About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

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An overview of the conflict - TRC

WE forget the world we grew up in. A banal statement perhaps, but one, nevertheless that informs most of our thinking and actions throughout our lives. We change, of course, our behaviors and thoughts are modified by other socializing agents, but we cannot escape our pasts. What we learned in the formative years of our lives becomes part of who we are, for better or worse. It is the glue that holds our disparate parts together. We cannot rid ourselves of it; it is an albatross for some and for others a gift of ebullience. Most of the men and women who participated in the conflict in South Africa either on the side of the liberation movement or the security forces were children or teenagers in the 1960s. They grew up in a world that was dominated by racism - a powerful socializing principle – and a world that defined by two major historical phenomena: decolonization and the cold war.

Race was a powerful organising framework, drawn on, to varying degrees, by all parties in the conflict – and drawn on by all parties in post liberation South Africa.

The enemy of the liberation movement of South Africa and of its people was always the settler colonial regime of South Africa. Reduced to its simplest form, the apartheid regime meant white domination, not leadership, but control and supremacy. The pillars of apartheid protecting white South Africa from the black danger were the military and the process of arming of the entire white South African society.

This militarization, therefore, of necessity made every white citizen a member of the security establishment, since every white South African youth had to undergo a compulsory two years of national service. Many went to "finishing school" in what was then called South West Africa – Namibia today – and many of their families became painfully aware of how they had changed when they returned.1 Killing upsets the delicate equilibrium that holds our psyches in balance.

The tide of decolonization that swept through Africa in the early 1960s reinforced whites in their view that blacks were "the enemy" and blacks in their view that white were colonizers. For Afrikaners in particular being referred to as a colonizer evoked great anger since they saw themselves as victims of a colonizing power – the British – and as the indigenous people of South Africa. Africans had encroached on their territory, not the other way around.

When the newly decolonized nations became members of the United Nations and the perceptions in the former colonial powers in the west the pressure on the South African government to grant full civil and political rights to all its inhabitants greatly increased. British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan shocked and angered many members of the South African government when he addressed the South African Parliament in February 1960 and spoke of the "winds of change" blowing through Africa, with its implication that the South African government should adapt to changing times.

But two other factors were also at play. Among Blacks there was an unshakeable belief that the days of white minority rule were numbered and that it was only a matter of time before South Africa, too, would be ruled by a black majority. This belief was as strong among passive black South Africans as it was among activists. The difference was that passive South Africans were simply prepared to wait for that time to come; activists were prepared to make it come. Among whites on the otherhand, there was always a sense of waiting, of waiting for the end to come. Deep in their subconscious they knew that the day when Blacks would rule the country would come, that the best they could do was to delay the day of reckoning. A few were prepared to make that day come. They were ostracized and labeled. The majority gave the government whatever powers it wanted to delay the inevitable and put the matter out of their minds, best as they could. But the premonition of the end was always there. In an odd way, Blacks had won the psychological war before the war started in earnest.

The Cold War shaped many of the South African government's actions in the 1960s and thereafter. In one sense it was often zealously more anticommunist than Western states, even the US, which persecuted the threat of creeping Communism war on every front, got bogged down in the quagmire of Vietnam in order to "contain" the spread of communism in South- East Asia. The belligerent belief in dominoes precluded alternative debate. The South African government's zealousness came in part from real fears and in part from fears of being abandoned by the west unless it could show it was somehow indispensable to its interests. The regime wanted to be needed.

Thus, even when the ties were cut between South Africa and Britain and the Commonwealth in the early 1960s, the government continued to cling to the belief that in the struggle against the forces of Communism they were still part of a common policy, allies in the same cause. The adoption of the Freedom Charter3 by the ANC in 1955, the relationship between the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP) after 1960, and the ANC's links to the Soviet bloc, especially the USSR and the GDR, its links to China, and the fact that the main source of financial help came from the USSR, indeed that without that help the ANC would have become unviable, entrenched the government's perception of a connection between Communism and the struggle against white domination.

Even today, former NP leaders will say that while apartheid was "wrong," and that the racial policies pursued by the NP government in its attempt to ensure continued white rule were 'a mistake' and 'morally indefensible,' they continue to see the struggle against Communism as legitimizing a explanation and justification for security force actions. Former President FW de Klerk has emphasized ad nauseam that the fall of the Berlin Wall provided him with the political space to release nelson Mandela and urban the national liberation organizations including the South African Communist Party (SACP). Once that had happened, once white South Africans could see the rubble of communism in the streets of Berlin; hardliners in the NP government Cabinet were able to accept the changes, albeit with reluctance, that De Klerk sprung on them. The ANC was never convinced, seeing the NP's rationalizations as a contrivance.

All opposition was labeled 'Communist.' Even the white opposition in Parliament was perceived as unwitting fellow –travelers at best, actual fellow-travelers at worst. Extra-parliamentary, and particularly black opposition, was considered illegitimate, and those associated with such opposition were effectively criminalized.

The liberation and later the internal mass movements, especially the trade union movements, "were undeniably increasingly influenced by the tide of national liberation struggles sweeping the globe, many of which were deeply influenced by socialist ideas."4 The ANC, SWAPO (South West African People's Organisation), MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and FRELIMO (Mozambique Liberation Front)5 promulgated their struggles as part of an international struggle against colonialism and imperialism, sometimes within the framework of socialism and Marxism.6

In response to the events of 1960 -- the massacre at Sharpeville, the violence in Langa, murders of police at Cato Manor and elsewhere, the attempted assassination of Prime Minister Verwoerd 7 and the sustained rural uprising in eastern Pondoland,8 the government banned both the ANC and PAC. When the ANC adopted the armed struggle shortly hereafter, the government passed a swath of security legislation providing the state with enormous powers to squash resistance whatever form it took.

In the case of Pondoland, the government's response was uncompromising. After several clashes in which protesters were killed, the police launched a helicopter assault on a meeting at Ngquza Hill in June 1960, killing at least eleven people.9 A state of emergency declared in eastern Transkei towards the end of that year remained in force for the next twenty years. During this period, twenty individuals were sentenced to death for offences relating to the Pondoland uprising, and eleven were executed.

With their new legislative powers, the South African Police (SAP) and the Security Branch (SB) cracked down. The wholesale detention of members of the underground and anyone who might have knowledge of their whereabouts or activities became the primary means of enforcing repression. Torture would follow. The paradigm was in place, but it would shift.

