About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

14 Aug 1992: Vogelman, Lloyd

Click here for more information on the Interviewee

Click here for Overview of the year

POM     I am talking with Lloyd Vogelman of the Centre for the Study of Violence, at Wits. Lloyd, you might just begin by giving me a general background on what the Centre does and what it's particular direction is.

LV     Well we're involved in a number of areas, the one is political research and that encompassed a number of spheres from attempting to analyse the current political violence, to looking at violence in industrial relations, to looking at crime, to looking at violence against women, and different other projects. Some are much more permanent like the political violence. We have been working on that continually at the moment. We have people working on policing. So there's a general area of research that is quite permanent. Then there are the particular projects that we tend to engage in; violence against farm workers, violence against domestic workers, youth gangs. Those would be much more temporary type of research projects.

     The second area of our work is much more practically orientated and that has got to do with the treatment of victims of violence. We have a trauma clinic in which we see victims of violence. We provide counselling. We provide some form of psychiatric care as well and there we see victims of the current political violence, people who have been embroiled in political conflict, people who haven't but who have been almost innocent bystanders, if we could say that, people who have survived train massacres, women who have been gang-raped in hostels, women who have been abducted, sometimes people who have just faced ordinary crime, sometimes people who have been tortured five years ago and some of the symptoms are now emerging in a much more intense way, people who have survived death row.  So there's a range of people we see in our treatment centre, in our trauma clinic.

     Thirdly, we run educational workshops and those have been primarily focused at school kids, at youth, looking at different ways of work-shopping, reducing violence in their particular community. We have now moved those workshops into the business sphere and then looking at particular strategies that businesses can employ which we call care strategies for the employees and also attempting to train some of their employees in basic counselling skills as well because violence obviously affects them on a day-to-day level.

     Fourthly, we have a training programme where we train some pre-university black students and we have an internship programme for graduate black or post-graduate black students who come into our unit for a year who we train in research skills, computer skills, skills that will equip them to become specialised in the area of violence.  They will hopefully take those skills with them into their particular domains of work in the future.

     And then, finally, we do paralegal work, that's a lot less than we used to particularly in the late eighties. When I initiated the unit we did a lot of that type of work, writing up reports for mitigation in human rights trials, for people who have gone on to face execution, giving evidence in murder related trials. That work has really diminished quite substantially now.

POM     When you look at the violence that has been pretty pervasive in the country since August of 1990?

LV     Yes, we've been looking at that in a very fundamental way to analyse.

POM     Do you want to talk about that, what your research findings are to this point in time?

LV     Well it's quite a large scope, it's quite broad. I think one way of actually attempting to understand the violence in South Africa is to look at each of the major protagonists in the violence and look at how the violence benefits them, how it doesn't benefit them because, really, to get to the causes, the roots of the violence, it becomes very complex to understand exactly who is responsible for each act because in climates of violence you have in a very substantial way the politics and psychology of retribution and revenge and that confuses issues if you're actually looking at who is to blame finally. Somebody will always find some preceding event, some history will explain their violence and justify it. But if you're looking at the protagonists they start off with the government. You're looking at, since 1990 I think things have changed substantially for them, a government who initiated reform, who took fundamental risks around reform given their particular constituency, but also a government that lacked legitimacy in relation to the population as a whole, that there was a strong realisation in government that it couldn't survive, it couldn't actually fundamentally curb the internal violence that actually existed in the country although mostly it could put a lid on it, it actually couldn't stop it completely. It couldn't stop the uprisings of 1985, they just continued, not at the intense level of 1985, 1986, 1987, but certainly they existed, there were sanctions, etc.  So it was a government in many respects that was forced into change and I think you're looking now at a government in relation to the violence that has benefited in some way, certainly in 1990 and 1991, I wouldn't say 1992, from much of the violence in the black community to the extent that it has weakened its primary opposition which would be the ANC. I'll get on to them a bit later.

POM     Now when you say it has weakened them, can you point to research that you have carried out?

LV     I'm talking about 1990, 1991 in particular, I'm not talking about this year.  You're looking at an organisation that has been banned for decades, that was disorganised, is disorganised, is frequently inefficient and basically what the violence has done is that it has made it more difficult for the ANC to organise. It is very difficult to organise local level structures, to strengthen them, to build them with the current violence. Basically what violence does is that it ensures that people are responding in a crisis type of way, they become reactive, people are afraid to go to meetings, etc., etc., because they don't want to identify themselves. The result is you cannot build organisation, you cannot build the administrative link, you cannot develop membership properly, you cannot call meetings appropriately, you cannot train people. Now that is quite fundamental if you're looking at elections down the road because local level organisation is fundamental to draw people in to your organisation, to educate them about your party. So that has been, obviously, an asset to the government in the fact that the violence has weakened the ANC at that level.

