Symposium on the Prevention of Torture

The Wits Justice Project will hold a two-day (Thursday 28 and Friday 29 August) symposium on the prevention of torture, at the Wits University Chalsty Centre. With confirmed attendance by:

  • the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Honourable Michael Masutha,
  • Chairman of the UN Committee on the Prevention of Torture, Professor Malcolm Evans
  • Member of the UN Committee for Human Rights, Dr Zonke Majodina
  • Commissioners of the SA Human Rights Commission, Commissioner Danny Titus and Commissioner Mohammed Ameermia
  • Members of civil society, academics, legal experts, human rights activists and survivors and witnesses of torture.

Torture Symposium










On 30th July 2013 the Prevention and Combating of Torture of Persons Bill was signed into law by the President of South Africa, making torture a criminal act. It has taken more than ten years from the time of South Africa’s ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) for its provisions to be domesticated, and the country must now address the development of a National Preventative Mechanism, and consider the ratification of the Optional Protocol. The two-day symposium aims to facilitate high-level discussions and reflections on :

  1. The first year of the “torture bill”: different perspectives from the authorities, civil society and expert. To include topics on:
    • achievements of the first year
    • the dissemination and training that is needed, for all actors and officials in the criminal justice system
    • awareness raising for the public
    • needed policy environment
  2. The necessary next steps needed for the ratification of the optional protocol of the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) and implementation of a national preventative mechanism.

To view the the event’s programme, click here.

Justice for Breakfast Roundtable Discussions

photo 4IMG-20140724-WA002photo 8Johannesburg-20140724-00189








On 24 July 2014, the Wits Justice Project, together with Wits School of Governance, hosted the Justice for Breakfast roundtable discussion. These discussions have been running since late 2012. They aim to foster open, face-to-face interactions in an uncontrolled environment, in an effort to understand some of the administrative issues in the criminal justice system as well as finding possible solutions to those issues.

The focus of the breakfast discussion was to look and reflect at the current state of the criminal justice system and challenges moving forward. The breakfast discussions focused on issues arising from the two-day Criminal Justice Lecture series preceding it. Leading the discussion, Sean Tait from the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum, started off by highlighting some of the reflections that emerged from the two-day lecture, which included, but were not limited to:

  • The cost of the criminal justice system:  R100b/year budget. Is this budget sustainable over a long period of time? Where can cost cuts be made? And where can we invest?
  • Urban environment and Safety: through the Integrated Urban Development Framework, how can we integrate and work together as stakeholders, civil community, and government (local, regional, and national)?
  • Policing: Data shows that out of 1.7 million South Africans arrested, only 300 000 cases were successfully prosecuted by the NPA.  There is still the culture of impunity in the police force. Moving forward, how will trust between the SAPS and the community be built? What criteria are used to recruit new police officers? What is the role of community police forums? What is the importance of the National Development Plan? Mr Tait expressed that these are some of the questions to which the New Police Act needs to pay close attention.


Discussion Points

How has poverty influenced developmental agenda and policy-making? It is no accident that the majority of citizens behind bars are poor, young, black males

What has been done to transform the ever-increasing police culture of torture and corruption?

Have there been any studies done looking at budget expenditure to address health-related issues in correctional facilities? What can we do to ensure that offenders come out rehabilitated and not worse than when they entered prison?

What is being done about the 30% of the prison population in remand, with no rehabilitation means at their disposal?

How do we balance the human rights of the offender and those of the victim?

In closing, the roundtable concluded that, moving forward, a closer look at the systematic approach of the rule of law, culture of impunity, and restoring trust between the police and the community is needed.

An official outcome document from the Justice for Breakfast Roundtable will soon be made available.


Reflections on the Justice for Breakfast series by Anton Harber[1]


Journalists, lawyers and social justice campaigners often work in atmospheres of adversarialism. Journalists see themselves as watchdogs, trained to be sceptical of those with power, to question those in authority and to be vigilant in exposing untruths. Lawyers, of course, work in a court system based on the contestation of versions, facts and viewpoints. Campaigners usually work through journalists and lawyers to bring disruption and dispute. On the other side, those in government often feel themselves under siege, faced by this barrage of adversarialism, their hands often tied behind their backs because of the nature of their positions in large bureaucracies.

So what happens when you bring these groupings together over coffee and croissants? What occurs when you gather in a safe space and say we are all interested in improving the justice system, though we do it in different ways and from different angles and from behind different barricades? For one thing, you discover quite quickly that the adversarial system can produce a lot of noise, but not always successful communication. You learn all sorts of important things, such as why there is such a problem of missing court transcripts and what is being done to fix it; or that there are important experiments in using paralegals in all corners of the country; or why there are still people in prison because they could not pay bail of just a few hundred rand. You are forced out of your silo, out of your comfort zone. You are forced to see different perspectives of the same problem. You may even see a bigger picture, the bird’s-eye view of a problem you were only seeing from your own bunker. All the better if you do this over a good bacon and eggs.

The Justice for Breakfast events were notable for bringing together a diversity of different institutions and individuals from all parts of the criminal justice system, both inside and outside of government. We could exchange perspectives, make linkages, build alliances, share information … the full range of value which falls under that loose and over-used term, networking. Such an event opens possibilities for partnerships, collaboration and sharing, reminding each one of us that we cannot take on the challenge of a complex justice system without each other, that just because we are sometimes adversaries in a tug-of-war does not lessen the fact that we need each other at the other end of the rope, that if one side lets go, the other will fall down.

