Nicklo Pedro, a veteran of uMkhonto we Sizwe, died on May 8 at the age of 53. He lived his life by a credo, “Freedom or death! Victory is certain!” He was an icon of the Struggle. I remember him fondly as a cactus flower of the revolution.
As one of the “Fighting Fifteen”, he spent 65 days on trial on capital criminal charges for so-called “terrorism” before a hanging judge in the Cape Town Supreme Court. Their so called “crime” was that they had sought to undo the crime of apartheid and overthrow the terrorists who inflicted it.
Nicklo suffered horrendous torture that traumatised him till late in his life, a prison sentence of 14 years, incarceration on Robben Island, and the spectacle of barbarous security police- who had tortured him and then denied this at his trial – receiving amnesty from the TRC for their crimes against humanity.
In 1986, Ashley Forbes recruited Nicklo. Ashley was the commander of ANC cells in parts of the Peninsula then labelled as “coloured areas”. Nicklo served in the command cell. Together they recruited members and trained them. Nicklo distributed arms to them (including a hand-grenade and pistol to Ashley Kriel). Nicklo and Ashley Forbes orchestrated a symbolic limpet mine explosion at the entrance to the home of state president P.W. Botha, hand grenade attacks on policemen, and sabotage on a railway line. Ashley trained Nicklo in the use of firearms and explosives. He, in turn, trained other members.
During August 1987, Nicklo was arrested at the Lesotho border while on his way to receive military training abroad. He was handed over to Security Branch torturer in chief, Jeffrey Benzien.
Nicklo was stripped naked, tied to window bars so that he could barely stand, and violently interrogated. He was forced onto his stomach on the ground with his hands cuffed behind his back. Benzien sat on his back and pulled a wet bag over his head, twisting it to cut off Nicklo’s air supply. Benzien also rammed a broomstick up his anus. After being stripped of all dignity Nicklo was detained for six months, in solitary confinement broken only by further brutal interrogation.
His conviction, based on confession of activities for which Nicklo was rightly proud, ought to have been a mere formality for the state prosecution. But resistance went beyond armed Struggle.
Another pillar of the ANC programme was the popularisation of its objectives among the masses, conscientising, and mobilising them to join the resistance. Trial proceedings provided Nicklo and his co-trialists with political space to mobilise the so-called “coloured community” by highlighting and furthering the aims and objects of the ANC. They used the space effectively and drew attention to their Struggle through the media which closely followed their trial.
Nicklo’s co-trialists were Ashley Forbes, Peter Jacobs, Nazeem Lowe, Anwa Dramat, Clement Baadjies, David Fortuin, Jeremy Veary, Walter Rhoode, Wayne Malgas, Colin Cairncross, Ashraf Kariem, Colin Petersen, Leon Scott, and Yasmina Pandy. They refused to plead and participated in the proceedings under protest, only to expose the methods used by the regime. They explained.
“I foresee my trial being used by the State to deceive my fellow countrymen and the world at large into believing that the judiciary is independent and that there is justice in South Africa… unjust laws cannot be justly applied… these proceedings cannot be just… the judicial system (does not) operate for any other purpose than for the further entrenchment of White domination.”
The trialists challenged the court’s authority daily, were punished for contempt, applied for the judge’s recusal; and then- eventually- after achieving their political goals, formally admitted their acts and underwent more punishment.
After his release from prison Nicklo continued with his activism from the obscurity of his home-town Mossel Bay. He courageously fought the war of all wars, to eliminate racist discrimination. For that we must salute him.
Hamba Kahle Qabane!
Donen and Johnny de Lange represented Nicklo Pedro and his co-trialists in the matter of State v Forbes.