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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 628

Paragraph Numbers 363 to 375

Volume 3

Chapter 6

Subsection 52

Covert action

363 The evidence of amnesty applicants to the Commission has provided confirmation of an increase in the use of extra-judicial mechanisms to control political opposition in the country during the mid-1980s. The secret Vlakplaas Security Branch police unit played a significant role in this escalation of covert activity. However, evidence from amnesty applications made to the Commission indicates that such extra-judicial activities became increasingly localised and widespread. Members of the Soweto Security Branch applied for amnesty for a range of illegal activities, including bomb attacks to boost the credibility of informers and the use of booby-trapped grenades against activists.

364 In the ‘credibility operations’, informers who had infiltrated MK cells would be assisted with various sabotage operations in order to maintain their credibility. These sabotage acts primarily involved destruction of property but may have also led to loss of life. Most of these operations were carried out between 1985 and 1987 by a team consisting of black police informers and white Security Branch officers. In 1989 a slightly different team organised a more serious operation – the murder of three activists using booby-trapped limpet mines.

365 One of the victims remains unidentified to this day, another is simply referred to as ‘Castro’, the third is identified in a statement as Mr Ncebe Cassius Snuma [JB01654/01GTSOW]. Mr Cindi Snuma reports that Ncebe, a UDF activist, disappeared mysteriously after leaving home on 18 July 1989. In September 1996, police at Braamfontein gave Mr Sandile Snuma some photographs by which he was to identify his brother Ncebe’s body. Sandile was allegedly instructed not to contact the media or the Commission as two suspended policemen had been involved in Ncebe’s death and any outside interference might jeopardise the investigation. According to the police, Ncebe was killed when a bomb given to him by an ANC member exploded in his possession.

THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT THE SOWETO SECURITY BRANCH USED EXTRA-JUDICIAL METHODS TO KILL ACTIVISTS, INCLUDING MR NCEBE CASSIUS SNUMA, ONE ‘CASTRO’ AND AN UNIDENTIFIED YOUTH. THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT THESE EXTRA-JUDICIAL KILLINGS CONSTITUTE GROSS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS FOR WHICH THE SAP, THE SADF AND VLAKPLAAS MUST ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY. THE COMMISSION FINDS THE COMMISSIONER OF POLICE, THE MINISTER OF LAW AND ORDER, THE HEAD OF THE SADF AND THE MINISTER OF DEFENCE RESPONSIBLE FOR GROSS VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS.

366 Important new information about the booby-trapped hand grenades has emerged both through the testimony of victims to the Human Rights Violations Committee and through the amnesty applications of senior security force personnel. The evidence reveals the level of co-operation between the covert units of the SAP, Vlakplaas and the SADF Special Forces. In his amnesty application Mr Willem Schoon states that he discussed the booby-trapped hand grenades with Major General Joep Joubert of the SADF Special Forces. He was told that Special Forces were able to reduce the timing device in a hand grenade to zero seconds. These hand grenades were later given to the East Rand activists. The distribution of booby-trapped hand grenades to young activists on the East Rand was seen as a means of re-establishing control over East Rand townships.

367 Eight people were killed in different hand grenade explosions on 26 June 1985. At least seven people were injured. The media announced the following day that the victims had been “on their way to commit acts of terror when they were killed by their own weapons”.

368 In an application for amnesty, Brigadier Jack Cronjé said this had been a propaganda exercise to create the impression that ‘terrorists’ had blown themselves up because they were poorly trained. “Our actions maintained the trust of white voters in the apartheid government and convinced them to vote for this government.” The use of the grenades had the dual benefit of permanently eliminating activists as well as making them appear incompetent, simultaneously undermining the credibility of the ANC’s armed wing, MK, within the township community and boosting the credibility of the South African security forces within the white community.

369 Amnesty applications from senior police officials make it clear that the use of booby-trapped hand grenades was authorised at the highest levels of government, but the exact line of command remains murky. Former Commissioner Johan van der Merwe was second in command of the Security Branch at the time of the hand grenade attack. He claims in his amnesty application that he initiated the project and gained the direct consent of his superiors up to the level of the Minister of Law and Order, Mr Louis le Grange. Police Commissioner Johan Coetzee was reportedly involved in the planning stage of the operation and Van der Merwe reported to him in full on its completion. However, Van der Merwe was reluctant to commit himself as to whether the use of the hand grenades had been approved at a higher level (i.e. the State Security Council) or to comment on a claim by Brigadier Cronjé that Van der Merwe was merely implementing a project initiated by the State President and the Minister of Law and Order.

