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The African National Congress (ANC), the most widely supported South African opposition movement, was founded in 1912 and for decades pursued a policy of peaceful resistance to racist laws and practices. In 1949, one year after the National Party came to power, the ANC adopted a program of illegal but nonviolent protest. In 1955, the congress and its allies issued their Freedom Charter, the most important feature of which was the declaration that: "South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white."22

When non-violent means failed to move the National Party government away from white supremacist policies, the ANC, after being driven underground by a government ban in 1960, changed its tactics to include the use of force from 1961 until 1990. In the years since 1960, many ANC leaders, including attorney Nelson Mandela, were imprisoned for treason or on other charges; others went into exile. The ANC experienced a resurgence following a government crackdown on black political organizations in 1977. It was legalized by President de Klerk in February 1990. Mandela, who represents the ANC as deputy president in national negotiations with de Klerk, announced in August that it was suspending its armed struggle.

The United Democratic Front (UDF) represents a coalition of organizations formed in 1983 in order to oppose a new constitution that raised the political stakes for Africans by excluding them from a new parliament with separate chambers for whites, Coloureds and Indians. At its inception, the UDF included over 400 community, labor, religious, youth and other organizations. It regards the ANC as the leader of the black struggle in South Africa, but has never advocated violence.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) was formed in November 1985 and became the largest union federation in South African history, with some 500,000 members, most of them Africans. In the climate of protest and violence sparked by the new constitution, COSATU was quickly drawn into joint political demonstrations. In a joint communique issued with the ANC in March 1986, COSATU stated:

There was a common understanding that ... lasting solutions can only emerge from the national liberation movement, headed by the ANC, and the entire democratic forces of our country, of which COSATU is an important and integral part.23

COSATU's relationship to the nationalist and populist ANC is complex. Labor leaders seek to maintain their independence of action while seeking also to lead the ANC in a "socialist" direction that is responsive to the interests of workers.

On February 24, 1988, the government effectively but not formally banned the UDF and 16 other organizations and also prohibited COSATU from any activity deemed by the authorities to be political. They as well as the ANC and the South African Communist Party were unbanned in February 1990.

The Inkatha "cultural" movement, founded in the 1920s, was revived as a "national cultural liberation movement" by Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi in 1975. In July 1990, Buthelezi formally declared Inkatha a nonracial political party. Buthelezi claims that the membership is 1.9 million, but membership figures are open to serious doubt because of pressures to join.24 The vast majority of Inkatha members are Zulus living in the rural "homeland" of KwaZulu in Natal.

Buthelezi identified himself with the ANC as a student. ANC leaders, who saw him as a potential ally, encouraged him to serve as a chief within the homeland structures. Buthelezi's past association with the ANC contributed to his popularity and bid for national leadership in the 1970s although he encountered growing criticism from "black consciousness" leaders. While differing with the ANC on armed struggle and sanctions, he identified himself with its tradition and aims. Nevertheless, criticism of Buthelezi's bellicose reaction to student boycotts and popular campaigns led to an open break in mid-1980, when the ANC's president, Oliver Tambo, declared that Buthelezi had "emerged on the side of the enemy against the people."

In 1970 the KwaZulu government was founded as part of Verwoerd's "homelands" scheme, a failed attempt to designate ethnic areas to which each African, wherever resident, would be linked. The homelands were intended to become "independent" states, no longer part of South Africa. The South African government has conceded the policy's failure and envisages homeland integration into regional units.25 Buthelezi holds a dual office as the Chief Minister of KwaZulu (in this capacity he heads the KwaZulu Police) and as President of Inkatha.

Buthelezi has resisted formal independence for KwaZulu, although the distinction between KwaZulu's semi-autonomy and the formal independence of four homelands has become increasingly blurred. He has gained the support of conservative and business interests in South Africa and overseas by favoring a free enterprise economy. Support from business leaders in Natal has declined in recent years because of the continued violence. Buthelezi has pushed to consolidate support even as the government negotiates with the ANC in order for Inkatha to be perceived (as he put it) as "a force to be dealt with."

