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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Empowering our people and countering the medium-term threat of counter revolution and destabilisation




THERE has been some general discussion around many of these issues within ANC-led alliance ranks. Discussion of these various topics has tended, however, to suffer from a number of shortcomings. These include:

     In regard to the medium-term threat of COUNTER-REVOLUTION and/or DESTABILISATION, the issue has tended to be raised only superficially, and largely in the context of what negotiations compromises we should consider making.

     In regard to a future ARMY and POLICE, our discussion and thinking has often been limited to the issue of "integration" and/or "affirmative action". While these are important questions, they are, again, very limited approaches. The bigger questions of restructuring, demilitarisation and the strategic purpose of a future army and police service are not adequately considered.

The present paper does not pretend to offer a detailed approach to any of these crucial questions. Its purpose is, rather, to raise questions and open debate, with a view to developing a better STRATEGIC ORIENTATION to vital areas.

1. The medium term threat of counter revolution (CR)/ Destabilisation

In approaching this question it is useful, first, to distinguish between potential INSTITUTIONAL bases and potential SOCIAL bases for Counter-Revolution/Destabilistation.

1.1. Potential institutional bases for CR/Destabilisation

The main institutional threat comes from sections of the existing regime's armed forces.


The SADF has 505,000 (mainly white males) - this figure obviously includes both permananent, conscript and reserve forces. It is important to realise that, large as it is, the SADF, in terms of its organisational ideology and strategic orientation is not monolithic.

There are important differences between the permanent Army on the one hand, and the other major wings of the SADF - Air Force, Navy, Medical Corps and the Citizen Force on the other hand. Within the Army, in particular, Intelligence and Counter Insurgency (special forces) sections present special problems. Fairly small in number, these are the forces whose strategic orientation and skills are geared to counter-insurgency, total strategy, Low Intensity Warfare and allof the "dirty tricks" (disinformation, third force operations, assassinations, etc.) associated with these.

Linked considerably to these Intelligence networks is a widescale web of "privatised" SADF operations - of which the CCB is just one example. Many of these front companies are commercially viable operations (security firms, airfreight companies, etc.) in their own right. This means they have a capacity to survive long after the present regime, and might be reactivated for military work years later.


The SAP in mid-1991 had 109,00 members - of these 49,000 were African, 47,000 were white, 8,500 "Coloured" and 3,500 "Asian". The greater black component of the SAP is significant, although obviously, in its upper echelons, the SAP remains overwhelmingly white.

The culture, the paramilitary structures, and training of the SAP remain deeply linked to apartheid domination. As with the SADF, however, some sections of the SAP are clearly much more problematic than others, being directly associated with counter-insurgency/low intensity warfare.

Although the Security Branch (SBs) was merged with the Criminal Investigation Division (Detective Branch) in 1991, in practice the new unified division (Criminal Intelligence Services) has not substantially changed the existence, structure or operation of the former SBs. General Basie Smit (former head of the SB) is now a "super-general" in overall command of both branches.

The SB operates a number of "desks" (A-F). For instance, Desk B is responsible for technical work (telephone and post monitoring, manufacture of "devices", etc). Desk C is responsible for the ANC, SACP, etc. Within Desk C, there are a number of units C1 is the counter-insurgency unit which was based at Vlakplaas and included the Askaris (recently said to have been disbanded); C2 isresponsible for the interrogation of ANC, SACP, etc, "suspects"; and so on.

Currently, all male recruits to the SAP are given six weeks basic training in "counter-insurgency" and "riot control". Apart from this basic training for all male recruits, there are specialised Riot Units under the Internal Stability Division - with some 4000 members countrywide. Additionally, there is a new special rapid-response Riot Unit ("Unit 19"), based in Pretoria, which can be deployed anywhere in the country at short notice. It has some 2,700 members.

The SAP is, at present, in considerable crisis. The causes of the crisis include:

     the illegitimacy of the police force amongst the majority;

     the soaring crime situation;

     low pay and high risk work large numbers of police are dying every month;

     tensions between black and white policemen;

     tensions between local station commanders, some with reasonable relations with the community, and the Internal Stability Division.

