At the recent re-opened inquest into Iman Abdullah Haron’s death in detention, a special branch member, the late Johannes Petrus ‘Spyker’ van Wyk was mentioned in court as being involved with the interrogation of the Imam. NICOLE VAN DRIEL recalls the time she was held incommunicado and her father’s interactions with Spyker van Wyk.
At first, my presence at the Claremont Police Station in Cape Town was a novelty. No one it seemed had seen a ‘terrorist’ before in person and I was being held under Section Six of the Terrorism Act of 1967. Each policeman or woman who came on duty made some excuse to visit my cell. As they entered the poorly lit grey-walled cell; they would each peer curiously at the 18-year-old; a thin, female figure lying in a foetal position on the 5cm grey mat. I was not what they expected; I did not look like a terrorist at all. In fact, I looked quite harmless, cutting a somewhat lonely figure if anything.
The police station’s personnel had strict instructions not to acknowledge my presence in the cells should anyone call, looking for me. I was not allowed a lawyer, a priest, or any visitors from outside. I had to remain completely isolated and incommunicado.
The Special Branch members (SBs) were hoping to bring a court case against some members of the Committee of 81. The SBs were furious and wanted to hold some of us (including Matthew Moegamat Cloete, Ebrahim Patel and Vanessa Ludwig) responsible for the huge 1980 student protest in the Western Cape.
It was now the final week of July 1981, and the dead of winter, with the usual Cape Town winds and storms. They had placed me in the section of cells reserved for white women prisoners; of which there was eventually only one common-law one, during my two-month stay. This meant that I was isolated from any other prisoners who might be there at the police station, thus minimizing my contact with the outside world.
Unbeknownst to me, my father had on several occasions visited the Caledon Square (now named Cape Town Central) Police Station in the central business district and had demanded to see me. In turn I desperately wanted to contact my family. They would be worried sick about me. A possible answer presented itself.
The common-law prisoners from Pollsmoor came to sweep my cell every day, albeit under guard. I was desperate to get word to my family and I realised that the Pollsmoor prisoners might just be the answer. But they were at my cell under guard, and I could not speak to them without alerting the accompanying policeman. Some prisoners would steal glances at me out of curiosity; maybe because I was a political prisoner. I was trying to figure out how to communicate with them that I needed to get a message to my parents.
It was not long after this thought that a Pollsmoor prisoner took it upon himself to come and talk to me. He entered the empty, open cell next to mine. He called out to me, and I realised that a man was on the other end of a small hole in the wall, in the cell next to mine. The hole had accommodated a pipe which had previously had a bell on either end, for prisoners occupying the two cells to use, as an emergency alert, in case needed.
Once I realised where the voice was coming from, I went to the hole in the wall and peered into it. I saw just an eye, staring down at me. An urgent, hoarse voice said to me: ‘Asseblief wys my jou boud.’ (Please show me your thigh). I was terrified and backed away from the wall. At that moment it seemed that the Pollsmoor prisoners were not the answer to my problem; but they would later assist me in getting a message to the outside world.
In the meanwhile, my father, James Frederick Van Driel, was continuing to insist with the SBs that he be allowed to visit me. My father had often spoke about politics and was the first person to inform me about the injustices of apartheid. He was a staunch Roman Catholic who believed passionately in the idea of: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’
I clearly remember the occasions when the death of Imam Haron in detention was discussed at my grandmother’s house in District Six. My father was so angry and saddened at the killing of a holy man such as the Imam; the year was 1969, and I was six-years-old. On another occasion, my father applauded the actions of Reverend Bernard Wrankmore, an Anglican priest, who fasted for 67 days at Signal Hill’s Kramat, in 1971, to protest so that an inquiry be held into the Imam’s death. Because of my father’s words about Imam Haron, I knew that the Imam was a great hero and that his death had caused lots of pain to many people, including my father.
Back to 1981 and my detention – Spyker van Wyk was involved in our interrogation. And so it was that on my father’s umpteenth visit to Caledon Square, even more determined than ever to see me, that some of the SB members decided to deal with my father’s persistent requests, by referring him to Spyker. Now everyone feared Spyker; his reputation preceded him. And I imagine that the SBs thought it quite a joke to have my father deal with Spyker; after all the latter, they were sure, would put my father in his place.
They were mistaken. My father had words with Spyker. My father did not retreat. He asked Spyker: ‘How would you feel if it was your daughter that was detained?’ Spyker and my father squabbled for a while; back and forth they argued. Spyker eventually relented and told my father to return to Caledon Square the next day where he would see me. When I arrived at Caledon Square from Claremont Police Station the next day, Spyker announced to me that my father would be visiting me. I refused the visit. I felt too emotional to see my father. Besides, what was the real reason for Spyker granting the visit? Was this an underhand method to break me psychologically? Spyker could not believe the ‘I refuse to see my father’ attitude. ‘You refuse to see your father! You are anti-establishment he said, and now? You are anti- your father? What the heck!’
I saw my father. I just barely stopped myself from crying. It was a good visit. I was the only detainee in my group that got to see a parent. My father was persistent and relentless. He was a very brave man who lost his job because of my first detention in 1980. At that moment when initially confronted with Spyker, my father never knew that Spyker was a person allegedly linked to Imam Haron’s death. Knowing how passionately my father felt about the Imam’s death in detention, I wonder if his response to Spyker would have been different, and if so, how different.
Nicole van Driel, while a student at Bridgetown High School in Athlone, Cape Town, proposed the formation of the Committee of 81 that led and co-ordinated the 1980 high schools and colleges protest movement in the students’ rejection of an educational system that prepared them to become cheap black labour. Nicole was detained twice the Special Branch of the apartheid regime; first from June to September 1980 and then from July to September in 1981.