be honest. I should have felt lousy and rotten and I would just really be wielding my guns and settling the score but I have been nurtured differently and I have seen and I can focus, look into the deep future, that won't give our country peace and rest and stability. But now you must pay the price like this. I don't know. I don't want them to fall down on their knees for me, I don't even care for their glory. All I am saying is just furnish me with this information and demonstrate not for yourselves only, for me too, that I have leaders that are honourable and these leaders are going to take my country to a better level of honour and integrity. This is all I need, and bring back those bones.
POM Your brother's name was?
POM Timothy, of course yes. He was in charge, he ran a camp?
JS So I learn, yes, he ran a camp.
POM Have you been able to establish who his commander would have been or what the chain of command was?
JS No I wouldn't have, I haven't. I haven't had the opportunity. Who are these guys who are in Quatro Camp? I don't know. And if I know them are they prepared to talk to you? I am sure they are dead scared, they dare not say it. If Quatro Camp was as bad as these two, three young fellows say I don't understand why many, the majority, won't say it. If we made a mistake we made a mistake, not to have skilful speakers, orators who can cover up all we are saying about it. Let's get the ordinary men saying this is what life was all about. And once a people, and I'm disappointed, once a people begin to worship a party like they are worshipping God I am telling you we are in serious trouble and they are not democrats worth their salt, they are automatons, they are zombies, my party wrong or right. I don't believe in that. It's like a lynch mob, you dare not go against it. What kind of people are we?
Maybe I'm too much of an idealist. I thought as we have gone through the mill we maybe are making mistakes here but the main objective, we want to purify our country including ourselves in the way we operate, we treat each other, we look at our experiences and move into the future. But if you have got skilful propagandists like Goebbels at this late day and age then I have misgivings that the whole thing is not over yet. They are playing games. This is a power game. If they get toppled, kicked off, somebody is going to come again and say, your TRC this is what you did, I am calling you back to my own version of TRC. I see it as an unending problem, not get it done properly as people and say well we made a mess and truly speaking we broke his legs, we broke ten fingers and this is what we did. That's fine. I won't say get your legs broken too. No I won't say that. I just want to go through the pain with him, see that we have got a clear picture and we will say indeed if this person can disclose so much voluntarily without being forced then I think that's the truth. This is an honourable person, he made a mistake, it was difficult. But when they play games like I say, I begin to say no, I doubt their honour, I doubt their integrity, I doubt their sincerity.
POM So according to the two young men who supplied the affidavits there was no such thing as a court martial where he was brought before a tribunal and charges laid against him?
JS One of the young men says you were being called, they would call you and read and say you, you, you, you're guilty of this, move on, and then you get executed. The next thing is when they torture you and probe you, they want questions, and they are forcing you to say certain things, to say things as though you are guilty, to implicate yourself with their own suspicions. And one of the young men says my younger brother said, "Look give these guys the guns, they will harm you like I am, please don't allow yourself to be like I am", meaning so disfigured," 'Just give them the guns." And he says to me, "It's strange, we never had guns, he was my close friend, we never had guns." In other words he was forced to admit that they had guns, he was forced to admit. That boy swears, he said, "I never had any guns with him. What we were working in good co-operation, both of us were in charge of two camps and there was mutual co-operation. When I needed a vehicle I would get it from this camp and so on. That's all, we never had any plan about storing guns, stockpiling of guns, we don't know that. And here this guy says I must give them the guns but we never had guns. And it shows that he was under duress, compelled to do that." But the way they were cruel, even if they call that a confession, when a man has confessed, why kill him after brutalising him? Why after disfiguring him, why kill him? So I don't understand.
