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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 423
Paragraph Numbers 84 to 89
84 Although this table charts rising defence expenditures over the course of the decade, it should be noted that levels of defence spending generally trailed the budgets of homeland police forces. By and large, homeland armies were only very basically equipped and their infantry platoons – the largest forces in all of the armies – were used primarily in counter-insurgency operations. Security concerns of the South African government no doubt tempered the growth of the various bantustan armies. As the TBVC defence forces relied on the South African state for finances, training and equipment, it was easy for the central government to direct the evolution of the armies, all the while ensuring that the security of the Republic would never be threatened.
85 The homeland armies played an important role in the ‘area war’ concept guiding SADF strategy. Convinced that the liberation armies would not wage a border war, the SADF hierarchy stressed the need to organise security forces and civilian auxiliaries on a regional basis in order to combat insurgency wherever and whenever it appeared. South Africa was accordingly divided into ten territorial regions, each of which was designed to act as a first line of defence for the Republic. Although not officially acknowledged at the time, the TBVC armies as well as the SADF’s black battalions were each assigned to a territorial region in terms of this plan.
86 With respect to the operation of the homeland defence forces, several points should be noted. First, when called upon, homeland armies worked with South African security forces in joint operations against perceived guerrillas. For example, Lieutenant Colonel Mulaudzi, the commander of the Venda National Force (VNF) stated emphatically that Venda would not hesitate to call on the assistance of the SADF if insurgents crossing their borders threatened their sovereignty. By 1980, the VNF included an anti-insurgency unit, which concentrated on antiguerrilla warfare and patrolling the borders. Throughout the 1980s, the Venda Defence Force co-operated with South African security forces in detaining, interrogating and at times killing guerrillas suspected of using the homeland as a base for skipping or infiltrating the Republic.
87 Second, at times South Africa used the homelands, particularly the independent bantustans, as springboards for military operations against front-line states. For example, in 1984 Lesotho claimed that the South African-supported Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA) was using the Transkei as a base for assassination squads operating in the mountain kingdom.
88 Finally, following the outbreak of widespread unrest in the mid-1980s, the homeland armies were increasingly used to assist police forces in suppressing internal opposition. Not only were such operations explicitly condoned in the various homelands’ defence acts, but legislation was often enacted to indemnify security force members from civil or criminal prosecution for acts committed in ‘good faith’ while ‘maintaining law and order’.
89 However, the overall significance of the role of homeland armies in the political calculus of the homelands proved most important. At various times, all four of the independent homelands witnessed coups of varying success. Although the immediate reasons advanced for the coups varied, several threads run through the different experiences. First, homeland armies generally played a much more prominent role in coup attempts than their police counterparts. Second, corruption within homeland administrations was frequently cited as a motivating factor. Finally, coups exposed the fractured and weak nature of homeland administrations. More often than not, coups originated with the cleavages already present in regimes with questionable legitimacy. As an important elite within homeland politics, and one of the few institutional actors with sufficient resources to mount a political challenge, homeland armies were often forced into the role of king-maker or king-protector. Of course, homeland armies were not alone in this regard. Ultimately the South African state, through the SADF, remained the final arbiter in times of political uncertainty.