About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.


Despite massacres in Natal earlier in the month, by the end of March 1993, the level of political violence in South Africa had dropped-from more than eight killings a day in 1992 to four a day in 1993. These lower levels had not been seen since the upsurge in December 1989. There was no more talk of Leipzig options. Although the Bisho shootings had provoked renewed calls for mass action, it did not materialise. The strategy appeared to have been shelved, which may be one of the reasons why the level of political violence had dropped. Whereas nearly 100 people died during the anti-VAT stayaway in November 1991, an increase in the VAT rate from 10% to 14% from 7th April 1993 provoked only token protest. There was no more talk of marches upon Ulundi-which had caused Chief Buthelezi to say, 'If the ANC [alliance] say they are coming to Ulundi to topple me and the government when there is already so much anger in the area because so many of our people have died at their hands, I say that will only make this low-intensity civil war escalate into a bigger civil war.'

Most significantly, perhaps, the ANC had begun to accept at least part of the responsibility for violence instead of blaming only the government and its 'surrogates'. As recently as December 1992 Mr Mandela had said that 'the state security services, using certain black organisations, have been responsible for the death of no less than 15000 people since 1984' (which means all of them). Where there were 'difficulties' with Umkhonto we Sizwe, it was the result of 'infiltration by government agents'. Speaking in Mamelodi near Pretoria in April 1993, however, he said: 'I'm not going to blame the IFP and the government only. We must face the truth-our people are just as involved in violence.' Those involved in the senseless killing of innocent people, particularly the aged and children, were 'animals'. ANC supporters found guilty of participation in violence would face the 'strongest disciplinary action' or even dismissal from the organisation. Mr Mandela added there had to be political tolerance: violence could not be used against others except in self-defence. Organisations such as the IFP should be allowed to do their political work.

The significance of this statement is that it was the first time Mr Mandela had publicly admitted the involvement of his own organisation (rather than simply a few 'misguided individuals') in violence. Mr Hani had similarly admitted only to 'tsotsi elements'. Given his explicit references to children and the IFP, Mr Mandela's statement appears to have been prompted by the murder of six children-among them three sons of an IFP branch chairman-when the bakkie in which they were travelling to school was ambushed in the Table Mountain area near Pietermaritzburg on 2nd March 1993 by men wielding rifles and AK47s. Two men admitted by the ANC to be members of the organisation subsequently appeared in court in connection with these murders. Four other men suspected of involvement were thought to have gone to the Transkei. A few days after the these killings ten people were shot dead when a minibus carrying commuters was ambushed about ten kilometres from the site of the massacre. A few days after that, four members of the ANC were killed when a bus carrying them to the hearing in connection with the massacre of the schoolchildren was itself ambushed at Wartburg. Two men, evidently IFP supporters, were subsequently sentenced to death for the minibus massacre, the judge stating that neither of them had 'any reason to believe anyone in the bus had anything to do with the killing of the schoolchildren or, indeed, that they were supporters of the ANC rather than Inkatha'.

Describing the killers as 'animals', Mr Mandela said at the time that the massacres were deliberate attempts to increase the supposed hostility between his organisation and the IFP. He blamed 'state security services' for fomenting violence. A fortnight later, however, as we have seen, Mr Mandela accepted that the ANC was also responsible for violence. His admission that the ANC is just as much to blame for violence as the government and the IFP is of course a clear repudiation of the theories seeking to blame only the government and its 'surrogates'.

In an interview with the South African Institute of Race Relations about a fortnight later and about three weeks before he himself was murdered, Mr Chris Hani also commented on the Table Mountain killings:

'We were jolted by the massacre of the children, the ten people in the minibus, as well as the armed ambush of a bus of ANC supporters. The people of South Africa were shocked and horrified. The churches, the people, the ANC, and SACP, Inkatha, the international community. We said it was the work of animals. The same words were used by Mandela and Buthelezi. We visited the areas worst hit. It hit us in the face like a cold blizzard when we saw the destruction of villages, the stopping of ordinary life We must move with speed. We are saying to ANC people that they must talk to Inkatha people on the ground. They must not wait until the big talks begin. We say to them that Inkatha is not your enemy, we are all victims of apartheid. Disagreements should not lead to physical fights We must pursue the strategy relentlessly, even if we get another atrocity next week.'

