The man who went to jail for nothing
Monty Mzinyathi spent 3 years in jail for nothing. He was sent to jail for something he didn’t do. He told Learn and Teach the whole story:
“In August 1976 the police arrested my best friend. My friend was a member of a student organization. A few weeks later I heard the police were looking for me.
I was scared of the police. So I went into hiding. I did not go home again. I slept at different houses all over Soweto.
In February 1977 I decided to go to Lesotho. I caught a bus to Witsieshoek. Then I walked. I walked for 3 days and 3 nights. I only had sixty cents with me.
I got to Butha Buthe in Lesotho on the third day. Some people gave me a lift to Hlotse. In Hlotse I met some people I knew. They gave me a lift to Maseru. In Maseru I went to the police. I told them my story. The police sent me to a government office. I told my story again. The government office sent me to a refugee camp.
The refugee camp was called New Europa. At New Europa I met many people from South Africa. I also met people from Namibia and Zimbabwe. In New Europa we studied and played soccer. I got R30 a month. I stayed in New Europa for about three months. Then I got a room in Maseru.
In Maseru I got a job at a firm called Midex. I stayed there for a few weeks. Then I got a job with a friend. I knew this guy from Johannesburg. He was a taxi driver.
I was a conductor on my friend’s taxi. Taxis in Lesotho have conductors. The conductors collect the money from the passengers.
One day in June 1977 we had an accident. I went to the Queen Elizabeth hospital. I stayed at the hospital for four days. After I left the hospital I went back to my job at Midex.
In October my girlfriend Sibongile came to Lesotho. She stayed with me. We got married in April. In October 1978 we went back to South Africa. I thought things were better in South Africa.
On the 7th April the police banged on my door. They came at 2 o’clock in the morning. They arrested me. They also arrested my father and mother, my wife and my two children, and a visitor from Cape Town. At the time my one child was two years old. The other child was 5 weeks old.
They kept my mother, wife and children in jail for nine days. My father and I stayed in jail.
In jail the police said I went to Russia to train as a soldier. They said I was a member of the ANC. They said my father helped hide me when I came back.
The police hurt me. I was scared of them. I agreed with their story. I told them what they wanted to hear. They took me to a magistrate to make a statement. In the statement I said that I was a member of the ANC and went to Russia. But this was not true. I was in Lesotho at the time.
Eighteen months after I was arrested, I went to court. I told the magistrate I made the statement because the police hurt me and I was scared. The magistrate did not believe me.
My taxi driver friend came to court. He told the magistrate I worked for him at the time. The magistrate did not believe him.
A nurse at the Queen Elizabeth hospital sent a statement to the court. She told the court she nursed me after the accident. The traffic officer from the car accident sent a statement. He told the court he saw me after the accident. The airport in Lesotho sent a statement. They said I never left Maseru airport. (The police said I flew from Maseru to Maputo on my way to Russia.) The airport also said no planes left for Maputo when I was there.
The magistrate did not believe any of these statements. My lawyers asked the magistrate to take the court to Lesotho. My lawyer wanted the court to speak to the nurse, traffic officer and airport officials. My lawyers also wanted the court to speak to my boss at Midex and the organization that paid me R30 a month. All these people knew I did not go to Russia. They all knew I was in Lesotho at the time.
But the magistrate said no. He did not let the court speak to the people in Lesotho. Instead the magistrate believed another man’s story. The man said I went to Russia. The magistrate sent me to jail for seven years. My father was set free.
They sent me to Robben Island. My lawyer told me to have hope. She was taking my case to a higher court. This court is called the Supreme Court.
I felt unhappy in jail. I thought I was going to spend seven years there. But the other prisoners in Robben Island gave me hope. They told me not to worry.
I stayed on Robben Island for 18 months before the Supreme Court heard my case. I thought the Supreme Court would hear my case on the 25th, 26th and 27th April. I was very nervous for those three days. But I heard nothing. On the night of the last day I gave up hope.
Two days later a prison guard came to see me. He said “Vat al jou goedes” (Take your things). I thought he was taking me to my new job. I had asked for a job in the kitchen a few weeks before.
But the guard did not take me to the kitchen. He took me to the office. They told me I was leaving. I still did not know what was happening. I thought they were sending me to another jail. They sent other prisoners to another jail a few days before.
Then a prison guard told me I was a free man. They took me to the post office to fetch a telegram from my lawyer. The telegram said I was free.
They took me to the boat. I did not have time to say goodbye to my friends. In Cape Town they gave me a lift to the station and gave me a ticket for Johannesburg – third class.
I did not get on the train. I got a taxi to some friends in Gugulethu. The next day I bought a second class ticket for Johannesburg. This ticket cost me R37 extra.
My family met me at the station. My little girl, Nomathamsanqa, ran up to me and said: “Daddy, please don’t leave us again.”
I’m glad to be free. But I am Still nervous and forgetful. I have bad dreams at night. I want to find a job working outside. I want to give my head a chance to get well again.”