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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 205

Paragraph Numbers 166 to 176

Volume 2

Chapter 3

Subsection 18

Deaths of detainees held in terms of security legislation

166 The Commission was told of a number of cases where the victim died while detained under security legislation.


167 In the following cases the police said the death was the result of suicide:

a Mr Looksmart Ngudle [CT00504/GAU; also see EC0127/96/CCK] died on 5 September 1963 in Pretoria, allegedly a suicide by hanging, following electric shock torture.

b Mr Suliman Saloojee [JB01711/01ERKWA] died on 24 January 1964 after allegedly jumping from a window.

c Mr James Thabiso Lenkoe [JB00092/01GTSOW] died in Pretoria Central prison on 10 March 1969. Police claimed he had committed suicide by hanging. A pathologist report established that he had been tortured and possibly killed.

d Mr Ahmed Timol [JB00173/03WR] died on 27 October 1971 at John Vorster Square in Johannesburg. According to the police, he committed suicide by leaping out of the window of a tenth-floor office.

e Mr Luke Mazwembe [CT00516/FLA; EC1249/96BUT; CT01307/KAR] died in detention in Cape Town in 1976, after allegedly “hanging himself with a blanket”.

f Mr Mapetla Mohapi [EC0007/96PLZ] died at Kei Road police station, East London, on 5 August 1976. Ms Mohapi was told by the police that her husband had hanged himself with his jeans. However, a ‘suicide note’ from Mohapi was apparently not in his handwriting.

g Mr Hoosen Haffajee [KZN/NG/006/DN] died in Brighton Beach police cells, Durban, less than twelve hours after having been detained, on 3 August 1977.

h Mr Mxolisi Johannes ‘Dikkie’ Jacobs [CT04205/UPI] died in Upington police cells on 22 October 1986, another alleged suicide by hanging.

i Mr Phakamile Harry Mabija [CT00135/KIM; also see CT00635/KIM and CT04513/KIM] died in detention in Kimberley on 7 July 1977 in an alleged suicide: he “jumped out of a window” on the sixth floor.

j Mr George Botha [EC1587/97PLZ] died in security police custody in Port Elizabeth on 15 December 1976, allegedly “suicide through jumping down a stairwell” of the Sanlam Building, the offices of the Port Elizabeth Security Branch offices.

k Mr Lungile Tabalaza [EC0002/96PLZ & EC2607/97PLZ] died at 15h00 on 10 July 1978, allegedly after jumping from the fifth floor window of the Sanlam Building in Port Elizabeth. At the inquest, the government pathologist acknowledged that several bruises and lacerations could have been sustained before the fall. A magistrate, Mr Lubbe, who saw Tabalaza less than an hour before his ‘suicide’, expressed regret for having failed to investigate Thabalaza’s fears that he would be beaten if he did not make a statement when he was taken back to the Security Branch offices.

l Mr Neil Hudson Aggett [CT00410/FLA] was detained in November 1981 and died on 5 February 1982, allegedly having committed suicide by hanging.

168 The security police suggested that detainees had received instructions from the ANC to commit suicide rather than talk. Some claimed that they committed suicide in order to malign the Security Branch. Mr TJ ‘Rooi Rus’ Swanepoel was quoted in a November 1982 press article as saying: “It is a communist plot. If they commit suicide, they can cast doubts on the security forces.”13

169 The Commission has taken into consideration the evidence of victims of torture which could well have led to death, especially those cases in which similar forms of torture did lead to death. A number of cases were recorded of detainees having their heads bashed against the wall and of detainees who were suspended by their feet outside windows of buildings of several storeys, raising the strong possibility that at least some of those detainees who allegedly committed suicide by jumping out of the window were either accidentally dropped or thrown.

172 Mr Mfene Simon Yoyo [EC0653/96QTN] told the Commission that, during his detention in East London in April 1963, his interrogating officer said: “This person does not want to tell the truth. Then I think let’s throw him out of the window ...”. Yoyo said they lifted him up and hung him out of the window, threatening to let go.

174 Mr Vusumzi Johnson Nyathi [JB02097/03WR], a detainee in the Bethal trial of the State v Mothopeng and seventeen others, survived after he was allegedly thrown out of the window during an interrogation session. Nyathi, who suffered spinal injuries, was later charged and found guilty of trying to escape from custody. By the time the Bethal trial opened in December 1977, four persons detained in connection with the trial had died in detention. They were Mr Naboath Ntshuntsha, Mr Samuel Malinga, Mr Aaron Khoza and Mr Sipho Bonaventura Malaza. Nyathi later sued the Minister of Police without success.

175 The Commission also heard evidence of bona fide cases of suicide and accounts from detainees who said they had contemplated or attempted suicide. Mr Prema Naidoo spoke of his wish to commit suicide after revealing information after six days of unremitting torture: “I contemplated suicide, not because I was hurt or anything but because I felt I had betrayed the cause, the cause which I believed in.”

176 The Commission is of the opinion that, given the extensive evidence of physical as well as psychological torture, suicides under conditions of detention should be regarded as induced suicide for which the security forces and the former government are accountable.

13 Rand Daily Mail, 6 November 1982.
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