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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

01 Feb 1999: Seremane, Joe

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POM     OK Joe, let me start with you finally meeting the man who admits to having tortured, not tortured, but executed your brother. I know Kevin Harris arranged a meeting between the two of you and did a documentary on it but I wasn't in the country at the time so I don't have a copy of it. Perhaps you could just recount the events that led up to the meeting, what took place at the meeting and whether or not you are now satisfied that the issue has been resolved or whether you still want to get, as you said in the beginning, to get Timothy's bones and bring them home.

JS     Yes, well, maybe just to say my meeting with Andrew Masondo, that's General Masondo, was just a step towards what I am looking for. There is nothing that I have abandoned, neither have I been really satisfied. I still insist that I need to have the remains of my brother and I want even now to extend it, not only for my brother, for every person, South African who was killed and buried there. I want to make it my business. With the meeting, it went well. There was great apprehension at the beginning and then I fought with myself, there is a guy I haven't seen for over 20 years and I am seeing him now.

POM     Did you know him?

JS     Yes I knew him. We were together on Robben Island.

POM     Is that right?

JS     Yes and I was seeing him for the first time, perhaps in 30 years or so, and here he was in military garb. I saw him in prisoner's clothing and I wasn't sure what was going to happen. Of course there was also tumult in me. I was restraining myself, I wasn't very sure how I was going to react when I saw him because I had already heard a lot about him that he was responsible for the atrocities. He was judge, so to say.

POM     He was in charge of the camp was he? Of all the camps?

JS     All the camps, yes. And he sat in some of these tribunals. So when I met him I wasn't very sure what I was to just look at him and say, well that's it, but I managed, I did not lose my self control. I looked at him with all the apprehension and he had a bodyguard. I was wondering why he has brought a bodyguard but I said, well that's how they do things, and here was I with no bodyguard. I thought of all sorts of things, what if they were to do something to me but I wasn't worried about that, the fear didn't worry me, I was just concerned. So when we started talking

POM     Where did the meeting take place?

JS     It took place here at the cathedral, the Pretoria Anglican cathedral, and it was facilitated by Bishop Joe Seoka, Joe, who I know very well too. We worked together at  Wilgespruit before he was a Bishop, he was just a Reverend but a trade unionist at the Wilgespruit Fellowship Centre and we worked together. So I was also seeing him for the first time in quite some time in about eight, nine years, there I met him again. It was also strange from my religion. God works in very mysterious way. This Joe Seoka I met during hard days in Soweto when the kids were being shot at. We together took a stand in protests. One morning when the police were just arresting kids and we didn't plan it but we stood side by side with him, he was there, and in the documentary 'Any child is my child', he appears on that documentary with me and it wasn't a rehearsed thing so to say. And here I meet him after I met him at Wilgespruit. We were concerned now about the young people, we had to turn their thinking from being confrontational to look at things differently because the dispensation was quite clear that it was going to change. So we worked together in that institution on the same issue and then we parted and I didn't know where he was and here I meet him now again. He is now the facilitating agent between me and this General.

POM     When you knew him at Robben Island did you know the General well?

JS     Yes I knew him very well. He was one of the guys who was severely tortured on Robben Island himself.

POM     He was tortured too?

JS     Yes. We were not even allowed to keep company with him, they punished him, I saluted him even though he was ostracised. The warders kept him away from all the prisoners so that he became very lonely and the like and overworked him, and I used to have a chat with him almost every morning because he happened to know the area I came from and then when he enquired about people I know, I said yes I knew them. That in a way was a way and people were very careful not to go to him but I used to take all those risks, go to him, have a short conversation. I felt that he needed company and that's how I got to know him. So here I was meeting him for the first time too but I had not forgotten him, I could see that this is the guy, he has grown older but he recognised me too. When he started he went on at length with the usual rhetoric trying to justify themselves and everything. He went on for a long, long time and I kept my peace, I kept quiet, I had heard it all but I decided to keep quiet.

POM     What was his rhetoric?

JS     For instance, "We were at war and what else could we have done? There were many South African agents." You know, talking in generalities and justifying every move they took, so he went on and on until I couldn't bear it any more. Then I interjected, I said, "No, you cut out that stuff. Let's come to the point. I'm talking about my brother, not talking about general things. I'm talking about my brother. Do you know him or don't you know him?" Then he went on, "No, I know him", and he told me how he was not responsible, there were lots of complaints about my brother, he was reckless with equipment and he used to damage cars, that's how he got into the picture, and when he went there and he said, "No, look here, don't be so reckless with the vehicles", then he tested him and gave him a vehicle and said, "You get in charge of this, don't ever do anything to it." He also wrecked that. Then it was read that those are South African agents, that's how they used to operate, according to him. They would wreck transport so that there mustn't be transport for the camps and he said that he was a master in doing that. I don't know, I listened. And he came all with these accusations that people confessed that he was a ringleader of South African agents, trained in Mafikeng and evidence pointed out that he was responsible and that is why ultimately he was found guilty and executed.

