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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 203
Paragraph Numbers 160 to 165
160 As these cases indicate, torture was used expressly to extract information and admissions, and interrogation was in some instances followed by a trial. Detainees, ‘broken’ by torture, were frequently used as state witnesses. In some instances, despite the presence of perpetrators in court, such witnesses withdrew their statements, alleging that they had been made under duress. Court cases were increasingly characterised by ‘trials within trials’ to test the admissibility of such statements. Few judges ruled in favour of detainees. In many cases, however, detainees were eventually released after lengthy spells in detention without having been charged.
161 It is also important to note the modus operandi of the Nduli and Ndlovu detentions – abduction from Swaziland and interrogation at a police camp rather than a formal place of detention. This foreshadows an extensive pattern of abduction and interrogation in the 1980s. In later years, however, such detainees were frequently killed.
162 During the 1976 unrest, the government amended the Internal Security Act in order to provide for what was termed ‘preventive detention’. Theoretically, the detention was not meant to exceed twelve months. Proclamation R133 of 16 July 1976 applied the provisions of the Internal Security Amendment Act to the Transvaal, while Proclamation R159 of 11 August 1976 extended its applicability country-wide. This was extended for a further year.
163 The Internal Security Act (1982) attempted to consolidate security legislation into one act. Detentions were covered by the following clauses:
a Section 28: Indefinite preventive detention;
b Section 29: Indefinite detention for interrogation, with detainees held in solitary confinement;
c Section 29(2): No court could challenge the validity of a detention order;
d Section 31: Detention of potential witnesses for not longer than six months or for the duration of a trial;
e Section 50: A low-ranking police officer could detain a person deemed to be threatening public safety for fourteen days’ preventive detention. For the detention to be extended, the permission of a magistrate was needed.
164 Detainees held under section 28 were sometimes questioned, but were primarily detained in order to keep them out of circulation. Section 29 was used chiefly for detention of those suspected of links with the underground, and particularly military, structures. Detainees held under this clause were subjected to torture. In the mid-1980s, the Internal Security Act continued to be used for specific cases of suspected terrorism and for intensive interrogation. However, detention happened far more widely under the state of emergency provisions.
165 State of emergency regulations gave police powers to detain individuals for an initial period of fourteen days on little more than a suspicion that they may have been a “threat to the safety and security of the state”. The period of detention could be extended almost indefinitely. Thousands of people, mostly black men, were incarcerated under these provisions during the states of emergency in the mid- to late 1980s. The wide-ranging powers given to the police, including extensive indemnity provision, and the lack of any censure for excesses, reinforced their understanding that they enjoyed impunity for extensive abuses committed in the interests of state security.
The Red Location detainees
During August 1985, hundreds of male residents of Red Location outside Port Elizabeth were rounded up by police late one night and taken to a police station before being transferred to St Alban’s prison. At the police station, they were subjected to random assaults over a period of some hours. Detainees reported having bricks dropped on their feet, being beaten with pick handles, being hit repeatedly on the palm of the hand with a cane and having to run the gauntlet of a row of policemen armed with sjamboks.
Often there seems to have been a deliberate attempt to humiliate detainees. A minister of religion was made to dance naked in front of his neighbours; an old man was forced to sing songs for teenagers; young men were made to lick the boots of police officers; a detainee whose nose had bled as a result of a beating was made to wipe the blood off the floor with his bare hands; another had his hair pulled out and was made to eat it.
Torture also took its more ‘traditional form’ of physical and emotional assault during interrogation, in an attempt to extract information. Trade union leaders, political activists and leaders of student organisations were the prime targets.
While there is no evidence that prison staff were involved in assaults, they were aware of the abuses and did nothing to stop them. In her affidavit to the Port Elizabeth Supreme Court in September 198512, Dr Wendy Orr reported a prison warder who said, on seeing a badly beaten and bruised detainee who had just been returned to the prison after a session of interrogation, “Hy het dit seker nodig gehad” (He probably deserved it).12 Case no 2507/85, Ref 129/7. Files are at the Port Elizabeth Supreme Court, Port Elizabeth.