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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 257
Paragraph Numbers 380 to 398
380 Evidence before the Commission demonstrated that askaris were sent to infiltrate open structures of the mass movements, posing as MK operatives, and to identify potential recruits for military training. Such recruits were then killed, sometimes after being trained and armed. This led, in some instances, to Security Branch ‘credibility operations’ in which targets were attacked in order to enhance the cover of askaris posing as MK combatants (see below).
M Madikela, N Matabane and F Nhlapo
381 An incident in Krugersdorp led to the deaths of three COSAS activists, Mr M Madikela, Mr N Matabane and Mr F Nhlapo [JB01909/03WR] on 15 February 1982. The operation was conducted jointly by the Soweto Security Branch and Vlakplaas. Brigadier W Schoon [AM4396/96], Captain JC Coetzee [AM4120/96], Sergeant TE Mfalapitsa [AM3592/96], Sergeant CS Rorich [AM5011/97] and Colonel Abraham Grobbelaar [AM4143/96] applied for amnesty.
382 According to Jan Coetzee, a group of askaris, including Sergeant Joe Mamasela and Ephraim Mfalapitsa, were working in the Soweto area in co-operation with the Soweto Security Branch. Mfalapitsa had been a member of the ANC based in Lusaka, Zambia, from 1976 to 1981. He told the Commission that he had been involved in the torture of ANC cadres suspected of being spies. He defected to the Security Branch towards the end of 1981 and became an askari.
COSAS students Hoseo Lengosane, Joseph Mazibuko, John Mlangeni, Samuel Lekatsa, Humphrey Tshabalala, Johannes Mazibuko and Mr Cedric Dladla
383 Mfalapitsa made contact with a group of COSAS students, who allegedly wanted weapons training in order to kill a prominent Security Branch member in Kagiso. Following discussion with Brigadier Schoon, it was decided an arrest would expose Mfalapitsa. According to Coetzee, Schoon then obtained authorisation for the killing of the students.
384 Rorich, an explosives expert based at the Ermelo Security Branch, said he was approached by Coetzee for assistance and was responsible for making a bomb with an electrical detonator and placing it in the pump house of a mine bunker.
385 At a section 29 investigative hearing, Sergeant Joe Mamasela related how Mfalapitsa – picked up four youngsters and … he told them that … I am a taxi man that he hired. And then I drove them until Mfalapitsa … said stop here … Then he climbed off with the youngsters and they moved in the bush in the darkness … I knew there was already a mine bunker that was prepared for these youths – there was explosive stuff in cement bags and whatever … So when the youngsters were there, Mfalapitsa .. must leave them and say he is going to fetch the other material. And whilst out the door was made to lock … and then he must run away so that these people can operate ... a remote control sort of thing to blow these little schoolboys to smithereens...
386 The bomb was detonated by Rorich, killing the three COSAS students and injuring Mr Zandisile John Musi [JB01909/03/WR].
387 A similar operation, known as Operation Zero Zero reflected the same basic modus operandi as the Krugersdorp incident, but with a significantly new development: the victims died at their own hands. Those who applied for amnesty for the operation were General Johan van der Merwe [AM4157/96], Brigadier Willem Schoon [AM4396 /96], Brigadier Jack Cronjé [AM2773/96], Sergeant Daniel Nkala [AM2460/96], Captain Roelof Venter [AM4382/96], Brigadier JL M (Marthinus) Delport [AM4127/96], Mr Francois Steenkamp [AM4383/96], Colonel JF (Kobus) Kok [AM3811/96], Mr JF (Japie) Kok [AM3812/96], Mr LC Prince [AM4382/96], Mr Andre Roos [AM4392/96] and Brigadier WAL du Toit [AM5184/97].
388 In sketching the context for this operation, then head of the Security Branch General Johan van der Merwe said the police were experiencing greater and greater difficulties policing the areas of the East Rand and Vaal Triangle. In particular, there was increasing anxiety about their seeming inability to protect black policemen and community councillors, a core component of their reform strategy but at the same time an increasingly vulnerable underbelly. He told the Commission:
[W]e knew if we could not succeed in protecting our Black members … the whole system would collapse and that we in no way would be able to defend ourselves against the onslaught …
389 Van der Merwe said the Security Branch had received reports that a group of activists were planning to launch armed attacks on black policemen living in the East Rand townships. Sergeant Joe Mamasela claims that he was tasked with infiltrating the group of ‘troublemakers’. He did this successfully and succeeded in removing a person he regarded as pivotal to the group to a more neutral environment. According to Mamasela, the killing of a white nurse provided the trigger for the operation. He says the anger of the security police was such that they insisted “die mense moet vrek” (the people must die).