The end of the national state of emergency in August 1960 led the liberation movements to re-evaluate their tactics and strategies of resistance. The first to adopt an armed strategy was a new underground grouping, the African Resistance Movement (ARM), composed largely of disaffected white members of the Liberal Party10 and anti-SACP Trotskyites. The ARM launched a campaign of sabotage directed at strategic installations or non-human targets in October 196111.

The ANC and the SACP supported the establishment of an underground guerrilla army, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), which formally declared war on the Republic of South Africa on 16 December 1961. Nelson Mandela was the first Commander-in-Chief. The MK however was almost stillborn. In June 1993, the majority of the command structure was arrested at Rivonia farm, an ANC safehouse on the outskirts of Johannesburg.12 The Rivonia Trial followed. Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki and other senior ANC/SACP personnel were given life sentences and sent to Robben Island.13

During the 1960s and most of the 1970s, armed actions by MK were symbolic or economic and care was taken not to endanger civilians, in part in deference to old traditions, in part because the intention was to serve notice on the government that the ANC would not fold simply because it had been banned. The hopeful intention was to bring the government to its senses, not to kill people. The first sabotage actions of MK resulted in some damage to property, notably to electricity pylons and similar infrastructure, but the intention of such actions was, according to the MK Manifesto, to "bring the government and its supporters to their senses before it is too late" rather than to initiate a revolution.

Following the events of the early 1960s, the South African government began to implement its Bantustan policy. All Africans were to be stripped of South African citizenship and forced to become citizens of separate, ethnic Bantustans or homelands. Ten homeland administrations were set up, although the South African security forces remained at least partially in control of security in the homelands.

The government also began to undertake a massive restructuring of its sprawling security apparatus, which became ongoing. Whenever a new contingency arose the government simply created new legislation to deal with the problem. A security blanket enveloped the country providing comfort for the minority and smothering the majority.14 The effect of these laws was to put the police beyond public scrutiny. The courts could not hold them accountable, which gave them to believe that they had carte blanche to do as they pleased without there ever having to be accountable.

The General Law Amendment Act (1962), one of many to amend the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950, built on the general premise that new security legislation was necessary to fight the perceived threat from 'Communist' organisations and Marxist ideology. During the second reading of the bill in Parliament, Minister of Justice John Vorster noted that, considering the balance between personal liberty and the interests of the state, the state should offer protection only to the law-abiding citizen. In view of the brutal acts of sabotage that had been committed, the state now needed protection against subversion and the legislation was intended as a pre-emptive measure to maintain order and calm within the state.

The Act increased the government's power to declare organisations unlawful, as well as to impose a host of restrictions in the form of banning orders on designated persons. The Act also created the offence of sabotage which encompassed broad-based elements such as "wrongful and willful" acts designed to "obstruct, injure, tamper with or destroy ... the health and safety of the public" or "the supply of water, light, power, fuel or foodstuffs". The penalties were the same as those for treason, ranging from a minimum five-year sentence to the death penalty. Further, the Act transferred the burden of proof to the accused, rather than maintaining the traditional stance that the accused was innocent until proven guilty. 15

The Act was followed by a series of measures aimed at strengthening the legal powers and effectiveness of the police as well as the powers of provincial Attorneys-General and the Minister of Justice. Simultaneously, the government curbed the ability of the judiciary to review the new security laws or to release people detained under these provisions. A further amendment to the General Law Amendment Act (1963) made provision for incommunicado detention for a period of ninety days. In practice, people were often released after ninety days only to be immediately re-detained for a further three-month period. This Act was later replaced by other laws providing for detention without trial16and finally by laws allowing for indefinite detention.17 These laws were critical in establishing an environment of surveillance and repression in which the police were seen to be beyond public scrutiny and 'untouchable' by the judiciary.

Two features of this frenetic spate of legislation in the sixties stand out.

First, these measures were enacted during a period when the liberation movement in South Africa was for all intents and purposes non-existent. Driven into exile, having difficulties finding a permanent home in Africa, the leadership in disarray and trying to regroup, the MK little better than amateurish in sporadic and invariably ineffective attempts to establish at least one operating unit within the country, a shortage of financial resources – all contributed to the impression –and reality- of an organization that was disoriented, still reeling from its losses in the early sixties, unsure of the steps it should take to regroup and unsure, too, of what it was regrouping for.

The ANC, SACP and PAC established administrative headquarters outside South Africa following their banning, and all actively sought financial, diplomatic and military help to launch armed campaigns in South Africa. Following the Rivonia trial, the ANC established bases in exile - initially in Tanzania, later in Zambia and Angola - and began to develop fraternal links with other liberation movements.

During the sixties the ANC posed few problems to the regime, yet the regime behaved as if hordes of its communism-infected brigades were pouring across the borders on their way to Pretoria.

Second, john Vorster became Minister of Justice in 1961 and in 1962 had responsibility for the police added to his portfolio. Within a short period he had appointed his own commissioner of police and head of the Security Branch.18 He obtained significant increases in the police budget, a large proportion of which was absorbed by the Security Branch, which grew substantially in the 1960s.

A special unit -- the 'Sabotage Squad' -- was set up, drawn from the SAP's investigative section. In addition, a covert intelligence section was established as part of the Security Branch in 1963. Known as Republican Intelligence (RI), it largely ran 'informers' and aimed to penetrate the liberation and specifically the armed opposition movements. Many of the informers they recruited were journalists.19

By utilizing this legislative and institutional framework, the NP government effectively put the lid on extra-parliamentary opposition by the mid-1960s.

By the end of the 1960s, the SAP and the SADF, backed by powerful ministers, had both undergone substantial expansion and re-organisation, with the result that the security-related structures had moved from the margins of the state to its very centre. This move was symbolized Vorster's accession to power following Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd's assassination in 1966. The transition had not come about without conflict and without a significant degree of rivalry between the different members of the security establishment. The tensions were greatly exacerbated by the establishment of BOSS20 and the near 'untouchable' status that General van den Bergh enjoyed.21

One consequence of these tensions was the appointment in 1969 of the Potgieter Commission.22 The report spoke, for the first time, the language of a 'total onslaught'. It resulted in the establishment of the State Security Council (SSC) to replace the old Cabinet State Security Committee. In terms of the Security Intelligence and State Security Council Act of 1972, this council was to play an advisory role to cabinet in respect of intelligence priorities, security policy and strategy.

