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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 428
Paragraph Numbers 109 to 116
The Pondoland Revolt
109 The so-called Pondoland Revolt took place in Pondoland in eastern Transkei in the late 1950s and early 1960s (see Volume Three). This was an extended uprising by Pondoland groups – particularly ANC supporters who referred to themselves as iKongo members – against the imposition of tribal authorities and impending self-government for Transkei. Numerous incidents of violence took place during 1960, including clashes between security forces and iKongo members, attacks by iKongo members on chiefs and those regarded as collaborating with chiefs or police, and the destruction of iKongo members’ homes by chiefs. Legal methods used by the security forces to crush this revolt included the declaration of a state of emergency on 30 November 1960, widespread detentions, criminal prosecutions and banishment of families. Illegal methods included torture in custody (primarily in detention), deaths in custody, apparently due to treatment received, and the use of unnecessary force in public order policing. The over 200 statements received by the Commission in connection with this matter indicated that torture, killings and disappearances were a key feature of security force responses to this revolt.
110 On 6 June 1960, conflict developed between security forces and iKongo members at Ngquza Hill in the Lusikisiki region of Pondoland, when security forces broke up an iKongo meeting. One iKongo member, Mr Clement “Fly” Gxabu [EC0882/96ETK] told the Commission in an interview that the government delegation expected by the meeting did not arrive; instead the security forces moved in and broke up the meeting. Most accounts indicate that the meeting was teargassed from aircraft, after which police on the ground moved in, some of them opening fire, killing at least eleven iKongo members.
111 An inquest subsequently found that at least some of the dead had been killed by fire from Sten guns6. Gxabu also told the Commission that security force members had parachuted from the aircraft. It seems clear that the SAP were involved in this incident, although the extent of their involvement is not. The SANDF told the Commission that: “In the sequence of events it is clear that the SADF was over the said period definitely not deployed in the Transkei”. However, the aircraft used in the operation must have been SADF aircraft used in support of police operations (the SAP had no aircraft at that time) and, if there were any parachutists, these were probably SADF members. The SAPS said they had no knowledge of the use by police of Sten guns in 1960. According to the SANDF, both police and military were armed with Sten guns.
Sten Sub Machine Guns were only issued to the Platoon Leaders (Lieutenants) and Platoon Sergeants of which, according to the strength of the SADF elements, there were about eight in total. The troops were issued with .303 rifles. From memory, it seems that the SAP was issued with 9mm Sten Sub Machine Guns.
112 It seems probable that the shooting was carried out by the police as, if the SADF were involved in this incident, they were probably involved as backup to an SAP operation as was standard procedure7. The SAPS said it had no records from this period, but said both military and police were involved:
Information received is that the police and soldiers were operating jointly to arrest the Pondo people. Information further indicates that soldiers were not interested to go for negotiations; as a result people were shot dead.
113 The SANDF told the Commission that the SADF had been used in the Transkei before the Nqquza Hill incident, during Operation Duiker from 21 March 1960 to 7 May 1960, when six platoons8 and four Saracen troop carriers were sent to Transkei. All troops had left the region by 7 May and did not return until late November when Operation Otter started in Durban (which involved air support to the SAP), followed by Operation Swivel from 7 December 1960, which continued at least until early January 1961. A report from the colonel in charge of Swivel to the then chief of army staff indicated that, from 16 to 30 November 1960, the SADF were involved in six operations that resulted in the detention of 1 330 people in the Pondoland district. At the same time, two mobile watches of 300 troops were sent to Bizana in terms of Operation Swivel.
114 While the SADF was present in support of the police during at least part of this period, it is clear that it was the police who had primary responsibility for dealing with the revolt. The main tool appears to have been mass detentions (Mbeki quotes official records from 27 January 1961 as stating that 4 769 people had been detained with 2 067 eventually brought to trial9). Statements made to the Commission indicate that torture was a key part of those detentions. This was supported both by the submissions handed to the Commission by Kairos and by literature on the Pondoland Revolt.10 Mkambati forest was frequently named as a site of torture. This appears to have been a camp with tents in the forest during the 1960s, possibly set up during the Pondoland Revolt as a police crisis measure, later becoming an established police station. While the SAPS was unable to provide any information on the setting up of the Mkambati police station, it is understood that during the 1960s this station was under the command of Colonel Theunis Jacobus ‘Rooi Rus’ Swanepoel. Kairos refers to Swanepoel as a notorious police officer who played a key role in the 1960s and later became the chief interrogator of the SAP’s Security Branch.11
115 Statements made to the Commission indicate that, immediately after the Ngquza shootings, police rounded up suspects; family members were also assaulted by police in attempts to track suspects. Statements made to the Commission reported that suspects were detained, assaulted and tortured and released still suffering the after-effects of either torture or illness (possibly tuberculosis) contracted in detention or jail. Some subsequently died; the health of others appears to have been permanently damaged. In almost half of the statements made to the Commission, family members made a direct connection between treatment in custody and subsequent death: the number of cases reporting this indicates that police assaulted detainees to the point of permanent injury and then released them to die at home. Others returned home mentally disturbed. These cases point towards a deliberate policy of assaulting detainees; they may have been used as experimental cases by the SAP. The cases reported to the Commission indicated that detainees who died or who suffered permanent injury may have been subjected to one or more severe assaults, untreated exposure to illnesses such as tuberculosis, electric shocks (including shocks to the head), and poisoning.
116 The Commission was not able to conduct an in-depth investigation into the allegations regarding treatment in detention; it feels, however, that this is an area that merits further investigation, particularly concerning the possibility of wide-spread and deliberate poisoning of detainees.6 Mbeki (1964), Southall (1982) and Geoffrey Wood “The horsemen are coming: Rethinking the Pondoland rebellion” in Contree 33, May 1993, and statements made to the Commission. 7 The SANDF provided the Commission with references to documents indicating that the SADF acted only as backup to the SAP in other operations during 1960 (detailed in SANDF response to Commission query, 11 June 1998). 8 A platoon comprises about 30 troops. 9 Govan Mbeki, The Peasants’ Revolt, 1964. 10 Mbeki (1964) and Roger Southall, South Africa’s Transkei: The political economy of an independent bantustan, 1982. 11 Kairos, Torture of detainees in South Africa 1960-1970, November 1997, p37; Political prisoners and detainees in South Africa, preliminary report, November 1996, p 4.