     To the extent that violence has undermined and did undermine business confidence in 1990 and 1991, one would have to say that central government, I'm talking about De Klerk and the Nationalist Party (NP), I don't think benefits substantially from the violence to that level. And one has to remember that the NP is primarily a party that represented, and it still does represent, big business. It's constituency has changed. Violence has clearly undermined that level of business confidence. My sense, however, is that De Klerk believes that he could ride that out, but given other political ambitions, as with most politicians, most parties, they want to maintain power in different forms or maintain power as they can.

POM     So when the ANC says that the government have had a two pronged policy since 1990, the olive branch of negotiations on the one hand and a campaign to destabilise the ANC in the townships on the other, do you substantially agree with that statement?

LV     Well I think there's a large measure of truth in it. I think one has to be careful about the degree of conspiracy around central government.  My sense is that you have a government here that is basically - it hasn't often initiated a lot of the violence in the black areas. I don't believe that you have De Klerk initiating the violence. I think what you have is somebody who sees particular forces unleashed and assesses those forces and decides in one respect that he's not going to move against those particular forces that are causing a lot of the violence, partly because he still sees his own political ambitions and political needs, as with any of the parties of course.  So I don't have a sense of him initiating the violence. I have a sense of him actually looking at the violence and knowing where it's coming from, knowing, I will say, that it is an Inkatha/ANC conflict, not just initiated by third force elements, I think they are central in it, and lets it run. He lets it run partly because it weakens his primary opposition, the ANC; it weakens their local level structures.

     There's no doubt that in 1990 and certainly 1991 there was growing division within the ANC about the violence, the organisation that gave up the armed struggle when it's own members were being killed. That causes an enormous amount of resentment. It was losing touch with its grassroots constituency partly because of the structure of CODESA and, secondly, because it's grassroots structures were weak. It doesn't have that, they're not very powerful. So you have internal divisions and one can play up the issue of violence in terms of the ANC, in terms of ethnicity, which is exactly what the state media did do and played the whole issue of the ANC being Xhosa related, an attempt to limit it's support among particular ethnic groupings.

     To that extent I think that's what the government strategy was.  To talk about initiating violence since 1990 is a different ball game and I'm not sure that central government, in terms of De Klerk, actually did that. I think there are elements within government that have, but I'm not sure that they have always been conducted with his initiation, I wouldn't agree with that.

POM     If you're looking at Inkatha?

LV     I think with Inkatha you have a group, as with all the groupings and particularly the Nationalist Party and Inkatha, they are a grouping that has to redefine itself in a very fundamental way, just as the Nationalist Party has to redefine itself from basically a white party, it has to define itself as non-racial because of the transition politics. And Inkatha is essentially a Zulu based party, it's regionally located and it does have legal status, it had a lot of prominence in South African media before the ANC was unbanned, there was no fundamental formal challenge to it. Transition really changes their role in a very fundamental way. It undermines their policy formations around KwaZulu. The whole Indaba thing has to be watched now because it's unacceptable given national politics. If they are going to win an election, or develop any substantial support, they have to transform themselves from a regional grouping into a national one, from an ethnic grouping into a national type of party. They are now fundamentally challenged by the ANC.  As negotiations begin to take place they feel sidelined, they feel marginalised.  The Pretoria Minute for example, it looks like a bilateral type of agreement that begins to develop.

     So you're having a grouping that had a lot of prominence, that was doing relatively well in their terms, and suddenly it becomes quite marginalised in 1990 and literally, I think it was seven days after they formed the party, when the Inkatha Freedom Party is formed, seven days after its launch violence breaks out in the Transvaal. They were beginning to have a massive recruitment drive. So I don't think it's any coincidence. I don't think that link between Inkatha becoming a party, political party, and its attempt at recruitment in the Transvaal and the violence which breaks out in August, I don't think there was much coincidence around that. I think it's a relatively obvious link and I think the issue of Inkatha is that they've had to attempt, and they have, and in one sense successfully used violence in terms of mobilising the Zulus. I think they use violence because violence creates fear and if you say, if you provide the message that particular ethnic groupings are being targeted inevitably that's going to heighten a sense of ethnic nationalism and it's going to mobilise support.

