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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

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The use of Torture in Detention (refers to Rooi Rus Swanepoel)

120. The security legislation providing for detention during the mandate period was as follows:

121. Torture of political detainees was reported from the early 1960s. That torture of political detainees was a relatively new phenomenon during that period is evident from the following statement by Mr Joe Slovo:

However firm the old type of policemen were ... they were not torturers ... In a sense, up to about 1960/1, the underground struggle was fought on a gentlemanly terrain. There was still a rule of law. You had a fair trial in their courts. Nobody could be kept in isolation. Up to 1963, I know of no incident of any political prisoner being tortured. 9

122. It was widely believed by many political activists of the time that, in the early 1960s, a special squad of security policemen received special training in torture techniques in France and Algeria and that this accounted for a sudden and dramatic increase in torture. The Commission established that the following officers received training in France at some point during the first half of the 1960s: Hendrik van den Bergh (then head of the Security Branch), TJ 'Rooi Rus' Swanepoel, DK Genis, Lieutenant Daantjie 'Kardoesbroek' Rossouw, G Klindt, a Major Brits (from the Railway Police), a Lieutenant van der Merwe and one Coetzee.

123. However, the Commission found considerable evidence of the occurrence of torture in the years prior to 1963. While torture does not appear to have been used on urban-based, ANC political detainees until 1963, the Commission received information about the extensive use of all forms torture on rural insurgents involved in the Pondoland revolt in 1960 and against members and supporters of the Poqo movement of the PAC. Further, it is clear that such methods were widely used in criminal investigations before the 1960s.

124. It is more likely, therefore, that the French training promoted the development of other non-physical third degree methods. Indeed, in 1964, there was a marked shift to an approach in which teams working in relays used sleep deprivation and non-physical means such as standing on one spot or the 'hard/soft cop' routine. It is probable that the techniques apparent in the 1964 period were the fruit of the French exercise.

125. The Commission received confirmation that a number of officers received further training in interrogation and counter-interrogation techniques in France in about 1968. Officers known to have attended this course include: TJ 'Rooi Rus' Swanepoel, Major JJ 'Blackie' de Swardt, Hans Gloy, Roelf van Rensberg and Dries Verwey.

126. It is further believed that, in the early 1980s, joint co-operation agreements between South Africa, Argentina, Chile and Taiwan led to further training opportunities and an exchange of ideas and experience. Close links with Argentina existed even before this. For example, Alfredo Astiz, a notorious torturer, was one of four torture experts attached to the Argentinian Embassy in Pretoria in 1979. During his stay, there were several seminars at which South African security police and the Argentines exchanged ideas regarding methods of interrogation.

127. It is also known that Military Intelligence (MI) operatives received training in interrogation techniques in Italy. According to one MI operative, such training tended to focus on non-aggressive methods of interrogation as the use of torture was seen to result in false confessions or information.

128. Finally, the training grounds par excellence were Rhodesia and South West Africa where South African police developed hands-on experience in fighting a counter-insurgency war.

129. Following the general failure of the Security Branch to conclude investigations in sabotage cases in the early 1960s, a tougher approach was adopted and a group of police was drawn in from outside the ranks of the Security Branch to constitute a special 'sabotage squad'. This was part of a more extensive restructuring of legal provisions relating to detentions and police structures introduced by the new Minister of Justice, Police and Prisons, Mr BJ Vorster, his new commissioner of police, Lieutenant General Keevy and new head of the Security Branch, Colonel Hendrik van den Bergh. An SAP Commemorative Album records that:

Col van den Bergh decided that the Security Branch should be reorganised to enable it to deal more efficiently with subversive elements in the Republic. The Minister of Justice, who was fully aware of the threat against the Republic, agreed with Col van den Bergh and undertook to supply the Security Branch with the necessary arms to ward off the onslaught. 10

130. The 'sabotage squad' was one of these "necessary arms". Officers associated with this squad include: Major TJ 'Rooi Rus' Swanepoel, Major George Klindt, a Major Coetzee, Major Britz, Lieutenant DK Genis, 'Kardoesbroek' Rossouw and a Captain or Major JJ van der Merwe. Others who appeared to form part of this team, or who worked closely with them, include Warrant Officer 'Spyker' van Wyk, Captain JJ Viktor, Lieutenant Petrus Ferreira, Lieutenant Erasmus, Lieutenant and/or Captain van Rensberg and Sergeant Greeff. Their approach contrasted sharply with the 'gentlemanly approach' of earlier Security Branch men.

