A number of observers and students of repression around the world have commented that the repression in South Africa during the apartheid era pales into insignificance when compared with some Latin American countries if the numbers of political disappearances and assassinations are used as the criteria for making such judgement. For example, disappearances and assassinations in Argentina were said to total around 30 000 while in South Africa the figure was but a few hundred. However, in South Africa this terminal method of eliminating political opponents has never been the main weapon, but rather the weapon of last resort when all other methods have failed. Apartheid's big gun has been detention without trial and this is where we see the big numbers - conservatively 80 000 people have been subjected to this subtle and sophisticated form of neutralisation. It has the advantages of maintaining the semblance of legality (all detentions are made in terms of legislation); it can be aimed not only at individuals, but at families, groups and organisations and even at whole communities, including women and children; it can be used to extract information to draw others into the net; it can be used to force confessions leading to conviction and permanent incarceration; it can be used to break political activists both physically and psychologically; it can be used to recruit informers and sow suspicion and confusion within communities; it can be followed by a banning order which effectively extends the victim's detention to within his or her own home; and finally it can, if need be, set the stage for permanent removal from society.
The history, powers, application and effects of this insidious and powerful weapon of repression are described in the HRC documents that follow:
Detention without Trial (November 1988)
Torture in Detention (March 1983)
Deaths in Detention (August 1990)
DETENTION WITHOUT TRIAL HRC, November 1988
1. History of detention without trial in South Africa
2. Current legislation with detention powers
3. Torture and assault in detention
4. Deaths in detention
5. Detention statistics
6. The victims of detention
7. The way out of detention
1. History of detention without trial
The government of South Africa has empowered itself to practice detention without trial under two forms of legislation:
1. Security legislation, which is permanently in, effect, even in 'peacetime';
2. Emergency legislation which functions only when a State of Emergency has been declared, conferring powers usually associated with times of war.
History of detention under security legislation
1963. The General Laws Amendment Act, No. 37 was passed. Section 17 provided for up to 90 days detention, in isolation, without access to the courts, for the purposes of interrogation. Renewable at expiry.
1965. The Criminal Procedures Amendment Act, No. 96 was passed. Section 215bis provided for up to 180 days detention, also in solitary, no access, and renewable. The stated purpose was as a potential witness, but in fact interrogation was the main purpose.
1966. The General Laws Amendment Act, No. 62 came into effect. Section 22 provided for short-term 'preventive' detention up to 14 days, renewable.
1967. The Terrorism Act, No. 83 was introduced with the justification that it was necessary to combat terrorism in South West Africa (Namibia), a response to SWAPO guerrilla action. Within a year it was put to use in charging South Africans. Section 6 provided for indefinite detention without trial for the purposes of interrogation in solitary confinement.
1976. The Internal Security Amendment Act, No. 79 was introduced during the Soweto Uprising for the purpose of withdrawing political activists from the political arena. Section 10(l)(a) bis provided for long-term 'preventive' detention of up to 12 months, renewable. Section 12B provided for up to 6 months detention of potential witnesses, in solitary confinement.
1982. The Internal Security Act, No. 74 was introduced to streamline and supersede all previous security legislation. It is currently on the statute books. Section 28 provides for long-term (12 months) 'preventive' detention. Section 29 provides for indefinite interrogatory detention. Section 31 provides for 6 months 'witness' detention. Section 50 provides for short-term (14 days) 'preventive' detention.
1986. The Internal Security Amendment Act, No. 66 was passed to add a further category of detention without trial. Section 50A provides for 180 days 'preventive' detention and overcomes problems of court challenges experienced with Section 28.
In addition to the above, it must be mentioned that the four 'independent' homelands have evolved their own respective security legislation modelled exactly on that of their progenitor.
History of detention under Emergency legislation
1953. The Public Safety Act, No. 3 was introduced in response to the defiance campaign of passive resistance to discriminatory laws then being conducted by the ANC (lawful at the time) and other organisations. It empowers the head of state to declare a State of Emergency in certain circumstances, and to make regulations conferring a wide range of powers, including detention of persons without trial for a period limited only to the duration of the State of Emergency.
