White Man's Justice: South African Political Trials in the Black Consciousness Era

By Michael Lobban | Go to book overview

7
Terrorism and Torture

In the mid- 1970s, both before and after the Soweto uprising, the government became aware of more sophisticated efforts to revive the ANC and PAC in South Africa and to step up the military struggle. The stakes were being raised. For the state, it was no longer a question of merely policing intellectual dissidents or ambitious but isolated youths: now, the state needed to penetrate, expose, and crush nascent ANC and PAC structures being established within the country, which might be used to facilitate armed attacks against the state. With the increased danger to the state, police methods in investigating the threat and constructing cases became ever more sinister, and in the year and a half of unrest after Soweto, twenty-seven people died in detention.1 In this situation, the question of police violence--the dark side of the political trial--soon intruded into the world of the courts. Judges were increasingly faced with a dilemma on how to react to such evidence. We will address this question in this chapter by looking particularly at one important trial, that of Harry Gwala and nine others. We will see that in this case--one where the evidence against the accused was strong--the court sought to maintain the conceit of legality, but at the same time chose to ignore evidence of police brutality, which tarnished the court process.

The attitude of courts towards police brutality gives a revealing insight into how the state defined potential or actual violence. Gwala and his comrades were prosecuted for recruiting to the ANC--a 'terrorist' organization which had resorted to violence against the state: but neither they nor any of the youths who passed through their hands were shown to have engaged in any act of violence against the state. By contrast, the security police resorted to torture and killing in investigating an alleged recruitment ring, and engaged in co-ordinated violence against suspects.2 Faced with clear allegations of police abuse, the court had three choices. First, it could censure errant policemen who had acted beyond the bounds of the law, and discredit their methods. That is, it could show that evidence obtained by torture and violence was valueless and ensure that

____________________
1
Don Foster, Dennis Davis, and Diane Sandler, Detention and Torture in South Africa ( Claremont, 1987), app. A.
2
On the issue of political violence, see the articles in N. Chabani Manganyi and André du Toit (eds.), Political Violence and the Struggle in South Africa ( New York, 1990), especially du Toit's "Discourses on Political Violence", at 87-130.

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