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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 571
Paragraph Numbers 171 to 172
Detention and torture
171 Out of approximately 340 reports of torture violations for this period, the majority of victims were males between the ages of thirteen and twenty-four. A small proportion of victims of torture were females between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-six. They held a range of political affiliations.
172 Several victims who reported torture or who died in detention during this period were student activists who were intercepted while leaving the country for military training. Others were Black Consciousness activists working inside the country. During this period there were at least two large-scale trials during which members of the ANC and PAC were tried under the Terrorism Act for furthering the aims of these banned organisations. During the course of the 1978 trial of PAC members (the Bethal Treason Trial), three of those awaiting prosecution died in police custody.
The torture of Mamagotla Paulina Mohale
Twenty-six-year-old Ms Mamagotla Paulina Mohale [JB00133/01GTSOW] was arrested in Amsterdam in the eastern Transvaal in November 1976 with fifteen other people en route to Swaziland to join the ANC. The group was taken to Krugersdorp police station where they were separated and tortured. Ms Mohale was the only woman in the group.
On the first day, Mohale was asked to look at photographs and identify students who had left and those she had taken out of the country. She denied her involvement with the ANC and was beaten. Mohale told the Commission that food and water were withheld from her until she agreed to speak. She was kept standing and forced to write a statement, which was torn up. She was beaten again and electric shocks were applied to her body. This continued for so long that she started bleeding profusely. Mohale told the Commission that, on the following day, she was blindfolded and again beaten. On the third day, Mohale collapsed and found herself back in her cell when she regained consciousness. She said that she was taken to a district surgeon who appeared to ignore the obvious signs of torture and assault:
“I was smelling of blood. There was blood that had clotted throughout my fingers, between my fingers, my toes and so on and my body and in my back. I had nerves in my head. When I just heard the key unlocking the prison cell I just used to be so petrified … They were drugging me, they gave me a lot of tablets. I was asleep the whole time. I couldn’t even walk, they were picking me up.”
Mohale said that when the police were unable to extract information from her under torture, they arrested her mother:
“When I was in Krugersdorp they came to fetch me and took me to John Vorster Square. They said they wanted guns. When I arrived at John Vorster I found that they had arrested my mother. They told me that ‘if you don’t show us where these guns are we are going to kill your mother. We are also going to kill you.’ They took me to tenth floor.”
Mohale was told that if she did not talk, she would die like a number of other detainees, who allegedly ‘jumped’ to their death from the tenth floor of the Security Branch headquarters at John Vorster Square.
The following day, Mohale was taken to Pretoria Maximum Security prison. She was not allowed to see her mother. Finally, Mohale and eleven others were charged with being involved in a conspiracy to overthrow the government using violence. For the first time she was given access to a lawyer. Six of the accused, including Mohale, were acquitted. After her release the police continued to harass her. Her experiences in detention precipitated a nervous breakdown.
The torture of Gerald Thebe
Nineteen-year-old Mr Gerald Thebe [JB0091/02PS] was detained in Pretoria in July 1977, at a time when renewed tensions had arisen around the country as students prepared to commemorate the outbreak of the Soweto uprisings. Thebe told the Commission that he was intercepted by the police as he tried to leave the country secretly. He was arrested and beaten on the head with an iron bar every day for three weeks. He was also given electric shocks and suffered mental impairment as a result of his torture. He was later convicted and served a five-year sentence on Robben Island.