The criminal state of police living quarters

Herdeshof is home to 184 police officers and their families

Herdeshof is home to 184 police officers and their families

To salvage and upgrade the police flats in Sophiatown, the SAPS would need to make good on a promise from 2012 that they would make repairing police barracks and police compounds a priority.

In doing so, police would have to admit responsibility: instead of simply laying the matter at the door of the department of public works, the SAPS would have to apply pressure on the department to perform its so-called “handyman of the state” duties. And the department would have to stop throwing the matter back to the police.

But the back and forth of this blame game has frozen any possibility of development while the police officers and their families continue to live in a sub-standard building that, if neglected any further, could become a serious health and safety risk…

Read Kyla Herrmannsen’s article as it appeared on Mail & Guardian, here. Also read the PDF version here. The piece looks at the debilitated state of buildings (aka police flats or cop flats) that house SAPS employees in Sophiatown.

Unlawful and Disorderly in Jozi’s Wild West


“For the first time in a decade and a half running businesses in west Johannesburg, Raymond is scared – not of the dealers, but of the cops.

“Raymond reckons 10 bribes are dished out to various cop cars from three or four of the surrounding police stations every day. That’s 300 separate bribes a month. The dealers don’t ever want to refuse a cop, so the rates are kept small and cops can pull in and get a nibble whenever the impulse takes them. The dealers have realised that if they refuse a cop, he becomes an enemy…”

For more on the relationship between drug dealers, cops, addicts, and business owners in Sophiatown, read our latest piece published in City Press – written by our radio journalist, Paul McNally – Part 1 and Part 2. Additionally, visit Sophiatown: A Critical Mess? for an in depth exploration of SAPS’s role in the communities they serve.

Save the Date: Remembering Nat Nakasa

On September 26 2014, the Wits Justice Project and Wits Department of Journalism will celebrate the life and work of Nat Nakasa. The tribute will be held at the Troyeville hotel, beginning at 18:30.

The proceedings of the evening will focus on Nakasa’s writings and his work as a journalist, with the following tentative line-up:

  • An excerpt from Lauren Groenewald’s documentary, Nat Nakasa: Native of Nowhere
  • Recollections from people who worked with Nakasa – possibly Joe Thloloe
  • Readings from his work by students and lecturers

Save the date!

Who was Nat Nakasa?

Nat Nakasa was a South Africa journalist who died in exile at the age of 28 after a brief but dynamic career characterised by his journalistic courage and integrity. In 1964 Nakasa left South Africa for the US to take up a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University. In doing so, he relinquished his South African citizenship. After moving to New York the following year, he suffered increasing homesickness and isolation, which contributed to his suicide on July 14 1965 (Source: Sanef)



Oscar Pistorius Trial: an anomaly, not the norm

Image of Oscar Pistorius leaving the high court in Pretoria, on August 8 2014

Image of Oscar Pistorius leaving the high court in Pretoria, on August 8 2014

“He is definitely getting the VIP treatment without a doubt… We hear [about] terrible legal representation, the accused end up in jail based on flimsy or non-existent evidence that isn’t sufficiently challenged in court, days upon days of remands for no reason… [It] is definitely not the situation most people face,” said Leslie.

Wits Justice Project researcher, Robyn Leslie, was quoted in a recent article looking at disparities in the South African Criminal Justice System between those with financial resources and those without financial means. As judgement on the Oscar Pistorius trial looms closer, one thing was made clear by those interviewed in the article: justice favours the privileged. To read the article as it appeared on Voice of America, click here.


Related Readings:  

Disparities in prison system are apparent

Oscar Pistorius case highlights plight of South Africa’s disabled prisoners


Where does South Africa stand on ratifying OPCAT?

Advocate John Makhubele, Deputy Chief State Law Adviser and Head of the International Relations Unit in the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development

Advocate John Makhubele, Deputy Chief State Law Adviser and Head of the International Relations Unit in the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development









“…government has expressed its intention to ratify OPCAT on a number of occasions, but has also stressed that it necessary to have a plan for a National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) in place before doing so. The ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) has received the attention of the JCPS Cluster of DG’s and the target date for approval by Cabinet is November 2014.”

