Preaching reconciliation has become part of my daily task,” Vusumzi Mcongo stated in a report made for the “Forgiveness Project” organization. He was arrested in 1976 for participating in a school boycott and imprisoned on Robben Island until 1990. After apartheid came to an end, he began guiding groups through the prison. But not all victims of the violence support the idea that the perpetrators should go unpunished.
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This densely populated district on the outskirts of Cape Town is called “Crossroads.” The name goes back to the road junction here where workers from a nearby farm built their dwellings in the early 1970s. By 1977, about 18,000 people had settled in the area; today the population has more than doubled. Because the area was not intended for Blacks, police used to chase away the residents regularly. Beauty Skefile, who lived there for years in a canvas shack, shares her memories.
We had to hide the shack every day and we had to keep on moving from the one place to the other. Because the police kept coming to find us. The did not want us in Crossroads. They said, Cape Town was just for the white people and we could not put our shacks there. They were always trying to chase us away.
Every morning we had to wake up and pull the shack down before the police inspectors came. Then we hid everything we owned beneath some rocks. This was to stop the police from destroying it all. Later, when they went away, we had to rebuild the shack all over again. We had to do this every day for about four years, because if the police found our shack, they just pushed it over and kicked sand over everything, trying to ruin it.
But then we had to move our house somewhere else, because the police would come back. They even came with their dogs. Sometimes they came during the day, sometimes in the afternoon and sometimes at night, many of them at once. When the police came at night, sometimes we were naked and we ran, just like that, because the dogs were running after us, running after us. We just had to get up and go, or the dogs would bite us. One day I fell and they bit me here on my leg. I was very angry, very angry, and I was crying, I was crying.
The dogs bit me two times. I don't know what we had done, that they didn't want to give us a place to stay, just to chase us with dogs. We could hear when they were coming, with their sirens going ‘whee, whee, whee.’ The first person who heard them shouted out, ‘Kubomvu,’ meaning ‘It is red, they are coming!’ It was a warning, us black people’s warning to each other.
One day five or six policemen came, sometimes even 20 or more. We saw them on one side and ran, but they came from the other direction. We ran away again, but there they were on the other side. The policeman in charge was a tall man with black hair and a long face, called Mr. Basson. We knew this Mr. Basson because he always came and he was always swearing and shouting at us. We were very scared of him.
The first time they came I was sleeping. I heard a big noise outside and people shouting angrily. When I went outside, I saw lots of people pushing Mr. Basson away. But the police came back, many of them, and pushed over the shacks with their bulldozers. They were much stronger than us, with their dogs and guns and machines. The dogs were more scary than the guns, because the dogs were chasing us and biting us. But after a while they left us alone.
They were trying to scare us. Once they put us all on many big trucks, government trucks. We were a lot of people but they were just pushing, pushing us onto the trucks. We had no time to grab anything to take with us. The truck traveled out near Stellenbosch, and the driver stopped to get petrol. We were in the back singing loudly. When the truck stopped, we banged and banged on the door. ‘What do you want?’ the man said. ‘We want to go and wee,’ we said. He let us out and we ran away and hitched back to Crossroads, all of us.
Oral history videos with former prisoners of Robben Island
“Forgiveness Project” organization website
After the Dictatorship. Instruments of Transitional Justice in Former Authoritarian Systems – An International Comparison
A project at the Department of Modern History at the University of Würzburg
Instagram: After the dictatorship
With financial support from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development
“Necklacing” refers to a particularly cruel form of lynching in South Africa. A car tire soaked in petrol is placed around the victim’s neck and set on fire. The process was first filmed on July 20, 1985 in a township near Johannesburg. At that time, a mob of anti-apartheid activists killed 24-year-old Maki Skosana, who was believed to be an informant. The pictures became a symbol of the violence in the struggle against apartheid. In 1997, her sister Evelina Moloko reported the murder to the Truth Commission.
“When I got to the grave site, when you look at your sister’s body, you do feel it in your own body. You feel something as a sibling. Then I saw her body. I approached her from the feet and I could identify the feet, I could identify her as my sister, but I could not see her face because there was a large rock on her face as well as her chest and I went around to try and identify the body. [...]
I discovered that all her teeth were missing and before she died she had 32 teeth, she did not have a tooth missing. She had a huge gap on her head, she was also injured and she was actually scorched by fire, but she was not really burnt. I realised that her foot had been burnt and she had been gruesomely hurt to death and I looked at her face and her face looked just the same as her son's face. Now, I ask myself as to why did they have to put this huge rock on her face and at that time [my friend] Silwana was crying. I had so much courage at that time, I was not crying. God had given me so much strength. Her legs were taken apart ... and I went into the nearby house to go and enlist some help. I asked for them to give me papers so that I could cover my sister’s body at the grave site. [...]
We made preparations for the funeral and there were rumours thereafter that nobody was supposed to come to the Skhosana place, that is my place, and whoever was seen getting in there would also be a victim of the same fate that befell my sister. Our relatives came to bury her and we were told that only as the members of the family we should attend. It was a very painful occasion.
We went to Natalspruit to discuss with my uncles to make further arrangements from the funeral. We went to the mortuary and we chose a coffin. As we were still making further preparations and we were waiting for the Government Mortuary to tell us as to when they had finished conducting the post mortem, then the owner of the mortuary phoned my brother at work to tell him that he had received a phone call earlier on that if he should bury Maki, they would burn down his mortuary and now he was scared to conduct the funeral or ferry Maki to the grave site. He wanted to draw back. He said we should see what we wanted to do with the corpse. He was no longer involved.
At that time we realised that the whole world had shut us out.”