And it reminds me, my experience in this country internally, there is this first necklace victim, Markies Khosana(?), I was shocked to hear that she was necklaced, a very supportive girl, brave girl. I used to go in the area, Duduza Township somewhere in the Eastern Transvaal where those young guys were blasted with hand grenades, they blasted themselves because they were given these faulty hand grenades by part of the system. And then next day I hear that she has been necklaced and the reason, that she was a spy, and I knew for a fact that she was no spy. The way she was courageous and sent me - we only worked on information and publicity. We didn't have guns. I was working for the Council of Churches, non-violent direct action, and we know that the more information that we have about the atrocities that are perpetrated we will in a way be arming ourselves, the publicity will protect our people. And we worked hard, I worked hard and here was our contact person who showed me, so-and-so's child is harmed there, go there, and we're hiding. One time I remember we were chased by police together with her, only two, I parked my car a mile away and moved in the veldt to go and meet her there and then we make another appointment. Then I will say, no I will come somewhere when it's sort of busy in the morning, I will walk in from another direction, I have left my car. And this person has died. I learnt she was a spy. And I lived through this thing. Could it be true? No, I doubt. If she was a spy the police should have known what I was doing there, they should have known my movements there. They didn't. To this day I have never been approached by anybody, any policeman. Then what kind of a spy was she? I don't know. But then later on in the TRC I felt vindicated when one of the agent provocateurs who was testifying asking for amnesty actually said that woman, that young lady, was no spy, we planted the word that she is a spy simply because she was effective, an effective activist. And then they just threw that.
And because people on the ground, sad to say it, sometimes they acted like a pack of wolves, never thought things out, you just come a whisper and say Patrick is a spy. Gone. And on petty jealousies they would label people, they would label people. I, me, I know people have been saying behind my back that I am an agent, I have had that allegation levelled against me simply because I don't want to toe their line. Some of the things that were being done just worked against my grain. It's not how I do it, it's not how I believe politics is all about where you just vilify people and have them crucified. I just did not want unnecessary blood on my hands and I used to try as much as possible to use methods that won't make me regret after 20, 30 years when I sit down. Today I know I'm very happy, I never harmed anybody. I nearly did, the temptation was there, but something said no, no, this is not how you do it.
When I was much younger, before I got to Robben Island when we were angry, we were going to do this, mobilising people, writing graffiti or slogans on the wall, then someone would say, hey that gentleman there, that businessman is a spy, he's a sell-out, and I was convinced he is, and then we thought that night we were going to burn his shop. When we got there I refused, I said no this is not it, you know what guys? Indeed he's a sell-out but in that house, in that family there may be a liberator, the next leader comes from that family and if we destroy this property where they depend to educate their children I don't think it makes sense. If we really want to get rid of that man let's go to his house, we'll knock down the door and pull him out and then deal with him but don't harm the family. That was more or less my style of doing things. I was angry too but in the end, later on, it just melted, no this is not it. I have seen adults acting irrationally like 14 year old kids who are just fanatics and I can understand then if such people are in charge of our destiny then woe betide we are in serious trouble. I don't say I'm an angel, no, but I hate the insincerity of people.
POM Do you think that's one of the big drawbacks of the Truth Commission, not that it has been one-sided because the violence of apartheid can never be compared in a way to the violence against it, but do you think that they are sweeping a lot of history that might explain a lot of behaviour in the townships today under the rug?
JS Well it's getting lost and perhaps it's the way the whole thing has been designed. You know I have thought, really I have thought, if for such an important mission or responsibility or exercise, that which the TRC is doing and it's given 18 months to perform, you ask yourself, I have asked myself whether the legislators were really serious. Did they really mean that they were going to do justice to that? I don't think they applied their minds. It's a quick fix arrangement, placating all political parties, trying to placate each other, trying to appease each other at the expense of a process that needed to unearth, if we want it to unearth, or we should just have left it as it is. What's 18 months? It took me almost that amount of time debating with myself whether I should go or not, and people's responses keep on saying, Joe you are courageous, white and black, Joe you are courageous. And I keep on asking myself, if people say I'm courageous what is so dangerous? There is something and nobody is saying it, they see danger and therefore I am said to be courageous and I am just doing a thing. It's like just throwing myself in front of a lion when I have got nothing, I can't stop it, and if it's going to destroy my brother, my sister, my child, let me go with them because I can't bear to see them bleeding, bleeding, bleeding and I am helpless. Maybe foolhardiness but I doubt if it is courage. If it is courage then there is something that is being hidden in this country, there is something that's being hidden.
POM Do you think a lot of the very high rate of murder, of violence, of rape, is tied to that period in the past when horrible things were done in the name of justice and freedom but we've never come to grips with what those horrible things were and that they must be laid out?
