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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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: Diliza Mthembu
Human Rights Violations: Submissions - Questions And Answers
22-07-1997: Day 2
Case: Johannesburg Prisons Hearing
CHAIRPERSON: Now, ladies and gentlemen, all the time we are considering prisons in South Africa. We are now going to have an opportunity to hear what was happening in prisons or camps outside the country.
Camps and prisons that were manned by our liberation movements. We shall now call upon Mr Diliza Mthembu to come forward.
Before you sit down Mr Mthembu, can you take the oath? Will you take the oath or the affirmation?
MR MTHEMBU: The oath.
DILIZA MTHEMBU: (sworn states)
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much. Mr Mdu Dlamini is going to facilitate your testimony and I wonder for the benefit of the interpreters, are you going to give your testimony in English or ...
MR MTHEMBU: I will take English.
CHAIRPERSON: English? Thank you.
MR DLAMINI: Good afternoon Mr Mthembu.
MR MTHEMBU: Good afternoon sir.
MR DLAMINI: Before you share with us your experiences in Angola, I will first ask you a few questions which are going to set the background so that when you relate your experiences this house is with you.
Can I first confirm that you are with the SANDF as a Staff Sergeant based in Wonderboom?
MR MTHEMBU: That is true.
MR DLAMINI: When did you go into exile, what year did you go in exile?
MR MTHEMBU: I left the country 1976.
MR DLAMINI: 1976, and you came back in May 1990?
MR MTHEMBU: Yes.
MR DLAMINI: And according to your statement your father at that time was working as an MK underground?
MR MTHEMBU: When I left the country, my father was at home. He was working and he recruited many young MK cadres to join the movement.
MR DLAMINI: Were you recruited by him yourself?
MR MTHEMBU: I was also recruited by him.
MR DLAMINI: I am mentioning this because I notice from your statement that at some stage your father was accused of being a sell out?
MR MTHEMBU: That is true.
MR DLAMINI: And that affected also your career with the MK and your position at that time was the Chief of Staff?
MR MTHEMBU: Yes.
MR DLAMINI: But also I must say that not everybody within the ANC, believed that your father was a traitor.
MR MTHEMBU: I believe so.
MR DLAMINI: But unfortunately eventually your father was killed and according to your statement the ANC claimed responsibility for assassinating your father?
MR MTHEMBU: That is true.
MR DLAMINI: And that was a great concern for you and that is when things started going wrong with yourself as well.
Can you take us from there and tell us exactly what happened, which camps were you detained in and the things that were happening to you. Amongst others torture, assault etc, etc. And yes, I think you have got 15 minutes to relate to us so that you select the highlights of your experiences.
MR MTHEMBU: Thank you. Firstly I was appointed Chief representative of the ANC in Angola, that was in Bengela province in 1981.
I know that place very well. I spent the whole 12 years in Angola since I went there in 1976. In our province where we were, we experienced a lot of problems which are related even to the leadership of the ANC at that time, Mzwandile Piliso, Andrew Masondo and the likes. (Indistinct) Gaba who was the Chief representative in Luanda.
We had a lot of problems financially. I was a Commander and the Chief representative in Bengela. Problems emanating from transport. We were responsible for our boots which came from Europe or any other country outside Angola. I was responsible for the stores and everything.
Keeping our logistics, including arms, everything. And I think I had a problem with the leadership in Luanda because all the time I told them we don't have transport. The only transport we have here is wheelbarrows and a bicycle and they promised us transport. And the transport came, that was two landcruisers.
Then things started to change. They told me I should use that transport to our own benefit. Then I used the transport. Later they told me to take back the transport to Luanda.
That is where things started and then I told them that it is difficult for me to take this transport to Luanda, because in Luanda you've got enough transport and here we don't have any transport.
And then that is when (indistinct) Gaba started reminding me of my father, that my behaviour is in such acceptable, I should not forget that what my father did to this movement.
