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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

VII. The Need For Objective Operation

The TRC's founding legislation required that 'the commission, its commissioners, and every member of its staff should function without political or other bias'. Allegations of bias have been made against the commission since its inception, however.

Controversy surrounded the appointment of the commissioners in November 1995, on the basis that they were not sufficiently representative of all sides to the conflicts of the past. Commissioners were also alleged to have displayed a bias on occasion-one example having arisen during the 'Bisho' hearing. (This was convened to hear evidence about the Bisho massacre in September 1992, when 29 people were killed and another 300 or so injured when Ciskei soldiers opened fire on ANC supporters, apparently intent on marching on the Ciskei capital to overthrow the homeland's military ruler, Brigadier 'Oupa' Gqoza.) Some commissioners were alleged to have been so 'aggressive and sarcastic' towards Brig Gqoza that Archbishop Tutu was compelled to intervene, and remind them not to 'say things during public hearings that could undermine the TRC's effort to appear even-handed'.

The NP frequently alleged bias on the part of the commission. The party also brought suit against it in 1997, after it had allegedly treated an ANC delegation with 'friendliness and respect', while subjecting an NP delegation to 'persistent cross-questioning' designed to elicit an admission that the former government had deliberately murdered its political opponents. The case was settled in due course, the TRC undertaking to uphold its duty to be even-handed at all times, and the NP agreeing to resume co-operation with it. (Archbishop Tutu and the deputy chairman of the commission, Dr Alex Boraine, also tendered personal apologies to the NP.)

The NP and other political parties also alleged in December 1997 that the decision by the TRC's amnesty committee to grant amnesty on a collective basis to 37 ANC leaders reflected a bias on the part of the commission towards the ANC. (See The amnesty evidence outstanding, above.) The NP referred the matter to the Cape Town High Court for review-and the court, as earlier noted, set aside the decision on the basis, among other things, that the full disclosure required by the commission's founding legislation had not been made.

The IFP also frequently alleged bias on the part of the commission. It criticised the selection of commissioners and the appointment of senior TRC staff, saying that 'loyalty to the ANC appeared to be prerequisites for these posts'. It contended that the truth was 'unlikely to emerge from a process driven by the (untested) confessions of those wanting to escape jail sentences'. As the TRC's work proceeded, the party also accused the commission of having manifested 'an unjust bias' against it in various ways-and especially in its failure properly to investigate the deaths of hundreds of IFP leaders and thousands of IFP supporters. In October 1997 the IFP asked the public protector, Mr Selby Baqwa, to investigate the TRC's anti-IFP bias and its 'apparent intention to discredit political parties in opposition to the ANC'. (This investigation remained in progress at the time of writing.)

Some oddities in the TRC report also raise questions as to its impartiality. At one point in the report, Archbishop Tutu stated that 'security force violations seemed to dominate' the TRC's proceedings primarily because 'most of the violations of which the liberation movements were guilty were already in the public domain'. This, he said, was because most of their perpetrators had already been 'arrested, convicted, and even executed'. He cited as examples the Magoo's Bar and Amanzimtoti bomb attacks, as well as various necklace executions. The implication is that these relatively few incidents were the only gross violations for which the ANC could be held accountable-a matter that needed to be investigated rather than presumed.

Another oddity is to be found in the TRC's account of the 'Battle of the Forest' (which took place outside Richmond in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands in March 1991) and its aftermath. According to the commission:

Fighting between the ANC and the IFP in the Richmond area 'culminated in the so-called "Battle of the Forest" on 29 March 1991, in which 23 IFP supporters, including women and children, were killed and the ANC regained control of the major portion of the Ndaleni area. A number of prominent IFP leaders in the area were attacked and/or killed … On 21-23 June 1991, groups of heavily armed IFP supporters attacked ANC supporters in Ndaleni. Fourteen people were killed and nine others injured.

The commission's finding regarding these events is as follows:

The commission finds that 23 people, including women and children, were killed between 21 and 23 June 1991 in the Richmond area by unknown supporters of the IFP, constituting gross violations of human rights.

This finding flies in the face of the commission's own description of two separate incidents (which took place in March and June respectively). It is silent about the 23 IFP deaths in March. It exaggerates the deaths caused by the IFP in June, while giving no hint of the provocation that might have sparked these killings.

Another oddity arises from the TRC's finding regarding various deaths that occurred when the IFP held a rally at the Jabulani Stadium in Soweto on 8th September 1991. In describing the 'battle that ensued', allegedly after an IFP attack, the TRC says that 'hand grenades were allegedly thrown into the crowd of Inkatha supporters, killing five'. 'Later', it states, 'a further eight people were killed, allegedly by Inkatha supporters in retaliation.' Its finding, however, is as follows:

In the aftermath of the march, IFP supporters attacked innocent residents, killing 13 of them and injuring 18 others… The commission finds the IFP responsible for the commission of gross human rights violations.

Again, the TRC seems to ignore its own earlier description of the incident. Instead, the deaths of five IFP supporters in a hand grenade attack are blamed on the IFP itself, the provocation that seemingly evoked the killing of a further eight people is ignored, and the IFP is held accountable for all the 13 deaths that thus occurred.