However even though the government had bought a temporary halt to internal mobilization, the external situation was becoming more threatening. In response to the rise of African nationalism and the steady withdrawal of the European colonial powers from the continent, the government began to design its own buffer zone –the minority-ruled and colonial territories of Southern Rhodesia, Angola, Mozambique and South West Africa would form a cordon sanitaire, sealing off South Africa from the countries north of their borders and effectively cutting the access of the MK or any other revolutionary group to South Africa itself.

The country's military strategy at the time was described as "defensive" but "more outward", prompted by the perception that there was now, "for the first time, the potential threat of conventional war on the northern borders of the sub-continent". The SADF's "strategy was to keep the 'defence line' as far as possible away from South Africa itself". This notion was the direct consequence of the fact that the security establishment's strategic thinking was deeply immersed in the logic of the cold war. Thus all forms of conflict and instability in Africa were seen as "avenues for Soviet involvement", with the SADF arguing that South Africa was faced with "a Soviet-backed revolutionary war".23

Consequently, from the mid-1960s, the government undertook or authorized a number of defensive and pre-emptive operations outside of South Africa's borders. The first of these was the establishment of an SAP security police camp in the Caprivi Strip in northern South West Africa in March 1965, under the guise of an engineering company. The camp was under the command of former sabotage squad member, Major Theunis 'Rooi Rus' Swanepoel.24 The role of the camp was to monitor SWAPO activity. Sixteen months later, SAP units were deployed to the area in response to SWAPO's decision to move its trained cadres into South West Africa. On 26 August 1966, SAP forces attacked SWAPO's first military base inside South West Africa at Omgulumbashe, marking the beginning of South Africa's armed intervention in the region.

The first armed campaigns launched by the ANC were the Wankie and Sipolilo campaigns of 1967 and 1968. Its Rhodesian campaigns were launched with the aim of "infiltrating trained MK operatives into South Africa in line with the concept of rural-based guerrilla warfare". The idea was that MK soldiers would thus create a "corridor" along which to infiltrate guerrillas into South Africa. The campaigns were a military disaster resulting in the death and capture of a number of MK combatants.25

In response to this development, SAP units were sent to Rhodesia in September 1967 to assist Rhodesian forces fighting ZIPRA (ZAPU) and MK (ANC) guerrillas in the north west of the country. The SAP units were dispatched to Rhodesia "to fight against men who originally came from South Africa and were on their way back to commit terrorism in South Africa".26 By 1975, when the police contingent was withdrawn, 2 000 South African policemen were involved in combat operations inside Rhodesia.

In the period up to 1974, South African military support to Portuguese forces engaged in operations in Angola and Mozambique took the form of the supply of medicines, the pooling of intelligence information, helicopter support, some joint commando training and occasional joint commando operations. In Angola it included the secondment of a small number of experienced SADF trackers who wore Portuguese military fatigues, and were used to track UNITA fighters operating in alliance with SWAPO at that time.

Ostensively, the SADF began working alongside the Rhodesians and Portuguese in the region because of shared perceptions of threat.27 The SADF also responded to the changing regional security scenario by initiating a study programme on 'revolutionary war'. In the late 1960s, the SADF's Lieutenant General CA 'Pop' Fraser, then chief of the army, produced his Lessons Drawn from Past Revolutionary Wars, which in later years became a blueprint for South Africa's counter-revolutionary strategy. The SADF introduced formal instruction in counter-insurgency into its training in 1968; the SAP had already done so a year earlier.

In July 1969, senior security figures from the newly formed Bureau of State Security (BOSS), the Portuguese International Police for the Defence of the State (PIDE), and the Rhodesian Security Police met in Lisbon for a week of talks designed to bring about closer collaboration in their counter-insurgency efforts. Several further such tripartite meetings were held in the next five years, coinciding with the development by the SADF of a high-level think-tank focusing on strategic options in the region. Senior Rhodesian officers also participated in the project.

In the 1970s, the SADF actively propagated its views on counter-insurgency throughout the state sector through courses and lectures to groups from both the security and non-security sections of the public service.28 The US influence was also evident in the co-operation between the security forces and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), which considered South Africa a local ally against the Soviet Union. The CIA provided information that led to the capture of Nelson Mandela in 1962.29

Counter-insurgency spoke of 'national security' rather than 'defence of national territory', thus drawing political conflict into the domain of the security establishment. A successful counter-strategy was seen as being dependent on accurately recognising the particular stage of development of the insurgency war and arresting its development by instituting a counter-phase. The theorists on whom the South African securocrats drew stressed the need for a co-coordinated and organised counter-offensive involving the police, the military and bureaucracy. The South African government drew on Cold War theories to argue that its opposition to local liberation movements with Soviet sympathies or links was part of the same battle that the US and Western Europe were waging against Eastern Europe and the USSR.

IN 1969, the ANC held its first general conference since its establishment in exile in Morogoro, Tanzania. The conference adopted a new programme called "Strategy and Tactics of the ANC". The problems experienced in Rhodesia had led the ANC to realise that military success was unlikely to come either easily or for some time and that the Cuban 'foci' model 30 was not applicable in South Africa. The strategy document thus detailed the strategic need for a "protracted armed struggle" depending on "political mobilisation" within South Africa.

Thus, the ANC made a decision to reorient strategy. Instead of sending armed groups of cadres into the country to ' detonate' guerrilla warfare, it emphasized that ... "[it] was necessary first to extend and consolidate an ANC underground machinery and to generally mobilise the people, especially the black working population, into active mass struggle." 31 The conference also opened membership of the ANC in exile to Whites, Indians and Coloureds. It also set up a Revolutionary Council (RC) to coordinate the work of the military and political units and to take charge of prosecute the struggle within South Africa. A formal alliance between the ANC and the SACP was announced, with members of the Revolutionary Council drawn from both bodies.

After the crushing of the liberation movements in the early 1960s, there was a period of relative calm in resistance politics inside South Africa. But in the early seventies things once again began to change. Workers' organisations began to emerge. The Durban strikes of 1973, and emerging black trade unions, sanctioned under the law in 1979, were harbingers of a militant trade union movement that became the instrument of massive black mobilization in the eighties. In the late 1960s, the South African Students Organisation (SASO) and other organisations influenced by the ideology of Black Consciousness began to emerge. This mobilisation culminated in country-wide mass resistance in the 1976-77 period, popularly known as the 'Soweto uprising'.

