There were frequent reports of deaths in custody, some of which resulted from torture or ill-treatment of detainees and prisoners by police, the military or prison warders. A number of people shot dead by police may have been extrajudicially executed, and some political killings were carried out apparently with the complicity of security forces.

On 22 September the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) intervened in Lesotho at the request of the Lesotho government who feared a coup by members of the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF). At least nine South African and 25 LDF soldiers died in the following days. About 1,000 SANDF and Botswana Defence Force soldiers were still in Lesotho at the end of the year (see Lesotho entry).

In October the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) submitted a report to President Nelson Mandela. Officials from the ruling African National Congress (ANC) unsuccessfully attempted to delay its publication by court action. However, former President F.W. De Klerk obtained agreement from the TRC to remove findings against him from the report, pending a further court hearing in March 1999.

The TRC's report concluded that most gross human rights violations between 1960 and May 1994 had been committed by "the former state through its security and law enforcement agencies… and in collusion with certain other political groupings, most notably the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP)", whom the TRC identified as "a major perpetrator of gross human rights violations from 1983". The TRC found that from the late 1970s, the former state "knowingly planned, undertook, condoned and covered up the commission of unlawful acts, including the extrajudicial killings of political opponents and others, inside and outside South Africa". The TRC also concluded that opposition organizations, including the ANC and Pan Africanist Congress, although fighting a "just war" against a system condemned internationally as a crime against humanity, breached international humanitarian law and committed gross human rights violations. The TRC found both organizations responsible for violations against dissident members in their camps abroad.

In an interim report, the TRC's Amnesty Committee named 171 people who had been granted amnesty for specific crimes. The Committee continued hearings on hundreds of remaining amnesty applications. The TRC recommended that prosecutions should be considered in cases where evidence existed against individuals who had failed to apply for amnesty or had been denied amnesty.

The TRC noted that a number of political organizations and former officials had failed to cooperate with it. However, only former President P.W. Botha was prosecuted for refusing to obey a subpoena from the TRC. He was sentenced to a fine or alternatively 12 months in prison; an appeal was pending at the end of the year.

In December South Africa ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

In April a judicial commission of inquiry, the Mahomed Commission, reported that it found no substance to Military Intelligence (MI) allegations of a "left-wing plot" against President Mandela's government. The MI report appeared to implicate Lieutenant-General Siphiwe Nyanda, Department of Foreign Affairs official Robert McBride and others in the plot. In March Robert McBride was arrested in Mozambique in connection with alleged arms trafficking, along with a man who had known links to former police and intelligence covert operations. Robert McBride was released in September and returned to South Africa pending the outcome of judicial investigations in Mozambique.

In May parliament approved the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Bill which obliges South Africans and permanent residents to obtain the approval of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee to offer military related services abroad.

In June an Inspecting Judge of the Judicial Inspectorate was appointed "to facilitate the inspection of prisons in order to report on the treatment of prisoners and conditions in prisons". In July the first National Director of Public Prosecution (NDPP) was appointed under new legislation. By November the NDPP had established two Investigating Directorates: one in Cape Town to investigate and bring prosecutions in connection with organized crime and killings, the other in Pietermaritzburg focusing on political violence in KwaZulu Natal (see below).

In October the Constitutional Court ruled that laws criminalizing sodomy (referring to consensual sex between men) were discriminatory and unconstitutional. In November Section 49 of the Criminal Procedure Act was amended to curtail police discretion to use force when arresting criminal suspects. The same month the Refugees Act was passed to bring national law and practice into line with international law. However, the Act's provisions for detention of asylum-seekers fall short of international standards.

Statutory and non-governmental human rights monitoring organizations continued to receive and investigate numerous reports of torture, ill-treatment and suspected unlawful killings by members of the security forces. In March the Minister of Safety and Security stated that more than 5,300 complaints of assault during 1997 had been lodged against the police. The statutory Independent Complaints Directorate (ICD) received 607 reports of deaths in police custody in the first 10 months of 1998, the majority in Gauteng and KwaZulu Natal provinces. It also received 13 complaints of torture in police custody and 103 complaints against the police of assault or attempted murder, the majority in Gauteng province. The ICD was still investigating these cases at the end of the year.

