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The greatest obstacle to the transition to a peaceful democracy in South Africa is the political violence that continues to rage in the black townships. The violence, which began in 1984 and gained greater momentum after reform initiatives were undertaken in 1990, has resulted in more than 14,000 deaths ‑- 3,499 in 1992 alone, according to the Human Rights Commission, an independent human rights monitoring group based in Johannesburg. The violence was initially centered in the province of Natal and presented itself in the form of rivalry between the Inkatha Freedom Party (Inkatha), led by Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, the Chief Minister of the KwaZulu homeland, and the African National Congress (ANC). In 1990, it spread to the townships around Johannesburg and Pretoria, although by late 1992 the focus of violence had once again returned to Natal. Few townships in these areas are left untouched, and a culture of violence, spawned by revenge, pre-emptive attacks, crime, lack of education and poverty, now pervades South African society.

In January 1991, Africa Watch released a report on the violence in South Africa, "The Killings in South Africa ‑- The Role of the Security Forces and the Response of the State." The report found that members of the South African Police (SAP) and the KwaZulu Police (KZP) had demonstrated a pattern of bias against supporters of the ANC. The bias was manifested in several ways, including a refusal to take preventive measures to halt attacks, actively assisting attackers by shooting at ANC supporters, transporting supporters of Inkatha to attack ANC areas, and using teargas and bullets to prevent ANC supporters from defending themselves. The report also found that the South African government had refused to respond adequately to evidence of security force involvement in the violence. The report made specific recommendations both to the security forces and to the government on how to curb the violence.

This report analyzes the extent to which the South African government and security forces have implemented the recommendations made in our previous report. Our analysis shows that although some minor efforts have been made, the steps taken fall far short of a serious attempt to end the violence that has claimed more than 6,000 lives since our report was released. The government has been markedly reluctant to accede to even the most limited demands and recommendations of the ANC, independent human rights groups, violence monitors and independent commissions of inquiry. Government rhetoric has continued to denounce abuses committed by ANC or PAC activists, but has been notably silent about abuses by Inkatha or by the repressive homeland regimes supported by Pretoria. This bias has extended to the activities of the police and defense forces. Since our January 1991 report, the independent press and human rights groups in South Africa have frequently exposed abuses committed by the SAP and the South African Defense Forces (SADF). Without such exposure, it is doubtful that the information would have been made public.

During 1991, in an attempt to address the causes of violence, representatives of all sectors of South African society, including religious groups, labor, business, and major political parties, came together and agreed on the need to take concrete steps to halt the killings. These efforts culminated in the signing of a National Peace Accord in September 1991. The Peace Accord included provisions governing the conduct of the police force and political parties. It was agreed that regional and local committees would be created whose task would be to seek to end the violence in their area by promoting peaceful resolution of disputes and monitoring ongoing violence. A National Peace Committee would oversee implementation of the Peace Accord on the national level. Parties to the Peace Accord also agreed that a Commission of Inquiry Regarding the Prevention of Public Violence and Intimidation, headed by Mr. Justice Richard J. Goldstone, (the Goldstone Commission)1 should investigate serious incidents of violence and provide recommendations on steps to take to prevent further violence.

The work of the Goldstone Commission has represented the greatest hope for an end to violence in South Africa.2 During 1992, the Commission made many recommendations, some of which echoed those made in the past by the ANC, human rights organizations and church groups. The government, however, often ignored the recommendations and always delayed their implementation. Rather than addressing itself to the issues of policing and the other social and economic issues that contribute to the culture of violence, the government has involved itself only at crisis points.