The uprising, though largely spontaneous, was a watershed. A new generation of activists had emerged who were unwilling to see themselves treated as being inferior to white, unwilling to accept Bantu education as the limit of their aspirations and willing to resist demanding their individual rights as South Africans, especially the right to vote. They rejected the passivism of their parents' generation and the angst for the struggles of the fifties and early sixties. It jarred the ANC out of its lethargy. It now had to process and accommodate thousands of young people who fled across the borders of the frontline state with a single purpose: to jopin MK and return to South Africa as freedom fighters.

Of equal concern to the government were developments abroad. The collapse of the Portuguese dictatorship32 opened the way to independence for its Southern African colonies, Mozambique and Angola. The coup in Portugal in April 1974 caught the South African government off balance. It was unexpected and with a single action in a distant European country shrunk South Africa's line of defence. The cordon sanitaire had virtually collapsed. The government's perceptions of security changed dramatically and with far-reaching consequences.33

Inside South Africa, the liberation of these countries inspired the resistance movement, which held celebration rallies in their honor. Indeed, the collapse of the buffer surrounding South Africa opened up new possibilities for the liberation movements. By the time of Mozambique's independence in June 1975, the ANC had established a sizeable diplomatic presence in Maputo and it was clear that the new FRELIMO government would allow MK guerrillas transit facilities to both Swaziland and South Africa. By this time too, senior ANC figures were in Swaziland, resuscitating the ANC's political presence and re-establishing links to the ANC underground inside South Africa. By 1976, a reliable 'underground railway' had been established between Swaziland and both the Durban and Witwatersrand areas.34

On South Africa's western flank, SWAPO had opened a diplomatic mission in Luanda and had been given permission to establish military training bases, transit camps and refugee camps in central and southern Angola.

The government responded in a way that which suggests that the previous domination of state security policy by the SAP and BOSS was on the wane and that the SADF, in particular with regard to external military policy, was becoming increasingly influential. This was reflected at a number of levels. Firstly, in 1975 the SADF took over the SAP's previous responsibility for counter-insurgency operations in the border areas of northern Namibia. Secondly, it appeared that the government was preparing to become involved in the conflict that developed in Angola after the collapse of the agreement signed by the three Angolan liberation groups in January 1975.

The next critical development was the occupation by the SADF of Calueque in southern Angola in August 1975. The immediate aim was the protection of the joint South African-Portuguese funded Calueque-Ruacana hydro-electric scheme but the general aim was to counter "further Soviet-led expansion in the region".35 As it turned out, the move into Calueque formed the initial phase of Operation Savannah, the SADF's secret invasion of Angola in 1975.36

Operation Savannah failed, but the SADF was able to draw three important lessons from its failure.

First, it exposed the SADF's urgent need to update its weapons systems which, "led to major developments in the armaments industry in South Africa over the next decade".37 One of these was the launch in 1980 of Project Coast, the SADF's chemical and biological weapons programme.

Second, it impressed upon the SADF the need for and utility of surrogate forces as allies. With UNITA regarded as "one of the few remaining buffers against further East bloc expansion in Southern Africa", it now became integrated as a central component into the SADF's military strategy on its western flank. Assistance began in April 1977 with the launch of Operation Silwer, the codename by which aid to UNITA was referred until 1983, when it was changed to Operation Disa.38

Third, it made the SADF aware of a need for increased "intelligence, reconnaissance and a wide spectrum of covert capabilities". In order to meet this demand it was essential "to continue with the development of its special forces and their covert and clandestine capability". In October 1974, a Special Forces division was set up as a separate and autonomous arm of the SADF with its command structure that reported directly to the chief of the SADF.

In 1975, the SAP established an elite anti-terrorist unit known as Unit 19 or the Special Task Force. The Special Task Force played an important role in the training of the police Riot Units established at more or less the same time. Based in several centres around the country, its recruits were drawn largely from those with counter-insurgency training. Colonel Theunis 'Rooi Rus' Swanepoel, veteran of the sabotage squad and Ongulumbashe, was drafted into Soweto on 16 June 1976 to command a riot unit which was responsible for a high number of civilian casualties. Interviewed in the 1980s about the operations of his unit in Soweto, he stated that he regretted only not using more force. "You can only stop violence by using a greater amount of violence".39

In the aftermath of the Soweto Uprising, the security police were severely criticized for their poor intelligence and the lack of forewarning. They, too, underwent another restructuring and their size increased. However, despite their failures on the home front, they continued to play a role in South West Africa, despite the fact that the SADF had assumed control of the war. Security Branch special operations there evolved and developed into the dreaded Koevoet.40

In 19XX, the Transkei became the first homeland to become "independent, which meant that people who had been born there were no longer citizens of South Africa. If they worked in South Africa, they had to apply for the necessary work permits and carry a Transkei passport. A number of other homelands also acquired acquiring greater autonomy, although they remained wholly financially dependent on South Africa. These developments also resulted in the creation of homeland police forces and, in the case of independent homelands, defence forces. Such security structures continued to be run by seconded South African security force personnel; structures and legislation mirrored South African models. However, limited oppositional structures, a weak civil society, and little national or international media interest meant that homeland security structures operated with far less restraint than the South African security forces.

The liberation movements did not play a military role in the events that began on 6 June 1976. Although a limited number of ANC underground activists attempted to give some direction through the spread of propaganda, the youth involved in these events were influenced by Black Consciousness ideology on the one hand, while responding to genuine grievances on the other. The ANC did, however, benefit from the events of 1976 and 1977, as it was the only liberation movement able to absorb, train, educate and direct the thousands of youth who left South Africa as a direct result of these events. MK established its second battalion from these new recruits, who were sent to Angola for training in the newly established bases there.

In addition to military camps in Angola, the ANC developed residential centres in Tanzania and had a diplomatic presence in many countries. In 1979, it established a Department of Intelligence and Security (DIS). This body, together with the military headquarters of MK, controlled the Angolan camps - including a special camp established to hold 'dissidents', known as Camp 32 or the Morris Seabelo Rehabilitation Centre (Quatro).

These internal events together with events in the sub-region formed the backdrop for a series of shifts both in state policy and in oppositional politics in the second half of the 1970s. For a variety of reasons - the improved organisation of the SADF, PW Botha's prowess as Minister of Defence and the SAP's inability to deal effectively with the 1976 uprising, - PW Botha emerged with a far stronger power base than Prime Minister Vorster. Moreover, the notion that South Africa was facing a 'total onslaught' was gaining greater acceptance within government circles. Two influential reviews, the Venter Report in 197441 and the Van Dalsen Report in 197742, began to put forward the need for a co-ordinated national security management strategy to cope with this onslaught. The first public airing of this developing strategy was in the 1977 Defence White Paper.

