Delmas – last message from the dock

The three United Democratic Front leaders in the "Delmas" treason trail began lengthy prison sentences yesterday with a message of hope for South Africans. UDF former publicity secretary Patrick "Terror'' Lekota was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, while the former national secretary, Popo Molefe, and former Transvaal secretary Moss Chikane were sentenced to 10 years each. South African Council of Churches and black consciousness stalwart Tom Manthata was sentenced to six years imprisonment. All four were convicted of treason. Vaal activist Gcina Malindi was jailed for five years for terrorism. The other six accused received five-year suspended sentences for terrorism.

"We view the present trial as an interim affair," the UDF three said in a joint statement, released from the dock before they were led down to the cells. "Somewhere in the future lies a date when black and white South Africans will take a second look at these moments of our history. "They will evaluate afresh the events now in contention and our role in them. And since the privilege will belong to them, they will pass final judgement. We are convinced that theirs will be contrary to the present one. "They will vindicate us," the three said. As the judge left the court, cries of "Viva UDF' broke out and the crowd began singing the national anthem, Nkosi Sikelele i' Afrika. Police tried to hurry the men down to the cells but well-wishers kept stopping them.

Tears rolled down the faces of defence counsel, advocates George Bizos and Zac Yacoob, as the crowd sang and the trialists raised their fists and shouted "Amandla."  Family and friends wept as they left the building. The day was marked by tight security and a large police presence in the court. Outside the building, a row of more than 100 police lined up to form a barrier against the crowd watching from Church Square, opposite the Pretoria Supreme Court. The trial was also attended by a number of political and trade union leaders and a large group of diplomats, including US ambassador Edward Perkins and British ambassador Robin Renwick. The sentences came at the end of a 45-minute address by the judge during which he praised some of the trialists – and cited them as potential future political leaders – before sending them down to the cells.

The sentences will mean that some of the most prominent political leaders of the 1980's are out of circulation, following South Africa's longest and most expensive trial. They have already been in custody for three years. However, of the 18 original  accused from the Vaal, all but one of them are out of prison. Three were acquitted at the end of the state's case, and another eight were acquit­ ted two weeks ago. In granting suspended sentences on the other five, Mr Justice K van Dijkhorst imposed severe conditions on the six – amounting to the equivalent of banning orders. This is unprecedented, and will effectively remove the six from political life for five years without sending them to prison. 

The conditions are: 

  • They may not be found guilty during the period of their suspension of treason, sedition, public violence, terrorism, sabotage and subversion in contravention of the Internal Security Act, or arson;
  • For two years they may not attend their own parishes and sports meetings;
  • They may not, during the next two years of their suspended sentences, be with more than 20 people;     They should not issue public statements nor give any interviews to journalists during the first two years;
  • They may not serve as executive members on any political or youth organisations, or participate in the activities of those organisations for the first two years of their sentences.
  • They may not participate in, or organise, any form of public protest action.

In sentencing the UDF leaders, Justice Van Dijkhorst said he accepted that the UDF was seen by many as working towards a negotiated settlement and that the demise of the UDF may well slow the process of reform. "I accept in order to work out through a process of negotiation a peaceful co-existence, a credible leadership is needed. I accept the UDF is seen by many to have an important role in the process. "I fully appreciate that the demise of the UDF may leave a void which may take a number of years to fill. It may well be this will slow down the process of reform, as was alleged. "For this consequence, the UDF has itself to blame," he said.

The judge said the UDF was a viable movement with a message which merited attention. He acknowledged that the UDF had a large and enthusiastic following but said it chose the path of violence instead of moderation and thereby did South Africa a disservice. "I hold the view that these men, especially Molefe, can in future play a constructive role on the political scene provided they, by word and deed, foreswear the violent option and obey the law." The sentences should not frustrate this, he said. The judge described Manthatha's sentence as lenient and said it had been imposed in the hope that the church worker would resume a leadership role in a more constructive and responsible way on his return to society. In sentencing Malindi, the judge cited a previous conviction for public violence. An application for leave to appeal will be heard on Monday. – Vusi Gunene & Jenni Tennant.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


Judge trashes entire lockdown regime as constitutionally flawed

The high court ruling will delight gatvol South Africans but is unlikely to stand the test of time

Eusebius McKaiser: Two important lessons to learn about racists

The racially intolerant act to keep black people in “their place”, some even while claiming they're allies

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday