Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “Security Police”

Timol inquest deja vu

So yesterday there was this SB fuzz bloke giving evidence at the Timol inquest on eNCA Harrowing evidence at Timol inquest:

A former security branch officer has admitted he was part of a strategic unit tasked with spreading apartheid government propaganda.

Paul Francis Erasmus was stationed at the notorious John Vorster Square police station at the time activist Ahmed Timol died in custody.

And I’m like Wow, we knew all that was going on, but they would never admit it, even at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

Pau Erusmus, former SB man, giving evidence at the Timol inquest yesterday

One of the things he explained was how the police used equipment for giving electric shocks to people they were interrogating. They would wrap the electrodes in wet cotton wool and stick them in the detainees’ ears, and turn the handle to give them shocks. They referred to this as “listening to Radio Moscow.”

And my mind went back to Windhoek, Namibia, in the winter of 1971.

On 21 June 1971 the World Court gave a ruling that South Africa’s occupation of Namibia was illegal.

On 18th July, about four weeks later, the Lutheran Churches (the biggest denominations in the country) sent an open letter to B.J. Vorster, the South African Prime Minister, saying that they basically agreed with the World Court decision, and included a list of several of the bad things the South African government had done in Namibia. They also sent a pastoral letter to be read in all Lutheran Churches that day, explaining what they had done and why they had done it.

This was even more of a shock to the South African government than the World Court decision itself, because it was totally unexpected. The Lutheran Church was not seen by them as a “political” church, like the Anglicans or Methodists or Roman Catholics. It was a “good” church, which minded its own (spiritual) business and kept its nose out of politics.

So Vorster came to Windhoek to meet the Lutheran leaders and bring them back into line.

After the meeting one of the German missionaries serving with the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Pastor Hans-Ludwig Althaus, invited a number of people from other denominations to listen to a tape of the meeting of the Lutheran leaders with Vorster. Vorster did not know it was being recorded, and if the SB (Security Police) had been aware of the existence of the recording they would no doubt have confiscated it.

So we went, like Nicodemus, by night, secretly for fear of the SB, to Pastor Althaus’s house and listened to the tape.

The tape was quite fascinating, and very revealing. Vorster berated them for saying that the police were torturing people in Ovamboland, saying that this was a general accusation, and they should give him specific instances, so that he could deal with the rogue policemen concerned. Bishop Auala then named an
example, and Vorster said, “But that’s an isolated case.” Then Pastor Rieh, another German missionary,  astounded me by saying that they were not talking about isolated cases, but an apparatus, with which police stations were equipped, for giving electric shocks. Vorster rapidly changed the subject. I was surprised at Rieh saying this, and boldly too, because had previously struck me as a government yes man.

That was in October 1971. In December 1971 Pastor Althaus and his family were deported from Namibia, and returned to Germany. I think that was the first time a Lutheran leader had been deported from Namibia.

The Althaus family, deported from Namibia in December 1971

And, back to the present, here is this ex-SB man telling in open court, and broadcast on TV, about this apparatus, and how it was used  And he told us how they dealt with the “rogue policemen” that Vorster spoke of — they had a “sweeper”, someone whose job it was to make sure that these policemen never got into trouble.

And when he described John Vorster Square, the SB Joburg headquarters,  that was more deja vu. Actually his description left out some of the things that struck me most when I was called to see Lieutenant Jordaan in Auguat 1968. I had had an appointment to see a Detective Sergeant van den Heever at the SB headquarters at The Grays in 1966, but got on a plane to England instead, and so did not keep the appointment. The SB had moved, however, to its new purpose-built offices in John Vorster Square, where Ahmed Timol was held.

So I went to this new building in Commissioner Street, next to the new freeway bridge, and just up the road from the JMT bus garage. I went into the building, and looked at the lifts in the foyer, but they did not seem to go to the floor I needed to get to. I asked at the counter, and they told me to go down a little narrow passageway at the side, and there was another lift there, a small one. And it too did not seem to go to the floor I needed to be at, but they had said at the counter that I must go there anyway. So I pressed the button and the lift went up to the 9th floor, and when the door opened there was a bloke at a desk. He asked me who I wanted to see, and if I had an appointment, and he phoned and checked, and then said I must get back in the lift, and he would send me up to the 11th floor. So I got back in the lift,
and got sent up two floors — there was no way of getting there from inside the lift, it was controlled from outside.

There were more checks and I went down a passage with three hefty strongroom doors, and eventually I met Lieutenant Jordaan. He had my file on his desk, and it was about 8-9 inches thick. He asked me questions about where I lived, and who had access, and all the rest of the questions to be asked of a person for whom a banning order was required.