Within the security establishment, the growing influence of the military was evident in the rise to power of PW Botha. A scandal-"Infogate" led to the resignation of both Vorster and Van den Bergh and in September 1978, PW Botha became Prime Minister. He would oversee the final phase of the conflict. On assuming his new post he moved rapidly to implement a policy soon dubbed the 'total strategy'.

In examining the history and policies of the NP governments since, it is cleat that the roads the party took in adopting and implementing apartheid were built with different bricks, bricks that in each case reflected the ideological beliefs of three prime ministers. Verwoerd believed Grand Apartheid would resolve the country's racial problems. Vorster believed in brute force to suppress agitation, apparently in the belief that if you crushed whatever black opposition to government emerged, each time with increasing brutality and more pervasive security laws, the blacks would finally get the message: they could not win, the state was simply too powerful, its security apparatus too overwhelming. And PW Botha believed that you could reform apartheid, find some means to accommodate black demands while retaining white dominance. In the process he failed to grasp that you cannot reform that which must be abolished.

The late 1970s saw a regrouping following the bannings of Black Consciousness organisations in 1977 and the growth of independent black trade unions. It also saw the emergence of local community organisations involved in mass mobilisation and campaigns on basic issues such as housing, rents, electricity, and transport. These structures initially adopted a strategically low political profile, while more explicitly political organisations such as the Azanian People's Organisation (AZAPO) and student organisations such as Azanian Students' Organisation (AZASO) and the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) articulated a more strongly political perspective. Rivalry and conflict developed, however, between activists aligning themselves with Black Consciousness and those increasingly supportive of the ANC.43

'Total strategy' was based on the premise that South Africa was the object of a total onslaught, supported or even co-ordinated by the Soviet Union. The objective of this onslaught was to overthrow the government of South Africa, the instrument was guerrilla warfare -- warfare characterised by the relative unimportance of military operations in the sense of combat operations carried out against opposing armed forces. Rather, the aim of the revolutionary forces is to gain control of government by gaining the support of the people through a combination of intimidation, persuasion and propaganda.

The Botha government answer to the 'total onslaught' was a 'total strategy' of counter-revolution, in which every sphere of government activity would be co-ordinated to prevent the perceived revolutionary onslaught from succeeding. The task of the armed forces was to prevent the enemy - the ANC-SACP alliance - from establishing a viable rear-base outside South Africa while. In its domestic operations, the government would develop the necessary political initiatives to win the support of the population, thus enabling it to survive the revolutionary onslaught.

There were four main pillars to the 'total strategy': the maintenance of state security at all costs; reform of the political environment; efficient and 'clean' government; the co-ordination of all state action.

The importance of a 'total strategy' was underlined by developments within the ANC. A joint meeting of the ANC's National Executive Committee and Revolutionary Council received a report from senior members of the ANC, the SACP and MK who had undertaken a study tour of Vietnam in October 1978 as part of a strategic review. The delegation had spent some time with General Giap44, the architect of victories over both French colonial and US forces. Based on insights gained on this mission, the ANC/MK decided on an adaptation to its insurgency strategy.

Abandoning an earlier emphasis on rural guerrilla warfare, the strategy aimed now at integrating political and military activity, while attributing particular importance to urban areas. A Politico-Military Strategy Commission (PMSC) was established to oversee the new strategic direction and, in 1979, a Special Operations Unit was formed which reported directly to the ANC president.45

Militarily, a campaign of 'armed propaganda' attacks by a specially-trained elite unit ('Special Ops') was designed less for immediate military effect than to advertise the existence of MK and to win publicity and support. This was to lead to a general uprising or, to use the idiom of the time, a 'people's war'.

The 'lessons from Vietnam' were contained in a report which became known as The Green Book, finalized in March 1979. It envisaged a strategy involving the escalation of armed attacks combined with the building of mass organisations. A strengthened underground movement inside the country would provide the link between the two. However, while underground political units of the ANC began to organize around some of the above aims, the military imperative remained the focus of ANC strategy in this period.

The insurrectionary model of resistance adopted by the ANC in the 1980s was based on the notion of a 'people's war'. Associated with this shift in strategic thinking was the fact that, increasingly, gross violations of human rights were perpetrated not by members under the direct command of the ANC or MK, but by civilians who saw themselves as ANC supporters and acted in line with what they perceived to be the ANC's strategic direction. Thus violations associated with the liberation and mass democratic movements in the 1980s were not, in the main, the result of armed actions and sabotage, but tended to target those perceived to be collaborating with the policies and practices of the former government.

In response to the ANC's shift to the new strategic paradigm Botha convened an elite gathering of high-ranking cabinet ministers and security officials at Fort Klapperkop. Those attending the Fort Klapperkop conference included Pik Botha, General Magnus Malan, Gerrit Viljoen, Generals Jannie Geldenhuys and Johan Coetzee, and a General D'Almeida from Argentina.

D'Almeida's presence reflected an emerging and ominous alliance between South Africa and a set of allies of 'pariah' status among the international community with a reputation for ruthlessness, involving the use of violence and terror, towards their opponents. With Argentina in this group were Chile, Israel and Taiwan, all of whom had in the preceding years entered into some form of security co-operation with Pretoria.

Co-operation with Argentina continued. Senior police officials visited both Argentina and Chile in 1982.46 These trips led to mutual visits and agreements on the exchange of information. In May/June 1982, the British journal X-Ray reported "there was growing evidence of the use of new forms of torture in South Africa, which are known to have been used in Argentina".

One of the major decisions of the Klapperkop Conference was to authorise the military's Special Forces units to undertake counter-guerrilla operations outside of the country in order to prevent MK from developing rear-bases within striking distance of South Africa and, consequently, an effective logistical network.

General Magnus Malan, chief of the SADF and, from 1980, Minister of Defence, was first exposed to the theories of counter-insurgency in the United States where he completed the regular command and general staff officer's course in 1962-63. As officer commanding of South West Africa Command from 1966-68, he acquired first-hand experience of a war conducted largely on the principles of counter-insurgency. During his tenure as chief of the army (1973-76), a series of joint inter-departmental counter-insurgency committees was established to help manage the war in Namibia, creating a model for the National Security Management System (NSMS).