Apart from these issues, questions arise about the focus of the commission's investigation and research-and its failure adequately to respond to detailed allegations of the role of the ANC alliance in initiating and propagating a 'people's war' that ostensibly led to many thousands of fatalities.

1. The focus of investigation and research

The commission had wide-ranging powers of investigation and research, and the way in which it exercised these powers is important.

An outline at the outset?

According to the minority view of Mr Wynand Malan, one of the first tasks the commission addressed was to prepare an outline of the report it had been enjoined to write. Mr Malan states that he had 'serious misgivings on both the principle and effect of submitting an outline for the report before we had reached a shared understanding of what we wanted to achieve, and before there had been some discussion on the analysis of the data, which at that stage was in the early stages of being captured'.

Whether Mr Malan is right about an outline having been drawn up at the outset is disputed. The rest of the commission, in its rejoinder to Mr Malan, has denied this. It adds that 'the process of writing the report commenced during 1997 after full discussion and agreement within the Commission on the approach to be followed'. The matter thus remains inconclusive.

National and regional chronologies

As earlier noted, however, one of the first tasks undertaken by the TRC's Research Department was to conduct a series of workshops, involving a number of unnamed participants, to identify gross violations of human rights that were 'well-known and documented' or 'in danger of being lost to public memory'. The department then used these deliberations to draw up national and regional chronologies of particularly important events.

The regional chronologies thus prepared are not included in the commission's report, and their content cannot therefore be assessed. (They form part of the records lodged by the commission with the National Archives and have not been made available to the public. Nor will they be, it seems, until the work of the commission has been completed.) The national chronology, however, is included in the report. It is noteworthy as much for what it includes as for what it omits.

The chronology distorts the past. It provides no inkling of the extent of revolutionary violence in the 1980s and early 1990s. It presents security force abuses in a vacuum, omitting the context in which their conduct occurred. It describes some of the massacres perpetrated by Inkatha, but leaves out the series of assassinations and smaller attacks that might have provoked these killings. It thus omits, among other things:

Ø     the killing in 1987 of workers who refused to take part in strikes organised by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), or its affiliates, including the 'necklacing' of five men during a rail strike;

Ø     the killing of about 100 people in different parts of the country in the enforcement of the 'anti-VAT' stayaway called by the ANC alliance in November 1991;

Ø     the KwaShange massacre in September 1987, in which 13 Inkatha Youth Brigade members were killed near Pietermaritzburg; (See Events and issues not investigated, below.)

Ø     the massacre of 13 Inkatha supporters in March 1990 in an attack on the homestead of an induna, or headman, near Hammarsdale in the Natal Midlands;

Ø     a massacre in Patheni (near Richmond) in August 1992, in which another induna (an IFP leader), his wife, and his children, were lined up against the wall of his homestead and then gunned down;

Ø     the killing of eight IFP supporters in 1993, also at Patheni, by a raiding party that 'emptied automatic weapons into the windows of a home where women and babies slept on the floor'; and

Ø     a hand grenade attack on the Umlazi (Durban) home of a senior Inkatha leader, Mr Winnington Sabelo, in August 1986 in which his wife was killed and three of his children injured.

In 1992, moreover, the chronology records the Boipatong massacre of 45 ANC supporters in mid-June. It leaves out, however, the killing of 23 IFP supporters at the Crossroads and Zonkizizwe informal settlements on the east Rand earlier that year.

The Crossroads and Zonkizizwe attacks are notable not only for the scale of the death and destruction that they involved, but also for the comment, as described below, that they evoked from the Goldstone commission.

The Crossroads settlement was attacked one night in early April 1992 by about 300 men armed with firearms, axes, and pangas. The 19 people killed in the attack included two children and a woman, while 12 individuals were injured and 45 shacks damaged or destroyed. The Zonkizizwe incident came soon thereafter and involved a group of 50 to 100 attackers, who left four IFP supporters dead, 10 injured, and numerous houses, shacks, and cars destroyed. The Goldstone commission tried to investigate both incidents. It found itself hampered by a lack of clear evidence, and was unable to draw firm conclusions regarding culpability for the attacks. It noted, however, that 'a large number of people had been killed and injured and considerable property damaged' in the two incursions. It went on to state: 'Unlike the so-called Boipatong massacre, these incidents have all but disappeared from the agenda and very little progress has been made in their investigation. This must leave innocent victims wondering whether there are different laws and different processes for groups affiliated to different political parties.'

The Goldstone commission's comment might be seen as applying with equal force to the national chronology compiled by the TRC.

The chronology also refers, on four occasions, to the role of the State Security Council (SSC) in counter-revolution. Pointers to the revolution apparently thus being countered are omitted, however. There is no reference to various further matters (see Events and issues not investigated, below), including:

Ø     the adoption by the ANC alliance in 1983 of a strategy document called 'Planning for People's War';

Ø     numerous calls by the alliance for violence against political opponents as well as collaborators, informers, policemen, local councillors, and all apartheid institutions; and

Ø     the adoption by the ANC and its allies in May 1992 of the 'Leipzig option', in terms of which they planned to destabilise and ultimately topple three 'bantustan puppets' (Brigadier Gqoza of Ciskei, Chief Lucas Mangope of Bophuthatswana, and Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi of KwaZulu) and, finally, the 'Pretoria puppet master himself'.

