He was born on the 22nd of May 1922 in the KwaZali village in Alice, Eastern Cape. He attended the local Falconer HighSchool until Standard Six when he migrated to Johannesburg to work at the Crown Mines. Attending a traditional circumcision ceremony upon his return to his home village, Looksmart met his future wife, Beauty. He then located to Cape Town seeking employment and succeeded acquiring enough money for paying lobola and marrying Beauty. Settling down in the Eastern Cape and having six children to support, Looksmart again returned to Cape Town in order to support his family financially.
During the 1940s and 1950s, Looksmart witnessed the demolition of Black-owned homes in Kensington paving way for a White suburb. Joining the ranks of the African National Congress (ANC) through Archie Sibeko, Looksmart’s main responsibilities were to fundraise for ANC members who were jailed or seeking legal assistance. He did this creatively by staging concerts and performances by choirs in the townships. In order to support his family, Looksmart was a cobbler and sold Leftist Newspapers such as Fighting Talk and New Age. (Similar to what Timol did in the 1960s).
After the banning of the ANC in 1960, Looksmart was a member of the Regional Executive Committee in the Western Cape and also responsible for organising underground structures. In 1961, Looksmart joined the ANC’s military wing, Umkontho we Sizwe (MK) and accompanied by Dennis Goldberg started a training camp in Mamre where they trained MK recruits.
In May 1963, the apartheid regime served Looksmart with banning orders resulting in him no longer participating in political activities. He was confined to the Wynberg Magisterial District in Cape Town. The police raid on Liliesleaf Farm on 11 July 1963 forced Looksmart into hiding. Despite this, he continued conducting his underground activities. Looksmart assisted in logistical arrangements for twenty ANC comrades who were leaving the country for political training abroad. The group was arrested near the Botswana border. During interrogation, one of the arrested members confessed and provided the police with Looksmart’s last known address.
Operating underground, Looksmart never stayed longer than a few days at any one address. However, during one occasion, he had fallen gravely ill and was detained by the Security Police at the address provided to them.
On 19th August 1963, Looksmart was arrested under the 90-day detention law. He was badly tortured while detained at Caledon Square Police Station in Cape Town. Looksmart was brought to Pretoria Central Prison around the 23th and 24th August 1963. (The mode of transport from Cape Town to Pretoria is unknown).
Rivonia treason trialist Govan Mbeki testified at the TRC Hearings that he had seen Ngudle during their daily half-hour exercise period at the Pretoria prison on 3 September 1963. “Looksmart came from behind and said he was going to drop a note for me and then he walked ahead of me… I saw him drop the note. When I got to where it fell I knelt down and hid it,” he said. When Mbeki got to his cell he read the note, which said he was being tortured and that his whole back was full of sores and weals.
During their exercise period the following day, Ngudle was called out by the guards.” The following morning before breakfast… a voice came from under the cell door to say they have killed Looksmart Ngudle,” Mbeki said. Mbeki, who worked with Ngudle in the Western Cape region, did not know who had spoken to him, but “I presume it was one of the common law prisoners who acted as monitors in jail”.
The police reported that on the 5th September 1963, Looksmart Ngudle had committed suicide and that he had hung himself from his pajama pants. He was amongst the first person to have died in police detention. Looksmart was certainly not the last as many more were to follow.
Ruth First writes that a policeman came to see Looksmart’s mother, Maria Ngudle on the 15th September 1963. (She lived with Looksmart’s wife, Beauty and her mother). Maria was told for the first time that her son was arrested and that he had died in detention. She was unsuccessful in requesting the assistance of an African attorney in Middeldrift in Transkei as he was also detained under the ninety-day detention law. Maria proceeded further afield to Alice and it was on the 20th September when she received a rail warrant to travel to Pretoria.
After visiting three prisons in Pretoria looking for Looksmart’s clothes and body, Maria was sent to a tall building. It was here where a stranger informed her that people get killed at this building and that she must leave. She immediately returned to the Eastern Cape.
