On the 5th of October 1976 Mr Jacob Mashabane, aged 22, a University of Zululand student was reported to have died in detention at the Johannesburg Fort after being detained for four days. The law he was being held under was undisclosed.Mr Mashabane had been involved in student politics at his university.Mr Mashabane's parents said that he had disappeared from his home on 1st October.They were unaware of his death.The Johannesburg mortuary alleged that he had hanged himself with a shirt.Prison authorities claimed that he was an awaiting-trial prisoner charged with motor car theft.
An inquest into Mr Mashabane's death was held on 1st February 1977.Mr Marthinus Dreyer,a prison warder ,told Mr E Brand,the magistrate,that 40 awaiting-trial prisoners were taken to the Fort from Johannesburg courts on 4th October.He said that on 5th October he was told that a prisoner had tried to hang himself in his cell 'for his own safety' and the belt was taken away. At about 4.30pm on the same day he found Mr Mashabane hanged by his shirt from the wire mesh roof of the cell.
During cross-examination by advocate E. Dane representing the Mashabane family,Mr Dreyer said that Mr Mashabane had hanged himself with a white material and not a shirt as he had earlier said.Mr Dane argued that prison warders should be held responsible for the death because after they were told that he had once attempted to hang himself they did not conduct a through investigation.Their failure to take Mr Mashabane,who appeared abnormal ,to a hospital,where he would have been safer than in a cell,constituted a contravention of the prison code he said.
Mr J T Wessels,for the state,defended the action of the warders.He said that they could not send Mr Mashabane to hospital because the two prisoners who told them about his abnormal behaviour could not be fully trusted.The magistrate returned a verdict of death by suicide,saying that no one could be held responsible for the death.Because the law under which Mr Mashabane was held undisclosed and because he was at a time when there were many security detainees in prison,his name has been included in this publication.
Behind Closed Doors. By Shireen Motala .South African Institute Race Relations.1987.