Mr Luke Mazwembe, aged 32 , a member of the Western Province Workers Advice Bureau and of the South African Student Association,was detained under section 22 of the General Law Amendment Act No 62 of 1966 on 2 September 1976. He was reported to have been found dead in his cell at Caledon Square police station,Cape Town,the same morning 2 hours after being detained .The police report released by the minister of justice said he was neither visited nor interrogated.
An inquest into Mr Mazwembe's death was held on 11 November.Evidence was led by the police that Mr Mazwembe had hanged himself with a noose made of strips of blankets cut with a razor blade and tied together with twine.The police were unclear as to where Mr Mazwembe had obtained the blade and twine.The source of the blade became a major point in questioning,with Mr I Farlam,counsel for the Mazwembe family,alleging that Mr Mazwembe 'was very conveniently left with a piece of twine and a razor blade'.
According to the post-mortem report Mr Mazwembe had several wounds on his body,including swelling and bruising of the right cheek,slight swelling of the lower scrotum,abrasions on the left ankle,and abrasions over both shoulder blades. police were unable to explain these injuries.Marks on the neck were consistent with hanging.Dr G T Knoebel, a state pathologist,said that while death was definitely by hanging,he could not exclude the possibility that Mr Mazwembe had been killed and then hanged to fake a suicide.
Counsel for the family based their argument on two major issues. Firstly, evidence indicated that the deceased was not injured in any way before his arrest,and since he was in the custody of the police since his detention, the injuries on his body must have been inflicted by a member or members of the security police. This argument was strengthened by certain unsatisfactory aspects of the evidence of some of the security policemen.
Secondly if the deceased was assaulted,those responsible should have realized the possibility that he might take his life,and their failure to take steps to prevent this eventuality made them culpable.However, there was no evidence of pre-existing depression or other psychological disturbance in the deceased which might have explained his committing suicide.The magistrate ,Mr P L May,found that death was by hanging in a manner consistent with suicide.He found that on the available evidence he was unable to infer homicide.
Behind Closed Doors. By Shireen Motala .South African Institute Race Relations.1987.