International Day in Support of Victims / Survivors of Torture

29 Jun

On Saturday 26 June 2010, fifty-eight Khulumani members came together at Freedom Square in Kliptown, Soweto, to declare that they will never be silent, but will continue to speak out (khulumani) about torture and its devastating consequences on their lives. The members came from Mamelodi in Pretoria/Tshwane; Katlehong and Vosloorus in Ekurhuleni; Sharpeville and Sebokeng in Sedibeng; and from Soweto to remember the anniversary of the June 26, 1987 United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. (UNCAT).

The common thread running through the Khulumani members’ narratives was their experiences of torture. This is not surprising given that torture was condoned by all levels of the apartheid police and security apparatus in South Africa, not only to intimidate but to extract information from anti-apartheid activists.

For most survivors of torture, the major persistent consequence is a destruction of their capacity to establish and sustain meaningful and trusting interpersonal relationships. As torture survivor Peter Pitso Moletsane from Klerksdorp had explained in his testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC): torture was designed to render its victims ‘unfit for life’.

When survivors of torture come together to collectively speak out about the abomination of torture, they are making a stand for life, rather than for death. A declaration by victims of torture that they are committed to working together for a world free of torture, is a powerful reclamation of survivors’ agency.

Despite worldwide condemnation of torture and the existence of treaty provisions that forbid torture and that criminalise perpetrators of torture, torture still occurs in two thirds of the world’s nations, including those that promote themselves as ‘civilised nations’. In South Africa, there is evidence that torture is still practiced by our security forces today in situations of involuntary detention. For Khulumani, it remains a responsibility to continue to SPEAK OUT in the struggle to ‘wipe the scourge of torture from the face of the earth so that torture may finally be consigned to the darkest spaces of history’. (Kofi Annan, June 26, 1998)

The June 26 Khulumani Commemoration programme to remember our history; to honour those who lived this history; and to speak out to stop the use of torture in South Africa, demonstrates that what happens in small places out of the public gaze will increasingly be exposed and those who commit the crime of torture will be held accountable.

Torture is one of the crimes which the defendant companies in the South African apartheid litigation, Daimler, General Motors, Ford Motor Company, IBM and Rheinmetall, are accused of knowingly aiding and abetting – through their deliberate business dealings with the security forces of the apartheid regime.

The Khulumani Commemoration ended with the launch of the book, ‘All That Was Lost’ by Professor Cath Byrne. The book is dedicated to the memory of Khulumani founder member, the late Mr Duma Kumalo.

Duma Kumalo performing at a Khulumani Support Group event

Duma was sentenced to death based on a fellow Sharpeville resident’s false testimony which was extracted under torture. Although Duma was released from jail hours before he was due to be executed, justice has not been served. His name has still not been cleared, despite his testimony to the TRC and three applications to the Department of Justice for the expunging of his criminal record. Unfortunately Duma died unexpectedly on 3 February 2006 at the age of 48. Khulumani Support Group and Duma’s family believe that a posthumous order by the Minister of Justice or the President of South Africa to expunge his criminal record would be in order, and call on the Minister and the President to expedite this request.

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