There was a deliberate plan to record the discussion and outline outcomes, particularly those that pointed to concrete steps forward. The system is still contested and the solutions still fought over, so after breakfast everyone goes back to their desks, or barricades, or keyboards, to take up their previous positions. Hopefully, though, they do so with a little more knowledge and awareness which may inform their activities, some connections and linkages which can be put to use over time, and the nourishment  – both physical and mental – of a good breakfast.

[1] from the Afterward in the Anthology of the Justice for Breakfast Roundtable Debates 2012 and 2013

Concourt prison TB ruling flouted: Prisoners should sue other prisoners, says Correctional Services

Dudley Lee, who successfully sued the Minister of Correctional Services because he became ill with tuberculosis (TB) while awaiting trial in Pollsmoor prison (GroundUp)

Dudley Lee successfully sued the Minister of Correctional Services because he became ill with tuberculosis (TB) while awaiting trial in Pollsmoor prison (Picture: Nathan Geffen)

“The Department of Justice and Correctional Services (DJCS) is flouting a landmark ruling on the government’s responsibility for curbing the spread of tuberculosis in prisons. The Constitutional Court ruled on December 6, 2012 that the state had failed to protect inmate Dudley Lee from contracting TB in Pollsmoor Prison. But now three inmates who contracted the potentially deadly disease under similar circumstances to Lee in prisons in the Western Cape are being told the department is not liable.”

Overcrowding in South African correctional institutions remains a major concern as it creates an optimum environment for communicable diseases to thrive. According to the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services Annual Report for 2011/2012, the average level of over-crowding in South Africa’s correctional centres was 133%. Furthermore, 110 of the 800 natural deaths in prison were caused by TB. Wits Justice Project senior journalist, Ruth Hopkins’, latest piece in Saturday Star documents lack of accountability from the DJCS for three former inmates who contracted TB under similar circumstances as Mr Lee.

Related readings:

Full prisons not just due to effective NPA

Thousands of prisoners may have undiagnosed TB

What should the state do now that it has lost the Dudley Lee case?


No escape for Abused Mangaung Prisoners

Leaked video footage shows Bheki Dlamini, allegedly being forcibly injected with drugs by the 'Ninjas'

Leaked video footage shows Bheki Dlamini, allegedly being forcibly injected with drugs by the ‘Ninjas’









“Sello Mbatyazwa has been kept in isolation for the past eight months at the Kokstad prison in KwaZulu-Natal. He is only allowed out of his cell for one weekly phone call. He used this call to tell me earlier this month about the dire state of affairs he is in…”

In her recent article in the Mail&Guardian, our senior journalist, Ruth Hopkins, writes about the living conditions of Sello Mbatyazwa at Kokstad prison in KwaZulu-Natal. Mbatyazwa and 21 inmates were transferred from Mangaung prison to a “super-maximum security” prison in Kokstad, just two weeks following an exposé in the Mail&Guardian about conditions at the G4S prison. To continue reading, click here. You can also read the PDF version of the article.

New York City’s Rikers: Where Mental Illness Meets Brutality in Jail

Rikers now has about as many people with mental illnesses — roughly 4,000 of the 11,000 inmates — as all 24 psychiatric hospitals in New York State combined.

Rikers now has about as many people with mental illnesses — roughly 4,000 of the 11,000 inmates — as all 24 psychiatric hospitals in New York State combined.


“At Rikers, inmates with mental health problems are especially vulnerable, often the weakest in a kind of war of all against all, preyed upon by correction officers and other inmates. The prolonged isolation, extremes of hot and cold temperatures, interminable stretches of monotony punctuated by flashes of explosive violence can throw even the most mentally sound off balance and quickly overcome those whose mental grip is already tenuous…”


The New York Times obtained documents that included a secret internal study (covering 1 Jan. 2013 – 30 Nov. 2013) that was completed by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. After obtaining specific information on 129 cases, The Times used the information to take an in-depth look at 24 of the most serious incidents. Among the findings was a critical portrait of guards on Rikers, who are poorly equipped to deal with mental illness. To read more about the horrific findings from the study, click here

Poor are entitled to a fair trial – Our latest Op-Ed in the Star

Clarence Gideon

Clarence Gideon

On a warm summer’s morning in June 1961, a penniless odd-jobber by the name of Gideon Clarence was discovered in a seedy bar in Panama City, a town in the state of Florida, the US.

When the police tracked him down, he was described as drinking on the morning shift, his trousers “hanging low, weighted by exactly $25.28 in coins”. Clarence, with a history of theft, drifting and destitution, was arrested under suspicion of breaking and entering a pool hall the evening before, supposedly walking off with a few bottles of liquor and the change from the juke-box machine. The evidence? A few convenient witnesses, his history of criminal activity – and, of course, the change sagging in his trouser pocket, which he claimed was the lucky outcome of a poker game.

For more on how Clarence changed US law and how that impacts South African’s today, read our latest op-ed in the Star – written by Robyn Leslie, senior researcher – here.

New podcast – we look at The Children’s Court and where it can help

For the podcast this week we go back to The Wits Justice Show on Thetha FM.

Presenter Sibusiso Sibisi looks at the Children’s Court and if it can help kids who have been abused and parents struggling for custody.

The Wits Justice Show is a weekly radio show on Alex FM (89.1) and Thetha FM (100.6) broadcast in English, Zulu and Sotho. It deals with miscarriages of justice and gives advice on how people can navigate through the justice system in general.


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