He also said:

'Because Inkatha has the KwaZulu police we can't defeat them militarily. Inkatha also cannot defeat us. We are in a no-win situation and so are they. That development has sobered people in both Inkatha and the ANC alliance.'

A few days before his assassination, Mr Hani criticised the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) for continuing armed struggle. Reacting to a statement by the Azanian People's Liberation Army (Apla) that 1993 would be the 'year of the great storm' in which Apla would step up the armed struggle, Mr Hani said:

'I don't accept people calling for war and I don't accept the PAC's talks of the years of the great storms, because I feel we have achieved something in this country where those who oppressed us in the past are actually talking to us and showing readiness to negotiate for democratic elections.'

Mr Hani referred in particular to 'the ambushing of ordinary white kids and women along some of the highways'. This was a reference to killings the previous month at Eikenhof, south of Johannesburg, in which a mother and two children were killed by men with AK47s. The PAC was initially blamed for the killings, but two men subsequently charged with murder were admitted by the ANC to be members. They pleaded not guilty.

Mr Hani's reference to the outrage over the Table Mountain killings is significant. This was the first time the media and influential religious organisations had paid much attention to killings when the IFP was the victim. As already noted, organisations like the Human Rights Commission had avoided even mentioning a previous massacre of about 30 IFP members in its study of massacres. Two journalists have pointed out that other massacres of IFP supporters have been virtually ignored by the local and foreign media. The IFP had on several occasions criticised the South African Council of Churches (SACC) for one-sidedness in its attitude to killings. One IFP official said that the SACC never sent representatives to the funerals of IFP members, but always to funerals of ANC supporters. After an attack on a hostel in which IFP members were killed, the official said, 'You won't see churchmen come to visit this hostel to offer comfort to the inmates there. These people are nothing to our church in South Africa.' 'Our members have died in their hundreds. Not once did the SACC rebuke the actions of the killers. But press statements by top SACC officials are issued to pay homage to the ANC dead.' Another official attacked the Archbishop of Cape Town, the Most Rev. Desmond Tutu, and the general secretary of the SACC, Dr Frank Chikane, for their 'appalling display of selective empathy' by visiting some scenes of mass killings but not others.

After the six children had been killed, however, Archbishop Tutu and Dr Chikane visited the site to offer their sympathy to the victims' families.

If Messrs Mandela and Hani were speaking in more reconciliatory tones after the massacre than in the past, the same was true of Chief Buthelezi. In September 1992, following the massacre of 12 people en route to a conference of the Inkatha Youth Brigade in Ulundi, he told the youth that unless they 'bugger up the ANC, they are going to bugger up you and your future'. He was himself thus using against the ANC 'killing talk' of the kind he had previously accused the ANC of using against his own supporters. Some years before that he had said that if people wanted to fight 'dirty' the IFP would do so as well. On another occasion he had said that while Zulus asserted their right to pursue non-violent strategies, 'if some force an eye-for-an-eye and a tooth-for-a-tooth philosophy on us, then they will see that this philosophy settles easily on our shoulders when we are confronted with enemies who give us no choice'.

In his address at the funeral of the six children, however, Chief Buthelezi urged his supporters not to avenge the deaths.

Earlier Chief Buthelezi had also admitted the involvement of the IFP in violence. Speaking at a prayer breakfast in Durban on 7th March 1990, he said, 'Although I have not orchestrated one single act of violence as the leader of the IFP, I know that the buck stops right in front of me.'

The Bisho catastrophe and the Table Mountain killings may have been turning points-the former for the strategy of insurrection, which failed and was widely condemned, even by ANC sympathisers, the latter for the unprecedentedly even-handed outrage at the murderous conflict in Natal. Perhaps too, as the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP) contemplated the approach of the day when they would be in government, they feared inheriting an ungovernable country, which realisation necessitated efforts to lead their supporters away from these strategies. The threat of violence from Apla and the white right helped to drive home the realisation that the country should be pulled back from the brink of a catastrophic slide into racial violence before the point of no return was reached.

