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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Justice Denied: Political Violence in KwaZulu-Natal after 1994

The interviews used in this work were commissioned by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation and conducted in KwaZulu-Natal over 1999-2000.

The Violence and Transition Series is a product of an extensive research project conducted by the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) into the nature and extent of violence during South Africa's transition from apartheid rule to democracy. This series comprises a set of self-contained, but interrelated reports, which explore violence across the period 1980 to 2000 within key social loci and areas, including:

Ø. Revenge Violence and Vigilantism

Ø. Foreigners (immigrants and refugees)

Ø. Hostels and Hostel Residents

Ø. Ex-combatants

Ø. State Security Forces (police and military)

Ø. Taxi Violence

While each report grapples with the dynamics of violence and transition in relation to its particular constituency all are underpinned by the broad objectives of the series, namely:

Ø. To analyse the causes, extent and forms of violence in South Africa across a timeframe that starts before the political transition and moves through the period characterised by political transformation and reconciliation to the present;

Ø. To assess the legacy of a violent past and the impact of formal democratisation and transition on the contemporary nature of violence by researching continuities and changes in its form and targets;

Ø. To investigate the role of perpetrators and victims of violence across this timeframe;

Ø. To evaluate reconciliation strategies and institutions, such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established to ameliorate future violence in South Africa;

Ø. To develop a macro-theory for understanding violence in countries moving from authoritarian to democratic rule, i.e. 'countries in transition', and

Ø. To contribute to local and international debates about reconciliation and justice for perpetrators and victims of gross violations of human rights.

Through these objectives, the Violence and Transition Series aims to inform and benefit:

Ø. Policy analysts,

Ø. Government officials and departments,

Ø. NGOs and civic organisations, and,

Ø. Researchers,

working in the fields of:

Ø. Violence prevention,

Ø. Transitional criminal justice,

Ø. Victim empowerment,

Ø. Truth commissions,

Ø. Reconciliation,

Ø. Human rights, and

Ø. Crime prevention.

As a country emerging from a past characterised by violence and repression South Africa faces new challenges with the slow maturation of democracy. Violence today is complex, dynamic and creative in form shaped by both apartheid and the mechanisms of transition itself. In order to understand - and prevent - violence during transition in South Africa and abroad an ongoing action-research agenda is required. Through this series the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation offers an initial and exploratory, yet detailed, contribution to this process.

The Violence and Transition Series is funded primarily by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). The project was also supported by the Embassy of Ireland and the Charles Stewart-Mott Foundation.

Series Editors
Piers Pigou
Bronwyn Harris
Brandon Hamber


Political violence in the province of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), South Africa, has, according to some sources, taken as many as 20,000 lives since 1984, especially since September 1987, when open warfare broke out in the Pietermaritzburg region with a series of territorial battles between Inkatha and the United Democratic Front (UDF).1 In these battles, Inkatha received support from the apartheid state's security forces, whilst the UDF found succour from its relationship with the African National Congress (ANC) and its armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). More than half the number of fatalities occurred after 1990, that is: after the National Party had unbanned the liberation movements, and committed itself to negotiated political change; and after the ANC had suspended its armed struggle. The three-month period preceding the first democratic elections in April 1994 was especially tense; during this period around 1,000 people were killed. Since 1994, around 2,000 people have been killed in political violence in KZN.2

In the post-apartheid era, KwaZulu-Natal has been marked by a divided system of political authority, with - reflecting electoral support - provincial power vested in favour of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and national power with the ANC.3 A top level peace process was instituted, and by mid-1996 political leaders declared the political conflict over. Inkatha, led by Mangosuthu Buthelezi, has moved away from an ethnically couched confrontational style towards a more inclusive politics, and 'The ANC's view was that instead of conflict, there should be co-operation and reconciliation.'4 Following the results of the 1999 general election, a coalition government involving both the IFP and ANC was formed at provincial level and it might well be assumed that the issues that divided Inkatha and the ANC are now settled. Certainly, this is the public image presented.

