Zubeida Jaffer is a journalist and author. She was involved in the UDF and trade union movements in the 1980s. Jaffer used her journalism as a way of challenging the authority of the Apartheid state and raising awareness of the terrible brutality and injustice that it committed. After exposing police killings in 1980, she was held in solitary confinement and tortured. She was hounded by the Security Police throughout the 1980s and was repeatedly detained.
What follows is an extract from her memoirs, Our Generation. Here she describes the funeral of a young activist, Ashley Kriel, murdered by the Security Police. In a state where protest was suppressed, funerals of those killed often became places to speak against Apartheid, and even political rallies which mobilised communities around their grief. The funeral of Ashley Kriel was no different. The police’s determination to disrupt the funeral leads to an absurd scene where mourners and police fight over an ANC flag.
Also look out for splits between different mourners at the funeral.
Author: Zubeida Jaffer
It’s early Saturday morning and I leave Ruschka at home because I sense that today is going to be hard. Reaching Bonteheuwel, a sprawling sprawling Very spread out, in a disorderly or untidy way. barren Empty, infertile or desolate. township on the Cape Flats, takes less than twenty minutes from my home in Wynberg. I park my car on the sandy sidewalk and walk towards the small council house belonging to Ivy Kriel. Activists are dotted all along the fence in front of the house and in the small barren space meant for a garden, now filled with plastic chairs. I pass through them, nodding a silent greeting which they return. Those who are speaking to one another are whispering.
I join the line of family members as they slowly file file Walk in an orderly line. past the body. Ashley Kriel is lying flat on his back in the coffin in the middle of the tiny room. There is barely space to move. And then I see his face. I look but cannot see. Yet, I do see. His forehead is swollen. His eyes are closed. A deep gash gash Cut. leaping out of his forehead has been stitched up by the coroner. coroner A government official who investigates any unnatural deaths. The dark curls are brushed back. In that split second, my eyes blur and I feel my knees bending. A sharp pain shoots through my chest. A comrade hoists me up under my arms, steadying me. I am helped up the narrow steps to a bedroom upstairs where I find Ashley’s sister Melanie. We are both crying.
reluctant Unwilling, hesitant. UWC University of the Western Cape. morgue A place where dead bodies are stored for a short time, especially of victims of violence or accidents.
I know that I had to look at him some time. I was reluctant because I wanted to remember him as I knew him. But it would have been strange for me not to be part of the family ritual. Melanie, unlike her sister Michelle, is unable to function. While twenty-four-year-old Michelle is in the kitchen below helping visitors to the family home, her sister, sedated the night before, cannot stop crying.
It was Michelle who had called me a week ago at UWC and given me the news: “Zubeida, the police have shot Ashley. They took me to see his body in the morgue this afternoon. Please tell everybody.” I became icy cold. As if a winter chill had descended descended Come down. on my office. I cut out, suppressing suppressing Ignoring or keeping in; destroying. all emotions.
‘’Where is your mother? Don’t worry. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
I had left work immediately, thinking about the need to form a funeral committee, finding lawyers to investigate the killing, raising the money to help the family. There was no time to deal with emotions. Organising often became a way of coping with horrors that we dealt with daily. We had to be strong for the family, for the community, hiding how completely shattered we were.
I was aware that Ashley had left the country about a year after his final school exams. Some had tried to dissuade dissuade Talk someone out of a decision they made, discourage. him but he was angry. He and his friends in Bonteheuwel were shot at with birdshot and beaten whenever they tried to organise meetings at their school. He wanted to be equipped to fight back and had decided the only way was to be armed himself. He left the country at the end of 1985 and joined the military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe.
I regret now that I looked at his face this morning. Unknown to many of us, he was sent back after being trained and had been living at a house in Hazendal, a small working class, Coloured suburb near Athlone. I would have preferred remembering him as I knew him.
I used to watch him closely when he arose arose Stood up. rhetoric Language or speaking that is intended to persuade people. charisma Charm and appeal that excites people. to address the crowds at meetings of the United Democratic Front. I was never quite sure whether it was his political rhetoric or his personal charisma that set the crowd off. “Viva Ashley, Viva! Long live, long live!”