Perhaps Mr Hani's calls for peace shortly before his death were one of the reasons why there was not more loss of life in the wake of his assassination on 10th April. Many of the youths who went on the rampage regardless were probably acting under the influence of his earlier calls for a people's war. As Simon Schama wrote in his recent study of the French Revolution, 'The dilemma for successive generations of those politicians who graduated from oratory to administration was that they owed their own power to precisely the kind of rhetoric that made their subsequent governance impossible.'

ANC officials were shocked by the violent behaviour of many younger people when Mr Hani was assassinated. At least ten people were killed and more than 500 injured in what the Sowetan described as 'a day marked by chaos as thousands of people heeded a work stayaway call to honour Mr Hani'. Youths went on the rampage in several cities despite the efforts of ANC marshals to control them. In Cape Town, a senior ANC official was assaulted when he tried to control a rampaging mob. In America, television viewers were shocked at scenes of Mr Nelson Mandela being jeered at and booed at a memorial service for Mr Hani on 14th April in the Jabulani Stadium in Soweto, while the president of the PAC, Mr Clarence Makwetu, received a 'tumultuous welcome' and was 'cheered to the echo'. In the US, the UK, and Germany-and no doubt elsewhere-questions were asked as to whether the ANC could in fact control black youth. A Natal Midlands ANC official said ANC leaders had tried to placate an angry crowd but 'one has to consider the anger of the people on the ground we tried our best but we could not contain their anger'.

Commenting on the Jabulani service, The Weekly Mail said: 'The biggest ovation' was reserved for the radical young lions of the ANC's youth league, who openly called for the townships to be made ungovernable, town councils to be forced out of their positions, and the 'boers to be made to pay for this atrocity.'

The secretary general of the ANC, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, said that given the grief and the large crowds 'the casualties have not been too numerous, and the chaos that broke out in one or two areas has not been so extensive that one can say the whole day was disastrous'. During marches in various city centres a few days later, ANC marshals were more successful in keeping the peace. Granted extra powers of arrest, the marshals had done an excellent job, according to a Democratic Party MP, Mr Rupert Lorimer, who helped co-ordinate peace-keeping operations.

Asked to comment on the booing of Mr Mandela, Mr Ramaphosa said the ANC had picked up signals that people ultimately held the National Party government responsible for Mr Hani's death.

The youth had, however, picked up the signals from some of Mr Ramaphosa's own most senior colleagues. Mr Joe Slovo, national chairman of the SACP, said that the minister of law and order, Mr Hernus Kriel, had refused requests from Mr Mandela for a police bodyguard for Mr Hani after attempts and threats to his life, an allegation denied by Mr Kriel, who said Mr Hani had been offered protection but had refused it. In a leaflet-barely mentioned in the press-calling for a stayaway to mark Mr Hani's death, the ANC, its youth league, the SACP, and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) urged: 'Let us send a strong message to the racial minority that it will not kill our people and get away with it Comrade Chris was killed by the system of apartheid We put the blame for his death on De Klerk's shoulders. We believe that his murder is part of the plan to use violence to weaken the ANC-SACP-Cosatu alliance and defeat the struggle for freedom.'

The media focused much attention on the leader of the ANC youth league, Mr Peter Mokaba, when he led a rally with chants of 'Kill the boer, kill the farmer.' Mr Mokaba said that the youth should prepare for war and 'lay their hands' on those who had killed Mr Hani. ANC officials repudiated these remarks and said that the organisation's songs about killing 'boers' would be reviewed. However, at Mr Hani's funeral at the FNB Stadium in Soweto on 19th April, Mr Mandela made it clear that he held the government responsible for Mr Hani's death. Mr Hani's murder was no 'aberration', he said, but was consistent with past 'unsolved' assassinations, such as those of Dr Webster and Mr Goniwe. Mr Mandela went on:

'There has been a deliberate and massive propaganda offensive against Umkhonto we Sizwe, its cadres and leadership. No effort has been spared to criminalise both MK and Chris Hani. This has deliberately created a climate of acceptance when an MK cadre is assassinated, as dozens have been over the past months. To criminalise is to outlaw and the hunting down of an outlaw is regarded as legitimate. That is why, although millions of people have been outraged at the murder of Chris Hani, few were really surprised. Those who have deliberately created this climate that legitimates political assassinations are as much responsible for the death of Chris Hani as the man who pulled the trigger, and the conspiracy that plotted his murder. In this regard, the minister of law and order and the chief of the army both have a great deal to answer for.'