At one point he left me alone in the room whole he went out, and I wondered if they were watching on CCTV to see if I would try to open the file or do something with it, so I didn’t, but I did read the heading on the form he was filling in with my answers.

And zip back to the present, and from what this Erasmus bloke said in court yesterday, I’m pretty sure Lieutenant Jordaan did deliberately leave me alone in the room to see what I would do when his back was turned. So now, nearly 50 years later, we catch glimpses of what was going on backstage during the apartheid dog and pony show.

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Easy Rider through Western Transvaal dorps

Hat tip to spookyrach for the link. Unlike spookyrach, I rather liked the movie:

But as with the previous post, it brings back memories.

From 1969-1972 I lived in a kind of commune in Windhoek, which we called the Community of St Simon the Zealot. We sent an occasional newsletter, called The Pink Press to friends and well-wishers, and in one of them described an international tour (to South Africa, which at that time was trying to claim South West Africa/Namibia as its own, so we described it as “international” to emphasise Namibia’s separateness).

An Anglican priest friend, Tom Comber, then living in Oxford, England, wrote saying that he had enjoyed the description of doing an “Easy Rider” through the Western Transvaal dorps. I hadn’t seen the film (perhaps it was banned in those days), but after hearing of it from him, I always wanted to see it. But I only got to see the film many years later, when it was shown on TV quite recently.

Those were the days of ethnic cleansing in South Africa, and we went to a place called Morsgat (Messhole), subsequently renamed Madikwe because Cosmas Desmond, who was then a Franciscan priest, reported that the people who had been moved there lacked basic necessities like food and blankets. Cosmas Desmond wrote a book, The discarded people, which drew the ethnic cleansing then taking place to the attention of a wider public. The picture shows some of us on the road to Morsgat.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s my diary entry for Saturday 15 November 1969, our “Easy Rider” through the Western Transvaal:

We set out early in the morning for Morsgat, in three vehicles. Ted Goodyer, now deacon at St Martin’s in the Veld, was driving the Christian Institute’s combi, and Mary Davies and Richard Schaerer went with him. Shirley and John and Mark Davies went in their own car. Elizabeth Davies came with me in an Opel station wagon belonging to a woman called Amanda, but nobody knew her surname. We drove out through Blackheath, Tarlton and Magaliesberg, and at Koster stopped for tea and biscuits at the side of the road. Just beyond Swartruggens we turned off to the right along a dirt road, and about 25 miles further on we came to Morsgat.

Our plan was that the clergy in the group – being Ted, John and me, would go in to
distribute the food, while the rest waited outside. But there were a lot of houses in the process of being built, and a bloke came out of the building yard and gave every impression of expecting us. He said we were expected at the school, because that was where the doctor had gone last time. Earlier on the journey I had seen a police van go on ahead, and I suspected a trap, but the bit about the doctor sounded all right, so we went. The school building was in the shape of a U, and sure enough, the police-van was there, waiting. So I didn’t go into the school, but parked under a tree outside. The policeman came up and introduced himself as Sergeant van den Berg, so we all said good morning, and John asked him in a polite conversational way where would be the best place to distribute the food. This clearly embarrassed him, as he had obviously come to be professional and nasty, and he said in his best professional and nasty voice “Have you got permits to be here?”, and John said “We don’t need permits, we are clergy.” The sergeant was a bit taken aback by this, and took down John’s name and address, and went off somewhere, and a few minutes later returned with a Plymouth Barracuda with an SB man in it.

The SB man, Loots, was a real thug type. No flies on him, he couldn’t smile or be friendly if he tried. He went round demanding permits, names and addresses, and took all names and addresses, including the children’s. Then he insisted that Shirley and Richard and the children must leave and go to the Swartruggens police station, so they went off with the Fuzz, while we stayed and distributed the food after consulting with a bloke who claimed to be a headman. He and a few henchmen kept order, but eventually started using whips on the crowd. When it got too chaotic, we moved into the school, and distributed from classroom windows. The distribution of the food went off all right, but the clothes were an altogether different animal. Here, the majority of the henchmen tried to keep the best for themselves, and when we went outside the combi was almost mobbed. One or two of them were concerned to see that the old people got some, but the rest just grabbed for themselves. The combi was surrounded by about fifty shouting gesticulating people, and later John said he had seen nothing to equal it for sheer greed and grabbing, except perhaps in photos he had once seen of a scramble to buy shares on the Stock Exchange.