“Igama lama Ashley Kriel, Malibongwe.
Igama lama Ashley Kriel, malibongwe.”
(The name of Ashley Kriel, let it be praised.
The name of Ashley Kriel, let it be praised.)
He had this way of raising his arm alongside his ear when he shouted: “Amandla!” (Power!). To which the crowd responded tumultuously: tumultuously Making a loud and confused noise. “Ngawethu!” (To the people!) All speakers ended their speeches with these words. But not all raised their right arm as Ashley did. Some right arms were pushed forward diagonally with their fists clenched. Other arms were bent at the elbow at a kind of right angle to the shoulder. Ashley’s arm was always straight in the air with four fingers clenched in a fist and the thumb extended, extended Pushed out. the ANC’s power salute.
The extension of his arm elongated elongated Lengthened or stretched out. his body, giving him a new kind of height which added a further dimension to his defiant words. I could see the young women comrades in the audience tantalised tantalised Captivated or teased by something that you can’t get. by his charm. Although the sexual appeal would have been dominant amongst the women, he had his male admirers too. The combination of personal charm and political commitment made him a youth leader of great attraction.
tapered Getting thinner towards one end.
He was the Che Guevara of the Cape Flats. Long, tapered face with a mop of curly black hair. A lean, slender body dressed in khaki shirt and black beret. We were all proud, very proud of him.
When Ashley came to ask if he could stay with me for his final school year, I was happy to have him. We were able to provide him with comfortable study space so that he could do the best that he was able to.
In a different time, he may have been the local Don Juan. Don Juan A legendary character famous for womanising. But he grew into his teens just when the schools’ protest erupted in the Western Cape. With the formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF), one of our veteran youth organisers, Cecyl Esau, was quick to identify Ashley as the one who could help bring the youth of his township together to form a branch of the Cape Youth Congress.
While all of us who had organised and mobilised people against apartheid developed a special relationship during those years, it did not always mature into full-blown love. Ashley was one of the few who evoked evoked Brought out or caused. that unreserved emotion. He was loved not only by his family but also by many of us who saw in him the embodiment of all our hopes. He was young, from an impoverished background, but held his own on public platforms with veteran leaders such as Alan Boesak and Oscar Mpetha.
The previous week, as part of the funeral committee, it had been one of my jobs to piece together the scant scant Limited, insufficient. information that we had about the circumstances surrounding his death. Mourning in that crowded little house where his body lay, I relived the painful night when I sat down to prepare a fact file for the press.
I have waited for Ruschka to sleep so that I can be undisturbed as I compile compile Gather or assemble. my notes into a coherent coherent Clear and understandable. whole. When the night is mine, the words come easily and I stop only intermittently intermittently Irregularly; every now and then. when two of the metal arms of the typewriter with letters e and r get entangled. entangled Caught together. With my forefinger, I lightly unhook the one arm from the other. They slide into place on the keyboard and I resume my typing:
Ashley Kriel was alone when he died. Salma Ismail, the schoolteacher with whom he boarded, was at work. Her younger brother Imtiaz Ismail had taken their vacuum cleaner for repairs. They knew Ashley as “James”.
In a prepared statement this week, police said he died from a bullet fired from his own weapon during a scuffle scuffle Small fight. with two policemen who had tried to disarm and arrest him at the Athlone house.
The statement does not explain why Ashley was wearing handcuffs as claimed by lmtiaz Ismail who returned from his errand about 1.30 p.m.
Imtiaz’s witness is as follows:
“As I pulled into the driveway, three or four plain-clothes policemen told me to stop. I switched off the car. They told me and the friend with me to stand with our hands against the car and they searched us.
“I then walked around the back of the house with the policeman following me. I saw James lying on his side. There was blood on his forehead. His arms were stretched out in front of him and he was wearing handcuffs.
“The police were looking for more handcuffs but could not find any. They took the handcuffs off James and put them on me.
“I asked one policeman what was wrong with James and he told me: ‘Hy is doodgeskiet omdat hy ‘n terroris is.’ (He was shot dead because he was a terrorist.)”