The SSC was the policy and decision-making body of the NSMS. It was assisted by a Work Group and between twelve and fifteen Interdepartmental Committees (IDCs). Decisions taken at the fortnightly SSC meetings were sent to the heads of the respective departments for implementation. From 1979 onwards, some 500 regional, district and local Joint Management Centres were put into place, theoretically enabling a co-ordinated security system to reach from the highest level to the smallest locality.47

The establishment of the NSMS was followed by a related restructuring of the intelligence services - an outcome of the Klapperkop Conference and an accompanying initiative, the Coetzee Committee. A conference held at Simonstown in January 1981 focused, inter alia, on the establishment of a co-coordinating intelligence body known by its Afrikaans acronym as KIK (the Co-coordinating Intelligence Committee). The conference also looked at the areas of responsibility of the various structures. The result was a division of labour between the police and the military. In regard to extra-South African territories, Swaziland was assigned to the SAP while the rest of the world, but more particularly the region, became an SADF responsibility. The agreement also made provision for joint SAP-SADF operations. As a consequence, the powers of the NIS (the reconstituted BOSS) were considerably reduced, while those of the SADF substantially increased.

In response, counter-insurgency measures – the byproduct of South Africa's engagement with SWAPO in South West Africa48 -- began to seep their into domestic security thinking. Models of crowd control employed by both the SAP and the SADF began to feature elements of a counter-insurgency perspective. Increasingly the tools of counter insurgency were used to control the civilian population by those responsible for public order policing, among them the riot police, and later the SADF.

But, counter-insurgency thinking legitimated and facilitated the emergence of covert units such as Vlakplaas,49 and resulted in an increasing number of reported abductions and killings of political activists. This trend intensified from the mid-1980s, as the rationale of counter-revolutionary warfare took hold within dominant quarters of the security establishment.50

The Vlakplaas unit was established by the Security Branch in 1979. It was originally a rehabilitation farm where former ANC and PAC activists were 'turned' into police informers, known as askaris. Other branches of the security police could call on the askaris to infiltrate ANC activists and glean information. In August 1981, several white policemen were transferred to the unit and the askaris were divided into four groups, each headed by a white policeman. By the end of 1982, Vlakplaas operatives were increasingly becoming the 'special forces' of the Security Branch. Vlakplaas, and more broadly its C Section51, also worked closely with the SADF - indeed, for significant periods, an SADF liaison officer was assigned to work full-time with Vlakplaas. To a large extent, Vlakplaas owed its existence to the SAP's experience first with the Selous Scouts in Rhodesia and then with setting up Koevoet in South West Africa.

In 1978, MK began attacks in the PWV (Pretoria, Witwatersrand and Veereniging region) and western Transvaal. The Special Operations Unit engaged in some successful acts of economic sabotage (such as Sasol II) in the early 1980s. These had the additional strategic aim of raising the profile of MK among the general public. It was largely in anticipation of the growth of such campaigns from outside the country that the state began planning pre-emptive action in the form of what became generally known as destabilization.

In February 1979 the SSC adopted the SSC "Guidelines for a Long-term National Strategy in regard to Self-defence Actions." Not all the actions proposed in this document could readily be brought under the juridical concept of 'self-defence actions'; some of the operations proposed would necessarily be clandestine.52

The five types of operations proposed and adopted were: actions against bases on foreign territory; actions permissible if the state whose territory was to be entered was either unwilling or unable to act against those being pursued -- the goal was the capture of the persons being pursued for arraignment before a court in South Africa, violence was to be used only where the pursued resisted arrest and was only to be directed against the pursued; clandestine actions where the were no restrictions; and arresting actions, which allowed police to cross a border for distances of up to approximately one kilometer for the purpose of arresting the criminal elements whom they were following; covert reconnaissance actions undertaken in order to acquire intelligence on planned enemy actions.

Like most diktats of this kind the potential for abuse was fully exploited, since the ascribed policy lacked mechanisms that would ensure accountability. The TRC received considerable evidence of abductions from foreign territories of real or perceived opponents of the South African government. None of these, however, conform fully, or even nearly, to the prescribed requisites of the 'hakkejag' variety. They were rather carefully planned, clandestine kidnapping raids either by the security police or their Vlakplaas unit, and the fate of those abducted was more often to be killed or forced into becoming an askari than to appear in court.

Thus, by 1979, the SSC had in place a vast array of security instruments the state could choose to take the fight to the 'enemy' and to confront it in its regional strongholds rather than wait for it to penetrate the South African interior. The priorities at this point were the outer-periphery states of Angola, Rhodesia and the eastern front of Mozambique and Swaziland which, in the words of an SADF general, was "leaking like a sieve".

In the late 1970s black trade unions were legalized and they proliferated like wild fire. A range of student and community based structures also began to emerge. Within these structures, some owed allegiance to black consciousness, while an increasing number of activists within such structures began to move towards support for the ANC or 'Congress tradition'. While the development of internal structures was broadly in line with ANC policy as expressed in the Green Book, and key activists strengthened links with the banned movement, such structures seem to have developed rather from an increasingly politicized climate and around specific local demands. Indeed, the banning of Black Consciousness organisations in 1977 had further restricted free political space, and activists responded to this by organising in communities around local 'bread and butter' issues. During the late 1970s, the divide between the Black Consciousness and Congress movements was neither wide nor rigid and was straddled by many individuals and organisations. Only in the early 1980s would conflicts around principles and strategies cement and harden.

During 1982-83 the government introduced new constitutional proposals for a tri-cameral parliament, which gave separate elected assemblies to Indian and coloured people and sought in this way to incorporate both as "junior" partners in political decision-making, although the white parliament retained a veto hand over any proposal that emanated from their deliberations. In addition, two bills were introduced proposing new measures to regulate the presence of Africans in cities. The Black Local Authorities Act of 1982 gave a range of new powers and responsibilities to the highly unpopular and frequently corrupt township governments.

In order to protest and frustrate these new state initiatives, and also as an indicator of the schism within anti-apartheid politics, anti-apartheid organisations launched two separate national formations in 1983. One was the United Democratic Front (UDF) - comprising over 500 decentralized, local and regional civic, youth, women's, political and religious anti-apartheid organisations, together with national student organisations and trade unions. The other was the smaller National Forum, a loose association of some 200 Black Consciousness-oriented organisations and small left-wing groups.

Although the UDF had co-coordinating structures at national and regional levels, affiliate organisations retained their autonomy in terms of policies and programmes of action. Office-bearers were required to be accountable to the membership of their affiliate organisation. By the mid eighties the UDF leadership was consulting with the ANC in exile.

MK operations became more frequent, but for the most part operations did not lead to civilian casualties.