370 By mid-1985, the use of state-sanctioned murder to contain opposition was well established. Although General van der Merwe does not acknowledge that orders were given to carry out illegal activities, he does state that “the impression was created” that the security forces should use any means necessary to halt the “total onslaught” facing the country:

I can say that if you talk with your people now it seems that the perception did exist that it was expected of them to do a lot more than that which could be done within the parameters of the legal system. Apart from our duties in terms of the Police Act and Regulations our instructions normally came from the State Security Council. What I would like to emphasise that in respect of all instructions coming from the State Security Council all these instructions fell within the ambit of the law. Instructions from the State Security Council, as far as I am aware, were never extra-legal by nature … but if you look at the general perception at the time, the impression was created that the enemy had to be halted at all costs.

371 Brigadier Cronjé, in his testimony, is more explicit about the chain of command:

This instruction was given to me in Springs by General van der Merwe and during this instruction he specifically indicated to me that this came directly from Minister le Grange and that it had indeed been authorised by President PW Botha, as well as Commissioner Johan Coetzee, both of whom knew about this and authorised it … If it should be claimed therefore by anyone that the State Security Council was not aware of the actions of the security forces and the security police or of any specific incidents this would not be true.

372 According to Van der Merwe, the project, which was to become known as ‘Operation Zero Zero’ was initiated in response to intelligence reports which indicated that a group of activists were planning armed attacks on the homes of black policemen living in East Rand townships. The activists were allegedly simply waiting for a consignment of hand grenades from an arms cache before launching their attacks.

373 Van der Merwe states that he was personally in charge of the operation, intercepting the explosives which the activists were to use and modifying their time-delay mechanism before passsing them on to the askaris. The instruction was given to supply the activists with these ‘Zero Zero’ hand grenades.

374 After the incident, violence erupted in Duduza and continued for the next month. At least three people were wounded when police fired birdshot and tear gas to disperse more than 6 000 residents who had gathered around the bodies of the men killed in the hand grenade explosions. Members of the dead men’s families and other residents sat near the bodies and refused to allow police to remove them. After firing tear gas and birdshot to disperse the crowd, the police took the bodies away [see JB02576/01ERKWA].

375 Residents believed a police informant was behind the deaths of the students. At the first funeral, Archbishop Desmond Tutu saved a suspected informer from being necklaced. But at the second funeral, the fury of Duduza was unleashed on Ms Maki Skhosana [JB00289/01ERKWA], suspected of being an informer because of her relationship with one ‘Mike’, who was in fact Vlakplaas operative Joe Mamasela posing as an MK operative (see under Necklacing, below). Soon after Skhosana’s necklacing, State President PW Botha declared a state of emergency on 20 July 1985 affecting thirty-six magisterial districts.

THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT EIGHT PEOPLE WERE KILLED AND SEVEN SERIOUSLY INJURED IN SEPARATE HAND GRENADE AND LIMPET MINE BLASTS ON 25 JUNE 1985. THE COMMISSION FINDS THE FOLLOWING INDIVIDUALS RESPONSIBLE FOR SUPPLYING EAST RAND ACTIVISTS WITH BOOBY-TRAPPED HAND GRENADES AND LIMPET MINES, RESULTING IN GROSS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS: FORMER VLAKPLAAS HEAD WILLEM SCHOON; FORMER SPECIAL FORCES OFFICER, MAJOR GENERAL JOEP JOUBERT; FORMER COMMISSIONER OF POLICE, GENERAL JOHAN VAN DER MERWE; BRIGADIER CRONJÉ; FORMER VLAKPLAAS COMMANDER, EUGENE DE KOCK; VLAKPLAAS ASKARIS DANIEL NKALA AND JOE MAMASELA, AND SPECIAL BRANCH MEMBERS ROELOF VENTER, MARTHINUS DELPORT AND FRANCOIS STEENKAMP. THE COMMISSION FINDS THE FORMER MINISTERS OF DEFENCE AND OF LAW AND ORDER RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ACTIONS OF THEIR OPERATIVES.
 
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