When the combi drove off I followed it a bit later, but it had disappeared, so I drove back to Swartruggens and found Shirley and Richard and the children. We stopped at a garage to buy some cold drinks, and then went back towards Morsgat to find John and Ted. Loots passed us going in the opposite direction, and looked puzzled. We drove about 100 yards up the dirt road, and stopped for lunch under some trees, and almost as soon as we got there John and Ted arrived in the combi. We had lunch there, and on the tar road I saw Loot’s car turn around. We thought he would come up to keep an eye on us, but he didn’t appear. On the way back, Mary rode in the car with me. We passed the place where Loots had parked, and Shirley saw him sitting in a tree, watching us from there. It seems almost as good as the story of Sergeant Ndlovu hiding in the butcher shop at Pevensey. In the evening Jill Chisholm, a reporter from the Daily Mail, came round to hear the full story of the day’s doings.

The following day we burned a lot of posters showing B.J. Vorster. It was part of an antiremovals campaign the previous year, and showed Vorster and a quote from him, saying “You must not try to take a man’s home away from him.” The picture shows Cos Desmond and Liz Davies throwing some of the 20000 surplus Vorsters on the fire.

When I saw the film Easy Rider I could see why Tom Comber was reminded of it. Some of the communities in the Western Transvaal are a bit like those depicted in the film. But those were not the people we encountered on our journey. Ethnic cleansing created its own peculiar society, and some of those effects linger to the present, part of the legacy of apartheid that we are still struggling to cope with.

London police guilty over Brazilian’s shooting

Is it safe to go back underground? If the terrorists don’t get you, the Metropolitan Police will.

London’s police chief defied calls to resign on Thursday after a jury convicted his force of endangering the public by shooting dead an innocent Brazilian on an underground train, mistaking him for a suicide bomber.

Police shot electrician Jean Charles de Menezes, 27, seven times in the head after he boarded an underground train in south London on July 22, 2005.

They had wrongly identified him as one of four men who had tried to attack the city’s transport system a day earlier.

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10-20-30

I’ve been tagged for the 10-20-30 meme by Matt Stone. It has to do with what you were doing 10, 20, and 30 years ago. My story?

10 years ago

Sunday, 26 October 1997

We went to Divine Liturgy at the Church of the Annunciation. They had moved back into the church, and the new ikons by Maria Manetta were beautiful. They seemed to glow with a light of their own.

That was from my journal. The Church of the Annunciation in Pretoria is the biggest Orthodox temple in the Southern Hemisphere, and Maria Manetta was an ikonographer from Greece who had just finished installing new ikons in the dome, and while the church was filled with scaffolding services were held in the hall (hence “moved back into the church”.

I was working at the Editorial Department of the University of South Africa, and was also working on my doctorate in Missiology. Our daughter Bridget had just gone to study theology in Greece (10 years later she’s still there, working on her masters).

20 years ago

Monday, 26 October 1987
I went to work by car, and read Orthodoxy and the religion of the future, which seemed to regard the charismatic movement as demonic and pagan, as Ann d’Amico does. In the afternoon I left work early and went past Bishop’s House, and lent Rich Kraft some of my Foghorn magazines, about Osborne computers. He said Pete & Isobel Beukes were staying with them, and were thinking of coming to work in Pretoria. I went to Makro, where I hoped to be able to buy a cheap microwave oven, but they were all sold out. I bought some envelopes and a tin of coffee instead. We had letters from Theophilus Ngubane and Nora Pearson. Theophilus said that several clergy were leaving Zululand diocese, including the new dean, Father Kow. It sounded quite sad. In the evening I took Bridget to the junior school choir at DSG.

That was my journal entry. Rich Kraft was the Anglican bishop of Pretoria, whom I had known for many years, since he had been university chaplain when I was a student. Pete Beukes was an Anglican priest from Zululand as was Theophilus Ngubane, and Pete’s wife Isobel had been a fellow-student with me at the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg. DSG was St Mary’s Diocesan School for Girls in Pretoria, where our daughter Bridget was in Standard III (Grade 5).

I was working in the Editorial Department at the University of South Africa, and we were about to be received into the Orthodox Church (on 8 November).

30 years ago

Wednesday 26 October 1977

Someone phoned from the Archbishop’s office in Bishopscourt, saying that Cathy Thomas, of the Daily News, was asking what was happening with the SB and the church in Utrecht. I explained that the papers had published half the story, in relation to the opening of my letter to Lawrence Wood by the Department of the Interior, and so I thought they should have the full story, at least as far as I knew it, to keep the record straight. I also had a letter today from the Secretary for the Interior, saying that my application for the renewal of my passport had not been successful. The letter was dated 7 October, and thus after my letter to Lawrence Wood had been opened by the Department of the Interior, so I can only conclude that if one wants a passport, one does not write to opposition members of parliament. I sent a photostat of the letter from the Secretary for the Interior to Lawrence Wood for his information, but felt that he would not do much, as there is to be a general election at the end of November, and he will not be standing, but will be stepping down for his son Nigel, who will stand for the New Republic Party in his place. I don’t think the New Republic Party stands much of a chance in the election. They are too new as a party, and will not have had time to get themselves organised. Wynand Rautenbach is the local leader in Melmoth, and Doris Leitch is also involved, but they did not seem to be at all well organised, and the announcement of the general election had obviously caught them on the wrong foot.

