The living dead

‘The living dead’ is an investigation of banishment, which was one of the cruellest tools used by the apartheid government in the 1950s and 1960s to silence their opponents. It describes the fates of 116 black South Africans who were removed from their homes without charge or trial and sent into internal exile, ‘imprisoned in utter isolation’, far away from work, family and friends. Many of the banished were traditional leaders in rural areas who resisted government actions. Some were over 70 years old. One was a 16-yearold girl. To be banished it was not necessary for someone to have committed any offence, but – as the Department of Bantu Affairs put in 1965 – only that ‘their presence in an area gave rise to dissension and dissatisfaction and was consequently detrimental to good government’ (Badat, 2013: 320).

Helen Joseph was not a professional journalist but a union organiser and political activist aligned with the African National Congress (ANC) which was banned the year before this article was published. She was one of the accused in the Treason Trial of 1956–61, along with Mandela and many other leaders of the Congress movement. In 1959, Joseph and Lillian Ngoyi, both leaders in the Federation of South African Women, were asked by the ANC to identify how many people had been banished, who they were and to find ways of helping them. Can Temba, Drum magazine’s ‘ace reporter’, had written an excellent exposé of the banishment camp at Frenchdale farm near Mafeking in 1956 (Badat, 2013) and other press stories had covered some individual cases. The two women set up a new organisation, the Human Rights Welfare Committee, and began assembling information and making contact with some of the banished and their families. They also raised money to start sending food and other support to some of them.

Joseph wrote the article based on this research. Though she was campaigning on behalf of the banished, the article is not polemical. It is packedwith stories, facts and analysis. It reflects exactly the work we understand to be that of the investigative journalist – carefully assembling and interrogating legal and other public documents, speaking to those affected, gathering stories, compiling data and drawing attention to the actions of the state.

It wasn’t until the year after she wrote this article, when the Treason Trial had ended and her travel restrictions were lifted, that she was able to investigate the issue further. With her friends, Joe Morolong and Amina Cachalia, she went on a road trip to visit the banished and the families they left behind. Following this trip, she became the first person in South Africa to be placed under house arrest. She smuggled out her account of the banished and this journey was published later outside the country as a book, titled Tomorrow’s Sun. After this, the apartheid government reduced their use of banishment, something which her ground-breaking work may have been partly responsible for, although new laws gave the government extensive new powers to restrict movement. Winnie Mandela was later to become the most famous banished person when she was removed from Soweto and sent to Brandfort. Joseph’s house arrest continued, with one break, into the 1980s. She died just before South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994.

This article was published in Africa South, a journal that between 1956 and 1961 brought together the writings of journalists, activists, intellectuals and political leaders. It published an extraordinary group of people, including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Ruth First and Julius Nyerere. Ronald Segal, the publisher and editor, described it as a magazine that would connect the political struggle in South Africa, the anti-colonial movements on the continent and the civil rights movements in the US (Daymond & Sandwith, 2011: 20). From 1960 onwards with the ANC’s banning, it was published as Africa South in Exile from London.

Articles like Joseph’s point to an important strand in the history of investigative journalism in South Africa – its close and complex relationships to social and political movements and social justice organisations, including the church. Can Temba is easy to place in the traditional picture of the lone, independent, hard-drinking, male investigative journalist, meeting contacts in bars. His story on the banished appeared in Drum, a magazine which combined investigations with celebrations of the musicians and boxers of the era. Helen Joseph’s committed journalism belongs in another tradition along with that of John Dube and Ruth First, published in political journals from Ilanga to The Weekly Guardian and Africa South. These diverse strands continue today with investigative teams like aMabunghane transforming themselvesinto non-profit organisations and others working closely with social justice organisations and movements. At the 2017 Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Johannesburg, the economist Joseph Stiglitz said he didn’t think the market now could sustain such journalism. ‘The living dead’ reminds us that there may be spaces to look for the continuation of this work outside of traditional newsrooms.

References

Badat, Saleem. 2013. The Forgotten People: Political Banishment Under Apartheid. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. Daymond, M.J. & Corrine Sandwith (eds). 2011. Africa South: Viewpoints, 1956–1961. Scottsville: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press. Joseph, Helen. 1966. Tomorrow’s Sun: A Smuggled Journal from South Africa. London: Hutchinson. Joseph, Helen. 1986. Side by Side. London: Morrow. Steiglitz, Joseph. Interview at Global Investigative Journalism Conference, 18 November 2017. Available at: https://gijc2017.org/2017/11/19/stiglitz-on-truthtrump- inequality-and-investigative-journalism/, accessed on 7 June 2018. The full collection of articles from Africa South is available online in the digital archive at the University of KwaZulu-Natal: www.disa.ukzn.ac.za/as. The full article is available here: www.disa.ukzn.ac.za/sites/default/files/pdf_files/asjul61.5.pdf

The Living Dead

Helen Joseph, Africa South, July 1961

‘It is not Mhlupeki that died but me, because what they have done to him they will do to me!’ So wrote a lonely, desperate man after years of hopeless banishment when he heard of the death of another exile. ‘You are like a person who has been buried alive,’ wrote another. In South Africa’s shameful history, one of the ugliest chapters is that of the stealthy, relentless persecution of the individual who opposed government policies. Only recently has the scandal of banishment been brought to light, the power that can and does pluck an African from the midst of his family and cast him into the most remote and abandoned parts of the country – there to live, perhaps to die, to suffer and starve or to stretch out hissurvival by poorly paid labour, if and when he can get it. It is all quite legal, this banishment without trial, all neatly enshrined in an Act of Parliament passed many years ago …

