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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
Name: Rokaya Salojee
Human Rights Violations: Submissions - Questions And Answers
29-04-1996: Day 1
Case: GO/0171 Johannesburg
DR BORAINE: Chairperson before I call the next witness I would like to address all the witnesses where they are sitting and invite them to move from where they are to the front rows immediately in front of the Commission. This will enable them to be much more part of the proceedings because I am afraid that our backs are to many of you. So if all the witnesses could simply move right across. There are plenty of seats in the first three or four rows so perhaps witnesses and their families should avoid sitting immediately behind these chairs otherwise they won't be able to see what is happening. So keep that free and just spread out. There's also space on that side if you don't feel comfortable where you are. Thank you very much, I am sorry to disturb you but I think that that's a much better idea. We are also grateful that the suggestion came from the Archbishop and myself. (General laughter).
If we are settled then I would like to call the next witness Mrs Rokaya Salojee, if you would please come to the witness stand. Mrs Salojee are you going to give your evidence in English?
MS SALOJEE: Yes.
DR BORAINE: Can I say a very warm welcome to you on behalf of the Commission. We are very grateful that you are willing to come and tell us about something which happened a very long time ago now but which was very alive in your hearts and mind and will always be. We are not sure if you have brought a friend or somebody with you, perhaps you can tell us.
MS SALOJEE: My niece.
DR BORAINE: She is very welcome as well. I am glad that you have got some support there and support from our own staff as well.
Your own story is a fairly familiar story in South Africa unfortunately. Already we have heard many stories of people who were detained, some of them lived to tell the story, some of them not. We will wait for your story, but before you do so I must ask you to please stand to take the oath.
ROKAYA SALOJEE: (sworn states)
DR BORAINE: Please sit and be very relaxed. On my right is Ms Yasmin Sooka who is going to help you as you unfold the story of what happened in 1964 I think it was.
MS SOOKA: In 1960 the first state of emergency saw the introduction of detention without trial. In 1963 detention without trial was made a permanent feature of our law by the passing of the General Laws Amendment Act no.37. This Act was passed after the killing of two people of the White race and the near fatal attack on three others by the PAC at the end of 1962. Under the 90 days detention legislation a detainee could be held in custody for interrogation until he had, in the opinion of the Commissioner of Police replied satisfactorily to all questions. If the Commissioner felt that questions had not been satisfactorily answered the detention of the detainee could be extended. The detainee was only permitted visits each week by a magistrate. Legal advisors were not permitted access to detainees. The detainee was also not permitted visits by anybody else. Suliman Salojee, known as Bubla, was the fourth person to die in detention.
By 1990 78,000 people had been detained of which 73 died. In 33 instances inquest courts had certified the cause of death as suicide. Of these five had allegedly been found to have jumped off buildings.
Suliman Salojee a 32 year old attorney's clerk was detained on July 6 1964. On September the 9th he allegedly fell to his death, 60 feet from the seventh floor office at the Grey's(?). Suliman was married to Rokaya who will now tell you his and her story. Rokaya tell your story slowly.
MS SALOJEE: I was married for two years and six days to be exact when he was detained. I don't know whether they took him from the house or from work because I was at work. In any case when I heard that he was detained I went to Grey's(?) building and they wouldn't tell me where my husband was. Only after a couple of days when I went back they told me that he is in Rosebank Police Station. When I asked for a visit I never got a visit. In fact in all the time he was there I got two visits. One was five minutes and the other one was ten minutes, or maybe a little more.
Why I asked for the first visit because I believed that he was sick. I also found it out accidentally because when I used to take food to Rosebank Police Station and I saw the policeman there he had a bottle on the shelf and I asked him, but he wouldn't tell me anything, so I decided to go back. Those days we had a trick to say if you want to know whether your husband is interrogated or not, or whether he is at his cell or not you should ask for the dishes and for his clothes.