JS Yes they must be laid out and say these are the methods, awkward methods we used and they have to stop, they no longer have room. But we have done that, we have gone on. One would say we have damaged our minds with our own actions and we have raised young people within the struggle who are a law unto themselves. They are not going to listen to anybody. I can't understand a Standard four to seven kid tell a professor, I can draw up a study programme better than you, get off. Something is wrong, something is wrong. I don't say students must lap up and swallow any rubbish in these institutions but if they claim that they can come up with a better programme of education when they are not themselves educators then we have given them a false belief of who they really are and we go on like that. If they can't respect the fact that when the judicial system has made a decision if you want to challenge the system it is through certain procedures and processes. Students get angry and they start trashing campuses, destroying buildings and they get arrested and then the next wave is that the students demand that those people must be released, not through due process, just demand. Then I don't know, we have a bunch of dictators in the making and we perhaps have created them because we never made them think what they are doing, we just gerrymandered them, forced them into it and became so hard and they became hard and continue. Now the chickens have come home to roost, so to say, and who wants to be told what if you have been doing it like that and if you can't find it, well I'm going to get it for myself, I will use this AK, I've been taught how to use it, AK47, but now this time I'm not looking for any liberation, I'm looking for money. I'm going to get cars and guns and I will pull any woman that I need out of lust and they will do nothing to me. Maybe, maybe, again we are trapped, we can't take action because we know those are our sins, we're shy, we can't face them in the eye and take strong action. We are afraid.
POM They are your creation.
JS Yes. You see your own monsters that you've created.
POM Just to go back and I'll only spend another seven or eight minutes with you today because I know you're busy and you've just come back from the TRC and that must always leave an impact, just going there. What were your own stages of development? You getting involved, getting arrested, going to Robben Island, coming out of Robben Island, being involved in the South African Council of Churches, leaving the SACC and moving on two other directions of struggle, and development, thought development. Where would you start?
JS Well I would say right from my home as a child. I believe, I don't know what other people think, I had very good parents, strong minded parents, people who believed in discipline and to a large extent I regarded them as fair people who always wanted to act fairly towards other people.
POM You were born in?
JS In Randfontein, west of Johannesburg. So I was nurtured in that way. Thirdly, fairness is what I know. I used to get a hiding when I was wrong but when I did right I used to be praised. And I would get a hiding for treating other kids out there in the street unfairly, and that's how I was brought up and I would be made to go and ask for forgiveness if I have wronged a kid, somebody there and if I have wronged an adult I would be whipped and I would be forced to go and apologise and I would be given an assignment in that adult's place - you go and clean the garden to show remorse or you must send this little boy as many times as you wish come rain or shine if you want to send him anyway, get him on an errand, and that was made for me to show remorse. So I grew up that way.
POM Was it a religious family?
JS Yes my family was religious, yes, especially my mother more than my father.
POM She was what religion?
JS Anglican. Even the old man was Anglican. So that's how I got -
POM Most of us are always -
JS That's right, yes, very strong, and my father strict but polished, a polished guy. I mean the kids used to call him a black Englishman because he was also polished, he was a model, well being subjects of the empire, British empire, everybody was to model, even myself.
POM Did he work?
JS Yes he worked in the mines. My father worked in the mines and for me he was a model. Here was a guy, he came from the then Rhodesia, which is Zimbabwe now, he came as a young person here and established himself and performed, even out-performed, the locals with what he was doing and he was a model but never hot-headed, he was not proud, he was not a snob, he was just somebody, one I would have liked to emulate and for the kids in the street he was a model for them and he was that strict. You play but don't go out of hand by abusing your playmates. That's how they were. So I grew up and I began to say that I see injustice.
POM Did you have many brothers and sisters?
JS Yes, well I'm the eldest of six brothers and two girls came later on, so that I am the eldest. I've seen it all happen. I helped raise them. My mother was a domestic worker and I used to remain and be a child-minder with these little kids, cook for them, bathe them, change their nappies. I can still change a nappy right now with ease because I did it thoroughly. But then I saw the change, saw how my mother was treated, how people are treated and then got politicised.
POM So your Dad, what time would he leave to go to the mine in the morning?