Over 30 years ago, General Hertzog, as Minister of Native Affairs, in introducing the Native Administration Bill, said that the power to move a ‘Native’ from one place to another was an ‘excellent provision’. The Bill provided that the Governor- General had power to remove a whole tribe from one place to another – presumably to enable whites to occupy the tribe’s land, the Mamatola tribe was removed under this section. General Hertzog said that the powers to remove a ‘Native’ could be used against stock thieves, but there is reason to believe that he had in mind political leaders rather than stock thieves … It remained for the Nationalist Government, however, to realise and exploit the full powers of this Act of Parliament. The opponents of Bantu Authorities – the puppet regimes established by the Government – have been the real victims, perhaps because the limelight of publicity is not so easily focused on the Reserves, and indeed for nearly six years these banishments went on almost unnoticed …

The true background to this savage system of banishment emerges from the stories of the banished people themselves. The appalling history of the Matlala deportation speaks less blandly than the Minister. In 1953 and 1954, following opposition to the imposition of Bantu Authorities, altogether 20 men and three women were deported from the Matlala Reserve in the Northern Transvaal. They were and still are scattered all over the country. Of these 23 men and women, five men have already died in exile and 16 are still living in their place of banishment. Only two have ever been released, and both died soon after they returned home. At least two of the men who died in exile were receiving no government allowance and had no employment. They were old and sickly, and it seems clear they died of starvation. Only a few of these banished people are known to be in employment, and up to now, not one has received any government assistance. The conditions of the families they left behind.

The conditions of the families they left behind them in the Matlala Reserve is pitiable. Children grow up in rags, unable togo to school; some drift away to the local town or to the farms in order to earn £1 or £1 10s a month. The wives are not allowed by the Chief to plough; for mere existence they depend on the food they can beg from neighbours. In some cases, the huts of the deportees were burnt down and demolished by the Bantu Authorities’ Chief immediately after the deportation, and all livestock was confiscated.

Wives were called to the Chief’s office and told they could be taken to join their husbands, but that they would not be brought back again; if they refused, they were threatened with deportation. In two cases where the husbands have died, the wives were merely informed by the Chief; they have not received any of their husbands’ clothes or belongings as proof of death. Only in one instance was the husband’s body returned for burial, but no belongings were returned with the body. This is the story told by the widow of Frans Ramare, who died – according to the report of other deportees in the area – alone and starving, in Zululand.

‘One morning he was called to the Chief’s place. This was the last time we saw him. He never came back to say goodbye to his two wives and children. We later learned from the people that our husband was banished. Since then we never hear anything, until one day we got a message from the Chief saying that Mr Frans Ramare passed away in exile. That was all. We never received anything from the Government about our husband’s death and we did not see anything like his clothes, which could be used to prove to us that our husband is really dead. Since the banishment of our husband, we never received any letter from him. We never knew of his sickness until his death was reported, and we don’t even know the date he passed away.

Wherever there is opposition to Government plans, to Bantu Authorities, particularly in the tribal areas, the Government pounces on one or two individuals, summarily arrests and then removes them as far as possible … Chief Mopedi served a prison sentence for refusing to cull cattle and repair fences; and after serving his sentence for this defiance of authority and nonco- operation, he was deported in 1954 from Witzieshoek to Groblersdaal; his wife was deported too. After two years, he wastaken from Groblersdaal to Frenchdale; he is still there …

The Government record is an ugly one. One hundred and sixteen Africans have been arbitrarily removed from their homes since 1948. One hundred and sixteen human beings have been arrested, thrown into police cells, handcuffed and taken under police custody to desolate areas, flung into an empty shed or hut, with nothing but the clothes on their bodies and, of course, the generous allowance – sometimes – of £2 a month to spend. Only there isn’t anywhere to spend the money …

What has happened to the 116 deportees during the years? Forty-eight are still in exile; 10 are known to have escaped from South Africa; 41 have been released, some for only specific periods of probation; 11 have died in the camps, probably without medical attention of any sort, possibly for lack of it. Six are missing and cannot be traced, unless the Minister will provide the information which until now he has refused to give …

The two main camps for the banished people are at Frenchdale and Driefontein. They are not large; provision is only made for 8 deportees in Frenchdale and 12 in Driefontein. But they are stark and bare, in semi-desert areas, many hot and isolated miles from the nearest towns. Hyenas prowl around Frenchdale at night; the nearest store is 12 miles away and the nearest bus stop for Mafeking is 14 miles from the camp. True, the deportees may leave the camp freely and travel into Mafeking – if they walk the distance to the bus; but they must live in the camp …

In both these camps there exist no opporutnities for employment and the deportees in Driefontein depend upon government allowances of £2 a month. In Frenchdale the deportees from Witzieshoek refused to accept anything from the Government; they maintained that they would rather starve. There is no work, no occupation. The deportes say: ‘We are waiting to go home.’ It is a long wait …

The camps are not the end of the story. Other deportees are scattered over the Northern Transvaal, over Natal and Zululand – one here, one there, many miles from each other. Right up to the Rhodesian border, to the edge of Swaziland, in the heart of Zululand, in the Transkei, in the Cape, they can be found – if you know where to look for them.

With cruel ingenuity, the man from the Transkei is banished to the Northern Transval, so that he may be isolated from those around him, until he learns to speak the new language; the Sesotho-speaking men from Zeerust and Sekhukhuneland are sent to the borders of Swaziland, to the heart of Zululand, so that they too must struggle with an unknown tongue. Employment? They may work as labourers for a few pounds a month – these men who were leaders among their own people, who were trade unionists, chiefs, university students – or they may be put to herding cattle … Ben Baartman wrote: ‘My experience of banishment is that you are just taken to an empty town and nobody seems to care for you. You are given neither food nor any sort of job through which you can support yourself. In other words you are like a person who has been buried alive’ …