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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 62

Paragraph Numbers 77 to 83

Volume 2

Chapter 2

Subsection 10

Changes in human rights violations over time

77 The pattern of human rights violations in South West Africa varied over time, in accordance with the level and nature of resistance to the South African occupation. This pattern may be periodised as follows:


78 During this period, there was little organised resistance to South Africa’s occupation and no armed struggle. Even so, the apartheid system was enforced with even more rigidity in South West Africa than in South Africa itself and the human rights of the people of South West Africa were constantly and systematically violated, in particular through the system of contract migrant labour. During the 1960s and 1970s, up to two-thirds of South West African workers were subjected to this form of labour control and coercion. Contract workers were required to leave their families in the ‘homelands’ and to sign contracts that rendered them powerless to choose their employer or to negotiate a wage. Those who resigned from their jobs or broke their contracts were liable to deportation back to the ‘homeland’. This was a systematic violation of basic human rights which established a system of quasi-slavery. It also served to depress wages and prevent labour organisation. While modifications were made to the system after the 1971–72 contract workers’ strike, the system remained in place until 1977.


79 The second period falls between 1966 and 1971. In 1966, SWAPO launched an armed struggle, although only a few incidents took place in this period, mainly in the Caprivi Strip. In this period, the SAP were in direct control of the counterinsurgency effort. A number of leading members of SWAPO involved in this early phase of the armed struggle were captured and put on trial in Pretoria (see below).


80 The third period falls between 1971 and 1974. The Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice in 1971, that South Africa’s presence in South West Africa was illegal, triggered a contract workers’ strike which involved between 13 000 and 20 000 workers. Subsequent political tensions in Owamboland in the north, where most South West Africans live, resulted in considerable police activity and public floggings carried out by bantustan officials (see below).


81 The fourth period falls between 1974 and 1980. This was a period of militarisation. SWAPO established camps and bases in the south of Angola after Angola became independent in 1975 and began operations along the Angola–South West Africa border. In the same year, the SADF took over counter-insurgency responsibility from the SAP and established an infrastructure of bases throughout the ‘operational areas’ of Owamboland, Kavango and Caprivi. Human rights abuses by South African troops during this period escalated considerably. One consequence was a dramatic increase in the outflow of refugees, particularly from Owamboland.


82 The fifth period falls between 1980 and 1988. From around 1980, the nature of the war began to change. South Africa increasingly relied on Koevoet, a newly-formed special police counter-insurgency unit, which became notorious for its human rights abuses during its pursuit operations. A process of indigenising the war effort began and South West Africans were recruited and conscripted into a South West Africa Territory Force (SWATF), a largely locally-staffed military force which took on much of the burden of the war, although it remained under firm South African control at the senior officer level. A South West African Police force (SWAPOL) was established in a similar manner.

1989 onwards

83 In 1989, elections were held under UN supervision. South West Africa became independent (as Namibia) the following year and all South African police and military forces were withdrawn.

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