2. Current legislation with detention powers
The Internal Security Act, No. 74 of 1982, together with the Internal Security Amendment Act, No. 66 of 1986, provides for detention without trial for 3 different stated purposes:
1. Detention for interrogation (Section 29)
2. Preventive detention (Sections 28, 50 and 50A)
3. Witness detention (Section 31)
1. Detention for interrogation. Section 29 allows a detainee to be held in solitary confinement without access to lawyers, family, friends or anyone else other than state officials (interrogators, magistrates, district surgeons, etc.) for the purpose of interrogation. The period of detention is effectively unlimited - until 'all questions are satisfactorily answered' or 'no useful purpose will be served by further detention'. The jurisdiction of the courts over such detention is specifically excluded.
2. Preventive detention . Section 28 allows the holding of a person in prison by ministerial order (as opposed to court sentence) if the minister believes that person is likely to commit a security offence. The period used has been 6 or 12 months and is renewable. The courts have no jurisdiction and access to the detainee is restricted to state officials. Although still on the statute books, this section of the Internal Security Act has fallen into disuse because the wording requires the minister to give reasons for the detention.
Section 50A is similar in effect to Section 28, but does not require any reasons to be given. It is simply dependent upon the opinion of a police officer of the rank of lieutenant colonel or above and serves to remove the victim from society for up to 180 days, which can then be renewed. This section must be brought into effect by proclamation by the state president, which has not yet been necessary due to the continuing existence of a State of Emergency under which powers of preventive detention are even wider.
Section 50 allows the holding of a person for a short period (up to 14 days) and was very extensively used in the past either when no State of Emergency was in existence or during a partial State of Emergency in magisterial districts not falling under the State of Emergency. It would serve no purpose at the present time but remains on the statute books.
3. Witness detention. Section 31 allows the attorney general to order the detention of a person in solitary confinement, without any access, beyond the jurisdiction of any court, if he believes that person could be a material witness in a security trial. Time limit is 6 months unless the trial has started before then. Almost invariably, Section 31 detention is an extension of Section 29 detention when, as a result of the interrogation process, it is decided that the detainee shall become a state witness (with or without the agreement of the detainee).
The security legislation in force in the 'independent' homelands mirrors the Internal Security Act very closely, particularly in regard to the detention clauses. The relevant Acts are as follows:
• Venda Terrorism Act (same as Terrorism Act, No. 83 of 1967);
• Transkei Public Security Act, No. 30 of 1977;
• Bophuthatswana Internal Security Act, No. 22 of 1979;
• Ciskei National Security Act, No. 13 of 1982
The Public Safety Act, No. 3 of 1953 empowers the state president to:
(a) Declare a State of Emergency under Section 2, with a time limit of 12 months, if in his opinion circumstances are such that the ordinary laws of the land are inadequate to maintain public order.
(b) Proclaim Emergency regulations under Section 3, such as he deems necessary, including the summary arrest and detention of persons.
At the present time, with effect from 10 June 1988, a State of Emergency is in force under Proclamation R96, 1988. Security Emergency Regulations are in force under Proclamation R97, 1988 (including Section 3 providing for detention powers). Prison Emergency Regulations are in force under Proclamation R98, 1988 (providing for control of detention conditions).
Under Emergency regulations any member of the security force (including the lowest-ranked members of the police, defence force and prison services) has the power to detain and interrogate. An Emergency detainee has no automatic right of access to lawyers, family or friends and may be held for the duration of the Emergency. Since successive States of Emergency can be and are declared, this means that the time of detention is open-ended. Many Emergency detainees are now in their third year of detention, with no end in sight.
3. Torture and assault in detention
Over the years and right up to the present time there has been a continuous stream of allegations of torture and assault in detention. Court proceedings abound with such allegations and these can only be considered the tip of the iceberg. Several major investigations have been undertaken and their findings reported during the last 6 years, which detail the incidence, forms and medical and other consequences of torture, both physical and psychological. In particular the intensely hostile environment of Section 29 interrogatory detention has come under focus, as have the mass detentions of the States of Emergency.
4. Deaths in detention
Ever since detention without trial was introduced as a permanent feature of South African life in 1963, deaths in detention have occurred as a constant by-product of the detention system, particularly during interrogation in solitary confinement. The first death was that of Solwandle Looksmart Ngudle on 3 September 1963, the most recent was that of Alfred Mabake Makaleng on 26 August 1988. During the 25 years of detention without trial, there have been 67 deaths in detention, an average of almost three each year. Only during 1970 and 1972 to 1975 were no deaths recorded, whilst peaks occurred in 1969 (7 deaths), 1976 (13), 1977 (13) and 1986 (4).
5. Detention statistics
Detention under security legislation
The statistics of detentions under security legislation from 1963 to the present time are shown in Table 5. It must be stressed that the figures are conservatively calculated due to the great difficulty in extracting and collating information under a situation in which there has been a great deal of reluctance on the part of the authorities to publish such information. The actual figures must therefore be substantially higher than those shown. It is interesting to note that in the last 5 years there have been more detentions under security legislation than in the previous 20 years, in spite of the heavy incidence of detentions in the year following the Soweto Uprising of June 1976. The figures illustrate a clear correlation between detentions and levels of political resistance.
Detention under security legislation
Detention under Emergency regulations
Detentions under Emergency regulations
Details of these detentions are given in Table 6. In total, there have thus far been in the region of 50 000 detentions under Emergency regulations during the 5 States of Emergency since 1960. From the commencement of the first total State of Emergency on 12 June 1986, the authorities have consistently refused to publish figures for all Emergency detentions but have only revealed the names of those persons detained for longer than 30 days, as required by Section 4 of the Public Safety Act. Fig. 2 shows the official figures and the figures estimated by detention monitoring groups, during this period of secrecy.
Comments on statistics
The massive total of over 73 000 detainees (certainly an underestimate) since 1960 is a serious indictment of the South African government's attempts to stifle political opposition. These attempts appear to have been self-defeating since, with the passage of time, this opposition has escalated and with it the number of detentions. Periods of major resistance and unrest have produced a rich crop of detentions, as after Sharpeville (11 727 during 1960) and during and after the Soweto Uprising (3474 during 1976/77).
But a totally new dimension has been perceived over the last 4 years starting from the time of the tricameral elections in August 1984. During this period an estimated 51 000 detentions took place, over 70% of all detentions since 1960. Clearly the emphasis has shifted from the detention of political leadership and outspoken critics of apartheid, to include community members at all levels.
6. The victims of detention without trial
Ever since the introduction of detention without trial, a consistent pattern has emerged of the groups of persons targeted by the security police; the focus shifting according to circumstances and events. These target groups are as follows:
• Educational: school pupils, teachers, headmasters, inspectors; university students, lecturers, researchers, professors
• Religious: ministers, church officials, church workers
• Cultural: actors, writers, poets
• Health: doctors, nurses, social workers
• Legal: lawyers
• Media: journalists, photographers, editors
• Government: civil servants, members of homeland 'parliaments', party leaders and candidates
• Trade unions: union leaders, organisers, shop stewards, workers
• Extra-parliamentary political bodies
• Civic and resident associations
• Women's organisations
• Youth organisations
• Student bodies
There are thus very few areas of human activity which do not produce critics of state policy and thus candidates for detention without trial.
Detention of children
The practice of detaining children and youths under South African detention laws is not new. The following figures have been released in parliament in the past by the minister of justice showing numbers of children under 18 years of age detained under security legislation:
• 1977 - 259 (including as young as 10)
• 1978 - 252
• 1979 - 48
• 1980 - 127
• 1981 - 49
Official figures released in parliament in early 1986 show the pattern of detentions during the partial State of Emergency which started on 21 July 1985 and ended on 7 March 1986.
• Total no. of detentions 7 996
• No. of juveniles (under 21) 3 681 (46%)
• No. of children under 16 2 016 (25%)
Official figures released in an affidavit to court by the South African Police during April 1987 revealed that of a total of 4224 detainees being held in Emergency detention on 15 April 1987, those aged 18 or less (down to 12) numbered 1424, or 34% of the total. If one accepts the extremely conservative estimate of 20% under 18s for all detentions since1960, then about 15 000 children under 18 have experienced detention. At the present time, an estimated 100 children (under 18) are still being held in detention, and new detentions of children are being recorded every month. The practice continues.
