WATCH: Inquest told of torture and trauma



Published Nov 17, 2022


Cape Town - Three ex-political prisoners, as witnesses in the reopened inquest into late Imam Abdullah Haron’s death, detailed the trauma and psychological suffering they were left with after being held in solitary confinement.

On Wednesday, at the continuation of the inquest hearing at the Western Cape High Court, Yousuf Gabru, Stephanie Kemp and Shirley Gunn described their experiences – each having been detained and having suffered abuse while being interrogated for their political activities during apartheid.

Gabru, a former teacher, told how he was arrested on November 10, 1976 when his home was raided by police, including Johannes “Spyker” van Wyk of the Security Branch (SB).

Gabru told of his 43 days in detention where he was interrogated by the infamous Van Wyk “and another thug”.

Gabru, who said he had not undergone interrogation training, was held at Caledon police station. When taken in for interrogation, Gabru said “when they asked for my name, I refused” but soon after being “smacked and pummelled with knuckles” gave up his name and address within the first week of being held in detention.

Some of the torture tactics he was subjected to include being made to sit on his knees for about two hours and told to stand up again, “it was excruciatingly painful”, said Gabru.

In another instance when he was taken for interrogation and was “pushed over a staircase bannister”, Van Wyk threatened to have Gabru thrown over, pointing to a place on the staircase and saying “something to the effect that ‘this is where we killed Imam Haron’,” Gabru recalled.

Of his solitary confinement, Gabru said: “It was an extremely difficult experience, very traumatic. It was a huge shock to my system.

But also, being in the cell alone was somewhat of a relief because there I was left alone, not being beaten up.”

A frail Kemp, at 81 years old, and aided by a walking stick, also gave her testimony at the hearing, having travelled there from Joburg.

Kemp was a volunteer for the SACP and African Resistance Movement (ARM) and told how she was beaten unconscious after being arrested on July 11, 1964 – charged with sabotage and facing life imprisonment.

Kemp told the court how she was interrogated up to five times a day and was kept in solitary confinement for three months.

“I felt very insecure about what the future held because you never really knew what was happening or what was going to happen.

“Mentally, it was very stressful and caused a lot of anxiety. Even on (Tuesday night) I had a serious episode of anxiety in the lead-up to telling the court about it.

“I was interrogated in a small store room, not a normal office. The store room was out of the way. “They didn’t want me to be heard in case I screamed.

Van Wyk closed the store room door and asked me a set of questions.

“He hit me across the face and pulled my hair, before pulling me down to the wooden floor. He then repeatedly hit my head against the wooden floor until I lost consciousness. It was terrible. I never felt such a terror before.

“In many ways, as a white woman I felt responsible for what the majority of the country’s people had to go through and for that I just want to say I’m really sorry for what people had to go through,” said Kemp.

Gunn told how she had headed the uMkhonto we Sizwe’s Ashley Kriel Detachment with then-husband Aneez Salie and how her time in solitary confinement had brought on psychological torture – having birthed her son, Haroon Gunn-Salie, in the underground.

In emotive testimony, Gunn told the court how she and baby Haroon were taken daily to Wynberg SAPS where she had to undergo hours of interrogation by the SB.

“It was very strenuous and traumatic for me because of the information I held and because I was responsible for a little child... I must add that Spyker was infamous. He was ruthless in his interrogation and feared by detainees.

“After 64 days, Haroon and I were released without any charges being brought against me.

“However, my personal suffering continued in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder and deep depression from time to time,” Gunn said.

Cape Times