The life of a fighter

img31She lives by herself in a small, tidy house in Johannesburg. She is 77 years old. She has  suffered from cancer. She has suffered a heart attack. Now her eyesight is getting bad. And  er leg gives her trouble. But her spirit is strong. She fights on.

The fighter is Helen Joseph – the old lady of politics in South Africa.

The government banned her for 16 years. She spent nine years under house arrest. Today she is still a “Iisted” person. So we can’t tell you what she says.

People throw rocks through her window. They fire buIlets at her house. They phone her and swear at her. They once placed a bomb at her gate.

She has suffered for a long, long time. But she never complains. She still laughs. And her eyes still shine. She will never give up.

Helen Joseph came to South Africa in 1931. She came here from India. She was on her way home to England.

She came to South Africa to visit a friend in Durban. She only wanted to stay for a year. But she never left. She made South Africa her home.

Helen Joseph got married in 1932. She lived in Durban. When the war started in 1939, she got a job with the air force. She was an information officer.

After the war she got a job as a social worker. She worked in Fordsburg, Johannesburg. In 1950 she went to work with the “coloured” people in the Cape Flats. In the Cape she saw how the people suffered.

In 1952, something happened that changed Helen Joseph’s life. This was the year of the Defiance Campaign. Thousands of people decided not to obey unfair laws. 8 000 people were arrested. Helen Joseph thought those people were brave. She decided to go into politics. She wanted to work for a better South Africa.

Other white people felt the same way as Helen Joseph. In 1953 Helen Joseph and some white people started an orqanization. They called the organization the Congress of Democrats. This organization wanted equal rights for all people in South Africa.

In 1954, Helen Joseph helped start the Federation of South African Women. She worked with people like Fatima Meer, Ray Alexander and Lillian Ngoyi. They wanted all women in South Africa to stand together.

img32In June the next year, 3 000 people met in Kliptown. The meeting was called the Congress of the People. Helen Joseph was there. At the meeting the people wrote the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter is a list of things the people want.

When Helen Joseph spoke at the meeting, 300 policemen arrived. But Helen Joseph did not move. She finished her speech.

On the 9th August 1956, Helen Joseph marched with 20 000 women to Pretoria. They marched because the government said black women must carry passes. They marched to the government building. They wanted to speak to the Prime Minister. But he did not come out to speak to the women. The women stood outside for a long time. They did not move.

Later in the year Helen Joseph and 155 other people were arrested. They were charged in court. The court case was called the Treason Trial. The court case only finished in March 1962. The court found nobody guilty.

In 1957 Helen Joseph was banned for the first time. The banning order said she could not leave Johannesburg. And she couId not speak at meetings.

This banning ended in 1962. The next day, Helen Joseph left on a 7 000 mile journey around South Africa. She went to visit people in far away places – people the government sent to far away places.

Under house arrest, she stayed home from 6 o’clock in the evening until 6 o’clock in the morning. She stayed home on weekends and public holidays. She was only allowed one visitor – a doctor.

House arrest was a lonely time for Helen Joseph. But her friends did not forget about her. They wrote her letters. They phoned her. And at Christmas time, they stood outside her
house and sang Christmas songs.

In 1971 the government stopped her house arrest when she went for a cancer operation. In 1980 the government banned her again for 2 years. Her banning order ended in June this year.

Since June Helen Joseph has spoken at many meetings. She wiII not keep quiet quiet. She will keep fighting for a better South Africa.

It’s now over three years since the beginning of… the Delmas treason trial

The 22 men who were first charged in the Delmas Treason Trial. Three have been released.

The 22 men who were first charged in the Delmas Treason Trial. Three have been released.

The ‘Palace of Justice’ in Pretoria has a special place in the history of South Africa. It was in this building that Nelson Mandela and his comrades were sentenced to life in prison for
plotting to overthrow the government of this country.

