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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Period following Mandela's Release - TRC excerpts

1990-1994: The transitional phase

166. The period from February 1990 changed the logic and the rules, written or unwritten, governing the contest for power in South Africa. In July 1989, President PW Botha formally received Mr Nelson Mandela to tea at the Tuynhuys, signalling the beginning of open negotiations. In September 1989 Mr FW de Klerk became president of South Africa, and shortly afterwards independence elections were held in Namibia. In February 1990, De Klerk announced the unbanning of proscribed organisations including the SACP, ANC and PAC, and released Mandela. The next four years saw intensive negotiations towards a democratic transition. The strategic thinking underlying this transition period is dealt with later in this volume.

Political Violence in the Era of Negotiations and Transition, 1990-1994


1. The Commission had considerable success in uncovering violations that took place before 1990. This was not true of the 1990s period. Information before the Commission shows that the nature and pattern of political conflict in this later period changed considerably, particularly in its apparent anonymity. A comparatively smaller number of amnesty applications were received for this period. The investigation and research units of the Commission were also faced with some difficulty in dealing with the events of the more recent past.

2. Two factors dominated the period 1990-94. The first was the process of negotiations aimed at democratic constitutional dispensation. The second was a dramatic escalation in levels of violence in the country, with a consequent increase in the number of gross violations of human rights.

3. The period opened with the public announcement of major political reforms by President FW de Klerk on 2 February 1990 - including the unbanning of the ANC, PAC, SACP and fifty-eight other organisations; the release of political prisoners and provision for all exiles to return home. Mr Nelson Mandela was released on 11 February 1990. The other goals were achieved through a series of bilateral negotiations between the government and the ANC, resulting in the Groote Schuur and Pretoria minutes of May and August 1990 respectively. The latter minute was accompanied by the ANC's announcement that it had suspended its armed struggle.

4. A long period of 'talks about talks' followed - primarily between the government, the ANC and Inkatha - culminating in the December 1991 launch of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA). CODESA, which involved twenty different political parties and organisations, collapsed in disagreement over issues of majority rule and regional powers. In May 1992, talks resumed with CODESA II. However, barely a month later, the ANC withdrew in the wake of the Boipatong massacre of 17 June 1992 and embarked on a campaign against the remaining homeland governments. Talks resumed five months later, after the signing by the ANC, PAC and the government of a Record of Understanding.

5. The Record of Understanding marked a shift in the National Party (NP) government's negotiating strategy. It abandoned its de facto alliance with the IFP, through which it had hoped to secure enough electoral support to force a power-sharing arrangement with the ANC. Instead, the ANC and the government now co-operated closely while the IFP aligned itself with a coalition of bantustan governments and elements of the white right wing. This latter grouping ultimately coalesced into the Concerned South Africans Group (COSAG) which, in July 1993, walked out of the talks and formed the Freedom Alliance. This development saw a further escalation in the level of violence. With the IFP's chief negotiator threatening a civil war if the elections went ahead without the IFP, deaths from political violence in July and August 1993 soared to 605 and 705 respectively, compared to 267 in June 1993.

6. In December 1993, a Transitional Executive Council (TEC) was installed, composed of representatives of all parties to the negotiations process. Meanwhile, behind-the-scenes talks continued with the Freedom Alliance to secure its participation. This was achieved shortly before the 27 April 1994 election.

7. Of 9 043 statements received on killings, over half of these (5 695) occurred during the 1990 to 1994 period. These figures give an indication of violations recorded by the Commission during the negotiations process. They represent a pattern of violation, rather than an accurate reflection of levels of violence and human rights abuses. Sources other than the Commission have reported that, from the start of the negotiations in mid-1990 to the election in April 1994, some 14 000 South Africans died in politically related incidents. While Commission figures for reported violations in the earlier part of its mandate period are under-represented in part because of the passage of time, they are under-reported in this later period because the abuses are still fresh in people's memories and closely linked into current distribution of power.

8. The violence during the 1990s stemmed from intensification in the levels of conflict and civil war in KwaZulu/Natal. While the province had been plagued for five years by a low-level civil conflict, conflict intensified dramatically in the 1990s.

The Human Rights Committee (HRC) estimates that, between July 1990 and June 1993, an average of 101 people died per month in politically related incidents - a total of 3 653 deaths. In the period July 1993 to April 1994, conflict steadily intensified, so that by election month it was 2.5 times its previous levels.

9. Moreover, political violence in this period extended to the PWV (Pretoria- Witwatersrand-Vereeniging) region in the Transvaal. The HRC estimates that between July 1990 and June 1993, some 4 756 people were killed in politically related violence in the PWV area. In the period immediately following the announcement of an election date, the death toll in the PWV region rose to four times its previous levels.

10. The escalation of violence coincided with the establishment of Inkatha as a national political party, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), in July 1990, and its attempts to develop a political base in the Transvaal. The development of self-defence units (SDUs) in largely ANC/UDF strongholds led to an escalation of violence in both provinces.

11. Many came to believe that a 'hidden hand' or 'third force' lay behind the random violence, which included military-style attacks on trains, drive-by shootings and a series of massacres and assassinations. The train violence swept the Rand from 1990 onwards. By June 1993 it had caused some 400 deaths and countless more injuries, and left thousands of commuters consumed with fear on a daily basis. Such attacks frequently generated further violence.

12. At this time, there was also a marked increase in attacks on police officers. Between July 1991 and June 1992, the HRC recorded a total of sixty-eight police officers killed. A further 200 deaths were recorded between July 1992 and June 1993.

