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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 575

Paragraph Numbers 182 to 184

Volume 3

Chapter 6

Subsection 23

Deaths in detention
The death in detention of Matthews Mabelane
Mr Matthews Mabelane [JB00322/01GTSOW] left South Africa for Botswana in October 1976, but was intercepted by police at Zeerust in the Western Transvaal, detained and taken to John Vorster Square police station in Johannesburg.
On 16 February 1977, two detectives came to the Mabelane home and asked his father, Mr Philip Mabelane, to accompany them to John Vorster Square:
“We went to the tenth floor where they told me that my child was there and was interrogated and jumped through the window and fell down from the tenth floor. I asked how did he come through because he was in your hands. No, we just saw him, suddenly we saw him going through the window.
“After that they told me that … I do not have the right to take any steps regarding this matter, according to the law. All I could do is for them to release the corpse to me that I should bury it myself. Truly, I did that, I buried my son.”
The death in detention of Walter Shandu
Mr Elias Zwelakhe Shandu’s son Walter [JB1024/02PS], died in detention in 1978. Police told Mr Shandu that his son had been detained while on his way to Angola. He was interrogated and reportedly tortured in a South African police station. His corpse was returned to his parents from the mortuary in Zeerust after he allegedly committed suicide while in police custody. The family never saw the results of the autopsy. Mr Shandu was suspicious because of the marks on the neck and shoulders of his son’s body. He asked the police to take him to the place where his son had committed suicide.
“Then they said, ‘The police who were there are not here, they are off duty.’ I continued asking them and they said ‘do not ask us many questions because we know nothing’.”
Like many of the relatives of people who died in detention, Mr Elias Shandu also became the target of police attention after his son’s death:
“We buried him. These police were there at his funeral… After having buried him police used to come and harass me. They asked me, ‘Was your son a member of the ANC?’ I said ‘I do not know’ and they asked me, ‘What about you, are you a member of the ANC?’ I said I was a member of the ANC before it was banned, but now I am a church-goer.”

182 In 1978, four of eighty-six ‘co-conspirators’ charged with furthering the aims of the PAC died in police custody while awaiting trial. These detainees were Mr Naoboth Ntshuntsha [JB00921/01GTSOW], Mr Bonaventure Malaza, Mr Aaron Khoza [JB04458/03WR] (who died in Pietermaritzburg), and Mr Samuel Malinga [JB06044/01GTSOW]. The police alleged that all four had committed suicide.

183 The eighty-six accused were part of a major trial of PAC members, which began in February 1978, in which eighteen members of the PAC, including PAC leader Mr Robert Sobukwe, Mr Zephaniah Mothopeng and Mr Mark Shinners, were charged under the Terrorism Act with furthering the aims of the organisation. Other charges related to alleged recruitment of people to undergo military training for the PAC abroad; the use of a religious organisation, the Young African Religious Movement, as a cover; encouraging violence and sabotage during unrest in Kagiso in 1977, and attempting to re-activate the PAC.20

184 The trial came to be known as the Bethal Treason Trial. It was held in the small rural town of Bethal in order to isolate the accused and reduce media coverage. The trial was also held in camera. Only journalists with cards signed by the commissioner of police were allowed to attend the hearings.

20 SAIRR, Survey 1978.
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