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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

NP's account of events - 1960 to FW

The conflict escalated from 1960 onwards, after the ANC decided to opt for an armed struggle. It is doubtful whether this decision hastened the transformation process. It can be argued that socio-economic forces had already begun to change South Africa and that non-violent pressure and resistance would have been far more effective vehicles for change. Be that as it may, the ANC's armed struggle inevitably contributed to a major escalation in the general violence that has plagued South Africa ever since.

In the perception of those on the Government side, the ANC and its allies were committed to the revolutionary seizure of power and not to peaceful and negotiated reform. For example, one of the documents submitted during the Rivonia trial in 1964 read as follows:

"The people of South Africa, led by the South African Communist Party, will destroy capitalist society and build in its place socialism The transition from capitalism to socialism and the liberation of the working class from the yoke cannot be effected by slow changes or by reforms as reactionaries and liberals often advise, but by revolution. One must therefore be a revolutionary and not a reformist."

At its National Consultative Conference in June 1985 the ANC recommitted itself to a Peoples War "in which a liberation army becomes rooted amongst the people who progressively participate actively in the armed struggle both politically and militarily" Such a struggle would "lead inevitably to a revolutionary situation in which our plan and aim must be the seizure of power through a general insurrection."

Between September 1984 and May 1986 the ANC's revolutionary strategy had the following results:

Ø     3 477 homes, owned or occupied by Black South Africans, were destroyed or badly damaged;

Ø     1 220 black schools were destroyed or badly damaged;

Ø     black education and local authorities were seriously disrupted;

Ø     573 people were killed in black-on-black violence, including 295 people who were burned to death by the necklace method.

The ANC's offensive against the Government was supported by an international campaign of unprecedented proportions. This campaign was centred in the United Nations and its agencies and was orchestrated by the ANC, its Soviet allies and by international anti-apartheid movements. At one stage, there were no fewer than 15 UN committees and organs that were solely or primarily dedicated to the struggle against South Africa. The international campaign affected every aspect of South Africa's international relations and ultimately led to the imposition of arms, oil, sport, cultural, economic and financial sanctions against South Africa. The objectives of this campaign included an unprecedented international propaganda offensive, the isolation of South Africa through the imposition of comprehensive sanctions, support for the "armed struggle" and the ultimate overthrow of the South African Government.

The then Government believed that it was being confronted by a "total onslaught". Its response was to develop its own "total strategy". The need for such a total strategy was identified in a Government White Paper on Defence in 1977 in the following terms;

"The process of ensuring and maintaining the sovereignty of a state's authority in a conflict situation has, through the evolution of warfare, shifted from the purely military to an integrated national action.. the resolution of conflict in the times in which we now live demands interdependent and co-ordinated action in all fields - military, psychological, economic, political, sociological, technological, diplomatic, ideological, cultural etc."

The vehicle that the Government established to implement its total strategy and to co-ordinate the activities of all branches of the Government in response to what it viewed as the "total onslaught" was the National Management System. The National Management System comprised the National Security Management System (NSMS) and the National Welfare Management System (NWMS). Responsibility for the NSMS rested with the State Security Council, which was established in June, 1972. The NSMS also included:

Ø     a Working Committee comprising the heads of "security" departments:

Ø     a Secretariat,

Ø     Interdepartmental Committees, aimed at the co-ordination of the planning and implementation of policies at the national level,

Ø     Joint Management Centres (JMCs), sub-divided into Sub- and Mini- JMCs, which operated at the regional and local levels and which were responsible for the co-ordination of the actions of departments and other organisations in the implementation of policies approved at the national level.

The prime purpose of the NMS was to ensure that all branches of government responded in a co-ordinated manner to the revolutionary threat. It was accepted that this threat could not be effectively - or even primarily - countered by military or security action. The main accent should instead fall on the provision of effective government and social services and in promoting inclusive constitutional solutions. This inevitably led to the politicisation of the role of the security forces and to their involvement in civilian administration.

It was the view of the Government that orderly constitutional transformation could not take place in a climate of general violence and insurrection. Thus, the National State of Emergency that the Government declared on 12 June 1986 had as its declared aims:

Ø     the restoration of law and order and security;

Ø     a return to normality in the unrest-ravaged Black residential areas; and

Ø     the creation of a climate in which constitutional change can take place."

The State of Emergency had, by 1988, succeeded to a reasonable extent in achieving most of these objectives. It restored a more acceptable level of law, order and security in most parts of the country; it helped to re-establish some degree of normality in most Black residential areas and it significantly contributed to the creation of a climate in which genuine and workable negotiations could take place.

However, far reaching Security Legislation and the State of Emergency, with the suspension of many normal legal protective measures, also created circumstances and an atmosphere which were conducive to many of the abuses and transgressions against human rights which form the basis of the Commission's present investigations.

