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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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

G. Physical conditions of Detention

Evidence was presented about the conditions of detention at various prison camps. These prison camps included those specially set up by the ANC, as well as ordinary prisons run by the Governments of the countries in which they were situated. It is clear from the evidence, however, that the gravest abuses were perpetrated in Quatro camp in Angola. This camp was apparently also known as "Camp 32" and the "Morris Seabelo Rehabilitation Centre". It was originally conceived of as a rehabilitation centre. The terms of reference empowered the commission to visit the places of detention subject to making the necessary arrangements with the Governments of the countries concerned. In the case of Quatro, we were informed by witnesses that the camp had been demolished. An inspection, therefore, would have revealed little.

The complaints about the physical conditions of detention related mainly to the type of cells in which detainees were held, the lack of proper medical facilities and poor nutrition. What follows is a general overview of the evidence.

1. The Cells

The evidence revealed that at Quatro camp, provision was made for both communal cells as well as isolation cells. The communal cells were, from time to time, overcrowded and inadequately ventilated. We were told that on occasions, the temperature inside the cell was higher than outside it. Certain detainees were held in solitary confinement, often for extended periods.

2. Hygene and Medical Care

One of the persistent and most severe complaints which emerged from the evidence concerned the lack of adequate health treatment. The necessity for medical care cannot be separated from the conditions under which detainees were held. We were told that the tropical climate in Angola resulted in high temperatures. Problems associated with the heat and the conditions of detention included the development of skin complaints, diarrhoea and malaria. We were advised that there was no running water in the entire camp. This difficulty affected all, and not only the detainees. However, the evidence revealed that the camp guards and commanders made it virtually impossible for detainees to maintain themselves and their clothing in a healthy condition. We were informed that blankets were allowed to be washed only once every six months and that the detainees were then allowed to bath in the water which remained after the blankets had been washed.

Toilet facilities for detainees were primitive. Detainees were required to attend to their bodily functions by means of plastic containers, which were cut in half and which were emptied one, a day.

It appeared that no suitably qualified medical officer was available at all times to deal with the day to-day medical problems of detainees. A doctor did visit the camp, but only on rare occasions. We were informed that his attitude was generally unsympathetic since he was advised in advance that the detainees were responsible for the deaths of members of the ANC.

The absence of suitably qualified medical personnel was particularly serious in view of the injuries suffered by inmates at the hands of their captors. Many detainees were severely assaulted and injured. Not only was the health care inadequate, but we were informed that some of the medical orderlies actually participated in the assaults.

3. Food

The consensus of the witnesses was that the food at Quatro camp was worse than anywhere else. The diet consisted primarily of beans and rice. Certain detainees received one glass of water every 24 hours. In 1987 the then President of the ANC, Mr Oliver Tambo, visited Quatro camp. Although he was apparently disturbed by what he saw, his visit had little impact upon the food situation. Indeed, for some six months thereafter, the diet of detainees consist mainly of diluted tomato puree and rice. Food deprivation was frequently used as a form of punishment.

The lack of adequate nutrition was, in our view, unconscionable and pernicious. We were informed that the camp had an adequate supply of tropical fruit which grew freely in the vicinity, but which was out of bounds to detainees. The camp commanders, in contrast to the detainees, had a plentiful supply of food, which included tinned products supplied to the camp. Any food left over after the commanders had their fill was fed to the pigs.

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.