Helene Passtoors flew into Brussels yesterday and up her pledge to renounce violence against the government and not return to the sub-Passtoors, jailed for 10 years for treason in 1986, indicated that she did not consider herself bound by the undertake which had been imposed on her in a situation where no free choice was possible. She also indicated that the document – which she signed on Monday to secure her release after three years in prison – was of no legal force. Passtoors, who is listed and cannot be quoted, also made clear that she remained totally dedicated to the “struggle” would continue to support it in every way.
Responding last night, Minister of Foreign Affairs Pik Botha said the agreement was “not in her hands or affected by anything she said”. It was an agreement between the South African and Belgian governments and Brussels had “given an assurance that the agreement reached with the South African government will be fully applied”. A local lawyer said he did not believe Passtoors’ defiant gesture would jeopardise offers of conditional freedom made to other political prisoners in South Africa, as the agreement had been mere “propaganda”. However, her gesture and Botha’s response will be important to the many other political prisoners who have been offered their freedom if they sign a similiar renunciation of violence.
Passtoors, 46, a Belgian subject, flew from Johannesburg to Brussels on Wednesday, bringing to an end three years of negotiations between the Belgian and South African governments for her release. The three South African diplomats expelled by Belgium following an earlier breakdown in negotiations are now free to return to Brussels. Passtoors was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment for treason in May 1986 after being convicted of running arms for the African National Congress. The agreement will be “enforced” by the Belgian authorities to the extent that the travel limitations will be placed in any Belgian passport she may use.
However, Passtoors is a dual national – she was born and brought up in Holland – and no restrictions have been placed on the Dutch travel documents she may hold, as Holland was not a party to the agreement. She leaves behind in the women’s section of Pretoria Central Prison Barbara Hogan and Marion Sparg, who have both refused to sign pledges to renounce violence in return for the possibility of early parole, and Ruth Gerhardt who has signed such an undertaking, but has not yet been released.
Passtoors did not get on with her fellow inmates and this did not help her persistent depression and faltering health (she developed epilepsy) Her release on Wednesday afternoon was a cloak-and-dagger affair. Apparently as a result of security concerns, she was freed into the hands of the Belgian consular officials and flown out a day early. So elaborate was the secrecy surrounding the operation that even her lawyer, Ismael Ayob, was not informed of the change in plans.
Passtoors and her former husband Klaas de Jonge were detained after police observed and filmed them burying an arms cache near Halfway House. DeJonge escaped his captors and took refuge in the Dutch Embassy in Pretoria, where he spent the next two years. Inspired by her relationship with Ebrahim, Passtoors converted to Islam while in jail. She assumed the Muslim name of Yasara and her only regular weekly visitor was Imam Usuf Mahomed Hassim, the chairman of the Muslim Board of Prison Welfare and State Institutions. “She is a very good and devoted Muslim. She is very intelligent and her mind absorbs the principles of her adopted religion very easily. I will miss her and our weekly discussions.
This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.