So when I tried to be disciplined, but I couldn't take it. Then I told them that I will never, ever do that, take this transport back to Luanda. I was working with Henry Manney who was my assistant and then one Saturday morning security called by the name Midumaleng, an African came to Bengela.
And they were with one Angolan official and then they told me that we are here to come and discuss the problems. Do you know this man, I told them no, I don't know him. And then I said my problem is I cannot discuss our internal problems with somebody outside the movement.
So maybe that made them to be more - and then they took us to prison. And then we were locked in one prison. But when we arrived at the prison, it was in Bengela, the very same guy asked in Portuguese asking Midumaleng, what now, what must we do.
What is it in Portuguese, these are contra-revolutionaries we have to lock them up. Okay, we were locked for almost I think three weeks. Sorry to say, the prisons in Africa, they are very horrible, the conditions are bad.
I started developing as asthmatic, which I am now and high blood. And then after three weeks, Africa came and told us the leadership wants to see us in Luanda.
Then from the prison we were taken out, straight to the airport and back to Luanda. When we arrived in Luanda, we were taken to a transit camp which was called Viala. Which was our transit camp where new recruits and so on are brought and processed until they are taken to their respective training camps.
So whilst I was in Luanda I think, the second day, the third day night, in the evening, about eleven, security guys of the ANC came to me and Manney and called us. then they took us out and we went outside in Viala, but we moved in the direction where there was this freight containers, containers which you used to put goods and then we were locked inside those containers.
No window, no ventilation. When it is cold, it is cold. If it is hot, it is hot in that container. No food, no water. Just once in the evening, we are taken out to go and do, help yourself and then come back, you are locked.
I think I stayed in that container for 28 days with Henry Manney and then after that, we were released. One day, we don't know, it was a surprise for us, somebody came and said just go out and wash yourself, it was daylight, round about one or past one o'clock. Then we went out and we washed ourselves but we realised that there is something happening here.
We discovered that no, the leadership had come and it was led by the late comrade Mapeqa. But since I was used now because I had no other place except that container, after washing myself, when it was beginning to become dark, I went to the very same guy and asked I am going back to my place because I don't know where I am supposed to sleep.
He said to me, no, you can look around where you can sleep because in Viala there are tents. So I realised no, there is a problem okay, I had to get ourselves a place where to sleep and we slept.
And then after some days, I think two or three, Captain came to us and said we must make a statement what happened. We made a statement of what has happened and then we submitted the statement, so we waited, waiting to be called maybe for a case or anything - only to found that we were found guilty and we were supposed to be sent into Malangi where we had a farm where we were supposed to go and wait.
I am not a farmer, I don't know anything about farms, I grew up in Soweto. Then I told him that no, I don't understand now, because you said we must write a statement and suddenly we are supposed to go to the farm. So this is how you solve your problems.
Then thereafter I said okay, I will go to the farm but there is no justice here. So after I went back to Viala then somebody came in the evening in the tent where we were sleeping, he told us no, you are no more going to the farm, you have to stay here in Viala.
Then I stayed in Viala until such time that there was this (indistinct) thing, where I would say 90 percent of our colleagues in the MK were sent to the Eastern part of Angola to go and fight Unita. (Indistinct) should understand this clearly, because fighting Unita for us - it wouldn't bring anything because those kids were supposed to go and fight against Unita.
Those kids who were sacrificed in my opinion, because the leadership of the ANC at that time, some of them went there to go and fetch their own kids, not to die there. So for us it was very, very painful to experience such a move, as a champion of liberation movement, of liberation.
So there was (indistinct) mutiny which we found ourselves involved in, where we go for the conference because the movement had - so many as the last conference was in 1969, and that was 1983, it is too much.
Because we felt that staying in the camp for more than five, six, seven, eight years, ten years, doing nothing, it is no use, no scholarship, nothing, that is where these horrible things we find rapes and so on and so forth, people killing local people and so on and so forth.
