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
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 the 19 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 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 ‘West 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