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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 347

Paragraph Numbers 67 to 84

Volume 3

Chapter 4

Subsection 8

■ 1983–1989

Historical overview

67 This period saw the emergence of several youth and civic organisations, many of which were affiliated to the United Democratic Front (UDF), formed in 1983. AZAPO and student organisations such as COSAS were particularly active in organised protests against apartheid in general and in activities focusing on student grievances.

68 From 1984, many towns in the Orange Free State, particularly Bloemfontein, Parys and Welkom, experienced the worst civil unrest since the Soweto uprising of 1976. Continuing student dissatisfaction with the education system was the primary focus of conflict. As in the previous period, the youth and particularly the students bore the brunt of police brutality in the course of school boycotts and other protests, as well as being disadvantaged academically by the disruptions.

69 In the industrial sphere, striking workers, too, came up against heavy-handed security force action. The Commission received a total of twenty-three reports of alleged police brutality against striking workers in the Orange Free State, involving assault, torture and shooting, and resulting in two deaths. Fourteen of these cases were reported for the period 1983–89.

70 The South African Institute of Race Relations documented more than 1 000 strikes across the country in 1987, involving over half a million workers most of whom were concentrated in the mining industries. Twenty thousand workers in the Orange Free State gold fields went out on strike during 1986/87. Reports received by the Commission indicate that striking miners in the province suffered harassment, assault and dismissal by mine-owning companies, by the police and by vigilante groups. The vigilantes, referred to as ‘the Russians’ on some mines and ‘witdoeke’ on others, appeared to be working with the common purpose of repressing all strike action by workers.

71 Economic hardship also played a part in fomenting conflict in black townships. The announcements of service charge and rental increases were not welcomed by black consumers already hard-hit by inflation and the rise in sales tax from 6 to 7 per cent.

72 Black South Africans expressed growing dissatisfaction with their exclusion from the system of government ushered in by the 1983 introduction of the Tricameral Parliament. Protest activities ranged from boycotts of elections for new black local authorities to violent attacks on local government buildings and the homes and businesses of councillors in townships.

73 When local authorities sought to increase rents and service charges in the early 1980s, township residents protested by refusing to comply with the increases or by withholding all payments to the local authorities. Even before the increases, rent and service costs had been financially crippling. Many residents were falling behind with payments; some in the poorest communities had never paid for township services at all.

74 Rent boycotts were often accompanied by demands from township residents and community organisations for the resignation of local councillors. Later, this action erupted into more militant forms of protest, sometimes including violence. Rent boycotts occurred around all the main towns of the province in 1984, particularly in Tumahole (Parys), Zamdela (Sasolburg) and other Vaal triangle townships, and continued throughout 1985. The Commission heard accounts of brutality on the part of councillors themselves and on the part of groups or gangs apparently organised by councillors and deployed in vigilante activities. These activities took place in response to the growing militancy of residents, usually associated to some extent with the UDF, who rejected local government in communities. Vigilantism became a widespread phenomenon in the province during this period. The Commission heard claims that vigilante groups such as the Phakathis (or ‘A-Team’) in Thabong, the ‘A-Team’ in Tumahole, the ‘Eagles’ in Brandfort and the ‘Three Million Gang’ at Kroonstad created a reign of terror in these areas.

75 Former SAP member Mphithizeli Nelson Ngo told a hearing of the Amnesty Committee that the unlawful use of gangsters to attack political activists was not only sanctioned by the police, but that three vigilante groups were recruited and trained by Security Branch officers posted to Brandfort for special duty in 1985/86. These three groups were the Eagles, the ‘Anti-comrades’ and the Three Millions. The Commission also heard of the activities of several other vigilante groups known simply as ‘anti-comrade’ groups, many of which appeared to be unchecked or even openly supported by members of the SAP.

76 By the mid-eighties, civil protest and resistance had reached new levels of intensity in the Orange Free State. The July 1985 proclamation of a state of emergency affected only one area in the province, namely Sasolburg, and this was lifted after six months. However, the whole province was affected by the June 1986 emergency, which was renewed annually until February 1990. The emergency regulations empowered police to detain any person for up to fourteen days if, in the arresting officer’s opinion, the maintenance of public order justified such detention. Restrictions were placed on public gatherings and funeral ceremonies.

Overview of violations

77 The overwhelming majority of violations reported in the Orange Free State occurred in this period, 1983–89. Around 70 per cent of the reports implicated members of the police force, including members of the Bophuthatswana and QwaQwa security forces, in assault, torture, shooting and arson.

78 For this period also, the Commission received reports of violations allegedly perpetrated by political organisations, including members of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), the UDF/ANC and members of the DNP. Reports were also received of violations perpetrated by white farmers acting in concert with members of the police force and of the civilian right wing.

79 The first reports of aggression by and towards local councillors in Orange Free State townships referred to his period. Reports included several violations by members of vigilante groups, corresponding with the rise of vigilantism in 1985. The overwhelming majority of such reported violations was allegedly committed by the A-Team of Thabong, also known as the Phakathi group. Reports of attacks on vigilantes by members of civic organisations were also received.

Police brutality

80 It is difficult to draw clear distinctions between types of threatening and violent behaviour on the part of the police. What became clear through the testimonies of many victims of violations in the Orange Free State is that psychological battery on the part of the police, including verbal and emotional abuse and threatening, degrading and humiliating treatment, often produced post-traumatic symptoms similar to those of physical harm.

81 Many individuals told the Commission that they had never lodged complaints or reports with the police of incidents where police were culpably implicated.

82 Submissions by many families who lost loved ones in police custody or as a result of police shooting indicated that families were, by and large, ignorant of their rights in respect of the deceased. They did not know of their rights to a proper investigation into a death, to a post mortem, to the issuing of a death certificate and to custody of the corpse in preparation for burial. In fact, many families reported that they had never heard whether investigations had been conducted, suspects identified or charges laid, or whether an official inquest was held and what the findings might have been.

83 Equally, it is difficult to separate police brutality in a politicised context (such as the shooting of protesters in the street or the torture of activists in detention) from police brutality in a related context, where victims are not the direct targets for attack, but become targets accidentally.

84 Some activists claimed that the police attempted to co-opt the support of their families as a means of pressurising them to stop their political activities or to return from exile. At least two witnesses reported that police had offered them money to travel to Lesotho and persuade their sons, exiled in that country, to return home. Reports were also received of detainees who were threatened with the lives of their families and friends at home if they failed to co-operate under interrogation. Family homes were regularly subjected to police raids in search of members who were politically active. Many reports described the personal injury and extensive damage to property resulting from such raids.

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