Detention-related deaths have increased dramatically despite assurances to the contrary by the Minister of Law and Order, Louis Le Grange. Le Grange recently said police standing orders made a repetition of a death in detention such as that of the black consciousness leader Steve Biko highly unlikely.
However, figures show that since Biko’s death in September 1977, there has been an alarming increase in detention related deaths. Twelve people have died between November 1977 and May of this year while in or shortly after being in security detention.
This, according to the latest report by the Detainees’ Parents Support Committee, includes detention related deaths in the independent homelands of Transkei and Venda. The disturbing issue of deaths in detention came sharply under the spotlight this year with the internationally publicised deaths of trade union leader Andries Raditsela and student leader Sipho Mutsi.
The repeated occurrence of detention-related deaths has cast doubts on whether the Minister is in full control of the police force. These doubts were further aggravated by the March 21 shootings at Uitenhage.
Sipho Malaza (18, died 16 November 1977, Krugersdorp), Lungile Tabalaza (19, died 10 July 1978, Port Elizabeth), Saul Ndzumo (age unknown, died 10 September 1980, Umtata), Tshifhiwa Muofhe (28, died 12 November 1981, Venda), Neil Aggett (28, died 5 February 1982, Johannesburg). Ernest Dipale (21, died 8 August 1982, Johannesburg), Simon Mndawe (23, died 7 March 1983, Nelspruit), Paris Malatji (23, died 5 July 1983, Soweto), Samuel Tshikudo (50, died 20 January 1994, Venda), Ephraim Mthethwa (23, died 26 August 1984, Durban), Mxolisis Sipele (age unknown, died June 1984, Transkei), and Andries Raditsela (29, died 6 May 1985, East Rand).
The DPSC also reports the deaths of a further eight people who died between July 1984 and March of this year, and who were arrested on political, but not necessarily security-related charges.They are:
The DPSC has expressed concern over the alarming pattern now emerging of the numerous detention-related deaths of people arrested on political charges, but not held under security legislation. The DPSC report does not include the deaths of two men who died this year while in custody on criminal charges.
Razak Mohammed-Allie of Bosmont allegedly shot and killed himself on May 9 with a police firearm while in custody at the Kliptown police station. He was held for the alleged theft of R5 000 and also for allegedly posing as a police officer.
On 15 May, Clarence Jacobson drowned in a reservoir dam outside Stellenbosch while in police custody. He was held on suspicion of robbery, and apparently accompanied detectives to the scene of the alleged crime when he allegedly tried to escape by jumping in the dam.
In at least three of the reported incidents — Andries Raditsela, Sipho Mutsi, and Bheki Mvulane — doctors have indicated brain inflicted injuries as the possible causes of death.
The Raditsela post mortem found the cause of death to be subdural haemorrhage to the right side of the head. A high level police investigation into the circumstances surrounding Raditsela’s death is believed to be completed.
Lawyers acting on behalf of the Mutsi family claim a postmortem on Mutsi attended by an independent doctor revealed severe haemorrhaging from the top of the brain. The Attorney-General of the Free State has announced that no one will be criminally prosecuted for Mutsi’s death, but an inquest docket has been opened.
Dr A F Chemaly, superintendent of the Natalspruit Hospital, has confirmed that Bheki Mvulane, who was arrested on a charge of public violence, was treated for brain injuries before he died. Attorneys acting for the family are confident that criminal charges will be brought against some or all police officers involved in the alleged assault on Mvulane.
In another development the Raditsela attorneys claim the police seized a document relating to his death on May 27. The attorneys charge that the seizure is unlawful removal of privileged information.