On February 2, 1990, South African State President Frederik Willem de Klerk lifted a 30-year ban on the African National Congress (ANC). In a speech to parliament in Cape Town, he declared: "The season of violence is over. The time for reconstruction and reconciliation has arrived."1 Shortly thereafter, De Klerk freed ANC Deputy President Nelson Mandela after 28 years of imprisonment. Since assuming office on September 20, 1989, de Klerk has dismantled the apparatus of the State Security Council, which had formulated major policy decisions, and strengthened the cabinet, shifting power to civilian officials. In January 1990, he ordered the security forces to act in a non-political manner. Two months later, he ordered a landmark investigation into an incident where police shot 84 protestors in the back. In June 1990, he lifted the national state of emergency except in Natal. South Africa seemed to be changing at last.
Yet, in July and August 1990, some seven months after the end of violence was announced, black townships around Johannesburg erupted in warfare. In one horrendous incident that occurred on September 13, 26 were killed and at least 100 injured in an attack on a commuter train between Johannesburg and Soweto. Bodies were strewn along a five-mile stretch of track. It was the third terrorist-style attack that week.2 By the end of 1990, more than 1,000 had died in the area.
The conflict which has raged in Natal for several years and which recently spread north to the townships near Johannesburg has pitted supporters of the ANC against supporters of the Inkatha movement, which became a political party in July 1990. Adherents of these organizations are locked into a cycle of attack and retaliation that has been variously labeled "black on black," "internecine," "factional," and "tribal."
In this report, Africa Watch does not examine in depth the policies and practices of either the ANC or Inkatha in initiating or prolonging the violence. Rather, we have sought to examine how effectively the state has discharged its responsibility impartially to protect the rights of all citizens and expose ways in which it has been responsible for violating human rights. The report specifically addresses the behavior of the security forces──principally the South African Police (SAP), but also the KwaZulu Police (ZP) and the South African Defence Forces (SADF)──and the response of state authorities when notified of abuses by those forces.
On the basis of the many interviews with South Africans conducted for this report, Africa Watch concludes that there is abundant evidence that the state is implicated in the past six years of so-called "black on black" violence. The bias of the state security forces, who have either intervened or failed to intervene on a selective basis, has fueled the conflict. Despite the pressure for reform from some elements in the state, the government has failed to deal effectively with the violence and the behavior of the security forces. While the reasons for the actions of the security forces and government officials are complex, one of the most obvious factors is frequently overlooked by the press and by political commentators. That is, the Inkatha movement led by Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi holds government power in the KwaZulu "homeland" and has at its direct disposal an arm of the South African state──namely, the KwaZulu Police. The other major party to the conflict, the ANC and a constellation of organizations affiliated with it, was only legalized in February 1990, following three decades of underground operation and severe state repression. Inkatha members hold government office, while government agents have imprisoned, tortured and executed ANC members. On those grounds alone, it is scarcely surprising that the organs of the state display some partiality between the two in the current conflict.
That members of the government and the security forces opposed to negotiations with the black majority would have an interest in promoting such violence is easy to imagine: certainly a divided African population is less threatening to white domination than a united one. Black conflict also encourages white conservatives to pressure the government to halt apartheid reform, justifying a cautious and limited approach. In addition, it has made Buthelezi, until recently resistant to aspects of the apartheid homelands scheme, more dependent upon state support as he battles the ANC.3
Africa Watch also concludes that the US government deserves criticism for keeping silent on the issue of security force involvement in the Natal and Transvaal township violence. De Klerk's historic visit to Washington in September took place during the height of the Transvaal killings, yet they were barely acknowledged by officials of the Bush administration.
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This report was researched and written by Melanie J. Bixby, a consultant to Africa Watch. Ben Penglase wrote the U.S. policy chapter. The report was edited by Karen Sorensen. Most of the report is based upon interviews with 40 eyewitnesses, conducted in Johannesburg, Durban, Lindelani, Inanda, St. Bernards Mission, Umlazi, Howick, Empangeni, Richmond and Dambuza, as well as testimonies and affidavits gathered by local human rights groups. In most instances, those interviewed by Africa Watch spoke on condition that their names not be mentioned, for fear of reprisal. We have respected this request.
Africa Watch would like to acknowledge various organizations and individuals who assisted with this report. In Natal, these included the Centre for Adult Education at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg, the Black Sash Repression Monitoring Group, the Community Law Project, Diakonia, Democratic Party unrest monitors, the Human Rights Desk at the Ecumenical Centre in Durban, the Institute for a Democratic Alternative in South Africa (IDASA), the Legal Resources Centre in Durban, the Midlands Crisis Centre, the Rural Development Office of the Catholic Archdiocese of Durban, the Sarmcol Cooperative at Howick, the Umtapo Centre, and officials from Inkatha and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Those who assisted in Johannesburg include COSATU, the Detainees Aid Centre, the Independent Board of Inquiry into Informal Repression, Lawyers for Human Rights, the South African Institute of Race Relations, the Trauma Center at the University of Witwatersrand, the Wilgespruit Fellowship Centre, and the Witwatersrand Council of Churches. Special thanks go to individuals within these organizations who offered willing assistance in the interest of bringing the gravity of the situation to national and international attention.
Most importantly, we would like to thank the township residents living amid violence or taking refuge in tents, churches or other locations, who shared their experiences──often despite threatening circumstances. Africa Watch would like to pay tribute to their courage, endurance and hope.
Finally, Africa Watch wishes to thank the many people who read and commented on this report, especially Professor Thomas G. Karis, Senior Research Fellow at the Ralph Bunche Institute of the City University of New York, who provided considerable assistance with background information, and the American Committee on Africa in New York for the use of their files.
1 Christopher Wren, "Foes of Apartheid Praise Moves but Urge More Reform by de Klerk," The New York Times, February 3, 1990.
2 Allister Sparks, "South Africans Massacred Aboard Train," The Washington Post, September 14, 1990.
3 John Aitchison, "Can the Torture of Natal Ever be Ended?" Natal Witness Echo, August 23, 1980.