At the heart of all of these contradictions is the SAP's unpreparedness for the changed political situation at present - let alone for the impending democratisation and deracialisation of coming years.

Apart from these main-line armed forces, other potential institutional bases for counter-revolution/destabilisation include:

     Bantustan armed forces, some of which (KZP, CDF) are highly infiltrated by the regime, and in some cases effectively commanded by it. In these cases it is, once more, Military Intelligence that is most active.

     Bantustan-based parties (eg. IFP)

     Apart from SADF and SAP intelligence networks, De Klerk's presidency has seen the rise to pre-eminence within the regime intelligence family of NIS. NIS does not have an armed operational wing, but its agents will also certainly be developing a medium-term capacity and networks to ensure an ability to weaken and destabilise a future democratic government.

An ultra-secret committee directly linked to De Klerk, and operating independently of the State Security Council and the official bureaucratic structures of NIS and DMI and the other special units of the police and army, is said to have come into existence in 1990. It is said to be co-ordinated by Michael Louw (the new NIS chief, but with years in DMI).

     Extreme right-wing and neo-fascist forces, like the CP, Volksfront, AWB, Wit Wolwe, etc.

     A network of private security firms.

Most of these potential institutional bases either singly, or in combination, have the capacity to cause considerable destabilisation in a future democracy. Whether they would have the capacity to launch and consolidate a full-scale counter-revolution would depend upon their ability to link up with:

1.2 Potential social bases for counter-revolution/destabilisation

(It is important to underline immediately that to identify certain social bases as potentially recruitable for a counter revolution/destabilisation project is not to write all of them off, on the contrary. It is not to argue that all or some of them are inherently reactionary).

Among such potential social bases are:

     Medium and big capital (whether local or transnational). At present capital, and particularly big capital, is not strongly aligned towards a counter revolutionary/destabilisation strategy. However, this attitude could change, and possible motivations for a change would include:

Ø     a perceived "communist threat";

Ø     regional agendas (eg. a breakaway Natal).

The reasons for the lack of attractiveness of a counter revolutionary/destabilisation agenda at present for capital include:

     the growing awareness that low intensity warfare is counter-productive on the terrain of a relatively advanced capitalist economy;

     social and political stability and some kind of reconstruction is essential for a return to profitability.

Ø     White farmers and white middle strata The soaring crime has, in particular, been used by the extreme right to mobilise these sectors. De Klerk's anti-ANC disinformation campaign, trying to link crime to the alliance, to MK and to PF allies especially Transkei has backfired against him, and in favour of the CP and ultra-right ("Why negotiate with murderers?", they ask).

Ø     White workers. The extreme right-wing has had some success in mobilising white workers on the basis of economic grievances (growing unemployment, growing social hardship) blaming the "advance" of blacks for these woes. Legitimate economic grievances are articulated with racism and appeals to white and usually Afrikaner ethnicism.

Ø     "Fourth World" blacks including migrants, rural peoples, the urban marginalised, southern African refugees. At various times elements from these sectors have already been recruited into vigilante and similar groups. In the medium-term, if little is done to address the major social problems that affect millions of the most marginalised workers in our country, larger numbers could become available for recruitment (on regionalist, ethnic or on a straight bribery basis) to a counter-revolutionary project.

1.3 The social and political weaknesses of a counterrevolutionary/destabilisation project

Although we should certainly take such a threat seriously, we need also to note the very real weaknesses from which it suffers. In particular there are two main weaknesses:

     internal contradictions among actual and potential counter-revolutionary forces.

     a changed international situation.

To elaborate briefly:

1.3.1 Internal contradictions

The potential institutional and social bases we have just outlined are extremely diverse and are often mutually contradictory. These contradictions include:

     the extreme racism of the white right, which runs headlong into the aspirations of marginalised blacks who may, for instance, be IFP members or members of conservative tribal or religious formations;

     white ethnic homelanders versus black right-wing politicians with national electoral ambitions (eg. Buthelezi);

     potential class contradictions between white workers and white farmers (who want higher food prices, for instance);

     demagogic white neo-fascists (like Terreblanche) versus the retired generals (like Constand Viljoen and Tienie Groenewald). The former hope to unleash a race war, the latter want to "manage" the negotiated transition more effectively than they believe De Klerk is doing (they see him as a "Gorbachev").

