Treason charges linked to unrest

The state’s case against 22 treasons trialists who appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court this week alleges a conspiracy in which United Democratic Front and Vaal activists are linked to the destruction, damage and killings that took place in Vaal townships last year.

The trial, which includes two UDF leaders among the accused, is being seen as another attack on the Front and opposition groups in the Vaal. Held in a tiny court and at short notice (the accused were indicted less than 24 hours before their court appearance), it is based on the uprisings that have rocked the Vaal triangle for almost two years.

The 22 are charged with high treason, alternatively with terrorism, subversion and murder. The UDF and affiliated activists (notably those involved in Vaal civic associations) are accused of participating in, and of furthering the aims of the banned African National Congress and the South African Communist Party in the campaigns that were waged against the Koornhof bills and the black local authorities.

The 22 trialists are:
Patrick Mabuya Baleka, Oupa John Hlomoka, Tebogo Geoffrey Moselane, Mohapi Lazarus More, Gcincumuzi Petrus Malindi, Morake Petrus Mokoena, Tsietsi David Mphutil. Naphtali Mbuti Nkopane, Tebello Ephraim Ramakgula, Bavumile Herbert Vilakazi, Sekwati John Mokoena, Mkhambi Amos Malindi, Simon Tseko Nkoli, Pelamotse Jerry Tlhopane, Serame Jacob Hlanyane, Thomas Madixwe Manthata, Hlabeng Sam Matlole, Maxala Simon Bilakazi, Popo Simon Molefe, Mosiuoa Patrick Lekota, Moses Mabokela Chikane, Thabiso Andrew Ratsomo.

In court on Tuesday, where 15 legal representatives appeared for the accused, advocates Ismael Mahommed SC and Zak Yacoob said that there had already been discussions with the Transvaal Attorney-General who had handed in certificates to the court preventing the accused from applying for bail. The court heard that further representations would be made to the A-G with a view to persuading him to set aside the certificates, leaving the way clear for applications for bail to be made.

If these attempts failed, the issue of the certificates would be taken on appeal to the Supreme Court. “If our attempts are unsuccessful, we want to attack the certificates as being bad in law,” Mahommed said. Earlier this year Mahommed won a similar appeal on behalf of the 16 Maritzburg treason trialists.

A researcher for the Southern African Research Service said there were “more treason trials in the courts at the moment than there have ever been at any other time in South Africa”. He said the Pretoria, Maritzburg and other treason trials which are either in progress or scheduled for later this year, were “clearly an attack on the UDF and other major organisations affiliated to it”.

He said: “If, in the case of the Vaal, the state is alleging that localised uprisings constitute treason, then they are extending the concept of treason in contrast to the ways it has previously been used.” A member of the Detainees’ Parents Support Committee listed some of the treason trials that have come to their attention:

  • Four Johannesburg trials, one of which was heard in May. In that case, three men received sentences ranging from 5 to 15 years’ imprisonment. The other three Johannesburg trials, involving 11 people, are to be heard on August 12, September 2, and October 16.
  • In Kimberley three treason trialists will come to court on July 15.
  • The Maritzburg trial. Many of the 16 accused are prominent UDF members. Others are office bearers in the Transvaal and Natal Indian Congresses, the South African Allied Workers Union, and the Release Mandela Campaign.

Together with the Pretoria trial this brings the number of people known to be facing treason charges this year to 55. The DPSC spokesman condemned the trials as “an extension of the detention system” and said they were a “further way of harassing opponents of the government and of neutralising them for long periods of time while they are held in prison and during lengthy trials.

“Even those out on bail in Maritzburg are subject to extremely harsh bail conditions which prevent them from participating freely in opposition politics,” he said. He said the treason trials were a “blatant attempt” to neutralise and criminalise opponents of the state. The case of the 22 was remanded to June 15 when the bail issue is expected to be on the agenda.

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