A cruel glimpse of freedom …

As the country’s third State of Emergency expired yesterday, the Minister of Law and Order was obliged to release all the Emergency detainees. At least 75 percent of them were then immediately redetained in terms of South Africa’s fourth State of Emergency, proclaimed by the State President on Wednesday night This meant that about 3 000 detainees were technically free for a few moments – between being told they were released and being informed they were to be redetained.

In one case in Naledi, Soweto, police enticed released children back into custody by asking them to return to a police station to sign release forms. Nine of the children released on Wednesday night – some only 12 years old – had been redetained within two hours. (See picture at right and details below) The Minister of Law and Order, Adriaan Vlok, was a busy man, having to put his mind to the case of every detainee who was redetained before issuing the appropriate order. According to legal experts, the police were obliged to physically release every detainee before holding him or her again. This process led to elaborate procedures at many prisons around the country. 

In Port Elizabeth, two important security trials were held up because Emergency detainees were not available as witnesses. The courts were told they were being taken though the process of release and redetention. The SAP directorate of public relations, however, told the Weekly Mail that the process of re-arrest was “a mere formality”. The case of each detainee held under the outgoing regulations “is being considered on merit”, the SAP said. “Should the re-arrest of a specific person under the new Emergency regulations not be deemed essential, such a detainee will be released. “The re-arrest of those not to be released under the new Emergency regulations, will be a mere formality”.

Lawyers said last night that if this was the case, the detentions were likely to be challenged in court. Police were obliged to release people properly and physically before taking them back into custody. Although official figures of the total number of detainees have not been released, the Detainees’ Parents Support Committee estimated that there were about 3 500 people in detention earlier this week. It is estimated that about 500 were released in the last few days.

In Port Elizabeth, seven busloads of detainees were taken to black townships and released. In Krugersdorp, about 100 detainees were reported released. Among those who were allowed to go home yesterday were a number of prominent personalities. These included UDF officials Dr Abie Nkomo, Arthur Mkhwanazi, Titus Mafolo (all of Atteridgeville), Martha Mahlangu, Sandy Lobese (both from Mamelodi), Jack Phahlamohlaka (Soshanguve), Cassim Coovadia, Pat Lephunya, Tom Waspe, Amos Masondo, Mandla Dlamini (Johannesburg), and Emerson Randa (Eastern Cape).


Some of the prominent individuals who had no more than a few seconds of freedom before being redetained were: Sister Bernard Ncube, president of Fedtraw, Raymond Suttner of the UDP, NECC officials Vusi Khanyile, Reverend Molefe Tsele, Zwelakhe Sisulu and Bin Jardine and Port Elizabeth community leaders Mkhuseli Jack, Henry Fazzie and Edgar Ngoyi. One person who did not even have the few seconds out of custody was Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, general secretary of the SA Catholic Bishops Conference. He was charged on Wednesday with possession of a firearm and is now an awaiting-trial prisoner, due to appear in court this morning.

Others less fortunate were seven as yet unidentified trade unionists who were held during a raid on Tudor Mansion in Johannesburg yesterday. The new regulations published in four government gazettes yesterday reversed many of the decisions taken recently in the Supreme Court. Most of the restrictions that had been thrown out by the Natal Supreme Court in particular were rewritten, taking account of the court decisions, and reimposed.

Other restrictions were tightened or extended. One of the restrictions gives the Commissioner of Police the power of direct censorship. He may issue an order prohibiting the publication of any “news, comment or advertisement … in connection with any matter” for the purpose of public safety, public order or the termination of the Emergency. The regulation explicitly states that he does not need to hear any other opinion on this issue. Security Forces can now detain anyone for up to 30 days before the Minister of Law and Order gives reasons for continued detention. The previous limit was 14 days.

Restrictions on the reporting of Security Force action and the photographing of unrest were reimposed. Restrictions on encouraging boycotts was extended to preventing the encouragement of work stayaways and the non-payment of rent. Most of the new regulations gave the Commissioner of Police enormous powers to control schools and school premises. Although these powers will have to be invoked by proclamation, he will be able to issue orders controlling the presence and movement of individuals at schools, the use of facilities and the clothing worn on the premises, among other things. Also reimposed were the restrictions on:

  • Undermining military conscription.
  • Reporting details of the effectiveness of stayaways or boycotts
  • Reporting on illegal gatherings

The Commissioner once again has the power to place restrictions on people released from detention. Contraventions can still be punished by a fine of up to R20 000 and/or 10 years imprisonment

MONO BADELA reports that nine Soweto children were released from detention on Wednesday night — but redetained within two hours. Some were enticed back to Protea police station in Soweto by being asked to sign release forms. They were reincacerated only hours before State President PW Botha reimposed the State of Emergency. “Cruel, heartless, vicious” were the only words the nine Soweto families could use after their children had been redetained by the security police.

The children, all of Naledi Extension Two, had been in jail since April 27 and were released at 1pm on Wednesday. Audrey Coleman, a Detainees Parents’ Support Committee’s representative, said the actions of the security police were “absolutely appalling. I can’t understand why they did not charge the children in the first place. It is the most cynical act possible.” The families met on Wednesday night to discuss the plight of their children.

A distraught Elizabeth Kaoa, whose two daughters aged 14 and 12, told the meeting that she and other parents were at the DPSC offices when they heard that their children were home. “We were excited. We rush out and took the first taxi bound for Soweto. When I arrived at home I learnt to my dismay, that the security police had been there and had taken the two children back to Protea police station. The children were told they were needed to sign release forms. They had light clothing at the time. They are not back yet “

Another mother, Maria Maseloane, said: “I rushed to town to get things to prepare a meal but when I came back I was told that my 15-year old daughter had been redetained.” Tembi Thabethe, whose 13-year-old daughter was also reincacerated this week, said: “I was phoned at work and told that my daughter was at home. I immediately took a taxi home only to find out that my child had been redetained.”

Elizabeth Makhanya was also at the DPSC offices when news came that her 17-year-old son was out of detention. But when she arrived home he had been taken again. Some of the children were picked up while playing football. A representative of the offices of lawyer Priscilla Jana told the Weekly Mail that the children were being held at Jabulani police station in terms of the Emergeny regulations.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail newspaper

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