In June journalist Thabo Mabaso was beaten so severely at Gugulethu police station where he had gone to report a traffic accident that he required hospital treatment for his injuries, including loss of sight in his left eye. In July, nine police officers were suspended from duty after obstructing the ICD's investigations into the incident and were subsequently brought to trial for the assault.

In September Zweli Kenneth Ndlozi died in police custody, two days after allegedly being assaulted at his home in Soweto by military police looking for weapons. His family searched but failed to find him at local police stations. On 7 September police informed them that Zweli Kenneth Ndlozi had been found hanging in his cell at Germiston police station. A post-mortem examination had already been conducted by a doctor who apparently concluded that the cause of death was hanging. However, another post-mortem by an independent forensic pathologist revealed that there were extensive abrasions on Zweli Kenneth Ndlozi's legs, arms, shoulders, back, chest and head, as well as lesions probably caused by cigarette burns. No inquest had been held by the end of the year.

There were reports of torture by SANDF members deployed in KwaZulu Natal and Lesotho. An independent post-mortem examination revealed that Bongenseni Zondi, an IFP supporter, suffered multiple fractures and other injuries to his head and body prior to his death in May in New Hanover, KwaZulu Natal, while in the custody of the SANDF.

On 20 October Monaheng Kala, a self-employed builder and opposition party supporter in Lesotho, was arrested at his home in Maseru by members of the SANDF and Lesotho police. He was allegedly taken by the SANDF across the border into South Africa to a military camp near Ladybrand, where he was tortured with electric shocks, partially suffocated with rubber tubing, and beaten while being interrogated. Four days later he was taken back to Maseru and released without charge. He required extensive medical treatment for bone fractures and other injuries. No effective investigation was instituted by the end of the year.

In September the Empangeni magistrate's court convicted six members of the Umfolozi Public Order Policing Unit in KwaZulu Natal of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm and of common assault in connection with the arrest and torture in 1996 of environmental activist Kevin Kunene and four other community activists (see Amnesty International Report 1998). The court sentenced them to two years' imprisonment, and a further two years suspended for five years. Two defendants were acquitted for lack of evidence. The convicted officers were released on bail pending appeal.

There were reports of ill-treatment of prisoners awaiting trial or serving sentences. In August the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) expressed concern at serious overcrowding and the resulting breakdown of standards within the prison system. The SAHRC found that a number of prisons failed to provide hot water, electricity, ventilation, beds or bedding, proper sanitation or lighting. From its inspections, the SAHRC concluded that "prisoners were assaulted indiscriminately, in many prisons on a daily basis, and… no action was taken against offending [staff] members".

The Minister of Correctional Services suspended from duty the head of Ingwavuma prison in KwaZulu Natal pending an inquiry into the death in May of a prisoner, Mduduzi Tembe, who was allegedly assaulted by the prison head and denied medical care.

The ICD and non-governmental organizations expressed concern about the high number of criminal suspects killed by police. In November the ICD stated that it was investigating the cases of 187 suspects allegedly shot dead by police during arrest in the first nine months of the year. For example, Josias "Fingers" Rabotapi was shot dead by police, allegedly in self-defence when the suspect drew a gun on them as they searched his house. Post-mortem and ballistics findings indicated that he was assaulted before being shot in the back and that he had not fired his gun.

On 7 October Sheikh Abdurahmaan Gasieldien, a prominent religious leader involved in the peace movement, was shot in the head and critically injured at his home in Cape Town by unidentified gunmen. None of those responsible for hundreds of violent incidents in the greater Cape Town area was successfully prosecuted. In March the statutory Office of the Public Protector reported that senior Cape Town police were effectively shielding notorious gang members from investigations into serious crimes.

