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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 23

Paragraph Numbers 95 to 107

Volume 2

Chapter 1

Subsection 9

The San and Battalion 31

95 The information below is drawn from a submission to the Commission by the !Xu & Khwe Vereeniging vir Gemeenskaplike Eiendom (the !Xu and Khwe Union for Common Property/Ownership). The submission suggests that the bulk of the approximately 350 !Xu and Khwe were forcibly recruited into 31 Battalion. One of the !Xu leaders, Mr Agostinho Victorino, is quoted as saying they were given two choices by the South African military – “either join the army or we’ll bomb your villages”. The submission also suggests that, within the battalion, the trackers were subjected to a regime of harsh discipline and that dissent was dealt with ruthlessly.

96 Two examples of the latter are cited in the submission. The first relates to an alleged attempted mutiny by twenty-seven members of 31 Battalion during an operation in Zambia in October 1979. It draws on the evidence of a national serviceman present at the time in the Caprivi:

After they were found guilty the SADF sent them to UNITA headquarters in southern Angola. Their women and children were collected at Omega base in Caprivi and reunited with the men. We never saw them again. On their return, horrified drivers said they witnessed how the men, women and children were killed by black Portuguese-speaking soldiers who slit their throats with knives.

97 The submission also includes statements taken from the wives and relatives of four !Xu killed in a separate incident in 1979. Ms Joachina Dala, wife of murdered soldier Paulino Dala stated that:

The men were beating him up and made him suffer. We just sat and had to watch. I cannot describe what we had to witness. We were crying all the time but the soldiers didn’t care … My husband’s eyes were beaten shut and he was covered in blood … when the white troops left they waved at us and shouted ‘viva’. My husband was first beaten to death and then shot. They dug a hole and put him in there and covered him with sand.

98 In 1975, the SAP established an elite anti-terrorist unit known as Unit 19 or the Special Task Force. The Special Task Force played an important role in the training of the police Riot Units established at more or less the same time. Based in several centres around the country, its recruits were drawn largely from those with counter-insurgency training. Thus, for example, Colonel Theunis 'Rooi Rus' Swanepoel, veteran of the sabotage squad and Ongulumbashe, was drafted into Soweto on 16 June 1976 to command a riot unit which was responsible for a high number of civilian casualties. Interviewed in the 1980s about the operations of his unit in Soweto, he stated that he regretted only not using more force. “You can only stop violence by using a greater amount of violence”.

99 The security police, severely criticised for their poor intelligence and thus lack of forewarning regarding the Soweto uprising, also underwent a process of expansion and reorganisation. The Security Branch continued to play a role in South West Africa, despite the fact that the SADF had assumed control of the war. 1976 saw the beginning of Security Branch special operations under the codename ‘K’, which later developed into Koevoet.

100 Security legislation underwent a process of consolidation with the passing of the Internal Security Amendment Act, effectively rationalising five other security acts. In response to public pressure to the sharp rise of deaths in detention during the 1976/77 period, the detention provisions of the Act required the State President to appoint a review committee to assess detainees’ custody at intervals of not more than six months.

101 This period also saw independence being granted to the first homeland government – Transkei – and a number of other homelands acquiring greater autonomy, although they remained wholly financially dependent on South Africa. These developments also resulted in the creation of homeland police forces and, in the case of independent homelands, defence forces. Such security structures continued to be run by seconded South African security force personnel; structures and legislation mirrored South African models. However, limited oppositional structures, a weak civil society, and little national or international media interest meant that homeland security structures operated with far less restraint than the South African security forces.

102 The liberation movements did not play a military role in the events that began on 6 June 1976. Although a limited number of ANC underground activists attempted to give some direction through the spread of propaganda, the youth involved in these events were influenced by Black Consciousness ideology on the one hand, while responding to genuine grievances on the other. The ANC did, however, benefit from the events of 1976 and 1977, as it was the only liberation movement able to absorb, train, educate and direct the thousands of youth who left South Africa as a direct result of these events. MK established its second battalion from these new recruits, who were sent to Angola for training in the newly established bases there.

103 In addition to military camps in Angola, the ANC developed residential centres in Tanzania and had a diplomatic presence in many countries. In 1979, it established a Department of Intelligence and Security (DIS). This body, together with the military headquarters of MK, controlled the Angolan camps – including a special camp established to hold ‘dissidents’, known as Camp 32 or the Morris Seabelo Rehabilitation Centre (popularly known as Quatro).

104 The PAC claims in its submission to be at least partially responsible for the Soweto uprising in 1976. Mr Zephaniah Mothopeng, at the time an “internal leadership member of the banned PAC”, was tried with seventeen others in the Bethal 18 ‘secret trial’ for their role in “fermenting revolution” and for “being behind the Soweto uprising”. Mothopeng and others were jailed for their alleged involvement.

105 These internal events together with events in the sub-region formed the backdrop for a series of shifts both in state policy and in oppositional politics in the second half of the 1970s. For a variety of reasons – the improved organisation of the SADF, Mr PW Botha’s expertise in building empires and the SAP’s inability to deal effectively with the 1976 uprising – PW Botha possessed a far stronger power base than Prime Minister Vorster. Moreover, the notion that South Africa was facing a ‘total onslaught’ was gaining greater acceptance within government circles. Two influential reviews, the Venter Report in 1974 and the Van Dalsen Report in 1977, began to put forward the need for a co-ordinated national security management strategy to cope with this onslaught. The first public airing of this developing strategy was in the 1977 Defence White Paper.

106 Within the security establishment, the growing influence of the military was evident in the rise to power of PW Botha. Through a series of manoeuvres involving the intelligence structures of the SADF, information about the Department of Information was leaked to the press, precipitating the ‘Infogate’ scandal3 and the demise of both Vorster and Van den Bergh. On 28 September 1978, PW Botha became Prime Minister and moved rapidly to implement a policy soon dubbed the ‘total strategy’.

107 The late 1970s saw a regrouping following the bannings of Black Consciousness organisations in 1977 and the growth of independent black trade unions. It also saw the emergence of local community organisations involved in mass mobilisation and campaigns on basic issues such as housing, rents, electricity, and transport. These structures initially adopted a strategically low political profile, while more explicitly political organisations such as the Azanian People’s Organisation (AZAPO) and student organisations such as Azanian Students’ Organisation (AZASO) and the Congress of South African Students (COSAS) articulated a more strongly political perspective. Rivalry and conflict developed, however, between activists aligning themselves with Black Consciousness and those increasingly supportive of the ANC.

3 The Department of Information had been engaged in a massive and extremely costly propaganda drive both inside and outside the country, attended by instances of self-enrichment and corruption.
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