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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 37

Paragraph Numbers 53 to 57

Volume 1

Chapter 2

Subsection 7

The Namibian question

53 One of these factors related to the position of Namibia which, because of its contested status in international law, had become the Achilles heel of the South African government. Eventually, South Africa would have to surrender its control over the protectorate. Its ambition was, therefore, to thwart SWAPO (South West African Peoples Organisation) in its ambitions to win independence for a democratic Namibia. From the late 1970s, Angola became SWAPO’s forward base.

54 The other factor was the spectre of the Cold War, which continued to haunt the global scene in the 1970s and 1980s. In this latter period of Cold War politics, the ‘hot spot’ or focus shifted from Europe to remote parts of the globe like Afghanistan, Nicaragua and Ethiopia. With British and American encouragement, the major powers came to see Angola as one of a number of regional arenas of Cold War confrontation.

55 Thus, largely as a consequence of a particular moment in the politics of the twentieth century, the way in which southern African was perceived underwent a change of perspective. From an arena of racial conflict, it became a scene of active Cold War confrontation. This perception was the result of a chance coalition of interests between the United States and Britain (and their so-called ‘special alliance’) and a government regarded almost everywhere else as a pariah. Hence, the coming to power in the United States and Britain of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, whose political mindset on international issues represented a throwback to the 1950s and its obsession with Communism and the Soviet Union, presented the South African government with a window of opportunity which it adroitly exploited.

56 In essence, the struggle to maintain white minority privilege was ‘repackaged’ as an effort to maintain so-called western civilised values against the godless and evil forces of Communism. Thus it was that conscripts, when they turned up for basic training in the 1980s, could be expected to believe (as one witness related to the Commission): “this story that people tell you that there is a Communist behind every bush is nonsense. There are in fact two.”

57 This is not to suggest that there were not some - even amongst top state and security officials - who genuinely believed in the threat and who saw themselves as anti-Communist crusaders. It is, however, the view of the Commission that, at heart, the struggle for South and southern Africa was a racial one, and that notions of the ‘red peril’ were manipulated to justify the perpetration of the gross human rights violations this Commission was charged to investigate.

The ‘Vorster’ laws

58 Details of security legislation introduced in the 1960s are contained in a separate chapter. Suffice it to say here that they amounted to a sustained assault on the principles of the rule of law. The suspension of the principle of habeas corpus, limitations on the right to bail, the imposition by the legislature of minimum gaol sentences for a range of offences and limitations on the ability of the courts to protect detainees all contributed to a mounting exclusion of the authority of the courts from the administration of justice, thereby seriously eroding their independence.

59 Security legislation also introduced into the law a definition of sabotage so broad and all encompassing as to render virtually all forms of dissent illegal or dangerous. Peaceful protest and non-violent civil disobedience no longer seemed a viable option and, faced with the choice ‘to submit or fight’, as Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) expressed it in its launch statement, the resort to illegality and armed struggle was inevitable. With the benefit of hindsight, it is now possible to see how, in its efforts to crush all opposition in the early 1960s, the government sowed the seeds of its eventual destruction.

The ‘ethnic project’

60 The second response of the government, as indicated earlier, was an attempt to counter the growing sense of racial or African nationalist identity, with its aspirations to replace white minority hegemony with majority rule. This it did by attempting to deflect these sentiments along particularistic (ethnic) lines and endeavouring to create avenues for political expression within ethnic categories.

61 This was the intention of the Promotion of Bantu Self-Government Act in 1959. This piece of legislation simultaneously abolished indirect political representation of Africans in Parliament and made provision for the transformation of the African reserves (or ‘homelands’ as they came to be called in the 1960s) through various stages of self-government to eventual fully-fledged independent status.

62 There was nothing particularly new or unique to this approach. In fact, it was a resort to long-established colonial practice in Africa. As Mamdani11 has noted, other European colonisers had:

confronted the dilemma that the institutions of racial supremacy inevitably generated a racial identity not only amongst its beneficiaries, but also amongst its victims. Their solution was to link racial exclusion to ethnic inclusion: the majority that had been excluded on racial grounds would now appear as a series of ethnic minorities, each included in an ethnically-defined political process. The point was to render racial supremacy secure by eroding the racial identity of the oppressed, by fracturing it into so many ethnic identities.

63 While acknowledging that the National Party was “primarily concerned with maintaining our right to self-determination”, former President De Klerk12 argued that the bantustan project “was not without idealism”:

We thought we could solve the complex problems that confronted us by giving each of the ten distinguishable black South African nations self-government and independence within the core areas they had traditionally occupied. In this way we would create a commonwealth of South African states - each independent but all co-operating on a confederal basis with one another within an economic common market

64 Beyond political idealism, Mr De Klerk articulated a development dimension, pointing to the construction of ten capital cities:

each with its own parliament, quite impressive government buildings ... several well-endowed universities ... By 1975 some 77 new towns had been established and 130 204 new houses had been built. Between 1952 and 1975 the number of hospital beds in the homelands increased from some 5 000 to 34 689. Decentralised industries were developed and hundreds of millions of rands were pumped into the traditional areas in a futile attempt to stem the flood of people to the supposedly ‘white’ cities.

65 Such intentions notwithstanding, as a political project it failed; though it could be argued that it bought the government some time. However, far from producing the hoped-for political nirvana for the African majority, the bantustans degenerated into what one commentator once described as a “constellation of casinos”. More seriously, they became riddled with corruption and, as the expenditure referred to by Mr De Klerk suggests, a never-ending drain on the central government’s treasury.

66 More significantly, the political idealism of an envisaged ethno-nationalist commonwealth was undermined by homeland leaders who displayed varying degrees of despotism. Far from becoming part of the government’s solution, therefore, the bantustans rapidly became part of the problem, acting as a spur and a means to mobilise for the alternative inclusive and non-racial nationalism of the ANC and its allies.

67 Despite this, the manipulation of ethnicity represented by the bantustans became a critical component of the government’s contra-mobilisation or counter-revolutionary warfare programme in the 1980s. It was a line of approach which spawned the Caprivi hit squads in KwaZulu and countrywide vigilante forces like the Witdoeke, as well as the surrogate armies or elements in the region, like UNITA, RENAMO, the Lesotho Liberation Army and Zimbabwean dissident groups.

11 Mahmood Mamdani, ‘Reconciliation without Justice’, Southern Review of Books, November/December 1996. 12 In his second submission to the Commission on behalf of the National Party, 23 March 1997.
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