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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 361

Paragraph Numbers 117 to 126

Volume 3

Chapter 4

Subsection 14

Contra-mobilisation and vigilantes

117 In 1984, councils and councillors became targets of opposition and sometimes violent attack by militant youths in Orange Free State townships. The UDF and its affiliates began to demand that councillors resign from and reject the system, which they saw as a poor substitute for full political rights for black South Africans. Orange/Vaal industrial triangle townships like Zamdela (Sasolburg) became sites of major protest during the second half of 1984. These protests gradually filtered into other towns and the province began to witness a number of attacks, some fatal, on councillors and their property.

118 The Commission has also received evidence of councillors spearheading attacks on their opponents, sometimes drawing together an informal vigilante group charged with the task of ‘cleaning up’ areas that were known for their opposition to the system of local government.

119 A considerable number of black councillors resigned in 1985, many of them evidently in response to or fear of violent attack. Other reasons cited by councillors included family pressure, lack of protection by the government, ill health, lack of progress and a realisation that the councils were ineffective. When, after his supermarket and butchery had been gutted and broken into, Tumahole community councillor Daniel Hlalele announced his resignation in July 1984, the UDF hailed his resignation as a “courageous and bold step”.

120 As attacks on councillors increased, so did pre-emptive and retaliatory attacks on activists who were thought to be behind the boycott of rent and service charges and the destruction of the local authorities’ property. Allegations of shootings by councillors themselves were also received by the Commission.

121 By January 1985, sixteen town councils across the country announced that they would set up municipal police forces to work in tandem with the police to safeguard residents, to protect municipal property and to enforce regulations and by-laws enacted by councils. These forces became known as the ‘blou’ or ‘blue flies’ because of the colour of their uniform.

122 From 1984, municipal police – trained, supervised and paid by the SAP – were assigned to work under black local authorities in townships around the country to protect council property, prevent and investigate crime and maintain law and order. Although they were not given extra powers in a state of emergency, they were empowered by the Black Local Authorities Act of 1982 to do whatever was deemed necessary to restore law and order in an emergency.

The case of Manko Tsie
The Commission heard that, in January 1986, Mr Manko Joseph Tsie was coming home from work in Welkom when he was accosted by a municipal policeman, accused of stone-throwing and shot at close range. Incidents of stone throwing at local authority buildings were on the increase at the time. Tsie survived the attack [KZN/GM/047/WE].

123 Following increasing concern among government officials and other security forces about the rising number of municipal police involved in criminal activities, municipal police finally came under the control of the SAP in November 1988.


124 Vigilante groups proliferated in the Orange Free State from 1985. The Commission heard that individual councillors were responsible for setting up some of these groups because they felt themselves to be under attack from militant township youth. In some cases, councillors were actively involved in vigilante actions, supplying arms and participating personally in attacks on township residents and activists thought to be aligned with the UDF. The Commission heard that some vigilante groups were set up by members of the security forces, under the instruction of senior security police officers.

125 The Phakathi group emerged in April/May 1985 in the township of Thabong, outside Welkom in the northern Orange Free State. Initially named after its leader, councillor Albert Phakathi, (now deceased), the group later became known as the A-Team, after the popular American television programme. Several community councillors, including Phakathi and the mayor, Dr E B Tlali, were alleged to be part of the gang. Council property was used in its mission to ‘clean up’ organised resistance to apartheid. Other members of the gang were alleged to be jobless locals and Zulus recruited from outside the community. In the year before the emergence of the Phakathis, Thabong had become the scene of a wave of student protest, developing into arson, stoning, and violent confrontation with the police. The Phakathis established a reign of terror in Thabong, meting out arbitrary assaults and severe floggings to residents.

126 By May 1985, the Phakathi group was being openly supported by members of the SAP and was making use of police and municipal authority facilities. Witnesses reported being taken to Room 29 of the community council’s headquarters at the Philip Smit Centre or to the police station, where they were severely assaulted by the gang. In some cases, gang members would deliver their victims into the hands of the local police.

The assault of Thabo Ramatsa
Mr Thabo Ramatsa told the Commission that he was assaulted by the A-Team at his house in Tlali Park, Thabong in March/April 1985. Members of the gang had arrived in a minibus to collect another member, Mr Tlasi Moetupe, who was Ramatsa’s neighbour. They stopped when they saw Ramatsa and attacked him, severely injuring him. The perpetrators were apprehended and the victim identified them in a parade. However, they were not charged [KZN/AT/005/FS].
The shooting of Sello Mofokeng
In May 1985, Sello Ephraim Mofokeng (15) was shot dead, allegedly by a councillor operating with the A-Team. Mofokeng and some friends were doing their homework at home when the gang entered the house and chased the boys through a window. The councillor then fired shots at them as they ran up the street, fatally wounding Mofokeng [KZN/MR/240/WE].
Attack on the Sello Mofokeng vigil
A few days later, members of the A-Team allegedly surrounded the house at which a vigil was being held for Sello Mofokeng. In an altercation between gang members and mourners, a member of the A-Team, Mr John Mahula was killed. In retaliation, the gang entered the house by force and beat the mourners inside with sjamboks, kierries and pangas4. Albert Phakathi himself was stabbed several times in the clash.
Witnesses to the incident say that the A-Team then took the victims in a minibus to the Thabong police station where they were praised by Mayor Tlali for work well done. The victims were held overnight and released the next day. They made statements to the Attorney-General’s office. A case was held, but no convictions were secured.
Witnesses testifying to the A-Team attack on mourners were Mr Nthabiseng Sepeeane, who was severely beaten [KZN/AT/008/FS], Ms Nkopodi Joyce Melane, who was sjambokked and kicked in the chest [KZN/AT/009/FS], and Mr Thapelo Jacob Bodiba, who was stabbed on the head and in the left eye, resulting in the loss of the eye [KZN/AT/012/FS].
4 Whips, clubs and large broad-bladed knives (used for cutting cane).
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