top of page

A helping hand

On August 2nd 1986 the Detainees Parents Support Committee – the DPSC – had a tea party in the Central Methodist Church in Johannesburg. When we got to the church, we saw lots of cakes – red cakes, swissrolls, pancakes, the works. But all the people at the party looked sad and worried.

A woman got up. She said, “I want to welcome everybody. We know that these are hard times – especially for those of us whose loved ones are in detention. But we hope that by coming together today, we can help people to feel strong.” Then a lawyer spoke about the rights of parents and detainees. A priest prayed for an end to Apartheid and suffering. And a woman told us how she asked the courts to free her husband – and won.

It was getting late. People started to leave to get buses and trains to far away places. But we were in no hurry. And we wanted to know more about the DPSC. So we spoke to David Webster. David has worked with the DPSC for a long time.


“We started five years ago. I was staying in Crown Mines at the time. I remember the date very well. It was September 21, 1981. Eight people from Crown Mines were detained early in the morning.

“Everyone felt very angry. But we did not know what to do. So that night we had a meeting at the hall. People wanted to help, some people went to see the parents of the detainees. The parents started a “care group”. The “care group” made sure all detainees got clean clothes, food parcels, books to read and so on.


“Detention was something new for all of us. So we started to learn about the detention laws. We asked lawyers and other people to give talks on these laws.

“We also felt that the newspapers were not telling people enough about detention. So we started to write let­ters to the papers. We wrote about the people who were in detention. We spoke to the” Star” newspaper. Now we write a story for them every three weeks.


“But we also tried other ways to let people know about detention. We used to stand with posters outside John Vorster Square and the courts. Wives stood with posters, asking for the release of their husbands. Chil­dren asked for the release of their parents. “Our posters worked well.

Many people read our posters and asked us questions. But the govern­ ment saw this. So they stopped our poster protests.


“When Neil Agget died in detention, our work changed. We wanted to know why people die in detention. So we started to collect stories of how people suffered or were hurt in detention. We were very shocked by the stories people told us.

“We asked for a meeting with Mr Le Grange – the Minister of Police and Mr Coetzee the Minister of Justice .

Our committee told them that some detainees are beaten. We told them that some detainees do not get enough sleep. Some detainees must stand for hours and hours. And many detainees are given electric shocks.

“But Le Grange said all this was not true. Instead of listening to us, they sent a Colonel Grobbler to follow us for the next six months. “We knew our visit will not stop torture. But now the police know that we are watching them.


“Today the DPSC has 26 branches. We also run an advice office in Khotso House, in de Villiers Street, Johannes­burg. People come to our offices from all over the Transvaal. We are very busy – especially during the emer­gencies.

“Most people do not know what to do when someone is detained. We help people to get a lawyer. When people with children are detained, their chil­dren can suffer. So we have social workers who help families of de­tainees. If detainees’ families need money, we send them to the Depen­dents Conference of the South African Council of Churches.

“When detainees come out of jail, we get doctors for them. Many detainees tell us that they were tortured. They tell us they cannot sleep – they have nightmares. Some cannot think or study like before. The doctors try to help these people. “But,” said David, “if you really want to know about the DPSC, you must come to our office and speak to the people who come for help.”


So we went to the DPSC office on the Monday. The office was full of people. And like the people at the tea party, everyone looked worried.

We spoke to Ruben Nkosi. Ruben’s son is in detention. “The police came to my house at 2 o’clock in the morning and took my son away. I don’t know what my son was doing. All I know is that he is a clever boy. He was doing Standard Ten at Madawane High School.

“Now I am very worried about him. So is my wife. She is sick with worry. She cannot sleep at night. She just lies awake, crying.”


Victoria Boya’s son is also in deten­tion. She said that the police came to her house looking for someone she did not know. But when they saw her son’s name on her house permit, they asked to see him. Victoria’s son, Laur­ence, is a law student at Wits University.

“When Laurence opened his door, the police saw the Freedom Charter hang­ing on the wall,” said Victoria. “They took all Laurence’s books. Then they asked, ‘Waar is die AK?’ I think they were looking for guns.

“They told Laurence to get dressed and they took him away. I have not seen Laurence since that day. I don’t know where he is. The police said they were taking him to Protea Police Sta­tion. But people tell me that he is at ‘Sun City’ in Diepkloof.”


Both Victoria and Ruben came to the DPSC because they did not know what to do. Ruben said, “The DPSC is my only hope. I do not know about de­tentions and such things: But the DPSC say that they will help me find my son. They will try to get him out of jail. If they help me, then maybe my wife will be able to sleep again.”


If you would like to print or save this article as a PDF, press ctrl + p on your keyboard (cmd + p on mac).

bottom of page