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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 207
Paragraph Numbers 137 to 145
137 The early 1980s saw a steady increase in groups of vigilantes who used terror to quell the growing revolt among rural youth against the old order. By and large, vigilantism was closely allied to the South African government’s institution of homeland administrations and black local councils. In many areas, and particularly with the rise of radical anti-apartheid opposition in the early 1980s, those associated with these structures often found themselves isolated and reviled, particularly by radical youth. They started to defend their interests (and sometimes their very lives) through the formation of vigilante ‘armies’ drawn from the more traditionalist and uneducated of the local population.
138 Vigilante activities appeared to have the support, both covert and overt, of the security forces. A review of the evidence, based on affidavits submitted to the Commission by amnesty applicants Mr Shabangu, Mr Harrington and Mr Madlala, enabled the Commission to confirm the findings of the Human Rights Commission, that the security forces colluded with Inkatha vigilantes in the following ways:
a Through acts of omission: staying away from the scene of vigilante attacks, or arriving excessively late; not responding to forewarning of attacks; not countering, deflecting or dispersing attackers; not charging or prosecuting attackers, and refusing to accept charges laid by injured parties; failure to solve murders, even when evidence was readily available; failure to remove weapons from vigilante bases;
b Through acts of commission: indiscriminate attacks on township dwellers with tear gas, guns, rubber bullets, etc.; dispersing, arresting or detaining township dwellers and removing their means of defence; escorting and even transporting vigilante groups to and from scenes of attack; collaboration in the planning and execution of attacks and in the identification and targeting of specific individuals; provision of weapons and other materials to vigilante groups; training and funding of vigilante groups27 .
139 In 1982, residents of the Lamontville township in Durban South formed the Lamontville Rent Action Committee to oppose rent increases announced by the Port Natal Administration Board (PNAB). In early 1983, similar committees from several PNAB-administered townships (for example, Hambanathi and Chesterville) came together to form the Joint Rent Action Committee (JORAC). Besides opposing rent increases, JORAC also opposed plans, already underway, to incorporate a number of PNAB townships into KwaZulu.
140 A vigilante group calling itself the ‘A-Team’ was formed to counter support for JORAC in Lamontville and Chesterville, both of which, along with Clermont and Hambanathi, had been identified for incorporation into KwaZulu. The conflict and violence which beset each of these areas for the next four years was to some degree centred around those involved in the incorporation question, including councillors and vigilantes.
The Killing of Harrison Dube
On 25 April 1983, Lamontville councillor and JORAC chairperson Mr Harrison Msizi Dube was shot dead after returning from a JORAC meeting. Dube’s death sparked outrage. His community went on the rampage, attacking councillors’ homes and buildings belonging to the PNAB and killing three alleged police informers. The violence quickly spread to the Chesterville township.
In Lamontville, five people, including the Inkatha-aligned mayor, Mr Moonlight Gasa, were arrested on 22 June 1983 in connection with Dube’s killing. All five were subsequently convicted of the murder. Mr Vakuthethwa Yalo, Mr Ebenezer Mngadi and Mr Julius Mngadi were sentenced to death (later commuted to life imprisonment). Mr Bangu Mbawula was sentenced to eight years’ imprisonment and Mr Moonlight Gasa to twelve years’ imprisonment [KZN/DQ/001/DN; AM1334/96].
141 In Chesterville, JORAC members and supporters were targeted for attack by an Inkatha-supporting and state-sponsored vigilante group set up in the township in 1983/4, also known as the ‘A-Team’. The group was based in Road 13. Statements made to the Commission alleging human rights abuses by the A-Team refer to incidents between 1985 and 1989. These included at least ten killings, several cases of attempted murder and severe ill treatment and arson attacks.
142 The picture painted by witnesses at the Commission’s public hearings in Durban was that the A-Team established a reign of terror in Chesterville over a number of years. They took over Road 13, illegally occupying houses and burning surrounding houses in order to make a safe area for themselves. They also allegedly brought in Inkatha youths from other townships to bolster their power base. Their sole aim was to target members of youth and other UDF-linked organisations. This they did with the active complicity of the SAP, including the Riot Unit and the Security Branch.
143 In his amnesty application, former Durban Riot Unit member Frank Bennetts [AM4059/96] gave evidence of the extent of Security Branch involvement in and collusion with members of the A-Team. At a section 29 hearing, he described the A-Team as:
A group of Inkatha supporters who were acting in their capacity, or so I believed, in assisting the police in the curbing of the growth and support of groups and organisations opposed to the government and the order of the day.
144 According to Bennetts, the A-Team assisted the Riot Unit by identifying alleged UDF activists to be detained and passing on other information to the security forces. In return, the Riot Unit offered them protection by putting extra patrols into their street and escorting them in and out of the township. Bennetts told the Commission that, despite good cause to do so, A-Team members were never detained under the emergency regulations. Had the police done so, he said, the violence in Chesterville would have been reduced “by 99.99 per cent”. In his words, the A-Team “wrecked half the township”. Nevertheless, the Riot Unit openly and blatantly sided with the gang, perceiving them as a legitimate ally in their struggle against the UDF.
145 Bennetts alleged that the A-Team was started by a military intelligence agent employed by the Natal Provincial Administration as the township manager to oversee the administration of Chesterville. He denied that the Riot Unit paid them or provided them with weapons. However, he had good reason to believe that either the military or the security police provided them with monetary and logistic assistance (firearms, petrol bombs and ammunition). He said further that “in all likelihood” some of the atrocities committed by the A-Team were planned by some unit of the security forces.
THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT, AT THE BEHEST OF SEVERAL UNNAMED INKATHA-SUPPORTING TOWN COUNCILLORS AND UNNAMED MEMBERS OF THE SAP, VIGILANTE GROUPS WERE ESTABLISHED AND BECAME ACTIVE IN SEVERAL TOWNSHIPS IN THE PROVINCE FROM 1983.
THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT THE A-TEAM, ACTIVE IN LAMONTVILLE AND CHESTERVILLE DURING 1983–4, WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR UP TO TEN KILLINGS AND AN UNKNOWN NUMBER OF ACTS OF ATTEMPTED KILLING, SEVERE ILL TREATMENT AND ARSON, TARGETING MAINLY UDF SUPPORTERS AND CONSTITUTING GROSS VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS, FOR WHICH UNKNOWN MEMBERS OF THE A-TEAM ARE HELD ACCOUNTABLE. MEMBERS OF THE SAP UNLAWFULLY SUPPORTED THE ACTIVITIES OF SUCH GROUPS AND ARE HELD ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE VIOLATIONS ARISING FROM THE ACTIVITIES OF THE A-TEAM.27 Human Rights Commission, 1992 ‘Checkmate for apartheid? Special report on two years of destabilisation July 1990 to June 1992’. SR-12, Johannesburg: HRC, p. 23.