In line with these developments the popular view, adopted by many commentators, the media, and politicians, is that since 1994 there has been a significant downturn in the level of political violence in KZN, with violence now only erupting at random unconnected 'flashpoints,' such as Shobashobane on the South Coast, Richmond in the Midlands, and Nongoma in the north of the province (see Map 1), where it is primarily explained in terms of either a 'third force,' 'faction fighting,' 'criminality,' or any combination thereof. All too often the causes of this violence are seen to lie in multiple factors that are more often than not simply listed and not analyzed as an integrated matrix of factors. As a result, typical is Hein Marais' assessment that, 'It is impossible to determine exactly what... is at play in KwaZulu-Natal.'5 As this work will show, conflict cases do not, however, signify isolated incidents, nor do they defy sociological understanding.

It is, in fact, necessary to move away from the mainstream perspective of viewing continuing violence as constituting a series of separate events and cases - a flashpoint here, a flashpoint there - with multiple causes that have to be dealt with in turn, with a law and order response as each occurs. Rather, the violence has to be understood in terms of a matrix of integrated issues that are rooted in what is a systemic problem (underlying all events and cases), in which the forces of law and order are implicated.

By focusing on high-profile case studies of post-apartheid political violence in KwaZulu-Natal, it will be shown that at a deeper level of analysis there is a common pattern in their underlying dynamics and outcomes that starkly reveals the nature of the problem: that post-apartheid political violence has been systematically over-determined by, and fuelled by, a failure to confront past wartime divisions and their legacy. Cases of violence can be directly traced back to, and are contaminated by, and interconnected through the 'unofficial' war between Inkatha and the ANC. In fact, the spiral of the war between Inkatha and the ANC has spawned complex networks of complicity that stretch from the lowest forms of organized crime to the highest echelons of the state. It is this matrix that has to be fully unraveled and confronted.

Three detailed and high profile case studies drawing on interviews, sworn testimony, and Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) documentation, are considered in turn: those of the Shobashobane massacre (1995); the Richmond killings (which reached their height in 1997-98); and, the Nongoma assassinations (1999-2000). The case studies draw out the dynamics of political violence with respect to the role of paramilitary forces (former insurgents and covert state agents), the security forces (police and military), and the criminal justice system (investigations and prosecutions).

The Shobashobane Massacre

The massacre of 19 ANC supporters by a large group of Inkatha attackers at Shobashobane on 25 December 1995 attracted widespread international headlines, and was popularly labeled as the 'Christmas Day massacre.' One of the worst mass murders in the region, both the Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki, and Minister of Defence, Joe Modise, visited the scene of the massacre.

Shobashobane, a rural area of around seven square kilometres, is on the KwaZulu-Natal lower South Coast, some 200kms south of Durban (see Map 1). The South Coast region has shown, in recent years, evenly matched levels of support for the IFP and the ANC, with relatively homogenous but sharply divided IFP and ANC zones. Shobashobane, itself, is an ANC-dominated ward surrounded by seven wards with IFP support, with its nearest boundary being some three kilometers from the nearest police station at Izingolweni. The terrain is very hilly, rugged and often steeply inclined, and the ground is densely covered with long grass, thick undergrowth, thorn bushes, and trees. Situated on the periphery of the former KwaZulu government's sphere of influence, this is an area of long and well-established settlement.6

The Shobashobane massacre was by no means the first massacre in the area. The broader region had been locked into a vicious round of attacks and counter-attacks for well over a decade. In the five years preceding the Shobashobane massacre there were, in fact, over 50 massacres on the South Coast.7 This conflict can be traced to the rise of the ANC-aligned United Democratic Front in the 1980s and this movement's political assault - primarily through radical youth - on the legitimacy of conservative chiefly authority and 'traditional' political structures (including the Zulu monarchy), who in turn sought to retain hegemony through Inkatha and the creation of self-protection units (SPUs).

