SABC News | Sport | TV | Radio | Education | TV Licenses | Contact Us

TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 302

Paragraph Numbers 70 to 85

Volume 4

Chapter 10

Subsection 10


70 Several women spoke about how their femaleness affected how they were treated, and how they themselves behaved when tortured. Ms Jenny Schreiner described how, when she articulated her rights, she was met with brute force:

(Mostert) walked around the table and physically picked me up and stood me up … so that he could slam my back into the wall. Which although, I mean he didn’t shatter my skull or anything, but it’s a clear statement from step one: “I am in control of this, I am bigger than you, I’m more aggressive than you and I have no respect for you”. And … I think that it’s also a question of it being a gender thing. There’saman who is physically picking you up and shoving you into a wall.16

71 Ms Zubeida Jaffer recalled how, when the security police came to detain her at her parent’s house, Warrant Officer ‘Spyker’ van Wyk said to me as we were going out of my mom's house, “Pollsmoor Prison is a five star hotel compared to where you are going”. And then he said that they were going to break my nose and they were going to beat me up and that was as I walked out of my parents’ house.

72 Ms Elaine Mohamed recounted how she burst into tears when a security policeman said to her, “I really enjoy interrogating women. I can get things out of them and do things to them that I can’t do to a man”.17

73 Several people spoke of the strength women showed in withstanding severe physical torture. Tokyo Sexwale recalled the detention and trial of the Pretoria Twelve in 1977/8.

We learnt with horror what one of us, Paulina Mohale, went through … the kind of pain that even we, as men, could not withstand, was doubly inflicted upon her… (N)evertheless … Paulina Mohale stood tall. To us that represented a focal point of admiration. We often thought that it is only the men who were supposed to withstand the kind of pain.

74 Ms Thandi Shezi recalled that, when she was arrested and detained, the members of her unit “were not even too alarmed … because they knew I was a strong person, I could withstand difficulties.”

75 Nevertheless, this strength could be a double-edged sword for the women concerned. Sandra Adonis, a member of the Bonteheuwel Military Wing, described at the children’s hearing in the Western Cape how she “was like trying to hit back at (the policeman) all the time, but also in a very gentle way not to have him think that this is a stubborn woman, because once you show stubbornness, they would show no mercy”. Similarly, Ms Thenjiwe Mtintso noted that when men:

stood ground against the physical abuse, there was a sense of respect – where the torturers would even say: “Hy is 'n man” [He is a man]. But when a woman refused to bow down, to be cowed down, then that unleashed the wrath of the torturers, because in their own discourse a woman, a black ‘meid’, a ‘kaffermeid’ [kaffir servant girl], had no right to have the strength to withstand their torture.

76 Ms Mtintso recalled the anger of her captors when she was still holding out after two months of detention – anger “for not fitting the stereotype of this woman who was going to break down… It was always ‘You think you are a man, you think you are strong, we are going to bring you down, we’ve brought down better people than yourself, men, strong men’”.18

77 Most of those who were detained were kept in solitary confinement, which in itself was understood by the Commission to constitute severe ill treatment. Many were subjected to further physical abuse.

78 Several of the women described in some detail the extent and nature of the physical abuse to which they were subjected. Ms Sylvia Nomhle Dlamini was hit with a wet towel. She was hung through a window and threatened that she would be dropped. She was blindfolded, handcuffed and then assaulted. She was forced to do the ‘frog jump’ and, when sweating, had a tube put over her head. Ms Deborah Matshoba was strangled with a towel and had her head bashed against the wall: “The beating up lasted for a week. I was asthmatic and they refused to give me medication.” Ms Evelyn de Bruin described how her neck was measured against a metre-long rope in preparation for her hanging.

79 Ms Zubeida Jaffer was not allowed to sleep for several days, during which time she was offered only coffee and dry bread. Finally, she was offered curry, rice and tea which she realised, once out of prison, had been drugged. After she had eaten, the captain in charge kept repeating that her heart was going to collapse as a result of the lack of sleep. She was also threatened with being thrown out of a window, threatened with rape, and then left in a room with two policemen.

I was starting to get very hot and I was getting these pains across my chest. I just felt I was getting really ill because I hadn't slept for the few days… And then I started seeing all my veins in my hand dilating… it looked like worms coming out of my hands… I felt pains across my chest and suddenly I started feeling like all my insides were going to come out. And I said to them I am going to get sick.

80 Ms Virginia Mbatha said she, too, had been given daily medication in the form of nine tablets: “I would feel very tired and my eyes would be hazy and when I came out of the prison I was partially blind.”

81 Some women, such as Ms Yvonne Khutwane, described how they fought back against their torturers. Ms Khutwane’s counter-attack provoked insults and taunts from onlookers that “I am a John Tait and a Gerrie Coetzee”, but she persevered until her shirt was “in tatters”. Ms Khutwane’s anger was heightened by the fact that her young, white male attacker “could be as old as one of my children”.

82 While several white women had been detained before, Ms Stephanie Kemp was perhaps the first to be physically tortured when she was arrested in 1964. Ms Kemp’s Afrikaner background may have increased her captors’ anger, but she also acknowledged her relative ‘advantage’ in that the fact that she, a white women, was assaulted “made international headlines… (when) this was commonplace for black women in this country.”

83 In describing her experiences, Ms Kemp recalled how “Rossouw said he was very sorry that we had used women, but if I wanted to behave like a man, he would treat me like a man.” She then related how Warrant Officer ‘Spyker’ van Wyk “pleaded with Rossouw to allow him to be alone with me. In retrospect it was clear that he was seeking permission to use violence to break me.” Warrant Officer Van Wyk was also a primary actor in the stories of several other women victims of abuse. Ms Shirley Gunn recalled her own feelings when confronted with Warrant Officer van Wyk, as she had named her son after Iman Haron, who Warrant Officer van Wyk had been accused of killing in detention.

84 Age was no defence against torture. Ms Elda Bani was fifty years old when she was detained in 1986 in Port Elizabeth. A diabetic, Ms Bani was denied medication and forced to eat normal prison food at prison meal times. After Ms Bani was finally taken away, allegedly to see the doctor, she returned with blood on her clothes and injuries on her back. Shortly afterwards she died. Ms Jubie Mayet described another case of an attack on an elderly women when she described how Ms Gladys Hope Manzi, of Umlazi, bore sjambok marks on her back.

85 Even where they were not physically assaulted, the living conditions of women in detention in themselves often posed severe physical hardship. Ms Zahrah Narkedien spoke about the huge “cat-size” rats that inhabited her cell. Ms Shirley Gunn spoke about the toilet in her cell, whose contents overflowed and ran under the bed and into the yard when it was flushed.

16 Goldblatt and Meintjes. 17 Russell, DEH (1989), Lives of Courage: Women for a New South Africa, Basic Books. New York, p 37. 18 Goldblatt and Meintjes (1996), p 39.
Broadcasting for Total Citizen Empowerment
SABC © 2024