History Monday: Gukurahundi – Forms of Organized Violence Part 4

Hi, this is from a 1997 Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace. This is a continuation from History Monday


Sensory stimulation is often used as a method of torture of persons in detention, but it does not seem to be so common in community settings. The aim behind sensory stimulation, which is often erroneously termed “brain washing”, is to cause mental confusion and distress, and psychological studies of sensory deprivation, one kind of sensory manipulation, have clearly demonstrated the damaging effects of such abuse. For example, people subjected to constant “white noise”, or other forms of constant stimulation, rapidly show signs of stress, even to the point of beginning to hallucinate if it goes on long enough.



(From Rasmussen.1990)

Constant noises. Screams and voices. Powerful lights. Constant lighting. Special devices. Drugs.

All of these can be used deliberately, or can be part of the background to detentions. For example, many people have been tortured in settings where they can hear the sounds of others being tortured too, and will talk about how terrible it was to hear the screams and voices of their comrades. This could have been a deliberate policy on the part of the torturers, but is frequently due to their indifference to whether other prisoners can hear or not.


The specific effects of over stimulation are difficult to produce in a community setting, since they require a controlled environment in which the perpetrator can exercise maximum control over the kinds of stimulation that a person can receive. Over stimulation is therefore reported only among those who were detained in interrogation centers or at Bhalagwe Camp. Deliberate deprivation is more commonly reported than over stimulation. This is similar to the findings from Mashonaland studies and those of war veterans.

Detainees have frequently recalled how having to listen to the screams of others being tortured added to their own terror, but it is not clear whether the keeping of people in close proximity to the torture cells was the result of indifference, or deliberation. The following account is taken from the CCJP Report on Torture.

While at Stops camp people were tortured. One boy was so badly beaten and bleeding in the face that I doubt if he is alive. People were being tortured and beaten until around 2 a.m. in the night and at 8 a.m. in the morning we heard screams and cries. They use electric shock and the water and cords for torture…

Those at Bhalagwe have also described how torture and interrogation began at 5.30 a.m. every day, and how from that time on, the camp resounded with screams. Apart from these types of reports, “over stimulation” as a method of torture does not seem to have been widely used.

A few high level political detainees have reported some of these more sophisticated forms of torture, such as being kept in continually lit cells.


1. Nehanda Radio (2013) ‘Gukurahundi Massacres: Types of Physical Torture (Part 14)’

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