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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 280

Paragraph Numbers 1 to 8

Volume 4

Chapter 9

Subsection 15



1 Bonteheuwel is a coloured township situated north of Cape Town. It was created in the 1960s as a repository for coloured people who had been forced to move out of Cape Town as a result of the Group Areas Act. By the mid-1980s, it had become a site both of student political activism and very high crime rates.

2 In 1984, the Bonteheuwel Inter-Schools Congress (BISCO) was formed to co-ordinate the activities of the various student representative councils (SRCs) which were rallying around issues of inequalities in apartheid schooling and the repression of legitimate political protest. BISCO became the target of security force repression and, in October 1985, along with 101 other organisations, was prohibited from organising or holding any gatherings. A number of BISCO leaders, including Ashley Kriel and Gary Holtzman, were detained and subsequently went into hiding.

3 It was in this context that the “formation of a militant body to co-ordinate and intensify revolutionary activities, especially at the Bonteheuwel High Schools”1 was conceived by BISCO members. At a meeting in 1985, it was decided to form a structure that would protect the community of Bonteheuwel, render Bonteheuwel ungovernable and ‘hit out’ against any organ of the state. This structure became the Bonteheuwel Military Wing (BMW). The vast majority of its active members were students between the ages of fourteen and eighteen years of age.

4 While the formation of the BMW was not part of the strategic plan of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the Western Cape, its emergence was welcomed and endorsed by the organisation. Desmond Grootboom, former UDF chairperson of the Bonteheuwel area committee, said:

We were very aware and conscious of the BMW. We obviously approved…. The BMW was very much part of the struggle family… there was an understanding that they fell under the political leadership of the UDF. However, it was not a situation of command control.2

5 In time, however, the BMW became increasingly independent, operating as a paramilitary organisation outside the formal discipline of the UDF. The relationship between the UDF and the BMW became strained as ideologies and modus operandi diverged.

6 In addition to links with the UDF, the BMW developed very close alliances with the African National Congress (ANC) and Umkhonto weSizwe (MK). A number of young BMW members were recruited into MK and underwent military training either outside South Africa or within existing MK cells in the Western Cape. Most of this training took the form of short ‘crash courses’ in the use of arms and explosives. Those who attended the courses were afterwards expected to return to the BMW and pass on their training to others. The BMW was armed from a number of sources, including arms stolen from policemen, bought from local gangsters, supplied by MK operatives in South Africa or smuggled into the country by BMW members returning from training in exile. Weapons ranged from homemade ‘zipguns’ to hand grenades and rocket launchers.

7 The BMW launched a number of operations, including attacks on vehicles belonging mainly to the state and private companies, attacks on security force personnel and attacks on installations such as police stations, post offices and railway stations. In the course of these attacks, a number of individuals were seriously injured or killed.

8 Eventually, the BMW acquired a reputation that made it the focus of security force attention: “Hierdie aktieviste leiers is die kern van die probleem en hul verwydering is noodsaaklik”.3 (These activist leaders are the core of the problem and their removal is essential.) In 1986, a number of special unrest investigation units were set up to address the ‘unrest’ problems in the Western Cape; the Athlone unit was responsible for infiltrating and halting the activities of the BMW.

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