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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 603
Paragraph Numbers 271 to 279
271 Shortly after the initial outbreaks of violence, Mr Louis le Grange (Minister of Law and Order), Mr FW de Klerk (MP for Vereeniging), General Magnus Malan (Minister of Defence), Mr Gerrit Viljoen (Minister of Education) and Mayor Mahlatsi of the Lekoa Town Council undertook a tour of inspection of the Vaal townships. Two thousand people blocked the main road through Sebokeng, forcing the ministers to turn back. After this, Le Grange announced that he did not believe rent increases were the main reason for the unrest but claimed that certain “unnamed individuals and organisations” were behind “what was happening in the Vaal Triangle”.26
272 Following the violence, over 1 000 people were arrested in the Vaal during September 1984. Some were charged while others were detained under section 29 of the Internal Security Act.27
273 In the early hours of the morning of 23 October 1984, about 7 000 police and SADF troops conducted a major search and arrest operation in Sebokeng, Sharpville and Boipatong in the Vaal triangle in an exercise known as ‘Operation Palmiet’ (Bullrush). The police conducted house-to-house searches, while soldiers armed with R1 rifles lined the streets at ten-metre intervals to ensure that residents stayed indoors.
274 According to Mr le Grange, the purpose of the exercise was to “restore law and order” and to rid the area of “criminal and revolutionary” elements. About 400 people were arrested on charges relating to influx control and possession of stolen goods, dagga, firearms and pornographic material.
275 The violence that occurred in the Vaal precipitated a shift in the government’s response to political opposition. For the first time the army was used to curb civilian political protest. Over the next two or three years the SADF played an increasingly significant role in township violence. Armed only with live ammunition, the army was equipped to use maximum force when dealing with civilian protest, leading to a rise in the number of deaths in street clashes.
276 The government’s motivation for the deployment of troops in the Vaal townships is summarised in Mr le Grange’s declaration: “as far as we’re concerned it is war, plain and simple”.28
277 In response to the deployment of troops in the townships, a range of UDF-affiliated organisations and trade unions representing students, workers and residents called a two-day stay away in the Transvaal on 5 and 6 November. The importance of the regional stay away was evident from its scale alone: between 300 000 and 800 000 workers and large numbers of students observed the call in the PWV region.
278 ‘Operation Palmiet’ was strongly criticised both in South Africa and internationally. According to Mr Jules Browde SC, chair of Lawyers for Human Rights, the use of both the defence force and the police caused untold damage to race relations and the cause of human rights in South Africa. He said:
This action suggests that the army is to be used to enforce influx control and to suppress black political aspirations. This means the army will be perceived by blacks to be the instrument of white political repression and will promote hostility towards the defence force among blacks.29
279 The SADF’s response was that the use of the army in civil disorder was not without precedent. The government had decided to use troops in Sebokeng because it felt that it was responsible for the protection of all South Africans, their property and the property of the state. The troops had manned roadblocks, thrown a cordon around the townships, protected important points, supplied logistical support, and provided communication and reconnaissance flights.26 SAIRR, Survey 1984, p 72. 27 Section 29 of the Internal Security Act No 74 of 1982 provided for indefinite detention for interrogation. Detainees were held in solitary confinement. 28 Leadership, October 1984. 29 The Star, 22 August 1984.