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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

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Boipatong: South Africa's founding myth

SAIRR Website comment - 23 April 1999

On 17th June 1992, at a crucial stage of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) negotiations, armed Zulu hostel residents enraged by persistent attacks on Inkatha Freedom Party supporters fell upon the Vaal Triangle township of Boipatong and massacred some 45 men, women and children. At the time, ANC supporters alleged that South African security forces had both engineered and taken part in the massacre. In the latest edition of Frontiers of Freedom (Second Quarter 1999), Rian Malan raises the question of whether this version of the massacre a version that radically changed the course of the negotiations holds water. He explains why he doubts the accuracy of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's findings on the massacre.

Although ANC politicians alleged that the Boipatong massacre was carried out by 'third force' police and soldiers, these allegations failed to stand up either in court or in the Waddington or Goldstone inquiries, or indeed during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's own hearings. Nevertheless the truth commission's report simply repeats the original allegations and presents them as fact.

The massacre, in which Zulu residents of the KwaMadala Hostel fell on Boipatong and slaughtered some 45 men, women and children, is invariably cited as the cause of the breakdown of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) negotiations.

But this, says Malan, is untrue. 'The talks actually died a month earlier, as the result of a deadlock deliberately engineered by Cyril Ramaphosa', then secretary general of the ANC.

'At the time, the ANC was pushing for majority rule while the National Party held out for checks and balances,' writes Malan. 'The twain could not meet, so the ANC decided to force a stalemate and return to mass action.'

But township response 'fell painfully short' of the massive Leipzig-style demonstrations ANC militants had envisaged, Malan says. The spark that rekindled passions in South Africa and abroad was the Boipatong massacre.

'Before Boipatong, F W de Klerk was riding high,' writes Malan, 'buoyed up by his referendum victory and his rising status in the eyes of foreigners.' After Boipatong, he was 'just another racist', held responsible worldwide for the massacre.

By September l992 De Klerk and his negotiators were so deflated 'that they just caved in', says Malan. They made 'extraordinary concessions' to get negotiations going again.

This raises the question of whether the ANC's version of the massacre - a version that radically changed the course of the negotiations - is indeed the correct one.

Malan shows how various investigations over the past seven years failed to come up with any credible evidence to corroborate allegations of police and army complicity in the massacre. Foremost among these was a marathon 1993 trial during which the state called some 120 Boipatong residents - someone from almost every house where death or serious injury was recorded. 'Not one,' says Malan, saw police vehicles assisting the attackers, or claimed that whites were present.

This accorded with the evidence of five accomplices who agreed to testify against fellow hostel-dwellers in return for immunity. To a man, they repudiated charges of police complicity, and dismissed reports about the participation of masked white gunmen as 'infamous lies'.

In addition, writes Malan, each of the 14 convicted self-confessed killers who has thus far testified at amnesty hearings has described the attack as a Zulu affair, driven by vengeance in the face of persistent attacks. They, too, have strongly denied colluding with police or 'third force' elements.

And yet, says Malan, midway through the amnesty proceedings, the truth commission came forth with a finding that baldly declared Boipatong a 'third force' operation. The massacre, said the commission's October report, was 'planned and carried out' by hostel dwellers in collusion with security forces, who were said to have ferried the Inkatha impi into battle in Casspirs. Also deemed true were sightings of 'white men with blackened faces' among the attackers.

Malan set out to establish the basis for these findings, and arrived at some startling conclusions. There was no investigation of the massacre per se, he writes, and hence, no new evidence to shore up the commission's pronouncements, or justify the reversal of earlier verdicts. Instead, says Malan, the truth commission simply accepted 'phantasmagoric' accusations made by ANC-aligned sources in the massacre's confused and emotion-charged aftermath.

Indeed, a large chunk of the report was copied word-for-word from a June l992 'Area Repression Report' published by the ANC-supporting Human Rights Commission.

'These ancient and largely discredited charges,' Malan writes, were simply adopted as fact, with Orwellian consequences for the Boipatong amnesty applicants. They are entitled to amnesty only if they tell the truth, but 'the truth' has already been established largely without inquiry, says Malan by the body that holds their fate in its hands.

When the hearings resume on May 3, the Boipatong amnesty committee will hear evidence that belatedly attempts to validate the truth commission's findings of collusion and conspiracy. Notorious IFP gunfighter Victor 'Vaal Monster' Kheswa will be portrayed as a massacre ringleader, but Malan has unearthed proof that Kheswa was in emergency detention at the time. Ex-Murder and Robbery Squad Sergeant Pedro Peens, who is alleged to have paid Kheswa and provided 'four to six' Casspirs, has dismissed the new claims as 'absurd'.

'My research,' says Malan, 'raises serious questions about the TRC's adherence to its own founding legislation, which calls for even-handed evaluation of contentious claims. The commission's Boipatong finding which was at best premature, and at worst, flat wrong disregarded this principle almost entirely. And the result will be with us, in Archbishop Tutu's phrase, 'for generations'.

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.