I had recently moved from Utrecht to Melmoth in Zululand, where I was Rector of All Saints Anglican Church, and Director of Training for Ministry in the Anglican Diocese of Zululand. What had happened in Utrecht was that one of our churches had been closed at gunpoint my a Mr Klingenberg of Commondale, who owned the land on which the church stood, apparently at the behest of the Security Police, who had also hired a Mocambiquan refugee to spy on us. Lawrence Wood was an opposition MP for Berea, formerly of the United Party, which had just become the New Republic Party, and was virtually wiped out in the elections, and it disappeared from the political scene soon afterwards.

I tag Dion, David and the Young Fogey.

Jean Charles de Menezes exonerated

A report of the British Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), just released, has finally refuted all the rumours that Jean Charles de Menezes, shot by police officers at Stockwell underground station two years ago, was in some way responsible for his own death.

These rumours, spread by the police and the media, were that de Menezes had behaved suspiciously, or was dressed strangely, or had failed to stop after a police warning. The report, after an exhaustive examination of the evidence, shows that he did nothing whatever to cause the police to shoot him, and that nothing he had done or not done had contributed in any way to his death. There was nothing that he could have done to avoid his death, which was caused by circumstances entirely beyond his control.

There were several disturbing features of the report.

One was that a police press release had said that de Menezes had failed to stop after a warning. It turns out that this item of disinformation was routinely inserted in such press releases by the person who compiled them, regardless of whether they were true or not.

These were the same police sources that were urging the need for 90-day detention. It is yet another sign that Blair/Brown’s Britain is more and more coming to resemble Vorster’s police state in South Africa in the 1960s.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Having read a great deal about Pan’s Labyrinth on other blogs several months ago (for example Theofantastique), I had to wait impatiently for it to be released in South Africa, and wondered if it ever would be.

I finally got to see it last night, and it lived up to expectations. Even my wife enjoyed it, and she is not normally a fan of horror films, and this one, as those who have seen it will know, is a blend of fantasy, horror, and stark brutal realism.

It probably had a greater impact on me because I’m in the middle of reading George Bizos’s Odyssey to freedom, a memoir of his time as a human rights lawyer in the apartheid era. Pan’s Labyrinth is set in Spain in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, where Franco’s fascist forces are mopping up the remaining groups of Republican insurgents hiding out in the woods.

The villain of the film, Captain Vidal, could stand in for just about any of the police witnesses that George Bizos had crossexamined in court, when any evidence of torture of political detainees was denounced by prosecutors, and sometimes by the flagrantly biased judges, as attempts to besmirch the good name of the South African Police.

I wonder if the release of the film in South Africa wasn’t timed to coincide with the release of Bizos’s book. In the torture scenes in the film I kept thinking of the lonely death of Steve Biko, or the defenestration of Phakamile Mabija, a church youth minister who was being interrogated by the Security Police in Kimberley. The day we heard the news of his death, I was with a group of people who were saying Anglican Evening Prayer, and the Psalm set for the day was Psalm 94, which seemed most appropriate, especially verses 20-21:

You never consent to that corrupt tribunal
that imposes disorder as law
that takes the life of the virtuous
and condemns the innocent to death.

About 10 years ago I tried to write a children’s fantasy novel set in the apartheid era, with a similar blend of fantasy and reality. It wasn’t very good, and was probably too dark for a children’s novel, so I abandoned it. But one thing different about Pan’s Labyrinth was that the this worldly and other worldly realms appeared to have different agendas, which coincided quite coincidentally, as when the little girl’s ailing mother gets better following the advice of the faun who sets her tasks for the other world. In this there are echoes of Narnia, where the young Digory Kirk is seeking an apple from Eden to heal his sick mother.

But there are also sharp contrasts with Narnia. In Narnia the faun, Tumnus, regrets and repents of his role as a Security Police informer, and ends up being detained himself, but in Pan’s Labyrinth the faun turns out to be not much different from Captain Vidal, demanding unconditional obedience in the same terms and in the same tone of voice.

