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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 210
Paragraph Numbers 181 to 186
181 The Commission received statements about the following deaths in police custody. Although the Commission made a positive victim finding in these cases, it was not able to establish the exact legislation under which they were held at the time of their deaths.
a Political activist Colenso Ninase Mnyane [EC0735/97ETK] died in detention in Tabankulu on 5 November 1967, either of heart failure or of injuries from a fall.
b Mr Rocky James [EC0144/96/NWC] was shot dead while in custody in Cradock on 9 November 1977, allegedly while “trying to escape”. A statement from a municipal policeman, Michael Adams, said James was severely beaten by a white policeman. When James pleaded for help, Adams attempted to intervene. During the scuffle with the white policeman, James attempted to run away and was shot dead. Adams subsequently lost his job. The family heard that James had been instructed by the police to run away and had then been shot in the back.
c Mr Ephraim Thami ‘Papi’ Mthethwa [KZN/ZJ/146/DN], a UDF member, was detained and died two months later on 24 August 1984 in Lamontville. He was held in solitary confinement at Sentela police station. Police claimed he had hanged himself.
d Congress of South African Students (COSAS) activist Sipho Mutsi [KZN/ZJ/115/BL] was detained and died on 14 May 1985 in Odendaalsrus, Orange Free State after being severely beaten.
e In August 1985 Mr Thembelakhe George [EC0846/96/KWT] was assaulted by police, first at his home during his arrest in connection with the consumer boycott in Ginsberg, and then at the police station in King Williams Town. His family later found him in hospital where he died from injuries sustained from the assault. The inquest magistrate noted that the head injuries which caused his death could have been inflicted by the police.
f Mr Amos Dendeng Sonnyboy Mokoena [JB00264/01GTSOW] died in detention in Pilgrims’ Rest on 16 August 1985. The police told his mother he hanged himself in his cell. While the police allege that Mokoena was arrested on criminal charges, his mother alleges that he was politically active and had fled to Pilgrims’ Rest to escape detention.
g Mr Tota Alex Mfazwe [EC1363/96PLZ] was arrested in Queenstown on 5 July 1986, severely assaulted, and is alleged to have committed suicide by hanging himself at Queenstown police station on 6 July. The family reported that there were bruises and a big scratch on his face and that his clothes were badly torn.
h Mr Nopola Njatu [EC0427/96/NEC] died after being beaten up in police custody in Sterkstroom in November 1986. Police alleged death due to an epileptic fit; but his family noted an open wound on his forehead. The inquest found that the cause of death was ‘not determined’.
i Mr Eric Ndondela Nongqo [EC1515/97NWC] died of neck injuries after being arrested and beaten up at the police station in Steynsburg on 18 July 1987.
j Mr Paulus Radebe [KZN/ZJ/169/WE] was detained in 1987 in Welkom. He was tortured to death at the Odendaalsrus police station on 31 October 1987.
k Mr Anthony Melville Smiles [EC0313/96/ALN], a political activist, was arrested in Dordrecht in 1988, allegedly for being drunk in the street. The police alleged that he had committed suicide in police cells by hanging himself with his overalls. The inquest report indicated that, while suicide was possible, death by other means could not be ruled out. The post mortem recorded that either the victim had attempted to loosen the overalls himself or that he had first been strangled and then hanged after death.
182 The Commission has received a substantial number of further cases of deaths in police custody. In many inquest reports, magistrates ruled that no one could be held accountable for the deaths of detainees.
183 The Commission received amnesty applications in respect of the deaths of only three detainees, namely Mr Stephen Bantu Biko, Mr Sizwe Kondile and Mr Stanza Bopape.
184 Stephen Bantu Biko died in police custody in Pretoria on 12 September 1977. He was detained by the Security Branch in Port Elizabeth twenty-four days earlier, and was subjected to interrogation, during which he sustained serious brain injuries. He was examined by both a district surgeon and a medical specialist (see Volume Four, chapter on the health sector hearing). He was then transported naked in the back of a police van from Port Elizabeth to Pretoria. He died from brain damage in a prison cell shortly after his arrival in Pretoria. On hearing the news of his death, Minister Kruger said: “It leaves me cold.” He implied that Biko had died as a result of engaging in a hunger strike. At the inquest, the security police claimed that Biko had “become violent” during interrogation and had to be “subdued” by the interrogation team, in the course of which he hit his head against the wall.
185 Mr Harold Snyman [AM3918/96, Mr Gideon Nieuwoudt [AM3920/96], Mr Daniel Petrus Siebert [AM 3915/96], Mr Ruben Beneke Marx [AM3521/96] and Mr Jacobus Johannes Oosthuizen Beneke [AM6367/97] applied for amnesty for Biko’s death. Brigadier Piet Goosen, head of the Security Branch in the Eastern Cape at the time of Biko’s death, is deceased. Amnesty applicants held fast to the explanation they gave at the inquest. The Biko family did not make a statement to the Commission and are opposed to the granting of amnesty.
186 Mr Stanza Bopape [JB00500/02NPPTB] was arrested at around midnight on 9 or 10 June 1998, together with his flatmate Mr Bheki Nkosi [JB00500/02NPPTB] at their flat in Hillbrow. About twenty men, armed with guns, bush knives and bullet-proof vests and led by Lieutenant CA Zeelie [AM3751/96], jumped into the room. Zeelie asked Bopape whether he was ‘ST’ or ‘Walk Tall’, MK names by which Bopape was known. Bopape was then punched in the stomach. The last Nkosi saw of Bopape was at the Roodepoort police station. Nkosi himself was later subjected to electric shock torture.