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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Deadly Marionettes: State-Sponsored Violence in Africa

2.2 South Africa

It was in South Africa that the term "informal repression" was coined. The National Party governments of the 1980s and early 1990s had a wide repertoire of covert methods of repression, including police and military "hit squads" and fomenting of political violence through arming and training sympathetic factions. Both tactics targeted the anti-apartheid activists of the United Democratic Front (UDF) and, from its unbanning in 1990, the African National Congress (ANC). Support for surrogate factions also helped to foster the propaganda notion of "black-on-black" violence, with the inference that Africans were inherently fractious and unfit to govern.

The most important instrument of informal repression in South Africa was Inkatha (later the Inkatha Freedom Party - IFP), the ruling movement in the KwaZulu homeland. Inkatha drew state support from two sources: overtly through its role as the KwaZulu government and secretly through arms and military training. The IFP succeeded in garnering a narrow majority in the KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature in the April 1994 democratic elections, although the fairness of the result in the province is questionable, given that there was extensive fraud and intimidation. Thus the IFP controls the provincial government and has apparently continued to use its position to pursue tactics of informal repression.

The origins of the political violence are to be found in the "township revolt" of the early to mid-1980s, with its sharp political division between the young "comrades", usually claiming allegiance to the UDF, and the "vigilantes". Often, as in the townships of Port Elizabeth and the squatter settlements of Cape Town, the latter were in fact state-sponsored militias, although sometimes they were simply older and more conservative township residents. However, in the townships of the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging (PWV) region around Johannesburg, there were also violent territorial conflicts between the youth of the UDF, aligned with the ANC, and the black consciousness Azanian Peoples Organization (AZAPO). The state encouraged the development of vigilante organizations, often recruiting conservative blacks as police reservists or kitskonstabels (literally "instant constables"). In the mid-1980s there was a sharp decline in township deaths as a result of direct police action after the controversial massacres at Langa (March 1985) and Mamelodi (November 1985). But this was matched by a corresponding increase in deaths at the hands of pro-government black organizations. The security forces also tried to exploit the alienation of township youth by supporting anti-UDF/ANC gangs, such as the Black Cats in Ermelo, the A-Team in Chesterville, the Eagles in Harrismith and the AmaSinyora in KwaMashu. At the same time, the leadership of the UDF and the civic associations increasingly distanced themselves from the violent excesses of the "comrades", such as "necklacing" (burning a car tyre around the victim's neck).

In Natal, this violence took hold in the mid-1980s and has continued almost unremittingly. In Durban the violence began with a student boycott organized in protest at the murder of human rights lawyer Victoria Mxenge. The protesters rioted and were in turn harassed and attacked by Inkatha members. In the provincial capital, Pietermaritzburg, the violence originated in a recognition struggle by UDF-aligned trade unions which were similarly harassed by Inkatha. The violence continued through the 1980s, fomented by local warlords, many of whom occupied positions in the KwaZulu homeland administration. Often the political conflict became overlaid on existing local disputes or acquired peculiar local dynamics.

In July 1990 violence suddenly erupted between ANC and Inkatha supporters in the PWV townships, shortly after Inkatha transformed itself into the IFP. The ANC accused the IFP and the government of replicating the Natal violence in order to weaken the newly legalized opposition. The violence began to assume an ethnic dimension which had not been apparent elsewhere, since most IFP supporters in the PWV region were Zulus - often migrant workers in the single men's hostels.

One element in the conflict has undoubtedly been social deprivation. In KwaZulu-Natal, the IFP impis or armed bands are often composed of squatters and shack-dwellers from the poorest sections of the community. The division between the ANC and the IFP has also been to some extent an urban-rural one. Township dwellers in the formal sector of the economy and with (marginally) better education have tended to favour the ANC, while more conservative rural communities are more inclined towards Inkatha.

However, these social factors alone do not explain the violence. The political rivalry between the IFP and the ANC is clearly fundamental. Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and Inkatha came to prominence in the 1970s, seen by the international community as a "moderate" alternative to the ANC. However, Chief Buthelezi was also a functionary of the apartheid system. He was Chief Minister of KwaZulu from 1972 and later Minister of Police as well. The KwaZulu state exchequer provided funds for Inkatha.

Before the 1994 elections the role of the KwaZulu police (KZP) was crucial. The involvement of the KwaZulu police in running "hit squads" was established by an investigative unit established by the Transitional Executive Council (TEC) prior to April 1994. It was also admitted by the last commissioner of the KZP, General Roy During. Elements of the former South African Police also supported "third force" activities. More overtly the KwaZulu police murdered political opponents of Inkatha, tortured prisoners and failed to intervene to stop Inkatha attacks

For full text see: www.article19.org/docimages/477.htm

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.