A number of COSATU-aligned labor unions and UDF-aligned youth organizations were formed in Natal at a time when political and trade union activity were increasing in the mid-1980s. In their efforts to mobilize membership, the youth organizations participated in widely supported boycotts and stayaways, at times using coercive tactics. Inkatha, threatened by these incursions onto its turf, used violent means to drive out their perceived enemies. It also used strong-arm recruitment tactics in its drives. Cycles of attack and counterattack began, breeding a culture of hatred and revenge that continues to this day.26

As in any conflict, each party to the Natal violence faults the other for starting it. Inkatha claims that the UDF in implementing boycotts and stayaways initiated the violence by using coercion, and that it responded in self-defense, only later launching attacks of its own. ANC supporters, on the other hand, claim that Buthelezi's forced recruitment drives, at the time when the UDF and COSATU began to pose a threat to his power base, caused the conflict.27

The spate of offensives which erupted in the Transvaal in July began as Zulu hostel dwellers launched attacks into the townships, supposedly in response to insults and threats, often in the form of pamphlets circulated among hostel dwellers that declared the intention of the ANC to "stamp out the Zulu nation."28 ANC leaders claim that the pamphlets were fraudulent and that the offensives were masterminded by the Inkatha. On August 6, Inkatha's West Rand Secretary said his organization would continue to mobilize members and faulted ANC-aligned youth organizations for "enforcing" school boycotts, and COSATU for "using its workers for political gains."29

It is argued that the violence will not end until Mandela and Buthelezi meet face to face to work out a peaceful solution. Buthelezi urged Mandela's release from prison for over a decade, and the two men occasionally and politely corresponded. On his release, Mandela was deterred from meeting with Buthelezi by ANC opposition to any move that would strengthen Buthelezi's status as a potential participant in national negotiations. The failure to arrange such a meeting was seen by Buthelezi as humiliating. Meanwhile, during the past two years, Inkatha and UDF-COSATU-ANC representatives have met from time to time, but progress appears to have foundered on points of protocol insisted upon by Buthelezi, for example, direct contact with Mandela or Tambo. On October 22, 1990 the ANC announced that Mandela and Buthelezi would meet as heads of ANC and Inkatha delegations.30 At this writing, the meeting has not yet occurred. On January 8, 1991, the ANC called for a conference of all political parties in South Africa. Mandela reportedly said that de Klerk had been informed of the move and did not object. Buthelezi was reportedly suspicious that the move was a maneuver by the ANC to dominate a potential constituent assembly and interim government. However, he said he would consult Inkatha members about accepting the offer.31


South African law has sought to exploit black political rivalries in accordance with a "divide and rule" strategy, as reflected in, for example, the 1983 Constitution and the homelands system. Government security forces have also pursued divide and rule tactics by manipulating conflict within the African community. Throughout the 1980s, state involvement prolonged and intensified conflicts between black groups by encouraging and exploiting vigilante violence. Groups of vigilantes in African urban townships, often of the older generation and resentful of ANC-affiliated "comrade" control, have been armed and turned loose in "radical" areas. During numerous violent incidents, security forces have neglected to protect residents from attacks by vigilante groups; on occasion, they have assisted such groups in their attacks. One example of this occurred during the 1986 conflict at Crossroads squatter settlement, near Cape Town, where UDF "comrades" had gained a major foothold in part of the settlement. As part of the state's strategy to crush radical forces, the police organized a band of African vigilantes who led two highly organized raids and torched four shack settlement areas to the ground, killing hundreds and forcing 70,000 to flee while the security forces stood by and watched. Such conflicts "justified" repressive crackdowns and the detention of local leaders. Without leadership, the conflicts deteriorated into cycles of rampant violence and revenge. The state usually inserted its own administrative structures into the vacuum left by the removal of radical street and area leaders.32

In the 1980s, the government began to recruit "instant" constables, or "kitskonstabels," from the unemployed African population, a practice not dissimilar to the recruitment of vigilantes, which is how they are regarded by residents of Natal. Kitskonstabels are given a mere six weeks of training, issued weapons, and sent out to quell dissent in the townships often in areas other than their own.33