I would say after that, that is when things started changing and everybody was brought back to Luanda and I refused to be used as a Commander who will come, who will assist in disarming those comrades who were from the East because the problem was that those comrades were supposed to be disarmed and containers were cleaned and you could see that everybody who was involved would be disarmed and would be put into those containers and we don't know what will happen.
So, then I left Viala and then I went to a place where we were building, that is Moses Kodani Recreational Centre. I was working there with people like (indistinct) and most of them whom I came back with, but after some time, we went to hear the story of our own comrades who were from the East and what are their story and they told us we want just to go back home and fight the apartheid regime, that is all.
That is what we want. So the leadership said we must have a committee that we should elect and then we must try to talk to them with our own grievances, but in turn that committee was termed to be a committee which wanted to overthrow the leadership of the movement.
And I was part of that committee that was elected and then I find myself being someone who wanted to overthrow the leadership of the ANC, even including the Angolan Government, which was surprising.
And the next day, in the morning, after we made our committee, prepared our own grievances, we found that now things are changing day by day. The leadership had gone to an extent of asking the Angolan Government to assist them in attacking us very early in the morning with tanks and everything.
But because we were trained, we repelled that army and some of them find themselves in the trench with us, joining us, fighting against their own very same people, because we told them that this is an internal problem, you just have to keep away from it. We will solve it our own because everybody did not want to be disarmed.
We wanted to meet our leadership and discuss our own problems, but things were not on our own liking, then we were taken to Luanda Central Prison.
That prison also, it is horrible. Well, it is used for people who are counter-revolutionaries like Unita, (indistinct) which were put together there and then we stayed together there for a year. We were about 32, thirty men and two women.
I remember the number. In that prison, it is lucky if you had a plate or a plate of meal for a day. You are lucky. We slept sometimes without food and we were so skinny that I remember (indistinct). It was so horrible.
There is one guy who is called by Lawrence, I remember he brought us some biscuits. Those biscuits we used to call them in our camps soldiers' biscuits, which they were from Holland. And he ... (tape ends) ... after eating that biscuit, they were so very delicious and tasty, but what I noticed is that that night we never slept, we were discussing only about food.
Only food, because of those four biscuits. I remember one time I will never mention (indistinct), one leader from the ANC used to tell, when threatening some of us, he used to tell and see my boy, I will take you - when I will give you bread, you will think it is a cake.
Then I said yes, I am in a hell. Then after a year, we were visited by the late Chris Hani, the late - I forgot just the name - they promised us that we will be released and so forth. But only a few were left and then the rest were released.
It was me, Misotwala Simla, Kalakhan, Pedi, Mufondis, I think we were eight or nine. We were handcuffed the following morning, forced to lie on our stomach in the landrover and we could see now we are going to a place where if they give you bread, you will think it is a cake.
That is Quatro. Quatro is a number in Portuguese. We called it Quatro because we used to believe in our country we had a place like number 4. I think this is the place. So we were trying to hide when we talk about Quatro, other people shouldn't understand why we say we've got a place which is called Quatro.
So we were taken to Quatro and I never saw Quatro because I was laying in the landrover, just heard the door opened and what was most surprising was that the uniform they gave, was so dirty.
And then they told us that this is a hell of a place. You could feel - they just pointed to us, that is your cell. You don't look anywhere, you just go straight into that cell and you have to do that. So we went straight into our cells.
The situation was very tense. Others started feeling sick, headache and so on and so forth, asking the Commander in the door we want to go to the Clinic, I am not feeling very well and I myself and Jackie said I don't want to be the first to taste what is happening here outside, so we stayed, we said no, we are okay.
The rest went outside and then went to the Clinic but when they came back, it was a surprise. I just look at Misotwala on the eyes and then he told me, my friend, it is hell, we just have to conform here.
Then we sat down, then we discussed in the cell, trying to ask them what happened there.