So after about a week again I asked the warder there please man I don't know what to do because I've got no more dishes and I've got no more clothing because - out of winter. I think he slipped up and he said well your husband hasn't been here for over a week. After he said it he realised it and he even asked me please don't mention that because we are not in charge of the detainees, we are only to take the food in and the clothing in. So I asked him can you give me the clothing, so he said I can't give it to you because it's not clean. What I meant by that I knew exactly.
In any case I went back and I asked for a visit which they granted me. And apparently those days you couldn't get into the bus and I was a bit late and I phoned the security police to say that I am late I've got to take the bus to Rosebank and we are only allowed seven non-whites. In any case I got there and it was rather late already. When they opened the cell door I saw my husband had a patch on his head. When I asked him - I didn't even greet, I just asked what happened to you and this one policeman said that he bumped his head in the cell. So I said that's funny he must have been drunk because there is nothing else that's in the cell that you can bump your head on. They closed the door on me and told me to go away, which I did. I had no alternative.
I didn't even speak to my husband. All he said to me in Gujerati, is that I should keep quiet. He still wanted to speak and they closed the door because we were not allowed to speak any other language, but if you could speak Afrikaans you were better off than English speaking.
But in the end I went back again and I asked to see my husband again. And this time I had to lie, it wasn't a lie, it was the truth but I was worried to say that I am in financial difficulties and I need to see my husband to ask where should I borrow money. That was in Grey's building, they didn't immediately, after a week or so they allowed me. When I went to Grey's building there were eight men standing and he was standing in the centre of the room. When I got there they told me you've got five minutes to tell your husband what you want. They didn't offer me a seat, they didn't offer him a seat. I had to stand about three feet from him before I could speak. I couldn't ask anything, that's the only thing I could ask. Then he said ja I must go to the family and ask for money. And they told me that is all, I have to leave.
Then when I went back again they told me that I asked the same thing again that if I could see my husband, because I realised he was sick, they must have polished him up that day when they brought him there because I wasn't allowed to go near him. But in any case when I asked for another visit Colonel Clint, he's a late now, and he actually swore at me. I wouldn't use the language of course that we come there and make a nuisance out of ourselves. Our husbands that are detained are better looked after than them. He had (...indistinct) and he showed me where it pained. I said I am not interested in your health, I am interested in my husband's health. And he refused to give me a visit.
In any case I continued and then on the 9th I was getting ready to take food to the prison and I think it was just half an hour before I left, Swanepoel and I don't know the other members because they said they were Railway Policemen, and they said to me that you needn't go to the police station because your husband is in the hospital. So I asked them which hospital. They told me in Johannesburg Hospital. In any case I had my (...indistinct) and a friend of mine they phoned every hospital and they couldn't find any trace of him. So they went back to Coronation and said no he must be here, they said even if the king comes in we have to register the patient. Then came the Press people. In the meantime everybody knew what happened to my husband but I didn't because maybe I didn't want to believe it.
There was a Press fellow by the name of Terry. That was the last time I ever saw Terry. I was sitting in the lounge and he came in and he said to me Mrs Salojee I'd like a statement from you. So I said Terry how can I make a statement when I don't even know where my husband is. And I think he didn't think he said your husband is in the mortuary. He never went to the hospital.
MS SOOKA: Can I ask you mean the police themselves never notified you that your husband ...(intervention)
MS SALOJEE: The only time that they notified me was to tell me that my husband is in the hospital, that's all. But in the meantime he never ever reached any hospitals. How many days afterwards was - I mean he ....(tape ends).. a Press fellow told me he's never reached hospital he went straight to the mortuary. That must have been between nine and 10 I am not sure.
But in any case they came that night, the Special Branch and they told me that I should sign this document and if I don't sign the document they will not give the body. So I said I am not going to sign it. If you people want to keep the body you can keep it. In any case they eventually went away. They came the next day and they did send the body. I don't know who and all went and - you know when it's a Moslem the men take over and those days there weren't very many men around, it was political because people had left the country and things like that. But in any case I remembered very clearly the day my husband died, the day I buried him that was - I was in grief but this hurt a little more. I knew when I married him he was a political man.