Ruth First provides additional details on the legal activities unfolding in the background. Johannesburg attorney Joel Carlson made telephone calls to the prisons department and police who were both evasive. No one appeared to know where Looksmart was buried. All enquiries were escalated to higher levels. During one telephonic conversation, a senior prisons department spokesman dropped his guard, “Do me a favour,” he said, “go to the security branch.”
Beauty’s brother, Zithobile, paid for her and her infant baby to travel to Guguletu, Cape Town. Upon her arrival, the security police visited Beauty and took her to the police station where she was told to accompany a security branch officer and his wife to Pretoria. Arriving in Pretoria, Beauty and her baby slept in a police linen room where she was given a bucket of water to bathe her baby.
A date was finally fixed for an inquest. Suddenly it was postponed for eight days. More suddenly it was brought forward ten days and the attorney was given forty eight – hours’ notice that the matter was proceeding earlier “on instructions of a higher authority”.
Advocate George Lowen had been briefed: “The deceased in this case was a ninety-day detainee. A man in good health who was found dead in his cell. News of his dead aroused widespread unease because there is a curtain of silence hanging over those people detained…The news was given to his family ten days after his death…The mother was given a rail warrant to attend the funeral of her son in Pretoria…When she got there she was told the body had already been buried…The burial had taken place on 16 September after the body had been kept for at least ten days…but then was buried suddenly in spite of the of the rail warrant to the mother….’Why had the inquest been delayed, then rushed to court? There had been no time to gather witnesses or medical advisers, no time to take proper instructions. ’We don’t know if this was murder or suicide. It is very strange that so much darkness is hanging over the whole affair.”
The plea for a postponement was granted. In the intervening ten days, two things happened according to Ruth.
“Firstly, the security Branch detectives arrived unannounced at Middeldrift. They put Beauty into the car and drove her towards Pretoria. As they drove, Beauty was given a statement that she had to sign. It stated that Beauty, Looksmart’s wife, had no desire to be legally represented. When the court assembled, the prosecutor queried the locus standi of the instructing attorney as he held the statement with Beauty’s signature on it. The attorney held an affidavit in his hands of Looksmart’s brother, Washington, who stated that he did not want to be represented by the attorney. The prosecutor conceded to the request.
Secondly, two days prior to the resumption of the inquest, Johannesburg’s evening newspaper published news that Looksmart Solwandle Ngudle had been banned under the suppression of the Communism Act. The government gazette announcement was dated 25th October 1963. However, the ban had been served on Looksmart on the 19th August 1963, the day had been detained”.
Communists and non-communists had been banned under the Suppression of the Communism Act. This included activists such as Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Joe Slovo, Dr Dadoo, Bunting, Alex La Guma, Lilian Ngoyi, Ronald Seagal, Patrick Duncan, Helen Joseph, Dr Jack Simmons and several other hundred South Africans. This meant that they could be arrested if they participated in any political activities or if they attended any gathering. No statement made by them on any topic could be quoted or published.
In Looksmart’s inquest, Council remarked that anything stated by the deceased or any other individual who was banned could be quoted. Regrettably, this resulted in them withdrawing form proceedings. The only circumstantial evidence that could be led to Looksmart’s death would be the testimonies of banned persons and fellow prisoners of the deceased. The question that arises is that how such testimony could be produced in court if there was fear that prosecutions would follow.
The Minister of Justice, Vorster, responded by claiming that the withdrawal of the lawyers had been due to political reasons. After lengthy arguments, Vorster agreed that the publication of statements by banned persons could be used in the inquest proceedings provided that they were not used as a political forum.
A detainee by the name of J.T who was arrested in the same Elsies River house as Looksmart and had also been held in Cape Town, later driven to Pretoria states, “Looksmart looked all right when I saw him but when he arrived at Laingsburg to get petrol, Looksmart told me his body was sore. He said that he had beaten by the police that morning at Caloden Square police Station.”
In Pretoria, they had been separated from Looksmart, but on the following day they had met again to have their fingerprints taken and “Looksmart appeared to be in good health.”