I blot out blot out Hide or ignore. Ashley’s face as I write and write, finally signing off the sheet as issued by the Ashley Kriel Funeral Committee.
The next day, we hand out the fact sheet to journalists at a press conference with an addendum: “The above information will be used by the Weekly Mail this week. Journalists are free to make use of any information since it is not possible to bring family members and others together here at this press conference.”
A further information sheet has all the details of the funeral programme for the following day. We could not have imagined how complex our funeral plans were to become.
I pull myself together and help Melanie move down the steps so that she can follow her brother’s coffin out of the house. His body is placed inside the waiting hearse. hearse Car used to transport coffins. We get into our cars and slowly file into line so that the procession can move in an orderly fashion towards the New Apostolic Church.
sombreness Sadness or gloom. deter Stop.
It is a dark grey winter’s day, as if the skies reflect the sombreness of the mourners. We hope it will not rain and deter people from gathering on the sports field as planned.
Casspirs Armoured vehicles used by the Apartheid police force. peering Looking out. encounter Experience, come into contact with.
At the church, we see the armoured vehicles parked all around. Casspirs with armed men peering from their open doors greet fearful mourners as they file into the church. Many of us are accustomed to this display of force but for the average member of the New Apostolic Church this is not something they generally encounter when they attend Sunday services.
I can see the fear on peoples’ faces. They are quiet and very nervous. The proceedings are brief. Ashley’s uncle speaks. The priest makes some general biblical commentary, his blandness blandness Plainness or dullness. offensive to the activists.
scan Look up and down searchingly. pews Rows of seats in a church.
I scan the pews: women in their black dresses or suits with black hats or lace scarves. Men with their hats in their hands resting on the laps of their black pants.
deacons Church elders. clad Dressed.
They are part of a conservative religious community and they love Ivy. She had listened to the deacons as best she could when they explained the detail of the service. She knew they were not excited about welcoming the many khaki-clad youth who were determined to demonstrate wearing the volunteer uniform of the ANC.
She cared deeply for her son but she never cared for his involvement in politics. She never quite understood it. And now it had brought about his death, justifying her opposition to his involvement. He was the one she had relied on when she became ill. He was the one whom she had hoped would care for her when she became old.
She has a weak heart and when she could not work, when Ashley was fourteen, she reluctantly allowed him to go out in the middle of the night to sell the local daily Afrikaans newspaper, Die Burger. She and her daughters waited for him at 5 a.m. to take the few cents he earned for the day to buy bread. Then she would make him as comfortable as possible for his short sleep before he had to wake up again and ready himself for school.
The crowd surges surges Rushes, pushes. towards the door at the end of the service, then suddenly retreats. retreats Pulls back or withdraws.
“What’s going on?” I ask.
Before anybody can answer, I smell it – the pungent pungent Strong, sharply smelling. ammonia stinging the air floating through the open church door. “Oh my God, they are shooting!” shouts a mourner.
pallbearers People who carry the coffin.
The armed men stationed outside the church shoot rounds of teargas at the pallbearers as they descend the steps. The activists take over and run with the coffin all the way to a second church to get it away from the gas overpowering the mourners.
As I pass through the door and out into the hazy hazy Unclear, smoky or blurred. daylight. I see the coffin dancing grimly grimly Shockingly, depressingly. on the shoulders of the young men moving rapidly down the streets. I cringe, cringe To bend or move in fear or distaste. thinking of Ashley’s battered body bashing up against the coffin sides as different waves of comrades pass the casket on like a baton in a relay and run with it as fast as they can.
There is little point in trying to get to my car. Some churchgoers are in a hurry to get home as quickly as they can. The only way many of us can maintain our dignity is to walk through the mass of armed men circling the church and follow the body on foot. Fleetingly, Fleetingly Briefly. I imagine that today is the day I will die. Ruschka will be looked after. I do not have to worry. I have always wondered when it will come, but today all the elements are in place. A helicopter hovers directly above us in the overcast sky. Rows of yellow riot vehicles are backed up by masked men who train train Aim. retaliatory In reply, revengeful. their automatic weapons on us. All along the road, sharpshooters are crouched on the rooftops of the small Bonteheuwel dwellings, prepared for retaliatory action from the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). We know such an offensive would never come on the streets of Bonteheuwel, crowded with civilians. The commander-in-chief, Chris Hani, would never sanction sanction Allow. such action. There is talk that he had taken a special liking to Ashley and that he had personally given the go-ahead for him to be sent back into the country. In these times, it is not always possible to distinguish between speculation speculation Guesswork or rumours. and fact.