There was a man by the name of Salaam Abram Myers. That night, the same night he (...indistinct) Verwoerd and he asked if you could (...indistinct) Verwoerd before they take the body or after. And whoever answered him said you can take the body with you and present it to Verwoerd.
In any case you don't feel lonely, you don't feel lost but after everybody leaves then you feel the pressure. Then the Special Branch came back to me and they said to me your husband has died but you are going to die too because you are going to commit suicide, and I knew exactly what they meant by that, because they told me they are going to take me to the Zoo Lake. I said to them you can't do any worse what you did to me, so it doesn't matter what you do, but I said in the meantime you get the hell out of my house. I don't know was the pressure too much or maybe they were shocked, it was not that I was a very brave woman, I was a very scared woman, and I think that I was so scared that it didn't matter what I said. Only afterwards I realised. Then after that many people asked me why don't I go away. I had a nervous breakdown and then I went and applied for a passport and the fellow that normally gives you a passport was Van Tonder. You have to see him to ask, he would sign your document, and I went about four times. The fifth time I went I couldn't take it anymore, and he said to me ah you are here again. He says we could make life easy for you but you are a very difficult woman, so I will not give you a passport. Actually I'll use the exact words what I said, I am sorry for being rude, I said you can give it if you want to give it, if you don't want to give it you can shove it. He pulled me over the table and I was so scared I didn't believe I could say a thing like that to this man you know sitting behind the desk. And he called immediately, normally when you go in you've got two guards at the bottom, they escort you to the lift, when you get into the lift you have got two others, they take you up to this floor and when you get up there you have got two others and they take you in and they stand outside, and these two armed cops came and they came and pulled me out and they told me to go. I went.
For many years they didn't just make my life miserable but they did my family too and especially my mother. They used to go there, search the place and leave it as it is and things like that. So that's why I never went back to my family because I tell - I lost my husband, if anybody has to suffer for him then it should be me, why bring everybody else in this trauma that I am going through.
My family was very supportive and a few friends I had they would do anything for me. But in any case it became so unbearable that I left my home and I went to board with other people. At that time it's very few people that would give you a place to stay. Immediately when you tell them that I am Salojee then they want to know which Salojee, and if you tell them that you were Bubla Salojee's wife they would say I am sorry but I cannot give you a place to stay.
MS SOOKA: Was that because they knew they would be harassed as well?
MS SALOJEE: That's right. At one stage I remember I didn't know where to go and I stood on the corner for about - I don't even know how long with my two cases not knowing where to go, and I landed up at a place that had no electricity, they had one toilet, six families that was sharing it, and I stayed there. Eventually when they harassed that man then I moved. I normally moved from one place to another as soon as people where I stayed got harassed I left and went somewhere else. At my workplace also when I went back after my husband's death my boss that was in charge of me he didn't tell me to go but he did make my life very miserable and eventually I couldn't take it anymore and I walked out. Ever since then it wasn't easy to get a job. I did odd jobs, I did dressmaking. I did whatever I could.
I remember Swanepoel coming again one day and he said to me that if you want to we can be very nice to you, we will offer you a house, we will offer you a car plus we will give you an allowance for the month if you could inform about the whereabouts of the communists. I said if you are a drinker you only associate yourself with the drinkers. If you are a communist then you only associate yourself with the communists, I said you can take your money and you can take your house and you can shove it.
MS SOOKA: So the harassment continued for many ...(intervention)
MS SALOJEE: Until the eighties I can say. I worked at a place in Industria at a shoemaker and that fellow he was also banned, he was also arrested and he left for overseas and he asked me if I could look after his business. I said yes I would because it's the first time that you would ever get a chance to go out. So he went out. Then the cops came there and they said I must close the business and come to John Vorster Square immediately. I said I will not go and the one fellow he tried to pull me over the counter and one of the Africans that was standing there I showed him - he went and called the neighbour because the shops were next to one another and I knew who they were because he wanted to pull me over the counter and push me in the car. It was three of them. My neighbour came and he said what's happening there and I said I don't know who these men are but they say I must close the shop, which was a lie of course, I knew who they were. Then after that they called me up after the man came back from overseas and I went to John Vorster Square where I used to go every month, sometimes twice a month, sometimes once in two months.
