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Detentions without Trial during the Apartheid Era

Tragically, a great many detainees would be killed in detention while under intense interrogation and torture. It was not uncommon for the authorities to inform the press that so-and-so had slipped on a bar of soap, suffered concussion and died, while others had purportedly committed suicide. Hundreds came to such tragic ends; Kathrada wrote about one of them, Suliman ‘Babla’ Saloojee, who was his close friend:
Suliman Saloojee, my dearest friend Babla, was dead, killed by the police. This most gentle of men, this inveterate prankster, my comrade and source of strength, had been picked up under the ninety-day detention law, brutally interrogated and tortured to death - by the sadistic Rooi Rus Swanepoel - then flung from a window on the seventh floor of Gray’s Building, Johannesburg headquarters of the security police, on Wednesday 9 September 1964…

Not surprisingly, the so-called inquest accepted the police version that Babla had committed suicide by jumping to his death. I have never doubted, however, that he died under interrogation, and that his body was then thrown out of the window… The magistrate found that ‘nothing in the evidence suggested that Saloojee had been assaulted or that methods of interrogating him were in any way irregular. He found that no one was to blame for his death.
Ahmed Kathrada, Memoirs (p. 207)
In his notes in Memoirs, Ahmed Kathrada notes: “In later years, inquest after inquest - in the cases of Imam Haron, Ahmed Timol, Neil Aggett, to name but a few - returned verdicts of suicide. I cannot recall a single case among the scores of deaths under 90-day detention in which an inquest magistrate held the security police responsible” (page 384).

There were others who were more fortunate and were eventually released. Many threw themselves back into the struggle while others went into exile, either on orders or self-imposed. In exile, the vast majority continued to be active in working for the struggle.

Robert Vassen wrote this essay specifically for South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid, Building Democracy. Vassen was active in the struggle inside South Africa until be went into exile in London in 1963. He continued anti-apartheid work from exile.

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