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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 256

Paragraph Numbers 28 to 39

Volume 4

Chapter 9

Subsection 4

Inter- and intra-community violence

28 Until 1985, casualties were mainly the result of security force action. From 1987, however, vigilantism began to make an appearance. Dr Max Coleman, who made a presentation at the hearing in Gauteng, argued that:

The destabilisation strategy was cold-blooded, calculated, deliberate ... it was about a collusion between various elements who had an interest in maintaining the status quo or at least retaining the power which they had from the apartheid system.

29 Vigilantes were recruited from the ranks of the homeland authorities, black local authorities, black police officers and those who wished to protect existing social hierarchies. The state colluded with vigilante organisations in order to destabilise resistance organisations. As migrant hostel dwellers were drawn into the conflict with youth, vigilante attacks came to reflect class, ethnic and geographic differences.

30 Many vigilante attacks were rooted in intergenerational conflicts. Some men saw the dramatic surge of women and youth to political prominence as a threat to the patriarchal hierarchies of age and gender. Young people were perceived to be undermining the supremacy of traditional leaders who saw it as their duty to restrain them. Vigilantes mobilised around slogans such as, ‘discipline the children’, and frequently described themselves as ‘fathers’.

31 The Witdoeke of Crossroads were typical. They called themselves ‘fathers’ and saw children as having become disrespectful of their authority. In Welkom, another vigilante group, the Pakathis, organised in opposition to student boycotts and street resistance. Their rallying cry was, ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. In Zolani, a group of men began enforcing curfews and assaulting children after the commencement of a school boycott in 1985. The Peacemakers of Grahamstown acted against school children engaged in boycotts. There are many examples of such vigilante activities.

32 Vigilantism coincided with the state strategy of creating ‘oil spots’ – that is, establishing strategic bases in townships as a means of regaining control of the population. A second aspect of the strategy involved the co-option of leaders, the counter-organisation of communities and the formation of counter-guerrilla groups. The state supported many vigilante groups by providing funding and training.

33 Large numbers of youth, whether politically active or not, were affected by the violence, especially those who lived near the hostels. In many cases, the responsibility for protecting their homes and streets fell on children. Some young people turned their attention to the defence of their communities6, redirecting their energies into the formation of self-defence units that were, in their view, justified by vigilante attacks.

34 Vigilantism was characterised by sudden attacks by an enemy who was frequently a member of the same community. In some cases, families were targeted because their sons had joined self-defence units. Self-defence units were forced to adopt weaponry that was more sophisticated; their knives and pangas 7 were unable to keep the well-armed vigilante forces at bay. In the 1990s, the conflict between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) intensified and vigilante attacks increased. In KwaZulu-Natal, in particular, young people were forced to flee to the cities in fear of their lives.

35 Mr Potwalo Saboshego, a seventeen year old activist from the East Rand, spoke of the acquisition of weapons and explosives which were believed to be necessary for purposes of self defence:

The issue of explosives ... they were given to us by some reliable sources because we have to protect ourselves. So that if we see an enemy we should be able to fight - because people were shot at. Some of my friends were just shot.

36 The weapon sources were not always reliable, however. As reported elsewhere, young people often faced the risk that the weapons they received had been booby-trapped by the security forces.

37 The submission of the Inter-Church Youth, based in the Eastern Cape, defended the involvement of young people in violence. Effectively, they saw themselves as ‘soldiers’ and ‘heroes’, fighting against an enemy. The submission conceded that youth were both directly and indirectly involved in killings and the demolition of property.

We were part of this as the church youth. One needs to emphasise that this was justifiable for the cause of our liberation.

38 Some young people were recruited into vigilante activities by, for example, being offered money to attack the homes of activists. Two youths from Thokoza admitted to having been recruited by the police for this purpose. Young people were also manipulated by state projects such as the Eagles, which was founded in the early 1980s and came into conflict with organisations like the South African Youth Congress (SAYCO). Groups like the Eagles were involved in activities such as assisting the police to identify activists, launching arson attacks and disrupting political meetings. In 1991, the Eagles were exposed as an official state project.

39 Many of South Africa’s young people grew up in an atmosphere of imminent danger. They lived with the painful reality of losing loved ones and family members and were often conscious of the burden of responsibility they carried for the lives of others. Their lives were characterised by fear and insecurity. Because the state made no distinction between public and private space, their homes did not provide them with a safe haven. Many children were on the run because they feared for their lives and suffered grave disruptions to their education and development.

6 Submission by the South African Human Rights Commission, ‘Human Rights Violations by the Apartheid State against Children and Youth’, 12 June 1997. 7 A panga is large, broad-bladed knife, used for cutting cane.
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