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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 598

Paragraph Numbers 244 to 251

Volume 3

Chapter 6

Subsection 37

244 Evidence that an individual was actually a member or supporter of a political organisation did not appear to be of primary concern to police. Mass detentions served rather as acts of generalised intimidation of a constituency perceived to be non-compliant and dangerous to the security of the state. The security forces held black youth collectively responsible for the violence sweeping the country, and thus used torture as an essential component of counter-revolutionary warfare. This became increasingly evident during the 1980s, when the numbers of people detained escalated rapidly. One of the objectives of torture was to undermine the individual – psychologically, politically and socially – and thereby reduce his or her ability to engage in political activity.

245 In 1985, the charge of high treason was revived and fifty-five people were charged with high treason in seven separate trials. One of these, the Pietermaritzburg Trial, sought to demonstrate that the South African Allied Workers Union, the UDF and some of its affiliates – all lawful organisations carrying out legal activities – were operating as part of a revolutionary conspiracy. The Delmas trial, in which twenty-two activists were charged, lasted from June 1985 until December 1989 and is alleged to have been the longest trial in South African history.

246 Amnesty applicants who held senior positions within the police force confirmed to the Commission that the torture of detainees, including the use of electric shocks, was routine practice. The relatively small number of amnesty applications for acts of torture is a reflection of this attitude. Torture was not regarded as a gross human rights violation or infraction of police practice, and its perpetrators did not face sanctions either within or outside the police force. A further sense of impunity was created by the fact that the victim was often the only witness. Because of the often degrading and humiliating nature of torture, many of those tortured were reluctant to talk about their experiences. Those who died were permanently silenced.

247 As the use of torture became increasingly widespread and systematic, the number of resulting deaths escalated. Instead of implementing measures to halt these killings, senior police officials tried to mask the consequences of unrestrained torture. The death in police custody of Mamelodi activist Stanza Bopape on the tenth anniversary of the Soweto uprising led to a high-level cover-up involving the commissioner of police and a range of other senior police officers.

248 During this period, there was also a substantial increase in the number of reports of brutality perpetrated by members of the homeland police forces – in Bophuthatswana, Venda and Lebowa. By the 1980s, all the homelands, both independent and self-governing, had acquired their own police forces. As conflict escalated, these police forces were rapidly expanded. Methods of torture were brutal and simple. A number of deponents reported being sjambokked to within an inch of their lives. Reports of electric shock torture were less frequent but did occur, often when South African police became involved in an interrogation.

249 Beating was the most frequently reported form of torture in the former Transvaal during the 1980s, followed by forced posture and electric shock torture. Forced posture usually involved making a detainee stand, sometimes in an awkward position, for long periods of time.

250 Also notable in this period was an increase in covert operations carried out by the security forces, as in ‘Operation Zero Zero’ where eight young East Rand activists died after being given booby-trapped grenades by Vlakplaas operative Joe Mamasela. Covert operations led to a general escalation of violence on the East Rand, including the ‘necklacing’24 of a young woman, Ms Maki Skhosana, who was accused of being involved in the youths’ deaths. In the wake of Ms Skhosana’s highly publicised killing, State President PW Botha declared a state of emergency. Amnesty applicants to the Commission revealed that actions such as in ‘Operation Zero Zero’ were sanctioned at the highest levels of government. Security force members involved in covert operations had direct access to government resources and infrastructure which enabled them to counter opposition through unlawful actions, including murder and abduction.

251 During the 1980s, all who represented government authority – including police, community councillors and chiefs – became targets of widespread violence. Even those perceived to have simply been beneficiaries of the apartheid system, such as business people or teachers antagonistic to school boycotts, were vulnerable to attack. The numbers of persons killed for these reasons amounted to approximately a third of the total number of people killed between 1983 and 1989. According to the Human Rights Commission, the total number of people killed between 1984 and 1989 was 3 500. Of these, about 1 000 are estimated to have been policemen or victims of necklacing or burning. Police General van der Merwe told the Commission that the killing of policemen in townships during the 1980s constituted a fundamental threat to state security and provided a reason for the government’s use of extra-judicial forms of ‘elimination’ during this period.

24 The placing of a tyre doused with petrol around the victim’s neck and setting it alight, thereby burning the victim to death.
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