Detention of women
Women have by no means been exempt from the attention of the security police. Over the years women have represented 10% to 15% of all those detained so that somewhere between 7000 and 10 000 women have been inside police cells during the history of detention without trial. Large numbers have in this way been separated from their children, many of them only babies. Others have been allowed to bring their babies into detention with them and yet others have given birth whilst in detention. Women detainees have undertaken hunger strikes in protest and reports of alleged assault, torture and sexual abuse have persistently emerged. One woman, Elda Bani, died in detention in July 1987 at the age of 56.
7.The way out of detention
Release without charge
Records kept since 1981 reveal that about 75% to 80% of all detentions end in release without any charge in a court of law. The detainee is one day simply advised that he or she is free to go. This can happen within a short time but 6 months is common. Until recently about 2 years was the longest recorded detention. Now, however, even this period is being exceeded, with many Emergency detainees having been held for over 850 days (28 months) with no end in sight. Re-detention is also common, with some persons having been held as many as 10 times. Release is frequently reported to be accompanied by threats not to resume political activity, or by pressure to become an informer.
Releases with restrictions
Amongst those who are released without charge, an increasing number are served with banning or restriction orders. Such orders preclude the ex-detainee from engaging in any political activity and frequently place constraints on movement. This action can be said to extend detention beyond the prison walls.
Charging in court
The other 20% to 25% of detainees are charged with various offences ranging from treason, terrorism or subversion, to attending an illegal gathering or possession of banned literature. In most cases, however, charges are eventually withdrawn or the accused is acquitted, leaving only 2% to 4% of all detainees who are convicted of any offence.
Escape from detention
Escape is a very infrequent occurrence. Records show that there have been about 30 reported or known escapes since 1967, with only one reported recapture. Question marks hang over the genuineness of some of the reported 'escapes', where detainees have disappeared without trace. The most well known case was the disappearance of detainee Stanza Bopape, whose alleged escape has been widely questioned due to the improbability of the police account.
Death in detention
Present records show that 67 detainees did not survive detention. If one is to believe the inquest verdicts, nearly half of these chose the way out of detention by committing suicide.
CALS Human Rights Update, vol. 1 nos. 1-3
DPSC Monthly Reports, March 1984 to January 1988
Institute of Race Relations Surveys, 1961 to 1986
Ever since the Detainees' Parents Support Committee was formed in late 1981, we have been approached by a steady stream of released detainees asking for assistance and advice, and also relating to us their experiences at the hands of the security police. It soon became clear to us that torture and assault during the interrogation process was commonplace. The more we heard, the more we realised that this abuse is widespread and systematic, not just the work of a handful of sadists. The pattern of torture was much the same in Port Elizabeth, Durban, Soweto, John Vorster Square or Jeffreys Bay.
When a delegation from the DPSC met the ministers of justice and of law and order in Cape Town during April 1982, we demanded to know what interrogation practices were officially condoned and what limitations are placed upon the methods used by the Security Police in interrogating detainees. To this day we have had no direct reply. Instead we drew an angry reaction, rejecting our allegations of torture and challenging us to prove them. A CID colonel was appointed to investigate our allegations and from a letter to our attorney it looked as though he was going to take his job seriously. To quote:
It appears from the said memorandum [the memorandum submitted to the ministers and released to the press] that your clients have at their disposal information which can be of cardinal importance for a successful investigation into the allegations of serious misconduct alleged to have been perpetrated by members of the South African Police, and more particularly members of the Security Branch of the South African Police. Your clients are required to furnish the said information and/or evidence to me as soon as possible to enable me to facilitate the investigation.
The DPSC responded to the challenge by submitting to the CID and to the ministers a considerable number of statements with detailed information regarding the names of the detainees, the abuses to which they were subjected, the dates of occurrence and the names of the perpetrators, where known. In all, 76 statements were submitted, and after waiting for weeks for some reaction, a memorandum was finally prepared which analysed and summarised the DPSC's findings. This memorandum was submitted to the ministers and released to the press.