On the South Coast, over time, this conflict became increasingly militarized, with both sides becoming heavily armed - AK-47 rifles supplied to ANC comrades, and standard issue G3 rifles given to IFP-supporting chiefs. This contest was, in the apartheid (and transition) years, always loaded in favour of the chiefs and Inkatha. In the Izingolweni area, in the early 1990s, many ANC youth who formed and became active in self-defence units (SDUs) were pushed out of the region - being forced to flee north to Durban. In the post-apartheid era, around a hundred displaced ANC youth decided to return (although only around half this number were originally from the area), and implemented a strengthened SDU structure in the Shobashobane ward under the leadership of Kipha Nyawose. Tension with local IFP supporters led by Sipho Ngcobo reached new heights, precipitating a series of provocative events - mainly centered around illegal road blocks and the Izingolweni shopping complex - that would culminate in the Christmas Day massacre. For, underlying the Shobashobane massacre was the conflict between the local and popular IFP and ANC militia forces, sustained by broader underground IFP hit squad and MK paramilitary networks.

What happened in Shobashobane on Christmas Day 1995 - a day that left 19 people, ANC supporters, dead? There is little doubt that the attack was planned with military precision, with the retributive aim of purging the area once and for all of Kipha Nyawose and the active SDU under his command, and simultaneously chasing the whole ANC supporting community out of the area. Izinduna (headmen) in conjunction with the IFP's Izingolweni chairperson, Sipho Ngcobo, and a number of IFP hit squad operatives secretly planned the attack. James Zulu, a hit squad commander, has been strongly suspected of involvement.8

An Inkatha hit squad had earlier been set up at Izingolweni, under direct instruction of very senior IFP people in Ulundi.9 And certainly James Zulu, a convicted felon who 'mysteriously' gained early release after security police intervention, was well placed to help mastermind any attack. Zulu, who served as a regional chair of the IFP, was engaged in many covert activities, and had 'an extremely close working relationship with the Port Shepstone police.'10

Certainly, no attack would have occurred without the backing of the chiefs (inkosi), and on Christmas Eve they called on their followers to gather the next morning to implement a well-orchestrated military maneouvre. Mobilized just before dawn, at around eight o'clock on Christmas morning, a Sunday, this large group of Inkatha supporters under the leadership of paramilitary structures mounted, from the south, a full-scale offensive on the ANC ward. The main attack group numbered well over 600 people, and was spearheaded by a select group of men armed with automatic rifles and other firearms followed by a large group of warriors (impi) covered in muti (umuthi) and armed with 'traditional weapons.' As people fled from the attack force in the direction of the Izingolweni police station, they found their paths blocked by 'stopper' groups.11

The ANC-dominated area was encircled before the attack took place, and all escape routes were blocked off. The strategy seem to have been that a main attack group will sweep the area, and follow-up groups will continue with destruction and murdering of survivors behind the main group. Stopper groups were in place to block off all the escape routes. (Inspector Hendrik Jacobus De Bruin statement under oath, 31 December 1995)

Of the some 240 people living in Shobashobane, 19 were killed: fewer than might have been predicted given that the lead group was armed with automatic G3, R5, and AK-47 rifles. Amongst the dead were six women and a baby. The prime target, ANC leader Kipha Nyawose, was shot dead and his body, as were many other bodies, severely mutilated: 'his stomach was slit open and his genitals completely severed, to be used for muti.'12 Twenty-one other ANC supporters were injured. Around 90 huts were set alight.

Clearly, given the scale of the attack and the number of deaths, questions must be asked about the policing of Izingolweni. The security forces maintain that they did their best to maintain law and order in the region, and to bring the community together. Local policing, however, did little to mitigate the simmering political tensions. The security forces - the South African Police Service (SAPS) stationed at Izingolweni, Unit 19 of Public Order Policing (POP), POP Unit 18 based in Port Shepstone with authority for public order policing in Izingolweni at the time of the massacre, and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) assigned to the area for special duties over the summer holiday period - are not blameless.