I go out to see films about once or twice a year, and Pan’s Labyrinth was well worth seeing. Thanks to all my blogging friends who wrote reviews of it and made me want to see it. If it weren’t for that I would probably have missed it.

The martyrs of Epinga

Persecution and the suffering church –

Ovamboland, Namibia

On Sunday 30 January 1972 the congregation of St Luke’s Anglican Church, Epinga, was coming out of church after Mass. Epinga is about 30 miles east of Odibo, where the main Anglican Church in Ovamboland is situated. While going from the church, members of the congregation were accosted by a police patrol, and were told they were not to attend any meetings. They scattered into the bush, and then when the police vehicles had departed, they came back together again asking what it was all about when police on foot surrounded them.

They were searched for weapons and one young boy aged about 18 was carrying a walking stick. The chief of the police began poking a stick into his face and shouting at him. The boy lifted up his arms to ward off the blow, whereupon the policeman shot him through the head. The whole patrol then opened fire, and shot at him until his skull was a bloody pulp. Seeing this the congregation fled, and several of them were shot as well. Four died instantly, and another is said to have died later in hospital.

Those who died are: Thomas Mueshihange, Benjamin Herman, Lukas Veiko, Mathias Ohainenga. The wounded were Seimba Musika, Phillipus Katilipa and Kakaimbe Hidunua. The parish priest still had some fragments of the skull of the boy who was first shot in the vestry of the church. In the early church too, it was the custom to bury the bones of the martyrs who had died for Christ under the altar of the church, and to erect churches on the tombs of the martyrs.

At the inquest into the deaths, the police said they had been attacked by a group of 100 Ovambo armed with axes, pangas, bows and arrows (the Rector of the parish said they were armed with Bibles, prayer books and hymn books). The police also said that after making “exhaustive inquiries” they had been unable to identify any of the dead except Benjamin Herman. Almost all the affidavits at the inquest were from the police, and those of non-police witnesses (who were wounded) attest to the fact that the congregation was not armed. The inquest magistrate found that the police had opened fire “in the execution of their duty”.

The Archdeacon of Ovamboland compiled a list of the names of the dead and wounded, together with their next-of-kin (the spelling of the names above may not be correct, as they were transmitted orally, by telephone).

The circumstances

The Rector of St Luke’s, Epinga was the Revd Stephen Shimbode The Archdeacon of Odibo was the Ven Philip Shilongo, of St Mary’s, Odibo. The Archdeacon of Ovamboland was the Ven Lazarus Haukongo, who had been Rector of the Parish of Holy Cross, Onamunama, which was close to Epinga. Most of the Anglican parishes in Ovamboland were among Kwanyama-speaking people, and were stretched out eastwards from Odibo along the border with Anglola, at intervals of about 10 kilometres.

Kwanyama-speaking people lived on both sides of the border, and many Anglicans lived to the north, in Angola, and until this time the crossed the border to attend church services. Most of the church buildings were no more than half a kilometre from the border fence.

A short time before this incident the South African government had declared a state of emergency in Ovamboland, which prohibited meetings. There was no time for news of this proclamation to have reached ordinary churchgoers in Ovamboland, so the members of the
congregation were almost certainly not aware of it.

There are various possible conclusions that one can draw from the inquest.

One is that the magistrate was either under the control of, or intimidated by the police, and saw it as his duty to exonerate them no matter what, and that he therefore either did not either ask for or consider evidence from all sides, and that the verdict was therefore a cover-up.

Another is that the magistrate was aware of what had happened, and that he considered that it was the duty of the police to shoot church congregations.

The brief report above was one that I compiled shortly after the events described, which were one of my closest encounters with persecution in which people were actually killed. A month after that I was deported from Namibia, along with the bishop, Colin Winter, the diocesan secretary, David de Beer, and a teacher, Toni Halberstadt.

No, it didn't quite happen like this in Ovamboland, this picture was taken in Mexico. But the circumstances are similar. If the people who died at Epinga had not gone to Mass, they might still be alive today. For the Mexican story, read "The power and the Glory" by Graham Greene.

No, it didn’t quite happen like this in Ovamboland, this picture was taken in Mexico. But the circumstances are similar. If the people who died at Epinga had not gone to Mass, they might still be alive today. For the Mexican story, read “The power and the Glory” by Graham Greene.

I thought the story of the Epinga martyrs deserved to be told, but the Anglican Church in Southern Africa was strangely reluctant to hear the story of its own martyrs. It honoured contemporary martyrs in Uganda, such as Yona Kanamuzeyi, in the church calendar, but not its own martys in Epinga. It dishonoured those who were imprisoned for their faith in South Africa and Namibia and other places by removing the feast of St Peter’s Chains (August 1) from the church calendar. So I thought I should tell their story here.