Speaking on behalf of Minister Masutha at WJP’s Symposium on Torture Prevention, keynote speaker Advocate John Makhubele stressed the need for an establishment of independent oversight mechanisms. He reiterated that South Africa will need to form a NPM after ratifying OPCAT, whose mandate will be to:

  • Regularly examine detainees
  • Make recommendations to the relevant authorities
  • Submit proposals on existing and proposed draft legislation

Adv Makhubele mentioned that NPMs do not have to be government bodies; they could include institutions such as human rights commissions, parliamentary commissions, NGOs, etc. Furthermore, designated NPMs will visit any place within the State Party’s jurisdiction and control where persons are or may be denied their freedom.

Looking at the current South African context, he noted that in the absence of a NPM, there are two existing bodies with an oversight mandate: the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS).

Adv Makhubele reiterated the government’s commitment to preventing and combating torture and said he hopes a recommendation to Cabinet will be made in November 2014 about ratifying OPCAT.

He also emphasized that the fight against torture is a combined effort which requires links from all levels of society. He called on civil society to play an integral part in the process of preventing torture, as this lends credibility and legitimacy to the process.

“The role of torture prevention is not the sole responsibility of one organ or body, but is a collective responsibility which when shared eases the obligation and ensures successful outcomes,” said Adv Makhubele.

The full text of Adv Makhubele’s speech will be included in our Symposium outcome document, to be published online soon.

Also Read:

“A long way before torture ends”



Why did the WJP host a conference on torture prevention?

Those is attendance included: members of civil society, academics, legal experts, human rights activists, and survivors of torture.

Those in attendance included: members of civil society, academics, legal experts, human rights activists, and survivors of torture.
















Below are the opening remarks from the Wits Justice Project co-ordinator, Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi, on the first day of the Symposium.


Distinguished guests, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen:

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to the Wits Justice Project symposium on torture prevention in South Africa.

Just over a year ago, on 30 July 2013, South Africa achieved a mile-stone in its human rights journey: the Prevention and Combating of Torture of Persons Bill – or Torture Bill for short – was signed into law by President. Torture was finally a criminal act.

It took a long time – 15 years – to pass this law, which is based on South Africa’s ratification of the United Nation’s Convention Against Torture in 1998. It is a landmark, and we should celebrate the fact that our protection of human rights, our Constitutionally-based rule of law has been strengthened even further. The campaign to domesticate the UNCAT involved many civil society organizations, NGOs, parliamentarians, and government officials: people who understood how vital the law is for the country.

And it is these same people that must now ensure that the provisions of the Torture Bill are implemented, that the training and dissemination needed is rolled out to our police stations, our courts and our correctional facilities.

And it is these people who must ensure that South Africa ratifies the Optional Protocol of the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). This will be an important next step for the country, as it helps establish independent oversight bodies, especially through national preventative mechanisms.

Hopefully, at this symposium, we will have useful discussion on both these issues – rolling out the Torture Bill and ratifying the OPCAT – and come to a consensus on how best to prevent torture and abuse of force in South Africa. We’ve gathered a range of experts here, as well as eye-witnesses and survivors, to discuss our South African context.

We’ll look at our history and the status quo. We’ll discuss the global human rights frameworks and our responsibilities to them. And we’ll discuss issues around prosecuting torture and about reporting on it, and about whether prison rape should be considered torture. Most importantly, though, we want to leave here with a clearer direction on what our collective efforts must be focused on to help prevent torture in South Africa.

The Wits Justice Project got involved in the campaign for the Torture Bill in mid-2011. We had started to cover the story of the mass beatings of 231 inmates at St Alban’s prison in Port Elizabeth in 2005, and were asked to participate in different advocacy forums as a result. Of course, when we first heard the details of what happened – mass beatings of inmates and use of electro-shock – we couldn’t believe that this was still happening in the new South Africa.