131. Arrests of people linked to sabotage campaigns increased markedly in 1963 and the Commission received reports of torture in respect of nearly every detainee interrogated by members of this team. Reports exposed the widespread use of beating, electric shock and terror tactics (see below).

132. The first allegations of torture of political detainees arose during the state of emergency declared on 24 March 1960. According to the Minister of Justice, ninety-eight whites, thirty-six coloureds, ninety Indians and 11 279 Africans were detained under the Public Safety Act of 1953. From statements received by the Commission, it appears as though detainees were routinely subjected to beating and other forms of assault. Several Pondoland detainees reported the use of electric shock and torture involving forced posture.

133. A second wave of torture allegations came from Poqo members detained under the General Laws Amendment Act of 1961. The main form of torture remained beatings and general assault, although again instances of electric shock and forced posture were reported.

134. With the introduction of the ninety-day detention clause provided for by the General Laws Amendment Act of 1963 that torture became far more prevalent. Section 17 authorised any commissioned officer to detain without a warrant any person suspected of political activities and to hold them in solitary confinement, without access to a lawyer, for ninety days. In practice, people were often released after ninety days only to be re-detained on the same day for a further ninety-day period. The Minister of Justice said the intention was to detain uncooperative persons "until this side of eternity" 11 . Ms Helen Suzman was the only Member of Parliament to vote against the amendment.

135. The ninety-day law came into effect on 1 May 1963 and the first detentions took place eight days later. Between 1 May 1963 and 10 January 1965, when it was withdrawn and replaced with a 180-day detention law, it was used to detain 1 095 people, of whom 575 were charged and 272 convicted.

136. In the course of these detentions, torture went far beyond a routine level of physical assault; carefully honed techniques were put to use, designed primarily to extract information. By the end of January 1964, Minister Vorster conceded in Parliament that forty-nine complaints had been received concerning ill treatment and torture, including twenty-eight allegations of assault and twenty of electric shock. He reported that thirty-two had been investigated and found to be of no substance. Nevertheless, accounts of torture from this period - across region, rank and organisation - bear a remarkable consistency.

137. Mr Laloo Chiba [JB00667/016GTSOW] told the Commission about what appears from other statements to have been a routine experience:

There were about five or six people who were actually present in the room. They started assaulting me, punched me, kicked me and in the process my face was badly bruised. My left eardrum had been punctured. They wanted to know who my contact was in MK ... I pleaded ignorance ... The assault must have lasted half an hour or so. It is very, very difficult for me to assess the passage of time in these circumstances. But what was to follow was far more serious ...

138. Chiba, covered with a wet hessian sack, was then subjected to electric shock treatment:

Every time I resisted answering the questions, they turned on the dynamo and of course, violent electric shocks started passing through my body ... After the electric torture was over, I was unable to walk, I collapsed. They then carried me out.

139. Mr Rajeegopal Vandeyar [JB00809/01GTSOW] described Chiba's condition following this session:

His face was swollen severely. His eyes appeared to be coming out of their sockets. He was walking with great difficulty and was supported by a policeman. His legs were rigid. His knees did not bend. His hands were almost like he had severe arthritis. He looked like a Frankenstein monster.

140. Other methods of torture used included being dangled from the window, a range of psychological threats and, particularly from 1964, a combination of solitary confinement, sleep deprivation and forced standing, often for days on end.

141. Laloo Chiba, detained again in July 1964, gives his account of this new method:

I was assured that, unlike the previous time, they won't even lay a finger on me. What they did was, they took a foolscap sheet of paper, A4 size, they put it on the floor and they asked me to stand on that. They said that I was not allowed to move off from that sheet of paper ... I stood there from about nine o'clock on Monday morning until Wednesday early in the evening, late in the afternoon. That was a period of approximately fifty-eight to sixty hours without sleep.

142. The Security Branch worked in teams, ensuring that they were always fresh and clean, in sharp contrast to the exhausted detainees. Teams would also frequently alternate between apparently sympathetic police and those who displayed extreme aggression. Such methods, which left no mark, proved devastatingly effective in extracting confessions. It is important to note, however, that physical violence and electric shock continued to be used as well, particularly against less high-profile African detainees.

143. Section 17 of the General Laws Amendment Act was revoked as of 11 January 1965. The Minister of Justice said that it would be re-invoked should the need arise. The Criminal Procedure Amendment Act was enacted in the same year. This provided for 180-day detention and re-detention thereafter. Detainees could be held in solitary confinement but, unlike the ninety-day provision, interrogation was not specified as part of the detention. Nevertheless, it appears that the 180-day provision was used for interrogation as well.