Unconventional actions and reactions

It was not only the strict Security Legislation and the State of Emergency which created an atmosphere conducive to abuses and transgressions. The unconventional nature of the revolutionary thread created circumstances in which conventional responses proved to be lest and lest effective. The revolutionary strategies adopted by the Government's opponents blurred traditional distinctions between combatants and non-combatants; between legitimate and illegitimate targets; and between acceptable and unacceptable methods.

The normal processes of law - and even the government's tough security measures - seemed incapable of dealing with this situation. Members of the security forces watched, with increasing frustration, while revolutionary movements organised, mobilised and intimidated or killed their opponents, seemingly at will. The security forces were expected to play by the rules while their opponents could, and did, use any methods that they liked. There was a perceived need for unconventional counter-strategies of the kind developed by the British and others in successful campaigns against insurgency and terrorism. Consequently, the then Government began to make use of unconventional strategies which, of necessity, had to be planned and implemented on a "need to know" basis.

In dealing with the unconventional strategies from the side of the Government I want to make it clear from the outset that, within my knowledge and experience, they never included the authorisation of assassination, murder, torture, rape, assault or the like. I have never been part of any decision taken by Cabinet, the State Security Council or any Committee authorising or instructing the commission of such gross violations of human rights. Nor did I individually directly or indirectly ever suggest, order or authorise any such action.

I have been involved as State President in the legally required authorisation of cross border actions aimed at legitimate military targets on the bases of cross-checked intelligence information. Such authorisation specifically excluded attacks on civilians and limited the use of violence to the minimum required under prevailing circumstances.

I feel in duty bound to also place on record that the above statement with regard to my position, is also a reflection of the viewpoint of my colleagues who sat with me in Cabinet, the State Security Council or Cabinet Committees.

I suggest that the Commission examine the minutes of the Cabinet and the State Security Council in this regard. Procedures are available to obtain permission from the Government to do so and a full set of such minutes have been lodged with the State Archives.

The type of unconventional actions which were approved, in principle, by the Cabinet and State Security Council related to such issues as information gathering, disinformation and assistance to outside organisations opposed to the revolutionary forces. These matters are not the subject matter of the Commission's terms of reference and I will therefore refrain from dealing with them in detail. Suffice it to say that none of these unconventional projects was intended to lead to any gross violation of human rights. It can, however, be argued that they did create an atmosphere conducive to abuses.

The Security Forces had to operate increasingly within a framework of states of emergency, far-reaching security legislation, underground activities and unconventional strategies. They had to give operational interpretation to broadly framed decisions, aimed at firm and effective action against the insurgency.

These circumstances created the environment within which abuses and gross violations of human rights could take place. However, it would be a serious mistake to adopt a simplistic approach in judging such abuses and violations. Clear distinctions should be drawn between varying situations:

Ø     In many cases it would be possible to conclude that the perpetrators of certain actions were bona fide in their interpretation of orders and strategies - that they believed they were acting correctly and with authority.

Ø     In other cases it would be possible to make a finding that the bona fides of those involved was clouded by bad judgement, over-zealousness or negligence.

Ø     And yet in other cases there is no doubt that there was mala fides which led to abuses, malpractice and serious violations of human rights.

During the latter years of the conflict, and more specifically during my presidency, another factor came to the fore. The fundamental change of direction that I initiated, which involved the opening of negotiations, the termination of secret operations and the lifting of the State of Emergency (which is dealt with in more detail below), were not supported by some elements in the Security Forces. My colleagues and I were accused along the grapevine of being "soft" and of being traitors. I suspect that many of the unauthorised actions, that are now coming to light, were at time directed as much against the transformation process as they were directed against the revolutionary threat. It has now become clear that certain elements misused state funds and were involved in unauthorised operations leading to abuses and violation of human rights.

The nature and extent of many of these abuses have since been uncovered by various commissions of enquiry - and particularly the Goldstone Commission - by the media, by the courts and by many of the perpetrators and now by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It is not my purpose here to try to find excuses for these abuses but to explain the historic context within which they occurred.

It is important that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission should continue to investigate all serious abuses perpetrated by all sides in the conflict. Abuses committed by the Security Forces have been widely publicised and are receiving extensive attention from the Commission, from the Attorneys-General and from the Courts. Insufficient attention has, however, been focused on the instigators and perpetrators of the following incidents:

Ø     541 "necklacings" that occurred between 1 September 1984 and 31 March 1993 in which 505 people were killed and 36 injured in the most brutal and inhumane manner imaginable;

Ø     57 landmine attacks that occurred between 26 November 1985 and 21 February 1991 in which 25 people were killed and 76 injured;

Ø     487 limpet mine attacks in which 22 people were killed and 373 injured;

Ø     10 car bomb attacks in which 40 people were killed and 548 injured;

Ø     attacks on members of the South African Police, which resulted in the deaths of 1030 policemen between 1973 and 1993. Many of these deaths can be ascribed directly or indirectly to the actions of the ANC and its allies; and

Ø     the attacks on the thousands of black South Africans - most of them equally opposed to apartheid - who were murdered, injured or intimidated because they chose to work for change within existing government institutions.