These kinds of contradictionsaccount for the extremely unstable character of, for instance, the COSAG grouping.

1.3.2 A changed world situation

The changed world situation, which despite the new difficulties it has brought, has also seen the end of the Cold War. External support is, therefore, much less assured for some "anti-communist" crusade. The major imperialist powers tend now to hope to cultivate local Violetta Chamorros and Cory Aquinos (Oscar Dhlomos, Van Zyl Slabberts, FW De Klerks) rather than Pinochets, Savimbis and Mobutus.

We should note that these factors make a full-blooded counter-revolution unlikely in the medium-term, but low-intensity destabilisation is very possible, and is less reliant on a social bloc.

1.4 What subjective errors on our side can contribute to the danger of counter-revolution/destabilisation?

     demagogic election promises which are unrealistic;

     ignoring the millions of marginalised in our country, the "4th" world;

     adventurism advancing beyond our capacity to manage and to defend (this is one of the lessons we can learn from the socialist experiment in Chile in the years 19703);

     anti-white demagoguery (of the "one settler, one bullet" variety);

     militarism the attempt to block destabilisation, or dampen popular discontent primarily by force of aims;

     statism over-reliance on the control of the commanding heights of the state without real and substantial reconstruction, and over-reliance on bureaucratic control and methods;

     corruption and extravagant life-styles among the new political leadership.

1.5 Towards a comprehensive counter counter-revolutionary/ destabilisation strategy

The principal strategic task in this regard is to prevent the coming together of the diverse potential counter-revolutionary/destabilisation institutions and bases. This requires targetted, strategic work appropriate to each:

Ø     SADF and SAP see sections 2 and 3 below, where restructuring and demilitarisation are addressed from the dual perspective of (a) countering CR, and (b) empowering the popular masses.

Ø     Business (and western Governments) amongst other things there is a need for the SACP to engage in an open and principled manner with these forces, to ensure that they are not misled by anti-communist disinformation into bank-rolling a counter-revolution. Our own principled commitment to multi-party democracy, a bill of rights and constitutionality are important themeNs that need to be underlined, without for a moment watering-down on our socialist commitment and working class character.

Ø     White middle strata and farmers we need to convince them that law and order will not be achieved through military means. Social and economic reconstruction is the only viable route to curtailing soaring criminal violence.

Ø     Lower strata whites the progressive trade union movement is probably better placed than the SACP to espouse the economic concerns of these strata, their resentments of the monopolies, of government corruption, of collapsing public health services, etc, etc. and to separate these issues from a reactionary/racist politics. The SACP can, however, also play a role in this regard.

Ø     Marginalised blacks (the "4th" world) a thorough-going reconstruction process that begins to address the most pressing needs of the jobless, the homeless, the illiterate. Such reconstruction needs also to address the southern African region as a whole.

In addition to specific programmes relating to specific sectors, we need also to underline the centrality of strong participatory and direct democracy as, apart from everything else, an important anti-counterrevolution investment. The more our people are directly and actively involved in decision-making around resource allocation, management of reconstruction, etc. the more they will be able to grasp the reality of a long-haul process of change. If national democratic change is conceived as a gift from on high, great expectations will quickly give way to disappointment and confusion, which, in turn, could become the seed-bed for counter-revolutionary mobilisation.

2. Restructuring the Armed Forces building a new army and police service.

2.1 Introduction

Any democratic transformation that fails to develop a clear approach to the question of transforming armed formations is asking for trouble. In South Africa we face particular challenges. Unlike Zimbabwe or Mozambique, for instance, as a liberation movement we did not build up a massive, internally based liberation army before the negotiated settlement. MK's achievement, and it has been an outstanding achievement, has been to inspire and mobilise a huge (but largely unarmed) mass movement.