I gather from the police reaction that they too must have believed that Chris had a direct interest in this fatality. fatality Death. Although I have never met him, I feel he is the one person we can rely on to fight back against the might of the apartheid military machine. Yet it would have made no sense for MK to plan anything at the funeral to endanger ordinary people. Public demonstrations or funerals are seldom seldom Not often. occasions for military activity. They are used rather for mobilisation of communities and their radicalisation, providing fertile soil for underground military activities.
Arriving at the Anglican Church, the funeral committee quickly realises that any plans to move the funeral onto the field would be too dangerous. We confer confer with Consult, discuss. with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Reverend Alan Boesak and Moulana Faried Essack and decide to merge the programme planned for the field and the one for the church. The church service becomes a mass rally and the mass rally becomes a church service.
Out comes the ANC flag to be draped over the coffin. Hymns merge into freedom songs and freedom songs into hymns. Tears become laughter and laughter becomes tears. Both Tutu and Boesak poke fun at the police, creating a levity levity Lightness of mood. essential to lowering the mood of anger.
Outside the church, Ashley’s mother remains seated in the family car. It has all become too much for her and she refuses to participate in the second service. I am torn between going to persuade her to come in and just letting her be. Knowing her deep sadness and how conflicted she felt, I decide it’s best to just let her be.
She has given us her heart in the beautiful body of her son. It is unfair to expect her to give us her own body to appease appease Soothe, calm down. our broken hearts.
Thinking about her alone in the car outside, I remember the story she once told me about the time before Ashley disappeared. He had come home one night and slipped his arms lovingly around her waist, presenting her with a chocolate to ease the tension which had built up between them over his activities.
With his arm around her waist, they had sat close together sharing the chocolate. He had a way about him that made everything right for her and the chocolate helped work the magic.
A few days later he asked her for money to pay the shopkeeper on the corner. When she wanted to know what it was for he said: “Dit is vir die chocolate wat ek vir ma gekoop het.” (For the chocolate I bought you, mom.)
I smile when I remember her laughter that day long before his death.
The service is over and Archbishop Tutu, Allan Boesak and Faried Essack follow the black-, green- and gold-draped coffin out of the church towards the parked hearse. The police had earlier placed restrictions on the funeral, forbidding the display of the ANC flag. As the pallbearers fit the coffin into the hearse, the head of the riot police, Major Dolf Odendaal, makes a dash for the flag. He tries to drag it off the hearse. He pulls on one side and the pallbearers, trying to set the coffin down, pull on the other. Moulana Faried Essack steps into the fray fray Fight. and grabs the flag, making it impossible for Odendaal to pull it off. Ivy watches this undignified tussle tussle Argument, contest. over her son’s stiff body. The pallbearers, helped by the Muslim imam, manage to slide the coffin into the vehicle and slam the door shut.
bolts Jumps. apace Quickly.
The hearse bolts forward like a frightened horse, leaving the family and mourners gaping in astonishment. The driver does not slow down but gallops apace while we dash to find vehicles to follow the procession. For a moment, I wonder how on earth I would have managed if I had brought Ruschka into this chaos. Then I jump into a friend’s car and we drive down the main road in Bonteheuwel into Vanguard Drive. The cortege cortege Funeral procession. is out of sight. Instead we see rows of masked armed riot police lining the street all the way to the cemetery in Maitland. It is a good ten kilometres from the church. Cars are piled up, mourners mixed with the daily traffic along the busy industrial road.