13. Violence also arose from the continued use of lethal force in public order policing. The HRC estimated that killings by the security forces, primarily in the course of public order policing, numbered 518 between July 1991 and June 1993. In the first major incident, less than six weeks after President de Klerk's speech, seventeen people died and 447 were injured when police fired without warning on a crowd of 50 000 protesters at Sebokeng. Other massacres occurred in Sebokeng in July and September 1990 and in Daveyton and Alexandra townships in March 1991.

14. This was also APLA's most active period. A wave of military attacks was visited on largely civilian targets, primarily in the western and eastern Cape, as well as attacks on farmers in the Orange Free State.

15. Right-wing organisations were also active and vocal during this period, expressing their resistance to the changing political order. The right wing was responsible for several random attacks on black people as well as a more focused campaign of bombings before the elections in April 1994.

16. The term 'third force' began to be used increasingly to describe apparently random violence that could not be ascribed to political conflict between identifiable competing groups. Rather it appeared to involve covert forces intent on escalating violence as a means of derailing the negotiations process.

17. At about this time FW de Klerk appointed the Commission of Inquiry Regarding the Prevention of Public Violence and Intimidation headed by Judge Richard Goldstone. Initial reports of the Goldstone Commission found no evidence of a 'third force'. While there were many criticisms of the manner in which the security forces were dealing with the situation, the Commission pointed to high levels of political intolerance as well as wider-ranging socio-economic conditions as the primary causes of violent conflict. Notwithstanding Goldstone's findings, non-government organisations, including violence monitoring groups, and a number of national newspapers continued to allege the presence of a 'third force' in the violence. Allegations of security force involvement in the violence reached a climax with the Boipatong massacre.

18. In November 1992, during a Goldstone raid on the offices of the Directorate of Covert Collections (DCC), evidence emerged of security force involvement in illegal activities. President de Klerk responded by appointing General Pierre Steyn, assisted by General Conradie of the SAP, to conduct an investigation into the activities of certain military units.

19. General Steyn based his investigation on two investigative initiatives already underway and reported to President de Klerk and senior members of his cabinet on 20 December 1992. The substance of this report was that components of the South African Defence Force (SADF) - DCC, Army Intelligence, Special Forces and the 7th Medical Battalion - were involved in a wide range of illegal and/or unauthorised activity. These included the establishment of arms caches and springboards for attacks; an attempt to overthrow General Bantu Holomisa's government in the Transkei; the planting of weapons in Swaziland to discredit the ANC; corruption of DCC members in relation to arms deals; the selective leaking of information to right-wing groups; involvement in a chemical attack on FRELIMO, and corruption for personal gain.

20. In addition, he concluded that the security forces (and specifically 5 Reconnaissance Regiment) were probably involved in train violence; that there was probably a Chemical and Biological Warfare programme, as well as a probable attempt to get CCB operative Danie Phaal to distribute poisoned beer to Zulu-speakers in the Transkei. Strong allegations were also made of further unlawful and/or unauthorised actions.

21. General Steyn indicated, however, that the intelligence was not sufficiently refined to stand up in court because of the extensive destruction of documents and other evidence, concern over the safety of sources, the fear that those implicated would resort to murder if they felt threatened, and the fact that many role-players protected each other.

22. De Klerk was given a staff report compiled for General Steyn by the SADF's Chief Directorate of Counter Intelligence. SADF chief General 'Kat' Liebenberg, army chief General Georg Meiring and chief of staff intelligence, General CP van der Westhuizen, were called to Tuynhuys and asked to draw up a list of people against whom action should be taken. Their list included General Thirion whom the Steyn report specifically recommended for exemption from action, and excluded other names - including those of the three generals who drew up the list - against whom the Steyn report had recommended that action should be taken.

23. The following day, De Klerk issued a statement saying that six top-ranking officials had been placed on compulsory early retirement and sixteen on compulsory leave pending further investigation. By the end of December, fifteen of the twenty-three had been cleared of possible links to illegal or criminal actions. It was announced that a board of enquiry would be constituted to examine possible illegal and/or criminal or unauthorised actions involving three SADF and four civilian members.

24. The Steyn documents were handed over to a team of investigators consisting of the Attorneys-General of the Witwatersrand and the Transvaal, the SAP and the Auditor-General, under the direction of Transvaal Attorney-General Jan D'Oliviera. Some of the allegations were referred to the Goldstone Commission for further investigation.

25. Steyn himself took early retirement in October 1993, at the age of fifty-one. His last progress report submitted to the Minister of Defence noted that few, if any, of the suspects had been questioned and that there had been little progress in gathering evidence.

26. In addition to Steyn Commission allegations in respect of taxi and train violence, the Goldstone Commission investigated a number of allegations of the involvement of a 'third force' in the conflict. These included the planning or instigation of acts of violence by the SAP in the Vaal area; the presence of RENAMO soldiers in KwaZulu; the existence of a 'third force' as alleged by the Vrye Weekblad on 30 October 1992; the existence of SADF front companies; the training by the SADF of Inkatha supporters in 1986 and of the 'Black Cats', and the involvement by elements within the SAP, the KwaZulu Police (KZP) and the IFP in criminal political violence.

27. The Goldstone findings initially rejected the notion of a 'third force' or 'hidden hand'. However, in his March 1994 report, "Criminal political violence by elements within the SAP, the KZP and the Inkatha Freedom Party", Goldstone alleged that the SAP were engaged in arming the IFP and pointed to attempts by senior police officers to subvert the Goldstone enquiry.

28. The Goldstone Commission submitted its final report in October 1994, some six months after the first democratic elections and the end of this Commission's mandate period. While the overall levels of violence dropped dramatically in the post-election period, allegations of sinister forces continued in relation to ongoing violence in KwaZulu-Natal.

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