National Liberation Front/Yu Chi Chan Club—ANC/Umkhonto we Sizwe
The interview was held by Tor Sellström in Cape Town, 6 December 1995.
Tor Sellström: How did you come into contact with the Nordic countries?
Gerald Giose: My interest in the Nordic countries dates back to the Second World War. Our own anti-racist struggle was a mirror image of the Second World War struggle against racism. It was therefore encouraging to note that the Nordic countries carried on the tradition of opposing racism, which was established during that war.
The support which the government of Sweden in particular, and the Nordic countries in general, gave to our struggle in such international fora as the United Nations General Assembly and Security Council was a cause for inspiration and appreciation. Indeed, in a memorandum which I submitted to our Department of Defence, motivating my application for a proper ranking in the new South African National Defence Force, I made a reference to Sweden. I directed this memorandum to our Minister of Defence, comrade Joe Modise, requesting an urgent personal audience to defend my submission in rebuttal of being downgraded to the rank of a mere major in the South African National Defence Force. As part of my motivation I stated that: ‘I successfully interacted with the government of a major European country via its ambassador to South Africa in 1962-1964. That country’s government became one of our major European Frontline States. It was not a member of our socialist bloc allies. Our President, Oliver Reginald Tambo, received medical care in that country. Shortly after his release, the Umkhonto we Sizwe High Command and the ANC National Executive Committee accompanied Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela, our State President, to an appropriate official reception in that fraternal anti-apartheid state, Sweden.’
Tor Sellström: Were you a founding member of Umkhonto we Sizwe?
Gerald Giose: Yes, I am a founding member, as you will note from this letter of certification from the ANC Military Chief of Staff Office, dated 28 July 1995, stating: ‘This is to certify that Gumbilomzamo Gerald Giose de Guise, also known as—nom de guerre—Mr White, joined Umkhonto we Sizwe on 16 December 1961 and has served this military force in various capacities to date’. The name, my signature and identity number. Signed by the Chief of Staff and underlined by the motto of the African National Congress: ‘The people shall govern’.
Tor Sellström: How come that you got in contact with the Swedish ambassador?
Gerald Giose: The international support that we were receiving for the anti-apartheid struggle during that period brought to our attention the role which was played by Sweden and the other Nordic countries. I was specifically mandated to make contact with the Swedish government in order to, first of all, thank the people and the government for this brotherly support.
Tor Sellström: Who mandated you?
Gerald Giose: Dr. Kenny Abrahams, who subsequently was accommodated in Sweden when he was forced to flee from Southern Africa. For us who remained here under arrest, it was a great encouragement to learn that the Swedish government had given him political refuge.
Tor Sellström: Abrahams was from Namibia. Was he involved in the setting up of the Yu Chi Chan Club?
Gerald Giose: Yes, that is correct. Andreas Shipanga joined it later. When we formed the Yu Chi Chan Club, the name was chosen for security reasons. The organization was in reality the National Liberation Front. We had commenced preparations for the armed struggle against apartheid as early as in 1959, whereas the Umkhonto we Sizwe operations were launched on 16 December 1961.
Tor Sellström: When Umkhonto we Sizwe was launched, were you a member of ANC?
Gerald Giose: I was born into the African National Congress and the Communist Party. There was this situation in Southern Africa where a majority of the leadership of the liberation struggle were priests. My father was a priest in the Methodist Church, initially until 1928, but because of racial segregation he then joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Like most priests, my father accepted the apostles’ creed of the Christian Church as the theoretical basis for the practical Communist Manifesto, both of which enunciate the principles of equality and justice. Not merely in theory, but in practice. Not only politically, but also economically.
In our home, my father made us memorise and recite the Lord’s Prayer—Our Father in Heaven—and then the Communist Manifesto. He cited the example of Christ ministering to the multitudes. When the multitudes were hungry, Christ did not theorise on life hereafter, but paid attention to the economic needs of the people. He said: ‘Come, because you are hungry. Take out whatever you have and let us share’. My father always cited this as an example of socialism. In later years, when I was able to be informed of the social principles of the Swedish government, I could therefore identify with the correct philosophical policies of the welfare state.
