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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 14, 5 July 1976.

Behind the Wire

page 16

Behind [unclear: the] Wire

The events occurring in South Africa during the last few weeks have shown up the frustration existing within the brutal apartheid system.

Soweto and other black African towns have been transformed overnight from seemingly peaceful dormitories to raging infernos. And the Government's answer is more bullets, more police, and more stringent regulations.

Anyone who has been surprised by the violence unleashed should look deeper at the day-today experiences by a black worker, or any South African working for change to the apartheid system.

In this article NZUSA Southern Africa Scholarship holder, Henry Isaacs, describes the life of critics of the system in the face of a repressive police force, and an equally oppressive legal system.

When I turn on my radio and hear that yet another detainee has died at the hands of Vorster's security police I realise that we've been lied to - Hitler is not dead! He is alive and well in the Union Buildings, in Pretoria.

On Friday 19th March 1976 Mr Joseph Mdluli died while being detained by the Security Police in Durban, less than 24 hours after he had been removed from his Lamontville home wearing only a raincoat and shoes. Mrs Mdluli told reporters that her husband was an extremely healthy man and "didn't have a doctor as he never suffered a moment's illness". (1) When Mrs Mdluli identified her husband's body at the government mortuary the following day the body was bruised, swollen and cut. The Daily News, 23rd March 1976, ran the following report, under the headline "Mdluli cut and bruised, says widow":

"Mrs Lydia Mdluli, the widow of Mr Joseph Mdluli who died on Friday while being detained by the Durban Security Police, today claimed that her husband's body was bruised, swollen and cut when she identified it at the government mortuary on Saturday.

"The post mortem on the former member of the banned African National Congress was performed yesterday but the finding is still to be released.

"Surrounded by fellow mourners at her Lamontville home, Mrs Mdluli (48) today told The Daily News that she first saw her husband's body on Saturday. She was accompanied by her only child, Thomas (25) and an attorney.

"Mrs Mdluli said her husband was lying on his back on a glass encased slab.

"She said a severe swelling stretched across his forehead. His lower lip was bruised and cut, and his stomach was dilated to twice its normal size.

"Mrs Mdluli said these injuries were witnessed by both her son and the attorney who accompanied her.

"She and her son yesterday saw the body for a second time - after the post mortem had been performed.

"Mrs Mdluli said the glass case had been removed enabling her to touch her husband.

"She lifted his head and saw two criss-cross cuts at the base of the skull near the back of his left ear. A watery substance was oozing from the wounds which measured about 3cm and 5cm respectively. The forehead swelling had subsided she said.

"Mr Thomas Mdluli today confirmed all his mother's observations. He and Mrs Mdluli both said they were prepared to swear on oath to their allegations and that Mr Mdluli suffered none of these injuries before being detained last Thursday.

"Their attorney could not be contacted for comment.

"Brigadier A.O. Hansen, Durban's CID chief who is heading an investigation into Mr Mdluli's death said today he had no comment to make on Mrs Mdluli's allegations."

On Wednesday 24 March the Security Police detained MrMlungifi Griffiths Mxenge, the attorney and close friend of Joseph Mdluli. Colonel Francois Stecnkamp, head of the Security Police in Durban, said that Mr Mxenge, a former Robben Island prisoner was being held under Section Six of the Terrorism Act, which provides for indefinite detention without trial. (2) Any person who is detained under the so-called Terrorism Act has no access to family, friend, or lawyers, and no court of law can pronounce on the validity of any action taken under the Act. Mrs Edna Mdingi, wife of another detainee, Mr Leonard Mdingi who has been in custody since 5th December 1975 was similarly detained on the same Wednesday night.

Joseph Mdluli is neither the first nor will he be the last, to be murdered by the South African Security Police whose extensive arbitrary powers of arrest and indefinite incommunicado detention without trial are grossly abused.

The Murder or Ahmed Timol.

On Wednesday 27th October 1971 a young schoolmaster, Ahmed Timol, died in custody at John Vorster Square police station, Johannesburg. He had been detained without trial the previous week-end during one of the endless raids by the Security Police under the so-called Terrorism Act. 21 year-old Mohammed Essop, detained in the same raid, was seriously ill in hospital, having been in perfect health before his arrest a few days earlier. To his credit a Transvaal judge, Mr Justice Margo, on an application by Essop's father, granted an interdict restraining the police from further assaulting him or interrogating him or unlawfully applying undue pressure on him.

