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Mother of 10 Waits Alone on Death Row in South Africa

November 20, 1989

CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) _ Were it not for one violent day in 1985, Evelina de Bruin would be like countless other black South African women: an illiterate maid in her 50s, raised in a isolated farming district, mother of 10.

Today, she is the only woman on Death Row - alone, confused and ill. Her prison cell in Pretoria is the farthest she’s ever been from home.

″She cannot eat, she can’t sleep,″ said her lawyer, Andrea Durbach of Cape Town. ″It’s a very dramatic thing to say, but I used to think to myself that she’s just going to die of a broken heart.″

Mrs. de Bruin and 13 men were sentenced to death in May for the mob killing in November 1985 of a black policeman, Lucas Sethwala, in Paballelo, the black section of the remote northwestern town of Upington.

Twenty-six people were tried for the killing, and four men were found to have physically contributed to the death of Sethwala, who was chased from his home, stoned, beaten and set afire.

In addition to those four, Mrs. de Bruin and nine others were convicted of murder under the doctrine of ″common purpose,″ which holds them responsible because they were part of the crowd that sought to kill Sethwala.

Sethwala’s death occurred at a time of nationwide black unrest. Hours before he was slain several thousand blacks gathered at a soccer field in Paballelo to protest rent increases and other grievances.

After police dispersed the crowd with tear gas, about 300 people re-grouped around Sethwala’s home and threw stones to force him outside.

Militant blacks have frequently attacked black policemen, accusing them of collaborating with the government and its apartheid policies.

Mrs. de Bruin and her common-law husband, who also has been sentenced to death, were identified as having thrown stones at Sethwala’s house. According to the state’s evidence, she allegedly yelled: ″The dog is in the house. Bring him out and burn him alive.″

Mrs. de Bruin testified during the trial that she and her husband went back to their own house after the protest meeting was broken up and were not present at Sethwala’s home.

Mrs. de Bruin, who had no previous criminal record and worked for the same white family for 30 years, has little understanding of what is happening to her, Ms. Durbach said.

Mrs. de Bruin suffers from arthritis, heart disease and has high blood pressure, the lawyer said. She does not know in what city her prison is and thinks she’s been imprisoned for at least a year, when in fact it has been six months.

She sees her husband for 30 minutes, once a month. They are separated by a window and communicate through microphones. Only three of her 10 children have been able to visit her, Ms. Durbach said.

Because she cannot read and is too ill to exercise, Mrs. de Bruin does little but listen to government-run radio that is piped into her cell, said Ms. Durbach, who visits her every three weeks.

She has been treated well by the prison staff and has developed a good relationship with one of the guards, Ms. Durbach added.

A judge ruled in September that the 14 people sentenced to death could appeal their sentences, but a bail request for Mrs. de Bruin was turned down.

Two psychologists testified at her bail application that she had suffered mental and physical deterioration, including memory loss, since her imprisonment.

Ms. Durbach said no date has been set for the appeal, but she hopes it could be early next year.

In a similar mob killing, the Appeal Court, the country’s highest court, last year upheld under the ″common purpose″ doctrine the death sentence of six blacks known as the ″Sharpeville Six.″

However, after a storm of domestic and international protest, then- President P.W. Botha commuted their death sentences to lengthy prison terms.

The last woman to be executed in South Africa was Sandra Smith, 25, who was of mixed race. She was hanged in June after being convicted of joining her boyfriend in the brutal knife murder of a teen-ager.

More than 50 people, mostly black, have been executed so far this year, and more than 100 were hanged in each of the previous three years.

Botha and his successor, F.W. de Klerk, have commuted 54 death sentences this year.

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