And since a blog is a journal of sorts, I reproduce my journal for 28 February 1972, which was the day on which I first heard of the events at Epinga a month earlier. It was my last official duty in the Anglican Diocese of Damaraland (as the Diocese of Namibia was then known) — to represent the Anglican bishop, Colin Winter, at the uniting synod of two Lutheran Churches in Namibia — the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Ovambokavango Church. We had received our deportation orders over the weekend, so the bishop was unable to attend himself. And deportation was itself persecution of a sort.

Monday, 28 February 1972

Early in the morning I went to the bishop’s house to fetch Philip Shilongo and Erica Murray to go to the Lutheran Synod at Otjimbingue. Erica came out alone, and said Fr Philip had not returned home last night, and said she thought he had been going round Katutura getting up a petition for the removal of the dean. We drove past Katutura to go to Abraham Hangula’s new house, but we found Fr Philip walking down the road, and he got in the car and came with us.

We were driving in the blue Combi, and refuelled at Okahandja, and got some road maps for Erica so she could see where we were going. We arrived about 10:00, and went and talked to Pastor Wessler. The bishop wanted us to discuss the whole situation in Ovamboland with the aim of issuing a joint statement on it, as Nangutuuala had asked him to do. Unfortunately the Ovambo delegates to the synod had not yet arrived, so we could only meet with the Evangelical Lutheran Church people.

Fr Philip told us what had happened at Epinga on January 30th at Fr Shimbode’s church, St Luke’s. He said that after Mass that Sunday, at about 1:00 in the afternoon, the congregation was coming out of the church, and a patrol, whether of police or army he could not find out, told the people coming out of church that they were not to hold any meetings. The congregation scattered into the bush, and when the lorries had driven off, they came together and began to discuss the incident, and asked each other what it was all about. Then the patrol surrounded them, and searched them for weapons. One boy, aged about 18, had a walking stick, and the leader of the patrol began shouting at him, and poked a stick in his face. The boy lifted his arms to ward off the stick, and the captain shot him with his revolver. Then the whole patrol opened fire, and shot his head to pieces. The congregation scattered again, and three of them were shot dead, and two or three more seriously wounded. One of the injured ones died later in hospital. One of the others had serious brain injuries, and they did not expect him to recover. Fr Shimbode still had some of the bones from the shattered skull of the boy who was shot first in the vestry of the church.

So lie in honour the bones of the martyrs who by the blood of their necks have borne
witness to Jesus, and to their faith in the kingdom of God; they shall shine like stars and move like sparks through the stubble, and their Lord will receive them with honour in his kingdom.

Some of the Paulinum students, who had worked at the Oshakati hospital during the vac, testified to the admission of people from that area who had been shot, and the numbers tallied. They also knew of others who had been shot on other occasions, but we did not know why, or the circumstances of the shootings.

We had lunch with the students and I met Miss Voipio, who wrote the booklet about the contract system. After lunch we returned for more discussions, and then had tea with Pastor Sundermeier and Pastor Kaipianen and Miss Voipio. Dr Sundermeier was now teaching at Mphumulo in South Africa, but had come up for the synod where the two Lutheran churches were uniting. After tea I phoned the Daily Mail, and had great difficulty in getting through, the dictate typist told me to hang on, and then cut me off, and then after three minutes I began to dictate the story, what Fr Philip had told us. I had just got to the part where I said “four people were shot dead” when we were cut off. I rang the operator at Karibib, and she said Windhoek had cut us off — there was a strict limit on trunk calls of six minutes, and there was nothing she could do about it. I had visions of what might happen with half a story like that going around, and told her it was a very important call, and did an excited Smitty act with her, but it made no difference. Later I talked to Father Kangootui, who had also come for the synod, and told him about our deportation.

The synod followed, and the opening session was a service, with a sermon preached by Habelgaarn, the guy from the Lutheran Church in South Africa. Bishop Auala presided over the first session of the synod then, which was greetings from other bodies and churches, and I represented the bishop in bringing the greetings of the Anglican Church.