The chronologies played an important role in shaping the work of the commission.They were used to brief the statement takers responsible for recording victim statements (see The gathering of victim statements, above), and also to identify the individuals to be sought out and requested to make statements. They also helped determine the focus of victim hearings, the nature of the evidence brought to public attention, and the process whereby conclusions regarding culpability were reached.

'Strategic' themes to guide research

The 'early chronologies' compiled by the Research Department were also used to make a 'preliminary identification of 14 strategic research themes'. Five of these focused on: 'normative and moral questions'; the commission 'in historical context'; 'gender concerns'; 'children and youth'; and 'the health sector'.

Five seemed calculated to focus on the former government. These were 'the development of the security establishment'; 'the judiciary and the legal system', 'imprisonment and detentions'; the 'homelands'; and 'vigilantes'. The four remaining themes were 'white right wing extremism inside South Africa'; 'KwaZulu-Natal'; the 'liberation movements'; and 'opposition groupings inside South Africa'. Of these, only one-'liberation movements'-seemed clearly to offer a vehicle for investigating the role of these movements in political violence (though the 'KwaZulu-Natal' theme might also have provided a means for exploring the involvement of both the ANC and the IFP in conflict in the region).

Whether any theme was given a particular prominence by the TRC is not explained in its report. In May 1998, however, one of the commissioners, Ms Yasmin Sooka, told the Sowetan newspaper that a 'key' theme was 'the role of the third force in fomenting violence'. The third force theme merited this emphasis, she stated, because 'third force strategy affected all regions and included so many things, like organisational violence and vigilantism'.The research themes were important in various ways. They provided the context within which individual violations were to be understood. They 'assisted the Human Rights Violations Committee in making findings on the statements it received'. In addition-though the commission does not acknowledge this-they promoted the accumulation of a growing body of information falling within their parameters, while diverting attention away from other issues.

Research papers commissioned

The Research Department commissioned research papers on a number of topics. According to its report, these included apartheid as a crime against humanity; apartheid legislation; the Caprivi trainees, who 'were deployed as a covert paramilitary force in KwaZulu-Natal in 1986'; commissions of inquiry in South Africa; detention in the KwaZulu-Natal region; the history of conflict in KwaZulu-Natal; homelands policy and development; hostel violence; conflict in the Natal Midlands; political prisoners and detainees; public order policing; the SADF in Namibia and Angola; the 1990 Seven Days War; homelands security forces; legal and judicial systems; the Moutse/KwaNdebele incorporation conflict; torture in South Africa; torture in the Western Cape; and warlords in KwaZulu-Natal. Other issues were also canvassed-including the role of the PAC in historical context; the Black Consciousness Movement; gender relations; and 'the medical and social consequences of gross human rights violations'.

The focus of investigative hearings

The Investigation Unit used its powers, among other things, to conduct a number of investigative hearings that were primarily held in camera (under section 29 of the commission's founding legislation). Its section 29 hearings included inquiries into 'Vlakplaas; Witdoek violence in KTC; the Civil Co-operation Bureau; the security police in KwaZulu and Natal; the Mandela United Football Club; and chemical and biological warfare'. Hearings were also held, with the assistance of the unit, into the role of the former State Security Council (SSC); 'the armed forces'; the training by the SADF of 200 Inkatha supporters in the Caprivi; the Trojan Horse incident; and the shooting of the Guguletu Seven.

One prominent ANC leader, the former wife of President Mandela, was thus the subject of a special hearing. (This preceded her later public hearing, see Denial of bias by the commission, below.) Alleged abuses in ANC camps in exile were also canvassed by the TRC-but this was done rather briefly during a public hearing focused mainly on conditions in South African prisons under the former government. 'Events associated with the ANC in exile' were also canvassed during the ANC's second hearing before the commission, at the 'armed forces hearing' on 10th October 1997, and during in camera section 29 hearings, held in March and April 1998, for a former ANC commissar, Mr Andrew Masondo, and a former ANC Quatro commander, Mr Gabriel Methembu.

The abuses in the ANC's camps had already entered public knowledge through, among other things, a report published in November 1992 by Amnesty International. The Amnesty report had documented a 'pattern of gross abuse which was allowed to go unchecked for many years, not only by the ANC's leadership in exile but also by the governments of the frontline states'. It had urged that the ANC officials responsible be brought to justice, and barred from holding any position of authority within the organisation. Similar findings had previously emerged from the report of the Skweyiya commission, published in August 1992, and were echoed by the report of the Motsuenyane commission, appointed in 1993.

What had occurred in the camps could thus hardly have been ignored by the TRC. The commission nevertheless failed to convene a full investigative hearing into the matter. Instead, it dealt with the abuses in the ANC's camps either in passing-in the course of hearings focused primarily on other issues-or behind closed doors.

2. Events and issues not investigated

The commission took pains to ensure that the culpability of the former government and the IFP in attacking, torturing, and killing supporters of the ANC and UDF, especially in the 1980s, was explored and recorded in a comprehensive way. This was a vital part of its function, and clearly needed to be done.

