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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 63
Paragraph Numbers 120
Torture in custody
120 Detentions continued in both homelands throughout this period. These were associated mainly with the education protests and with protests against independence. The Commission received several reports of deaths in detention in the Eastern Cape in the late 1970s, both through victims’ submissions and through amnesty applications. In addition, numerous activists made allegations of torture while in security police custody. Some of the cases of severe torture reported to the Commission occurred directly after deaths in detention had taken place, suggesting that police were unconcerned that the torture of detainees might prove fatal. Cases reported to the Commission suggest that Port Elizabeth was one of the main sites of torture in custody.
The case of Mzukisi Mapela
In June 1977, Mr Mzukisi Petros Mapela [EC0563/96UIT] was involved in the burning of a municipal office and a beer hall in commemoration of the events of the previous year. Three months later, he was arrested in KwaNobuhle by security police and taken to police offices where he was handcuffed, shackled and his head was immobilised. He was then hit continuously on the head with a piece of pipe for some hours. He eventually signed a statement implicating himself. His head was swollen and he could not lie on his back.
He did not see a doctor until he was taken to North End Prison, where he was cursorily examined by Dr Ivor Lang and told that he was ‘okay’.
He was convicted on 6 October 1977 at Algoa Park, Port Elizabeth, and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, of which he served four and a half years in North End and St Albans Prisons. While in North End, he was assaulted by warders and abused by criminal prisoners. When he complained, he was put in solitary confinement for ninety days. He received treatment only after his release in 1982. His hearing is permanently impaired and he is still affected by the trauma. He is unable to get work or to communicate effectively.
The case of Moki Cekisani
Mr Moki Jacob Bonisile Cekisani [EC2701/97PLZ and CT05004/ECA], president of the Black People’s Convention (BPC) in Port Elizabeth, was tortured in custody at the Security Branch headquarters in Port Elizabeth’s Sanlam Building, the day after Biko’s funeral in September 1977. Cekisani told the Commission that a bag soaked with water was placed over his head and that he was rammed against a wall and given electric shocks. Cekisani named some of those involved in the assaults as Sergeant Nieuwoudt and others linked to Biko’s death. He was admitted to hospital the same day, after a severe attack of epilepsy.
Deaths in custody
The case of Mapetla Mohapi
Mr Mapetla Mohapi [EC0007/96PLZ], a BCM activist from King William’s Town, the national centre of BCM activism, was detained on 15 July 1976 under the Terrorism Act. He died in custody at the Kei Road police station on 5 August 1976. Police claimed he had committed suicide, but his family do not believe this. An inquest found nobody responsible for the death.
Mohapi had previously been detained in October 1974 and held for 164 days in 1974 before being released without charge. He was banned in September 1975.
Mohapi’s widow, BCM activist Ms Nobuhle Mohapi [EC0007/96PLZ], was herself detained the following year and told the Commission of assaults in detention in Port Elizabeth. She was detained at the same time as Steve Biko, for whom she worked as a secretary. Mohapi was subjected to both physical and psychological torture:
“During the six months, everything was revolving around Steve Biko. At times, they would bring blank papers so that I could sign, and they promised to release me if I should sign them. But they asked me if I wanted the same thing to happen as happened to my husband. At times I would be fastened to a grille and then would be assaulted brutally and would be unable to defend myself. There was not even a chance to run away because the grille holds you so fast that you cannot do anything about it …
“I stayed six months in solitary confinement in Port Elizabeth, and they would come and report some of the things that are happening at home. They even came and told me that my youngest child is dead. They even promised to release me so that I can attend to the funeral. And they also insisted that I should sign this paper. They told me that they wanted to take the paper to Steve Biko so that he can know that I'm also inside. Each time they said this, Steve would always deny and say they were threatening him. He didn't believe that I was arrested, and I wanted not to make them happy about this.”
She refused to sign anything. Ms Nobuhle Mohapi was banned on her release; she lost her job and was forced to send her children to live with her in-laws to protect them from police harassment. She told the Commission:
“After the death of Mapetla, I was full of hate. I was full of hate that can never be countered. I was hating anybody who was in the police … Even the children, when you speak to them, you have to tell them that these are the people who oppressed us but one day they will change.”
The case of Mr George Botha
Mr George Botha [EC1587/97PLZ], a thirty-year-old teacher at Paterson High School, was detained in Port Elizabeth on 10 December 1976 under Section 22 of the General Laws Amendment Act. He died in the Sanlam Building five days later. The security police claimed that, after interrogation in which Botha gave incriminating information, he committed suicide by jumping down a stairwell from the sixth floor.
The police officers involved were Major Harold Snyman, Sergeant Rowland E Prinsloo and Captain Daniel Petrus Siebert.
At the inquest, magistrate JA Coetzee found that nobody was to blame for his death, although there was substantial evidence that he had been assaulted. Although the court accepted the findings of Drs Benjamin Tucker and Gideon Jacobus Knoebel that there were injuries on the body that had been inflicted before death, the magistrate found that the police evidence was satisfactory and the court did not know how the injuries were sustained.
At the Commission’s amnesty hearing into the death of Steve Biko in 1997, Major Snyman was asked about the death of George Botha. He acknowledged that he had been present when Botha died, but repeated the version of events given by police to the inquest – that Botha had ‘broken free’ and jumped down the stairwell to his death. Nobody applied for amnesty for Botha’s death.
THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT THE PERIOD 1976—1982 WAS CHARACTERISED BY AN INCREASE IN THE RELIANCE BY THE SAP ON ILLEGAL METHODS OF POLICING, THE UNJUSTIFIED USE OF DEADLY FORCE, AND THE ASSAULT AND TORTURE OF SUSPECTS AND DETAINEES, RESULTING IN THE DEATHS OF AND SEVERE INJURIES TO LARGE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE. THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT SUCH ACTS WERE GROSS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS FOR WHICH THE SAP IS HELD ACCOUNTABLE. EVIDENCE BEFORE THE COMMISSION INDICATES THAT MANY ACTIVISTS AND DETAINEES WERE DETAINED AND TORTURED AT THE POLICE SECURITY BRANCH HEADQUARTERS AT THE SANLAM BUILDING IN PORT ELIZABETH.