By Letter to the Editor on August 6, 2017.
I was not tortured; it was not a jail; but I was driven to madness: it was torture. In January 1972 I was locked up alone for three days. It was detention by the immigration authority at Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg.
I flew back from a conference in Dar-a-Salaam. The plan was to pick up my car in Johannesburg parked at a friend’s house, drive three hours into Lesotho, and cook supper for Evelyn, my eight-year-old daughter. She was home alone as her mother had left in the morning for a conference in Botswana: not a good plan.
In the terminal building, the immigration officer took my passport and told me to follow him. He led me to a room, which was like a cheap motel. He locked the door and went away without explanation. Nobody came for three days except a frightened-looking black man in a blue overall who delivered stale food. The only window faced a brick wall: there was no radio, TV or telephone. Nothing to read. I had no idea why I was kept there.
“I tell you anything you want, just get me outta here!” I would shout. I banged on the door; nobody came. I didn’t sleep; the whole time. The thought of my daughter alone at home at night drove me insane.
The conference in Tanzania was organized by the World Student Christian Federation based in Switzerland. I went there as Regional Director of the University Christians Movement (UCM) for Lesotho and Orange Free State. UCM was banned later that year for noncompliance of a law prohibiting mixed-race association, hence was deemed subversive. Colleagues and friends were banned, jailed or killed; non-South Africans were expelled or letter-bombed.
I learned a few things: Total isolation is torture. Also information obtained by torture is unreliable because one would say anything to get out of agony. In solitude, you must know how to face yourself – as a supposedly religious person I should have known how to look at myself calmly. It was just three days; I was pathetic; monks meditate many days alone in silence.
After three days, I was given a deportation paper and two hours to leave the country. Practically impossible driving 300 km. My daughter was safe. The family of a political science professor took her in when they saw her alone at night.
Tadashi (Tad) Mitsui
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