Thus, much of the TRC's 3 500-page report provides a graphic account of how, in this period, the former security forces (among other things):

Ø     detained tens of thousands of UDF activists without trial, sometimes for long periods;

Ø     subjected very many of these individuals to brutal torture;

Ø     whipped up white anger and white fear by invoking 'swartgevaar', while calling on policemen and soldiers to 'eliminate', 'wipe out', or 'permanently remove from society' those supporters and leaders of the ANC alliance who challenged NP rule;

Ø     engaged in the extra-judicial execution of key ANC alliance leaders, such as Mr Griffiths Mxenge, Ms Ruth First, Mr Matthew Goniwe, Dr Fabian Ribeiro, Mr Stanza Bopape, and Ms Dulcie September;

Ø     entrapped and killed groups of activists (the Pebco Three, the Nietverdiend Ten, the youths in Duduza on the east Rand supplied with 'booby-trapped' hand grenades);

Ø     evoked further violence and confrontation by firing without provocation or adequate warning at peaceful protesters (often funeral goers attending wakes or marches for activists previously shot dead by police); and

Ø     hid the evidence of their wrongdoing, in many instances, by tossing bodies into crocodile-infested rivers, burying them in unmarked graves, or blowing them to pieces with explosives-thus denying the bereaved the small comfort of securing a proper burial for the deceased.

The TRC report describes, as well, how IFP supporters, in the 1980s and especially the early 1990s, banded together in armed groups, at various times, to attack and kill (among others):

Ø     38 residents of a Sebokeng hostel in September 1990;

Ø     28 people in the Swanieville informal settlement in April 1991;

Ø     34 residents of Bruntville, in separate attacks in November 1990 and December 1991;

Ø     18 people in the Uganda squatter settlement in Umlazi in mid 1992; and

Ø     45 men, women, and children in the Boipatong massacre of June 1992.

Although the TRC's account of some these events is flawed, the commission-in seeking to investigate and to record them-was fulfilling a vital part of its mandate. The problem is that the commission failed adequately to investigate or record other alleged gross violations that merited an equal attention. Allegations regarding the origins, ambit and extent of these other abuses were contained in a number of submissions made to the TRC. These may be summarised as follows.

Submissions by the National Party

In its first submission to the commission in August 1996, the National Party alleged, among other things, that:

Ø     the ANC was closely allied to and possibly 'even dominated by the SACP'. SACP members held powerful positions within the ANC's national executive committee (among other bodies), while the SACP's 'agenda was to use its position in the ANC-led alliance to promote a two-phase revolution' that would culminate in communist control over the country;

Ø     the ANC earlier adopted and, at its Kabwe conference in 1985, re-committed itself to a 'people's war'. Its aim was that its 'liberation army [would become] rooted amongst the people who would progressively participate in the armed struggle both politically and militarily'. Its ultimate objective was to create a 'revolutionary situation', which would facilitate 'the seizure of power through a general insurrection';

Ø     within 18 months from the outbreak of violence in September 1984, 'the ANC's revolutionary strategy resulted in the destruction of some 3 000 houses and more than 1 200 schools, the widespread disruption of black education and local authorities, and the deaths of 573 people, of whom 295 were burned to death by the necklace method'; while

Ø     even after the unbanning of the ANC and the SACP, revolutionary violence continued to take its toll. It was reflected, for example, in 505 necklace executions between 1984 and 1993; in 554 landmine, limpet mine, and car bomb attacks from 1985 to 1991 in which 87 people were killed and 997 injured; in sustained attacks on the police in which 1 030 policemen were killed between 1973 and 1993; and in 'attacks on thousands of black South Africans-most of them equally opposed to apartheid-who were murdered, injured, or intimidated because they chose to work for change within existing government institutions'.

In its second submission to the TRC in 1997, the NP contended that the commission was in danger of losing its credibility through a lack of even-handedness. The party again urged that it endeavour to 'establish the truth about all gross violations committed by all parties to the conflict'. The commission was concentrating its attention on the security forces, the NP alleged, but 'the probability [remained] that the great majority of people who had died were victims of the conflict between various revolutionary and non-revolutionary organisations which were all opposed to apartheid'.

The NP urged the commission, in particular, to assess the total number of political fatalities that had occurred. It requested that the TRC then break this total down and show how many had died as a result of security force action-and how many through the actions of the liberation movements. It also asked it to quantify how many people had died in conflict in KwaZulu-Natal, and to identify the affiliations of the victims.

The NP also elaborated on the role the ANC alliance had allegedly played in condoning or inciting 'necklace' killings. It quoted, for example, an interview in Sechaba in December 1986, in which the late Mr Chris Hani, general secretary of the SACP, had refused to condemn necklace executions. It cited a Radio Freedom broadcast in October 1985, in which a spokesman had commented that 'the policy of burning sell-outs of the system seems to have paid out in the ultimate end'. It cited another ANC spokesman who had said in October 1985 that the ANC 'wanted to make the death of a collaborator so grotesque that people would never think of it'. It cited a statement by Mrs Winnie Mandela in April 1986 seemingly endorsing necklace killings-and it quoted the words of two ANC supporters who had engaged in this method of execution and who had expressed their 'happiness' at 'watching [their victims] burn'.