There are three general theories as to the causes of the violence in Natal and the Transvaal. The one with perhaps the most powerful hold on the white South African imagination is that of "black on black" or "tribal" warfare, which, by stripping the violence of its political content and emphasizing the "barbaric" connotations often associated with tribalism, appears to justify white resistance to change. According to this interpretation, the fighting is due to rivalries between the Zulus and Xhosas, South Africa's two largest ethnic groups, even though the Natal population is overwhelmingly Zulu and even though historically there has been little conflict between the two geographically separated Zulu and Xhosa groups. As several of those interviewed for this report emphasized, the violence in the Transvaal is a recent phenomenon; in previous decades the various ethnic groups both in the townships and rural areas have lived together peaceably. Although Africa Watch believes that the ethnic conflict was either initiated or intensified by the South African government, we acknowledge that, since the outbreak of violence in the Transvaal, ethnic conflict has taken on a life of its own and may be part of the South African political landscape for some time to come.

A second theory, which Gavin Woods of the Inkatha Institute has repeatedly argued, concludes that socio-economic forces are the foundation of the aggression (see Introduction). According to Woods, most of the violence in Natal has been perpetrated by dispossessed young men who are driven by poverty to engage in criminal gang activity. The effects of poverty and alienation no doubt contribute to the violence, as we discuss briefly below. However, Africa Watch maintains that to blame the violence simply on socio-economic factors is overly simplistic and is an attempt to explain away the political roots of the tragedy in South Africa.

A third analysis pits Inkatha against the ANC in a conflict over political power.34 As discussed earlier in this chapter, Inkatha has recently become a national political party open to all races and is seeking a position of influence in the negotiating process. There is much at stake. Despite the reforms announced February 2, 1990, the Population Registration Act, which officially classifies citizens by race, and the Group Areas Act, which provides for demarcating areas for residence and occupation by race, plus the exclusion of over 20 million Africans, approximately 73 percent of the population, from the political process, remain in place. The government has announced that the Group Areas Act and the Land Acts of 1913 and 1936 are to be repealed in the 1992 session of parliament. It is of course impossible to know at present how the government will address the issues of political representation.

Clearly, elements of ethnic loyalties, lack of resources, political competition, and the effects of apartheid all contribute to the violence. This report does not aim to analyze in depth the complex web of factors from which the violence grew, but rather to address the role of the state in dealing with it. We provide below only a brief discussion of socio-economic pressures of apartheid, which are relevant to an understanding of the broader context in which the killings are taking place.

Poverty, lack of education and lack of employment opportunities among the black population help to breed a culture of violence. According to 1980 figures, whites, who constitute 15.4 percent of the total population, received 64.9 percent of the total income earned in South Africa. Black Africans, 73 percent of the population, earned only 24.9 percent of the total income for South Africa. Illiteracy figures for the same period demonstrate that for adults 20 years or older, the illiteracy rate for Africans was nearly 30 percent while for whites, less than 3 percent. State expenditure per pupil in 1983-4 was over 1,600 rand for white children, over 1,000 rand for Indian children, less than 600 for "Coloured" children, and between 200 and 300 for African children.35

The Department of Education and Training, which governs national policy for African education, has pursued a curriculum whose inferiority is manifest in the frustration experienced by students who are accepted into "white" universities only to find themselves ill prepared to compete with their white peers.36 The father of the earlier "Bantu Education" program, H.F. Verwoerd, believed that education should not prepare blacks to rise above certain forms of labor, but should encourage subservience. His premises have been overridden, however, by South Africa's economic and social needs, and the proportion of black students in English-speaking "white" universities has risen substantially. Disruptions in schooling, caused by mass mobilization for involvement in political action and the combined effects of boycotts, stayaways and protest marches, also take a toll. For example, a teacher from Mpumalanga, in Natal, stated that students no longer feel able to study at home because they must "stand guard at night against an attack from the comrades, Inkatha vigilantes, or the KwaZulu Police."37

