Ashley Kriel’s tale finally hits home

by Gadeeja Abbas
17 Jun ’16,

Cape Town – The untold story of the revolutionary freedom fighter, Ashley Kriel, was brought home as the country celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1976 youth uprisings on Thursday.

Braving the cold, hundreds of people packed the Bonteheuwel Civic Centre on Bluegum Road to watch the documentary Action Kommandant that explores the life and death of one of the most influential figures to have come out of the suburb.

Kriel was a young freedom fighter who started youth movements at three schools – Bonteheuwel High, Arcadia High and Modderdam High – during a time when the political atmosphere was tense and the country on the verge of a civil war.

The audience sat in tears as images of his dead body played out on the screen. The 20-year-old Umkhonto we Sizwe soldier was shot dead by security police in 1987 in Hazendal, Athlone.

Meet the film-maker behind Action Kommandant

Police officers told the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that Kriel was shot while resisting arrest and engaging in a scuffle with a security policeman.

During the course of the arrest, Kriel was said to have produced a .22 pistol. Police captain Jeffrey Benzien, who was later granted amnesty for his involvement in Kriel’s murder, told the TRC he had tried to take the gun away from Kriel and that was when the gun went off and Kriel was “accidentally shot”.

Evidence produced by forensic scientist, David Klatzow, proves that Kriel was shot from behind from a distance while his wrists were handcuffed behind his back.

Kriel’s high school girlfriend, Charlene Edem, 50, who is featured in the documentary, brought her family to the screening to allow them an opportunity to have a glimpse into her childhood and the struggles she faced.

Edem told the Cape Argus she believed Kriel was betrayed by a comrade who knew he was at the safe house in Hazendal.

“The fact that he was shot in such a gruesome manner in a safe space, I believe he was betrayed.

“He was given away by someone. In my mind I could not see him. He was gone for a while.

“That is the saddest part for me, because he fought so hard for us and someone had the audacity to reveal where he was,” she said.

Edem met Kriel when she joined the Bonteheuwel Youth Movement in the 1980s. She said the movement consisted of children from a similar background – most of them came from impoverished homes.

“What we learned from the movement is that we can change our community.

“When we went into the Struggle, we really wanted to change the way we lived, we were in it with our hearts and our souls,” she said.

She described Kriel as having a sense of urgency, a pressing need to change the environment he lived in for the betterment of his people.

“He was very humorous and musical. He loved to play the guitar. He was a well-rounded person,” she said.

Referring to the documentary, she said: “Action Kommandant does Ashley justice in a way, but, if you had known him and met him – you would have loved him.”

Kriel’s sister, Michel Assure, was overcome with mixed feelings – joy that the life of her brother touched so many hearts and regret he was not present to experience the impact he had made.

“Bonteheuwel has a rich history. The youth will be able to gain insight into our political history through the documentary.

“They enjoy the freedom they have today through the sacrifices made by many of our heroes who were maimed and killed,” she said.

Filmmaker, Nadine Cloete, said the documentary, which took the better part of a decade to produce, won the Audience Award at the 18th Encounters South Africa International Documentary Festival for Best South African Film.

Cape Argus

In picture: Ashley Kriel’s sisters, Melanie Adams and Michel Assure, salute the fallen Struggle hero at a screening on Thursday. Picture: Ross Jansen.

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