The NP further alleged that the ANC had 'controlled' or 'deeply influenced' the UDF, the Mass Democratic Movement (which arose when the UDF was restricted in 1988), and the civic organisations in the townships-and said the ANC could not now distance itself from the activities of these structures. It called on the ANC to explain the role these organisations had played in making the townships 'ungovernable'. It quoted a statement by Mr Hani, in Sechaba in December 1986, indicating that these organisations had used 'the skills imparted to them' by the ANC alliance in order to 'deal with the police, community councillors, and collaborationist elements'. It cited a statement by Mr Ronnie Kasrils, in the May 1986 issue of Sechaba, apparently commending 'the people' for 'attacking the community councillors and the informers' and noting that 'unless a people arisen can purge its community of the enemy within, it is not possible to advance'. The NP called on the TRC to investigate 'who was responsible for a mass campaign of terror and intimidation against thousands of black South Africans whose only crime was their rejection of the ANC's armed struggle and their desire to serve their communities within existing structures'.

The NP submission also called on the TRC to investigate conflict in KwaZulu and Natal, including the ongoing deaths of IFP leaders and supporters. It reminded the TRC that the Goldstone commission had found both the ANC and the IFP guilty of violence, and had considered their political rivalry and fight for territory 'a primary trigger' of conflict (irrespective of whatever role the security forces might have played). The NP drew the TRC's attention to the calls made in May 1992, for example, by an ANC leader in KwaZulu-Natal who had urged ANC supporters to 'kill the SA Police, kill the SADF, kill the KwaZulu Police, [and] kill all our enemies'. It added that the ANC and others were now 'attempting to dismiss all the violence that had occurred in the conflict between various black groupings, including its struggle against the IFP, as the result of "third force" activities'. This, it said, was 'patently absurd'.

Submissions by former generals

The origins, scale, and nature of the revolutionary war allegedly waged by the ANC alliance was also described by:

Ø     General Johan van der Merwe, a former commissioner of police, in a submission made to the TRC in October 1996;

Ø     General Magnus Malan, a former head of the SADF and minister of defence, in a submission dated May 1997; and

Ø     General Herman Stadler, a former spokesman for the police, in a book entitled The Other Side of the Story, written in conjunction with other senior police officers, and submitted to the TRC by an organisation called The Foundation for Equality Before the Law.

These police and army generals described the ANC's 'people's war' and its implementation as follows.

In 1978 an ANC/SACP delegation visited Vietnam to study at first hand the requirements for a successful people's war. The ANC thereafter decided to implement a people's war and initiated a three-year plan aimed at mobilising and politicising the black population for this purpose.

The ANC described a people's war as one in which 'the entire nation is engaged, Umkhonto we Sizwe, the people's army, workers, the rural masses, women, intellectuals, [and] the religious community'. It envisaged that the masses, thus mobilised, would engage in 'all forms of revolutionary warfare, armed or non-combat' and that 'legal and illegal means [would be used] to attack and destroy all symbols and structures of apartheid power, including all those who manned them'.

In 1983 the Politico-Military Council (PMC) of the ANC issued a document called 'Planning for "People's War"'. This envisaged 'a protracted guerrilla war, mass uprisings, and the establishment of "alternative structures" and "revolutionary bases"'. It also called for increasing mass participation in demonstrations, which were to proceed from those that were peaceful and non-violent to those 'with an emphasis on violence and insurrection'. It further urged the arming of the masses, so that 'the stone would be replaced by the petrol bomb, acid bomb, and hand grenade'-while firearms such as the AK-47 assault rifle would 'become a substitute for the stick and panga'.

In 1984, as part of its people's war strategy, the ANC called on its supporters to make South Africa 'ungovernable'. This was to be achieved, among other things, through the breaking down of existing authority and the destruction of black local councils. This call was followed by 'the brutal murders of a number of community councillors, administrative personnel, police officials, and other persons who in any way assisted the state'. Often, these killings were by means of the 'dreaded "necklace" method'.

The ANC's objective, in destroying black local government, was to 'create the necessary prerequisites for "liberated zones"'. These, in turn, would provide a safe haven for trained Umkhonto cadres who would then return to the country and expand the revolutionary army. The 'politicised masses' were to be drawn into this army and were to be 'recruited, trained, and supplied with arms' by the 'advanced detachments' of Umkhonto members. Their training would take place internally, and they would thereafter be organised into 'combat units'.

Umkhonto-trained 'self-defence units', or SDUs, then developed. These played a vital role in enforcing ANC campaigns of mass action by coercion, in assailing the police and army, in intimidating township residents into supporting the ANC, and in attacking Inkatha supporters.

As the number of Umkhonto cadres and SDU members increased, the police came under sustained attack. The onslaught against them escalated even further after February 1990 (when the bans on the ANC and other organisations were lifted), and police fatalities showed a steady increase. Thus, while 76 policemen were killed in six years (from 1973 to 1979), and 270 were killed in ten years (from 1980 to 1990), no fewer than 385 were killed in a two-year period from the beginning of 1991 to the end of 1992.

The ANC further envisaged that the liberated zones would be run by 'street, area and block committees'. These would be buttressed by 'people's courts' whose task would be to ensure 'healthy revolutionary and democratic inter-relations within society'. These courts, once established in various townships, became responsible for 'dealing with cases of anti-social behaviour, conflicts, and "political crimes against the people"'. They 'progressively implemented a reign of terror and intimidation in the black townships against the population who had very little or no defence or protection in this regard. It was very often quite sufficient to be merely suspected of being a "sell-out" or "collaborator" to pay the ultimate price in the most dreadful manner'.