In neither case was any announcement made by the police until the matter had been made public by the Rand Daily Mail acting on information from the families of the victims. Only then did Brigadier P. Kruger of the Security Police confirm the death of Timol. He said that he "jumped from the 10th floor of John Vorster Square at 4pm. He committed suicide." The police version was elaborated on by Major-General Buys in an interview with the Nationalist Sunday paper Rapport. He repeated the allegation that Timol had committed suicide: "...The Indian dashed for the window and jumped out. Nobody frightened him or touched him.....We don't threaten anyone or assault anyone."

We don't know just who, after more than a decade of verified stories of police torture, brutality and murder, Buys expected would believe him. Just for good measure he added: "Today Ahmed Timol is a hero of the Communists... We, who know the Communists, know that when they want to go over to violence they have to swear on oath to commit suicide rather than name their comrades. They are taught to jump out before they are interrogated."

Ahmed Timol's death recalls in almost exact detail that of Suliman ("Babla") Saloojee, another young black South African whose death on 9th September 1964 was ascribed to suicide following a fall from the 7th floor of The Grays building at that time Johannesburg headquarters, of the Security Branch. Those of us who know the Secret Police of South Africa do not believe that either of these men committed suicide and we charge the police with murdering them.

They are by no means the first martyrs to have died while under detention without trial. The Rand Daily Mail, 29th October, 1971, listed seventeen such deaths, including that of Ahmed Timol. "An unknown man", added the Rand Daily Mail "died on an unknown date, of cause unknown. His death was disclosed, without detail in Parliament." It is certain, however, that the list is far from complete. Only time will reveal how many prisoners have been secretly done to death under interrogation and torture by the sadists of the Special Branch. Probably only an exhaustive public enquiry, followed by appropriate punishment of all those responsible, will reveal the full truth; such a tribunal must occupy a high priority in the programme of the liberation movement.

The murder of Ahmed Timol and the torture of Mohammed Essop sparked off a wave or seething anger and indignation among all sections of South African opinion, whose public expression rose to heights of outspokeness not reached under the Police State regime for many years, and extended beyond the oppressed majority to broad sections of the liberal and religious whites. A characteristic note was struck by an editorial in the Rand Daily Mail:

This Ugliness must End

"Never in the history of South Africa has a full judicial Commission of Inquiry been more urgently needed than now. It is imperative that the Prime Minister appoint one forthwith to investigate the methods of interrogation used by the Security Police. If he fails to do so then the public will be left to assume the worst.

"As things stand there are probably few South Africans who don't believe in their own minds that the Security Police use third-degree methods. Many may justify it on the grounds that "we are at war" and these detainees are "enemies of the State". But that is another matter. What is important here is that nearly everyone believes it is happening and for that reason it is the State's duty to establish the truth publicly and conclusively.

The 17 Deaths

"Thus Miss Stephanie Kemp, who claimed an interrogator had beaten her head against the floor, was paid R 1000 plus costs. Mr Alan Brooks, who claimed his ankle had been broken, was paid an undisclosed sum. Mr Gabriel Mbindi, who claimed he had suffered "cruel and brutal" assaults - including electric shock torture - was paid R3000. And only last April the widow of the Imam Abdullah Haron, who died in detention, was paid R5000.

Image of eyes peering out

"Which brings us to this alarming matter of the deaths. To the best of our knowledge there have been 17 or [unclear: m]. [unclear: meredloty], one remains unidentified: only the statistical fact of his death was disclosed by the Minister of Justice in reply to a parliamentary question in January, 1969.

"Of these, 10 are said to have committed suicide. And the vital question here is, what drove them to do so? Was it to ensure thay they did not disclose information vital to some underground cause? Or was it because they could no longer endure the interrogation?

"There are other questionable matters, too. Mr Ahmed Timol is the second detainee to have plunged from a high-storey window. Bars were secured to the upper windows of The Grays after Mr Suliman Salojee fell to his death in 1964. Wasn't the same done at John Vorster Square when the Security Police moved there?

Official Silence

"Then there was the case of Mr Nicodemus Kgoathe, who was said to have slipped in a shower room and died of concussion. And the Iman, who was said to have fallen down a flight of steps and sustained 26 bruises and other injuries - not all of which, according to the inquest magistrate, could have been caused by such a fall.

"But there has been no Commission of Inquiry into any of this. Not even after Mrs Catherine Taylor, the MP for Wynberg, named a police sergeant whom she said had assaulted the Imam - and named two other police men whom she said knew about this and were covering up the facts.

"It is bad enough in the first place that the Security Police should have such sweeping powers; they go way beyond what would be considered safe for democracy in any normal Western democracy. If, as the Government argues, unusual conditions in South Africa warrant the granting of these unusual powers, then they should be accompanied by unusual vigilance to ensure that there is no abuse.