Recently in parliament, minister Le Grange dismissed our memorandum as 'deliberate poisonous propaganda'. He said that of 43 cases investigated, 11 were unfounded, 1 untraceable, 1 rejected in court (Barbara Hogan) and the remaining 30 cases the attorney general had refused to prosecute. Le Grange neglected to say why the attorney general refused to prosecute.
The CID colonel must be a disappointed man. After investigating 43 out of 76 cases, he was unable to bring a single one to a successful conclusion. Not only was he unsuccessful; everyone else before him had failed in their efforts to successfully prosecute the security police in a court of law. It's a no-win situation, because under the detention system there is never a witness sympathetic to the detainee, and the security police are sure in the knowledge that they have the full protection of the state machinery.
Let us spend a short time in describing briefly the nature of the torture and assault that has emerged from our investigation. Firstly, the ambit of these abuses: 18 different locations throughout the country are mentioned with John Vorster Square in Johannesburg, Protea in Soweto and Sanlam Buildings in Port Elizabeth heading the list. Secondly, the perpetrators: the names of 95 security policemen are referred to, with certain individuals cropping up a dozen-times or more in our sample of 76 cases. Of the 95, more than 20 are commissioned officers up to the rank of major. Yesterday's interrogators are today's administrators...
The timespan of our sample covers the period 1978 to the end of 1982, with more than half the cases occurring in the last two years. But there is no reason to believe that torture was not taking place before 1978 and we know from reliable sources that it continues.
The common forms of abuse can be divided into physical and psychological but there is a great deal of overlapping. Physical abuse includes the following:
• sleep deprivation, often for several nights and days while being interrogated by successive teams;
• deprivation of food and drink;
• deprivation of toilet facilities;
• enforced standing for long periods, sometimes on bricks;
• enforced exertion (holding up of heavy objects, press ups, running on the spot);
• exposure to cold whilst being kept naked for long periods, sometimes
being doused with water;
• suspension from a pole while handcuffed at the ankles and wrists;
• plain assault by hitting, kicking, beating, crushing of toes, etc.;
• suffocation with canvas or plastic hoods, wet towels, etc. to the extent of losing consciousness;
• electric shocks, always while hooded or blindfolded and sometimes while trussed in a canvas strait-jacket.
Psychological abuse takes the following forms:
• solitary confinement for the entire detention period (i.e. up to a year or more); humiliation and degradation, including being denied toilet and washing facilities, verbal abuse and ridicule, racial remarks, etc.;
• intimidation such as being stripped naked, being taken from police cells into the bush and hooding;
• death threats with-weapons, etc.;
• threats of torture;
• threats about loved ones, such as threats to kill or detain them;
• threat of indefinite detention and being left alone for long periods (weeks and months) without interrogation.
There can be little doubt that the security police regard their ability to torture detainees with total impunity, as the cornerstone of the detention system. It puts the detainee at complete mercy for the purpose of extracting information, statements and confessions, often regardless of whether true or not, in order to secure a successful prosecution and neutralisation of yet another opponent of the apartheid system. Sometimes torture is used on detainees before they have even been asked their first question in order to soften them up. Other times, torture is used late in the interrogation process when the detainee is being stubborn and difficult.
There is always the danger that the interrogator will go too far. It is in this light that the numerous deaths in detention must be seen as a logical extension and consequence of torture during interrogation. Since the introduction of detention laws in 1963, the latest death of Tembuyise Mndawe brings the number of deaths 54 by our reckoning. Whether any of these victims were driven to suicide or not is irrelevant. The fact is that the detention situation was responsible for these deaths and torture was a contributing factor.
The incidence of the deaths can be related directly to the intensity of security police action against opposition to government policies. For instance, nearly half of these deaths, 25 in all, occurred in the 18 months following 16 June 1976. It is also significant that deaths in detention decreased sharply in number subsequent to the highly publicised deaths of people like the Imam Haron in 1969, Ahmed Timol in 1971 and Steve Biko in late 1977.