Attacks on civilian targets steadily proliferated as part of the 'people's war'. In 1981, attacks against hard (military) targets had comprised 88% of the total. By 1986, such attacks had dropped to fewer than 20%. In this process, 'people were burned alive in the streets, bombs exploded in shopping centres and restaurants, innocent women and children died, and the sight of dead and mutilated people was not uncommon'.

In 1985, moreover, the ANC had stated in a broadcast on Radio Freedom that 'anybody who mobilised the Zulu-speaking people was regarded as a rival to be wiped from the scene'. Thereafter, conflict in KwaZulu and Natal had witnessed the 'systematic murder' of more than 400 IFP office bearers, while 'many more thousands of IFP followers had been killed or attacked by the followers of the ANC and its allies'.

Overall, alleged Gen Stadler, the 'people's war' initiated by the ANC alliance resulted, within the space of some eight years, in no fewer than 80 500 incidents of violence in which approximately 9250 people were killed and 18 000 injured.

Gen Stadler's submission also described the alleged role of the PAC and its armed wing, Apla, in waging a 'protracted people's war' against the former government. PAC leaders, for example, had called on their supporters to arm themselves, seek 'combat training from Apla fighters', and 'help Apla forces to develop the war of national liberation' in every way possible. The PAC's campaigns were aimed expressly at white civilians as well, as was reflected in PAC and Apla slogans such as 'One Settler, One Bullet' and 'One Hand Grenade, Ten Settlers'.

According to Gen Stadler, the PAC used the freedom afforded by its unbanning in 1990 to step up 'its terrorist campaign' within the country. Policemen, in January 1992, remained targets for attack and were described by the national organiser of the PAC as 'robots of the system who should be sought out and destroyed'.

In April 1992, continued Gen Stadler, the PAC held its third national congress where it resolved not to suspend or abandon the armed struggle. All branches were instructed to provide logistical support to Apla. Apla cadres continued to be trained in Tanzania, as well as within the 'independent' homeland of the Transkei, and the rest of South Africa itself. In January 1993 'an accord of co-operation' was allegedly signed between Apla and the Transkei's military ruler, General Bantu Holomisa, in terms of which Apla 'undertook to procure arms for the Transkei Defence Force (TDF) and to absorb 500 of its soldiers into Apla structures'. The TDF in turn agreed to provide Apla with guns and grenades. Evidence emerged, moreover, that the TDF had been issuing arms and ammunition to Apla since 1990.

According to Gen Stadler, some 40 violent incidents that took place after 1991 were directly attributable to Apla operations. These included various armed robberies (apparently aimed at raising funds for the armed struggle), as well as attacks on policemen, farms, and restaurants in rural towns. Also attacked were the King William's Town golf club (in November 1992), the St James Church in Cape Town (in July 1993), and the Heidelberg Tavern (also in Cape Town) in December 1993. All attacks on white civilians were allegedly carried out on the specific instructions of Apla's commanders, and were in keeping with the Apla/PAC objective of a 'people's war'. An Apla publication called Azania Combat lauded the deaths resulting from Apla operations, and claimed that Apla was 'spearheading the guerrilla war in the country'. Overall, though Apla's activities were sometimes aimed at the security forces, they mostly targeted 'the civilian population in general'. This, averred Gen Stadler, was with the particular aim of 'gaining control over rural areas from where an intensified terror campaign could be launched'.

Some key omissions in investigation and research

Overall, the TRC made little systematic attempt to probe the alleged role of the liberation movements in initiating and implementing 'people's wars'. In particular, it made no sustained endeavour to commission research into these allegations-or ensure that its chronologies, strategic research themes, and public hearings focused adequately on these issues.

The submissions cited seemed clearly to indicate that full investigative hearings-of the kind initiated to canvass the significance of the Caprivi training, or the ambit of the former government's chemical weapons programme-were also needed to probe these allegations. Instead, the Investigation Unit was selective in the way it exercised its powers. This is illustrated, for example, by its differential treatment of the former State Security Council (SSC) and the ANC alliance's Politico-Military Council, or PMC.

The Investigating Unit embarked on an intensive investigation of the SSC and the role it had played in implementing the former government's 'total strategy' against the ANC alliance. To this end, it not only convened a number of hearings but also subpoenaed a former state president, Mr P W Botha, and various members of his cabinet to give evidence of the unlawful conduct allegedly sanctioned by the SSC in the course of counter-revolution.

The unit, however, launched no equivalent probe into the PMC. No ANC leader who had served on this body was subpoenaed to give evidence about the part the 'people's war' may have played in fuelling political violence.

A similar dichotomy seems evident as regards the unit's investigations of the illegal arms that proliferated in the country from 1984 to 1994. The unit made sustained endeavours to probe the alleged supply of arms by the security forces to the IFP. It made no equivalent attempt, it seems, to investigate the arms allegedly brought into the country by the ANC alliance, even after its unbanning in 1990. The ANC had undertaken, in the Pretoria Minute of August 1990, to 'suspend all armed actions with immediate effect'. It had further promised, in the D F Malan Accord of February 1991, to terminate any infiltration of men or material, while also taking steps to legalise the arms caches already within the country.