MR DLAMINI: Sorry Mr Mthembu, can you tell us what was happening in that Clinic, why he associated it to hell?
MR MTHEMBU: Yes. I asked him what happened there in the Clinic, he said Botha are here, they gave him a cup of water. They were sitting in a bench, everyone was given pills and so on and so forth according to what he feels. Botha, they gave him very, I think, very little water to drink and then they were supposed to share it. Those tablets, others they give them six, four, five, it depends.
But Botha drank the whole water. He said to me, you know the warder there, I expected him to treat me, but he beat me up. And then after that he was asked do you like, what kind of drink do you drink, do you drink coffee or juice or tea? He said, no I drink coffee, I drink tea and then because that place was in a plantation, coffee plantation, you know, coffee stick, you can't break it.
You can't break it, that stick. They beat him with that stick in that Clinic. It was just a reception how we were welcomed. The next day in the morning, we were kept in the cell, you don't go out, you don't know any other inmates in other cells.
You just know the other person outside if you know his voice, then you can say oh, yes, that is so and so. If we are five in the cell or ten, if you have to stay for ten years or five years or six years, you will see only the face that you are with within that cell for that six years.
What was very painful is that outside, you heard only footsteps of inmates running.
MR DLAMINI: Sorry to rush you Mr Mthembu, bear with us that we are running behind time and we have got other witnesses. Can I check with you how long did you stay in the Quatro and what other things were happening there?
MR MTHEMBU: I would say I stayed in Quatro for four and a half years. For four and a half years.
Beatings in Quatro was an everyday thing. I remember when after a year in Quatro, we were taken out and then were made a crack force, our cell was a crack force because we were the ones who were chopping wood.
We were the ones who were pulling the water tank almost 10 000 to 15 000 litres and that tank, an ordinary truck if it can pull it for six months, it is finished.
But we used to pull that. When beating, coffee sticks, thick as this in a, I would say (indistinct), but we were used to make it to run, that tank. And mind you, that tank, we do it maybe twice, thrice or four times a day, going to collect that water to wash the uniform of the warders so that it can cook and they can wash themselves.
If they bring that drum, a half drum of water and plenty of uniforms because water was scarce for us inmates, we will drink first that water in that tank and then wash that uniform after we filled our stomach with that water.
You know, we felt relieved when it becomes darker because we know that at least at night, no one will come and open and come and beat us. But when it goes through the morning, it is hell. Everybody is awaken at five o'clock. You can hear that sounds of birds, very early in the morning.
And if you hear those foot steps of that warder coming to open the door, you know a test started again. It was so stressful for us, we couldn't - I remember when we said, you know this place, for us it is like (indistinct) because Mzwandile Piliso will come once in a year and then that is when you know that maybe some prisoners will be released.
And if he comes in your cell, and he greets you, then he goes out. No one is going to be released, you have to expect him again next year. And a year in Quatro, it is like ten years.
MR DLAMINI: So eventually, what happened?
MR MTHEMBU: There were horrible things that they did to me. I remember one warder by the name of Sonwabo - we went to chop the wood. So I happened to look around for a stick because we were using a hacksaw and it was very early in the morning, round about eight o'clock, just for looking aside, he beat me from eight o'clock until twelve o'clock.
Somebody beating you, even the peasants, local people complained about that you know, this is inhuman. You can't do such things to your own, own fellow countrymen.
You know he beat me until my tears went dry. I cried, I cried until my tears went dry. But I don't have any grudge against him.
Once he made me to propose a tree. In other words he was expecting me to propose to the tree as if that tree was a woman. Sometimes these things make somebody to laugh, but it is what we experienced. The worst part is that when I was interrogated whilst I was in Luanda is that I was asked about the activities of my father.
I used to ask myself why, why does this have to happen to me? You know I started hating my father. But when I was in Quatro, I changed because of the conditions.
I started at least getting a research, I said, no I must do a research about this man and make my own research and I happened to read the literature of the ANC. There is no tangible, concrete information about him. He is classified as an enemy provocateur.
