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According to a report by the prestigious South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) on November 19, 1990, ten people are being killed every day in South Africa in political violence. Calling the 1990 death toll "by far the grimmest ever," the SAIRR said that in the first ten months of 1990, 3,038 people died in political violence. The total number of deaths from September 1984 to October 31, 1990 was 8,577. The SAIRR claimed that "conflict within the black community continues to be the main source of casualties."4

According to SAIRR figures, 1,400 Africans were killed in Natal in 1989.5 In 1990, in just the areas around Durban, more than 1,000 were killed.6 In areas near Johannesburg, the death toll for the period from July 1990 to the year's end is over 1,000.

These statistics, of course, do not reveal the magnitude of the tragedy. One must look beyond the numbers to the devastation of lives. As John Aitchison, from the Centre for Adult Education at the University of Natal, has written:

Behind these statistics lie people, people who live and die, who have holes made in them by 137 knife thrusts, who are burnt to death, who are blasted by shotgun blasts, who go to lawyers and appear in court as witnesses and are then gunned down by the people they testified against,...people who are interviewed by journalists, then detained and interrogated by policemen.7

In late August 1990, 27 "unrest areas" were declared in the Transvaal, allowing the security forces to use state of emergency-like powers.8 Because, under the state of emergency in Natal, security forces have repeatedly abused emergency powers to shoot, arrest, detain and search, Africa Watch has viewed this development with concern, as well as the September 15 announcement of an "iron fist" police crackdown on townships in the Johannesburg region.9 Emergency restrictions in the townships were lifted in October and November, but after renewed violence broke out in November and December 1990, more townships were placed under emergency rule.

On September 19, 1990, President de Klerk announced "further measures to curtail the fighting between African factions,"10 which include deploying special teams of government lawyers to "hasten investigation" of various massacres. Human rights monitors in Natal have advocated such measures for years, to no avail. They have reason to be skeptical about the government's sincerity now. Africa Watch has reviewed correspondence from various human rights and relief organizations to the authorities, including de Klerk himself, providing evidence of the involvement of the security forces. The correspondence included statistics, sworn affidavits and the monitors' own experiences while dealing with the security forces. In response, the government promised investigations. At the same time that the government was making such promises, however, de Klerk and Minister of Law and Order Adriaan Vlok were telling the press that there was no evidence of security force involvement in the violence.

Despite such denials on the part of government officials, interviews by Africa Watch──as well as an overwhelming number of reports, affidavits, press accounts and personal testimonies compiled over the past four years by human rights monitors, relief workers, academics, attorneys, community service and church workers in Natal -- provide convincing evidence that the biased actions of state-directed security forces have exacerbated and prolonged the violence in Natal, and have measurably affected outcomes in the conflict. For example, Aitchison claims that in the Natal Midlands violence during 1987-88, UDF supporters and "comrades" were killed and arrested at twice the rate of Inkatha supporters.11 Detention figures for July 1987 through July 1989 reveal an Inkatha/UDF ratio of 1:50.12

Gavin Woods, executive director of the Inkatha Institute in Durban, disputes these findings. According to Woods, 90 percent of all types of Natal township violence is perpetrated by alienated and aggressive young men aged 15 to 24 whose political affiliations are based more on a gang mentality than on identification with a particular political ideology. Woods claims that nearly half of the deaths are due to criminal activity, rather than political violence.13 Africa Watch believes that while poverty has added to the violence, Woods's disregard for the underlying political issues is a serious flaw in such an interpretation.

This report includes many more reports of violence by Inkatha than by the ANC. However, there is no doubt that ANC supporters themselves have engaged in violent attacks against their political opponents──a practice which dates back several years. Africa Watch condemns such abuses by the ANC as we condemn political violence by the antagonists of the ANC. In this report, however, we discuss them only briefly because the security forces, who are the focus of this report, are not known to intervene on behalf of the ANC/UDF. The aim of this report is to show that in many instances the various security organs of the state have used Inkatha as a surrogate to persecute the government's political opponents. Far from diminishing violence and protecting its victims, the police have exacerbated tensions and made a peaceful resolution of the differences between Inkatha and the ANC more difficult to achieve.

The South African government has been forced to acknowledge that the conflict in the Transvaal was not solely between Africans. Following an initial "skepticism" of white involvement in the attacks,14 by September 14, 1990, de Klerk promised to investigate reports of manipulation by a "third force" or a "hidden hand" in the ANC-Inkatha conflict. In a September 16 speech in the Cape Province town of Middleburg, de Klerk claimed that an unknown "third force" was behind the township violence.15 According to some reports, witnesses have seen whites with faces covered by balaclavas or black paint participating in attacks. Such reports include a September 12 Inkatha raid on Thokoza, a shack settlement southeast of Johannesburg, in which several hundred shacks were burned and thousands of refugees fled to the grounds of a nearby hospital. Some claimed that white bodies were taken away by policemen the next morning. Police denied the allegation.16

Yet, although the government has now acknowledged involvement of white "extremists" in the violence, it fails to acknowledge its own responsibility. Various elements of the security forces who have assisted attackers or stood idle during attacks over the past several years and the government's general failure to respond to calls for protection and justice are conveniently discounted by an emphasis on "right wing elements" when in fact, government agencies have long functioned as a party to the violence.

