Diary of a cadre who lived in the shadow of death

2010-02-07 10:57

“YOU are about to read a true story about me. I have decided to

write this story after having gone through many trying and difficult times in my

lifetime. What you are about to read is the truth.”

It is with these words that Donald Stephen Makhura introduces his

life story.

In 2006 he resigned as a lieutenant-colonel in the defence force’s

intelligence unit to write his autobiography.

He says: “The road to freedom has been very long and I do not know

where it will end. This story is dedicated to the living and the dead.”

Makhura was born in 1967, the second youngest of five children in a

small village situated at the foot of the great mountain of Mphakane in Limpopo.

He describes his upbringing as brutal, vicious and violent.

“I am alleged to have put my hand inside a bird’s nest and grabbed

young birds with my hands and cut them with a razor blade on their stomachs

while they were still alive,” he writes.

“There was a tree at the back of the house with tall slim branches

that were used to flog me. The constant beatings shaped me to be what I am

today, a fearless and angry individual.”

He said he drank, smoked and sniffed glue and became embroiled in


“I stabbed them with dangerous instruments. I began to question

whether I was indeed a biological son of that family which raised me so


After school, he left for Thokoza on Johannesburg’s East Rand where

he saw people being killed in political violence. He says it “fuelled hatred in

me against the then SADF”.

He says the one thing he admired the most was a knife.

“I could use it perfectly. There are quite a number of individuals

I knifed. I stabbed and injured an off-duty policeman and was to become a wanted

person by the police.”

In 1985, his childhood friend and sweetheart, Miriam Serekwana, was

pregnant with Thapelo, their only child, who Makhura is alleged to have shot

dead in December last year.

He was to disappear for almost 15 years. He did not tell Serekwana

that he had decided to join the ANC.

In his book, he describes how he left the country hiding under a

seat in a train bound for the north.

He eventually reached the ANC in ­­­Bo­tswana and was

transferred to Vienna camp in Angola. He chose the name of Luntu as his MK


He says: “We lived under the shadow of death in the camp. One day a

member of MK was killed by a hand grenade tossed into his tent.”

He said there was one incident that changed his life forever.

An MK member had a fall out with a comrade and attempted to kill

him. He was detained and sentenced to death.

“At the graveyard, Dick’s hands were tied at the back of the stem

of a tree. Three MK soldiers then took position in front of Dick. An order was

issued for them to cock their rifles, aim and fire.

When the first bullets hit

Dick, he cried softly three times and then stopped. His head tilted forward. He

was thrown into a grave which had already been dug and was ­buried. We marched

back to the base ­singing.”

Makhura says that at the time MK was fighting alongside the Angolan

forces against Jonas Savimbi’s Unita. Comrades were regularly killed and


After one such incident, Makhura says, MK pounced on a Unita


“The comrades made sure that no one would escape from the village.

One comrade dragged a young girl of about 15 years old to the front of the

villagers. While the young girl’s legs were spread wide open, the comrade pushed

the barrel of an AK47 in her vagina and pulled the trigger.

“The comrade then pulled an old man to the front and pointed a

rifle at him. He told him to point out all the Unita rebels among the villagers.

The old man pointed out about 13 men. All 14 men, including the pointer, were

executed on the spot. The comrades left the village with captured arms and


Makhura arrived back in South Africa in February 1992 and was

ordered to set up a self-defence unit (SDU) in Thokoza to fight the IFP.

“I was in charge of 10 people who each in turn trained 10 more

members. It was war. Thokoza was on fire and we followed no rule of engagement

in the battlefield. I wish to acknowledge that even innocent people were killed.

“In one incident an Inkatha member was captured on his way to work

and was brought to the self-defence units, who handed him to a sangoma. The

man’s hands were tied behind his back and he was circumcised on the spot.

“It is said the foreskin of his penis was mixed with other herbs to

make intelezi , which we were ordered to smear our bodies with to be invincible

against Inkatha members. I could not say whether the muti worked as I never saw

any proof. I only believed in the power of the AK47.”

In April 1992, Makhura and his SDU members were ordered to relocate

to KwaZulu-Natal to engage IFP members in their backyard. En route, the SDU

members drove into a roadblock and a shootout ensued. Two policemen were killed

and a farmer was shot in the stomach.

Makhura and several of his comrades were arrested, convicted of

murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

He applied for amnesty and in 1999. The Truth and Reconciliation

Commission (TRC) agreed that the murders were committed with a political motive

and on behalf of the ANC. Makhura then became a free man.

“On the day I was informed of the decision of the TRC, I cried for

the first time after a long time. I had spent more than 14 years living a

fighting, struggling life. The prison passage that led to the door that led to

the outside world – a free world – was the longest passage of my life.”

Soon afterwards, Serekwana and ­Makhura were reunited and he saw

his daughter Thapelo for the first time. The couple were married shortly


By then, Makhura was a senior officer in the defence force.

“I resigned in 2006 because I was disturbed by my past and could

not concentrate on my work. I started to have love affairs with a lot of women

and I also started to abuse alcohol.

“I ended up impregnating a girl called Queen Ngobeni. We were

blessed with a baby boy named Junior. This changed my life completely. The child

rejuvenated me and gave me a new life. I vowed to raise my child with the love I

did not have in my lifetime.”

Makhura ends his book: “One thing I am not yet sure about is

whether I am still violent or not. Part of my journey is to rehabilitate myself

and to forget some of the horrible things I did and saw.”

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