Then I read volume 1 to 3 of (indistinct), that is where I got the truth about him and I love him.
MR DLAMINI: Can you tell us a little bit about what you discovered about him, your father?
MR MTHEMBU: I discovered he was a founder member of MK, he was in the first group that trained in China. And he recruited many, many cadres for our own liberation.
He contributed where he was able to contribute. He was one time the President of the ANC in the Transvaal. He was instrumental in (indistinct) those comrades who went and broke away and formed the PAC.
That was in Orlando, the communal hall. He was arrested many a times. I remember when we were small, but the things that our parents couldn't tell us the truth, what was happening until such time, 1976, we had to leave the country.
MR DLAMINI: Thank you, I just wanted to ask to get a gist of what you discovered about your father after he had been tattered and also my intention was to give us some feel of what was happening in Quatro camp and I know you had a lot of things to say about Quatro camp, but I think now we are quite familiar with what kind of a place it was.
And eventually, okay, another thing that I would like to mention from your statement is that each time there was a visit by a senior member of the ANC, things would change for better for you and then when that senior member had left, you would go back to the horrible condition you were in.
And in May 1990 you eventually came back. My last question Mr Mthembu, is that perhaps one may - be it naively - say because of the conditions which were prevailing at that time, suspicions perhaps were inevitable and yes, the kind of treatment you received is unimaginable.
My interest is now that you are back, now that things are normal, have you had time to reconcile with your colleagues that - look the situation was what it was at that time, even the State was using, was exploiting the situation to set you against each other and but now that things are normal, have you had time to reconcile with each other, members of the same organisation?
MR MTHEMBU: Firstly, I don't have any problem with the membership of the organisation as such. I don't have any problem with my colleagues, but I have a problem with the leadership of the ANC.
No one came to me, even after killing my father, no one came to me and say we have done this because of this and this reason. Up to today, I have tried my best and I don't know who must I reconcile with. I don't know who must I reconcile with because no one has come out and say we have done this and this and this.
And this is a very big worry for me and my family today, no one is here. They are living under I think, traumatic stress.
My mother doesn't want to hear anything, because my father was killed in front of her while I was not there, I was in exile. I tried to talk to them, I went for counselling myself. I have done everything for myself, I tried to for my family, but things have changed and myself, I don't want to - I want to be honest with you, I am very much bitter, I have got hatred, I don't have any hope.
I am helpless. That is how I feel. For the young guys who are working in Quatro, I don't have any grudge, because maybe myself, if I was in those, in their boots, I would do the same because they were young. You know sometimes using very, very young people to run an establishment of such, of such magnitude, it is very dangerous because you say this is, you call them by name, (indistinct) enemy agents and there is no proof.
So I don't have any grudge, but maybe they will think because this is the first time, but what I wanted to mention is that I am a victim of Commissions myself. I went to the Stewart Commission, no results. I went to the Squeea Commission, no results. I have gone to the Douglas Commission, no results.
I have gone to the (indistinct) Commission, no results and again I am here at the TRC - no results?
MR DLAMINI: Yes, one does understand and respect your feelings Mr Mthembu, I think they are genuine. And unless somebody comes forward and open up with you, you can't forgive. You can't reconcile unless somebody comes forward and opens up with you.
I am hoping that when you go to the next Commission, you are not going to count us there as no results.
MR MTHEMBU: Yes.
MR DLAMINI: Can I hand you over to the Chairperson.
CHAIRPERSON: Dumisa Ntsebeza?
MR NTSEBEZA: Thank you Chair. Diliza, as you've said you have gone to all these Commissions and I think today a lot of what you say is a matter of public record. Those Commissions have been published and the ANC have come to us on two occasions and we relied on exactly those Commissions to literally interrogate them at very great length.
So we are very grateful for people like you who have been very courageous especially in the context of South African politics, which will swing from one extreme to the other extreme, today you are a hero, tomorrow you are an enemy.
