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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 495
Paragraph Numbers 363 to 369
Anonymous violence: ‘balaclavas’
363 From 1991, political violence in Khayelitsha, and to a lesser extent in Nyanga, was marked by anonymous so-called ‘balaclava gangs’ – groups of masked men who performed ruthless killings and arson attacks, targeting individual homes and families or whole communities known for a particular political affiliation. Homes would be raked with gunfire, or broken into and the occupants shot. Alternatively, armed men would surround the houses to prevent any occupants fleeing, condemning them to die in the flames. The term ‘balaclava’ became a catch-all phrase for persistent night attacks upon individuals and communities.
364 The Commission interviewed a range of individuals associated with these conflicts, including some linked to ‘balaclava’ activity. A great deal of fear and intimidation still existed at the time of the interviews, and this constrained the level of information available, as certain role-players in the conflicts above were still in positions of power. Recent incidents of violence in the area confirmed this. Collectively, the multiplicity of incidents of anonymous violence appeared at the time to constitute ‘third force’ destabilisation, matching the pattern of events in the Transvaal. This perception was widespread and acted in many ways to shape the responses of organisations to the conflicts.
365 Investigations by the Commission suggest, however, that there were several ‘balaclava’ groups active in the area, with differing allegiances and agendas. Many of the key political and indeed criminal forces on the scene, including the security forces, adopted some form of covert violent activity and probably donned balaclavas to enact it. Many were probably purely criminal.
366 Balaclava attacks also reflected the overlap of criminal and political activity in the 1990s as the struggle for political control, particularly of the informal settlements, became a matter of life, death, and money. This occurred both overtly as political organisations attempted to intervene in the bloody taxi war, and covertly as both political and security force personnel maintained links with some of the criminal structures.
367 There is, however, no doubt that covert ‘balaclava’ type activity was widely used to eliminate political opponents in Khayelitsha. Political actors ‘piggy-backed’ political targets on those engaged in criminal acts. Police reports in the newspapers generally asserted that the majority of attacks fell under the umbrella of the taxi war. However, it was widely believed and asserted within the ANC, whose supporters were most frequently the target of the attacks, that the taxi war provided a convenient smokescreen for a protracted campaign of destabilisation of their strongholds by their opponents in the security forces and local government.
368 All of the following groups appear to have generated ‘balaclava-type’ activity. Although six distinct groups are identified, the first five, namely the councillors, the special constables, criminals, taxi groupings and WECUSA, at times acted in concert or collaborated in attacks. Some evidence suggests security force involvement.
Lingelethu West councillors
369 During 1989 and 1990, several town councillors were charged with murder or attempted murder. These attacks took place in a fairly open manner.53 It is possible that with several pending prosecutions their methods became more covert. Incidents in which this group were suspected to be implicated were often accompanied by white Afrikaans-speaking men and men wearing full or partial special constable uniforms. This suggests that individuals or groups within the security forces collaborated with these attacks; however, the Commission has only indirect evidence of this.53 Although charged, few cases were tried or led to convictions. In at least two instances, charges were withdrawn (SHA 257/90/91 and SHE 159/91).