POM     Now did they take him before a tribunal?

JS     Yes but he wouldn't say who it is, he was just saying we are collectively responsible. Then he moved from there, he went to the person

POM     He didn't say whether Timothy had any representation?

JS     No he couldn't. I was asking that, he couldn't. So he didn't have, it's quite clear. I mean you appeared in front of them, they decided they were judges and everything. So that's how he went on. Then he came to the personal side of things, how he lost, I think it's a daughter-in-law and his own son too was killed by agents. You know a pathetic thing and how he has decided whilst they agreed that they are not going to talk to anybody about this thing, he decided to go out on his own to come and meet me in spite of the leadership agreement that they are not going to discuss this thing with people, but he decided to come and see me because he knew me very well.

POM     So the leadership of the ANC when you were appearing before the TRC and asking who was responsible for the killing of your brother, the ANC knew who it was?

JS     They knew. I don't doubt it, they have the answers.

POM     And they had instructed him not to talk to you?

JS     Not necessarily me but people of that category. But he decided, knowing me very well, he decided to come and I said, "Well that's fine", and I felt for him as an individual and I looked at it as an individual. He was trapped in a system and he asked me, "What must I do? What could you do if everybody says somebody is guilty and your forces are dying and you are at war, what must you do? I can't take a decision alone and ignore the rest of the people." And I said, "Well that's a trap and that is exactly what I'm trying to say. We allow ourselves to fall into these traps and are afraid to stand up and challenge things that are not right. We allow ourselves just to go because the group says that then we do it." So we spoke about that and I told him how I felt really strongly and how I was really angry because I didn't have the remains. Then he expressed that they are also agonising about what to do with the remains, how do they go about collecting all the remains wherever they have been and bring them here. They are discussing all those things. Or, should they go and build up monuments or shrines there? They are discussing all such things. Then I said, "No, but the problem with you, ANC, you are playing God. We are hurting. You don't involve us in those discussions. Now that you are saying that if you are true I am sure many of us will be very sympathetic to the problems that you find yourselves in. The problem with you is that you keep quiet and you are playing God. Do you think you and you alone must decide what to do? You don't want to listen to what we are saying. We could also make contributions, you don't know."

     That was a human plight, I could see, I could have been in the same situation and for that reason I just felt that no, no, no, I don't think I am now as angry as I was against him before I met him. It did quite a great deal that I saw here is a guy, anybody could have been in such a trap. It's like me getting to a guy who works at the gallows and saying why did you hang my brother. He is trapped, somebody has been sentenced to death and he must execute. That's his job. I sort of understood it in that perspective and it made it easier for me to say, well forgive this guy, they have wronged but well.

POM     But the affidavits of the two young men who came to you first, as far as I recall, had said that Timothy had been very severely tortured, he was almost unrecognisable.

JS     Yes. Then he said no, he's not responsible for that and when he saw him Timothy was OK when he left. If they maimed him it was when he had already left but he saw him as normal. I don't know. It's his word. So that's what he said and he said he had never given instructions that Timothy should be executed but he was found guilty by a tribunal that said he must be executed. He as an individual never gave that word and therefore he was bound by the decision of the body, the panel of judges there who said Timothy was guilty as a spy and that's how he looks at it and exonerates himself. He depicts himself like he was very fatherly. He just got in to come and tell, not only Timothy, young other people who were reckless and misbehaving and he approached them that way and that is as far as he knows Timothy's case, but he knows that he was found guilty and said to be a spy and beyond that point he had no control over anything. He had just to conform.

POM     He couldn't name the people who were on the tribunal?

JS     He was not prepared to name them, I asked him.

POM     But he knows who they are?

JS     He knows yes, but he was not prepared as a collective I think in their rationale that's betrayal because he kept on saying, "We are all collectively responsible and I won't pull out individuals and make them responsible. Who shot him I may know, I may not know." That's what he said.

POM     So he may know who shot him or he may not. He may know who sat on the tribunal?

JS     He may know.