What does the future hold? As long as we have a government, which has to suppress the majority of the population in order to maintain power, we cannot expect an end to detentions, torture and deaths in detention. It needs the detention weapon to maintain power and it needs torture to make that detention weapon effective. So, we shall continue to live with detentions and with torture and death in detention. Their frequency will be in proportion to how threatened this government feels from opposition to its policies.
But we must continue to oppose and expose. The DPSC appeals to all detainees when they are released to come forward and submit themselves to medical examination by our panel of doctors and to relate their treatment at the hands of the security police to us. In this way we believe we can build up our records and perform an important watchdog function.
2. Frequency of deaths
3. Ages/gender/occupations of detainees
4. Places of death
5. Length of detention before death
6. Causes of death
7. Strange coincidences
8. Deaths in police custody
Detention without trial in South Africa dates back to the early 1960s. The first State of Emergency, declared in 1960, permitted detention without trial. The year 1963 saw the introduction of detention without trial into the permanent legislation of the land through the General Law Amendment Act, No. 37, one of the forerunners of the modern-day Internal Security Act, No. 74 of 1982, still in daily use. To complete the picture, the so-called independent homelands upon their creation also introduced detention without trial as part of their copycat security legislation. All of these powers have served to produce the massive total of an estimated 78 000 detainees over the last 30 years.
The provisions of detention without trial are such as to place the detainee virtually at the mercy of the interrogator, away from any interference from the courts, lawyers, independent doctors, family or friends and for as long as the interrogator wishes. These are the tools with which the law provides the interrogator. It is easy to understand that in these circumstances it might be difficult to resist the temptation to accelerate the process of extracting information by the use of coercion, and that such coercion could become systematised torture. That systematised torture has become widespread during detention over the years is widely recognised as a result of several studies (such as by the Detainees' Parents Support Committee in 1982, the Institute of Criminology at UCT in 1985 and the National Medical and Dental Association in 1987) as well as evidence which has persistently emerged from innumerable trials over the years. Without detailing here the various methods of torture in common use, one method, or group of methods, deserves special mention, namely torture involving strangulation in various forms, because of the high risk of death that is involved.
Along with the recognition of the widespread use of torture there is also a realisation that such methods of interrogation carry with them the ever-present possibility, even inevitability, of the consequence of death, whether as a result of torture going too far or of the victim choosing death as the only relief. The fact is that since monitoring first commenced in 1963, a procession of 73 deaths in detention has been recorded or 1 death for every 1000 detainees. (Details of these deaths are listed in Table 7 overleaf.
2. Frequency of deaths
Since 1963, when detention without trial was first introduced on a permanent basis, there have been deaths in detention in each and every year with the exceptions of 1970,1972 to 1975,1979, and 1989. During the 1960s there was a period of 6 years in which there was a regular occurrence of 2 deaths each year but this jumped to 7 deaths in 1969. After the widely publicised death of Ahmed Timol in 1971, there was a period of 4 years in which no deaths were recorded. Then came the Soweto Uprising of 1976 and within 2 years the mass detentions of that time had produced the horrific total of 26 deaths. The death of Steve Biko near the end of that period resulted in a world outcry and an almost instantaneous halt in the procession of deaths in detention for a while. In the 1980s, the figures started slowly creeping up again and during the years of the States of Emergency (1985-1990) a total of 14 deaths were recorded. The average for the total 27-year period of 2.7 deaths per annum has already been exceeded half way through 1990. For a graphic representation, see Fig. 3 (p. 60).
3. Details of detainees
Ages of the detainees
The youngest detainee to die in detention was Dumisani Mbatha (no. 27) at the age of 16, while the oldest was Ah Yan (no. 10) at the age of 63.
• 8 detainees were 20 or younger
• 21 detainees were 21 to 30
• 8 detainees were 31 to 40
• 11 detainees were 41 to 59
• 5 detainees were 60 or older.
The ages of 20 detainees are unknown. See Fig. 4.
Gender of the detainees
All detainees to die in detention have been male with one exception, Nobandia Bani (no.68), who died at the age of 56 after 333 days in Emergency detention.
Occupations of the detainees
Victims have emerged from all sectors of the community, particularly those identified as the usual targets of detention as a result of their opposition to apartheid. They include students, trade unionists, church workers, teachers, doctors and political activists in both township and rural communities.
