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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 722
Paragraph Numbers 712 to 717
712 The ANC SDUs that emerged in townships on the Reef in 1991 were composed largely of politicised youth, sometimes armed with guns but often with home-made weapons (quashes) or other objects. In a number of townships on the East Rand, residents had agreed to pay R20 per household to SDUs in return for the protection of their neighbourhood. However, these ‘donations’ were extracted in an increasingly coercive fashion and the amount steadily escalated.
713 In addition, SDUs became increasingly embroiled in internal conflict and territorial disputes, leading, in the most extreme circumstances, to the mass execution of rival units. The SDUs also increasingly took on the role of self-appointed ‘community police’, often becoming violent moral arbiters in community disputes. In theory, SDUs were community-based neighbourhood patrols and permitted as such under the National Peace Accord. In practice, however, there was no satisfactory system of control and accountability. SDUs easily degenerated into bands of armed young men using their guns to control territory, women and resources. SDUs were infiltrated by numerous police informers and, in many instances, drifted into criminal practices. Towards the end of 1992, the ANC took steps to halt the extortion, car hijackings, rape, robbery and summary executions that had become associated with the SDUs. These steps were only partially effective.
714 The Commission received approximately 150 amnesty applications from SDU members on the East Rand, primarily from members of Thokoza and Phola Park units. Among these are Mr Michael Phama, a police informant who was involved in organising an attack by the Thokoza SDU that led to the death of at least sixteen Inkatha supporters. Amnesty applicants included a chief commander, sixteen sectional commanders, the entire membership of the ‘Committee of Seven’ from Lusaka Section A, and approximately ninety ‘ordinary’ members of the SDUs.
715 A submission to the Commission by the Thokoza branch of the ANC indicates that fourteen sections, including the Phola Park squatter camp, under the control of the central command structure in this township. However, it is clear that the level of political control exerted over SDUs, particularly at a local level, was uneven and a number operated with increasing independence and little political mandate. Attempts to regain control over increasingly recalcitrant SDUs often resulted in further violence.
716 Sectional heads of SDUs who applied to the Commission for amnesty acknowledged that they were not always successful in establishing their political authority and that sometimes decisions about the activities of SDUs were taken in a variety of forums and circumstances, outside the official SDU command structure. Local community pressure appears to have had a significant influence on decisions made by local SDUs. For example, the ‘committee of seven’ cite a 1993 mass meeting where there was a decision to adopt the slogan, ‘a killer must be killed’. Members of the community would call on SDU members to act against alleged ‘informers’. This may have meant holding a ‘people’s court’ and/or organising an execution.
717 The ANC Thokoza branch submission to the Commission acknowledges responsibility for such ‘excesses’ and admits that SDUs initiated attacks against, rather than simply defended themselves from, the IFP and security forces. However, the submission does not acknowledge the extent to which coercive and violent practices by SDUs became pervasive, particularly as conflict intensified.