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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 528

Paragraph Numbers 1 to 12

Volume 3

Chapter 6

Subsection 1

Volume THREE Chapter SIX

Regional ProfileTransvaal

■ 1960–1975


1 In 1960, when the National Party (NP) government extended the pass laws to women, widespread public dissatisfaction crystallised into the mass protest that ended with the killing of sixty-nine demonstrators in Sharpville on 21 March. Most of the victims were shot in the back. This incident marks the beginning of the Commission’s mandate.

2 The massacre was a turning point in South African history. In its wake, the government declared South Africa’s first state of emergency in terms of the Public Safety Act of 1953. In addition, the African National Congress (ANC) and Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) were ‘banned’ from operating as unlawful organisations.

3 The Sharpville march was the culmination of a campaign of defiance against key apartheid legislation, targeting ‘six unjust laws’ including the pass laws, the Group Areas Act and the Separate Representation of Voters Act. The pass laws were a source of considerable anger. Primarily they were designed to control and restrict the presence of black people in white urban areas. The most humiliating symbol of this control was the pass book (dompas) which all black persons over the age of sixteen had to carry, indicating whether they had the right to be in an urban area and for how long. Only those who qualified under section 10 of the Urban Areas Act of 1945 were allowed to stay in the urban areas for more than seventy-two hours. Those who did not could be arrested and deported to the homeland of their ‘ethnic’ origin. By 1972 the South African Institute of Race Relations (SAIRR) estimated that over one million people had been endorsed out of (ordered to leave) the urban areas.

4 The massacre at Sharpville ushered in a fundamental change in the nature of South African political conflict. A cycle of violence and counter-violence escalated progressively during the coming decades and created the context in which gross human rights violations became increasingly endemic.

5 As avenues for conventional political protest were closed by the banning of political organisations, a range of organisations, including the ANC and PAC, turned to armed struggle. The government responded by introducing a host of legislative measures to bolster its capacity to control political opposition.

6 Detention without trial was introduced for the first time. Torture became increasingly systematic and the death toll in police custody steadily escalated. From the early 1960s, a series of legislative amendments provided for increasingly lengthy periods of detention without trial. This included the General Laws Amendment Act, including the so-called ninety-day detention law, which provided for detainees to be held in custody for interrogation until, in the opinion of the Commissioner of Police, they had “satisfactorily” answered all questions. This provision quickly led to frequent abuses and detainees repeatedly alleged they had been tortured and assaulted whilst in custody.

7 During this period, the government made use of the courts to prosecute activists. Opposition to the government was redefined as ‘treason’, creating the ideological context in which such opposition could be criminalised. The 1963 Rivonia trial, when Nelson Mandela and other leading ANC members were sentenced to life imprisonment, was the most famous of these trials. There were a number of other political trials, however, which had the effect of undermining opposition to the government by removing resistance leaders from public life. When the General Laws Amendment Act was introduced, providing for the imposition of the death penalty for those found guilty of sabotage, the removal of activists from active involvement in organisations could be permanent. The Act created the offence of sabotage, which was loosely defined as “wrongful and wilful” acts designed to “obstruct, injure, tamper with or destroy” the “health and safety of the public” or the “supply of water, light, fuel or foodstuffs”. The penalties ranged from a minimum of five years to death.

8 In addition to legislation specifically designed to curb political opposition, other government policies effectively curtailed African political dissent. The government worked systematically to reverse the flow of Africans to the urban areas and to restructure the industrial workforce into one composed primarily of migrant labour. Over a million labour tenants and farm squatters and 400 000 city dwellers were resettled in the homelands, the population of which increased by 70 per cent in the 1960s. In addition, hundreds of thousands of people were brought directly under the control of the homeland authorities as townships were incorporated into neighbouring reserves.

9 The end of this period, the late 1960s and early 1970s, saw the re-emergence of political opposition under the auspices of the Black Consciousness Movement and a wave of labour unrest across the country. Rising unemployment and deepening recession led to escalating inflation and a contracting job market, particularly for unskilled workers. All these factors resulted in a wave of strikes, beginning initially at the Durban docks in the early 1970s. Strikes and work stoppages affecting a wide variety of industries followed, frequently resulting in clashes between the police and striking or protesting workers.

10 The rise of the ideology of Black Consciousness was given organisational expression through the South African Students Organisation (SASO) and the Black People’s Convention (BPC), an umbrella body of Black Consciousness adherents formed in 1972. Black Consciousness was a potent new ideology, advancing new ideas by which government policies could be challenged.

11 In 1973, eight SASO and BPC leaders were served with five-year banning orders. In 1974, nine members of SASO and BPC were charged and convicted under the Terrorism Act, despite the fact that there had been no physical acts of ‘terrorism’.

12 At the same time, a Bureau of State Security (BOSS) hit squad known as the Z-Squad was responsible for sending a parcel bomb to student activist Abraham Onkgopotse Tiro [JB001/03NWRUS] in Botswana in February 1974, one of the earliest examples of extra-judicial, covert action by the government against political opposition.

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