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Detainee’s Death is 20th in Two Months

September 23, 1992

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ A black detainee was found dead in a police cell today, the 20th prisoner to die in custody in the last two months.

The body of Shangani Biyela was discovered in the morning lying on a blanket in his cell, in the southeastern town of Ladysmith, said police spokesman Capt. Bala Naidoo.

While awaiting trial, the 32-year-old Biyela ″displayed aggressive tendencies and unsuccessfully tried to break the cell bars,″ Naidoo said. He said an autopsy would be performed to determine the cause of death.

Dr. Jonathan Gluckman, one of the country’s top pathologists, said in July that police routinely tortured and killed scores of prisoners. Gluckman presented 130 cases of suspicious detainee deaths to the Ministry of Justice.

President F.W. de Klerk appointed six magistrates to study deaths in detention and promised a thorough investigation. Last week, one white policeman was convicted of murder and another of assault in the 1990 beating death of a black man at a Pretoria police station.

However, 20 prisoners have died since Gluckman first spoke out, according to figures kept by the independent South African Press Association. Human rights groups say the rate of detainee deaths has increased since Gluckman focused attention on the issue.

Law and Order Minister Hernus Kriel has denied widespread abuses by police, who attribute most of the deaths to suicide. Kriel has said the number of prisoner deaths in South Africa is similiar to that of many countries.

In another development, a judicial commission opened a hearing into the Sept. 7 massacre of 28 black demonstrators shot by security forces in the black homeland of Ciskei.

Although the killings took place in the nominally independent homeland, it has heightened tensions between de Klerk’s government and the African National Congress, the black opposition group that organized the march.

I.J. Smuts, representing the Ciskei government, told the Goldstone Commission that the protesters were ″neither peaceful nor unarmed.″ He said demonstrators fired first and noted that a member of the Ciskei security forces was killed.

However, Arthur Chaskelson, a lawyer for the ANC, submitted a report indicating the soldier who died had been shot in the back by a rifle similar to those issued to the Ciskei defense forces.

The Goldstone Commission, headed by respected Supreme Court Judge Richard Goldstone, does not have the authority to prosecute. But since the commission was established last year to investigate political violence, its findings have been judged fair by both the government and the ANC.

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