I pleaded with Winnie not to take my son away - Nicodemus Sono

Testimony of the father of murdered ANC activist Lolo Sono to the TRC, 25 July 1996

The following is a transcript of the testimony of Nicodemus Sono, the father of disappeared ANC activist Lolo Sono, to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, Soweto, 25 July 1996:

I am Nicodemus Sono. I reside in Meadowlands, 3386, Zone 10. Me and my family got to know many people during the struggle, which were working and helping here and there. I am just here to tell of my son, what happened to my son and ask the Commission to help me find out exactly what happened to him. I will be very brief. I will start from 1988.

In 1988, November 13th, my son was taken away in a blue Kombi which was at my place. It happens that son was one of the activists with other young men in Soweto, who were highly involved with Mrs Mandela. So the story in 1988, round about 10 to eight in the evening, it was on a Sunday, when I came back home. A young man by the name of Michael called me before I entered the house. He said Winnie wanted to see me outside. I went outside with him. The Kombi was parked in my street, not very far from my house. When I got into the Kombi there was Mrs Mandela, Winnie, with the driver Michael and other few young men, which I did not recognise. My son, Lolo was in the Kombi. He appeared badly beaten, his face was bruised and he was shivering.

So Mrs Mandela told me that she is taking Lolo away because they labelled him as a spy. He was accused of spying because during that week, some time, on the 9th of November there was an ANC commander who was killed at Umzimhlope, with a policeman and my cousin who was also a commander for MK.

So Lolo apparently went to Mandela to seek for help, because the police were all over us. So he did not get the help that he was looking for. He was with the neighbour's son, Sibonisa Shabalala.

So after they were labelled spies, Lola was beaten, brought to me. As I was pleading to Mrs Mandela to leave him with me as a father, saying that they have beaten him up. I knew for a fact that he was very helpful for the MK people who were coming from exile and I was also forced to help them, because of my cousin, who used me to come to my place for shelter, transport and food.

So during those times in 1988 there was no way that I could turn my back on them, because of my cousin who was in the struggle. I had to give all the help that I had, but not knowing that while I am work, my cousin and Lolo and other boys in that street, they are organising to join the Mandela Football Club and they have already joined and they have all kinds of ammunition which has been hidden in the yards around the vicinity of my neighbours.

That I did not know of, until when the policeman and the commander was killed, the police were all over me. Some of the friends of my cousin that came from Zambia, were at my house. I gave them shelter, and one of them was arrested by the police one night. Fortunately they did not search my house.

The following days, all sorts of ammunition came from left, right, over the fences. I was given guns by boys to take back to Winnie, because they knew that they are in trouble, and I did not know what to do, but I took that away, back to Winnie.

So coming back to my story here. I pleaded with Winnie for more than an hour not to take my son away, but in vain. They drove off. I went back to the house. They came back to me, because he was asking for a jersey. There was this tall hefty boy with an athletic body, who was having a gun, escorting my boy up to the gate. He said he must not come into the house, we must just give him a jersey. They went back into the Kombi. I also followed into the Kombi, knowing very well that Winnie is a friend, Winnie is a mother, maybe she will listen to me this time. She did not. So the Kombi went with me, until up to the corner of my street, where I tried to plead with her to leave my son. She refused. So until they dropped me off at the corner. I went back home crying, not knowing what to do because by then the very boys were already going to the Shabalals to look for Sibonisa and his father came to me after they had left and told me that the boys were there looking for his son too. I tried with Shabalala to say stay overnight, and say if Sibonisa come we must not let him go to Winnie, because Lolo has been badly beaten already.

The following day, on the 14th, I went to the police. As the police were looking for me in Protea, the security section. When I got there they said where is Lolo. I told them that Lolo has been taken by Winnie.

Those people at Protea sent me back to Meadowlands, because they did not believe my story. They asked me if I had reported the matter. I said I could not report at night, because I was afraid, not knowing who is watching me. Because there were some other cars parked nearby my house, maybe I thought those people are guarding me not go to anywhere with Shabalala.

So when I got to the police at Meadowlands, I gave in my statement reporting that my son has been taken away. Nobody believed me there. There was this captain who came to me and said he doesn't believe my story, and anyhow, they are just taking the statement as a procedure.

So since then, 1988, 13th November, and 14th, when I reported the case, the police did not help me with anything. When the Stompie case came up in 1989 it is when that the police came to me. There was this Capt Dempsey that said he is the investigating officer. I never saw him before. I only saw him when he said to me he wants me to go to court, and testify against Winnie. So as an investigating officer, I asked him that what happened and why didn't he come to me to ask questions and the very day I have reported the matter, nobody bothered to go to Winnie to go and search for my son or come with any other help.

So since then ... (PAUSE).

CHAIRPERSON: Mr Sono, take your time, drink the water.