In addition, the Commission should investigate serious human rights violations which occurred in ANC detention centres in Southern Africa. These abuses have been the subject of a number of investigations including those conducted by the Stuart Commission, the Skweyiya Commission, the Motsuenyane Commission and the Douglas Commission.

The Commission must also ensure that, in its consideration of applications for amnesty, it adheres strictly to the requirements of the 1993 constitution and to the precedent already established by the extension of indemnity to large numbers of people in terms of the Further Indemnity Act. In this regard, it should be borne in mind that the great majority of such indemnities were granted to supporters of revolutionary movements, that many of them had committed and had been convicted of heinous and disproportional crimes and that their release was part of the price demanded by the ANC in September 1992 for returning to the negotiating table.

According to the South African Institute of Race Relations 18 997 people died as a result of political violence between September 1984 and December 1993. The scope of the human suffering involved in this statistic is difficult to conceive. All South Africans must be truly grateful that the parties involved in the conflict were able to resolve their differences and antipathies through peaceful negotiations. By so-doing they were able to draw the country back from the brink of a general war that might well have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of South Africans.

The nature of the transformation

By the end of the1980's it had become evident that the only possible solution to the constitutional impasse lay in negotiations between all South Africa's major parties, aimed at the establishment of a fully-inclusive non-racial democracy. This was a difficult and far-reaching decision for those in power - and especially for Afrikaner nationalists:

Ø     It meant that they would have to give up the right to full self-determination in parts of the country that they also considered to be theirs, for which they, as a small people, had struggled for hundreds of years. No other nation in the world has ever voluntarily made such a decision. Nonetheless a majority of White South Africans did so.

Ø     It meant that instead of putting their faith in their own institutions and in their own ability to defend themselves, they now had to put their trust in negotiated constitutional agreements. They did so in a continent that was not renowned for the success of its constitutional experiments.

Ø     It meant that they would have to reach agreement with parties that they had little reason to trust. The SACP had, for example, made it clear that it viewed negotiations simply as the first strategic step in a two-phase revolution which would culminate in the establishment of a communist state.

The negotiations were often on the point of breaking down. It is hard to imagine, at the start of the process, parties that were further apart than the National Party, the IFP and the ANC. All of the parties involved saw one another - not as they really were - but as the stereotypes depicted by their own propaganda.

Nevertheless, in December 1993, basic agreement on the new Transitional Constitution was reached, despite the numerous crises, boycotts and walk-outs that we experienced during the process.

There is a tendency now for some parties to claim a monopoly of the credit for the transformation process. There were, in fact, many different forces at play. Among these were, of course, the revolutionary movements themselves. It would be wrong to minimise in any way the major contribution made by revolutionary movements such as the ANC, or the individual sacrifices of many of its members in the pursuit of their goal of national liberation. This in not my intention. There were, however, other important factors and forces involved in the liberation process. They include:

Ø     The transformation of the National Party.

From as early as 1978 the National Party began with its own tentative process of reform - starting with the important labour reforms that emerged from the recommendations of the Wiehahn Commission. This culminated in unrestrained freedom of labour organisation and association and the abolition of all racial discrimination in labour relations.With the establishment of the President's Council in 1978, the National Party also began to move towards the broadening of democracy. By 1983 it had, in terms of the Republic of South Africa Constitution Act, no 110 of 1983, extended the franchise to the Coloured and Indian communities.

By the end of 1986 it had repealed some 100 discriminatory laws, including many laws such as the Pass Laws that had constituted cornerstones of the policy of apartheid. These included:

Ø     the repeal of the prohibition of mixed marriages and of sexual intercourse across the colour bar;

Ø     the repeal of the prohibition against mixed political parties;

Ø     the abolition of race restrictions in immigration law;

Ø     the ending of all compulsory resettlements;

Ø     the elimination of many statutory racial barriers in respect of publicly and privately controlled recreational facilities;

Ø     the institution of uniform income tax laws for all population groups;

Ø     the granting of full freedom of movement to all population groups;

Ø     the recognition of the right to full ownership of immovable property in Black townships; and

Ø     the conversion of 99-year leaseholds to full ownership.

By 1987 the National Party Government had established fully representative black local authorities. In 1988 nation-wide elections were held for black local authorities. 26% of registered voters participated in the elections, despite intimidation and strong opposition from the ANC and its allies. Many of the councillors who were elected were subsequently tragically murdered or forced from office through threats to their lives, families and homes.

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.