144. In response to guerrilla activities on the northern borders of South West Africa, the General Laws Amendment Act was amended in 1966 to provide for up to fourteen days' detention of suspected 'terrorists' for interrogation purposes. The commissioner of police could apply to a judge to have the detention order renewed. This clause was a forerunner of the Terrorism Act (1967) which authorised indefinite detention without trial on the authority of a policeman of or above the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. The definition of terrorism was very broad. No time limit was specified for detention, which could be continued until detainees had satisfactorily replied to all questions. Detentions under the Act were generally for the purposes of extracting information and the practice of routine 'purposive torture' appears to have accompanied most interrogations.

145. Section 6 of the Terrorism Act was first used to detain ten South West Africans arrested during the attack on the SWAPO base at Omgulumbashe. The captives vanished from view and were brought to trial in Pretoria after two years of interrogation, intermittent torture and many months of solitary confinement. Section 6 was subsequently used in a series of detentions of suspected ANC members in 1968.

146. A further window into the interrogation and torture of detainees under the Terrorism Act is provided by the detention of some eighty South African Students' Organisation (SASO) and Black People's Convention (BPC) activists in November 1974. Many of these were transported to Pretoria where they were intensively interrogated at the Security Branch's Compol offices. It appears that a team of security policemen from around the country were involved in these interrogations. Almost all detainees alleged severe torture.

147. Former Durban Security Branch member Colonel ARC 'Andy' Taylor [AM4077/96] played a prominent role in the interrogations. He applied for amnesty for the assault of Ms Bridgette Sylvia Mabandla, Dr Sathasivan Cooper [JB06330/ 01GTSOW], Mr Revabalan Cooper [KZN/NSS/015/DN], Mr Lindani Muntu Myeza, Mr Nyangani Absalom Cindi and Mr Ruben William Hare. While Taylor claimed not to remember the details of these incidents, statements to the Commission and from Amnesty International indicate a consistent pattern: lengthy interrogations accompanied by assault and torture involving forced posture such as being forced to sit in an imaginary chair. In some instances, electric shocks were alleged to have been administered.

148. Numerous claims of torture in detention were made during the May 1976 trial of Mr Harry Gwala and nine others under the Terrorism Act. Over forty people were detained in connection with this trial. One of the detainees, Mr Joseph Mdluli, died in detention (see below). Six of the accused filed a summons against the Minister of Police for not responding to claims for damage as a result of torture. Two of the accused, Mr Joseph Nduli and Mr Cleopas Ndhlovu, had been abducted from Swaziland. In his amnesty application, Taylor stated that Nduli and Ndhlovu were in charge of recruiting and escorting recruits through Swaziland in transit for training. They were abducted ... and taken to Island Rock near Sodwana, for questioning. They were assaulted with open hands, fists ... kicked. The detainees were also kept awake for long hours and deprived of sleep.

149. A United Nations document gives the following account:

On the morning of 29 March, Cleopas Ndhlovu was blindfolded and led through the forest to a house or hut. A rope was attached to his neck while he remained blindfolded. The rope was affixed to a rafter or similar object above his head. In this position he was repeatedly struck with a stick on his head, knees and feet. His nipples and ears were repeatedly twisted. He was struck with fists on his face and stomach, and threatened that he would be thrown into the sea from a boat.

That night, he was taken and tied to a tree, still blindfolded. His legs were clamped in leg irons. He was left exposed throughout the night of 29/30 March. Early on 31 March 1976, he was dragged by the rope, still attached to his neck, to the sea and compelled to wash himself. He was threatened that he would be taken out to sea and drowned. Throughout this period, he remained blindfolded.

A few days later, he was subjected to electrical shocks.

150. Nduli experienced similar methods of torture. During the trial, a Pietermaritzburg surgeon, Mr R Denyssen le Roux, filed an affidavit which noted scars on Nduli's forehead, the back of his head, neck, forearms and legs. Major JJ de Swardt and Colonel JG Dreyer denied involvement in his torture. The application for the arrest to be declared unlawful was turned down.

151. Durban security police called to testify included Colonel Dreyer, Warrant Officer Botha, Lieutenant CR McDuling, Captain D Wessels and Captain JC Fourie, all of whom denied assaulting the detainees. However, several accused as well as several of those who served as witnesses claimed assault.

152. Mr Ndoda Anthony Xaba [KZN/PMB/002/PM] testified that he was assaulted, his head banged against the wall, that he was held out of the window and his right arm broken.

