Apparently, one of the worst forms of ancient torture was the Sicilian Bull, also known as the Brazen Bull. It was, in short, a hollow, bronze, life-size bull, with a door in the side. Victims were forced inside, a fire lit underneath, and after a while the prisoner simply roasted to death. The ingenuity of the sadist inventor knew no bounds, however, for the head of the bull embodied an internal system of trumpet-like tubes so that the prisoner’s screams were heard like the bellows of one very unhappy bull.1

Actually, the Brazen Bull was intended, really, as a form of execution, not torture. But torturous it was. One can easily imagine the victim’s torment, and twisting, contorting and writhing. After all, this is the etymology of the English word torture: the Latin torquere, meaning to twist, turn, wring, distort, torment.2

Torture is banned nowadays. At least, section 12(1)(d) of the Constitution provides that everyone has the right to freedom and security of the person – and this includes the right not to be tortured in any way. Unfortunately, the Republic remains a state where torture occurs, if the 2014/15 Amnesty International Report3 is anything to go by. It notes that:

‘Allegations of torture against members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) and the Department of Correctional Services were rife. Towards the end of the year the SAPS Legal Services issued a national instruction to all SAPS members informing them of the absolute prohibition of torture and their obligations under the 2013 Prevention and Combating of Torture of Persons Act.’

This Act is administered by the Minister of Justice. It provides that ‘torture’ means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as to:

when such pain or suffering is inflicted by (or at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of) a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.4 5

  1. Any person who commits torture, attempts to commit torture, or incites any person to commit torture, is guilty of an offence.6

  2. Any person who participates in torture, or who conspires with a public official to aid or procure the commission of, or to commit torture, is also guilty of an offence.7

  1. – ‘Most Brutal Torture Techniques Ever Devised’. 

  2. Cassell’s Compact Latin-English Dictionary. 

  3. – ‘Report—South Africa’. 

  4. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in, or incidental to, lawful sanctions. 

  5. Section 3. 

  6. Section 4(1). 

  7. Section 4(2).