JS He would leave early, he started work at eight, 7.30 he would be going out, no quarter to eight, he cycled because he would start work and it wasn't very far from where we were at the town mine compound, they called it the township, so he cycled away at quarter to eight and go to work until one o'clock when he would be back for lunch and then go back to work. Many a time I went to bed without seeing him because he had extra work, he was a tailor. To supplement his small meagre salary as a miner working in the mines he was tailoring. When he knocked off at 4.30, which was his knock-off time, he would go to the mining work compound, what is a compound, pull out his machine and he did sewing there as a tailor, repaired garments, miners' clothing, made them trousers, shirts, so that kept him very, very busy and we would never see him, very rarely would I see him unless he's exhausted and then he would come back home at about 9 pm, 9.30 pm, and when I am staying awake he would step in at midnight coming every day but on one Sunday a month he would go to church for holy communion, only once, then Sunday we knew that it was holy communion. My mother would go all the other Sundays but my Dad wouldn't go there because on Sundays he would work.
POM He would work on Sundays too?
JS Yes, to go and do his tailoring.
POM So he would be working seven days a week.
JS Yes, seven days a week. When I became 15 he left there and he went into business and he said, "Now I am going to try something I've never done in my life, I'm going to have a shop." And my mother was complaining, "No Edward don't do it, don't do it, you know nothing about business, we're going to sink our savings. We have worked hard." My mother would do on Monday and Tuesday something like washing for ten white families. She had to travel distances on foot and round them up, does their washing and tomorrow she comes around she does their ironing. Wednesday she goes and starts something else there, and all those bits and pieces they put together. The husband was there working the normal job as a plug and after that to the mine compound sewing, he's a tailor, mending miners' clothing, cutting them, tailoring them shirts and trousers and even in the township, the little township he was already popular. He made boys' shorts for school, they would come, the poor parents who can't afford any cloth in bulk, cut trousers for their kids and shirts and then spare them, save themselves a few cents there by getting them very reasonably, some of them on credit. He would say, "Well you will pay me after four months, that's all right, let the kids go to school." He was like that, let the kids go to school.
POM A cohesive family life.
POM The fact that everyone was working all the time would tighten the screws.
JS I used to think that they have remote control over us. Wherever they are, always what they thought about you gather yourself, you gathered yourself because when they come - they can see and read through all your pranks and say this and that and that. You will have to account. So we were very close knit. I mean if I misbehaved in the streets the people would tell me, you're going to get it when your Mom comes, you're going to get it if your Dad hears that. So there was always control. So that's when I began to see and of course I got involved, I got more politicised, there was lots of politics. But then at the beginning I then had some kind of contempt for political organisations. I had a bit of contempt, because I remember one guy, then there was no PAC, ANC Youth guy in the Youth League tried to recruit me and I said, "No I agree but I can't waste my time. You guys you just want the subscription fees and I'm willing, give me the joining card, come and collect my subscription fee every month but don't waste my time, I'm not going to attend those meetings. There is nothing that you can tell me that I don't know of." And we just talked of the subscription fees, that's all. And when it went on then I became more critical, I said, "No, well that's fine over weekends we have got rallies, soapbox rallies, firing, come Monday we will revert to our slavery. Why can't we sustain the effort? Why do we allow ourselves to go and do A, B, C, D for nothing? We've sat down on Fridays and said we're not going to do this but tomorrow we go nicely and spend again." So I was a little contemptuous, so it went on and it went on. Of course we can't do that, these people are killing us, when we talk they lock us up. We're not fools, we've got fight. We've got to fight. We've got all sorts of inspirations.
I must tell you one of my inspirations was Germany itself. Those Germans can fight. I know they are bad but they can fight. We want to fight like them. And at some stage we became very cynical. I was telling young people, because I used to be a very avid reader, I said, "Let me tell you we've got to fight and we've got to model our resistance, our effort of hitting back along the lines of the Ku-Klux-Klan, we turn it over. We're going to be Ku-Klux-Klan getting at whites like they get at us in America. We're going to do that, pay them back with their coin." And I looked at it and I said, "Yes, that's now fighting, we're responding." But maybe that was just my talk, talking as a young person but I am just trying to show the mood and when it came PAC that was more angrier than the whole vanguard and said the only solution is we're going to fight back. Now they had an answer for us so we went in droves to join the PAC.
POM I'll start there next time. It's a nice thought that I can pick up.