This report focuses on the role played by the government and the security forces in the violence. It does not address the substantial responsibility of the two largest black political groups, Inkatha and the ANC, for the escalation in violence, nor does it make any effort to assess their relative blame. This report also does not analyze the proliferation of illegal weapons or the social and economic factors underlying the violence that are the legacy of apartheid. While Africa Watch calls on all parties to cooperate in making genuine efforts to end the violence, and we recognize that it will take many years to reverse the effects of systematic discrimination against most of South Africa's population, we believe that the government could take immediate steps to break the spiral of violence. Our report finds that much more could and should have been done by the government and the security forces in the past two years to deploy the resources at their disposal, including their investigative and prosecutorial powers, to prevent further violence.

The need to take urgent action to prevent political violence has been emphasized more than ever by the assassination of Chris Hani, the leader of the South African Communist Party and one of the most influential black politicians in South Africa, on April 10, 1993, as this report went to press.


Of the 17 recommendations made by Africa Watch in our January 1991 report, no noticeable progress has been made in implementing eight recommendations (the recommendations are summarized below and discussed in detail in the sections following this Summary):

  • "Afford adequate police protection to all groups ...."

  • "Retrain security forces ...."

  • "Consolidate the forces into one force ...."

  • "Be more thorough in preparing cases ...."

  • "Lift emergency restrictions on "unrest areas" ...."

  • "Begin immediately to dismantle the homeland administrative structures ...."

  • "Establish administrative and judicial procedures that provide for the prompt and effective discipline or prosecution of those who have abused the new guidelines."

  • "Ensure that courts are adequately equipped to try violence-related cases without delay."

Of the remaining nine recommendations, real progress has been made in implementing only three:

  • "Issue written orders that establish public guidelines about the procedures that security forces personnel should follow in dealing with political violence."

  • "The results of these investigations, including information about any disciplinary action ... should be made public."

  • "Invite genuinely independent domestic and international monitoring groups to help implement changes."

Only half-hearted attempts have been made to implement the remaining six recommendations:

  • "Issue clear and unequivocal instructions to all members of the security forces that bias against any group will not be tolerated ...." ‑- The failure to enforce these instructions has considerably weakened their effectiveness.

  • "Afford witnesses adequate protection ...." ‑- A program has recently been created that applies only to witnesses testifying before the Goldstone Commission. No program has been made available to witnesses in criminal trials.

  • "Establish independent and thorough judicial commissions of inquiry ...." ‑- The Goldstone Commission, which has no power to try offenses, has been the only independent commission to investigate misconduct by the security forces.

  • "Hold joint forums with police and political groups to hear grievances ...." ‑- The minimal efforts made have not been supported by the government, and have operated on the basis of part-time and volunteer personnel.

  • "Take steps to speed up the judicial process ...." ‑- Implementing legislation abandons many fundamental rights of the accused.

  • "Investigate all allegations of abuses by the SAP, the KZP and the SADF...."

Two years after the release of the Africa Watch report, the situation in South Africa remains volatile. Because the violence is the single greatest obstacle to the transition to democracy, it is incumbent on the government to make every effort to bring it to an end. It is hoped that the compromises arrived at by the government and the ANC in February 1993 in preparation for the resumption of all-party negotiations may signal the beginning of a new period in which violence is controlled.

The 1991 report directed recommendations to the South African security forces and to the National Party government. What follows is our analysis of the extent to which each of those recommendations has been implemented.

1 The Goldstone Commission was established by the government on October 24, 1991, under the terms of the Prevention of Public Volence and Intimidation Act of 1991, and is a structure of the National Peace Accord. Mr. Justice Goldstone, who is a judge of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court (South Africa's highest court of appeal), was unanimously approved as chair of the five-person Commission by all 19 parties to the National Peace Accord. He was the chair of an earlier enquiry which blamed police for opening fire on a march of 50,000 in Sebokeng on March 26, 1990, killing nine people and injuring hundreds more.

2 The Commission has received many requests to investigate incidents of violence and has established several sub-committees to enable it to investigate a greater number of violent incidents. It has conducted 24 major enquiries and produced numerous reports on different aspects of the political violence. See Recommendations to the National Party Government.

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May 1993