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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 651
Paragraph Numbers 33 to 47
33. An analysis of the information received by the Commission confirms that there were no actions of note taken by MK inside South Africa during the period 1964 to 1975.
34. The period 1976 to 1984, however, saw a steady rise in the number of armed attacks. The Commission recorded a total of 265 incidents in this regard.
35. Another notable feature of this period are attacks on police stations and police officers, who were deemed to be collaborators and were therefore seen as legitimate targets for execution.
36. David Simelane and Obed Masina, for example, were granted amnesty for the killing of Sergeant Orphan Hlubi Chapi outside his Soweto home in June 1978. It was, however, the formation of the ANC Special Operations Unit in 1979 that led to the launch of several high-profile attacks on police stations, state infrastructure and a major attack on SADF personnel, namely the Church Street bombing. Here a car bomb placed outside the South African Air Force headquarters in Pretoria led to the deaths of nineteen people. In terms of the numbers of casualties, this was the most devastating attack by MK in its entire history. The Commission received amnesty applications for a total of seventy-nine incidents carried out by this unit during this period.6 3
37. The amnesty applications reveal that, whilst orders were given in certain cases, t a rgets were for the most part selected by the unit in question. For example, Mr Maake, a member of the Nchabaleng unit which operated around Kwandabele, was responsible for the death of a local police officer. Maake testified at his amnesty hearing that decisions about specific operations were taken by the unit itself. Mr Shoke, a member of another unit, testified that:
What you must understand that guerrillas as opposed in fact to conventional forces, we exercise what we call command initiative, you rely on the initiative of the individual and everybody in MK was being prepared in fact to become a Commander.
38. Whilst some units testified to the fact that decisions were taken by consensus, there is no doubt that that a number of civilians were killed because of the individualised nature of target selection. In addition, assassinations frequently targeted police officers or individuals perceived to be collaborators with the former state. For example, the members of the elimination unit (‘Icing Unit’) engaged in six operations, including three assassinations, before they were caught in September 1986.
39. Evidence before the Commission in respect of targets indicates that attacks were aimed primarily at the state and its organs and those who were branded as collaborators, and that it was not ANC policy to engage in operations that deliberately targeted civilians. In his amnesty hearing, Aboobaker Ismail testified as follows:
We never set out deliberately to attack civilian targets. We followed the political objectives of the African National Congress in the course of a just struggle. However in the course of a war, life is lost, and the injury to and the loss of life of innocent civilians becomes inevitable. The challenge before us was to avoid indiscriminate killing and to focus on security forces.
40. Yet, despite the stated intentions and the clear policy of the ANC with regard to the selection of targets, the majority of these casualties were civilians.
41. Another facet of MK operations was the targeting of those regarded as collaborators. These included police officers, their family members, councillors, state witnesses in trials, and suspected informers. In terms of the Geneva Conventions and Protocol I to the Conventions, all of these killings are regarded as grave breaches and therefore constitute ‘war crimes’ in terms of the definitions.
42. In the submission made by the ANC to the Commission in response to its findings, the ANC made it clear that they re g a rded spies as legitimate targ e t s for killings. In addition, they raised the fact that civilians killed in the course of attacks on military targets were permissible collateral damage.
43 . After its Kabwe Conference, the ANC hardened its stance on civilians. The ANC stated in its submission to the Commission that the Kabwe Conference : reaffirmed ANC policy with regard to targets considered legitimate: SADF and SAP personnel and installations, selected economic installations and administrative infrastructure. But the risk of civilians being caught in the crossfire when such operations took place could no longer be allowed to prevent the urgently needed, all round intensification of the armed struggle. The focus of the armed operations had to shift towards striking directly at enemy personnel, and the struggle had to move out of the townships to the white areas.
44. Testimony from amnesty applicants indicates that they clearly saw civilian casualties as a necessary consequence of military operations, almost an acceptable form of collateral damage.
45. It is equally clear that action was rarely taken against operatives or units who w e re responsible for these breaches of humanitarian law. Whilst the ANC acknowledged in its submission that a number of attacks carried out by MK w e re not in line with ANC policy, it is clear that the operatives concerned were not censured, nor were they repudiated by the movement. The ANC did, however, seek to educate the rank and file on what constituted ANC policy.
46. There is no doubt, however, that as the number of civilian casualties began to rise, ANC President Oliver Tambo and the leadership of the ANC became gravely concerned. In 1987, Mr Tambo expressed his concern about the number of unnecessary civilian casualties resulting from the landmine campaign and ordered that all cadres be fully educated about ANC policy with regard to legitimate targets. Failure to comply with these orders would be considered violations of policy and action would be taken against offenders.
47. In 1988, the NEC issued a statement on the conduct of the armed struggle and e x pressed its concern at the recent spate of attacks on civilians. Whilst amnesty applicants were fairly sanguine about the legitimacy of their targ e t s , the political leadership was clearly concern e d .63 See Section Th r e e, Chapter Two in this volume.