4. Places of death
Deaths in detention have occurred in virtually all of the main centres where security police headquarters are located, but also in small towns and some rural areas where security police operate from police stations. Certain interrogation centres have gained a reputation for being the sites of an unusual number of deaths. These are:
• John Vorster Square in Johannesburg - 7 deaths
• Johannesburg Fort - 4 deaths
• Pretoria Prison - 5 deaths
• Sanlam Buildings in Port Elizabeth - 4 deaths
The following is a geographical breakdown of where the deaths occurred:
5. Length of detention before death
The shortest time in detention before death occurred was 2 hours, in the case of Luke Mazwembe (no. 26), while the longest period spent in detention up to time of death v 804 days, in the case of Alfred Makaleng (no. 70), held over 2 years under State Emergency detention.
A remarkable 28 deaths occurred within the first five days of detention, 17 of them within 1 day.
• Another 15 deaths occurred between 6 and 30 days,
• 12 deaths occurred between 31 and 100 days,
• 9 deaths occurred between 101 and 200 days and
• 4 deaths occurred after 200 days.
The period of detention is unknown in 5 cases. The high incidence of deaths within 1 week of detention (over 40% of known cases) is a cause for serious concern about the intense pressures, which detainees must face from the moment of their detention. For a graphic representation, see Fig. 6.
6. Causes of death
The causes of death are normally determined by a post-mortem followed by an inquest in certain circumstances. The post-mortem is conducted by a district surgeon or state pathologist and may be attended by a pathologist appointed by the family of the deceased (usually through their legal representatives) if the family was informed in time and if the family possessed the knowledge and resources to take action. The purpose of a post-mortem is to establish the medical causes of death. An inquest generally follows a post-mortem only if the indicated medical causes point to a death other than from natural causes. It is then the duty of the inquest court to establish the cause and circumstances of the unnatural death and whether any person, through omission or commission, was responsible. Witnesses to a death in detention at an inquest are almost invariably confined to the police themselves since detention laws from the outside world isolate detainees.
Death from natural causes
In 21 instances the cause of death was found or declared to be from natural causes. Of these the actual cause was not specified in 5 instances (nos. 5, 6, 15, 17 and 57). Brain damage or ailments was the attributable cause in 4 instances (nos. 21, 38, 70 and 72) and a stroke the attributable cause in 2 instances (nos. 44 and 68). Heart ailments featured in 6 instances (nos. 19, 20, 27, 36, 41 and 50) and pneumonia in 2 instances of death in detention (nos. 14 and 41). Other 'natural' causes were suffocation during an epileptic fit (no. 28), internal bleeding due to gastric ulcer (no. 33) and kidney failure (no. 65). In several instances of death by 'natural causes' the fatal condition was said to have been triggered by unusual circumstances, such as:
• falling while taking a shower (no. 14),
• injuries received when slipping on a piece of soap (no. 15),
• injuries sustained in a fall down some stairs (no. 20),
• fainting and falling against a desk (no. 38).
Furthermore, in several instances reference was made in the post-mortem reports to unexplained wounds, cuts, bruises and abrasions.
Death by suicide
In 33 instances the inquest courts has pronounced the cause of death as suicide by various means. This figure represents exactly 50% of all deaths for which causes have been declared. The means of committing suicide were declared as follows:
• Suicide by hanging: 26
(nos.1, 3,7, 9, 10,11,12,16,25, 26,29,32,34,37,42,45,46,48,53,54,55,59, 64, 66, 71,73)
N.B. No. 25: Suicide is inferred rather than stated.
No. 37: Stated as 'probably' suicide.
No. 73: Police report, no inquest yet.
• Suicide by jumping from buildings: 5 (nos. 4, 22, 35, 43, 49)
• Suicide by unspecified means: 2 (nos. 8, 18).
Death by accident
In 4 instances accidents resulting in death occurred whilst the detainees were in the hands of the police but the inquest courts absolved the police of responsibility:
• no. 23 - neck injury sustained in fall against a chair (police claimed there had been a struggle during an escape attempt);
• no. 39 - accidental fall from 10th floor of John Vorster Square while trying to escape;
• no. 47 - brain injury after falling against a wall during a scuffle with the police;
• no. 60 - brain injury sustained in fall from police Casspir.
