by Palesa Monaleng

On 30th July 2013 the Prevention and Combating of Torture of Persons Act was signed into law by the president of South Africa. Finally, torture is a crime in South Africa. According to the act, “torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person” for purposes including obtaining information or a confession; for punishment; or intimidation or coercion to prevent someone from doing something; or “for any reason based on discrimination of any kind.”

Wits Justice Project attorney Megan Geldenhuys confirmed that the attacks on the homeless on Johannesburg’s Rissik street amounts to torture within the definitions of the act.

With the historical lack of legislative provisions, torture has been carried out with impunity for far too long. And now that it has been criminalized, it is necessary to ensure that its provisions and safeguards are speedily communicated to every law-enforcement official and member of the judiciary.

How will the desk-sergeant in a rural police station in Mpumalanga know the difference between acceptable and excessive use of force? Training, sensitisation and human rights education is crucial at this stage of South Africa’s history.

Monaleng is a researcher at the Wits Justice Project. They can be contacted on: (011) 717 4686 or