Those who formed the National Liberation Front came from different backgrounds. Dr. Kenny Abrahams was a medically qualified doctor. I was a qualified school teacher, whose father had been a Church minister and one of the founders of the Communist Party of South Africa. He was also one of the early people who developed the African National Congress. I remember when my mother and father used to discuss the possible future roles of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo. Although we as children were not permitted to intervene and take part in the discussions of our parents, that was my fundamental education. When I began to practise my profession as a school teacher it was only logical that I should become involved in the struggle for liberation, particularly of the youth.
When we decided to call our organization the National Liberation Front it was in order to consolidate all the elements in South Africa who were struggling against racism. Dr. Neville Alexander, Dr. Kenny Abrahams, Reverend Don John Davis—who was also a Church minister, a top ranking member of both the Communist Party and of the African National Congress and who served ten years together with comrade Nelson Mandela on Robben Island from 1964 to 1974—and myself had decided that we must launch the armed struggle.
Particularly in the Western Cape, the majority of the working class population—which was classified as coloured in terms of the apartheid racial laws, and Afrikaans-speaking—was isolated from the other population and language groups in South Africa. As this separation had resulted in their non-identification with the other oppressed groups, we decided to speak a language which they understood. At the same time, we decided to approach their hearts and minds in a manner that would not imply that we were attempting to make them appendages to, or by force integrating them with, the other groups, whose language was not part of their upbringing. As Mao Tse Tung has stated, social leadership must speak the language of the people. Bringing forth this reason, we mobilized a significant part of the population into the National Liberation Front. At that time, this population was identifying as their role models comrades Fidel Castro and Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara of the Cuban 26 of July Movement, as well as the Algerians Ben Bella and Boumedienne. They were often identical in appearance and pigmentation and seen as examples of a successful ‘coloured’ rebellion and revolt against racism. Incidentally, at the same time comrade Reggie September, who had been a high school teacher, had for the same reasons decided to mobilize this group within the Coloured Peoples’ Congress.
The success of this tactic was proved in the international leadership, built up by people like Dr. Kenny Abrahams and comrade Dulcie September, who as ANC Chief Representative in the 1980s was assassinated in Paris by agents of apartheid. She and I served in the High Command of the National Liberation Front. She was one of the leading members.
Now, while we had formed the National Liberation Front in order to mobilize the Afrikaans-speaking people classified coloured, our motive was to consolidate all the antiapartheid elements into one liberation movement, which to me from the outset was the Congress movement.
Tor Sellström: Abrahams asked you to befriend the Swedish ambassador. How did you contact him?
Gerald Giose: I made the contact at the embassy, which was here in the centre of Cape Town.
Tor Sellström: Was he understanding to your cause?
Gerald Giose: Yes. His name was Dr. Bratt. He was very understanding, possibly because of the seriousness of the situation at that time and because he represented the Swedish government and the Swedish people’s sympathetic policy. When I explained our situation to Dr. Bratt, he listened attentively and pledged support by the Swedish government to our cause. I also pledged, of course, the normal confidentiality which was essential during those years. I should state that Sweden was regarded, and indeed was, the Frontline State of our liberation movement in Europe, as distinct from the socialist bloc of countries.
Tor Sellström: So you had established a contact with Dr. Bratt. Then the police started to make life difficult for you?
Gerald Giose: That is correct. To the extent that in August 1963 I went to Dr. Bratt and requested political asylum, which he very kindly agreed to and invited me to his official residence off Brommersvlei Road, Constantia, outside Cape Town. I stayed there until the end of January 1964.
Tor Sellström: And then you left with a Swedish ship?
Gerald Giose: That is correct. Dr. Bratt had given me the schedule of the Swedish ships, as they would be leaving. There was the Sunnaren, the Hallaren and others, but the one which was due to leave was the Sunnaren. I was given instructions how to get on board the ship. I was disguised as one of the stevedores who had been loading bunkers onto the Sunnaren. If I remember it correctly, it was at the East Pier, which now has been converted as part of the Waterfront.
Tor Sellström: Was Dr. Bratt knowledgeable about all this and how you should get on board the ship?