Death by police killing
Of the 8 instances of police killing, one (no. 24) was adjudged to be justifiable homicide, involving shooting while trying to escape. In the other 7 instances (nos. 52, 56, 61, 62, 63, 67 and 69), policemen were found to be criminally responsible for the deaths, either during the course of inquests or during subsequent trials; all 7, with the exception of no. 56, were deaths at the hands of 'homeland' security police (Venda, Ciskei, Transkei, Lebowa).
In the remaining 7 instances, cause of death is either unknown or undisclosed (nos. 2, 13, 30, 31, 40, 51 and 58).
7. Strange coincidences
A series of unexplained coincidences are to be found within the records of deaths in detention. They are as follows:
• The deaths of Ngeni Gaga (no. 5) and Pongolosha Hoye (no. 6) occurred on the same day (9 May 1965) in the same area (Transkei) both within 24 hours of being detained, both from 'natural causes', neither cause specified.
• The deaths of James Hamakwayo (no. 7) and Hangula Shonyeka (no. 8) occurred on the same day (9 October 1966) at the same place (Pretoria Prison), both said to be suicide. In response to a question in parliament many years later, it was claimed that they were one and the same person, even though records show different detention dates.
• The deaths of Leong Pin (no. 9) and Ah Yan (no. 10) occurred within 2 months of one another, both said to be suicide by hanging. Both had been detained in connection with smuggling illegal immigrants into South Africa from China.
• The deaths of Nicodemus Kgoathe (no.,14) and Solomon Modipane (no. 15) occurred within a 1-month period (February 1969). Both were members of the Bakwena tribe who opposed the appointment of a tribal headman. Both were detained in Silverton police station (near Pretoria) and both died in H.F. Verwoerd Hospital of 'natural causes' said to have been precipitated by falling in the shower (no. 14) and by slipping on a piece of soap (no. 15).
• Of the 4 deaths that have taken place in the Johannesburg Fort, used in the aftermath of the Soweto Uprising, 3 of them occurred within 2 weeks of one another (nos. 28, 29, 31), each from different causes (epileptic fit, suicide by hanging and undisclosed, respectively). The fourth death in Johannesburg Fort took place just 3 months later (no. 36).
• The only 2 deaths to occur in the Pietermaritzburg prison occurred within 5 weeks of one another (nos. 41 and 42).
• The only 2 deaths to occur in the Brighton Beach police cells in Durban occurred within 10 days of one another (nos. 45 and 46). Both were declared as suicide by hanging.
• The deaths of Makompe Kutumela (no. 62) and Peter Nchabaleng (no. 63) occurred within the same week in April 1986 in the same area (Lebowa). However, the mystery was subsequently cleared up when it was established that both had died from assault and torture by their interrogators.
8. Political deaths in police custody
Apart from deaths which have occurred whilst persons are being held in detention without trial under security legislation or Emergency regulations, a substantial number have also died whilst in the custody of the police either under a specific charge or unspecified powers, but clearly in a politically related context such as the unrest situations prevalent since 1984. The vast majority of these deaths are attributable to police action during arrest or subsequent interrogation within a few hours or a few days. In fact, there is often a fine line between deaths, which occur during police action, and deaths that occur while in custody. Monitoring of such deaths on a systematic basis began only in 1984 and the following numbers have been recorded thus far:
• 1984 - 6
• 1985 - 10
• 1986 - 5
• 1987 - 4
• 1988 - 2
• 1989 - 2
• 1990 - 3
• Total - 32
Deaths in detention are an inevitable by-product of detention without trial. All attempts by the authorities to eliminate such deaths by safeguards, directives, internal regulations, etc., have met with failure. It should be clear by now that nothing, short of the abolition of the abhorrent practice of detention without trial, will bring an end to these deaths.
Institute of Race Relations: Behind Closed Doors (S. Motala)
Detainees' Parents Support Committee: Monthly Reports
Human Rights Commission: Monthly Updates.