Thus, in the same speech in which he blamed criminalisation by the government for Mr Hani's death, Mr Mandela himself came close to criminalising the government. Mr Mandela was clearly riding a tiger because in the same speech he implicitly reaffirmed his own commitment to negotiations. But while he was doing so, youths outside the stadium were chanting 'Kill de Klerk,' and setting fire to nearby houses, killing two whites in the process.

None of this is in any way surprising. Mr Oliver Tambo, then president of the ANC, had been questioned about the youth by Newsweek in September 1985: 'Many of the present demonstrators are very young, even schoolchildren. Can you control what they do?' He answered: 'At this distance we cannot control events on an hour-to-hour or day-to-day basis. But we have called on the people in general to make the country ungovernable and apartheid unworkable, and what is happening is a response to that call We can't tell our children that what they are doing is very dangerous. They are sustained by a hatred of the system.'

The following year a black journalist in South Africa wrote that he had met members of the 'comrades', which his newspaper described as a faceless organisation sowing fear and terror in townships throughout South Africa. At about the same time a white South African journalist, Mr Allister Sparks, wrote that

'A Khmer Rouge element is emerging in the black townships of South Africa that is beyond anyone's control, an element so brutalised that it now seeks only to kill and burn in blind revenge. This happens when situations of violence and repression become endemic with no prospect of a political solution in sight Sixty percent of the black population of South Africa is under 16. That is the size of the Khmer Rouge we are creating Now the ANC is losing control over them. Tomorrow they could be ruling over us.'

Mr Sparks added that the authorities 'seemed blind' to what had caused the 'Khmer Rouge' problem:

'Stubbornly the government refuses to recognise that there is a pervasive sense of grievance and anger running right through the black population. It clings to the belief that the unrest of the past two years is all the work of Moscow-controlled agitators, who are infiltrating the country from outside and stirring up trouble by exploiting a few local grievances and intimidating the mass of the people.'

A black journalist, Mr Jon Qwelane, saw things differently. Commenting on the murders of two black journalists and the attempted killing of a white journalist in the aftermath of the Hani assassination, he wrote:

'We bred the evil monsters who not only murdered Thusago and maimed Saunders, but also pumped five bullets into the body of another newsman, Sam Msibi. We bred and nurtured those monsters, because we chose to condemn violence only when it was convenient-expedient, perhaps?-to do so. We must stand condemned, every one of us. The so-called "children of the lost generation" have been allowed free rein to get away literally with murder because we made them something special-they were pathetic and hapless victims of a vicious apartheid system, soldiers in a moral war, brave young lions at the forefront of the struggle, children of broken families, and all that tommyrot. We are now reaping the whirlwind of the wind we sowed '

A second black journalist, Mr Phil Molefe, wrote:

'The black community is reaping the whirlwind of hailing ten-year-olds as "young lions" Once regarded as the foot-soldiers of the liberation movement, the "young lions" have been allowed to claim too much power.'

And another black writer, Ms Nomavenda Mathiane, said:

'Political organisations have created monsters they cannot control. In the interests of mobilisation, they gave the children the power to disrupt life-they used them to enforce boycotts, work stayaways, etc. etc. and having tasted that power, they are not about to give it up. These children are now a threat to democracy.'

Many other black writers had written this some years before, as already noted. But far from the problem being confronted, the 'third force' theory was allowed to intervene. Just as Mr Sparks wrote that the authorities had 'hopelessly misread the situation in South Africa by blaming the unrest on Moscow-controlled agitators', so many journalists, politicians, and others misread the problem of the 1990s and sought to blame all the violence on a 'third force' conspiracy. Mr Sparks himself wrote in 1991 that he was 'concerned this violence is not driven from the grassroots level'. It was, he suggested, the work of professionals in the police and the 'informal military sector' on the right.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.