The National Party government has also failed to act and continues to deny allegations of government-sponsored death squad activity. On January 31, 1990, the Harms Commission began its investigation of death squads which have targeted key anti-apartheid activists. Until members of a human rights monitoring group uncovered the existence of an SAP death squad late in 1989, de Klerk and his Cabinet denied knowledge of the death squads, which include SAP Unit C1 and the Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB) of the South African Defence Force. Finally, in December 1989, human rights groups and relatives of victims, supported by international opinion, forced the government to act and Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee authorized an independent judicial inquiry to be carried out by Justice Louis Harms.17 Unfortunately the Harms Commission was seriously flawed in both design and practice. At the outset, Justice Harms announced that he would limit the inquiry to acts committed within the borders of South Africa, even though many anti-apartheid activists had been assassinated on foreign soil. Some government witnesses testified in wigs and other disguises; others were not required to submit documents, such as CCB operations files.18 The CCB was disbanded in August, but no prosecutions resulted. The Harms Commission report, which was released in November, failed to name any special units of the army or police, let alone any individual officers, as participants in the death squads. The report was denounced by opposition groups as a whitewash.

In April 1990, another Commission of Inquiry, headed by Justice V. G. Hiemstra, began investigations into a Johannesburg City Council espionage network, the "Security Department," which tracked opposition leaders. The records of proceedings from both commissions fully warrant findings that death squads have been supported by both the SAP and the SADF (with a budget of 28 million rand), and have targeted key anti-apartheid leaders in a calculated plan to terrorize opposition figures. Their activities have extended beyond the borders of the country.19

In light of the death squad revelations, it appears likely that the newly discovered "third force" may well be a "fourth" element of the conflict (the state apparatus having been a "third" for several years now in the Inkatha/ANC conflict), or perhaps a mere extension of state forces previously at work.

President de Klerk's public instruction to the security forces to behave impartially is welcome, but it is only a beginning. From their public statements, it appears that de Klerk and his supporters wish to give the impression that continuing abuses by the security forces are solely the work of those who wish to discredit his detente with the ANC. However, until de Klerk orders thorough and impartial investigations of all reported abuses and conducts a wholesale purge of human rights violators from the security apparatus, he cannot claim to have discharged his responsibility to protect the rights of the victims of violence in Natal and Transvaal. In Chapter 2 we have offered more detailed recommendations for measures that the South African government should take to enforce respect for human rights by the security forces.

The violence in the Transvaal, highlighted the past few months in international news, began in July when Inkatha supporters in the migrant labor force from Natal living in hostels near Johannesburg and the ANC-aligned opposition living in the townships initiated a cycle of attack and counterattack, which leaders from both Inkatha and the ANC viewed as similar to the violence in Natal.20 By December, the killings, which had claimed over 1,000 lives, were threatening to derail negotiations between de Klerk and Mandela. At a December rally, Mandela claimed that the violence was a deliberate strategy by the government to weaken his organization. Also in December, at its first conference in 31 years to be held within South Africa, the ANC voted to engage in a renewed campaign of "mass action," involving demonstrations, strikes and stayaways, and threatened to suspend negotiations with the government unless all political prisoners were released, exiles returned, political trials ended, repressive security laws repealed, and political violence in the black townships ended by April 30, 1991. In a televised speech two days later, de Klerk charged the ANC with using "unacceptable strategies and methods" and threatened that his government "would not shrink back from using all available resources to ensure stability."21

To understand the nature and dynamics of the conflict, which has claimed so many lives in the townships of Johannesburg and threatened to derail negotiations, it is first necessary to understand the conflict in Natal, for they are, ultimately, the same.

4 BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, November 23, 1990.

5 "Black Against Black Violence Out of Control?" The Citizen, June 26, 1990.

6 Carmel Rickard, "Talks of peace but the deeds are violent," The Weekly Mail, December 20 to January 10, 1991, p. 12.

7 John Aitchison, "The Pietermaritzburg Conflict-Experience and Analysis," Centre for Adult Education, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, p.8.

8 Allister Sparks, "SA Imposes Limited State of Emergency," Washington Post, August 25, 1990.

9 Allister Sparks, "South African Police Announce 'Iron Fist' Township Crackdown," Washington Post, September 16, 1990.

10 Christopher Wren, "De Klerk Acts to Halt Battles Among Blacks," The New York Times, September 20, 1990.

11 Aitchison, "The Pietermaritzburg Conflict: Experience and Analysis," Centre for Adult Education, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, p. 11.

12 Matthew Kentridge, An Unofficial War: Inside The Conflict in Pietermartizburg (Cape Town and Johannesburg: David Philip, 1990), p. 198.

13 "Violence: What Lies Behind It," Clarion Call, Volume 1, 1990, Inkatha Institute, Durban, pp. 8-9.

14 Christopher Wren, "South African Prelates Blame Whites for Violence," The New York Times, September 11, 1990.

15 Allister Sparks, "South African Police Announce 'Iron Fist' Township Crackdown," Washington Post, September 16, 1990.

16 Allister Sparks, "South African Police Announce 'Iron Fist' Township Crackdown," and "South Africans Massacred Aboard Train," Washington Post, September 14, 1990, and Christopher Wren, "400 Shacks Burned in a South African Township," The New York Times, September 14, 1990, and "Hidden Hand' Seen in South Africa Killings," The New York Times, September 15, 1990.

17 South Africa's Death Squads, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, September 20, 1990, p. 16.

18 Ibid., p. 32.

19 Ibid., pp. iii, 45, 47.

20 Jo-Anne Collinge, "Behind the violence: why civil war has exploded in the townships, The Weekly Mail, August 17-19, 1990 and interviews by Africa Watch.

21 David B. Ottaway, "De Klerk Lashes Out At ANC," Washington Post, December 19, 1990.

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January 1991