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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 600
Paragraph Numbers 78 to 99
78 On 8 October 1993, five sleeping youths including two twelve-year-old children were shot dead in a SADF raid on an alleged APLA base at the Mpendulo residence in the Northcrest suburb of Umtata. A press statement released by the then Minister of Defence HJ ‘Kobie’ Coetsee a week later stated that the raid was based on intelligence provided by three suspects in detention. Ostensibly the raid was to pre-empt attacks on civilians by APLA operatives, allegedly using the Transkei as a base from which to launch such attacks.
79 General Georg Meiring, chief of the army at the time of the attack, said in a section 29 investigative enquiry that more than fifty APLA attacks had been launched across the Transkei border in the period preceding October 1993 and that the role of the Transkei in providing both a safe haven for the APLA high command and APLA operatives, and in providing military training, had been confirmed by a Goldstone Commission enquiry. The State Security Council (SSC) had discussed the situation in August 1993. During September, the SADF received information from the SAP regarding the use of the Mpendulo residence as an APLA arms facility and base from which attacks in the Eastern and Western Cape were launched. According to this intelligence, some eighteen APLA operatives stayed at the house.
80 General Meiring indicated that he relied on then director of operations Brigadier Castleman, and a senior staff officer for intelligence, Colonel Gibson for the planning of the operation. With the approval of Minister Coetsee, an army reconnaissance mission was launched on 2 October 1993. This confirmed the SAP’s intelligence but, on Meiring’s admission, was unable to confirm whether weapons were indeed stored there. Further, the reconnaissance mission withdrew at approximately 20h00 on 7 October, hours after authority had been given “to conduct a limited strike on the house” in order “to neutralise the target”. This authorisation emanated from a meeting of the SSC attended by, inter alia, Ministers Kriel, Coetsee, Pik Botha and then State President FW de Klerk.
81 The strike was conducted by the 45 Parachute Brigade, under the command of Colonel Hannes Venter. According to Meiring,
the attacking force … left their base at 20h00 ... by road and crossed the border at about midnight. The attack took place on 080245 bravo (02h00). When the attacking force reached the house, the house was dark … The door was kicked open and because of security reasons, they did not switch on the lights ... but used flash lights, they were prepared to find as many as twelve people. There were actually only five persons in the house and all were killed because they reacted hostilely (sic).
82 Asked to explain what he meant by “hostilely”, Meiring said that one of the youths had sat up with a weapon in his hand. While the operatives had been given instructions to incur minimum loss of life, they were also told to avoid endangering themselves and, in this respect, had a license to shoot. Asked whether such a license included a license to shoot to kill, Meiring replied: “...a soldier is never trained [to do] anything but shoot to kill. There is no way of asking how to shoot, you shoot for effect if you do shoot”. The police docket indicates that seventy-eight cartridges and twenty-six projectiles were found in the house. Four of the five victims were shot in the head.
83 After the shooting, a few weapons were allegedly found, together with some documentation. However, while the attacking team confirmed the existence of a reinforced storage room outside, supposedly for weapons, the expected weapons cache did not materialise. Further, in the furore that followed the raid, lawyers for the family arranged for an international US forensic expert to examine the seized weapons. The SADF has thus far failed to produce such weapons.
84 The following people were killed in the raid: Mzwandile Mfeya (12 years), Sandiso Yose (12 years), twins Samora and Sadat Mpendulo (16 years) and Thando Mtembu (17 years).
85 In 1995, the Government of National Unity issued the following statement, drawn up according to Minister of Justice Dullah Omar in consultation with President Mandela and Deputy President FW de Klerk:
The raid on the house in Umtata was authorised on the strength of the intelligence provided by the security forces, that it was being used as an armed cache for attacks against civilians in other parts of South Africa. That information was inaccurate at the time of the operation and the killing of the youthful occupants was unjustified and inexcusable.
THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT THE KILLING OF THE FIVE YOUTHS IN THE SO-CALLED UMTATA RAID WAS A GROSS VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS FOR WHICH THE FORMER SSC AND THE FORMER SADF ARE HELD ACCOUNTABLE. IN PARTICULAR, THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT THE WITHDRAWAL OF THE RECONNAISSANCE TEAM SOME EIGHT HOURS BEFORE THE OPERATION MEANT THAT THE SADF HAD NO REAL WAY OF KNOWING WHO WAS IN THE HOUSE AT THE TIME OF THE RAID AND REGARDS THIS AS GROSSLY NEGLIGENT. THE COMMISSION FURTHER FINDS THAT THE FAILURE OF THE SADF TO PRODUCE THE WEAPONS ALLEGEDLY SEIZED IN THE HOUSE FOR INDEPENDENT FORENSIC EXAMINATION CASTS DOUBT ON THE EXISTENCE OF THE SAID WEAPONS.
Alleged police complicity in political violence
86 Allegations of police complicity in the violence that plagued pre-election South Africa included both the failure to act against perpetrators of violence as well as the provision of tacit or active support for one side of the conflict.
Failure to act against perpetrators
87 By August 1990, there were ongoing tensions between residents of Khalanyoni Hostel and the Phola Park squatter camp in Thokoza. These tensions came to a head shortly after the IFP launched a recruitment drive. After non-IFP members fled the hostel, residents from Phola Park attacked the hostel, destroying it brick by brick. The SAP’s initial response was that the conflict was a factional one and that they would “not get involved in a political fight” between Xhosa and Zulus.
88 In Sebokeng, twenty-three people were killed in an initial attack and a further fifteen people in a subsequent attack by the SADF which opened fire on a crowd on 3 September 1990. (Sebokeng had also been the scene of a massacre in March 1990.) The first attack on the Sebokeng hostel was carried out by Inkatha supporters, armed with guns, hand grenades, home-made bombs, spears and axes and was an attempt by those who had been evicted from the hostel in July to regain their former residence. In the conflict that ensued, residents of Sebokeng trapped the attackers in a block in the hostel. The police managed to keep the opposing forces apart, thus preventing further casualties.
89 The second attack occurred when members of the SADF opened fire without provocation on a crowd which had gathered outside the hostel and was demanding that police wait for the arrival of ANC leaders before they proceed to remove the attackers, at that time holed up in the hostel (see further Volume Three). Although a judicial enquiry found that the SADF members had displayed unprofessional behaviour, no action was taken against them.
90 The actions of the Khetisi gang, led by Mr Victor ‘Khetisi’ Kheswa, are covered in some detail in Volume Three. Initially little more than a criminal gang, the Khetisi gang appears to have begun a rein of terror in Sebokeng appears to have begun when Kheswa established links with the IFP, giving him access to arms. The gang members were arrested for their involvement in the Nangalembe night vigil massacre on 12 January 1991, but were eventually acquitted due to lack of evidence.
91 Vaal police officer Masoli Meshack Mahlatsi stated in an affidavit that Kheswa and his gang were often detained in the police cells but received special food and treatment. He claimed that Kheswa often said that he and his gang were working together with the police. Further evidence of a link is the fact that Kheswa is known to have watched the proceedings of the funeral of ANC leader Ernest Sotsu’s family from a police Casspir, despite the fact that he was widely believed to be the perpetrator of their killing. Kheswa eventually died under uncertain circumstances while under arrest in connection with the killing of nineteen people in Sebokeng in April 1993 and sixteen people in Sebokeng and Evaton in June 1993.
92 Mahlatsi indicated that, on the day Kheswa died, he was threatening to speak of his links with the police. Another member of the Khetisi gang, Mr Daniel Mabothe, a suspect in the Boipatong massacre, died shortly thereafter, having been struck by the car of Kheswa’s arresting officer, Detective Sergeant Peens. At the time, and against the judge’s instructions, Mabothe and three other suspects was being transported to take part in an identification parade. The dockets concerning the deaths of Kheswa and Mabote have, according to the SAPS, ‘gone missing.’
