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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 5
Paragraph Numbers 18 to 27
■ SOCIAL AND POLITICAL BACKGROUND TO THE SOUTHERN AFRICAN CONFLICT: 1960 –1990
18 By far the largest proportion of amnesty applicants from the security forces and, to a large extent, the leadership of the liberation movements, were children and teenagers in the 1960s. They grew up in a world that was dominated by racism – a powerful socialising principle. The period was further characterised by two major historical phenomena: decolonisation and the cold war.
19 Race was a powerful organising framework, drawn on, to varying degrees, by all parties in the conflict.
20 White South Africans were constantly told by their parents, schools, the media and many churches that black people were different from them and at a lower stage of development. With the emergence of the bantustan scheme, they were told that blacks were not even South Africans. Thus a distinction emerged in their minds about the citizenship of South Africans. Whites were the South Africans while their fellow black residents were now foreigners, temporary sojourners in white South Africa, no different from other disenfranchised migrants working outside of their home countries. They became ‘the other’, a short remove from what they were to become, ‘the enemy’. An SADF amnesty applicant relates how, on arriving in what was then South West Africa, he and his fellow conscripts were told by their commander: “Boys, hier gaan julle duisende kaffers doodskiet” (Boys, here you will shoot dead thousands of ‘kaffirs’).
21 For the PAC ‘the enemy’ was just as unequivocally based on race. Thus in the words of Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) commander Brigadier Mofokeng:
The enemy of the liberation movement of South Africa and of its people was always the settler colonial regime of South Africa. Reduced to its simplest form, the apartheid regime meant white domination, not leadership, but control and supremacy … The pillars of apartheid protecting white South Africa from the black danger, were the military and the process of arming of the entire white South African society. This militarisation, therefore, of necessity made every white citizen a member of the security establishment. [Transcript of Commission hearing on the armed forces]
22 Even where parties to the conflict, such as the ANC, held to a strongly non-racial policy, the experience of their members and those they sought to organise drew centrally on the racial realities of South Africa.
23 The tide of decolonisation sweeping through Africa served only to reinforce the tendency of whites to regard blacks as ‘the enemy’. The creation of a substantial number of new member-states of the United Nations and the shift in public perceptions in the former colonial metropoles greatly increased the pressure on the former government to grant full civil and political rights to all its inhabitants. British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan shocked and angered many members of the South African government when, in an address to the South African Parliament in February 1960, he spoke of “winds of change” blowing through Africa, implying the need for the South African government to adapt to changing times. Its response was to do all in its power to ensure that this wind changed course before reaching South African borders. It did so, moreover, in the face of rising expectations of black South Africans that the days of white minority rule were numbered and that it was a matter of time before South Africa, too, would be ruled by a black majority.
The Cold War
24 Another important factor shaping the South African government’s actions in the 1960s was the anti-Communist zeal of the cold war, in which the West was seen to be engaged in an effort to stem an encroaching and creeping Communism. Despite the South African government’s diplomatic alienation from Britain and the Commonwealth in the early 1960s, the notion of a common struggle against the forces of Communism gained increasing popularity among key security policy-makers. The adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955, the relationship between the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP) after 1960, and the ANC’s later links to China and then the Soviet bloc, entrenched the National Party (NP) government’s perception of a link between Communism and the struggle against white domination.
25 A number of NP leaders, including Mr FW de Klerk, have acknowledged in varying degrees that the racial policies pursued by the NP government in its attempt to ensure continued white rule were ‘a mistake’ and ‘morally indefensible’. The struggle against Communism nevertheless continues to be put forward as an explanation and justification for security force actions. In the words of former Security Branch and Military Intelligence operative, Major Craig Williamson:
[The] South African security forces gave very little cognisance to the political motivation of the South African liberation movements, beyond regarding them as part and parcel of the Soviet onslaught against the ‘civilised/free/democratic’ Western world. This fact, I believe, made it easier for the most violent actions to be taken against the liberation movements and their supporters, because such violence was not aimed at our own people, but at a ‘foreign’ enemy …
26 Thus, in the period 1960–94, virtually all opposition was labelled ‘Communist’ in its overwhelmingly negative ‘Cold War’ sense. Extra-parliamentary, and particularly black, opposition was considered illegitimate, and those associated with such opposition were effectively criminalised.
27 The liberation and later internal opposition movements were undeniably increasingly influenced by the tide of national liberation struggles sweeping the globe, many of which were deeply influenced by socialist ideas. The ANC, SWAPO (South West African People’s Organisation), MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and FRELIMO (Mozambique Liberation Front) all increasingly presented themselves as part of this process and, to a greater or lesser degree, articulated their struggles as part of an international struggle against colonialism and imperialism, sometimes within the framework of socialism and Marxism.