The Wits Justice Project continues to be South Africa’s leading investigative journalism team when it comes to matters of torture and abuse of force. We have provided in-depth and long-term coverage of the 2005 St Alban’s case, including the 2014 court proceedings in Port Elizabeth.

We have uncovered abuse and beatings and the forced injections of inmates (with anti-psychotic drugs) in the privately-run G4S prison in Mangaung. And we continue to be approached by ordinary people who have been tortured by police looking for confessions to crimes. In each instance and with every allegation, we go through a rigorous and time-consuming process: fact-checking, corroborating, looking for documentary proof of what has been alleged. Only when we feel confident in our investigation (which most times takes months to conclude), do we go to print.

But we are not working in a newsroom, where work on an issue or story ends with publication. Our goal, as an independent non-partisan organization, operating in both the academic and civil society space, is to improve the criminal justice system in South Africa. We do so through a combination of journalism, law, education and advocacy. We use the results of our investigative journalism to inform and uplift our efforts in changing public discourse and the policy environment. We use our credibility and access to bring together relevant – but oftentimes disparate and disengaged – stakeholders to search for solutions to systemic breakdowns along the criminal justice continuum.

It is for this reason that the Wits Justice Project felt it necessary to host a symposium on torture prevention in South Africa; a way to have lasting impact for those whose stories of torture we have covered and for the countless others whose stories remain untold.

One such person to whom I would like pay tribute today is an Englishwomen, Helen Bamber, who died this week at the age of 89. When I read her obituary in the Guardian UK, it reminded me how universal is the fight to prevent torture, and how it takes a long-term and life-time commitment from all of us to do so.

In 1945, at the age of 20, Helen was a volunteer at concentration camps, helping holocaust survivors – providing what we call these days “psycho-social support”. Throughout her life she continued to work with people who had suffered torture, trafficking and slavery. She promised those she helped that she would tell their stories, that they would not be forgotten. She believed that through restoring dignity to those who have suffered atrocity, we find dignity and humanity in ourselves.


Stay tuned for new blogs on the topics covered during the Symposium…

Human Rights Approach to Preventing Torture – Day 1

Day 1 of the WJP Symposium on the Prevention of Torture

“They covered our heads with plastic bags and strangled us with seatbelts.”- Torture survivor, speaking at the opening session of the Symposium

Professor Malcolm Evans, Chair of the UN Committee on the Prevention of Torture

Professor Malcolm Evans, Chair of the UN Committee on the Prevention of Torture

Day 1 (28 August 2014) of the Wits Justice Project symposium kicked off with official welcome from the Wits Council chairperson, Dr Randall Carolissen. He talked about proud tradition that Wits University has in upholding human rights and fighting injustice. He pointed to the work of the Wits Justice Project as being one of the flag-ship projects of the University, winning the Vice-Chancellor’s Academic Citizenship team award in 2013.

Representing the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services was Advocate John Makhubele – the head of the international relations unit of the Ministry. He reiterated the commitment of the South African government to preventing torture and to upholding its international obligations, including the ratification of the Optional Protocol of the UN Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) in the near future.

Keynote speaker, Prof Malcolm Evans, chair of the UN Committee on the Prevention of Torture, introduced the global human rights framework on the prevention of torture. He talked about the importance of OPCAT and shared examples of  its ratification and implementation in other countries. He advised that the time to start preparing for the consequences of the ratification of OPCAT, and the consequent creation of a national preventative mechanism (NPM) is as soon as possible. He said that the setting up of an NPM that suits the particular context in South Africa would take time and need consultation and reflection.

Prof Evans reminded the participants of the resource which had been drafted in South Africa -the Robben Island Guidelines –  which includes guidance on the prevention of torture and other forms of ill treatment through visiting mechanisms and oversight.

Throughout the week we will be adding new blogs on the topics covered during the Symposium. In the meanwhile, here are some of the important tweets (from our own account and from those of the participants) using the hashtag “PreventTorture“.




Torture symp_Anton tweet_28 Aug 2014



Torture symp_3 tweets_28 Aug 2014


Torture symp_5 tweets_28 Aug 2014
















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