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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 374
Paragraph Numbers 162 to 165
Deaths in custody
162 In the 1990s, people were still dying in Orange Free State police cells. Families of victims claimed that police explanations of the deaths were inadequate and that police were unhelpful, if not obstructive, in pursuing investigations.
The death in detention of Joseph Sello
Ms Alta Matseko Moholo told the Commission that her son, Joseph Sello, was arrested by Bultfontein police officers on 15 June 1993 for the alleged possession of an unlicensed firearm. The following day she was called to the station and asked to sign a document granting permission for her son to be examined by a doctor. When she refused to do this, she was informed that her son had committed suicide in the police cell by hanging himself with his tracksuit.
The police refused her permission to examine the whole body. She found scratches and marks on the neck but was prevented from seeing more. She said she was unaware of any inquest into the death or of criminal charges being brought against the perpetrators [KZN/GM/038/BL].
THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT MEMBERS OF THE SAP WILFULLY WITHHELD INFORMATION ABOUT THE WELL-BEING OF DETAINEES FROM THEIR FAMILIES IN AN EFFORT TO CONCEAL THEIR OWN INVOLVEMENT IN THE ASSAULT AND TORTURE OF DETAINEES IN CUSTODY. THE COMMISSION FINDS FURTHER THAT MEMBERS OF THE SAP DELIBERATELY OBSTRUCTED INVESTIGATIONS INTO THE DEATHS OF ACTIVISTS, BY PREVENTING FAMILIES FROM VIEWING THE REMAINS OF VICTIMS WHO DIED IN CUSTODY AND BY FAILING TO INFORM FAMILIES OF PROGRESS IN CRIMINAL INVESTIGATIONS AND INQUEST PROCEEDINGS ARISING FROM THE DEATHS. THE SAP IS HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE GROSS VIOLATIONS INVOLVED IN THESE UNLAWFUL ACTS AND OMISSIONS.
163 Ex-SAP officer JJ de Ru [AM1780/96] applied for amnesty in respect of the death in January 1991 of Mr M Rampalile (who was being held in connection with the killing of a Mr Shorty Bezuidenhout on the farm ‘Vrisgewacht’ in June 1990), and for the death in August 1993 of Mr Z Mofokeng, a suspect in the 1993 killing of one Mr Meiring of Kragbron. De Ru’s application gives evidence of police culpability in many deaths in custody in the Orange Free State.
The killing of M Rampalile
Mr De Ru told the Committee that he was instructed by a Security Branch officer of the highest rank to investigate the killing of Bezuidenhout. The officer summoned him to the mortuary to view Bezuidenhout’s body and said that the perpetrators should not be allowed to live. De Ru and Officer Majafe took Mr Rampalile, who was a suspect in the killing, to point out the murder scene. While doing so, however, the officers created an opportunity for the suspect to escape. As he walked away from them, De Ru drew his service weapon and shot him dead. De Ru said that his action had met with the approval of his senior officers, including the one who had given the instruction for the investigation. He also said that the practice of shooting criminal suspects in the course of murder investigations of this nature was not only accepted informally by police officers, but happened under instruction from commanding officers.
The killing of Z Mofokeng
De Ru and three other detectives took the suspect, Mofokeng, to the farm ‘Beltren’, near Kragbron. A similar scenario was set up and the suspect was shot dead.
164 De Ru was convicted on counts of culpable homicide for the death of Rampalile, and of defeating the ends of justice and murder for the death of Mofokeng. The sentences for theses convictions were five, four and thirteen years respectively.
165 De Ru told the Committee that he believed that his actions fell within the ambit of his police duties at the time. Although he did not know the political affiliations of his victims at the time of the killings, he heard later that they were members of APLA. He said he believed that, at the time, APLA was targeting aged persons and farmers in their ‘One Settler, One Bullet’ campaign. He believed the killings must have been politically motivated because, in his opinion, the age of the victims and the particular cruelty of the killings distinguished them from common criminal acts.