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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Summary: Theories About Violence

It may be appropriate to pause here to evaluate the two main theories put forward to explain political violence in South Africa. The 'third force' theory and its variants relies on considerable circumstantial evidence, apparently widespread belief, plausibility, and 40 years of National Party misrule. It sees a contradiction between Mr de Klerk's stated objective in constitutional negotiations and his actual behaviour and thus implies that he has a Machiavellian double agenda.

The theory put forward in this study relies on an agenda openly adopted by the ANC in the liberation struggle against apartheid. It does not see the march on Bisho as an aberration but as part of a plan to eliminate strategically placed rivals. Unlike the 'third force' theory, it does not put 30 years of black resistance strategies into George Orwell's 'memory hole'. It takes seriously the ANC's claim to be a revolutionary organisation, and it makes the point that revolutionary strategies provoke counter-revolutionary forces among both blacks and whites-a risk that appears to have been overlooked when these strategies were implemented.

To put the difference another way, the 'third force' theory looks at violence with one eye firmly closed. The theory put forward in this study tries to show, firstly, that violence emanates from both left and right, and, secondly, that a vicious circle of attack and counter-attack is part of the reason why violence continues.

Unlike the 'third force' theory, the theory in this study helps to explain violence against the ANC as well as violence against the IFP, along with violence emanating from and used against hostel residents, black councillors, the police, and the state itself.

Reports of agencies such as Amnesty, the International Commission of Jurists, the Human Rights Commission and the Community Agency for Social Enquiry are not helpful because, while they rightly castigate the IFP and the police for their involvement in violence, they turn a blind eye to the whole question of ungovernability and people's war. At best the recent reports of these agencies are one-sided and simplistic, at worst they amount to disinformation. Nor are these four the only agencies involved. There are others in South Africa, not to mention many abroad. Their efforts have been mutually reinforcing and magnified a thousandfold by the uncritical way in which many newspapers in South Africa and abroad have given splash coverage to their reports.

Whether intentionally or not, disinformation would serve a strategic objective of demoralising all security forces and disarming some of them. Such a strategy would involve, first, the unleashing of a people's war which plunges the country into violence and provokes a violent backlash; then the mounting of a propaganda war to blame all the violence on the state; thirdly, demands for the disarmament of all opposition forces. This objective has already been partly achieved.

The SADF's 31 battalion was thus formally disbanded on 7th March 1993, while members of 32 battalion were being placed elsewhere prior to the disbandment of that unit. Both battalions had been the focus of criticism from a number of organisations, among them the ANC. Two police units also criticised by the ANC, Koevoet and Askaris, were also disbanded. Yet South African intelligence sources were reported in April 1993 as saying that more than 12 000 members of Umkhonto we Sizwe were undergoing training in various countries. The ANC refused to comment on the numbers, but confirmed that recruits were being trained in Uganda, Tanzania, and India. The intelligence sources were reported to have listed Cuba, Libya, Egypt, Ghana, Zimbabwe, and the Transkei as places where smaller numbers were also being trained. The ANC denied that training was taking place inside South Africa.

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.