While the armed attacks continued to raise the profile of the ANC, individual members of ANC underground political units played a crucial role in the formation of mass organisations such as COSAS, civic structures and militant trade unions that were to unite under the banner of the UDF and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Such mass organisations formed one of the 'four pillars' of struggle, which together constituted the ANC's strategy for the liberation of South Africa. These four pillars were: the armed operations of MK, the building of mass organisations, the building of an underground movement inside South Africa to provide the link between the two, and the campaign for the international isolation of the South African government.

During its life-span, the UDF went through states of emergency, mass detentions of its members and leadership, and victimization of its leaders, mainly by state surrogate forces. The state tightened its laws, and banned the UDF and many of its affiliates in 1988. During that process, UDF supporters clashed with several other oppositional groupings and vigilante forces, some of which were state sponsored. In the late 1980s, together with COSATU and other sympathetic non-aligned organisations, they formed a loose coalition termed the Mass Democratic Movement (MDM).

In May 1983, MK exploded a car bomb in Pretoria's Church Street. Nineteen people were killed and 217 injured. The incident is identified by many security force members, in submissions to the TRC, as the moment at which they realised the significance of the threat facing them and began to see the ANC as a 'terrorist organisation'. In addition to such armed actions, the first of a number of planned assassinations of individuals labeled 'enemy agents' or 'collaborators' took place in this period.

Two months after the Church Street bomb, the SSC held a three-day meeting in the operational area of South West Africa where it reviewed the security situation in the region. In an intelligence briefing at the start of the meeting, SSC secretary Major General Groenewald noted that, with the help of the SADF, UNITA's 54 troop strength had reached 36 000 and was growing by 2 400 per year. However, in regard to Mozambique, he noted that if FRELIMO succeeded in overcoming RENAMO, the Soviet Union's hold on the African east coast would be strengthened and the spread of its influence to the landlocked states of Southern Africa facilitated; so too would the establishment of ANC bases in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Lesotho.

To counter the threat, the SSC agreed that 'terrorism' had to be fought beyond South Africa's borders; that, with or without the co-operation of neighbouring governments, proactive and defensive operations against South Africa's enemies, their supporters and their hosts must be undertaken; and that South Africa had to develop the capacity to destroy/neutralize 'terrorist concentrations' and their headquarters, as well as foreign troop concentrations such as the Cuban presence in Angola. The proposed options included the encouragement of internal conflict in other countries to the extent of active support for a change of government in a country like Lesotho, as well as continuing to promote instability in Zimbabwe.55 The kinds of operations undertaken by the security forces in the light of the 1979 guidelines and the 1983 priorities, and gross human rights violations which resulted from such operations are examined in this volume.

The war comes home

By the end of 1984, the government believed that it had turned the corner. The signing of the Nkomati Accord 56 and a similar earlier negotiated agreement with Swaziland,57 together with the considerable success of the Security Branch's anti-terrorist units, held out the promise that MK's supply and infiltration routes had been severely compromised if not totally cut off. The tricameral system, albeit widely rejected, was in place and unrest was still relatively localized. Moreover, the decision in August 1984 to deploy the army in the townships strengthened the capacity of the security forces on the ground.

But the war was about to come home. By the second half of 1985, unrest had spread throughout South Africa. Whereas previously unrest had occurred sporadically in the homelands and in the rural areas, in the post-1985 period it became more sustained. The widespread demonstrations and more violent forms of dissent and opposition which began in the Vaal Triangle in August 1984 surprised not only the government, but also the ANC.58

The ANC's Kabwe conference in 1985 was called primarily in response to the dissatisfaction of its soldiers in the Angolan camps and the mutinies of 1984.59 But events at home focused attention on how the ANC should capitalize on township revolt and turn it into a people's war, possibly even an insurrection. While the ANC, with hindsight, claims credit for the development of the strategy of people's war and 'rendering the country ungovernable', and the security police argue similarly that the ANC was behind the violence that prevailed, there are two important caveats to this interpretation. The first is that the ANC was responding to violence that had already erupted and was spreading largely spontaneously around the country. The pamphlet released on 25 April 1985, calling on people to "Make apartheid unworkable! Make the country ungovernable!" was an attempt to keep up with the rising militancy in the townships, not to foment it. In the event, the 'uprising' gave the Kabwe conference strategic focus, and the problems of the camps were not given much time.

The military operations of MK in this period can be categorized as follows: Firstly, there were bomb attacks on urban targets. The targets selected were meant to be security force related, but the reality is that more civilians than security force personnel were killed in such explosions. The reasons included technical incompetence, faulty devices, poor reconnaissance and poor judgement or misunderstanding by operatives. In addition, there was some deliberate 'blurring of the lines' which gave operatives the leeway to vent their anger by placing bombs in targets that were not strictly military. Lastly, there were instances when explosives were tampered with or security force infiltration resulted in civilian deaths.

The third type of operation involved engaging in combat with South African security force members, sometimes offensively and sometimes defensively. The casualty rate was very high for MK guerrillas in urban areas, with few losses to the security forces; in rural encounters MK seemed to fare somewhat better.

The fourth type of activity involved the killing of individual security force personnel and people who were deemed to be 'traitors' or 'enemy agents'. Security policemen were naturally considered to be important targets; but as the South African government reinforced its security forces by using rapidly-trained black policemen - both in support of the Black Local Authority councillors and in support of the riot police - these police became targets as well. Key leaders of violent vigilante movements or 'warlords' also came to be considered 'legitimate' targets for MK soldiers, even though they were not formally defined as members of the security forces.

The 'people's war' strategy meant the blurring of distinctions between trained, armed soldiers and ordinary civilians who were caught up in quasi-military formations such as the amabutho or the self-defence units (SDUs). On the one hand, the MK guerrillas were not identified by uniforms and used the civilian population as 'cover'. On the other, amabutho or 'comrades' were youth who, in the 1980s, formed themselves into quasi-military formations. While neither the UDF nor the ANC controlled these structures directly through any 'chain of command', they were seen at the time as being broadly 'in line' with the strategy of a 'people's war'.

MK attempted to 'marry' the armed struggle and the mass formations by infiltrating guerrillas who then selected youths from such formations for short military training courses. Sometimes this occurred 'on the spot'; sometimes they were taken to front-line states for further training. In the process of implementing such a strategy, the general population, especially the youth, became militarized and 'hardened' to violence and brutality. Encouragement or sanction by the liberation movements, combined with a lack of direct control led to 'people's courts'60, 'necklace murders'61 and other brutal acts. Many innocent civilians suffered as a result - killed either by security forces for 'harboring' combatants, or by amabutho for their association with state representatives.