MS SOOKA: Why was this?
MS SALOJEE: Every time you go there they would put names forward to you, you've got to take out your identity card where you stay, where you work, what you do, whose your friends, that also I said if you are a drunkard you also associate with drunk people, if you are a church-goer then you associate with church-goers, I am a political person I associate with political persons, but you people can put all the names down I will say every name I know whether I knew or not because I am not going to say anybody specifically. And that was one of the worst days. Except one night when I went to a friend they chased me with a car. I was just lucky that when they went with the car it was go for me and it was stop for them and I went and lay on the stoep and they couldn't find me. When I came back that night my sister and a friend of mine was in the house, he was staying with me and this gentleman came and visited me, he was a friend of my late husband and will you believe it they gave him such a hiding that we had to call Dr Jessad who just stayed around the corner and since that day he never came to my house because they told him if he ever comes there again they would take him for detention.
MS SOOKA: So they tried to isolate you from all your friends and family as well?
MS SALOJEE: Ja. I am not going to relate the whole story but when they called me again they said that I should go after my boss came from overseas. When I went there they asked me a few questions, I didn't answer. I said whatever you people want to know you know more about my life than I know myself you know which time, which date, where and why and what, you people know more than I do so you should tell me, I've got nothing to tell. I said because you've got a dog that sits outside my door the whole day and the whole night so he's giving you all the information. You don't need any information from me.
MS SOOKA: I just want to take you back a little bit to just after the death of your husband, was there an inquest held?
MS SALOJEE: There was an inquest held. After he died they told me to go to the cell, to the police station and I went and got his clothing from there. The clothing he died with I don't know what happened, I suppose it was full of blood and they didn't want it to - they must have burned it or what, but the clothes that was in the cell that was in a paper bag was full of blood. There was so much blood that I actually didn't know what colour it was because it was so hard that it's gone black already. At the inquest when I did take that clothing the inquest lasted about five minutes and the magistrate, whoever it is, when I went up to the witness stand I could only mention my name and where I stayed and who was my husband. When I said I would like to say something, I'd like to know why was there blood on my husband's clothing, and the magistrate said "that will be all".
MS SOOKA: Are you saying that the magistrate didn't allow you to ask any questions?
MS SALOJEE: I wasn't allowed to ask any questions.
MS SOOKA: Were you represented by any lawyer at the time?
MS SALOJEE: Ja, Bizwa I was represented by him.
MS SOOKA: Did he ask questions?
MS SALOJEE: No he only asked questions what he was supposed to ask. I suppose at that time he also felt that he shouldn't ask too much because he was the only one out that could help us also if there was anything. I mean at that time I wasn't the only one that had suffered, but at that time I was the only one in that year that had somebody that has died, and he was really flooded with work but he was very helpful to me.
MS SOOKA: Tell me at the inquest did they produce any medical records, did any doctors see your husband while he had been in detention?
MS SALOJEE: No they say he fell from Grey's building that was what they actually gave the death certificate. They didn't say he hanged himself or he jumped or anything, but they didn't give me any medical record about my husband.
Because when I asked that I would like to see a magistrate to ask about my husband because I believe he's sick and then they sent me to Colonel Clint and that is the answer I got from Colonel Clint. I have never ever seen a magistrate or a medical doctor for my husband.
MS SOOKA: How old were you at the time when all of this happened?
MS SALOJEE: I was 26 years of age.
MS SOOKA: Tell me what effect has this had on your life?
MS SALOJEE: Well like I said I had a breakdown and it lasted at least two and a half years.
MS SOOKA: Do you receive any counselling still?
MS SALOJEE: No, but I do go to the clinic and I am still on medication.
MS SOOKA: Did you ever get a passport?
MS SALOJEE: Yes eventually after my boss came back, that was in 1979 they did give me a passport.
MS SOOKA: I know that you have suffered immensely and particular in the time when nobody would help you because to be associated with you would mean harassment for them, but what do you think the Commission can do for you?