Afterwards I met the combined church board with Fr Philip, and told them again what we knew of the situation in Ovamboland, but the Ovamboland people — bishop Auala and company, were stalling. They were sympathetic, but not interested. We went on till after 11:00, and there was no conclusion. Afterwards Pastor Maasdorp and Pastor Rieh came and apologised to me for the meeting, and both seemed terribly embarrassed by the prevarication of the delegates from the Ovambokavango Church. They felt they had let us down, but it wasn’t their fault at all. Then Pastor Diehl also came and apologised, and he too was embarrased by it all. Two delegates from the German Lutheran Church had earlier expressed support for us in the action we were taking against Dahlmann. We drove back to Windhoek, and after we reached the tar at Wilhelmstal, I stopped to let Erica take over. I went to sleep in the back, and Fr Philip acted as kudu observer, and there were many kudus on the road, all bent on suicide. We got back to Windhoek after 2:00 am, and I drove the Combi back to the hostel, feeling dead beat.

Some explanatory notes:

  • Daily Mail – I was a stringer (correspondent) for the South African Morning Group of Newspapers, and so regularly sent news reports to them. But the story of the Epinga martyrs was never published, except for the distorted account of the inquest. That is one reason why I thought it should be told here.
  • Smitty – was J.M. Smith, one of the craziest journalists in Namibia, whose legendary encounters with the Namibian telephone system were repeated years afterwards.
  • Dahlmann – another journalist, Kurt Dahlmann, editor of the Allgemeine Zeitung, who had been a Luftwaffe pilot in World War II. The Allgemine Zeitung under his editorship was an ultra-rightwing, almost neo-Nazi paper, which had recently published several slanders against Christian leaders in Namibia.

This post is part of a , in which several bloggers blog on the same topic on the same day. In this case the topic is “Persecution and the suffering church”. Below are links to the other blogs with posts on this topic.

Mugabe, Verwoerd and Human Rights Day

Today is Human Rights Day in South Africa.

It commemorates the massacre of a group of peaceful protesters outside a police station in Sharpeville, near Vereeniging, on 21 March 1960. The protesters had gone to the police station without the passes that blacks had to carry on them at all times, and ask to be arrested for not having a pass. The campaign was started by the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC).

A couple of days later a young PAC leader, Philip Kgosana, led a march of 20000 people into the middle of Cape Town. There was a strong police presence, and after discussions with the senior police officer present, Philip Kgosana led the 20000 protesters peacefully back to the townships. The National Party cabinet was furious, because there had been no bloodshed. They wanted another massacre like Sharpeville, and the career of that police officer was ruined as a result.

There was a storm of protest from the leaders of other countries over the Sharpeville massacre, and one of Dr Verwoerd’s favourite mantras at the time was “we will not tolerate any outside interference in our domestic affairs.”

This was trotted out whenever other countries, especially those in Western Europe and North America, criticised the policy of apartheid, or the use of violence against political opponents, as at Sharpeville massacre.

Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has been uttering the same mantra for the last few years, and his policies look more and more Verwoerdian, with the violent suppression of political opposition. He has had as many Sharpevilles as Dr Verwoerd ever had, if not more. For years Zimbabwean refugees in South Africa have been telling how they have been beaten up by the police, had their homes burnt down or demolished and worse. Until recently this happened mainly to the less prominent opponents of the government. The beating up of Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the parliamentary opposition, puts it on a different level. In Verwoerd’s South Africa, opponents of the National Party regime were beaten up, detained without trial, banned, banished, exiled, and sometimes killed. And the response to criticism of this from the USA or Europe was, “We will not tolerate any outside interference in our domestic affairs.”

A cartoon in the Johannesburg Star of 2 April 1960 showed Dr Verwoerd surrounded by a group of world leaders preparing to throw stones at Verwoerd, with a Sharpeville label round his neck. There is an anonymous USA figure, with a label of “Little Rock, negro lynchings, Ku Klux Klan”, Nehru of India with the label “Kashmir”, Krushchev of the USSR with the label “Hungary”, and Nkrumah of Ghana with the label “prison for political opponents”. And the caption is, “‘He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone…’ St John, Chapter 8”

Today Mugabe is taking a similar line, and it could be argued that the other world leaders have more blood on their hands than those of 1960. The US government was not itself responsible for the Ku Klux Klan or lynchings, but it is responsible for Guantanamo Bay and the endemic violence in Iraq, which is worse than anything taking place in Zimbabwe, a state of affairs for which Tony Blair of the UK is equally responsible, along with the continuing human rights violations in Kosovo. Tony Blair indeed wanted to introduce 90-day detention in Britain, as was done in South Africa under Verwoerd, and was lauded by the British media for “taking the moral high ground” in doing so — how the mighty have fallen! They certainly have no room to point fingers at Mugabe, but neither does Mugabe have any room to point fingers at them. Mugabe and his detractors are indeed birds of a feather. But the behaviour of other world leaders does excuse Mugabe for the human rights violations that are taking place in Zimbabwe.

Where the situation differs is that South Africa did not get into serious foreign military adventures until after the death of Verwoerd.