     At the same time you also want to broaden your base and look acceptable.  In that sense the violence has benefited Inkatha substantially. I'm not saying that they are responsible for the violence in any way. I'm saying that the violence fundamentally, certainly in 1990 and 1991, benefited them. It became one of the key major players. Before there were two major players. Now there are three major players. What conflict does, what violence does, is that it tells us it cannot be ignored no matter how small your support is. There were studies done by market research companies, private market research companies, done in Soweto, which indicated in July that Inkatha only had 2% of the black population's support in Soweto. These aren't political groupings, they're not NGOs, they are just commercial enterprises. Given all the problems with polls etc., etc., even if they were way out, there wasn't massive support. But certainly what conflict does is that it means you cannot be ignored. To that extent Inkatha has been successful.  The violence has benefited them. I'm not saying that they are responsible for the violence, I'm saying the violence fundamentally has benefited them the most.

POM     There was a book that came out last year by an American named Donald Horowitz who is a conflict resolution specialist, he's done a lot of work in divided societies, but he argued in it that ethnicity was an important part of the conflict in South Africa and that it was a part that was ignored, but could be ignored only at the peril of it coming back to haunt the country if it weren't taken into account in the development of governance structures. In the work that this Centre has done, does ethnicity appear as an important variable?

LV     Well yes, I think ethnicity has always been an important variable in South Africa, certainly historically and in pre-colonial times there was ethnic warfare that existed in South Africa. So it's not new. It's not something that was introduced by apartheid in its attempt to divide and rule.  Certainly apartheid has played, and it needed ethnic division to justify itself, so it helped promote it. But, yes, if one looks at the killings, if one looks at the violence, if one looks at what perpetrators say before they kill, yes ethnicity is an issue because they are identifying certain individuals. Even in killing they identify themselves. They say we are Zulus, we are Xhosas, etc. So ethnicity is there. It cannot be ignored because it is so crucial in terms of how people identify themselves.  Ethnicity is also used in terms of mobilising people and as I've indicated there's been an attempt, I think Inkatha have particularly used it in mobilising supporters and mobilising support for themselves. So, it's there.

     The point, of course, is how exaggerated it becomes and whether ethnic conflict actually - how serious ethnic conflict is and how it also becomes manufactured, how various political groupings can manufacture it and use it and ethnicise it.  One has to ask why suddenly there's this massive ethnic, if one wants to define the violence as ethnic, because I don't, I think it's a factor, one has to ask why does this ethnic component suddenly emerge in 1990 in the Transvaal and not in 1989 and not in 1988 and not in the mid-eighties? Those are important questions and what that indicates is that ethnicity is a mobilising tool and I think it was a mobilising tool. So I think one has to look at it in terms of a dynamic type of force. I don't believe that there was, prior to 1990 certainly, any major ethnic tension in a very fundamental way, as we find, for example, in Europe at the moment, in South Africa. It's there, I've seen ethnic tensions there. I'm saying it's being built on, it's being used. I think one has to be careful.

     One also has to look at political differences. One shouldn't presume that every ethnic group is unified because they are not. The point about Inkatha, for example, the point about Natal politics, is that Buthelezi's primary opposition, the violence which existed prior to the August violence in the Transvaal where you literally have killings, killing fields in some areas, is really between Zulu speaking people, people who are resisting Inkatha for political reasons because they do not want to support them, because they genuinely supported the UDF at the time or the ANC. So one has to look at political difference and how that touches on ethnicity and how ethnicity is used to further enhance political difference.

POM     My question would be: it's an important factor but the ANC, for example, will reject any attempt to interpret any of the violence through the prism of ethnicity, saying you're really being an apologist, i.e. that it was apartheid that developed and exacerbated these differences, and if there is violence that is related to ethnicity it's because of apartheid not because of ethnic differences per se.

LV     There's no way that one can deny ethnicity. The point about ethnicity is you have to ask people to define themselves. I would bet, whether it's white or black, the majority of them define themselves, in part, one of the definitions of themselves will be in terms of ethnicity.  Whether it is up on the scale of how they define themselves I think changes according to conflict, changes according to violence, it changes according to a variety of things. But given all of that I think the majority of South Africans in some way will define themselves in an ethnic way, whether it's in terms of being Jewish, whether it's in terms of being Greek, Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, whatever, Afrikaner, no matter, that will be one of the definitions, one of the ways that they describe themselves. And so, of course, it's a factor. It cannot be ignored because it's important in terms of the way people like to define themselves as human beings.

POM     OK. The ANC and violence?