Gerald Giose: Yes, he was knowledgeable. The advice from Dr. Bratt was to wait until we were outside South Africa’s territorial waters and then I should report to the captain.
Tor Sellström: What was the name of the captain?
Gerald Giose: I was subsequently told by the security police that it was a captain Nilsson.
Tor Sellström: How did you know that you were on international waters?
Gerald Giose: I had a compass with which I observed the direction and on the third day, when we were outside South Africa’s territorial waters, I went to the captain. He wanted to know whether I had any money for the passage to Sweden. I did not want to divulge Dr. Bratt’s involvement in these arrangements and I told him that I had no money, but that I would be willing to sign an I.O.U., that is a credit note, which would be honoured by the international office of ANC. He said that he could not accept a credit note. He wanted five hundred Rands in cash. I told him that I did not have five hundred Rands. He then asked me whether I had three hundred Rands. I said no. I did not have three hundred Rands. He further asked me how much money I had. I said that I had absolutely no money. One of the reasons for not having taken any money aboard was that should I be detected before the Sunnaren left the port of Cape Town, being in possession of a large quantity of money would be compromising.
While the captain was asking me, I noticed a white person standing half behind him. The captain was not aware of this person and when he saw him, he said to me. ‘Look, you have no authority to be on my boat.’ At that time this person asked me: ‘Who are you? How did you get onto this boat.’ I did not reply to his questions. Then the captain addressed this person and said that ‘this is a stowaway who has just reported to me’. The white man then said that I must be taken to port and handed over to the authorities in Walvis Bay.
Tor Sellström: Was this white man Swedish?
Gerald Giose: No, he was not Swedish. I subsequently learned that he was an agent of a shipping company in Cape Town and that he was on his way to Walvis Bay.
Tor Sellström: Do you know his name?
Gerald Giose: No, I do not know his name.
Tor Sellström: Was he South African?
Gerald Giose: He was South African. I could distinguish his pronunciation of the English language.
Tor Sellström: Did the captain or this South African man contact the South African authorities?
Gerald Giose: Yes, they did. That is how they went about it. The captain called two Swedish sailors to take me to a small room where I was to be detained. The room was about 1,5m x 2m. I was kept locked up there. Some meat was brought to me. I particularly remember meatballs, very salty, but I accepted this as a standard diet for seamen on long voyages. The following morning, the door was opened and I was called out. I saw three burly white people. I was used to the appearance of members of the security police. These were white policemen. The captain handed me over to them.
Tor Sellström: Was this in Walvis Bay?
Gerald Giose: Yes, this was in the harbour, around 1 February 1964.
Tor Sellström: What happened then?
Gerald Giose: A Major Coetzee came to Walvis Bay. He was accompanied by two other members of the security police. They had their semiautomatic rifles wrapped in brown paper. We left Walvis Bay via Usakos and Omaruru, then East and South to Windhoek. This was by car. As we were moving to Windhoek, Major Coetzee stopped along the way and told me: ‘Look, if you escape now we are sure that you will survive. We are giving you that opportunity’. I immediately recognised this as a ploy and remained seated in the car. He laughed and said to the driver that they must continue. We reached Windhoek at twelve o'clock. It was very hot. I was not given any food or water. I was kept there overnight and very early the following morning I was given maizemeal porridge. Then Major Coetzee told me that I was being taken to Windhoek airport. The aeroplane left at eight o'clock that morning of 3 February 1964 and we reached Cape Town at approximately twelve.
As we left the plane, a cloak was put over my head and I was taken to Belleville police station. In the late afternoon, I was interrogated by the security police. Major Coetzee was one of them. He wanted to know who had arranged for me to be on board the Sunnaren.
Tor Sellström: Had they identified you by now?
Gerald Giose: Yes, by that time they had identified me. They had been searching for me those months when I was at the Swedish residence, not knowing that I was there. This is the first time that I divulge to someone from Sweden the circumstances and the fraternal role which the Swedish ambassador, Dr. Bratt, played.
Tor Sellström: On the Sunnaren, did you not say to the captain that you were protected by the United Nations?
