On 15 February 1977 Mr Matthews Mabelane,aged 23,fell to his death from the tenth floor of John Vorster Square,Johannesburg.Mr Mabelane was detained in terms of section 6(1) of the Terrorism Act on 21 January near Zeerust while crossing into South Africa from Botswana. He was transferred to John Vorster Square on 27 January.He was a former member of the Soweto Students Representative Council and reportedly a close associate of Mr Tsietsie Mashinini,a Soweto student leader.Mr Mabelane's detention coincided with reports that security police had smashed certain underground cells which were responsible for ferrying young activists to Botswana.A police report on his death said that Mr Mabelane was being interrogated by two warrant officers and a sergeant on 15 February when one of the warrant officers left the room.Mr Mabelane dashed for the window and walked along a ledge until he lost his balance and fell. 'His escape could not be avoided',the report said the two policemen present were unable to stop him.

When police informed the Revd Phillip Mabelane of his son's death,they first asked him if he knew that his son was 'naughty'.Revd Mabelane said that his son had disappeared from home during October 1976.He had reported this to the police but had heard nothing of his son's whereabouts until two weeks before his death. He was informed at the beginning of February that his son was being held by the security police in terms of the Terrorism Act. He was told by the security police that he could take food parcels to the prison.Subsequently Revd and Mrs Mabelane were twice refused permission to visits their son.Evidence led at the inquest said that Mr Mabelane had been examined by a doctor on 28 January who had found him fit and well.He had been visited by a magistrate on 7 February and had made no complaints.

At the inquest Mr L Liebowitz representing the Mabelane family,asked twice for a postponement until witnesses could be found to testify for the family.He was,however,unsuccessful in doing this. The magistrate,Mr WP Dormehle, found that Mr Mabelane had fell to his death accidentally.There was a public outcry at Mr Mabelane's death with suggestions that police had been negligent in their duties,and that interrogating rooms should be properly barred.The minister of police responded that after June 1976 there was such an influx of detainees that rooms not normally used for interrogation purposes had to be used,as occurred in this case.


Behind Closed Doors. By Shireen Motala .South African Institute Race Relations.1987.

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