When perpetrator becomes victim: reports on torture in South Africa (a WJP publication)

cover of torture comp_edited

The Wits Justice Project has recently released our latest booklet, ‘When perpetrator becomes victim: reports on torture in South Africa.’ The compilation features award-winning investigative journalism by our senior journalists Carolyn Raphaely and Ruth Hopkins and is a much needed expose on instances of torture being committed in present day South Africa.

Read the full compilation here

The compilation also features a foreword by Dr. Zonke Majodina, Member of the United Nations Committee on Human Rights and Wits Justice Project Board Member

An extract from Dr Majodina’s foreword:

…At domestic level, South Africa boasts of a Constitution that is considered among the most progressive in the world.  The Constitution in Section 12,1(b)states that “Everyone has the right to freedom and security of the person, which includes the right not to be tortured in any way’. Having ratified UN CAT in 1998, it has taken 15 years for South Africa to pass the Combating and Prevention of Torture of Person’s Act which criminalises torture. This begs the question, what level of priority is being given to the serious issue of torture violations in our prisons and police cells?

That said, the reality is that South Africa has a dramatic, violent and well documented history of torture which regrettably is now being carried over to the post-apartheid, democratic era.  Despite  the Constitution, international obligations and domestic legislation, the narratives  documented in this collection are testimony to the fact that there is a huge discrepancy between what the law provides for and the day to day experiences of ordinary people.  In none of the cases of ill treatment and torture in prisons have independent investigations been carried out. Even when a prisoner has lodged a complaint of torture or ill treatment by officials, very little or no action is taken. This goes against provisions of international law which stipulates that it is not sufficient to prohibit torture or to make it a crime. States must ensure an effective protection through some machinery of control. Following independent investigation of allegations of torture by competent authorities, those found guilty must be held responsible and victims must have effective remedies at their disposal including the right to obtain compensation.

No doubt,  the  deep rooted culture of impunity that characterizes  our Criminal Justice System  goes a long way back in our country’s history, and is kept alive through lack of due process, typically informed by policies such as  ‘Shoot to kill’ endorsed by top officials. Evidence from the narratives quite clearly shows the limited powers accorded to bodies such as the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services, leaving an already compromised system open to widespread abuse and sending clear signals that official torture will be tolerated.

It is of course not realistic to expect dramatic change to a pervasive culture of impunity that has sunk deep into the psyche of our law enforcement officers.  All the same, no one would have expected that 20 years into democracy, South Africans would still witness atrocities of the kind we associated with apartheid era inhumanity. The narratives are not just an academic account of a failing system. They are stories of a human tragedy that plays out every day where those entrusted with responsibility to maintain law and order turn out to be the very violators of the law.

South Africa needs to be more professional in addressing the crime of torture. This can only come about through a complete overhaul of the existing culture in our law enforcement institutions and their modus operandi. To achieve that we do not need to reinvent the wheel. Enough guidance is easily available from sources such as the Istanbul Protocol Manual on Effective Investigation and Documentation of Incidents of Torture. The question though is whether there is sufficient political will from top leadership of these institutions to acknowledge the need.

This introduction would be incomplete if I do not commend the authors of the stories, committed journalists who are concerned with fighting for victims of an unjust system of law enforcement. I therefore strongly recommend this collection of narratives to everyone, in particular to those with open minds in pursuit of a society where the rule of law prevails.



About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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