Gerald Giose: Yes, I did. In fact, I first cited the antiapartheid resolutions of the United Nations which had been supported by the government of Sweden and I told the captain that I was claiming protection.
Tor Sellström: What did he say?
Gerald Giose: He said that the United Nations had no jurisdiction on his boat. I then asked for protection in the name of His Majesty King Gustaf of Sweden. He asked what King Gustaf had to do with me being a stowaway. I pointed out that King Gustaf was the head of the Swedish people, who were supporting our antiapartheid struggle. But the captain said that he was not interested in bringing King Gustaf into the situation. I then said that he must kindly make contact with the Swedish embassy in South Africa and check whether my name appeared on the register of members of ANC. I told him that I was a school teacher. The South African man said that I should not bring the Swedish embassy into this.
Tor Sellström: You did not want to divulge the name of the ambassador?
Gerald Giose: That is correct. Later the white man said: ‘You pretend to be so knowledgeable about the Swedish government. Can you tell us who the Swedish ambassador in South Africa is?’ I said that ‘if you look in the official diary where the name of all embassies and ambassadors are entered you will see that Dr. Bratt is the representative of the Swedish government in South Africa’. But I did not divulge that Dr. Bratt had arranged for me to be on that boat.
Tor Sellström: Was this unfortunate story ever published in the newspapers?
Gerald Giose: I was in custody and I had no access to newspapers, but my mother and my wife told me that the matter had been brought up in the United Nations. The matter of a captain of a Swedish boat handing me over to the apartheid regime.
Tor Sellström: Were you then sentenced?
Gerald Giose: No, I was not sentenced. The security police interrogated me at Bellville police station. Then the assistant Attorney General said that because they knew that my father was a Church minister and that I was misled by Communist terrorists into opposing the civilized government of South Africa they were going to give me an opportunity to save my life. The alternative would be to face charges under the terms of the Sabotage Act, which carried a minimum sentence of five years and as a maximum the death penalty. They said that 3 February 1964 had been the last day of the trial of Dulcie September, Dr. Neville Alexander, Reverend Don John Davis and other members of the High Command of the National Liberation Front and that they were giving me the opportunity to become a state witness against them. I did not reply. It was four o'clock in the morning. They had been interrogating me ever since I was taken from the airport, but I did not divulge any information to them. By four o'clock in the morning I shut my eyes, but I was hearing what they were saying: ‘He is exhausted now. But at seven o’clock we must come and fetch him so that he can go and testify’.
I was taken to the Cape Town Supreme Court and again they said to me: ‘You are fortunate that you are not in the dock, being one of the accused with Dulcie September, Neville Alexander, Don John Davis and the others’.
Tor Sellström: You refused to testify?
Gerald Giose: Yes, I refused to testify.
Tor Sellström: What happened then? Did they lock you up?
Gerald Giose: Yes. I was taken to Caledon Square police station on Buitenkant Street. It was very hot. I was not given any food or water. About six o’clock in the evening I was called out of the cell and given coffee. It was very sweet. Being thirsty, I drank the coffee. Hardly half an hour afterwards I began to feel tingling sensations all over my body and my mind became very light. I began to scream uncontrollably. When the ladies were walking down Buitenkant Street, the sound of the stiletto heels on the stone pavement sounded like pistol shots in my head. That is how light-headed I had become. And when the police vehicles were turning out of Buitenkant Street it sounded like machine-gun shots being fired into my head.
Tor Sellström: They had drugged you?
Gerald Giose: Yes, that is correct. Then three very tall and heavily built white men came into the cell. They said to me: ‘You are mad. We are going to show you.’ They began assaulting me.
Tor Sellström: How old were you?
Gerald Giose: I was 31 years of age. I was then taken to the Roeland Street jail and there I was kept with the ordinary criminals. At that time, Dr. Neville Alexander and Reverend Don John Davis were kept in a separate section for political prisoners. The common law prisoners were instructed to assault me. When my mother complained, I was transferred to the section where people condemned to death used to be kept. I was kept in a cell without any bedding. There was only a little hessian carpet on the floor. Every day the water was thrown into the cell. I was kept there until April 1964 and when I complained to the doctor he prescribed certain medications, but it was never given to me. When I repeatedly went to complain, I was transferred to the medical section, where the convicts were given permission to smoke dagga. The atmosphere was so thick that I opened the window and then the chief warder accused me of attempting to escape.