An additional frustration for the poor, and a major factor in the outbreak of violence near Johannesburg, is the oscillating migrant labor system. Single-sex hostels, often adjacent to work on the mines, virtually isolate migrant laborers from surrounding township residents. The migrants, whose families live in distant rural areas, many of them in Zululand, lead a lonely existence, returning to their homes and families only periodically, sometimes once a year. Hostel conditions are cramped and unsanitary. Soweto's five hostels officially accommodate 13,000 workers, but unofficial estimates of occupancy are at around 39,000. Overall, nearly 125,000 migrant workers live in the 31 hostels in townships surrounding Johannesburg.38

Political tolerance is the exception in a country where, historically, dissent has been met with repression. Black South African children are growing up witnessing or participating in brutal violence. The Trauma Centre at the University of the Witwatersrand reports that many children from the townships manifest symptoms of post-traumatic stress, such as the inability to sleep, nightmares, depression, withdrawal, hypervigilance and inability to concentrate.

In Uprooting Poverty: The South African Challenge, Francis Wilson and Mamphela Ramphele conclude:

Crime, alcoholism, boredom, frustration with bureaucratic red tape, and despair are...under conditions of poverty, social dislocation and powerlessness...bitter fruits.

Policies of separate development, anti-urbanization, forced removal, Bantu education, the crushing of organizations, and, in more recent years, destabilization have been directly responsible for increasing poverty amongst millions.... Indeed, it is precisely this dimension of premeditation or deliberate policy in impoverishing people that makes poverty in South Africa different from that in so many other parts of the world.39


Even without special emergency restrictions, South African laws provide the South African Police, the Defence Forces and the Special Police (kitskonstabels) with wide powers to control political activity. The Internal Security Act, for example, allows the security forces to ban gatherings, and to arrest, detain and interrogate citizens suspected of "terrorism" and "subversion," sometimes for long periods without charge or trial.

The state of emergency, which was declared over the entire country in June 1986 in response to escalating black resistance, was authorized by the Public Safety Act of 1953, which allows the State President to declare emergency rule when ordinary laws are insufficient to maintain law and order. As an additional measure, the military occupied 97 townships. The SAP, the ZP, kitskonstabels, and the SADF had wide powers under the state of emergency, including the authority to arrest people considered a danger to public safety whether or not they are suspected of a crime. They were also permitted to shoot to kill if a suspect was attempting to escape. Emergency laws permitted detentions for up to five months without charge or interrogation; such detentions could be repeated indefinitely. Security forces also have powers to search any building or vehicle without a warrant.40

De Klerk lifted the National State of Emergency in June 1990, except in Natal, which was kept under emergency rule until October 18. Emergency regulations were used for three main purposes: detention of UDF/COSATU/ANC supporters; prohibition of UDF/COSATU meetings; and restrictions on media reporting on the conflict. Although the unbanning of the ANC in February 1990 has rendered most of these obsolete, attitudes within the security forces appear to be frozen in time. The bias of the security forces can be traced to the decades when the ANC was banned and its supporters labeled "terrorist" or "subversive." It does not appear that the security forces have markedly altered their behavior to reflect the ANC's legalization in February. In fact, the Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), based in Pretoria, reports that as South Africa moves toward change, police brutality is on the increase. Deaths in detention and brutal torture of detainees and of people picked up for questioning have been well documented. The LHR has opened 24 files on police violence in Pietermaritzburg in the last year and a half and 55 cases regarding brtuality in the Mpumalanga area. Until recently, the state of emergency in Natal protected police from accountability. The LHR is currently collecting affidavits regarding police partiality in the Transvaal violence.41

In a January 1988 speech in Pietermaritzburg, Minister of Law and Order Adriaan Vlok openly stated the government's attitudes:

...the police intend to face the future with the moderates and fight against radical groups.... Radicals who are trying to destroy South Africa will not be tolerated. We will fight them. We have put our foot in that direction, and we will eventually win the Pietermaritzburg area.42

