'TRC hearing failed to find the truth'

2018-04-15 06:04
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela during a hearing into alleged human rights abuses, which formed part of the TRC hearings. PHOTO: Gallo Images / Oryx Media Archive

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela during a hearing into alleged human rights abuses, which formed part of the TRC hearings. PHOTO: Gallo Images / Oryx Media Archive

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Like many others, I attended the last day of Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings-cum-court into the activities of the Mandela United Football Club to hear things for myself and thus avoid media distortions.

I use the word ‘hearings-cum-court’ because Archbishop Desmond Tutu called it a “hearing” but Hanif Vali, leading the TRC legal team, referred to it as a “court”. Cross-examination resembled more of a court proceeding than a hearing to establish the truth. Indeed, many gained the distinct impression that the lawyers were more interested in seeking evidence for future prosecutions than trying to establish the truth.

At the end of the hearings I found three things missing – the truth, the lack of context in which things were occurring and the total absence of medical or forensic and psychiatric or psychological analysis of the witnesses and evidence. Cross-examination was amateurish, if not inept, at times and some legal eagles were fast behaving like robins. The contradictory evidence by witnesses made it impossible to find the truth. If the same witnesses give differing versions, there can be no truth. Even when two witnesses corroborate each other’s evidence, one lacks a sense of trust. Can corroboration of evidence help in establishing the truth when the corroborators are thugs and/or pathological liars?

If several witnesses describing the same incident give different versions, what then is the truth?

For example, Katiza Cebekulu saw Winnie stab Stompie. No one else saw this. Xoliswa Falati talks of Dr Abu Baker Asvat visiting, no one else saw this, including the boys. We have a coach, Jerry Richardson, who does not play football, save in his imagination, a football team that apparently did not play football and witnesses who imagined sodomy.

Are we not dealing with various forms and degrees of delusions here? Even the so-called eminent persons contradicted each other. At the end, one is left with the philosophical truth that there is no truth. At the best of times the truth is difficult to establish when one deals with normal trustworthy citizens. It is even harder to find when one deals with people whose values, morals and judgements are irreversibly damaged by a brutal system of oppression.

Perhaps what did not come through in this hearing was how brutal the system of apartheid was, that children were running away from homes and police across the country. Families were being dismantled piecemeal and people brutalised physically and psychologically. The resultant pathology and uncalculated human damage that was inflicted remains one of the unspoken “holocausts” of this century. Judgement, morals, values and culture in society were being systematically eroded and clouded by the incipient and corrosive nature of the apartheid system. No one seemed to care how brutalised and damaged the Mandela and Sono families, Richardson, Falati, Lerothodi Ikaneng, Gabriel Mekgwe and Cebekulu were. All we wanted was to extract the truth. I find this logic difficult to understand.

For our nation to expect the truth from such traumatised individuals says something about ourselves. This is particularly so when the truth is sought without political and psychiatric contexts. There were no psychologists, psychiatrists or forensic experts to contextualise or analyse some of the witnesses’ statements or personality profiles. Many witnesses were timid, nervous, with roving eyes and were uncomfortable at times.

Their faces told more than their words. Remember the faces of Cebekulu, Falati and Richardson, for example. Certain lawyers were equally agitated or confrontational in their cross-examination. Their own seeming anger, emotions and inability to cope could not escape the audience. At times one wondered whether one was listening to lawyers or the police of the old regime. One young lawyer even went to the extent of suggesting that Winnie kept the boys for 10 days in order to hide evidence that they were assaulted!

It was clear from this statement that he (the lawyer) had no clue about wound healing. Another lawyer even admitted publicly that she was contradicting herself. Perhaps the most controversial evidence that requires clarification is Cebekulu’s and Richardson’s versions of Stompie’s killing, versus the pathologist’s findings. The pathologist’s findings were of penetrating wounds on both sides of the neck, as opposed to sliced incisions, as the probable cause of death of Stompie.

Cebekulu claimed in his evidence that he saw Winnie “stab” Stompie. He demonstrated this action at the TRC on camera as the probable cause of the death of Stompie. His action on camera, if it is to be believed, would suggest two clean stabs (penetrating) very close and on the same side of wherever “she” was stabbing, presumably the neck. This is unfortunately not what the pathologist found. Cebekulu did not elaborate how he identified that the person (Winnie) in the absence of corroborating witnesses or whether someone else could have stabbed Stompie to death. His evidence was simply accepted. He did not elaborate what Stompie’s response to the alleged stabbing was – did he scream, moan or groan? Could someone being stabbed in this manner not have responded at all? If so, why? None of these important questions was elicited from Cebekulu.

Richardson, on the other hand, described, as reported widely in the media, that he “slaughtered Stompie like a goat”. This was also accepted. This, on its own, would suggest a sliced injury or a cut across the neck – that is how sheep and goats are slaughtered. However, in his testimony to the TRC, Richardson was asked to describe how he killed Stompie. His description was that he used garden shears, first to stab Stompie on both sides of the neck with movement (producing penetrating injuries as opposed to cuts), followed by a cut across the throat. This stabbing is critical to understanding the pathological findings and interpreting his “slaughtering” statement.

This was followed by “slash’s” cutting also. We were not told whether the wounds at the back of Stompie’s neck were of exit or entry nature. So, his description of slaughtering like a goat is not consistent with what he described as his action in the killing. However, this slaughtering like a goat has remained a fixation of the media, despite his actual description of what he did. He admitted for the second time to killing Stompie and is serving sentence for this, unlike the runaway fugitive.

It seems some of the media and public continue to believe Cebekulu’s version, despite the flaws. As someone experienced in pathology, I think that Cebekulu’s evidence is not consistent with the pathological findings and should be discarded outright. In contrast, Richardson’s version, as he described it to the TRC, is compatible with the pathologist’s findings and should be accepted as closer to the truth from evidence so far provided. Perhaps Richardson’s description of ‘slaughtering like a goat’ has more to do with his macho, thuggish pride than reality (another grandiose delusion perhaps). It was simply a misinterpretation of what he did. It is by going into the underlying psychology and pathology of the victims and witnesses that we are likely to understand the meaning of their statements. These important forensic analyses were sadly lacking at the hearing!

Without this context, the current evidence and statements leave much to be desired. To make any meanigful findings or recommendations out of such murky waters will diminish the status and role of the TRC, for such findings might even falsify the very truth we desperately seek.

- Makgoba was, at the time of publication, a professor of molecular immunology.

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