Though the TRC does not quantify the arms supplied to Inkatha by sympathetic policemen, the indications from its report are that the largest consignment, among a number of deliveries, ran to some 60 tons. (See Insufficient opportunity for cross-examination, above.) By contrast, a dossier compiled by the SAP (and submitted to the Goldstone commission in February 1994) indicated that some 22 000 tons of Umkhonto weaponry had been left behind in Angola, and that some of this had since been smuggled into South Africa. In addition, 'large quantities of arms and ammunition', brought into the country in terms of Operation Vula, had 'never been found or handed over' to the police, while arms smuggling routes from Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe had allegedly continued to be used.

A similar differential treatment is evident in the Investigating Unit's focus on alleged 'hit squad' involvement in political violence in KwaZulu and Natal. The unit mounted an intensive probe into the role of 200 Inkatha supporters trained in the Caprivi in 1986 (see also The Caprivi training in 1986, below), and concluded that they had been trained to operate as 'hit squads' against ANC and UDF supporters in the province By contrast, the Investigating Unit made little apparent endeavour to uncover the role of the ANC alliance in training and deploying in KwaZulu-Natal trained units that might equally have merited the term 'hit squads'.

Relevant in this regard is a submission made by the SAP to the Goldstone commission in 1992. According to this document, 'the ANC was training and arming a large army of men, many of whom were being trained in the Transkei, for attacks on the IFP'. Moreover, said the SAP, it was clear from a variety of factors-including the nature of the activities being undertaken by Umkhonto and by the ANC's SDUs-that 'the ANC was waging an aggressive war on its political opponents [in the IFP] by military means'. These allegations would seem to have merited as much investigation as the role of the Caprivi trainees.

No such probe into Umkhonto and SDU activity in KwaZulu-Natal was initiated by the TRC, however. Instead, the commission appears to have accepted the ANC's perspective that it had formed the SDUs to 'protect communities from attack by security forces and vigilantes'. The TRC ignores ANC strategic planning documents calling for the establishment of 'combat units', extensive police evidence of the role of SDUs in violence, and a court ruling in the early 1990s indicating that the SDUs had been formed, among other things, to attack the police and army.

The TRC's diverse approach to two massacres involving police complicity also seems to illustrate the differences in treatment. Both massacres took place in the Natal Midlands in the late 1980s. One has become notorious around the world and is canvassed by the TRC at length. The other, though similar in various respects, is not mentioned by the TRC at all. The first is Trust Feed, the second is KwaShange.

In the Trust Feed massacre, a policeman collaborated with Inkatha to attack the UDF. The resulting killings (of Inkatha supporters, as it happened) are described at length in the TRC's report. In the KwaShange massacre, a policeman collaborated with UDF supporters to attack Inkatha. Thirteen Inkatha members died as a result. According to the trial court, at about 11pm on 25th September 1987, a group led by the policeman, a Mr Nkosinathi Hlengwa, attacked a house in the KwaShange area, near Pietermaritzburg, in which some 30 Inkatha members had gathered. 'The house was encircled by Hlengwa's men and stones were thrown, breaking windows. Shots were fired and a door smashed in. When the youths tried to barricade the door, a fire was started. More shots were fired into the house.' Those who sought to escape from the blazing house were struck down one by one. The screams of those that remained in the house ceased only when a gas bottle exploded, 'producing the final holocaust'. 'Most of the 13 bodies,' said the court, 'were unrecognisably scorched, with shin bones and skulls showing through their skin.' Extenuating circumstances were also found in that the accused had feared an attack from the youths and had struck first-and Mr Hlengwa was thus sentenced to 12 years' imprisonment rather than to death. The killings nevertheless remained, said Mr Justice N S Page, acts of 'appalling and merciless cruelty'. The court warned that 'the deeds of Hlengwa [and the others] had sown a crop of hatred among parents, friends and relatives, the fruits of which were probably still to come'. (The following month, violence intensified in the Pietermaritzburg area, marked by an upsurge in fatalities.)

Certain parallels between the Trust Feed and KwaShange massacres seem evident. Both involved police officers working with members of one political organisation in order to attack another. Both witnessed the massacre of substantial numbers of people-11 in the Trust Feed incident, 13 in the KwaShange one. Both led to court judgements, in which culpability was made clear-and reliance did not have to be placed on newspaper accounts alone. Yet the Trust Feed massacre was repeatedly canvassed in the TRC's report, while the KwaShange killings were left out.

3. Denial of bias by the commission

The commission rejected the criticisms made against it that it was demonstrating partisanship in favour of the liberation movements. This allegation, said Archbishop Tutu in his foreword to the TRC report, was 'a clever ploy to seek pre-emptively to discredit the commission and hence its report'. The commission had put a prominent ANC leader, Mrs Madikizela-Mandela, through a 'nine-day gruelling' but had not meted out this treatment to any leader of the NP or the IFP. Moreover, though the TRC had not held a public hearing on abuses in the ANC's camps in exile, it had heard testimony on this issue from victims. It had also canvassed conditions in the camps during a special hearing on prisons. Further, the ANC itself had provided 'considerable information in the Stuart, Motseunyane and Skweyiya commissions, which the ANC had itself appointed to investigate allegations of abuses'.