On April 24, 1990, well after the ban on the ANC was lifted, in a speech before parliament on the violence in Natal, Vlok said that the UDF/COSATU alliance were part of a brotherhood of those "revolutionary," "violent terrorist" organizations, the ANC and South African Communist Party (SACP):

It is irrefutably true that the ANC, UDF and COSATU, puppets of the SACP, cannot bring about peace and stability on their own. They only act on orders──that is why they do nothing without instructions from Lusaka. So far they have brought only unrest, violence and untold misery to the people of Natal.43

The situation in the Transvaal reflects similar bias. Justice R.J. Goldstone released a report on September 1, 1990 providing documentation that in March the police opened fire on a large gathering of UDF supporters in Sebokeng, south of Johannesburg, without justification or orders to do so. Twelve people died and 281 were injured in the incident. According to the report 84 people were shot in the back.44 The incident provoked the ANC to cancel their initial talks with the government.

Security forces have actively disarmed UDF/ANC members to a much greater extent than they have disarmed Inkatha supporters, often prior to an Inkatha attack. When confronted, they have argued that Inkatha weapons are "cultural weapons," and that Inkatha is a "cultural movement," rather than a political party, an argument which no longer holds since the declaration of Inkatha as a political party in July. A representative from the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) in Durban met with the Commissioner of the SAP on June 5, 1990, to call for a change in the "cultural weapons" policy. The LRC represented various communities who wanted to address the issue of dangerous weapons with the aim of de-escalating the violence. The LRC cited six statutes which demonstrate that the possession and display of lethal weapons is prohibited, especially with intent to use them for unlawful purposes or during large group gatherings. Such weapons have been openly displayed during Inkatha rallies and marches, which have repeatedly been followed by conflicts with ANC supporters that resulted in killing and destruction of property. In addition to arguing that Inkatha's policy of carrying "cultural weapons" was unlawful, the LRC included affidavits, photographs, and further evidence of the display of such weapons and the resulting violence on several separate occasions. The LRC concluded:

At the moment, the South African Police do not appear to have any consistent policy with regard to the carrying of dangerous weapons. Certainly, in some cases, weapons have been confiscated...seized from situations far less tense and explosive than in the incidents referred to (above). Such inconsistency on the part of the police has led to enormous confusion in the public who are now completely unaware as to when it is permissible to lawfully possess weapons.45

Partisan disarmament has been evident in the Transvaal conflict as well. In several instances, township residents told the press that police confiscated makeshift weapons from squatters but not from hostel dwellers.46 Such allegations were made as well by several eyewitnesses interviewed by Africa Watch in Johannesburg in August.


In addition to the failure to provide proper policing, many victims of apartheid have found courts ineffective. Delays are part of the problem. To cite only one example, The Natal Mercury on March 23, 1988 reported an inquest held in the Howick Magistrates court in Pietermaritzburg, Natal, at which nine Inkatha members were found to be responsible for the deliberate killing of three Mpophomeni residents and assault on a fourth. The findings of the inquest were referred to the Attorney-General to decide who should be charged and what the charges should be. Two years later, despite the fact that the inquest named individuals, no prosecutions have followed.47 In general, criminal cases brought against so-called Inkatha "warlords" who control areas in and around Durban and Pietermaritzburg have resulted in acquittals.48

Because township residents have perceived the courts as either unwilling or unable to discharge their responsibilities, they have bypassed the judicial system. In 1985 and 1986, "people's courts" sprang up in townships that had become "no-go" areas for whites. These courts in effect took the law into their own hands. While some of them only imposed fines, others authorized whip lashings and deaths by "necklacing," in which a rubber tire, filled with kerosene, is forced around a victim's chest and arms, and set on fire. Necklacing was frequently used to punish offenders, including children, alleged to be traitors to the movement as well as those related to the offenders by blood or other ties. The ANC executive body condemned the practice. During the first half of 1990, a number of killings were carried out on the south coast of Natal by young men claiming to be carrying out ANC justice.49

Inkatha warlords have been known to rule their constituencies harshly as well. For example, one warlord, who called for "liquidation" of ANC and UDF youths, warned Inkatha parents that their Zulu children who joined the ANC would be killed.50

* * *

The remainder of this report examines the security forces' role in the conflict under the state of emergency in Natal and in the "unrest areas" surrounding Johannesburg. It also discusses the response of state authorities to complaints of police collaboration with Inkatha and pleas for protection from Inkatha and the security forces, and examines the failure of the US administration to comment publicly on role of the security forces.