MS SALOJEE: Well I would like the Commission to bring forward, I'd really like to know in every detail, from the time my husband, my late husband was arrested till the time of his death, what had happened to him and who had tortured him and they must be brought to book.
MS SOOKA: The Commission has to recommend a policy on reparation, is there anything that you would like to recommend to the Commission that they can do about people like yourself?
MS SALOJEE: Well like I say I have been unemployed for many, many years, not that it will help, that is the thing that you can never, although it's easy to say you must forgive, they say you never forget, but would you believe it now that we are in the new South Africa I still hate some of the Whites. I am sorry to say that, but that's how - if I see a White policeman I hate him. I've got many White friends but it's unfortunate that at that time you had informers, if I think back then I think I shouldn't hate the White man only, I should hate my own people that worked with the system because if my own people were not there I think so many people would have been arrested and harassed like Salaam Mayatz and them. If they didn't inform about us and make our lives unpleasant, like the late Mrs Mary Moodley, she was one of my great friends, and one day the same fellows, Salaam Mayatz stayed across and he knew, because he was not working he was sitting there the whole day and watching who is coming at that house.
One day I went there because she was banned and she said to me go and jump in the coal box, they had a big box that they put coal in, she said because I think this fellow is going downstairs because her husband used to stand on the corner and watch for us, her being banned she couldn't have more than two visitors, and in that house there were always people. She said to me go and jump in the coal box. Now I know when she said jump in the coal box so if they come and search the house they wouldn't find me in the house they would find me in the coal box.
MS SOOKA: And so they wouldn't be able to get there into ...(intervention)
MS SALOJEE: They wouldn't go into the coal box to go and see if there's anybody.
MS SOOKA: Rokaya you sound as if you have accepted, in a sense, the whole political life that you've led and other witnesses have said that they are innocent bystanders, you, however, in your testimony have said that you accepted that when you married your husband ...(intervention)
MS SALOJEE: No I don't because after I got engaged he got detained for 100 days, I think it was just two days after my engagement. I knew what I married. And I also know he used to tell me what you don't know you can't talk so it's better, we both can't be unemployed. So at least if I am unemployed then you are there. He always used to say pack my bag and keep it ready. After he was banned we used to have a lot of arguments because I feel he was banned and he used to leave the country to go and take people over the border. I mean people used to come to my house and then I knew they were going to the border. I used to get scared if they come knocking at the door and my husband is not there. But like I say, I was prepared I knew what I married. He also told me he said if I go to jail then you must make a life for yourself, and if you want to leave the country, if you want to take an exit then you should do that if it's your wish to do that. I didn't answer him but I knew at that time I had a family, I haven't got a father but I do have a mother, and she always used to tell me you must never leave the country because I will never see you again, with the result I never left the country until 1979 because I knew I could come back.
MS SOOKA: Thank you very much for telling us your story.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much Mrs Salojee. Any questions from the other Commissioners?
DR RANDERA: Rokaya how are you?
MS SALOJEE: I am okay.
DR RANDERA: Rokaya let me just say before I ask my questions that one of the events that made me think as a teenager, because I was a teenager at the time, was the death of Bubla. And I remember as a school student coming from (...indistinct) to your house and singing outside your house and you coming out just after the death of Bubla. I just want to raise two issues. One is you say Bubla was a political person, I wonder if you can actually just enlighten us a little more about that because that period as Yasmin has already pointed out was a very difficult historical period in our lives. Political parties had been banned, treason trials were taking place and here was a young man from a relatively comfortable family who was willing to make this sacrifice.
If I can also add my second question, you mentioned several times in your statement the name Swanepoel, was this gentleman implicated directly in the torture of Bubla, it's not clear from your statement? Secondly, was there any sympathy ever shown by the same gentlemen when they came to your house after the death of Bubla?