What brought Zimbabwe to its present state?

The main cause was, ironically, its interference in the domestic affairs of the Democratic Republic of Congo, when Mugabe sent troops to support one of the factions in the civil war raging there in the 1990s. Zimbabwe could not afford this, however, and the result of the foreign military adventure was a critical shortage of foreign exchange. This led to a shortage of fuel, which disrupted imports and exports. Zimbabwean businesses that relied on imports and exports began to go bankrupt, unemployment rose, and the urban workers, in particular, became disgruntled with Mugabe’s government. The opposition coalesced in the movement for Democratic Change, which derives its main support from the urban workers, much as Cosatu does in South Africa.

Mugabe saw the writing on the wall when he lost a referendum that would increase his executive powers as president. He adopted a two-pronged strategy to win back his lost electoral support: intimidate the urban workers, who were unlikely to switch to supporting him, and bribe the rural peasants. The bribe he could offer the rural peasants was agricultural land owned by commercial farmers, most of whom were white. Farms were expropriated and redistributed to ZANU-PF supporters, or potential supporters, to win back their support at the polls. The farm workers for the most part were evicted, and lost not only their jobs but their homes.

The resulting disruption to agricultural production meant a further dramatic drop in export earnings, which exacerbated the foreign exchange crisis. There was even less money to buy fuel, which meant it was more difficult to export the dwindling cash crops. Maize production also dropped, and Zimbabwe hd to import maize to feed its population, whose army of unemployed was growing and couldn’t afford to buy the maise at ever increasing prices. Thousands of Zimbabweans have emigrated as political and economic refugees to other countries, including South Africa, where many have taken to a life of crime.

People sometimes talk of economic sanctions on Zimbabwe, but that would make no difference at all. Economic sanctions imposed from outside could not possibly harm the economy of Zimbabwe any more than the policies of Mugabe’s government has done. Mugabe has already imposed the most effective sanctions himself.

Some have suggested that the South African government should “do something”, but it is difficult to see exactly what it could do. It could, possibly, emulate George Bush, and send in the army to bring about “regime change” as Bush did in Iraq. But the result of the Iraq adventure is not very encouraging. Life in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, bad as it was, was nothing like as bad as life in Iraq is under George Bush. There is no reason to believe that Zimbabwe would be any better.

And the South African government is divided on the issue. The South African government is a tripartite alliance of the ANC, Cosatu and the Communist Party. Cosatu and the Communist Party have protested vociferously about human rights violations in Zimbabwe, because it is their class allies, the urban workers, who are suffering most under Mugabe’s regime. A Cosatu delegation to Zimbabwe was turned back at the Harare airport, with minimal protest from the ANC.

And the spectre of Zimbabwe looms over the tripartite alliance: if Cosatu and the Communist Party split from the ANC, they could very soon find themselves in a similar position vis-a-vis the government as the MDC does in Zimbabwe. Some have suggested that there should be a break, with the Thatcherist ANC and the socialist Cosatu and Commubnist Party appealing for support for their policies from the voters. But if they were outside the government, Cosatu and the Communist Party would have less influence in moderating the Thatcherism of the ANC. So the alliance as a whole would prefer to shut its eyes and hope the Zimbabwe problem would go away. It is one of the roads South Africa could go down, and we don’t want to go there.

Today is Human Rights Day.

And while the focus in human rights violations has shifted from South Africa to Zimbabwe, we are no nearer to a solution to the problem of human rights violations in southern Africa than we were 47 years ago.

Apologise, apologise, apologise

A couple of days ago I commented on the mixed reaction to Adriaan Vlok’s apology to Frank Chikane for the way he had treated him when he was Minister of Police. My comment was to the effect that it was better for people to apologise for their own misdeeds than for those of other people a long time in the past.

And so my attention was drawn to demands that the Roman Pope apologise for the Inquisition, and that led me to this site, Why Shouldn’t the Pope Apologize for the Inquisition?

It seems odd.

Why does it seem so fashionable to demand that some people should apologise for other people’s sins, usually in the remote past, where both perpetrators and victims are dead? And yet there is so little sign of apology by living people for their misdeeds against the living, and some even find such things offensive on the rare occasions when it does happen?

Yesterday I went to the archives and had a look at my Security Police file; that was before Vlok was in charge, of course, but it does illustrate the kind of thing he was apologising for. I wouldn’t expect him to apologise for that, any more than I would expect him to apologise for the atrocities of Julius Caesar or Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun. Apologies from Kurt Dahlmann, Frans van Zyl and Jurgen Meinert (newspaper editors and proprietor of Windhoek) might be appropriate, though.

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