22 Thomas G. Karis, "Revolution in the Making: Black Politics in South Africa," Foreign Affairs, Winter 1983/84.

23 Thomas G. Karis, "South African Liberation: The Communist Factor," Foreign Affairs, Winter 1986/87.

24 Christopher Wren, "Buthelezi Opposes Campaign by Mandela Group," The New York Times, December 9, 1990.

25 There are ten such homelands in South Africa. Four are considered by South Africa to be independent. Current government policy is to integrate the four into South Africa through negotiation. No foreign government recognizes their independence. KwaZulu is one of six "self-governing" homelands which have not accepted "independence."

26 John Aitchison, "Can the Torture of Natal Ever Be Ended?" Natal Witness Echo, August 23, 1990.

27 Interviews with Inkatha supporters and ANC supporters June-August, 1990.

28 Various interviews conducted in Johannesburg and Soweto, mid to late August, 1990.

29 Matshube Mfoloe, "Inkatha slams COSATU over war," Sowetan, August 6, 1990.

30 Christopher Wren, The New York Times, October 23, 1990.

31 Christopher Wren, "Mandela Asks Talks With All Parties," The New York Times, January 9, 1991.

32 Sparks, The Mind of South Africa, pp. 356-7.

33 Ibid.

34 John Aitchison, "Interpreting Violence: The Struggle to Understand the Natal Conflict," and Paulus Zulu and Stavros Stavrou, "Violence in Natal: Social Implications," unpublished papers.

35 Francis Wilson and Mamphela Ramphele, Uprooting Poverty: The South African Challenge (Cape Town and Johannesburg: David Philip, 1989), pp. 20, 138 and 142.

36 Academic Support Program, University of Cape Town.

37 Paulus Zulu and Stavros Stavrou, "Violence in Natal: Social Implications," pp. 10, 13.

38 Jon Qwelane, "The Hostels of Hate," Sunday Star, August 19, 1990, and Christopher Wren, "Around Squalid South African Hostel, a Battleground in Factional Fighting," The New York Times, September 9, 1990.

39 Wilson and Ramphele, Uprooting Poverty, pp. 166, 230.

40 Powers and Limitations of Police, The Legal Resources Centre, Durban.

41 Rights: A Lawyers for Human Rights Publication, Vol. 2, September 1990, p. 34.

42 Peter Rutsch, "Law and Justice," IDASA presentation on Violence in Natal, p.25.

43 Ibid.

44 Alan Cowell, "Pretoria Condemns Shootings of Protestors," The New York Times, September 2, 1990.

45 Legal Resources Centre, Durban, Memorandum on Dangerous Weapons, Meeting with the Commissioner of the South African Police on the 5 June, 1990.

46 Christopher Wren, "Terror and Death Replace Hope in Squatter Camp," The New York Times, September 13, 1990; "Pangas flash amid the cries of dying men," Daily News (Durban), August 17, 1990; Jo-Anne Collinge, "Hostels `Defenseless' after SAP weapons raid," The Weekly Mail, August 3-5, 1990; and "Disarmed and Trapped──Nowhere to Hide, Johannesburg Star, August 11, 1990.

47 Rutsch, "Law and Justice," p. 25.

48 Rutsch, "Law and Justice," pp. 29-33.

49 "Police Told of `Kill Comrades' Speech," The Weekly Mail, June 1 to June 7, 1990.

50 "Natal Chief's Call: Kill Comrades," The Weekly Mail, June 1, 1990.

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January 1991