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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

H. Maltreatment

A striking feature of the evidence presented to the Commission was its consistency. The experience of the former detainees was depressingly similar, Varying only in degree of severity. The witnesses who testified included persons still loyal to the ANC and those who are hostile to the ANC. It included persons convicted of crimes and those never charged.

The periods of detention and the alleged reasons therefor varied markedly. Yet, the same practices and names cropped up over and over again. We rule out the possibility of collusion or fabrication.

It is not proposed in this report to detail the treatment of each detainee individually. The individual statements of the detainees together with the typed record of the enquiry will be made available separately to the President of the ANC. A general overview of the abuses will be given. The most persistent abuses were perpetrated in Quatro which was not inappropriately described by one witness as a concentration camp. There were abuses, sometimes of the most chilling kind, perpetrated elsewhere. These will be dealt with separately.

1. QUATRO

Quatro was essentially a camp for suspected enemy agents and dissidents. The attitude of the camp guards, commanders and medical assistants seemed to be universally hostile to the inmates. The inmates, whether convicted of any offence or not, were denigrated, humiliated and abused, often with staggering brutality. The violence inflicted on the prisoners usually had nothing whatsoever to do with any disciplinary transgression. It was violence for the sake of violence. One witness articulated what emerged as the common experience of the detainees. He said that after a while, he no longer knew how to behave. Any excuse was seized upon by the guards to inflict punishment. We set out below the main forms of abuse. We emphasise that not every detainee was subjected to the practices descried hereunder.

1. Discipline and Denigration

All detainees were given names which sometimes bore derogatory or humiliating connotations. Names of some of the group of 32 included "donkey", "goat", "monkey", "pig" and "fool".

The general disciplinary regime was harsh and arbitrary. Talking during work was forbidden Requests of almost any sort were frowned upon and often met with assault. Detainees were forbidden to reveal their real names to each over.

2. Hard Labour

Various forms of hard labour were required from some of the detainees. In the main, hard labour consisted of felling trees, chopping wood, breaking stones, digging trenches and hauling a water cart. It was the latter forth of hard labour that elicited the greatest bitterness. The camp had no running water. Accordingly, water had to be collected in a tank from a spruit near the camp.A large tank, transported on a cart, was used for the purpose. A group of detainees was required each day to fetch water and run with the cart uphill. The task was, by all accounts, back-breaking. Indeed, it was a practice which shocked Mr Chris Hani, when he witnessed it. He told us that he attempted to alleviate this practice by acquiring a tractor. His efforts were short-lived, however, since the tractor broke down.

3. Assault and Punishment

A variety of assaults and punishments were regularly meted out to detainees. One form of abuse, known as "pompa" was described by one witness as a "tradition" at Castro. The victim was required to puff out his cheeks while being repeatedly slapped in the face. The effect was to create unbearable pressure on the eardrums and excruciating pain. Nearly every witness who appeared before the Commission was a victim of this abuse. Some complained of burst eardnuns and bleeding from the ears. The evidence revealed that this form of abuse was routine.

Another practice frequently carried out was known as "gasmask". A pawpaw shell, from which the pulp had been removed, was pushed into the face of the detainee until he could no longer breath. This practice was widespread.

Certain witnesses told of the practice known as "slaughter". A detainee was thrown into a narrow pit approximately four metres deep. Two metres above the base of the pit there was a trench which was the only exit from the pit. A prisoner would then be ordered to jump and try to get out of the pit through the trench, while at the same time the warders would throw heaps of soil on the prisoner struggling to get out. One witness related how a prisoner was thrown into a pit with the pawpaw skin over his face, while stones were thrown at him by the guards. The same witness told a particularly gruesome tale concerning a prisoner who had to wear the "gasmask" while his forehead was repeatedly bashed against the trunk of a tree. The victim was apparently previously burnt with boiling water on his head. The wound had never properly healed. A sympathetic medical officer provided a razor blade to shave this prisoner's hair so that the wound could be exposed to fresh air and heal. However, we were told that the wound would not heal because some guards would, from time to time, as a form of punishment, bash this prisoner's head against a tree trunk with the deliberate intent of irritating the wound.

We were informed by several witnesses that there was a particular shrub which grew around the camp called "Napalm" by the inmates. This plant resembled a grapevine and there was a dried, powdery substance on its leaves. If this substance came into contact with the skin, it would itch excessively for hours. The itching or sting would be exacerbated if the skin was wet. As a form of punishment, the leaves of this plant were either rubbed onto the skin of prisoners, or the prisoners were forced to crawl underneath the shrub.

Many witnesses testified that as a form of punishment, they wowd be asked by the guards whether they wanted coffee or guava juice. This sick joke simply meant that the detainee was required to choose which type of implement he wanted to be beaten with. Beatings were, on the evidence, meted out gratuitously and brutally.

Two witnesses stated that they were forced to crawl through a colony of red ants. One of them stated that park fat was rubbed onto his skin to induce the insects to bite.

Several witnesses complained of being placed in solitary confinement for lengthy periods. This is in itself a form of torture. We heard evidence from certain witnesses that they were confined to their cells (albeit not in isolation) for inordinately lengthy periods of time. Indeed, one witness stated that he and his fellow inmates in a particular cell were not, for all practical purposes, let out of their cells for a year. The only occasion upon which they were allowed to leave their cells was when required for some specific purpose by the guards or when placing their toilet containers outside the door.

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.