My weight had dropped from 70 to 40 kilos. I was then taken to the mental institution at Valkenberg Hospital. The chief warder said that it was obvious that I was mentally disturbed. When I came there, I was injected with a so-called truth drug. The male nurse injected me. I remember that while I was under the influence of the drug the first question which was asked was why I refused to cooperate with the police. I clearly remember replying: ‘Because I was not indoctrinated by the security police’. The next question was: ‘Why did you refuse to testify against Dr. Neville Alexander and the other accused?’ I again replied: ‘Because I was not indoctrinated by the security police’.
On 17 June 1965, I was suddenly told that I had to go to the Supreme Court in a case against a person charged with murder. This was someone classified African who could not speak English or Afrikaans. Because it was discovered in Valkenberg Mental Hospital that I could speak these languages, as well as Xhosa, I was requested to act as interpreter. I refused, saying that I could not accept that a mental patient could be called to be part of the process of justice.
The prosecutor called Dr. Simmons, the superintendent of Valkenberg Mental Hospital, to testify. These were his words: ‘Mr. Giose is as normal as I am. A month after his admission, he had recovered completely. His condition had exclusively been due to the conditions under which he had been held. If I had had any jurisdiction over Mr. Giose, I would have had him released within a month of his arrival at Valkenberg Mental Hospital. However, the security police had given the information that Mr. Giose was facing charges of sabotage for which the minimum sentence is five years and their instruction was that he did not fall under the jurisdiction of the superintendent of the mental hospital, but under the jurisdiction of the State President of South Africa, and that he must be detained for a minimum period of five years’. He further stated that Mr. Giose ‘is a brilliant linguist and that he has been of invaluable assistance to the psychiatrist in communicating with the patients’. The presiding judge then said: ‘We have heard the testimony of Dr. Simmons that you are absolutely normal. Dr. Simmons would have released you, but the security police gave instructions that you must be detained as a mental patient. So, you will now co-operate’. Again I refused. I was taken back to Valkenberg Hospital.
Tor Sellström: How long were you eventually kept there?
Gerald Giose: I was kept there until 31 January 1968. I then escaped and wrote letters publicizing the injustice under which I had been held. I demanded either to be released or to be brought to trial. I also said that I was going to return, and I did so. Fifteen minutes after I had returned, the security police came and took me back to Caledon Square, where they interrogated me for fifteen days. Finally they said: ‘You are fortunate that all your comrades— Dulcie September, who was in Kroonstad serving a five year prison sentence; Dr. Neville Alexander; all of them—have refused to testify against you’. For that reason I was going to be released.
Tor Sellström: You never went into exile?
Gerald Giose: No, I never went into exile.
Tor Sellström: So, after this gruesome experience you were active here in the Western Cape?
Gerald Giose: Yes, I continued being active in the underground struggle.
Tor Sellström: And today you are a Lieutenant-Colonel in the new South African National Defence Force?
Gerald Giose: That is correct. We were thirteen officers who had applied for integration. The other officers had been trained in the Odessa military academy in the Soviet Union, in Yugoslavia, in Czechoslovakia and in the German Democratic Republic. I was the only one who successfully went through all three preselection boards.
Tor Sellström: Congratulations! Finally, you said that you are considering the creation of a South African-Scandinavian friendship association? With your experience, how is it possible to think in those terms?
Gerald Giose: Well, the Scandinavian countries stand out as role models for socio-economic development. They are also the countries which consistently supported us, while countries like the United States, Britain, France, West Germany and Italy were voting against the United Nations resolutions. In addition to political solidarity, the industrial, technological and social policies of the Scandinavian countries have proved to be examples worthy of being seriously studied. If I may quote from the Communist Manifesto: ‘Workers of the world unite!’ I see unity between our workers in South Africa and the workers in Scandinavia, despite some differences, such as language and historical and cultural differences.