In Natal, the anger of UDF-supporting youth became focused on Inkatha members, who often served as the equivalent of councillors in KwaZulu, controlling local resources and operating under a system of patronage. This conflict became violent in 1984 and escalated towards the end of the decade. After the unbanning of the ANC and the Inkatha renamed itself the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), the conflict escalated dramatically as both sides competed for the same political turf or sought to establish their exclusive hegemony over "their" areas. The ANC denied that it ever engaged in a policy of attacking members of other political parties, including the IFP. However, during the period when the ANC was still banned, many people from Inkatha and other rival political groupings, such as AZAPO, were attacked by UDF supporters. Such actions were often perceived as ANC attacks.

Meanwhile, internal support for the ANC began to be displayed publicly in an increasingly defiant manner. Moreover, this support, traditionally confined to African areas, appeared to find significant resonance in coloured and Indian areas. Increasing support by major Western powers for a democratic settlement was combined with a small but vocal sense of disquiet from local business. For the first time since it assumed power, the government appeared unable to control, let alone quell, resistance.

These internal and external events led to a reappraisal by the SSC. By 1985, the SSC saw the situation as a growing spiral of threat. The realisation that the war had come home, and the move to an aggressive internal proactive policy was encapsulated in an SSC minute on 18 July 1985: "The chairman points out that he is convinced that the brain behind the unrest situation is situated inside South Africa, and that it must be found and destroyed. Action thus far has been too reactive, and the security forces must attend to this urgently."62

Accordingly, police reaction to the demonstrations and other dissent became increasingly robust, and a considerably hardened approach began to develop. However, the more intensive police and army surveillance of the townships became, the more the vulnerable underbelly of the security forces came under attack - councillors, black policeman living in the townships, suspected informers, anyone associated with such people and increasingly even those who did not adhere to boycotts initiated by the mass democratic movement. The centrality of such individuals and groups to the success of the government's reform initiative put further pressure on the state's political programme.

The extent of the challenge posed by the internal unrest and the ANC can be gauged by a special meeting convened by the KIK in October 1985 to discuss whether it was possible to avoid a settlement with the ANC. Attended by top-level generals and intelligence personnel, the meeting referred to the massive national and international support for the ANC and to the widespread perception that the government was losing ground. While clear differences of emphasis are evident, the consensus was that any negotiation should take place from a position of strength, not weakness and a settlement should be avoided until the balance of power could be shifted. In the words of General Groenewald: "This is the stage when one can negotiate from a position of strength and can afford to accommodate the other party, given that it has largely been eliminated as a threat."

The need to 'eliminate' the ANC as a threat led to the adoption of an internal strategy of counter-revolutionary warfare. A number of developments reflect this change.

First, there was a marked shift in the terminology used in SSC and related documentation. Words such as 'neutraliseer', (neutralise), 'vernietig' (destroy), 'elimineer' (eliminate), 'uit te wis' (wipe out) became common parlance.

Second, this shift was accompanied by an increasing dominance of the military in formulating and driving security perspectives. The army and its surrogates began to usurp the functions of the police.

This shift is further evidenced by the adoption of significant sections of the influential text on counter-revolutionary warfare written by the SADF's Brigadier CA Fraser.63 Thus an extra-ordinary meeting of the SSC on 18 July 1985 adopted eleven principles for the 'countering of the revolutionary onslaught,' closely based on Fraser's text. Much of Fraser's book was later reproduced, with a foreword by PW Botha and circulated among state functionaries.

Third, and in keeping with the language used in SSC documents as well as the main tenets of counter-revolutionary warfare, there was an increasing use of the same methods 'of the enemy against the enemy'. This led to an approach in which violence was met with greater violence and the security forces themselves became covertly involved in extra-judicial killings, acts of arson and sabotage and other reprisals.

Fourth, there was an increasing emphasis on covert support for conservative groupings within black communities. This took a variety of forms. It included Operation Marion, in which a paramilitary and offensive capacity was given to Inkatha; Operation Katzen, which aimed to overthrow the existing homeland governments in the Ciskei and Transkei and establish a regional resistance movement (Iliso Lomzi) to counter the UDF/ANC influence in that region; and the provision of financial and other support for a range of conservative individuals and vigilante groupings. Central to the latter was the attempt to exploit divisions within organisations and communities, thus weakening the support base of the liberation and mass democratic movements.

Fifth, there was an increasing emphasis on co-ordination of security action, and significant resources were poured into the NSMS. The inter-departmental committee on security was upgraded and by 1987 was co-coordinating the activities of regional Joint Management Committees (JMCs), under the full-time direction of the Deputy Minister of Law and Order. JMCs were fully activated and thirty-seven 'hotspots' were designated as 'oilspots' where security would be normalised before urban renewal projects put in place. Indeed, the new strategic direction was characterised by the idea that reforms did not go hand in hand with law and order but could only be implemented once political stability had been achieved.

At the same time, however, several covert structures began to be put in place, including what became known as the Civil Co-operation Bureau (CCB). In terms of a plan devised by Major General Joep Joubert,64 Special Forces operatives were deployed to work with selected Security Branch divisions. It was in part the development of this plan and the covert deployment of Special Forces internally that led to the development of the CCB.

These developments took place in the context of a nation-wide state of emergency that effectively remained in place from June 1986 until mid-1990. In the year after the imposition of the national state of emergency, the full force of a strategy of counter-revolutionary warfare unfolded domestically. By the end of 1987, the government succeeded in reasserting control and effectively defused whatever potential existed for an insurrectionary situation. Meanwhile, the international balance of forces changed as the Cold War ground to a halt with policies of glasnost and perestroika in the Soviet Union.

The ANC, realizing the improbability of seizing state power through an armed insurrection, began genuinely exploring the possibility of a negotiated settlement. The government too began to move secretly towards negotiation. A series of secret meetings between emissaries of the South African government and leading ANC figures were held in the second half of the 1980s. At the same time, the ANC implemented Operation Vula with the intention of returning senior ANC leaders into the country. Vula was seen by some ANC leaders as an 'insurance policy' in case the negotiation process failed. Others within the ANC possibly still held to a revolutionary dogma that could not contemplate attaining political power through peaceful means, and which still anticipated the arrival of an 'insurrectionary moment' after the suspension of armed struggle.

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.