ARCHBISHOP Desmond Tutu broke down in tears during yesterday's harrowing session of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The hearings, at which distressing personal experiences of death and torture under the previous apartheid regime were recounted, was held up while the chairman put his head on his desk and sobbed.
"I thought I was tough," Dr Tutu told journalists after the commission adjourned in this Eastern Cape province port. "I thought I was going to survive, today . . . I keep on thinking whether I am the right person ford the truth commission."
During the morning session, the atmosphere in East London's city hall had become charged with emotion as relatives of the so called Craddock Four recounted the events surrounding the abduction and murder of four leading black civil rights activists in the Eastern Cape in 1985.
Dr Tutu had to adjourn for 15 minutes when Mrs Nomonde Calata, widow of a slain teacher and activist, Fort Calata, broke down uncontrollably during her testimony. Later in the day it was Archbishop Tutu's turn to break down in tears, moved by the harrowing testimony of Mr Singqokwana Malgas, an elderly former ANC guerrilla crippled by police torture. Even in the press seats there were people crying.
Dr Tutu has always viewed the commission in almost sacramental terms. In the morning, after Mrs Calata recovered he resumed the proceedings by leading the mainly black crowd in a haunting African hymn.
"What have we done?" the translator repeated in English over the headphones provided to the press. "What have we done. .. What have we done... Then he too was singing.
Mrs Calata had described how her husband had become involved in the first rent strike in the Eastern Cape, led by his friend Matthew Goniwe, and how the first school boycott in the area began when Mr Goniwe was sacked from his teachers's post by the government. She recounted how her husband and friends in the Craddock Residents Association had been subjected to police harassment, raids, detention and assault, until one day in June, 1985 they set out for Port Elizabeth and failed to return.
The next day a picture of husband's car appeared in local paper, and some friends arrived to look after her. It was this point that she broke down.
Later she described how husband had been tortured mutilated before he died, how the police had tried to evict her from her house a few days after the funeral, after she just given birth to her last by Caesarean section. A news paper later published a leaked letter in which senior members of the security forces ordered the deaths of the Craddock activists. The Craddock Four episode caused great outrage and led directly to the final phase of the struggle against apartheid.
Mrs Calata was followed by her friends and fellow widows, Mrs Sindiswe Mkhonto and Mrs Nombwyselo Mhlawuli, and by Mrs Mhlawuli's 19 year old daughter, Babalwa. Like her, they spoke with great dignity of their grief at the loss and their struggle to provide for children without a father's help. They wanted to know who was responsible, they said, and perhaps a little help with their children's education. Mrs Nyameka Goniwe, wife of the Craddock leader, Mr Matthew Goniwe, chose to defer her, evidence until today.
Having been moved to tears by Babalwa Mhlawuli's testimony, Archbishop Tutu broke down completely as he listened to Mr Malgas, the wheelchair bound victim of 30 years of imprisonment, harassment torture.
He said. The testimony was powerful on both days but maybe today it all came too much at the same time and it was very intense. ,