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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Third Force Proposals

48. In this period of crisis, arguments for a new approach to the policing of gatherings began to emerge. The 'third force' model was first raised at the State Security Council (SSC) on 4 November 1985, when the Working Committee of the SSC, together with the Security Forces, was tasked to investigate "the possibility of a third force, parallel to the SADF and the SAP" 4 . It was envisaged that such a 'third force' would avoid the danger of politicising the police or the army; would allow the police to concentrate on their primary (crime-related) task; would allow the army to deal with civil war-type insurrection and insurgency in line with its traditional defence function, and would create a force with appropriate training and equipment for such work. The meeting noted that similar models existed in countries such as Germany, Italy and the USA.

49. A 'third force' working group was set up, chaired by Deputy Minister of Law and Order Adriaan Vlok. This group was involved in processing a number of proposals on the creation of a possible 'third force' including:

50. Both proposals drew on models of counter-insurgency and counter-revolutionary warfare, rather than less militarised conceptions of public order policing. The overall tendency was to see crowd control and anti-terrorist action through the same lens and as paramilitary functions.

51. On 11 and 13 March 1986, the working group appears to have agreed that, rather than establishing a separate 'third force', the existing capacity of the SAP's counter-insurgency and riot units would be expanded and re-organised. The group also recognised that whatever was decided in regard to this issue was not going to solve the problem of the 'stygende rewolusionêre bedreigingspiraal' (escalating revolutionary threat spiral). It thus began to turn attention to the issue of creating a 'special capacity' to deal more broadly with the revolutionary onslaught. Overall co-ordination and monitoring were identified as particular gaps and there were a number of proposals: for a co-ordination centre or 'war-room'; for the upgrading of the interdepartmental Security Committee (GVS, the Afrikaans acronym for the Joint Security Staff), and for the full activation of Joint Management Centres (JMCs) country-wide.

52. At the SSC meeting of 12 May 1986, where the proposals were tabled, the minutes note that the chairperson (Mr PW Botha) said that the security forces must work together on the establishment of a 'third force'; that such a force must have a developed capacity to "effectively root out terrorists"; that it must be willing to be unpopular, even feared, and that the subversives must be dealt with using their own methods.

53. While many of the other proposals regarding co-ordination and monitoring were implemented, the 'third force' Botha wished for was not established. The minute of the SSC meeting of 8 May 1989 records that General de Witt reported that the "establishment of the municipal police and the extension of the SAP's unrest unit did away with the need for the creation of a 'third force' ".

54. In 1990, a similar proposal regarding the establishment of a 'third force' was raised but the proposal was again rejected by the security forces. An amended version of the idea was manifest in the creation of the Internal Stability Unit (ISU) in 1991 - a separate division of the police specifically tasked with public order functions, instead of a separate force outside of the police or army. The decision to create the ISU was announced in a 1991 speech by the then Minister Adriaan Vlok. He said that he expected the Unit to grow to a strength of 17 500 by 1997/98 - an indication that unrest was seen as a long-term feature of the South African policing landscape.

55. The ISU developed a reputation for abuses of power and the unaccountable behaviour of its members, which began to embarrass even senior police managers during the Peace Accord period. In a paradoxical twist of history, some township residents begin to call for troops, rather than the ISU, to patrol the townships.

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.