Shirley Gunn

Posted by Leander on

Biographical information

Synopsis:

Member of the ANC and MK, political detainee

First name: 
Shirley
Last name: 
Gunn
Date of birth: 
09-May-1955
Location of birth: 
Kenilworth,Cape Town,South Africa

Gunn enrolled for a degree in social work in 1977 and after completion proceeded to study for her Honors degree. While studying for her Honors degree, she became involved in community work inthe Hout Bay area. It was also during this period that she became politically active.  She was recruited into the African National Congress (ANC) in 1980 and became an active member.  In addition to her political work, she became involved activities of the trade union movement in the Clothing Workers’ Union.

Gunn became part of community organizations that became a platform to articulate struggles of people in Cape Town. She served on the organising committee ofthe Cape Areas Housing Action Committee (CAHAC), the Housing Committee and she became part of the Cape Youth Congress (CYC). Her work did not just end in Houtbay, but extended to the Cape Flats where she mobilized communities against the apartheid government policies.

In 1984 she was recruited into the armed wing of the ANC, uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) by Leon Meyer. Meyer trained her in doing underground work while she was still in South Africa. As result of her anti apartheid activity she was arrested by the security police in 1985 under the Internal Security Act and detained in solitary confinement without trial for more than three months at Pollsmoor prison. She was later released from detention, but soon after, she was charged possession of ‘communist material’ and   manufacturing bombs.

Gunn was represented in her trial by Dullar Omar who successfully secured her release. However, the security police placed her under surveillance and continued to harass her. As a consequence, she left the country to exile in Botswana where she reported to the ANC office. After being vetted, she was sent to Cuba for military training and later deployed to Pango, an MK training camp north east of Luanda.

She returned to South Africa where she and her then husband Aneez Salie became instrumental in the establishment of the Ashley Kriel unit. The unit carried out a number of sabotage attacks in the Western Cape. In August 1988 Khotso House, the headquarters of the South African Council of Churches was bombed and 21 people were injured. Gunn who was pregnant at the time with their son Haroon heard on radio on 10 January 1989 a Major Jaap Joubert read a statement issued by Adriaan Vlok accusing her of the bombing. This was a ploy by the security police to arrest Gunn.

After the birth of her son, Gunn who was on her way to a family get together in the Karoo was arrested in June 1990. When she refused to be separate from her son, she was detained with him. She was taken to Table View where she spent a night in police cells, and then taken to Culemborg where was charged under the Internal Security Act before being moved to Wynberg police station. She was held in cells that had appalling conditions which she complained about to the police. Her complaint was subsequently used by the police in court to take away her son. An urgent court application brought by her mother at the Cape High court led to her son being released to her mother’s care.

Meanwhile the police used recorded voices of her weeping son during her interrogation as a way of forcing her to break. Gunn was later taken Caledon Women’s Prison. After being detained for 68 days, Gunn was released and charged with illegal possession of a Makarov pistol.

Four years later Gunn laid charges of crimen injuria and obstruction of justice against the Adriaan Vlok who had admitted to the Goldstone Commission that the Khosto house bombing was carried out by the police. She then sued Minister of Law and Orderfor R 500 000 in damages. The case was settled out of court and Gunn was paid R 70 000. After the collapse of apartheid and the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Gunn testified of her experience to the TRC.

Gunn continues to work in advancing human rights. She founded the Human Rights Media Centre (HRMC), a non -profit organisation that focuses on capturing oral history and disseminating through multi-media. She is the Executive Director of the HRMC. She also served as the chairperson of Khulumani in the Western Cape. 


References:
• Brummer, W., (2011), ‘Getting her breath back’, from The Witness, 02 March [online], Available at www.witness.co.za[Accessed: 02 May 2013]
• Foster, Haupt & de Beer, The Theatre of Violence: Narratives of protagonists in the South African conflict, Institute of Justice and Reconciliation, 2005
• CASE NO: CT/00792, TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION UWCHEARING - DAY 3 - WEDNESDAY 7 AUGUST 1996, from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, [online], Available at www.justice.gov.za   [Accessed: 02 May 2013]

Last updated : 17-May-2018

This article was produced by South African History Online on 09-May-2013

Support South African History Online

Dear friends of SAHO

South African History Online (SAHO) needs your support.

SAHO is one of the most visited websites in South Africa with over 6 million unique users a year. Our goal is to fulfill our mandate and continue to build, and make accessible, a new people’s history of South Africa and Africa.

Please help us deliver this by contributing upwards of $1.00 a month for the next 12 months.



Make a donation here and send us a message of support.