93 On 12 May 1991, twenty-seven people were killed and scores were injured in a pre-dawn attack on Swanieville informal settlement by approximately a thousand IFP hostel-dwellers from Kagiso. There were numerous allegations of police complicity in the attack. These included an allegation that the attackers had been escorted by armoured police vehicles as they made their way to Kagiso; that residents had been advised by the police to go to sleep early and stay off the streets; and that the police had confiscated weapons from Swanieville residents during a raid the previous day, while making no attempt to halt or disarm the attackers during the attack; and that balaclava-clad white men were among the attackers. The police were also alleged to have escorted the attackers back to their hostel. Police did not deny this but stated that this was to prevent a further attack on Kagiso residents.
94 Several IFP members were arrested, but subsequently acquitted owing to a lack of evidence. In his judgement Judge CJ Botha said that the fact that so few had been brought to trial was a “scandal”. The judge noted the police’s failure to call in the video unit, thus making positive identification of attackers difficult. The judge noted further that such actions reinforced public criticism and speculation about the role of the police.
95 At least forty-five people were killed in the night attack on Boipatong on 17 June 1992, allegedly launched from KwaMadala hostel in the Vaal. A number of witnesses reported that white men were part of at least one group of attackers. The monitoring organisation Peace Action noted that police failed to act on warnings of the impending attack (see further Volume Three).
96 After the Sebokeng massacre, an independent police team was appointed by Goldstone to assess the SAP’s response to and subsequent investigation of the incident. The team, headed by Dr PA Waddington, produced a report that was highly critical of the police investigation into the massacre, describing it as “woefully inadequate in a number of respects”. However Waddington ascribed this to “an absence of suitable organisational structures to facilitate effective policing” and said that “omissions arose not from deliberation, but incompetence”.
97 The Goldstone Commission of Inquiry set up in the wake of the massacre had to suspend its work when crucial tapes recorded in the Vereeniging command office of the Internal Stability Unit at the time of the massacre were mysteriously wiped blank. The SAP’s Major Davidson attributed the erasure of the tapes to “a technical problem I am unable to explain”. The carefully worded report of British intelligence specialists said the superimposition of material on the recordings “may not have been accidental” and that “the technical evidence suggests that this may have been done deliberately and hurriedly to obscure the contents”.
98 In March 1994, seventeen KwaMadala hostel residents were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of between ten and fifteen years on various charges of murder, attempted murder, and public violence in connection with the Boipatong massacre. They were subsequently released on bail pending the outcome of an appeal against their convictions in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in Bloemfontein When the trial began in 1993, the were seventy-four accused. Charges against sixty-three of the accused, some of whom became state witnesses, were withdrawn during the course of the trial and eleven people were acquitted due to lack of evidence.
99 In the course of the trial of the KwaMadala residents, SAP Lieutenant D C van der Merwe told the court that his superior officer, a Major van Wyk (who has since retired), ordered the destruction of eight 9mm bullet shells and bullet heads which had been found at the scene of the massacre. Van der Merwe told the court that he could not tell whether the eight shells and heads were standard police issue. He said that, as far as he knew, the shells and heads had never been subjected to ballistic tests.
THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT, IN THEIR APPROACH TO THE PREVENTION AND INVESTIGATION OF POLITICAL VIOLENCE, THE SAP WAS BIASED IN FAVOUR OF THE INKATHA FREEDOM PARTY AND THAT THEIR FAILURE TO INTERVENE IN AND TO PROPERLY INVESTIGATE SUCH VIOLENCE LED TO LARGE NUMBERS OF GROSS VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS AND STRENGTHENED THE PREVAILING CULTURE OF IMPUNITY. THE SAP IS ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE GROSS VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS THAT RESULTED FROM THEIR ACTIONS.