And a lot of people in the course of our liberation struggle have died, either at the hands of the enemy as perceived by those who kill them and or at the hands of the State which perceived them as enemies. People who testified before you, escaped the death sentence by the scrape of their teeth.
Those are people who today you have been protesting their innocence, they nearly died. And the executioner there would have been the State. And it was after an elaborate process of trial, but the one remarkable thing about what happened in Angola was that a number of your colleagues were tried and executed without even as much as a resemblance of a trial.
And I think it stands to the credit of the ANC leadership that they were able to admit this publicly when they came to us. It does not absolve them, but it stands to their credit.
But it pains us and our task is to make sure that things like that never happen again. Of course sometimes it becomes a cliche to say these things because there was (indistinct) and after (indistinct) you never thought there would be Ruwanda.
You never thought there would be Bosnia, you certainly never thought there would be Quatro. But we can only hope and we can only try and for us in the Commission it becomes a matter of great concern that after all this public acknowledgements by the leadership of the ANC and everybody else, there are still people like you who are bitter.
People who say I have not had an opportunity to be given the chance to say this is how I feel about the killing of my father, right or wrong. In the Commission, unfortunately we are not able to say whether your father did what they said he did.
And then my question would relate to people who are in the army. You are in the South African National Defence Force and there are people there, Andrew Masondo, Joe Modise and people who in some way or another, participated in trying to get to the bottom of what was happening in Angola in those camps.
What is the nature of your relationship for instance, quite apart from the fact that you are in the lower ranks and Andrew Masondo is in the higher ranks, is there an opportunity within the army where you are able to debate what happened in Angola? And is there a way other than maybe the Commission, in the army, are the structures there to try and deal with the realities that was Angola, right or wrong so that you can clearly have it behind you? Because it gives me a great deal of concern that you are in the same institution and you have a history of perpetrator/victim and you just go on as if nothing has happened?
MR MTHEMBU: I would say in the SANDF there is no such a state or platform. We are in the army together but we don't have any chance even to see the very same leadership you are asking me about.
It is remote for me, very, very remote. In fact there it is more difficult that you can, in a position to meet those people, unless maybe somewhere, or maybe at a function where you happen to find yourself amongst the people in that function, it is remote.
Really, I want to be honest there it is remote.
MR NTSEBEZA: Now, you said you have been to Commissions, no result. What sort of result would you expect from you having come to this Commission? What would you like to see happening?
MR MTHEMBU: As I said I am hopeless, I am helpless. I don't have any confidence to be honest, that something can be done maybe to help me or I have helped myself, I have gone to the counselling and the person who did the counselling, he told me, just told me that if you feel like crying, you just have to cry until this thing is out.
If you feel like speaking, you have to speak it out until everything is out. Then maybe you will feel better. That is how I feel now. Not to say that I came here maybe to send people to jail or what, I can't forgive but for me, it is difficult because I don't know anyone to forgive.
That is what is happening in that family, we don't know whom to forgive, we don't know whom are we going to reconcile with. As the Committee member said, Mr Mdu Dlamini, that maybe if someone can come and sit down with our family and then try to iron out some of the things, maybe we can forgive.
MR NTSEBEZA: Thank you Chair.
CHAIRPERSON: Diliza, thank you very much for coming to share your story with us today. Obviously your father was ... (tape ends) ... and went outside the country to join MK. The fact that you say that you are still bitter, you are still hurting inside, is also very sad, but I hope with constant counselling, you will come to terms with what has happened to you and you will find it easy and possible for you to reconcile.
And I think my hope for you, I think is also in the fact that you have joined our army during this transformation that we are going through and you must be proud that you will be one of the people who are going to change the image of that army from what it was formerly to become an army that we will all be proud of in this country.
That we will all feel safe that we are protected by that army and I think for me, there lies your hope. Thank you very much.
MR MTHEMBU: Thank you.