It was thus mischievous to suggest, concluded Archbishop Tutu, that the commission had 'not wanted to investigate incidents that might prove embarrassing to the ANC'. The content of the TRC report confirmed this too. The references in the report 'to those abuses of which the ANC might be guilty' showed clearly that the commission had been 'politically independent and not biased in favour of any particular political party or group'.

The commission's denials of bias miss the most important point. The TRC did examine the alleged role in violence of Mrs Madikizela-Mandela. But she was only one of many leaders in the ANC alliance. Also, comparatively little of the violence allegedly occasioned by ANC's people's war took place in the camps. The bulk of it occurred within the country where, if Gen Stadler's figures are correct, some 80 500 incidents of violence occurred within an eight-year period-leaving 9 250 people dead and a further 18 000 injured.

The people's war is acknowledged by the TRC in its report, but not adequately addressed. The report takes note that an ANC delegation had visited Vietnam in 1978, and records that the ANC (in March 1979) issued a document containing 'lessons from Vietnam' which became known as The Green Book. The commission describes The Green Book as having laid the foundation for increased mobilisation of the people. It fails to explain for what purpose they were to be mobilised, or with what result.

The TRC notes too that some ANC supporters 'believed they were acting in accordance with ANC strategic objectives' when they engaged in actions such as 'the killing of local councillors, police officers, alleged informers and others deemed to be "collaborators"'.It finds the ANC accountable for having 'created a climate in which such supporters believed their actions to be legitimate and carried out within the broad parameters of a "people's war", as enunciated and actively promoted by the ANC'. But this is all it says about the people's war (except for its subsequent strictures against the UDF, as described below).

The commission also holds the ANC responsible, in the early 1990s, for 'killings, assaults, and attacks on political opponents, including members of the IFP, PAC, Azapo, and the SAP'. It notes that the ANC 'contributed to a spiral of violence in the country through the creation and arming of SDUs'. The TRC adds that 'it was not the policy of the ANC to attack and kill political opponents'. Abuses happened because of 'a context of state-sponsored or -directed violence' and 'a climate of political intolerance'. In addition, command structures proved inadequate and SDUs often 'took the law into their own hands'.

Culpability for the violations fuelled by the 'people's war' is primarily assigned to the UDF instead. According to the TRC, it was the UDF that:

Ø     engaged in necklace executions;

Ø     attacked political opponents and state structures (such as black local authorities and policemen);

Ø     used coercive means to enforce stayaways and boycott campaigns;

Ø     fostered the political intolerance that resulted in 'inter-organisational conflict with Azapo and the IFP'; and

Ø     'failed to exert political and moral authority' to stop these abuses from recurring.

It was the UDF, moreover, that encouraged such conduct 'through its endorsement and promotion of slogans, songs, and the "toyi-toyi"'. And the UDF, continued the commission, had to be held accountable for its use of language in just the same way as the former government (which had called for activists to be eliminated or wiped out and had claimed to be shocked and surprised when policemen then engaged in extra-judicial executions).

The commission also recorded at some length the UDF's perspective on why things had gone wrong. According to the UDF, many incidents of violence committed in the 1980s had been 'aberrations perpetrated by unaligned and uncontrollable youth' (by people other than its own supporters, by implication). Moreover, the detention of many UDF leaders had made it difficult to exercise sufficient control over youths who were 'left without leadership', who were angered at the arrests, and who then 'did things which were irrational'.

The UDF's objective, so the organisation said, had been solely to 'politicise the masses' and promote mass action. Many mass campaigns had 'proceeded relatively smoothly', but others had engendered 'unintended consequences' and had resulted in 'assaults, loss of life' and the development of 'extreme fear among perceived and real opponents of the struggle for freedom and democracy'. The TRC seems to echo the UDF's perspective in describing the violence that evolved against local councillors as an unintended consequence. The TRC depicts the violations sometimes committed by street committees and people's courts in the same light too.

The commission seems willing to endorse the UDF's views without investigating their validity. It also fails to probe the relationship between the ANC and the UDF. It ignores the judgement, in the 'Delmas treason trial' of some 20 UDF leaders in the late 1980s, that the UDF had 'acted as the internal wing of the ANC and that it had conspired with the ANC to render South Africa "ungovernable"'.

The TRC acknowledges that 'the ANC played a direct role in the establishment of the "new generation" of mass organisations in the late 1970s'. It adds that 'many individual activists who filled key positions in the organisations making up the MDM held primary allegiance to the ANC'. It says there was 'an unspoken understanding' that the UDF would generally tailor its actions to fit ANC policy. But it emphasises too that 'lines of communication and decision-making' between those inside the country and the ANC in exile were 'often ineffective'. And, having made no further attempt to investigate the ties between the ANC and UDF, it simply reiterates the difficulty of ascertaining accountability for the various violations perpetrated 'in the name of the ANC' during the 1980s.

There are innumerable aspects of the people's war the commission omits adequately to explore. Particularly important is its failure to examine the major upsurge in violence that took place in the early 1990s-and that continued unabated after the dissolution of the UDF in August 1991.

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.