A handful of people make it to the graveyard to lower Ashley to his final resting-place. When we arrive, the police block our entry at the gates. I am hysterical, shouting, pushing. Ashley did not deserve to be buried this way. He did not deserve to be buried this way. He was the handsome one, the much-loved one, and the charming one whom deprived Denied the possession of something. punitive Designed to punish. they deprived us of even in his death. It’s so hard to imagine what logic drives their punitive behaviour. It is completely beyond me why they do not want us to say our last good byes. Grieving Grieving Mourning, sad. angry faces stamped with the same bewilderment bewilderment Confusion. throng around me.
A fleeting image of a man smiling broadly passes through my mind. Chris Hani, commander-in-chief of MK. His muscles bulge through his khaki shirt. His large forehead dominates his caramel-coloured face. He smiles at me with his characteristic broad grin captured in a photograph stealthily stealthily Secretly, carefully. circulated amongst comrades and stored in my memory. That ready smile set in a face ringed by a cushion of soft steely hair. The man who has the arms to protect us. We need help, Chris. We need you.
A sombre group of family and friends meet at a church hall in Bonteheuwel for the funeral meal. Local cooks have prepared huge pots of minced meat curry and rice and dish generous helpings onto our cardboard plates. We pull up our chairs informally into circles, trying to make light of the day’s events. “Well, we are all alive,” says one comrade. “This food is just what I needed.” says another.
The warmth of the food eases my tension and I am grateful to be alive. It is so hard to think of Ashley. We prefer to laugh about the fight over the flag. What a sight it had been. The clergy clergy Religious leaders. on one side, the police on the other and the flag in between.
A young girl runs into the hall shouting: “Die boere is hier buite!” (The police are outside.)
“Lock the doors?” “But why?” “What do they want now?” Questions ripple through the crowd. Some leave the hall. As they do, the first canister whizzes past our heads, emitting emitting Giving off. the sickly white teargas. Everybody starts running. Some close the doors in panic. Some try to crawl under tables. Others double over to vomit.
For some unknown reason, I decide to run onto the stage. But there is no place to hide. The gas is floating across the hall. My chest is tightening. At the back of the stage, people are trying to open the back door. They are pulling and banging on it. I want to help the old woman in front of me as she falls to the ground but I cannot because it feels like my lungs are about to explode. I must find air.
I press up against the back of the stage wall to hide and die without being beaten. I am expecting the police to come flooding into the hall waving their batons and guns. We are trapped and the pain in my chest is growing sharper. It is as if my lungs are blowing up like balloons about to burst through my chest. I have to move or go down like the elderly woman on the floor in front of me. Then I hear the back door open. Some young comrades have managed to open it and I go tumbling down the ramp into air. In the rush to breathe, I had tripped and fallen from the confines confines Restrictions. of the gas-filled hall. I lay on my back staring up at the rain-laden clouds, thankful to be alive.
- What was it that made Ashley Kriel such a popular leader?
- How did Apartheid, and becoming involved in the struggle, shape Ashley Kriel’s life? What did he sacrifice and miss out on because of this?
- How did the police explain his death? Was this a convincing explanation? Why or why not?
- Why do you think the police decided to disrupt the funeral? What power did Kriel have in death?
- Jaffer describes different groups of people attending the funeral. Who were they? How were they different? Why were they all there?
- Put yourself in the position of Ivy Kriel, Ashley’s mother. How would you have felt at the funeral? How would you feel towards Ashley’s comrades? How would you feel towards the Security Police?
- In the middle of the tragedy and great loss, the image of religious leaders and Apartheid policemen fighting over an ANC flag is absurd, almost funny. What does this interaction show us about what was happening to the power of Apartheid, and the changing way people responded to Apartheid, in the 1980s?
- What are some of the different ways in which people in the story deal with pain, loss and anger?
Congratulations on finishing Amagama Enkululeko! Words for Freedom: Writing Life Under Apartheid. Your minds must be full of thoughts and questions! In a two-page essay, reflect on your experience while reading the book. Address these three questions in coming up with your answer:
- Which three stories, poems, or extracts from the novels or memoirs did you find the most interesting and enjoyable? Why?
- Which historical period (i.e. which chapter) grabbed you the most? Why?
- What lessons can we take, from reading these texts, to build a more just society in the future?