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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 572

Paragraph Numbers 173 to 181

Volume 3

Chapter 6

Subsection 22

173 Ms Deborah Matshoba, an executive member of SASO, was detained in 1976. Six weeks after her release from detention, she was re-detained under section 6 of the Terrorism Act. She told the Commission’s special hearing on women that she was immediately taken to the female prison in Pietermaritzburg where she spent twelve months in solitary confinement. Ms Matshoba was given no explanation for her detention. When she demanded to know why she had been detained, she was severely tortured.

They held a braai outside, it was at night in Pietermaritzburg at the police station. They handcuffed me and … manacled my ankle on a big iron ball. They made me stand the whole night. There was no chair, but I was given a pen to write a statement, tell them everything about myself and my involvement in SASO. I was an executive member of SASO at that stage.
I wrote a brief history of myself. It was Saturday. Sunday I continued the same thing. They kept on tearing the papers and telling me to write. The third night I started becoming delirious and my legs were swelling. I think that was on a Monday.
By Thursday, no, Tuesday. By the Tuesday I was counting nights and this man started beating me up. He held a towel, strangled me with a towel and started bashing my head against the wall… Obviously, I was very, very weak. I was being given food, but … I could not sit down and when I collapsed, they kicked me. Eventually I must have passed out. I was bleeding. I must have passed out, because when I came to I was lying on the floor, all wet. They must have poured water over me and he threw a packet of sanitary pads at me. [I] got to the bathroom and I could see that I was menstruating and I was just wondering how he realised that.
The beating up lasted for a week. I was asthmatic and they refused to give me medication. Ultimately, when they realised that they could not get anything out of me and, perhaps, not mainly because of strength as much as it was actually because of weakness, the way I was physically weak and I could not speak anymore.

174 Matshoba was then moved to another police station to recover from the injuries she had sustained as a result of her torture. Conditions at the police station were extremely poor. The place was “swarming with lice … and the blankets stinking and reeking of urine”.

175 Matshoba said she became mentally unstable as a result of her torture. She said one policeman quietly slipped her the medication she needed for her asthmatic condition. Another told her that the police were waiting for her to die from her asthma, a death for which the police could not be held culpable. On doctor’s instructions she was taken back to the Pietermaritzburg female prison. Here she was subjected to solitary confinement and extreme hostility from the women warders. Matshoba told the Commission:

Perhaps, after an hour or two the wardress would open the cell, just the door, and leave the bars open and kick that plate of food in. For some time, I used to accept it and just continue eating it … it would be clogged and have ants.

176 Driven to an extreme state by the continued isolation, Matshoba decided that she would try to end it by committing a criminal act in order to be charged and placed among the common law prisoners. Matshoba told the Commission she accosted a wardress one day.

[I] grabbed her hair through the bars and started bashing her head against the bars. I really gave it to her. I beat her up thoroughly and I could not let loose… It was quiet, the prisoners were locked in and it was quiet and it was just time for her to come and feed this animal and she was all by herself, she was screaming and there was nobody. Ultimately, she fell down. I do not know how they saw her, but then they came, picked her up. I was expecting anything from the Security Police, anything from being charged, but the best that I was hoping for was that I would be charged, go to court, be able to talk to somebody.

177 Instead of being charged, it appears that Matshoba’s violent act precipitated a change in her treatment. She was visited by a magistrate who asked her what she needed. She was given a Bible. For the first time in ten months, her family knew where she was. She was allowed a thirty-minute visit from family members.

178 The security police thought that Matshoba had been broken and would be willing to testify against her colleagues. When she refused to do this, she was transferred to yet another prison where she was put in a cell without windows:

The next week the magistrate came with a statement which was read, written and typed and said I should sign it, because they would like me to be a witness, a state witness in several trials. It was several statements, actually. I refused and told him that, actually, I am not used to talking to magistrates, and I was taken to Middelburg Prison …

179 Here she was confined to a small cell without a window. Matshoba said she talked to male prisoners at night through the toilet:

They taught me how to use the toilets and it was called telephone. Drain your water, use your cup, use your cup they told me, they spoke to me through the window at night. My drinking cup, I used it [to] drain the water into the bucket and we communicated very fluently and safely through the toilet.

180 Matshoba was re-detained immediately after her release from Middelburg. She was again taken to Krugersdorp and then to the Johannesburg prison, where she was placed with other female detainees for the first time. She had become seriously ill and fellow detainees were shocked by her condition:

Fortunately, this time it was section 10 and that is where I found Jubie that night, Jubie Mayet and Gladys Manzi… I weighed forty-three kilograms and I must have looked terrible, because they really cried when they saw me. I wondered how I looked like. I had not seen myself in the mirror for the past eighteen months. I had never seen my face and I remember Jubie and Gladys insisting that I have to go for a check-up and they insisted and called prison authorities that I have to and I was taken to hospital and x-rayed and pumped with a lot of vitamins and stuff like that …
I had no hair, you know, my hair was just pulling out. It was just pulling out, you could just pick it out and I remember Jubie making an egg mixture and rubbing it on my hair and friends like Joyce and Ellen Kuzwayo sending me some cosmetics, baby oils and stuff like that to nourish my skin. I drew courage once more when I got to the Fort.

181 After six months, Matshoba was released and immediately placed under a five-year banning order.

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