MR SONO: So there was nobody to help me.

CHAIRPERSON: Take your time, Mr Sono. Yes, if you can just drink some water, take a deep breath and then once you are ready indicate, we will continue talking. We will wait for you. (PAUSE).

You were talking about a person who came and asked you to go and give evidence in court.

MR SONO: Yes, that was the police, Capt Dempsey. So he took us to court with Mr Shabalala. Unfortunately he is late, Mr Shabalal is late.

So when we went to Court we met other people who were from Tokoza and some were from other places, who are supposed to give evidence in that trial, that what happened to them when they were taken to Winnie's house in Diepkloof.

There was one chappie who refused to testify, to say anything to the police. That was Michael, the boy who was driving the Kombi. He said he cannot say anything against Winnie because Winnie is like his mother.

So these other boys from Tokoza, they also refused to testify. So I was just alone willing to give evidence that what happened to my son and all that.

Fortunately, because in this world there are people who were striving for truth, people who want justice to be done, only read in papers that Mr Tony Leon here, was the only man who stood up for us, and talked to the Press and went out and wanted to find out that what happened to our son. He was the only person that whenever something is mentioned, then he will go out, not being afraid and ask the Press that they can help us. All that we had was being harassed by the Press and you know, all kinds of people coming to ask, TV people. Each time they see a story of Stompie or Lolo on the papers, they will phone us. Sometimes we will even pull the phone out of the hook, because they will ask us to come and give them the exclusive story of what happened. All what I said to them is that the matter is in the hands of the police and I haven't heard anything, there was no proper investigation done.

At the same time the police were harassing me from Protea, putting up spies all over for me. Even when I took trips, you know, like going somewhere else, because by then I had a small business, a transport business that I was making a living out of. I had to close it down because my White partner was influenced by this police that I am an ANC agent, I get a lot of money from the ANC and yet, there was no penny that I got from the ANC or whoever, because I was just merely helping. Because during those times if your son or your relative was involved in a struggle, you could not just lead him to the police or just tell the police where the people are.

All what I used to do is to give them much help as I can, as I was also in a struggle underground, but all that has done it has spoilt my business and it went down the drain. Because my partner couldn't put up with me any more. So it went on until Mr Leon was expressing to the police. He arranged for us to go and see the Commissioner of Police in Cape Town, which I gave my story to him. He was also very sympathetic. But during all this time, nobody came to me to tell me that we are busy investigating a case whatever, until we went to Cape Town to give Mr Fivaz part of our story, which most of it they read in papers. Then he sent us a letter ... (PAUSE).

CHAIRPERSON: We have got a copy here of the letter, all the Commissioners have got a copy.

MR SONO: Thank you very much. This letter here was from the Commissioner of Police, after we have gone to him and gave our story. All this, this was in 1995, but all this doesn't help me with anything, except that - but now I did not know that my son is late or has been killed. But according to this letter it says the police can only do something or they can only do something if they could find the place where he has been buried. But I don't know if he has been killed.

But I am here today mainly to appeal to the Commission, that if they could please help me find my son or if he has been killed, as this paper says, let me find his remains and I will exhume and bury him decently. Because this does not give me rest in my life. Whenever we think of him, moreover during his birthday. When he left he was already 21. He should have been 29 this year. I don't know what to do. He is my only son. He was my hope and for him to be taken away that way or if ever they have killed him, because Siboisa followed him the following day. He also never came back. This two young men on that street have saved a lot of people, because the whole street, those boys in that street they could all have been killed, because they have joined this Football Club and they were already given weapons or ammunition, you can call it. All those things. Even when the police came looking for them I protected them, because I said I have lost my son, I don't want people to lose their children too.

I have mentioned the point that I played hide and seek with the police, played stupid that I don't even know their nicknames, because the police came to me with the nicknames and I just said that I don't know what the boys are doing, and you know, protecting everybody on that street, because we got more than 20 boys there. We lost two. They could have all been gone.

Now I said thanks God, that if I could tell my story, I know Winnie. She wasn't as bad as she is at the moment.

She used to be a mother, she used to be a loving person. You will go to Winnie with your grievances she will help you if she can. But what has turned now, now lately, I don't know what happened to her. I am appealing to Winnie, to Michael and the Commission as well, or any other person who was there when my son was taken away, that if they could please come forward and tell what happened to my son. I will definitely rest.

I know that the Department of Justice is trying to do the best they can, but all what I know is that if everybody could say and look at things the other way, nobody is above the law. If the law must be executed, let it be and let there be no favours, because somebody else, some people are untouchable. Let's not go through that. All what I want is to get my son. I don't care for the business. I am still young, I can still work and accumulate. If I could get my son or get my son's remains, that will be good for me. That's all.

Source: Official TRC transcripts.