Now, 24 years later, 19 men are on trial in the very same courtroom. They too are being charged with plotting to overthrow the government. If they are found guilty, they too could be sentenced to life in prison — or maybe even death.

The trial in Pretoria is known as the ‘Delmas Treason Trial’ — because it was in the small eastern Transvaal town of Delmas that the trial began nearly three years ago. The trial, one of the longest in this country’s history, was moved to Pretoria in August last year.

When the trial began in June 1985, 22 men stood in the dock. But in November 1986 the judge said three of the 22 were innocent and he set them free.

“WE ARE NOT GUILTY!”

The other 19 are still facing charges of treason, subversion, murder, terrorism, and furthering the aims of the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party.

Most of those on trial are members of the United Democratic Front and its member organisations. One is a member of the Azanian People’s Organization, and one is a member of Azanian Youth Unity.

Most of the accused come from townships in the Vaal Triangle. Many of them were members of the Vaal Civic Association (VCA).

The accused have told the court that the VCA was started in October 1983 to fight for better living conditions for the people of Sharpeville, Sebokeng, Boipatong, Evaton and Bophelong. It was one of the 17 organisations banned by the government in February this year.

When the Lekoa (Vaal) Town council increased the rent and service charges in August 1984, the VCA called protest meetings. On 3 September, it led the residents on a march to the council offices. But the marchers never reached the offices. The police shot at them. People say they gave no warning.

The 19 accused are being charged for the troubles that began in the Vaal on 3 September. They are also being charged for the ‘unrest’ that afterwards spread through other parts of the country.

At the beginning of the trial, all the accused pleaded not guilty to the charges. They said that it was true that they fought against apartheid and injustice. But they say that at all times they used peaceful methods and that their organisations worked legally and openly.

THREE YEARS OF HARDSHIP

Police in the Vaal in September 1984.

Police in the Vaal in September 1984.

All the accused have suffered greatly in the past three years. The three UDF leaders, Popo Molefe, Patrick ‘Terror’ Lekota and Moses ‘Moss’ Chikane are still in jail. They have been behind bars since April 1985. They have asked for bail five times — but each time the judge has refused.

Molefe was arrested a month after his wife gave birth to a daughter. Lekota and Chikane’s wives gave birth after their husbands were already charged.

The other 16 are out on bail — but they are not allowed to go home. Most of them live by themselves in Johannesburg. Most days they travel to court in Pretoria — and when they do not have to go to court, they must report to a police station twice a day.

The families of the accused have also suffered. Besides living without husbands and sons, they have also lost the breadwinners in their families.

But all the hardships of the past three years have not broken the spirit of the19 accused. They greet all the visitors who come to the trial with smiles and warm handshakes. They even crack a joke or two. They are very grateful when people come to the trial to show their support.

And support is what the 19 need. They are fighting a mighty battle to prove that they are innocent.

“A HOSTILE JUDGE”

Many policemen, councillors and informers from all over the country have given evidence against the accused.The prosecution has used minutes from meetings and thousands of other documents and pamphlets in its case.

In March 1987 the judge, Justice van Dijkhorst, ‘fired ‘one of the assessors in the case. (When there is a chance of the death sentence, two assessors must help the judge listen to the case). The judge dismissed the assessor, Dr Willem Joubert, after finding out that he had supported the UDF Million Signature Campaign in 1983.

The lawyers for the accused said the judge had made a mistake in law when he dismissed Joubert.They said he should stop the case.

The accused also said that the judge and the other assessor, Mr Krugel, were ‘hostile’ towards them. They felt that when the judge and Krugel questioned witnesses, they often helped the prosecution.

The accused also said that they were unhappy with the assessor, Krugel. He was a member of the Broederbond, a powerful Afrikaner organisation that believes in apartheid. How could they get a fair trial from such a man, they asked.

The accused said the judge and the assessor should step down. After four days of argument, the judge decided that he and Krugel would not step down — and that the trial should go on.

