Alfred Nzo, Secretary-General, ANC: Letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations concerning treatment of political prisoners in South Africa
The African National Congress of South Africa, representing the vast majority of the oppressed peoples in our country, wish to draw the attention of the United Nations Organization to the following most disturbing events that have arisen in the Republic of South Africa in recent months.
In June and July last year, six men and a woman were arrested by the South African Security police and held incommunicado in solitary confinement for a period of over 120 days. They are Messrs. Theophilus Cholo and Gardiner Sijake, both from the Transvaal; Justice Mpanza and Aaron Mtembu from Natal; John William Hosey, an Irish citizen; and Alexander Moumbaris, an Australian, and his wife, Mrs. Marie Jose Moumbaris, a French citizen.
All except Mrs. Moumbaris appeared for a formal remand in the Pretoria Magistrates` Court on 11 November 1972, on allegations under the so-called Terrorism Act. No charges were made and they were not asked to plead.
Mrs. Moumbaris was released after four months in solitary confinement and deported to France. In an interview datelined Paris, published in the Rand Daily Mail of 25 November 1972, Mrs. Moumbaris said that her middle-aged French parents were unaware of where she was for four months, during which period she was held in solitary confinement in a Pretoria goal. “As far as they knew, I had vanished from the face of the earth”, she said. Mrs. Moumbaris, who was seven months pregnant at the time of her release, said that her parents only learnt that she was in prison a week before she was released. Although she is a French citizen, she was not allowed to see the French consular representatives and only saw her husband twice during her four months in prison. She said:
“I kept asking for them to charge me formally with a crime, but they never did. I saw absolutely nobody from the outside. One day my cell door was opened and I was told that I would be expelled. I saw my husband for the second and last time and a strong police escort took me to the airport and put me on a Paris-bound plane.”
The South African Government did not only appear to disregard normal diplomatic duty by not allowing Mrs. Moumbaris access to diplomats from her country, they went further.
According to a report which appeared in the London Sunday Times of 7 January 1973, on 5 August, a fortnight after Mr. and Mrs. Moumbaris were arrested, Mrs. Helen Amiel, Mr. Moumbaris` mother, received a caller in her Paris office. A South African aged between 25 and 30, who spoke good French, told Mrs. Amiel that he was on his way to continue his studies in England. The Sunday Times report continues:
“He said he had just arrived from South Africa and was a friend of Alex. I was very excited because I hadn`t heard from the children for several weeks, and this man had seen Alex only four days before,” Mrs. Amiel recalls.
The visitor produced a letter from Alex. It was dated `29/6/72`, but Mrs. Amiel did not notice the `error` of the June date at the time. The letter was headed `Blue Marlin Hotel, Scotsburgh`, where the couple had been staying five weeks before. It was unusually formal. The second paragraph read: `The bearer of this letter is a man whom I met here and he has asked me if he can spend a couple of days at our place in London. I accordingly ask you to kindly give him the key of the house which I believe to be in your possession.`
Meanwhile, Alex and Marie-Jose had vanished without trace. Repeated efforts to find them by the French and Australian embassies in Pretoria produced no results. The South African police, security police, Department of the Interior and Foreign Affairs Department all denied knowledge of the couple, who were in fact being held in solitary confinement.
From the beginning, Marie-Jose asked to see the French consul, but under the Terrorism Act consular access is not permitted. For the first six weeks she was interrogated from 9 a.m. to mid-afternoon. She speaks hardly any English and no Afrikaans, yet for long periods she did not have an interpreter.
In Paris, the couple`s families grew increasingly worried. When she still had not got the borrowed key back, Mrs. Amiel phoned the caretaker of her son`s flat, but he had nothing to report. Then, desperate for news, she and Marie-Jose`s mother came to London.
They found the flat in a mess. `There were papers all over the show, drawers were ransacked, chairs on their side,` says Mrs. Amiel. `They thought the young man had found himself a girl friend, gone wild for a couple of nights and forgotten to return the key. They did not go to the police. Weeks before, in the Pretoria prison, Marie-Jose`s interrogators had shown her a picture of her husband. `You have been to my flat,` she shouted angrily.”
Mrs. Moumbaris denied that her husband had written the letter about the key while at the Blue Marlin Hotel.
Not only have members of the South African Bureau of State Security (BOSS) flagrantly walked into a private flat in Britain and ransacked it with impunity, they went even further.
They violated the sovereignty of Lesotho by kidnapping a South African political refugee, Mr. Herbert Fanele Mbale, from their territory at about the same time. Four members of BOSS were assisted in this dastardly deed by two members of the Lesotho Troopers.
The Government of Lesotho, unlike those of France and Britain, were naturally outraged by this action and rightly demanded the return of Mr. Mbale. The South African Government was forced to return Mr. Mbale to Lesotho and apologized for the excessive zeal displayed by her police.
In an extraordinarily arrogant statement, even by white South African standards, published in several South African newspapers on 30 November 1972, Police Commissioner, General Gideon Joubert, commenting on the kidnapping, said that the policemen involved were only “doing their duty”. Asked whether he supported policemen who crossed foreign frontiers to apprehend people wanted in the country, General Joubert said: “They did contravene certain regulations, but they acted out of a sense of duty.” He added that he saw no reason to take action against his men and, when asked if the kidnapping was carried out with his knowledge, he replied: “I`m not going to be cross-examined any further. I have no further statement to make.” Meanwhile, one of the Lesotho troopers, Jobo Molofo, who helped in the kidnapping, has been granted political asylum by the South African authorities and is at present working in South Africa.
The intransigence of the South African Government, which persistently ignore resolutions of the United Nations Organization and the Organization of African Unity and international public opinion for the release of political prisoners is further highlighted by the fact that some of the political prisoners, like Nelson Mandela, who have been sentenced to life imprisonment, have now served 10 years of their sentence. In terms of statements by officials of the South African Government, life imprisonment, in so far as political prisoners, means exactly what it says – imprisonment for life. Even murderers and rapists sentenced to life imprisonment in South Africa are entitled to a review of their sentences. However, in the case of Mandela and others this will not be so.
In view of the above, we urge the United Nations Organization, through its relevant agencies:
1. To call on the Government of South Africa to implement all United Nations resolutions on the subject of political prisoners in South Africa, failing which South Africa should be expelled from the United Nations Organization:
2. To call on all member nations, especially those who have diplomatic and trade relations with South Africa, to bring pressure to bear on the Government of South Africa to release all political prisoners in the country;
3. To initiate a world-wide campaign to make 1973 a year for the release of all South African political prisoners; and
4. To call for the immediate withdrawal of all South African troops, police and security agents from neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Namibia.