26 June 2012

Torture crimes treated with leniency in South Africa

AL3274 The Gille de Vlieg Collection_d31-2As the world commemorates the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on June 26, civil society organisations in South Africa bemoan the leniency with which torture is treated in the country.

Torture is still not a crime and cases thereof are simply treated as assault or grievous bodily harm - an apparent flaw in the justice system as it negates the heinous nature of the crime.

This day was selected by the United Nations General Assembly in the mid-to-late 90s with the official launch being held on 26 June 1998. This day is meant to create awareness around the issue of torture as a serious crime and a violation of basic human rights, and also, to speak out against the crime of torture and to honour and support victims and survivors throughout the world.

Speaking out against South Africa's cavalier attitude towards torture crimes, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), which is a member of The South African No Torture Consortium, expressed in a press statement their concerns on the matter.
"The sad reality is that such acts of torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment are regular occurrences in our society and are perpetrated by those responsible for our safety and security. The law needs to make clear that torture is a crime that is particularly appalling, one that the state and society at large will not tolerate under any circumstances."

The statement further urges authorities to treat this as a matter of urgency as this form of crime is on the increase owing to the pressure on police to "get tough on crime" and "shoot to kill" - as declared by many senior officials such as ex-police commissioner Bheki Cele.

The Prevention and Combating of Torture of Persons Bill 2012, a legislation that will criminalise torture, is currently before parliament and public hearings on the bill will commence in September this year. The South African No Torture Consortium is urging "citizens to participate in these hearings to send out a clear signal that torture is unacceptable."

The issue of torture in South Africa is somewhat a touchy subject given the manner in which apartheid police treated anti-apartheid activists and the black population in general. The likes of Steve Biko, who died in police detention due to torture, should serve as a lesson that torture is a lethal form of crime that should be officially criminalised in the democratic South Africa.

To read about torture stories from anti-apartheid activists who were datained and tortured at the notorious John Vorster Square, visit the following SAHA pages:

Between Life and Death: Stories from John Vorster Square

Voices from our Past - (click on 'John Vorster Square')

SAHA is also in possession of materials relating to torture in the following collections:

AL3274 The Gille de Vlieg Collection

The TRC Collections

AL3285 The De Wet Potgieter Collection

AL3282 The Sunday Times Heritage Project Collection

AL3273 The John Harris Collection

You can also visit the SAHA-hosted website to read more about 'deaths in detention' during the apartheid regime, committed against activists or anyone who stood up against the system.