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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 620
Paragraph Numbers 337 to 344
Deaths in detention
337 Mr Stanza Bopape [JB0500/02NPPTB, JB03703/01ERTEM], a well-known activist and general secretary of the Mamelodi Civic Association, died in police custody at John Vorster Square on 12 June 1988, three days after he had been detained with his flatmate Mr Bheki Nkosi [JB05244/O1ERKAT]. A high-level cover-up, including a fake escape and secret disposal of Mr Bopape’s body was approved by the commissioner of police, General Johan van der Merwe, in order to avoid the negative political ramifications of his death in police custody. Until the recent amnesty applications of a number of policemen involved in Bopape’s death, a public fiction had been maintained that Bopape ‘escaped’ from police custody while being transported from Johannesburg to the Vaal. According to the then Minister of Law and Order, Mr Adriaan Vlok, Bopape escaped when three policemen with whom he was travelling got out of the car to change a punctured tyre. Bopape allegedly found the keys to unlock his handcuffs and fled. Police reported that they shot at him but failed to apprehend him, and claimed that he must have left the country to join the ANC.
338 Mr Bopape’s mother, Ms Mokgaetji Francina Bopape, breaking down several times, made an impassioned plea at the Commission’s Pietersburg hearings for information about her son’s whereabouts. After a fruitless search by her husband for Bopape in the ANC exile community, Ms Bopape became convinced that her son had died in policy custody. However, she was never able to confirm this. She told the Commission that she wanted “the police who were with him [to] come here and tell us where the bones are”.
339 In the months that followed Ms Bopape’s testimony, a number of the policemen involved in Mr Stanza Bopape’s arrest and interrogation applied to the Commission for amnesty, claiming that he had died of a heart attack after they had applied electric shocks to his body.
340 According to the amnesty applicants, they had information that Bopape had been involved in a variety of violent attacks, including several bombings and the murder of three police officers in Atteridgeville. When questioned about his activities, Bopape apparently refused to provide the police with any information. As the day wore on and Bopape still remained uncooperative, a decision was made to “give him a little fright”. It was proposed that electric shocks should be used. A police officer was sent to fetch the electric shock equipment from another police station.
341 All the amnesty applicants claim that Bopape was not assaulted prior to the decision to use electric shocks on him and that the device was turned only a few times before he slumped forward, dead.
342 However, Mr Bheki Nkosi, Bopape’s flatmate who was detained with him, told the Commission that Bopape’s torture may have been more severe. He described to the Commission how he himself was given electric shocks of increasing intensity when he did not respond to questions put to him.
343 Van Niekerk describes how Bopape was prepared for the shocks:
We decided to tie Mr Bopape on a chair … There was a strong wooden chair in my office and because of the fact that my office was quite small we pushed the chair out into the corridor which was quite broad – wide – and Mr Bopape was placed on the chair. His shirt was removed, his hands were tied to the supports of the chair and his feet to the legs of the chair. Sergeant du Preez had the shock device in his hand … There were two cords running from the device and at the tip of it, of these cords, there were two pieces of cloth which was wrapped around the tips of the cords. This device was turned two or three times by Sergeant du Preez and whilst he was turning it, Mr Engelbrecht pushed these cords against his body and moved it over Mr Bopape’s body … It didn’t take very long, maybe two to four minutes, the device was turned, then it was stopped, then someone asked him whether he wanted to say something and if there was no reaction to that, then the machine was turned again and this must have happened around three times. By the third time Mr Bopape’s head fell forward and I realised there was something wrong. We immediately untied him, placed him on the floor and Sergeant du Preez gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation. It seemed that he was dead already and I think all of us standing there … all thought that he was dead.
344 Realising the political implications of Bopape’s death – on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the 1976 Soweto protests and at the height of conflict between the government and opposition groups – the police officers involved in his interrogation did not try to obtain medical confirmation of his death, or medical assistance to resuscitate him. Instead, Van Niekerk telephoned his superior, General Erasmus, to express his concern about the possible political consequences of Bopape’s death and suggest that a ‘plan’ should be made. The plan was that Bopape’s body was to be hidden while Van Niekerk and the other policemen involved in his interrogation waited for instructions regarding the next step:
… we thought we would put the body back in the office where Mr Mostert and Engelbrecht interrogated him at first and he was placed on the floor and a blanket was thrown over him. And then we waited to receive feedback from General Erasmus.