153. Mr Harry Gwala alleged that, during a break in his interrogation, Lieutenant Coetzee "walked around like a dog wanting to bite someone's testicles. The Lieutenant said he would catch hold of my testicles and make me pass faeces." Colonel Dreyer said in court that it was possible that Gwala could have been interrogated for two days without sleep. Captain Fourie defended interrogating him for a forty-three-hour stretch because of the crisis in the country.

154. In a twenty-hour interrogation session, Mr John Nene was kicked, punched, throttled so that he fainted three times, made to walk with stones in his shoes and threatened with death by shooting or falling through a window. He was kept in a cockroach-infested cell: "In the beginning I didn't like them, but after a time I played with them and looked upon them as people in my cell."

155. Mr William Khanyile said he was repeatedly made to sit on an imaginary chair, and was hit and kicked. Mr Vusumusi Magubane was made to stand with stones in his shoes, was throttled and subjected to long hours of interrogation. Mr Zakhele Mdlalose also alleged the 'imaginary chair' and 'stones in shoes' torture in his evidence.

156. Mr Michael Gumede told the court that police had hit him, put stones in his shoes and made him stand on tiptoe, and tied a brick around his testicles and threatened to continue torturing him until he confessed to having been recruited for military training.

157. Mr Judson Khuzwayo and Mr Russell Maphanga [KZN/FS/142/DN], both defence witnesses, said they were tortured. Mr Frans Kunene, who initially gave evidence for the state, returned to the witness box for the defence. He told the court that he also had stones put in his shoes, was made to squat with his chin and knees against the wall and, when he fainted, was struck with a sjambok. His fingernails were banged with the head of the sjambok; and as a result he had lost them all. This treatment continued until he agreed to give evidence for the state. He was told not to mention assault in court. When he did, he was declared a hostile witness and charged with perjury.

158. After giving evidence for the state, Mr Harold Nxasana returned as a defence witness. He had been held under section 6 of the Terrorism Act for 500 days. He told the court that a cloth had been put into his mouth and a sheet wrapped around his neck and lower face. A policeman had rolled a heavy object like a large metal ball into another cloth and hit him with it. After giving evidence, he broke down, fearing that the Security Branch would kill him for having testified to their actions.

159. A number of Johannesburg detainees who were detained with Mr Neil Aggett (see below) in 1981 made statements about torture under section 6 of the Terrorism Act. An amnesty application in this connection was received from Warrant Officer WC Smith [AM5469/97].

160. As these cases indicate, torture was used expressly to extract information and admissions, and interrogation was in some instances followed by a trial. Detainees, 'broken' by torture, were frequently used as state witnesses. In some instances, despite the presence of perpetrators in court, such witnesses withdrew their statements, alleging that they had been made under duress. Court cases were increasingly characterised by 'trials within trials' to test the admissibility of such statements. Few judges ruled in favour of detainees. In many cases, however, detainees were eventually released after lengthy spells in detention without having been charged.

161. It is also important to note the modus operandi of the Nduli and Ndlovu detentions - abduction from Swaziland and interrogation at a police camp rather than a formal place of detention. This foreshadows an extensive pattern of abduction and interrogation in the 1980s. In later years, however, such detainees were frequently killed.

162. During the 1976 unrest, the government amended the Internal Security Act in order to provide for what was termed 'preventive detention'. Theoretically, the detention was not meant to exceed twelve months. Proclamation R133 of 16 July 1976 applied the provisions of the Internal Security Amendment Act to the Transvaal, while Proclamation R159 of 11 August 1976 extended its applicability country-wide. This was extended for a further year.

163. The Internal Security Act (1982) attempted to consolidate security legislation into one act. Detentions were covered by the following clauses:

164. Detainees held under section 28 were sometimes questioned, but were primarily detained in order to keep them out of circulation. Section 29 was used chiefly for detention of those suspected of links with the underground, and particularly military, structures. Detainees held under this clause were subjected to torture. In the mid-1980s, the Internal Security Act continued to be used for specific cases of suspected terrorism and for intensive interrogation. However, detention happened far more widely under the state of emergency provisions.

165. State of emergency regulations gave police powers to detain individuals for an initial period of fourteen days on little more than a suspicion that they may have been a "threat to the safety and security of the state". The period of detention could be extended almost indefinitely. Thousands of people, mostly black men, were incarcerated under these provisions during the states of emergency in the mid- to late 1980s. The wide-ranging powers given to the police, including extensive indemnity provision, and the lack of any censure for excesses, reinforced their understanding that they enjoyed impunity for extensive abuses committed in the interests of state security.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.