Five days later, J.T was taken into a room for questioning. He adds, “I saw Looksmart leaning against the wall next to the door that I went through. We did not speak to one another. Looksmart did not seem himself. He looked paralysed. His head was bent forward and his hands clasped together. I did not notice any bruises on his faces. I did not notice whether his clothes were bloodstained. He looked worried. When I came out of the room after approximately one and half-hours, Looksmart was no longer there. I never saw Looksmart again.”
Another detainee who had seen Looksmart was L.M who stated, “I saw Looksmart with six Security Branch officers, five White and one African. They were standing next to me. I could see and hear it all. One Security Branch Officer was from Cape Town. The first thing I heard him saying was: “If you talk you will be allowed to go.” He, Looksmart, was looking down. He looked as if he did not know which one to answer. They were all asking him questions. The Security Branch officer from Cape Town one said, “You must tell us the truth or else tomorrow you will be here again and if you don’t tell us the truth we will kill you.” He was speaking in English. Looksmart did not answer. He never said a word. The Security Branch officer from Cape Town pulled his beard and said, “You must tell the truth.” They pulled his head up and down. Looksmart had been looking down. When his beard was pulled he moved back a bit but said nothing. Then the Cape Town one said, “Go and think it over and we see you tomorrow.” We were taken out together and I asked Looksmart in Xhosa what was wrong. He said, “These people say they will kill me tomorrow “…in the car I made a sign to him saying, “Did you make a statement?” He shook his head indicating “no.” I gave Looksmart cigarettes without the Security Branch man seeing. He said, “Man I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.” He seemed very worried about tomorrow.
Advocate Vernon Berrange was representing Looksmart’s family when the inquest proceedings resumed. Berrange had a statement of Isaac Tlale, who was handcuffed next to Looksmart during his torture. It was Tlale who first made damning revelations of torture that he had endured during his ninety-day detention period. The British Observer carried this story on 3rd November 1963. The claims were rejected by the Commissioner of Prisons as “utter nonsense” and General J.M Keevy, Commissioner of Police referred to them as “a lot of bunkum.”
State witnesses that were cross-examined by Berrange during the inquest proceedings included Detective Sergeant Ferreira, Detective Strumpher and Major Frederick van Niekerk. It was established that detainees were generally taken for questioning to Pretoria Central Police Station. There were fourteen members of the Security Branch who were working on the questioning of suspects. The day before Looksmart’s death Strumpher had handed the prisoner over to Detective Sergeant Ferreira. It was Ferreira who had originally arrested Looksmart and had seized from his hide out African National Congress booklet, a type writer, rubber gloves, chemicals and plastic bags.
The court proceedings were chaotic with lawyers doing all the talking. Beauty was denied an opportunity speak during the court proceedings. None of the witnesses were allowed to testify at the court case.
The Special Branch and the District Surgeon claimed Looksmart committed suicide, but his family insisted he had been tortured and murdered. And, as if to confirm this, four days after his death the government banned Ngudle, so that anything he said or wrote while alive could not be quoted. This was tantamount to an admission that his words would have contradicted the lies of the police.
At the TRC Hearings on 22nd April 1996, Looksmart’s son, Siyanda Howard who was six years old, recalled how the grownup’s screamed when the news was broken about his father’s death. Growing up, his mother reminded him that the inquest found that no one was responsible and that his father had hanged himself.
If the trauma of losing a loved one was not enough, as Beauty was attending the court case in Pretoria, police continued harassing her mother-in-law. This resulted in her running away from home and cutting her foot, hospitalising her. Upon her return, security branch officers would visit Beauty enquiring about how she was surviving with her children. The cruel and inhumane behaviour of the police is despicable.
Ruth Frist pays tribute to Looksmart in her book stating that he was called Looksmart because that was the impression he had given: resilient, resourceful, and optimistic. She adds that he had been one of the live- wires of the African National Congress, his associates were convinced that he was the political organiser that no hardship could subdue.
On 1st March 2007, 44 years after his death, Looksmart Ngudle’s body was exhumed by the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) missing person’s task team led by Madeleine Fullard.
Summary: Looksmart Khulile Ngudle died at the Compol Police Building on 05th September 1963. He was in police custody for 17 days and the official / alleged cause of death was by hanging.