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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 440

Paragraph Numbers 189 to 199

Volume 3

Chapter 5

Subsection 29


189 The Commission accumulated data from human rights violations statements, amnesty statements and statements made to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) regarding the assault and torture of detainees prior to the state of emergency, under the emergency and under section 29.

Cape Peninsula

190 In the Cape Peninsula areas, torture and assault in custody took both random and targeted forms. Students reported being arrested and assaulted after street protests, notably at the Brackenfell police station. The police often appear to have used torture to extract confessions for court cases of which examples are provided below. The perpetrators often appear to have been members of special Unrest Investigation Units, particularly the one based at Gugulethu. The Athlone-based unit was involved in widespread torture of youth linked to the Bonteheuwel Military Wing (discussed below). Many of these individuals were forced to implicate themselves in confessions used later in efforts to convict them on public violence charges.

191 Mr William ‘Keff’ Thomas was detained under the emergency in 1987 and held for several months. He was taken to the Gugulethu police station where he was questioned and tortured.

The said police officers accused me of attacking a fellow policeman’s house and assaulted and tortured me with the purpose of getting a confession as well as to furnish them with names of others … I was assaulted by Officer Nortjie who had a wet bag placed over my head and proceeded to spray tear gas into it causing me to have difficulty in breathing and/or remaining conscious. The said torture took place at the back of the Gugulethu police cells where I was placed in a container. I was charged in the criminal court with public violence. A trial within a trial was held and the charges were withdrawn against me.19

192 The theft of weapons from special constables in KTC in October 1986 prompted a major security force raid on youth in KTC that resulted in the death of Mpumelelo Rwarwa [CT00864] on 27 October. A group of youth was arrested, and assaulted and tortured both on arrest and at the Gugulethu police station. The torture included wet bag suffocation, electric shocks and beatings with gun butts, while being kept naked. One detainee had a tyre placed around him and petrol poured onto it. The police then threatened to burn him alive. He was taken to the bushes and suspended by a chain from a tree, assaulted, and later given electric shocks.

193 After the witdoeke attacks of May and June 1986, thousands of refugees were forced to live in schools and churches. Refugees were arrested from these centres and tortured to make them confess to a range of public violence crimes. Torture involved electric shocks, suffocation and near drowning. Mr Hercules Benjamin Booysen [CT00296] was taken from one such refugee centre and severely assaulted by Warrant Officer Barnard and others. It is notable that few if any witdoeke were arrested or charged.

Torture and assault under section 29

194 During the state of emergency, section 29 detentions focused on individuals suspected of underground military activities. Section 29 detainees suffered extensive abuse, both physical and psychological, mainly at the hands of the Western Cape Security Branch. The same names and modus operandi recur constantly in statements regarding torture made to the Commission, in trials and in court interdicts. From 1986, torture appears to be most strongly associated with certain members of the Terrorism Tracing Unit (also known as the Terrorism Tracking Unit, Detection Unit or Anti-Terrorism Unit). The unit stationed at Culemborg, Cape Town, was under the command of the then Lieutenant Liebenberg and included Warrant Officer Nel, Warrant Officer Jeffrey Benzien and Constable Piet Goosen. Some change of membership occurred over time but Liebenberg, Benzien and Nel remained constant throughout. The function of the unit was described as the “expeditious tracing and arrest of terrorists, collection of information and intelligence and the confiscating of weapons and arrest of hangers on”. Others associated with the unit included Constable Patrick Siyali and a number of askaris (guerrillas ‘turned’ by the security forces) such as Sergeant David Matamela Musimeke and Lucky ‘Agrippa’ Madubula.

195 Captain Frans Mostert became known for his methods of intimidation, assault, and particularly sexual threats directed at female detainees. Ms Zubeida Jaffer stated that he threatened the life of her child while she was pregnant in detention. He was the subject of a court interdict by Ms June Esau [CT03040] in 1985.

196 Warrant Officer Jeffrey Benzien became known as one of the principal torturers. He joined the Security Branch in 1986 and was incorporated into the Terrorism Tracking Unit within a year.

197 During his amnesty hearing, Jeffrey Benzien admitted to several acts of torture against Mr Peter Jacobs, Mr Ashley Forbes, Mr Anwar Dramat, Mr Tony Yengeni, Mr Gary Kruse, Mr Niclo Pedro and Mr Allan Mamba. This was done with the knowledge of his superior officer, Lieutenant Liebenberg. His admissions included the ‘wet bag’ method for which he was renowned, electric shocks and assaults. In a moment of high drama during his hearing he physically demonstrated the wet bag method on a volunteer. His admissions were contested by some of those he had tortured and others he denied torturing. They argued that Benzien’s admissions were very limited and did not reflect the full extent of the abuses to which he had subjected his victims. Further, they argued that he was the ‘fall guy’ for the entire group of torturers and that he continued to protect them by denying their presence or participation in acts of torture and abuse.

198 Major General JL Griebenauw admitted to knowledge about acts of torture at the hands of the Security Branch and stated that such acts and knowledge were widespread. Although he did not apply for amnesty for acts of torture, Griebenauw was also directly implicated in the assault and torture of Mr Trevor Wentzel and Mr Mohammed Saleem Badat [CT05005]. Mr Ntozelizwe Thomas Talakumeni reported being tortured by Griebenauw in 1985. He stated in his court case that Colonel Griebenauw took him to the sixth floor of the Paarl police building where he was made to climb through a window onto the roof. He claimed Colonel Griebenauw then asked if he had any message for his family and girlfriend because this was the last time he would see Paarl. Then Colonel Griebenauw and a Warrant Officer lifted him over the parapet and, holding onto his feet, hung him upside down. This happened four times, he said. He also alleged that a gun was held at his head during an interrogation. In the court case, Colonel Griebenauw said there was no truth in Mr Talakumeni’s complaints.

199 Many section 29 detainees suffered serious psychological torture. They were almost without exception kept in complete solitary confinement for six months or longer. It was not unusual for section 29 detention to be extended into a second 180-day period. Several suicide survivors and others were admitted to hospital suffering from acute anxiety or depression. A further form of psychological torture was the threatened or actual detention of family members.

19 Statement by William Thomas furnished to the Commission for use in the Benzien amnesty application.
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