LV     I think again, as I have said, the ANC were fundamentally affected by the violence in a very substantial way. I think that they have been the primary losers of the violence. That doesn't mean that they haven't been responsible for the violence or parts of the violence. It doesn't mean that they haven't initiated some of the violence. But fundamentally if you look at it politically I think they have been the primary losers. The ANC would want to have political elections as soon as possible, I think it's what they wanted, believing that they would be the majority party. They would want to develop their grassroots structures, enhance them. So violence has really been a very negative factor for them, but having said that, that doesn't mean that there haven't been elements of the ANC who haven't been responsible for causing a lot of the violence.  Certainly that is true and it's been an important statement that Mandela made before going to the UN that there were elements of the ANC who were responsible for the violence and they were out of control, because I think that is the truth and it's an important acknowledgement. One would want to see more acknowledgements of that from all quarters, including the ANC more often.

POM     So when you look at the whole picture of all these inter-related factors that contribute in one way or another to the violence, and that one's feeding on the other, and then you look at the activities of the National Peace Committee which was launched last year with great fanfare - and I think this year has been the single worst year for violence in the recent history of South Africa - why was the Peace Accord, or has it been, ineffective or would the level of violence even be a lot higher if it weren't there?

LV     I think the reasons for its ineffectuality, there are a number of reasons.  I think the one is that there wasn't the political will to stop the violence. I don't think the government has the political will to stop the violence. I think it didn't prosecute law enforcement officials who broke the law. It wasn't strong enough on police partiality. All of that created the scenario that people had to take the law into their own hands because the police couldn't be trusted. I think you are looking at third force elements who have encouraged the violence and will continue to encourage the violence and who will not stay still for a number of years. All of that including the fact of weak local level structures, weak grassroots structures which means that even if you have agreements in certain regions, certain communities where there have been agreements in fact, it's very hard to implement those agreements because grassroots structures are so weak you can't get information out of your members, you can't get information out of the community, well organised people to resolve things. Only organised groupings can successfully negotiate. That hasn't occurred because those structures don't exist, of course there's a history of that as well. P W Botha attempted to destroy street committees, local level organisations. So obviously there are a number of reasons for the failure of the Peace Accord and I would say those are two or three of them. Of course there are other reasons for the continual violence, heightened expectations that haven't been fulfilled, socio-economic deprivation, the country's been getting poorer rather than wealthier. People expected a lot and they end up being unemployed. More firearms give people a sense of power.

POM     What about what John Kane-Berman says about this culture of ungovernability that was inculcated in the young people in the nineteen eighties, it spilled over into street committees, kangaroo courts; the comrades then run things, so that what you have is a culture of intolerance, lack of respect for authority, inability to follow discipline. Are these serious factors? Is there a whole sub-culture out there of young people who basically have been acculturated to violence?

LV     I think Kane-Berman's point about ungovernability is an important one to the extent that, yes, what the mid-eighties did do was create a scenario of intolerance, it created a scenario of destruction that what you aimed to do was destroy things, destroy apartheid structures, and if you didn't toe the line you were out. So, yes, if you have to look at violence you always have to look at intolerance, that's absolutely essential. Where I disagree with Kane-Berman is that it's ahistorical. It's ahistorical to the extent that ungovernability is not wanted, you can't hold the ANC for ungovernability and intolerance. This country has a history of intolerance prior to the mid-eighties of people being repressed, of censorship, of people being banned, of people being assassinated. If we're looking at models we have to look at the government of the day, we have to look at those in authority to provide us with models and we've never really had models of tolerance. We've never really had models of debate. Yes, I think it's ahistorical and I think the ANC contributed with that process, but if you're really looking at the roots one has to look at the government, one has to look at the Nationalist Party, and even prior to that because, as with any violence, one has to look at it historically.

POM     One hears of this generation of youth who are unemployed and unemployable and raised on a culture of militancy, is this more a fiction or is it a reality?

LV     All that stuff is real. Kane-Berman's point is real. The point is where you lay the blame for it and I'm saying the point about the youth is it's very real. I think you have a large constituency in South Africa, 60% of the black population is under 20. Unemployment amongst that sector is enormous.  I think the unofficial estimates are about 40%, I would imagine youth unemployment is roughly about 5% or 60% and without skills. There was virtually some disruption of the education system for every single year of the decade of the eighties and the education system anyway is poor. Many of them are illiterate. They will never get jobs in the formal economy under this government or any other. They feel on the margins of the society. They feel society hasn't taken care of them. They often come from single parent families or from families where there isn't much stability and cohesiveness, there isn't much control over them even at a family level. Communities have broken up so there isn't much control over them there. In many respects they are just running loose and one of the ways that they are attempting to come together is the formation of youth gangs and that has been a new feature of South African life I think. Gangs have always been part of South African life and township life but they haven't had the degree of permanence and the degree of brutality that we now find amongst them and I think unless we address the problem of youth in South Africa we will never really resolve violence here.