Politically motivated killings and other violence continued in KwaZulu Natal. In Richmond area, for example, a new wave of politically motivated killings occurred after the acquittal on murder charges and release in May of United Democratic Movement leader Sifiso Nkabinde. Forty people were killed in July alone. On 3 July, eight people were shot dead in a tavern, including the ANC-aligned Deputy Mayor Percy Thompson, who was killed as he lay injured on the floor. On 28 July, nine members of the Shezi family, including four children, were shot dead while sleeping in their home in the ANC-supporting area of Esimozomeni, Richmond. The killings forced hundreds of families to flee their homes. The national government ordered increased deployments of soldiers and police to the area. Members of the Richmond police station, including officers accused of complicity in the killings, were transferred out of the area. However, despite new investigations ordered by national and provincial police authorities, the perpetrators were still at large in November when the Investigating Directorate began its work (see above).

In March the Moerane Commission of Inquiry, set up by the national Minister of Safety and Security, began hearing evidence on alleged police complicity in the December 1995 Shobashobane massacre (see Amnesty International Report 1996). One officer admitted that he knew who had masterminded the attack, but was too afraid to name them. Other police witnesses established that senior regional and local police authorities had prior notice of the impending attack, but said that on the day all police and military resources based in the area had been withdrawn. The hearings were expected to continue until February 1999.

In July a police officer and another person were acquitted by Mtubatuba magistrate's court of murder and attempted murder in connection with the 1997 death of Fikhani Reginald Manana, from Mkhuze, KwaZulu Natal. He had been dragged behind a vehicle together with another man, Mr Msibi, who survived the incident. Mr Msibi later died as a consequence of ill-treatment in prison while held on apparently false charges brought against him by the police officer investigating Fikhani Manana's death. Following complaints about the acquittals, the NDPP instituted inquiries into the conduct of the investigation and prosecution.

In January an inquest court found three police officers criminally liable for the death in 1995 of African Municipal Workers' Union official Josias Mogolla during a strike in Pietersburg, Northern Province. The court criticized the police for using live ammunition without warning or justification. The court records were transferred to the Attorney-General for a decision on prosecution. However, the Attorney-General declined to prosecute anyone.

In June a former agent of the covert Civil Cooperation Bureau, Ferdie Barnard, was convicted and sentenced to life terms of imprisonment for two murders, including the 1989 murder of human rights activist and academic David Webster.

Independent investigators were threatened with death and legally harassed. Civil rights lawyer Jenny Wild, who had researched police and military involvement in organized crime, was subjected to death threats, illegal searches of her office and home, attacks on her property and a suspected arson attack on her home in August. In November, after a protracted five-year legal battle, the KwaZulu Natal Attorney-General withdrew criminal charges which had been pending against Jenny Wild since 1993. The ICD confirmed allegations of police fabrication of evidence and interference with witnesses in criminal cases brought against the poet Mzwakhe Mbuli, who remained in custody at Pretoria Local Prison after three failed bail applications. His trial on one remaining criminal charge was due to resume early in 1999. Prior to his arrest in October 1997 he was investigating allegations of police and official involvement in organized crime and an attempt had been made on his life.

Amnesty International representatives visited South Africa twice to research human rights concerns. In July Amnesty International co-organized a workshop on forensic medicine and the investigation of human rights violations. The same month an Amnesty representative attended a session of the Moerane Commission of Inquiry. In October Amnesty International representatives met officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and officers from the SANDF in Pretoria and Maseru in connection with investigations into allegations of human rights abuses by SANDF members deployed in Lesotho.

Amnesty International appealed to the authorities for prompt and effective investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment in custody and for preventive measures to be taken for communities or individuals at risk of extrajudicial execution or other deliberate and arbitrary killings. It also sought assurances that no arms transfers were being made to parties to the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and that respect for human rights should be central to any negotiated solution to the conflicts in the DRC and Lesotho.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.