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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 631

Paragraph Numbers 376 to 381

Volume 3

Chapter 6

Subsection 53

Ambushes

376 At an amnesty hearing in Pietersburg, new information emerged about an operation which led to the killing of six MK members in an ambush near the Botswana border in 1987.

377 Former Northern Transvaal security police chief, Colonel Willem van der Merwe, stated that he was involved in a plan to provide police transport for a group of MK insurgents who wanted to enter the country from Botswana on 10 July 1986.

378 “The idea was to keep track of the activities of such groups, and to eventually arrest them inside South Africa,” he said. In this particular case, the plan had been to halt the vehicle carrying the insurgents at a roadblock. Several police units and members of Five Reconnaissance Battalion based at Phalaborwa were involved. Sergeant Mathews Sehlwana, the driver of the minibus, was briefed on his role. The plan was to lob a tear gas canister into the vehicle to force the insurgents to surrender. Sehlwana was to jump out of the vehicle and seek shelter. “We believed that, with a show of force, we would be able to arrest them,” Van der Merwe said. Although not actively involved in the operation, he supervised the formulation of the plan.

379 Sehlwana said his task as a member of the security police was to gather information about the movements of ANC insurgents planning cross-border raids from Botswana. Informants told him six infiltrators were seeking transport to South Africa. He offered to assist them, saying his father was a taxi-owner. According to official documentation before the amnesty committee, three of the victims were identified as Mr WT Alset [JB04421/02PS], Mr LM Moloi and Mr TR Mogashoa. The other three were not identified. At the time, Sehlwana was operating as a member of an anti-insurgency unit commanded by Captain Koos van der Berg. He informed Van der Berg of the infiltration plan. According to testimony heard by the Commission, two of the insurgents were planning to bomb the Checkers shopping complex in Pietersburg, two wanted to get to Phalaborwa, and the remaining two were heading for Johannesburg. The police ambush was carefully rehearsed, and Sehlwana went ahead with an arrangement to pick up the six men in a minibus provided by the police. Sehlwana said he was under the impression the insurgents would be arrested.

380 On 10 July 1987 he picked up the six men at a prearranged spot near Alldays in Northern Province and drove to a bridge where his colleagues were waiting. He testified that the insurgents were armed with automatic rifles and grenades and opened fire when they were attacked. All six MK operatives were killed in the shoot-out.

381 Van der Merwe said he was shocked to hear on the day of the operation that the plan had gone awry. The findings of an inquest, ordered at the time, did not reflect what happened at the scene of the shooting, he contended. In applying for amnesty in respect of this incident, Van der Merwe said he believed he and the other security policemen had acted lawfully in terms of existing legislation. “Our task was to prevent the violent overthrow of the government.” Van der Merwe confirmed having authorised a R2 000 payment to Sehlwana for having done a “good job”.

THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT A NUMBER OF ACTIVISTS LEAVING OR ENTERING THE COUNTRY WERE KILLED IN AMBUSHES BY THE SADF AND SAP NEAR THE BORDERS WITH SWAZILAND, MOZAMBIQUE, LESOTHO AND BOTSWANA. A NUMBER OF AMNESTY APPLICANTS, INCLUDING SPECIAL BRANCH MEMBERS AND COVERT GROUPS SUCH AS VLAKPLAAS MEMBERS HAVE ADMITTED AMBUSHING AND KILLING SUCH ACTIVISTS. THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT ON 10 JULY 1987, SIX ANC MEMBERS WERE AMBUSHED AT ALLDAYS AND SHOT DEAD BY POLICE. THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT THE KILLING CONSTITUTES GROSS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS FOR WHICH THE MINISTER OF LAW AND ORDER, THE COMMISSIONER OF POLICE AND THE FORMER STATE MUST ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY.
THE COMMISSION FINDS, AS A RESULT OF EXHUMATIONS, THAT A NUMBER OF CADRES WERE TORTURED AND KILLED AFTER HAVING BEEN ABDUCTED. EXHUMATIONS HAVE REVEALED THAT SUCH CADRES WERE SHOT DEAD WITHOUT ANY ATTEMPT TO DEAL WITH THEM IN A JUDICIAL MANNER. THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT LOWER-RANKING OPERATIVES, NOTING THE STATE SECURITY COUNCIL’S USE OF COUNTER-INSURGENCY STRATEGIES AGAINST THOSE IT CONSIDERED A THREAT, INTERPRETED THIS TO MEAN THAT SUCH CADRES SHOULD BE KILLED. THE COMMISSION FINDS THE MINISTER OF LAW AND ORDER, THE MINISTER OF DEFENCE AND THE HEAD OF THE STATE SECURITY COUNCIL RESPONSIBLE FOR GROSS HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS.
THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT THE FORMER STATE CONTRACTED WITH A NUMBER OF FUNERAL UNDERTAKERS’ FIRMS TO BURY CADRES WHO WERE SHOT IN AMBUSHES OR EXECUTED EXTRAJUDICIALLY. THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT THE UNDERTAKERS COLLUDED WITH THE STATE IN MANY CASES TO CONCEAL THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF DEATH OF SUCH CADRES FROM THEIR FAMILIES AND THE PUBLIC AT LARGE.
THE COMMISSION FINDS SUCH UNDERTAKERS, THE MINISTER OF LAW AND ORDER AND THE MINISTER OF DEFENCE RESPONSIBLE FOR THE SEVERE ILL TREATMENT OF THE FAMILIES OF THESE CADRES.
 
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