"But instead of this, the attitude of the authorities seems to be to avoid inquiry when questionable things happen.

"And there have certainly been enough questionable things in the eight years since detention without trial began in earnest.

page 17

Many Allegations

"To begin with solitary confinement - which seems to be standard precodure with the Security Police - is itself highly questionable. When it first began under the 90-Day, law. 60 psychiatrists, psychologists and medical specialists of the highest repute put their names to a statement condemning it as "inhuman" and equating it with physical torture. Since then the laws have became tougher and there have been instances of people being detained incommunicado and sometimes even unbeknown to the public, for as long as two years.

"There have been detainees who had to go to hospital or receive medical treatment after their release. At least one we know of spent 43 days in a mental institution.

"There have been sworn affidavits from detainees alleging that they have been made to stand in one spot while [unclear: eing] ceaselessly interrogated for periods ranging up to [unclear: 0] hours.

There have been statements in court and in Parliament [unclear: bout] detainees alleging that they have been assaulted and [unclear: bjected] to electric shock torture.

Yet in none of these cases has the truth been fully tested. [unclear: n] each case the authorities have shown a reluctance to [unclear: ave] the allegations publicly ventilated, even when there [unclear: ave] been excellent opportunities for this with detainees [unclear: ringing] court actions claiming damages for ill-treatment. [unclear: he] State has preferred to settle out of court "without [unclear: dmitting] liability".

Not even after the Rev. Bearnard Wrankmore has fasted [unclear: or] 66 days. And not even though the Prime Minister has [unclear: hown] a great readiness to appoint Commissions of Inquiry [unclear: ito] much lesser matters.

Worst of all, however, is that the authorities seem to feel [unclear: o] need to inform the public when these things happen. [unclear: here] was no announcement of Mr Timol's death, nor of [unclear: r] Mohammed Essop's still unexplained hospitalisation. [unclear: he] public learnt of them yesterday only because relatives [unclear: lephoned] this newspaper.

The Chief of the Security Police is silent. The Commissioner [unclear: f] Police is silent. The Minister of Justice is silent. The Prime [unclear: inister] is silent. Seventeen men have died in detention but [unclear: he] authorities think it is none of your damned business to [unclear: now] anything about it.

This is the arrogance of unlimited power that only a full [unclear: quiry] can mitigate."

[unclear: Nsorship] Laws Protect the Police:

The strict censorship laws and the Prisons Act quite [unclear: effetively] muzzle the press in reporting official malpractices [unclear: d] brutality. Several individuals survived the torture and [unclear: re] able to relate what happened behind the apartheid [unclear: ison] bars. For instance, the Star, 4th August 1964, [unclear: repor-] the case of Zephaniah Mothupeng:

"Mr Zephaniah Mothupeng is applying for leave to institute a pauper's suit against the Minister of Justice for $5000 ($7,500).... Mr Mothupeng claims that he was hit and kicked and later made to undress. His hands were tied and a stick was placed under his knees and above his elbows. A canvas bag was placed over his head, he alleges, and while in this position he was hit and kicked and told repeatedly. Speak! Speak!.

"...The petition says that Mr Mothupeng alleges his body was 'jerking violently'. .....He heard a 'cracking vibrating noise....When he arrived back at another prison he felt weak and sick, his whole body was in pain, his fingers burned and his body was shaking. He felt as if he was 'going off his head'."

Political prisoners and detainees have been subjected to the greatest brutalities and most severe humiliations us the following affidavit by Lindiso Richard Gale la of Capetown reveals:

"During all the period I spent in Robben Island, it was the daily practice of one Van Zyl, First Aid Attendant of the Prison Staff, to push his finger into my rectum and those of my working colleagues every evening on our return from work. This had an adverse effect on my health and I received no medical attention when I complained about this. Similarly when I injured my left ankle at work in September 1963, I received HO medical treatment.

"I now want to comment on the life of Pan Africanist Congress prisoners on Robben Island, and the conditions under which they lived while I was there.

"The attitude of the white warders towards them is one of contempt, vengeance and persecution, and goes beyond the purpose of imprisonment as understood the world over. There is no redress against the atrocities committed against them by the warders or other prisoners at the instigation and with the connivance of warders....

"Nelson Komane is a boy of sixteen years of age from Pretoria. He was viciously assualted by a prisoner called Bill when he refused to take part in an immoral sodomy act ...This matter was reported to Chiet Warden Theron. Billy made counter charges with the result that Nelson was sentenced to sixteen days in solitary confinement, while Billy went off scot free. It is common practice for the young convicted boys of PAC to be forcibly locked into cells with hardened criminals and forced to commit sodomy. They can be heard crying out and calling in the night, and the warders ignore the calls. Anyone else who intervenes or takes the matter up with the prison authorities is severely punished....

