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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 652

Paragraph Numbers 460 to 469

Volume 3

Chapter 6

Subsection 64

KwaNdebele: Imbokodo

460 The Commission held a special hearing in Moutse, KwaNdebele, in 1996 to focus on the conflict in and around this homeland, and the operation of vigilante groups, notably Imbokodo and Inkatha. Imbokodo’s role was to realise the KwaNdebele government’s aspiration for independence through the forcible incorporation of Moutse, which would make the homeland a more viable geographic and political entity. At Leandra in the eastern Transvaal, the Inkatha vigilante group was similarly trying to coerce residents to accept incorporation into KwaNdebele.

461 The political conflict over independence and incorporation which engulfed the KwaNdebele area from mid-1985 until 1988 became, in effect, a civil war. Human rights violations – committed by a variety of individuals and groups on all sides of the conflict – were numerous and widespread. Scores of people were killed, not only by the security forces deployed to repress the unrest, but also by erstwhile neighbours, fellow students, business colleagues, and even family members. KwaNdebele’s limited infrastructure was razed to the ground in a matter of months. Schools stood empty, shops and offices were gutted and entire communities lived in fear. By the winter of 1986, KwaNdebele had been irrevocably changed.

462 At the very centre of this maelstrom was a vigilante organisation known as Imbokodo (‘the grinding stone’), led by the homeland’s political and economic elite. Imbokodo was formed as a vigilante organisation with the support of the South African government to assert the dominance of the KwaNdebele elite and to achieve the political goals of independence and incorporation. Its members carried out daring and brutal attacks in which hundreds of ordinary residents were viciously

assaulted and publicly humiliated. The resentment and anger that followed such operations radicalised a previously apolitical population and was a significant cause of the unrest. However, once the conflict had begun, ‘comrades’ ruthlessly and methodically attacked suspected Imbokodo members and their families. Scores of suspects were summarily killed, often by the infamous necklace method.

463 At the hearing in Moutse, over 250 statements were made to the Commission regarding the conflict in KwaNdebele and Moutse in the mid-1980s. Collectively, the statements include almost 700 reports of gross violations. Of the 421 alleged incidents in which deponents have named perpetrators, over half list Imbokodo as the responsible organisation. These include allegations of Imbokodo involvement in seventeen deaths. ‘Comrades’ or ANC members are identified as alleged perpetrators in 14 per cent of the statements, including twenty-four killings. Amongst residents who approached the Commission, at least thirty-four victims had ties to Imbokodo or to the former KwaNdebele government. Together, their statements document twenty murders, all of which involved the burning of the deceased’s body. At least nineteen of the deponents claimed that their residential and/or business properties were completely destroyed in arson attacks.

464 Vigilante activity was not new to the area. Earlier vigilante activity had targeted perceived agitators. When Imbokodo began their raids, entire communities were targeted, leading to widespread and indiscriminate assaults on residents. Although earlier vigilante activity enjoyed the express approval of the royal family, and as a result was accepted as legitimate by a large sector of the population, the actions of Imbokodo were denounced by the royal family and were clearly unacceptable to the vast majority of KwaNdebele residents. In the changed circumstances of the mid-1980s, vigilantism became a source of conflict rather than a means of diffusing it.

465 On balance, it is clear that the Imbokodo was a central protagonist in the KwaNdebele conflict. Its members were both perpetrators and victims of the violence that engulfed and nearly destroyed the homeland. Although not directly established or controlled by the South African government, politicians and policy-makers in Pretoria failed to act against the Imbokodo even when their officials on the ground encouraged them to do so.

466 On 1 January 1986, a large number of Imbokodo members (and KwaNdebele men forcibly enlisted for the day) attacked the Moutse villages of Moteti and Kgobokoane. In their effort to repel the invasion, Moutse residents killed a number of vigilantes. These included four Imbokodo members suspected of trying to abduct the Bantoane chief at the royal kraal in Kwarrielaagte, Moutse. Approximately 360 Moutse residents were abducted from their homes and taken to the community hall in Siyabuswa where they were subjected to up to thirty-six hours of torture and ritual humiliation. While chanting Imbokodo slogans, the victims were forced to perform physical exercises until they collapsed. They were subsequently stripped naked and publicly sjambokked on a concrete floor covered with soapy water.

467 On 28 April, Imbokodo members surrounded the Mandlethu High School in Vlaklaagte No. 1, leading to clashes between students and vigilantes. The police eventually intervened to separate the two groups. After the Imbokodo were escorted from the area, the students returned home peacefully. That night, however, the Imbokodo returned and engaged in a house-to-house raid in the village. Those of school-going age were especially targeted. A number of youth were loaded into cars and bakkies and taken to Emagezini, a small industrial complex in Kwaggafontein, where they were assaulted with a variety of weapons. Many were severely wounded.

468 Mr Jacob Skosana, a father of eight, was the only adult taken to Emagezini. When rumours reached him that one of his daughters had been taken from school by the vigilantes, Mr Skosana allegedly confronted various Imbokodo members about his daughter’s whereabouts. That night a group of men abducted him from his home. Early the next morning, Skosana’s body was dumped back in the yard of his home, but surrounded by fire so that his family could not retrieve it immediately. The body had allegedly been mutilated.

469 Mr Skosana’s funeral drew thousands. When the police arrived, reportedly with SADF back-up, they ordered the assembled crowd to disperse immediately. Soon afterwards they fired on the mourners with birdshot, rubber bullets and tear gas, creating panic in the crowd. Ms Sarah Mthimunye (19) [JB02212/01MPMPL] was run over by a bus when its driver was overcome by the tear gas. Many others were injured in the mêlée. That night, ‘comrades’ began burning businesses owned by suspected Imbokodo members and MPs in the KwaNdebele legislative assembly.

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