/ 10 December 2003

Love story unfolds at Hefer

A love story with a happy ending unfolded on Wednesday before the Hefer Commission of Inquiry.

National Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka described the struggle he had, in the early Eighties, to marry his wife, now Minister of Minerals and Energy Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

He told of a nine-page love letter his then fiancée wrote him 20 years ago from Switzerland. He saw it for the first time last week when he received the surveillance file that the apartheid government had kept on him.

Ngcuka was in prison at the time when she wrote the letter. The authorities intercepted it and put it in his file.

The national archives recently released these files and Ngcuka applied to see his.

The Ngcukas, now happily married for almost 20 years, were supposed to get married in December 1981. However, their plans were arrested when the security police detained Ngcuka on November 30 of that year.

He was eventually convicted almost a year later for refusing to testify against a comrade, and sentenced to three years in prison.

The authorities continuously denied the then Mlambo the right to visit her fiancé in prison. The reason they gave was that she was not a direct family member.

Only after seeing his surveillance file last week, they realised the real reason: She had ”come to the attention of the security police”.

Her letters to him were intercepted. They covertly kept contact through an aunt living near the prison, who relayed her phoned messages to family members of other prisoners.

They then passed on the messages when they visited these prisoners, and they passed them on to Ngcuka.

Their attempts to marry in prison failed.

They also realised only last week — after seeing the surveillance file — that this was because the authorities intercepted his lawyer’s letters to him.

Because he did not get the letters Ngcuka did not know that he should apply to his local prison head for permission to marry. They were therefore never granted permission although they had already started arranging a prison wedding.

Even a sworn affidavit Mlambo obtained from her future husband’s brother, saying his family wanted her to visit him, failed to move the authorities.

She desperately turned to the media and told her story to a journalist from the Sowetan. That paper eventually published an article headed ”Prisons department ignores woman’s plea to visit her fiancé”.

This did the trick, and in January 1984 she was ”miraculously” granted permission to see him, Ngcuka said.

They were at long last married 12 days after his release from prison in August 1985.

When asked about the personal effect of allegations against him in the past few months, Ngcuka replied on Wednesday that he had ”a good wife” who remained strong and supported him during this ”very hurtful” time. — Sapa