The main reasons for the difference in our situation are objective. Only a very small proportion of our population is an independent peasantry, and the small peasantry in our country is confined to a scattered 13% of our territory. In Zimbabwe, Mozambique, etc., the great majority of the population are peasants, and in the time of the guerrilla struggle, large stretches of the countryside were peasant terrain. It was in this social and physical terrain that hundreds of thousands of guerrillas were recruited, concealed and fed. It was in this terrain that vast liberated areas were developed.

In South Africa, at the height of our struggle in the mid to late-1980s, our main revolutionary bases (they were partially "liberated" zones) were townships (urban and rural). The main class force in our struggle was not the peasantry, but the broad working class.

Conversely, the armed formations of our opponent were not mainly external forces which could retreat out of the country (as in Mozambique, Angola, Vietnam and, to a large extent, Namibia). The apartheid war machine is largely white, but it is indigenous.

Both the SADF and SAP remain in place, however deep in crisis the latter, in particular, might be. We have defeated apartheid strategically, the white minority bloc has no workable strategic political possibilities other than to negotiate and settle with the ANC alliance. But the SADF and SAP are not about to melt away.

The size of our own armed formations, and of our allies(including progressive bantustan forces) is relatively limited. Much of our training has not been for a conventional army.

It is clear that (especially in these circumstances) simple integration or affirmative action (as necessary as they are) will not remotely address the massive challenge we confront.

This does not mean that we are powerless in the face of this challenge, far from it. But it does mean that we have to be strategic, intelligent and creative.

2.2 Some basic strategic goals

In the first place, the following broad strategic principles need to guide us:

     our longer term objective must be the radical demilitarisation of our society. A society with countless armed formations of all kinds, and awash with weaponry, is a society in which democracy and socialism will always be under threat. National security should not be restricted to military, police and intelligence matters. National security has a political, economic, social and environmental dimension.

     the defence force, police service and intelligence service that we build must serve (not hinder) reconstruction and democratisation. These formations must, therefore, reflect in their culture and composition the core values of the society we hope to build democratic, unifying, non-racial and non-sexist. They must not be partisan to any specific political party.

     the defence force, police service and intelligence service must be under civilian control. They must be answerable to parliament and accountable to the public, through this parliament. But this civilian control should be multi-faceted, and should not just be top-down. Civilian control should include other mechanisms of accountability and a culture of public transparency. For allegations of police misconduct there should be independent complaints and investigations mechanisms. Above all in the case of the police, there must be as much bottom-up accountability to, and control by communities as is possible.

     a future defence force must protect a democratic South Africa from external threats (which are likely to be minimal). It should not be deployed for internal policing except in extreme circumstances, and where it is authorised specifically by parliament.

2.3 But how do we achieve these goals?

To realise our strategic goals, we also need a strategy of transition and reconstruction.

Such a strategy needs to be based, in part, on the clear understanding that neither the SADF nor the SAP are monolithic. A reconstruction strategy must relate intelligently to the numerous internal differences in skill, training, experience, racial background and political outlook.

Apart from a major effort at new recruitment, affirmative action and integration, reconstructing these armed formations will need to appeal to the technical and professional skills, and general patriotism of many, while dealing effectively (through disbanding, early retirement, re-education) of the most notorious units and individuals.

Such a strategy of transition and reconstruction must include:

2.3.1 The rapid and transparent disbanding of all apartheid special forces, counter-insurgency units, mercenaries, dirty-tricks departments and intelligence services. The manner of the disbanding is very important. Already De Klerk has carried out some partial disbanding (early retirements of some notorious elements, the disbanding of Battalions 31 and 32, and of the Askaris). But all of this has been done more or less secretly. It is essential that a proper inventory of members of these forces is done, and that proper accounting is provided of their re-deployments. This disbanding must:

     enable the public to know where individuals from these forces are now located (we cannot rule out the possibility that some Askaris, for instance, might have been eliminated because they have too much to tell);

     be done in such a way that they do not regroup within the present army, police; or somewhere in the shadows.