390 Explaining why an arrest was not possible, Van der Merwe said:
It became very obvious that any attempts to arrest the activists concerned and bring them before court would be futile to say the least, primarily due to the high intimidation factor which precluded any witnesses from coming forward. It also became equally obvious that the life of the informer concerned would be in grave danger.
391 Van der Merwe sought approval from his superiors to organise the killing of the activists. Direct consent up to the level of the Minister of Law and Order, Louis le Grange was granted. Police commissioner General PJ Coetzee was allegedly involved in the planning stage of the operation and Van der Merwe reported to him in full at the end of the operation. Van der Merwe assigned the then commander of C1 (Vlakplaas), Brigadier Jack Cronjé to the operation. While Van der Merwe himself implicates no one higher than Minister le Grange, Cronjé claims in his amnesty application that Van der Merwe “specifically indicated to me that this came directly from Minister le Grange and that it had indeed been authorised by President PW Botha, as well as Commissioner Johan Coetzee”.
392 Cronjé recalled De Kock from Durban and they made plans to provide the COSAS activists with modified grenades with a zero-timed delay mechanism so that, in the words of Van der Merwe, “any person throwing such a hand grenade at the home of a policemen [sic] would be affected first due to the shortened time-delay”. According to Brigadier Willem Schoon, he discussed the technical details with Major General ‘Joep’ Joubert [AM3799/96] of the SADF Special Forces. However, Brigadier WAL du Toit [AM5184/97], an expert from the technical section of the Security Branch, appears to have physically altered the timing devices.
393 Van der Merwe states that he was personally in charge of the operation. Just before the incident took place, he travelled to Springs where he held a briefing meeting in the offices of the divisional commander, then Colonel Delport. According to Delport, Van der Merwe stated at this meeting that the C1 Unit (Vlakplaas) would come down to carry out the mission.
394 Both Van der Merwe and Cronjé claim that the askaris were given strict instructions to supply the weapons only and not to become involved in choosing targets. In practice, the nature of the askaris’ interaction with the activists went beyond mere supply. Mamasela and another askari arranged a training session with the recruits, using two grenades that had been supplied by De Kock. Mamasela also said that he and other askaris working with him had been armed with handguns and a grenade when they had infiltrated the group, to increase their credibility. Mamasela chose 26 June, “Freedom Day”, for the operation, saying to the students, “we are going to celebrate the … freedom … day of 26 June … it will be ideal if you celebrate unity in action, and by that we mean we will … provide you with training and we … will arm you so that you can make an armed propaganda”.
395 On the night of 26 June 1985, the modified grenades and a limpet mine were handed to Mamasela. Mamasela says that there was some concern that one particular student, Congress, be eliminated because of his ability to identify
396 Eight people were killed and seven seriously injured in the ensuing hand grenade and limpet mine blasts. The victims were Mr Hoseo Lengosane, Mr Joseph Mazibuko, Mr John Mlangeni, Mr Samuel Lekatsa, Mr Humphrey Tshabalala, Mr Johannes Mazibuko and Mr Cedric Dladla. A police spokesperson at the time said that the victims were killed while attacking the homes of SAP members and an electricity substation. The hand grenades were identified as being of Russian origin and of the type used only in ANC terror attacks.
397 The officer in charge of the investigation, Francois Steenkamp, was aware that it was a Vlakplaas operation. He stated in his amnesty application that he was called in on 25 June 1985 by his superior, Brigadier Delport, who told him that he had to be on standby that night as police were expecting a number of explosions to take place. Later that night he learnt that members of the C1 unit, including De Kock, were in fact planning to distribute booby-trapped hand grenades to activists under the pretext that they were from the ANC.
398 Mamasela observes that when he reported back to his Commander, “he was ecstatic about it, he was extremely happy, he jumped like a beheaded chicken”. Mamasela was promoted and the other two askaris involved received ‘kopgeld’ (bounty money) of R2 000. Ms Maki Skosana, whom some of the survivors identified as having been seen with Mamasela, was necklaced a few days after the accident.