POM     So when you talk about youth gangs, could you give me some examples of the way in which they operate?

LV     You have gangs like the Jack Rollers in Soweto whose philosophy is to rape all women under 26, who want to make girls pregnant, who go into classrooms and rape girls in the classrooms, steal things, disrupt anybody who they believe would be getting ahead. I don't believe they would define it as that, but that's basically it.  I think what you're looking at there is a grouping of people who are getting an enormous amount of status through violence, who find a cohesiveness through violence, who get bonded through violence, who are able to affirm their masculinity through violence, who feel central to violence, who are able to destroy the futures of others through violence because they wouldn't want them to get ahead.  So that's part and parcel of youth politics and unless we provide channels and avenues in which those youths can obtain a degree of status, centrality, importance, sense of purpose in the world through other means and not through violence, we will never really resolve the problem because the youth are the primary perpetrators, I believe, of violence. We don't have official statistics on that.

POM     Is there a high level of expectations among young people with regard to what a new government will bring or are they expecting change or is really the larger change in society really beyond - doesn't come into the way they think?

LV     It's not just the youth.  The whole issue of unmet expectations is important. I don't think it's the central fact in the violence but it's certainly a contributing factor and over the years the situation where people have been oppressed and oppressed for generations, suddenly you have this massive degree of change. If you listen to De Klerk's speech where he talks about the new South Africa, reason for hope, times of prosperity and Mandela gets released and things are supposed to look up, things are supposed to be improved materially, politically, as long as they improve after all this time basically it works.  Now for anybody that is going to cause a problem. When you put that in the context of the history of apartheid and the history of South Africa then that is playing with fire. It's inevitable that people would become impatient. What I'm saying is that's not the reason for the violence. I'm saying it contributes to the violence. It takes people further down the road before they -

POM     Seeing as you're in such a hurry, maybe I could have a look at some of the papers, see some of the research that your Centre has done?

LV     I don't have that now. The best thing to do is get hold of Gill Huber. How long are you going to be here for?

POM     The end of the month. I ring the number every day but I generally get a recording.

LV     She'll phone you back, because she can just give you a list.

POM     When you were talking about violence, talking about 1990 and 1991, you almost conspicuously didn't talk about 1992. Is that because the violence in 1992 has different characteristics or different causes?

LV     I think the politics of it have changed. I think things are quite different. If you look at 1992 I think you're looking at a shift in the levels of power, political power. I think you're looking at a government that's a lot weaker in the last two or three months, shows less credibility internationally, it's ability to move into the black community and obtain electoral support certainly for the next six to twelve months is out of the question. I don't believe De Klerk could win in any township in any way, which he certainly was able to do in 1990 and 1991.  The National Party's ability to set up local structures in townships, Nationalist Party structures I think are out. The ANC has got in touch with the politics it knows best, politics of protest, so it is a lot more confident. It's restored its grassroots links. Those are much more fundamental shifts. I think the links between government and Inkatha are much clearer. The police partiality has become much more manifest, much more open, much more obvious. Those are all things that were up for debate in 1990/91, areas of contest, I think it's become clear.

     So I think in that sense there have been some fundamental shifts. I think you're looking at business and the trade unions coming into a much closer relationship at a political level, which is very threatening for De Klerk. My sense is that he is wanting to abort the relationship between COSATU and the business around mass action. I think he's very threatened by it. I think you're looking at the demise of the right wing at a political level. That's been a very fundamental factor of 1990 and 1991.  Those are big shifts, very big shifts. I think you are looking at a recognition by whites that there is no other way, an acceptance essentially of a different constitution, a different government.

POM     Are organisations like the AWB of significance or is it really a lot of hot wind?

LV     No I don't think we've seen the last of the AWB. I think we're going to see them again. I think just because they're quiet at the moment it doesn't mean we're not going to find them again. I think they will commit violence, I think there will be acts of terror. I don't believe that it will be long lasting threat in a fundamental way, but I think we'll see them. I think we'll see them again.

     But at a political level the Conservative Party and their allies, the AWB, are not a fundamental threat as they may have been prior to the referendum.  There's much more division in them, they haven't got an alternative. It's very clear that things aren't going to be going back. You couldn't have said that , one always had a sense of doubt that maybe things could be restored if there was a coup, if the Conservative Party came into power, whatever. It's no longer a major threat, things aren't going to go back to the days of old. I think that's clear enough in terms of the white psyche anyway. That doesn't mean that people want it, doesn't mean that there's a sense of acceptance about it.

POM     OK. Thank you.

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