MS SALOJEE: Number one, no they were not sympathetic. Number two, at that time we knew that Van Tonder was in charge of the Indians, but he never tortured anybody. I don't know but I don't think so. But Swanepoel, like I say, if they go to Greys Building you are not there so you cannot say who tortured him. I can only tell of the event when they told me, Swanepoel told me your husband is dead now you are going to commit suicide at the Zoo Lake. So I cannot tell you exactly but I am sure at that time there are people that were alive and came out to tell the story, but I cannot tell the story because I wasn't detained to come out and say well Swanepoel has tortured me, because they wouldn't tell you who tortured your husband. They would normally change. You would have sometimes five people standing there in the room and questioning you because I used to go there, practically every month I had to go and report there they would question you and the next time when you go there again, you go to the bench you would find somebody else that you have got to register and when you go up to the security then there was maybe one person that was present that you know the last time, but then there were other people that you didn't know because they never introduced themselves. You had to find out for yourself who the people are. So there were so many changes that you eventually don't know how many names there are. Are there five, are there ten or are there a hundred, you were not sure, and that's - I was not sure but I knew that Swanepoel was the one that told me that he is dead, you are the next to commit suicide.
Like I said only those who were detained and came out can say who and who tortured them, but I cannot say. That is what I would like to know. That's why I have asked the Commission to enquire and find out. I can only give you one name and that's Swanepoel. From there I am sure you could get the other names. There are many people that were tortured and detained so they can give you other names. Eventually I am sure you will come out to the people that tortured Bubla because I would like to know.
DR RANDERA: Can you just say a little about what I said about Bubla's political involvement.
MS SALOJEE: I believe he took part from the passive resistance. And then he used to work for the Indian Congress. And then he used to work for the ANC after the ANC was banned or whatever. Then he used to go to the Transvaal Indian Congress and that's all I can tell you. Like I say at that time when I got engaged to Bubla things were only (...indistinct) in the sixties, and in '63 and '64 I think it was the worst period, that you were even scared to ask your husband that do you belong to this party or do you belong to that party, but you knew because the people that used to visit my house I knew that they were political people that came to visit me, like Cherise(?) Nullabai(?) Indress(?) and people like that - of course which you would know.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. Dr Magwaza and then Piet Meiring.
DR MAGWAZA: Mrs Salojee you mentioned that the clothes that were giving to you after your husband's death were not the same clothes he died wearing?
MS SALOJEE: Ja.
DR MAGWAZA: What type of clothes were you expecting that he would have?
MS SALOJEE: I was expecting - the clothes they gave me back, although I knew he was tortured, but I expect the clothes they gave me back that was in the cell they would have had more brains to wash it than just give it to me like that, but the clothes he died in I can believe because when you fall from the 8th or the 9th floor that there will be blood, but I didn't expect them to be so stupid, or maybe they didn't care to give me back the clothes to show me that we did kill him or whatever, or we did torture him whatever it be.
CHAIRPERSON: Professor Meiring.
PROF MEIRING: A very brief question Mrs Salojee. During this difficult time were you able to associate with other families who were in the same boat, did you receive encouragement or sympathy from other families.
MS SALOJEE: I was in touch with the Mandela's, I was in touch with the Sisulu's and quite a few Whites, Sheila Weinberg and Ilza and them. I knew 99% of the people that was involved in politics, Black, White and Indian.
CHAIRPERSON: Any other questions? I am sort of going to begin to sound like a cracked record with the needle stuck because I am saying to different people of course much the same kind of thing. Firstly we are enormously grateful to all of you who come to give testimony here to expose your pain to the public. We hope so very much that in that process a healing will begin to happen because the nation acknowledges that something did happen to you. As we are aware it is awful things that have happened on both sides. The person who preceded you is a victim of violence from the liberation movements allegedly.
But we want you to know that we will not forget the contribution that people like yourself and your husband have made to help bring us to where we are today that we can now sit here, that we could have our President come here and it be our President, where all of us were involved in his election. I hope it is some comfort ...(tape ends) ...make it possible for freedom to come.
We hope too that as you see the police being rehabilitated, becoming our police, that God will help you too, that that change there too can happen. I like your smile. Thank you very much.
I suggest that we break for tea. Will you please stand as the witnesses go out.
COMMISSION ADJOURNS FOR TEA