Evelina de Bruin was born on 25 December 1933, and she grew up in the small town of Postmasburg, Northern Cape. In the early days of her life, her parents moved to Upington. They were a family with ten members and they shared a house with one bedroom and a kitchen. There was no electricity in the house or running water. Her father was a farm labourer (sometimes he stayed without work), and her mother intermittently was a domestic worker. This situation was so appalling that she was not able to go to school; hence she is unable to read and write.
De Bruin worked as a domestic worker. In 1985 she was being paid approximately R100 per month by the Steenkamp family in Upington; a family she had worked for, for 18 years. De Bruin was married twice in her life and had five children in her first marriage. The marriage collapsed as a result of her first alleged husband’s (who was a railway worker) abuse of alcohol. She subsequently married Gideon Madlongwane, who also worked at the railway and the couple had two children. De Bruin had no known history, political activism as such, until her name surfaced in the trial of the ‘Upington 14’.
The trial was as a result of a protest that turned violent, in which a group of 5000 demonstrators were chased from the local stadium by police who fired rubber bullets and teargas. Then 300 people gathered in the house of Lucas Tshenolo Sethwala, a local municipal policeman who was hated for his ill-treatment of the small traders. This caused a sense of trepidation to Sethwala who ended up opening fire, and subsequently shooting a young boy in the spine. In response, the protestors chased Sethwala out of the house, petrol was poured over his body and he was set alight.
After the incident, a group of 26 people including De Bruin and her husband were arrested and accused as well as charged with Sethwala’s murder and public violence under clause of common purpose. De Bruin appeared in court amongst others on 13 October 1986 at the Upington Supreme Court. She was singled out as the person who allegedly incited protestors outside Sethwala’s house to have him removed from his house. Twenty five of the accused were convicted under the common propose clause and of these 14 were sentenced to death. De Bruin was the only woman sentenced to death, and her husband was also sentenced to death. Others received sentences between six and twelve years.
After her sentence, she was sent to Pretoria Prison where she was the given prison number: V4203, and placed on death row. On 26 June, the court refused to accept any grounds for leave to appeal and lawyers then petitioned the Chief Justice. On 10 September 1989 the Appeal Court in Bloemfontein granted the "Upington 14" leave to appeal against their death sentences.
While she was in prison, many attempts were made to improve her situation as she became distressed. For instance, from November 1989, Black Sash and other women’s organisations piled pressure on the government to release Du Bruin. These attempts included letter campaigns, and sending a petition to the president of the country FW de Klerk. In May 1990 she was allowed to have wool in her cell and a visit from her children Tutu and Mbulelo. Then in August Kobie Coetzee the Justice Minister announced that Du bruin would be moved to back to Upington prison to await the outcome of the appeal. Conditions of her imprisonment improved somewhat as she was permitted family visits unlike in Pretoria.
On 29 May 1991 the Appeal Court in Bloemfontein ruled in her favour and overturned the sentence and dismissed to the common purpose charge on the death of Sethwala. After spending five years in prison including two years on death row, De Bruin was released and reunited with her family. Just after this her husband passed away.
Evelina de Bruin died in March 2012, in her home in Upington.
Andrea Durbach, (1999), Upington: A Story on Trials and Reconciliation. (Cape Town; David Phillip Publishers), pp.169, 172-176|
Barron, C (2012), Evelina de Bruin (1933-2012): member of the 'Upington 14', from the Timeslive, 25 March, [online] Available at www.timeslive.co.za [Accessed 06 September 2012].|