Most damning - and to many people most sinister - is the fact that the security forces had plenty of advance warning of the massacre, yet took no action to forestall it. Detective Sergeant Nxumalo, stationed at Izingolweni police station, made the following statement:

Towards the end of November or the beginning of December 1995 I was driving along a small dirt road in a rural part of our police patrol area. I was alone in the police vehicle which I normally drive... Whilst driving past a certain kraal a woman whom I know well ran out to the road and stopped me... Our conversation was completely confidential... From the 15 December 1995 the workers in Durban would be closing down their factories and would be coming home on holiday, the IFP from Durban were planning to kill all the ANC MaQabane [comrades] in the Shobashobane area and completely wipe them off from the area. Mandela would come to pick up all the bodies... I know this woman and have a longstanding association with her. I know her to be a very reliable and trustworthy person. (France Dumisani Nxumalo statement under oath, 11 January 1996)

On 4 December, Inspector De Bruin, stationed at Izingolweni, passed on Sergeant Nxumalo's information to his superiors in Port Shepstone, where it was supported by other sources, and on 19 December De Bruin attended a Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) meeting where:

Sen Supt Moodley handed in an information note from NIA [National Intelligence Agency] regarding some threats made by Inkosi [Themba] Mavundla [of Izingolweni] that the ANC supporters must be driven out of the area before 1995-12-26. (Hendrik Jacobus De Bruin further statement under oath, 23 January 1996)

The report from the National Intelligence Agency clearly pointed to the likelihood of overt conflict in Shobashobane: an attack will be launched 'after 19951215 [15 December 1995] when factories are closed and migrant workers have returned to their homes at Izingolweni.'13 So, in light of information received and despite the fact that the Izingolweni district was categorized as a high-risk area, why did the massacre occur? Is not the failure to act evidence of police complicity?

Superintendent Cromhout, the commander of POP Unit 18, pointed out, however, that he was not made aware of the NIA information and that it was not taken into account in planning deployments for the Christmas weekend.14 Major Mdlulwa of the SANDF, with 118 personnel under his command, stated: 'I was not shown or told of any intelligence reports regarding an expected attack on the residents of Shobashobane.'15 Moreover, the Izingolweni police station commander, Captain Van Vollenhoven, maintained that at no time prior to the attack was he aware of the NIA report.16

Nonetheless, the situation would not have been nearly so bad if a POP Unit 19 base established some ten kilometers from the centre of the Shobashobane community on 26 June 1995 (following a number of serious attacks in the area) had not been completely removed just weeks before the massacre. The events were as follows.

Local political conflict in the month preceding the Shobashobane massacre revolved around the fact that ANC supporters found that they could no longer freely shop in Izingolweni without being subjected to harassment by IFP supporters, and the ANC, therefore, demanded police protection. On 29 November 1995, however, when a group of around 50 ANC supporters were escorted to the shopping centre they 'did not go shopping, but started distributing ANC election pamphlets. The IFP supporters were outraged and started throwing stones at the ANC members and at the policemen. The policemen [from Unit 19]... had to fire rubber bullets and birdshot at the IFP supporters, injuring a few of them.'17 Predictably, the IFP demanded that Unit 19 be removed from the area.