“THE TRIAL IS IMPORTANT”

The brave Helen Joseph shares the joy with the three who were released.

The brave Helen Joseph shares the joy with the three who were released.

The 19 know that it is not only their own innocence that they must prove. Another 911 people are also named in the charge sheet. Some of these are well known people like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Rev Frank Chikane and Dr Beyers Naude. There are also 50 youth, women, worker and community organisations named.

If the 19 accused are found guilty of treason, then all the other people and organisations named may also be charged with treason.

As one of the accused says: “What happens in this trial is important for everybody in the struggle. It is a challenge to those peaceful methods that people have been using to unite people against apartheid.”

NO STONE UNTURNED

At the trial Learn and Teach asked many of the accused the same question: “The trial has taken so long and you have all suffered very much. Don’t you wish the trial was over already?”

“Yes,” they answered. “We want to know what our future is.”

But at the same time, they said they want to leave no stone unturned to show that they are not guilty — no matter how long it takes.

Such is the courage of the accused in the Delmas Treason Trial. It is a great pity that such people are not free to help build a better country for all who live in it.

By keeping these men stuck in a courtroom for so long, the government is not only silencing the voice of the accused. It is silencing the voice of the people. It is making all those who want to see the end of apartheid look like criminals!

THE 19 MEN ON TRIAL

POPO SIMON MOLEFE (36) is the national general secretary of the United Democratic Front (UDF).
PATRICK ‘TERROR’ LEKOTA (39) is the national publicity secretary of the UDF.
MOSES (MOSS) MABOKELA CHIKANE (39) was the UDF’s Transvaal secretary and he worked at the Community Resource and Information Centre in Johannesburg.
PATRICK MABUYA BALEKA (28) was an insurance salesman and a member of Azanian Youth Unity (Azanyu).
REVEREND TEBOGO GEOFFREY MOSELANE (41) is an Anglican priest from Sharpeville.
OUPA JOHN HLOMUKA (34) was an insurance salesman and a member of the Azanian People’s Organisation.
GCINUMUZI PETRUS MALINDI (28) of Sebokeng was the leader of the Evaton Baptist Church’s Youth Committee.
MORAKE PETRUS MOKOENA (49) owns a cafe in Evaton called vWest End Restaurant’ and was secretary of the Evaton Ratepayers’ Association.
TSIETSI DAVID MPHUTHI (50) was a branch vice chairman of the VCA and sold wood and poultry for a living.
NAPHTALI MBUTI NKOPANE (42) worked for a furniture store in Vereeniging and was a branch chairman of the VCA.
TEBELLO EPHRAIM RAMAKGULA (37) is an electrician from Sebokeng and was a branch treasurer of the VCA.
BAVUMILE HERBERT VILAKAZI (32) worked for the Urban Training Project in the Vaal Triangle and was a member of the VCA executive.
SEKWATI JOHN MOKOENA (35) was secretary of the Boipatong Residents’ Committee.
SIMON TSEKO NKOLI (28) of Sebokeng worked for the Institute of Race Relations.
PELAMOTSE JERRY THLOPANE (29), a part time salesman from Sebokeng.
SERAME JACOB HLANYANE (39) is an electrician from Sebokeng and was a branch treasurer of the VCA.
THOMAS MADIKWE MANTHATA (48) was a field worker for the South African Council of Churches and a member of the Soweto Civic Association.
HLABENG SAM MATLOLE (63) worked for a dry cleaning factory and was a branch treasurer of the VCA.
THABISO ANDREW RATSOMO (30) of Sebokeng was studying journalism at Rhodes University where he was the president of the Black Students’ Movement. He was a treasurer of the VCA before he went to university.

NEW WORDS
palace — a big building or home — like a king’s house.
the accused — people who are charged in court
dock — where the accused sit in court
innocence — not guilty
grateful — happy and thankful
documents — important papers
informer — ‘impimpi’
prosecution — the people who try to prove you guilty in court
hostile — not friendly, not on your side