About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

K. Forced Confessions

We heard several harrowing accounts of the use of torture to extract confessions. In the main, attempts to extract confessions preceded internment at Quatro. The means used to extract confessions were, according to the witnesses, brutal in the extreme. We cite but three examples.

i . One witness told us how he had been assaulted by a particular ANC security official whose name frequently cropped up in evidence. When the detainee struck back, he was beaten by a group of security officials with their revolvers until he became unconscious. His shoes, belts and ring were removed and he was taken to a cell in the Revolutionary Council, a building which formed part of the ANC headquarters in Lusaka. The following day he was interrogated and severely beaten. He was made to squat with a rod behind his knees and over his arms and whenever he lost his balance in this awkward position, was kicked and beaten. When he could no longer maintain this position, he was made to stand up with his hands against the wall and beaten on the waist with a baton. This continued for approximately an hour. He was then ordered to sit on the ground with his feet up, while his feet were continuously beaten. This treatment was designed to elicit information in connection with the alleged role that he had played in the arrest of an ANC member in South Africa. The beatings continued the next day. That night, he made up a story, but when given paper to write his account, forgot the details and was again beaten. He was unable to urinate properly as a result of being kicked in the genitals. All in all, he re-wrote his confession up to ten times until his interrogators were satisfied. When he refused to sign his confession he was again beaten up. He finally succumbed, signed the confession, but omitted the part where he stated that the confession was made voluntarily. This was overlooked by his interrogators.

ii . Another witness related now he was tortured at Mazimbo Prison camp in Tanzania. He stated how over a period of approximately 14 hours he was beaten with sticks and kicked in the kidney area. He eventually made a confession which was palpably devoid of truth in which he admitted to killing certain people who are still alive today.

iii . Another witness told of the manner in which he was interrogated by four members of the ANC security department in Zambia. The witness was hanged from a tree and burnt on the soles of his feet with candles and beaten on the back with whips. A second session of torture some time later by the same team resulted in this witness being burnt with candles, and continuously assaulted.

Most of the witnesses who appeared before the Commission from whom confessions were allegedly extracted by torture stated that they had made the confessions simply to escape the pain. They denied that their confessions were true.

While our terms of reference do not require us to investigate the validity of the reasons for the original detention, we cannot turn a blind eye to the evidence of the use of torture to extract confessions and the effect of such torture on the legal process which ensued. The civilised world has set its face against the use of torture for moral and practical considerations. From a practical point of view, evidence extracted by torture is often dangerously unreliable. It takes little imagination to understand that those detained in harsh conditions and subjected to the type of brutality described above would say anything to bring their agony to an end. Indeed, as is illustrated by one of the examples referred to, the confession in question was palpably false.

The moral argument against the use of torture surely requires no elaboration. In the case of the ANC, it is specifically prohibited by the Code of Conduct and is outlawed by the Geneva Convention to which the ANC subscribed. We were particularly struck by an observation made by Mr Hani. He expressed the view that a weakness in the security department was that those responsible for interrogation had insufficient contact with South Africa and lacked the means of checking the veracity of answers to questions, so that an onus was in effect placed upon suspects to prove their innocence. Dr Jordan expressed a similar view.

The Commission also heard the evidence of Mr James Stuart who chaired certain tribunals set up to deal with alleged offences. He corroborated the evidence presented by certain former detainees that force was used to extract confessions. He advised us that many cases were dismiss fly reason of the fact that the confessions were not voluntary. He told us of a case that had come before him where, due to confusion in the use of code names, the detainee had confessed to murdering himself!

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