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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 289
Paragraph Numbers 510 to 520
Attempted killings, arson and sabotage
510 The Commission received a number of amnesty applications detailing the direct involvement of members of the security forces in acts of sabotage and arson, including an application by former Minister of Law and Order Adriaan Vlok and Security Branch head General Johan van der Merwe, implicating State President PW Botha. While many of these cases did not result in gross violations of human rights, some can be classified as attempted killings and therefore gross violations.
511 Evidence before the Commission reveals that intimidation and disinformation provided the rationale for such attacks. Activists and their supporters needed to be aware that if they got involved in political activities, dire consequences would follow. Furthermore, the idea that the political conflict was a consequence of internecine strife within the black community, commonly referred to as blackon-black violence, was promoted amongst the general public.
512 The involvement of the security forces in such attacks appeared to accord with state policy. This is reflected in a document prepared for a working group of the Joint Security Staff in January 1987 which refers to the ‘Fisiese vernietiging van rewolusionêre organisasies (mense, fasiliteite, fondse, ens) binne- en buitelands deur enige overte en koverte metodes’ (Physical destruction of revolutionary organisations (people, facilities, funds, etc) inside and outside the country by overt and covert methods)25.
Cosatu House, Johannesburg
513 Cosatu House, which housed the national offices of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and a number of its affiliates, was extensively damaged by two bombs in the early hours of 7 May 1987. The bombs, described at the time as “the most powerful ever detonated on the Reef”, were placed in the basement of the building. The damage they caused was such that the building was declared structurally unsafe. At the time of the explosion there were about twenty people in the building, two of whom were slightly injured.
514 This and the Khotso House incident described below are the only instances for which a member of the former government applied for amnesty for an unlawful act. Mr Adriaan Vlok and General JV van der Merwe rationalised this decision, saying that the May 1987 general election had sparked off new levels of resistance. Furthermore, a country-wide strike by railway workers had assumed violent proportions in attacks on railway property and the holding hostage of five strikebreakers by members of the South African Railways’ and Harbour Workers’ Union (SARHWU) at Cosatu house. Four of the hostages were subsequently taken from the building and killed. Vlok and Van der Merwe said also that the Security Branch was in possession of information showing that underground ANC members and trained MK soldiers were using Cosatu House as a base for planning, among other things, an attack on members of the police. Van der Merwe said that this view was shared with the intelligence community as a whole and the SSC structures.
515 According to both Vlok and Van der Merwe, a crucial factor in their decision to destroy Cosatu House was their conviction that other legal methods to remove the threat posed by Cosatu House would be ineffective, especially after the detention of the SARHWU general secretary, Mike Roussos, whom they believed to be part of underground networks, had been successfully challenged in court. In the words of Van der Merwe:
We detained about 40 000 people at one specific time and I often said to Vlok that this does not lead to anything. We cannot keep them indefinitely. As soon as we detain them we cause that person, not only that person but also his family and all his friends, we brought them all into unrest against the police, in opposition to the government.
516 The hope was that an effective bombing of COSATU House “would cause so much disruption that it would give us a breathing space.”
517 Van der Merwe instructed Brigadier Willem Schoon, head of the C section, to get C1 to make the necessary plans. Van der Merwe also briefed the Witwatersrand Security Branch divisional head, Gerrit Erasmus, and instructed Sergeant Bosch, head of the Vlakplaas technical department, to construct the explosive device. It was important to the operation that firearms and explosive devices were the same as those used by the liberation movements.
518 Several teams were responsible for the actual operation: the team wearing balaclavas and armed with AK-47s who would penetrate the area; a team to distract the guard, if necessary using ‘spiked’ alcohol; a team consisting of black members to patrol the area on foot with batons and to ensure, using violence if necessary, that no one passed through the operational area; a team to warn of any approaching traffic or police vehicles; and the command team consisting of Van der Merwe himself and Brigadier Schoon. In addition, Deon Greyling of the Witwatersrand Security Branch was assigned to tune in to the frequencies of the Johannesburg traffic police, the SAP Murder and Robbery Unit, the Uniform Investigation Unit and the Flying and Dog Squads. Eugene de Kock was in overall command.
519 Later a braai was held for the white Vlakplaas members to celebrate the success of the operation. It appears that black members may have received R200 each for their participation.
520 Under cross-examination at the amnesty hearing, both Vlok and Van der Merwe remained adamant that the action taken at Cosatu House was purely because of the use of the building by persons intent on ‘acts of terror’ and not linked to the numerous attacks, burglaries and raids that took place on Cosatu offices around the country in May and during the months that followed.25 Strategiese oorwegings ten opsigte van die inisiëring van die kontramobilisasie in die RSA.(Strategic considerations in respect of the initiation of contra-mobilisation in the RSA.) Document prepared for the GVS-werkgroep, 24 January 1987, 22/3/2/44.