Minister tells of his ordeals at hands of South African police
Atlanta — ''There is no such thing as loving God without loving your brother. I love the people of South Africa, and I love them all - white and black.'' Then the black South African minister, an outspoken opponent of his country's policy of racial separation, told a small gathering here recently: ''I'm very lucky and very fortunate to be alive today.
''Had it not been for efforts of people like you today, you'd be seeing me as a statistic of casualty.''
In the basement of one of Atlanta's oldest churches, in a black neighborhood just a few blocks from where Nobel Peace Prize-winner Martin Luther King Jr. once lived and worked, the Rev. T. Simon Farisani talked about his torture by police in his country.
Mr. Farisani, a black leader who preaches against the government's separatist policies, says he has been detained three times since 1977. In no case, he says, was he convicted or brought to trial.
The most recent incident occurred Jan. 4 and 5, 1982, in Venda, one of the ''homelands'' set aside by government to create separate living space for blacks. By Farisani's account, Venda police beat him with chairs and sticks, and kicked him repeatedly. Later, he says, he was forced to stand, naked and handcuffed, in shallow water while electric shocks were applied to his body.
While still in prison, he began receiving letters from members of Amnesty International (AI), a private organization that has launched a worldwide campaign against the use of torture. Farisani says the letters gave him courage to try to live. He was released in June 1982.
Of the two dozen people here, most were members of AI, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 for its fight against torture and imprisonment of people because of their beliefs, color, sex, ethnic origin, language, or religion. AI members had sent hundreds of telegrams and letters to South African officials asking for Farisani's release.
According to AI, Farisani, and Robert Edgar, a professor of African studies at Howard Univeristy, torture is commonly used in South Africa against political detainees.
''Obviously there have been cases of torture in South Africa,'' says Peter Swanapoel of the South African Embassy in Washington. He points out that some police have been charged with torture.
Later he read a statement saying: ''Torture is against the law in South Africa, and the South African government strongly condemns all forms of torture.'' Torture is ''contrary to our standards of behavior.
''The government will not tolerate such activity and the judicial system guarantees the right to expect legal protection against wrongs,'' he said.
South Africa's security laws were reformed in 1982, providing for more scrutiny of police procedures. But critics inside and outside the country have suggested the reforms have had little effect.
Now, as AI gears up its latest global campaign against torture, the organization has brought Farisani to the United States to tell his story. He spoke recently to a House subcommittee and last Wednesday to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Farisani is deputy bishop of the Northern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa and an outspoken critic of South Africa's policy of racial separation - apartheid. From 1973 to 1975 he was president of the Black People's Convention - a political, anti-apartheid group of Africans, coloreds, and Asians. He resigned from the group in 1975 when he became ordained. He says he has never done anything illegal and has no contacts with South African liberation movements.
His case is one of the best-documented cases of torture the AI has, according to AI officials. The organization stakes much of its reputation on the accuracy of its reports.
According to Farisani, AI officials, and Professor Edgar, the minister's case represents part of a pattern that includes:
1. A small but continuing number of deaths of political detainees. Professor Edgar and AI officials put the number at about two a year for the past several years. ''It's quite evident they die in detention as a result of police beating, '' he says.
2. A trend toward repressive acts by black police against some black prisoners in South Africa's homelands, areas the white South African government says is independent and controlled by blacks.
''Torture is being used on a widespread basis'' in South Africa, including the homelands, Edgar says.
According to Edgar, AI, and Farisani, South Africa's security police work closely with black police of the homelands to detain and interrogate prisoners inside the homelands. In an interview here, Farisani said both South African security police and Venda police were involved in his arrests and detentions in Venda, the homeland where he lives.
''I believe the Venda security police are completely under the control of the South African police,'' he says. He cited as an example the presence of one white South African police major during his torture by Venda police in 1982. He recognized the major as one of the officials involved in his detention in 1977.
After being tortured in 1982, Farisani sued the Venda government for damages and was awarded 6,500 Rand (about $5,000 at current exchange rates.) The awarding of damages in such a case is unusual, according to AI officials, although in an unrelated case the South African government sentenced a member of the security force to 10 years in prison for killing a political detainee.
In 1977, Farisani says, he was detained by South African police and accused of helping to foment the 1976 black uprising in Soweto, a black township just outside Johannesburg. During a two-day detention at a police station in Horwick, he says, his arms and legs were bound, and he was suspended from a pole for periods of 30 minutes or so. He says he was also dangled, upside down, from a third-floor window.
He was not tortured during his second detention in 1977 into 1978.
During his third detention in 1982 he was accused of organizing legal aid for the family of a detainee who died in prison after being arrested in connection with the bombing of a police station in Venda. This time his case came to the attention of Amnesty International, and the letter-writing campaign began.
Farisani, who also spoke in New York and Chicago, plans to return to South Africa soon. Since he has been in the US, his wife and family have been visited by the Venda police, says an AI spokesman.