POM     He does know who sat on the tribunal. He doesn't or he does know what evidence was presented beyond the wrecking of the vehicles?

JS     Yes. As far as he's concerned evidence beyond the wrecking of vehicles was some information that was not given to him but amassed and collected by another body that drew up the charges against Timothy, but the wrecking of vehicles is a connection to how they operated.

POM     They took that as an indication that you were part of the security apparatus if you were wrecking.

JS     Yes.

POM     So does he know who was on the tribunal that - ?

JS     He knows but he won't say who it is.

POM     In the end what I think I hear you saying is that here is a man who out of a sense of personal guilt or because he knew you from the past and perhaps because of the kindnesses that you had extended to him while he was on Robben Island, felt compelled to come forward and at least say I was part of the group that was responsible for the execution of Timothy. The ANC know all the people who were involved.

JS     Yes they know that.

POM     They know who was on the tribunal. They know who amassed the evidence that was the basis of the charges against Timothy and they know who actually pulled the trigger. They know whether or not he was tortured and they know who did the torturing, but the order is

JS     Yes, and they know where he is buried.

POM     They know where he's buried.

JS     But they won't tell.

POM     But they won't tell. So where does that leave you?

JS     Well there isn't much I've gained, there isn't much I've gained. My questions still remain unanswered. I have said let me have access into the records of the trial and tell me how it was conducted. They are not telling me that. Tell me, where is he buried? They are not saying that. And say facilitate that these remains should be sent back. It's not happening, it has not happened. So I haven't got a lot.

POM     So you are not satisfied.

JS     I'm not satisfied definitely.

POM     And you're not giving up.

JS     I'm not going to give up until I'm totally satisfied. For instance, all the allegations that they are saying, to me are just pure allegations that have not been tested. I would love those things to be tested in a proper way, legal procedural way. All the allegations heaped on him and others. It just doesn't make sense and I told him I don't mean to defend my brother, I don't know what he did but the question is you have got to question was it a fair trial or not, are those facts correct or just accusations, paranoia of the ANC that led to the deaths of people, like was happening here where many people were necklaced under the guise that they were informers when it was not true. So that's a whole lot of things that need to be proved and tested.

     The second thing, my dissatisfaction is that these two young people have not been called to the TRC to give testimony to the public and to say this is the side of the story we know, we were captives, we were there, this is it, all the accusations about spying are false and give reasons why. That has not been done so what's being projected? It's a vilification of the victims of these kangaroo courts that were taking place there and sad, one of them has passed away for that matter, one of my informants, young guy, Gordon Moshoeu, has passed away, it's about a month since we have buried him now. But it appears in the documentary (Kevin Harris documentary 'Unfinished Business' screened on SABC Issues of Faith) on his deathbed, in hospital, he continued saying all these things are false and he really wanted to accompany us to Angola to go and show us precisely the various spots. He was prepared, unlike the other one who feels a little uneasy because he's in the defence force, he just does not feel very happy about it and one can understand. I even took the trouble, I went to him to say don't feel guilty, if you can't appear in public or say anything it's OK, you told me, you've done your bit. I don't need more than what you can do. The other one passed away. So I am still like that, waiting to be told, waiting for an opportunity to go and look for the place. We tried to get in with Kevin Harris, it wasn't easy with the problems that are in Angola so we just symbolically went into Angola just to show them what I would have loved to do, scoop sand from the grave and take it back home. That was just symbolic, the actual thing has not been done.

POM     Is there a video of the documentary?

JS     Yes there is a video. Kevin Harris could organise one for you. I will also ask him at a later stage.

POM     OK. I'll be back at the end of March, beginning of April so I will talk to you longer. I want to talk about the whole land restitution question and what happened there and your new career as a budding parliamentarian.

JS     We'll see, we'll see. I still don't, I don't know that well, it's almost like I'm moving into the jungle.

POM     Get used to being in the jungle.

JS     Well it's a different jungle. We will see what happens there. I will be moving to Cape Town on Wednesday.

POM     Are you going to live in Cape Town?

JS     For the session yes. So I need to see how things turn out.

POM     I'm going to be there on Tuesday and I will just give you a ring to see if you have half an hour, you might be busy, it's going to hectic for the first couple of days.

JS     Because there are all sorts of arrangements, attending little caucus meetings, setting myself up. I don't know which office, getting accommodation. I want to run around like a madman.

POM     Now this is with the NCOP right?

JS     That's right, yes.

POM     OK Joe. Thank you. Thanks for taking the time.

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.