Ashley Forbes. The name is painted on the walls of Wynberg in Cape Town where he grew up. His name is on the lips of his friends and comrades everywhere.
The name Ashley Alexander Forbes is also written on the charge sheet at the Cape Town Supreme Court. And it will be written on his prison sentence for “terrorism” — and for being a military commander of the ANC’s Umkhonto We Sizwe.
Ashley Forbes is 24 years old. He and 13 other young men have been found guilty of furthering the aims of the ANC and for limpet mine and hand grenade attacks in the Cape. They will be sentenced in the near future.
In October Ashley got married in Pollsmoor Prison. He married a beautiful, 21 year old woman, Yasmina Pandy. She was charged with him. But she was found not guilty and set free.
A RESPECTED LEADER
From the beginning of the trial, Forbes showed he was a leader to be respected. All 14 men would march from the cells to the court. Then Forbes would say, “Attention!” — and they would stand straight and upright. They sat down when he said, “At Ease!”
The men in the dock refused to plead guilty or not guilty to the charges. Forbes told the court he thought the case against them, like apartheid itself, was “a crime against humanity.”
Forbes said he did not believe his trial would be just. It would only be used to make the world think that courts in South Africa were free and fair and that there is justice in this country.
He said that when he was in detention, there was no respect for his human rights. He was arrested on 16 May 1987 and detained for six months under the Internal Security Act. “I was almost killed in detention,” he told the court.
All through the trial, Forbes and his comrades stuck to their belief that the court had no right to hear the case. On 29 April they were sentenced to another six months in jail for chanting, “Defend, Consolidate, Advance” while the judge was in court.
THE REASONS WHY
What made a young man like Ashley Forbes become an ANC soldier? In court he gave the answer: He said that he was born in Wynberg in 1964. He was the youngest of five children. He was raised by his mother after his parents were divorced when he was just one year old.
He told the court that from an early age he knew apartheid was evil and wrong. He remembers the anger of his family when they saw the late Prime Minister John Vorster on TV.
When the students rose up in Soweto and other parts of the country in 1976, he was in standard five. He did not fully understand the reasons for the uprising — but he remembers his school closing early and his teacher warning him to stay off the streets.
As a pupil at the Wittebome Secondary School, he became very religious. He began to question things like the ways men treat women, divorce and apartheid.
“We started to question that we were coloured and had to stay in a coloured area. We questioned apartheid … but at that time we were not able to connect apartheid to the whole system.”
He said at the time he was not able to understand that being coloured, and living in Wynberg, had something to do with people earning low wages and the government’s system of running the country.
Ashley also came to hate apartheid when his grandmother was kicked out of District Six. This was a community in Cape Town that was destroyed by the government. Ashley often used to visit his grandparents in District Six when he was young.
“I started to know District Six and had many friends in the area,” he said. “You were able to go into any household. The whole community seemed to be part of one big, happy family.”
His grandmother was forced to leave her home when the government turned District Six into a “whites only” area. “She came to live with us in Wynberg and somehow I could understand the pain she felt…”
Forbes said that there were also other things that “awakened” him. “I started to think of areas like Mitchells Plain and Bonteheuwel, and started to understand how people felt about being forced out of areas they live in.”
Ashley became a member of his school’s SRC. Later he joined Cosas and the Cape Youth Congress. He came to understand more about democracy through working in these organisations. He became a student teacher at the University of the Western Cape in 1983.
He told the court how in 1985 the state tried to crush the UDF and its member organisations. Members of the ANC were killed, and the Uitenhage killings took place. Then the government brought in the first state of emergency. This made it hard to protest against apartheid in a peaceful and legal way.
“You couldn’t organise or call a meeting in the name of the organisation… in a way we felt almost cut off.”
It was at this time that Ashley Forbes began to think about joining the ANC.
THE TURNING POINT
The turning point in Ashley’s life was the famous “Pollsmoor March” in 1985. Thousands of people tried to march to Pollsmoor Prison to demand the release of Nelson Mandela.
The peaceful march was stopped by police. Forbes said he saw the police using teargas against people and hitting them. He will never forget seeing the police hitting a nun.
“From there I think people went totally crazy. Athlone became almost a war zone … people started thinking of how we’re going to hit back.”
Ashley told the court how people were being killed — and how the government and its police had declared open war against the people. If you were caught with a stone, “you were a target, you could be killed by the police,” he said.
Forbes says the violence made people angry. “People were asking, ‘Where is the ANC, why aren’t they here to defend us?’ Like Comrade Nelson Mandela said: There comes a time in the life of every nation where you make just one choice — you give up or fight.”
For Ashley there was no choice. He had to fight. He became a member of the ANC in November 1985.
TRAINING IN ANGOLA
In June 1986 Ashley Forbes left South Africa. He went to the Pango camp in Angola for military and political training.
After four months he returned home with orders to attack the electricity supply. Later he was told to take command of ANC fighters in the “coloured” areas.
Ashley and his men attacked electricity pylons, police stations, a bus shelter and a railway line. But he said they did not want to kill or injure people.
In court, Ashley spoke about the aims of the ANC. He said the organisation stands for a united, non-racial, democratic South Africa. He also said the ANC is willing to talk to the government to bring about the end of apartheid.
But he said before the ANC comes to the table, there are some things the government must first do — like lifting the state of emergency, taking its soldiers out of the townships, and listening to the people’s demands. “If moves by the government are towards a democracy and freedom, we are prepared to work towards an agreement,” said Forbes.
But how ready is the government to make the move towards true peace and democracy? How many more people must still die? How many more young people like Ashley Forbes must go to jail before the government sees the light?
The other accused are: Peter Jacobs, Nicklo Pedro, Nazeem Lowe, Anwa Dramat, Clement Baadjies, Davis Fortuin, Jeremy Veary, Walter Rhoode, Wayne Malgas, Collin Cairncross, Ashraf Karriem, Colin Petersen and Leon Scott.
NEW WORDS a crime against humanity — a crime against all the people of the world chanting — to say something over and over again. consolidate — to make strong. For example, if you consolidate a victory you have won, it means making sure that you do not lose it. connect — link, join together