"Maqubela was made to stand upright in a deep hold which was then filled with soil up to his neck, with only the head appearing about the ground. Then a white warder urinated above his head and face....

"Solomon Petla a boy of sixteen years of age forced to commit sodomy and held down while he was being criminally assaulted through his anus. As a result his rectum protruded outwards, and for over three months he was unable to walk well. He lodged a complaint with one Lieutenant Pretorious, who answered that his testes should be pulled out. In addition to getting no redress for the atrocity, Petla received no medical treatment whatsoever and his assilants continued their bestial acts upon him.

"David Feni was shot prior to his commitment to Robben Island and retains a bullet in his body. It is said that the doctor who treated him in hospital maintained that removal of the bullet would be fatal. Despite this, Feni has been allocated to do the most heavy manual labour... breaking heavy stones and boring rocks with machine...."(4)

"Assault and Torture of Black Consciousness Movement Detainees": (5)

Allegations of torture and assault have been made by leaders of the Black Consciousness Movement, several of whom are presently facing charges under the so-called Terrorism Act after their arrest and detention in September 1974, following the proposed Frelimo rally. An interdict was sought against the Minister of Police and the Commissioner of South African Police by a Durban attorney Mr S. Chetty, under the following circumstances: on 22nd October Mr Chetty, acting for some detainees, was permitted to see Saths Cooper (also a detainee) on condition that they discuss only a charge of assault pending against Cooper. Mr Chetty said that he saw Cooper for about two and a half hours. Two police officers were present. Occasionally they were left alone, during which times Saths Cooper reported to Chetty that: "There are many detainees who are being brutally assaulted by members of the Special Branch". Among the brutalities described by Cooper were that pencils has been inserted between the joints of one detainee's fingers and his hands had then been squeezed. Another detainee had a tennis ball pressed with force on the stitches of a wound on his knee. Saths Cooper himself had been assaulted by members of the Security Police.

"Consequently, Mr Chetty drew up an affidavit and with five supporting affidavits from friends and relatives of the detainees sought an emergency interdict against the Minister of Police and the Commissioner of the South African Police, restraining them from assaulting interrogating in any manner other than prescribed by law, employing any undue or unlawful pressure and applying any form of unlawful duress on the detainees. In addition, he requested that someone entitled interms of sub-section 6 or 7 of Section 6 of the Terrorism Act (Act 83 of 1967), and approved of by the court, be allowed to take affidavits from the five people allegedly assaulted and that pending the filing of the affidavits interim interdicts be issued pending the final determination of the application.

"The application for relief for the five detainees failed in every respect in the Supreme Court in Pretoria on the 11/11/74. Mr Justice Tengrove, in giving judgement, stated: "The position at present is that there are very serious doubts on allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees". He also awarded costs to the respondents, viz., the Minister of Police and the Commissioner of the South African Police.

"The point to consider is this: that Mr Tengrove, the judge, could not produce evidence from the detainees themselves in support of their case. The sole evidence in support of allegations of assault came from Mr S. Chetty alone.

"Mr Justice Tengrove stated that even if the court "had the power to require the Magistrate to take a statement, affidavit or evidence on commission from a detainee, the magistrate would not be entitled under Section 66 to disclose this through the court."

"The Terrorism Act specifically states that no court of law may pronounce upon the validity of any detention or interrogation. Prisoners are at the sole mercy of the police and the Minister of Police.

"Further, to note, too, is that the failure of the application does not erase the possibility of assault. Ignored totally too are the effects due to prolonged detention in solitary confinement coupled with heavy interrogation. While detainees may not how any overt physical signs of injury (which is what the court is more interested in when pronouncing on whether detainees are being ill-treated) there are less overt psycho-emotional effects due to such detention."


Despite vigorous denials by the fascist regime torture and brutality are realities of detention and interrogation in South Africa. The Police State apparatus that has been set up over the years creates a climate ideal for such malpractices, and even to their sophistication. It is against this background that talks of changes in South Africa should be viewed; nothing short of the complete destruction of the present system can ensure the elimination of these evils.

(1)Daily News. 22nd March 1976
(2)Daily News. 23rd March 1976
(3)Daily News, 23rd March 1976
(4)Quoted by E. Khopung: Apartheid, The Story of a Dispossessed People, pp 76-77
(5)From "The Frelimo Rally": a report compiled by the South African Students' Organisation, (SASO), Durban. 1975.

Image of three fists