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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Swanepoel, Theunis ('Rooi Rus', Afrikaans) 'Red Russian'

With the government's introduction of the 90-day and 180-day detention laws, detainees frequently reported being mercilessly tortured, particularly if they were suspected of acts of sabotage. This was despite a blanket denial by the state that any form of torture was taking place. Notorious for interrogations that involved meting out torture was a special police unit called the 'Sabotage Squad'.

Lieutenant Theunis 'Rooi Rus' Swanepoel was one of the most prominent members of staff in this infamous unit and his career, endorsed by the state, typifies the actions of the squad. It conducted interrogations throughout the country, employing methods such as applying electric shocks, brutal assault, burning, breaking bones, hanging the suspect upside-down from an open window in a multi-storey block and making him stand in the same position without sleep or food for long periods of up to 60 hours. Deaths in detention (20 men between 1960 and 1969 alone, and many more thereafter) were usually labeled as 'suicide' or 'died of natural causes'. At the inquests that followed the government was absolved of all blame.

One of the highest profile deaths in detention was that of Steve Biko in 1977; Biko died of massive head injuries. Evidence supplied at the TRC* hearings substantiates beyond doubt that he was brutally interrogated and tortured to death while in police custody.

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.