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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 197
Paragraph Numbers 132 to 147
132 The first allegations of torture of political detainees arose during the state of emergency declared on 24 March 1960. According to the Minister of Justice, ninety-eight whites, thirty-six coloureds, ninety Indians and 11 279 Africans were detained under the Public Safety Act of 1953. From statements received by the Commission, it appears as though detainees were routinely subjected to beating and other forms of assault. Several Pondoland detainees reported the use of electric shock and torture involving forced posture.
133 A second wave of torture allegations came from Poqo members detained under the General Laws Amendment Act of 1961. The main form of torture remained beatings and general assault, although again instances of electric shock and forced posture were reported.
134 With the introduction of the ninety-day detention clause provided for by the General Laws Amendment Act of 1963 that torture became far more prevalent. Section 17 authorised any commissioned officer to detain without a warrant any person suspected of political activities and to hold them in solitary confinement, without access to a lawyer, for ninety days. In practice, people were often released after ninety days only to be re-detained on the same day for a further ninety-day period. The Minister of Justice said the intention was to detain uncooperative persons “until this side of eternity”11. Ms Helen Suzman was the only Member of Parliament to vote against the amendment.
135 The ninety-day law came into effect on 1 May 1963 and the first detentions took place eight days later. Between 1 May 1963 and 10 January 1965, when it was withdrawn and replaced with a 180-day detention law, it was used to detain 1 095 people, of whom 575 were charged and 272 convicted.
136 In the course of these detentions, torture went far beyond a routine level of physical assault; carefully honed techniques were put to use, designed primarily to extract information. By the end of January 1964, Minister Vorster conceded in Parliament that forty-nine complaints had been received concerning ill treatment and torture, including twenty-eight allegations of assault and twenty of electric shock. He reported that thirty-two had been investigated and found to be of no substance. Nevertheless, accounts of torture from this period – across region, rank and organisation – bear a remarkable consistency.
137 Mr Laloo Chiba [JB00667/016GTSOW] told the Commission about what appears from other statements to have been a routine experience:
There were about five or six people who were actually present in the room. They started assaulting me, punched me, kicked me and in the process my face was badly bruised. My left eardrum had been punctured. They wanted to know who my contact was in MK … I pleaded ignorance … The assault must have lasted half an hour or so. It is very, very difficult for me to assess the passage of time in these circumstances. But what was to follow was far more serious …
138 Chiba, covered with a wet hessian sack, was then subjected to electric shock treatment:
Every time I resisted answering the questions, they turned on the dynamo and of course, violent electric shocks started passing through my body … After the electric torture was over, I was unable to walk, I collapsed. They then carried me out.
139 Mr Rajeegopal Vandeyar [JB00809/01GTSOW] described Chiba’s condition following this session:
His face was swollen severely. His eyes appeared to be coming out of their sockets. He was walking with great difficulty and was supported by a policeman. His legs were rigid. His knees did not bend. His hands were almost like he had severe arthritis. He looked like a Frankenstein monster.
140 Other methods of torture used included being dangled from the window, a range of psychological threats and, particularly from 1964, a combination of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation and forced standing, often for days on end.
141 Laloo Chiba, detained again in July 1964, gives his account of this new method:
I was assured that, unlike the previous time, they won’t even lay a finger on me. What they did was, they took a foolscap sheet of paper, A4 size, they put it on the floor and they asked me to stand on that. They said that I was not allowed to move off from that sheet of paper … I stood there from about nine o’clock on Monday morning until Wednesday early in the evening, late in the afternoon. That was a period of approximately fifty-eight to sixty hours without sleep.
142 The Security Branch worked in teams, ensuring that they were always fresh and clean, in sharp contrast to the exhausted detainees. Teams would also frequently alternate between apparently sympathetic police and those who displayed extreme aggression. Such methods, which left no mark, proved devastatingly effective in extracting confessions. It is important to note, however, that physical violence and electric shock continued to be used as well, particularly against less high-profile African detainees.
143 Section 17 of the General Laws Amendment Act was revoked as of 11 January 1965. The Minister of Justice said that it would be re-invoked should the need arise. The Criminal Procedure Amendment Act was enacted in the same year. This provided for 180-day detention and re-detention thereafter. Detainees could be held in solitary confinement but, unlike the ninety-day provision, interrogation was not specified as part of the detention. Nevertheless, it appears that the 180-day provision was used for interrogation as well.
144 In response to guerrilla activities on the northern borders of South West Africa, the General Laws Amendment Act was amended in 1966 to provide for up to fourteen days’ detention of suspected ‘terrorists’ for interrogation purposes. The commissioner of police could apply to a judge to have the detention order renewed. This clause was a forerunner of the Terrorism Act (1967) which authorised indefinite detention without trial on the authority of a policeman of or above the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The definition of terrorism was very broad. No time limit was specified for detention, which could be continued until detainees had satisfactorily replied to all questions. Detentions under the Act were generally for the purposes of extracting information and the practice of routine ‘purposive torture’ appears to have accompanied most interrogations.
145 Section 6 of the Terrorism Act was first used to detain ten South West Africans arrested during the attack on the SWAPO base at Omgulumbashe. The captives vanished from view and were brought to trial in Pretoria after two years of interrogation, intermittent torture and many months of solitary confinement. Section 6 was subsequently used in a series of detentions of suspected ANC members in 1968.
146 A further window into the interrogation and torture of detainees under the Terrorism Act is provided by the detention of some eighty South African Students’ Organisation (SASO) and Black People’s Convention (BPC) activists in November 1974. Many of these were transported to Pretoria where they were intensively interrogated at the Security Branch’s Compol offices. It appears that a team of security policemen from around the country were involved in these interrogations. Almost all detainees alleged severe torture.
147 Former Durban Security Branch member Colonel ARC ‘Andy’ Taylor [AM4077/96] played a prominent role in the interrogations. He applied for amnesty for the assault of Ms Bridgette Sylvia Mabandla, Dr Sathasivan Cooper [JB06330/ 01GTSOW], Mr Revabalan Cooper [KZN/NSS/015/DN], Mr Lindani Muntu Myeza, Mr Nyangani Absalom Cindi and Mr Ruben William Hare. While Taylor claimed not to remember the details of these incidents, statements to the Commission and from Amnesty International indicate a consistent pattern: lengthy interrogations accompanied by assault and torture involving forced posture such as being forced to sit in an imaginary chair. In some instances, electric shocks were alleged to have been administered.10 Marius de Witt Dippenaar, SAP Commemorative Album, p. 308. 11 SAP Commemorative Album,p.12.