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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 615
Paragraph Numbers 314 to 325
Detention and torture
314 The Detainees’ Parents’ Support Committee estimated that fourteen individuals died in police custody in 1984–85 alone. Evidence of endemic police torture which has emerged from amnesty applications and victims’ submissions to the Commission indicates that many of these deaths occurred as a result of torture.
315 The Commission’s data for the former Transvaal reflects a peak in the incidence of torture during this period (1983–89) with approximately 1 500 torture violations recorded, constituting 20 per cent of all gross human rights violations recorded during this period. Nearly a third of these acts of torture occurred in the second quarter of 1986, after the declaration of a national state of emergency. This is the highest peak of torture in the former Transvaal during the Commission’s mandate period.
316 Many of the victims of torture were youths and young men between the ages of thirteen and twenty-four. A number were activists who held local leadership positions. Several were detained and tortured repeatedly. The government hoped that the detention of these activists would significantly weaken organised opposition and contain the wave of mass protest that was sweeping the country. The strategy worked, to a large extent, and by 1987 many organisations had collapsed in the absence of most of their leaders.
317 Although Johannesburg’s John Vorster Square was the national Security Branch headquarters and interrogation centre, most of those detained and tortured in this region by the 1980s were local activists. In earlier decades, the capacity for specialised interrogation of alleged terrorists and subversives had been limited to a few teams of high-ranking policemen based in the Transvaal or Western Cape. By the 1980s, however, the use of torture and assault in the interrogation of political detainees had spread throughout the country and was being used routinely by policemen of all ranks at small and large police stations and in a variety of different contexts. Among the Transvaal police stations named as venues of torture in statements to the Commission are Protea, Alexandra, Dunnotar, Germiston, Makwassie and Carletonville. Some detainees report that they were not taken to police stations but were held in secret venues where they were severely tortured before being released.
318 The work of the Security Branch was crucial to the maintenance of South African national security. Torture and assault of detainees by this unit was not questioned. It was even tacitly encouraged in the interests of defending the country against the total onslaught facing it. Lieutenant van Niekerk, an amnesty applicant, told the Commission:
In the Security Branch we had the situation where we dealt with the ANC, the onslaught of the MK, acts of terror and it was of crucial importance that that onslaught should have been stopped. And within this whole national political context, the Security Branch was allowed to do this … In the Security Branch, it was a method used to obtain information – urgent information that we had to acquire – and it was approved, and it was used generally.
319 Another amnesty applicant, Captain van Loggerenberg, described some of the torture methods he had become acquainted with during the course of his work as a police officer in the Eastern Transvaal:
… if we talk about it, there are various methods which were used, the shocking method … With the old type of telephones, the winding telephones, where you apply the electrodes to a person’s body and you wind the telephone [electric shock] … and several other methods … The broomstick method … You make a person hang between two chairs, the other method is making him hang by his arms where he has been handcuffed, and the other one is where a person stands on a brick balancing on his heels or on his toes for hours while you are conducting interrogation [forced posture].
320 All the reports of torture and assault submitted to the Commission are notable for the punitive nature of the violence directed against the detainees. Only in a very few instances was a serious effort made to interrogate detainees in order to acquire credible information from them. Generally torture and assault would start before questions had been posed and continue long after it became clear the detainee knew nothing, would not talk or in fact had talked. Violence was often sustained and intense, bringing detainees to the brink of death. Despite the severe injuries sustained by detainees during their torture, medical attention was itself used as a punitive measure, often being withheld until it appeared that a detainee might die. Many of those who had been badly assaulted were simply left to recover from their injuries over time before torture would be resumed. Sometimes these detainees would be held in solitary confinement for several months.
321 During their incarceration many detainees were coerced into making confessions. These confessions were accepted – and sometimes even elicited – by magistrates, as Mr Thabang Mopeloa testifies below. The personal consequences for detainees and their families were substantial. Under torture, Ms Winnie Zondo [JB05603/ 01GTSOW] implicated her brother and sister in an incident of murder and arson. She and her two siblings spent the next six years in jail until they were released under indemnity provisions.
322 Despite the fact that the emergency regulations and legislation such as section 29 of the Internal Security Act already provided for indefinite periods of detention free from the scrutiny of family, friends and lawyers, there was a move during this period towards the use of extra-judicial methods, as indicated by reports of police wearing balaclavas to hide their faces, and of detainees being taken to private venues rather than police stations for periods of torture.
323 Mr Spankie Lesotho [JB02167/03WR], a founder member of the Azanian Students’ Movement (AZASM), from Khutsong at Carletonville in the Western Transvaal, testified to the Human Rights Violations Committee of his experience as an emergency detainee. As a member of AZASM, he organised protests against corporal punishment and other educational grievances. Some of these protests were violent and involved the burning of school buildings, administrative offices and shops. He was repeatedly detained from 1985 onwards and then served a six-month sentence for public violence. On his release in 1986 he was detained again. He told the Commission that he was held for three weeks, and tortured. He was forced to frog-jump, his head was hit against a wall and his hair was torn out. A complaint to a prosecutor that he had been tortured merely elicited further abuse.
324 Mr Jacob Khoali [JB002381ERKAT] was a town councillor who became a member of the Katlehong Residents Action Committee (KRAC), a UDF-affiliated civic organisation. When the home of Katlehong’s mayor, Mr Khumalo, was burnt down after the funeral of a victim of a police shooting, Mr Khoali was detained for fourteen days by the Germiston police and accused of involvement in the incident. He was assaulted and as a result falsely identified another Katlehong resident as a participant in the arson attack.
325 Mr Khoali was again arrested and held at Modderbee prison after the state of emergency was declared in June 1985. He was taken to a private house in Primose called the ‘waarkamer’ where he was subjected to the ‘helicopter’ torture method and given electric shocks. As a result of his assault and torture by the police, both Khoali’s legs were amputated above the knee and the use of his left arm is impaired.