2.3.2 Seeking as much effective monitoring and control of armed formations by the various multi party transitional executive structures - the TEC sub-committees. At the same time we must not invest too many expectations in these TEC structures. Their clumsy, multi-party character, their 80%-majority decision-making requirement, and, above all, the parallel existence of the De Klerk cabinet, and the ongoing existence of the SADF and SAP in this period will make effective joint control extremely difficult.

Even after the Constituent Assembly elections, with the proposed Interim Government of National Unity, we cannot simply invest all our hopes on a governmental, top-down control.


2.3.3 An integral transitional strategy must focus on a multi-pronged approach to monitoring and controlling armed formations. We need, in the coming months, to utilise every possible opening to democratise and render more accountable the SAP and SADF:

     National Peace Accord structures, not least Local Dispute Resolution Committees;

     the Goldstone Commission;

     International monitors;

     an Independent Electoral Commission;

     a more robust and inquiring SABC;

     ongoing public and mass campaigns.

And finally...

2.3.4 Our whole transitional strategy on this front must be based on the perspective not just of controlling and monitoring the other side, but of the absolutely interrelated task of increasingly empowering the popular masses. In this regard we need to reflect on several areas: Self-defence units the SACP and ANC took the initiative to launch self-defence units in townships in late 1990, in response to the LIW-inspired violence that began sweeping through our communities. The track-record of SDUs has been uneven. In many parts of the country, they have played an heroic role, and without them in many cases our political formations would have been decimated. In other instances, however, they have been targetted for infiltration from the outside and undermined by ill-discipline and militarism from within. In these cases, rather than empowering communities, they have themselves become factors for factionalism and destabilisation. Among the difficulties we have encountered have been:

     the need for the SACP, ANC and MK, in the face of catastrophic levels of violence, to assume responsibility for developing SDUs, while at the same time calling for them to be answerable to the community, and not to specific political parties. Lines of authority and control have, therefore, often been confused.

     without any official co-operation, SDUs have had to arm themselves with unlicensed weapons of all kinds. This has increased their vulnerability to arrest and police bribery, as well as to criminal infiltration.

Whatever the shortcomings of many SDUs, however, it is clear that they cannot simply be disbanded in the present situation. Obviously discipline, proper training and real community accountability must be enforced. But there cannot be any unilateral disbanding. Marshals

The alliance marshals have, particularly in the last period, proved themselves to be an effective force in many cases. There are now thousands of alliance marshals throughout the country. In July 1992 and again in April 1993 (following Cde Chris Hani's assassination) thousands of marshals effectively exercised joint control over policing with the SAP, the NPA structures and the international monitors.

The level of training and the equipping of our marshals is very uneven and usually rudimentary. Nonetheless, they have shown themselves to be a highly disciplined and courageous people's force.

The international police monitors and NPA structures are beginning to offer training to ANC (and also IFP) marshals. We need to explore this possibility as a matter of urgency. Community based Peace Corps In the last days of his life, Cde Chris Hani launched the call for a community-based Peace Corps. The idea has been taken up in a general way by a very wide range of forces the alliance, the SACC, big business, the regime, NPA structures, international monitors, etc.

Cde Chris' intervention was motivated, in part, by the dilemmas we have encountered with the SDUs. The Peace Corps would be community-based and controlled and probably (for the moment) housed under NPA structures. The PCs would share with the SAP responsibility for maintaining peace in communities. The PCs would be paid a basic wage for a period of service, would be provided uniforms, and training in peace-keeping as well as general skills. The PCs would perform both a peace-keeping and a reconstruction role.

The PC idea is likely to take-off in the near future and, while these PCswill not, and should not be narrowly ANC-led alliance structures, their success or failure will depend on our active involvement in them.

The SDUs, the alliance Marshal structures, and the Peace Corps all have the potential to empower the popular masses in our country, and to assume an effective, joint responsibility for policing. They can provide an important counter-weight to any anti-democratic project of destabilisation.

The connections between these popular formations, and between them, MK, and a future police force need also to be thought through. All of these popular formations should provide an effective recruiting base for a democratic Police Service.

At the same tiime, particularly in the case of the Peace Corps, a longer term reconstruction perspective, which is not just confined to policing, needs to be developed.

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.