Politically compromised, Unit 19 with its 34 personnel, was removed unilaterally on 15 December 1995 by national command - without, it would seem, giving full consideration to the security situation on-the-ground. Certainly, Captain Van Vollenhoven was never formally consulted on this move: 'It is my respectful submission that had the base remained... this major blood bath could also have been prevented... Deployed patrols... could have witnessed the mobilization of an impi and raised the alarm.'18

At the time of the attack the resources on hand for the security forces were nowhere near adequate to deal with what unfolded. For, even despite the limited resources allocated to patrolling duties on Christmas Day not one security force member was in the vicinity and it took four hours for police to establish a firm presence on the ground. There should have been three patrols in the area that Sunday morning: in fact there were none. As the Daily News reported, the 'first police patrol to arrive in the area after receiving a radio report found it in a state of war.'19 Those on duty at the Izingolweni police station lacked the resources to adequately respond to events. Inspector De Bruin, who was on police station premises at the time of the attack, stated:

During the attack, I had four detectives with me, but I could not move into the area, as we were not enough. It would have been extremely dangerous for us to move into the area as it was obvious that the attackers were very well-organized and aggressive.20

What emerges from the sequence of events are a number of disturbing and unsatisfactorily resolved issues. The functioning of the various intra-security force lines of communication left much to be desired, at all levels of command - national, regional, and area. More disturbing, though, are allegations of direct police and army involvement in the massacre. Some media reports claimed that the police and army colluded in the massacre and, indeed, the National Police Commissioner George Fivaz admitted that some policemen were identified as suspects in the massacre.21

Shortly after attending the funeral for victims of the massacre, Thabo Mbeki (then Deputy President) moved that a special police investigative unit, the Special Investigation Team headed by Harold ('Bushie') Engelbrecht, probe the killings. Engelbrecht's investigation confronted a number of problems, particularly many witnesses were simply too afraid to make statements and most IFP people refused to have anything to do with what was seen as an ANC-appointed and ANC-backed investigation. Those witnesses who did come forward required added protection; for the first time in South Africa, a witness protection programme was introduced - for almost 30 witnesses. Most indicative of the difficulties is Engelbrecht's own acknowledgement that: 'We only entered the Shobashobane area in groups of between eight and 12, even to take just one statement, and we only traveled in armoured vehicles.'22 Engelbrecht faced a number of death threats, including a murder conspiracy - plotted, so he was informed, by James Zulu.

Although it was hard going, after establishing some breakthroughs in other massacre cases, Engelbrecht's team did make a number of arrests.

What was positive was that within a week of Bushie establishing his unit there was peace on the South Coast. There were arrests within two or three weeks. That was something that the local police had failed to do. People arrested included well-known people, especially those from the IFP. (Interview with Selvan Chetty, South Coast violence monitor)

The IFP were far from happy with the intervention of the Special Investigative Team. Generally, from Inkatha's point of view, as public order policing, intelligence agencies, and investigative task units are controlled at central government level, their impartiality is open to question, and especially so when decisions are made unilaterally in response to IFP activities. Not surprisingly, the IFP insists that in KZN policing is primarily a provincial matter. As IFP secretary-general Ziba Jiyane has stated:

We are not saying the central government should not be involved in security matters in KwaZulu-Natal. But Schedule Six of the Constitution says policing is also a provincial issue and as long as it [national intervention] is done in a unilateral way this is invariably a partisan approach.23

There is, then, significant conflict between the central and provincial government over who will control the way KwaZulu-Natal is policed.24 This conflict is one in which the real loser is neither one side nor the other, but justice itself. As the political divide underlying violence on the ground is replicated in the very system which is called upon to address it, focus falls on securing the greatest protection and political capital for one's own side.

Such dynamics of political bias were clearly present in the Shobashobane massacre, not only in terms of the status of Engelbrecht's unit, but also on the ground, where the local police - themselves members of the community - could hardly maintain a position of impartiality. For, as Engelbrecht notes, 'If they were apolitical they ran the risk of either being ousted from the area or killed.'25 Indeed, at least seven policemen, including three police sergeants from the Izingolweni police station, were implicated in the attack through assisting in the planning and leading of the attack, and in providing arms or ammunition. Four policemen were eventually arrested, none of whom were subsequently convicted

For full text see: http://www.csvr.org.za/papers/papvtp6.htm

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.