December 1998 to February 1999

Overview of trends during this period

Never an easy task, it is becoming increasingly difficult – if not well nigh impossible – to quantify ‘political’ violence, due to the apparently changing nature of the tactics used to foster conflict. Although dressed up as ‘black on black’ violence in the 1980s, the protagonists could be clearly identified: Persons associated with political parties and those who represented that apartheid State. In the run-up to the 1994 election, the pattern was largely unchanged, except that state-linked aggressors were, in many instances, becoming less easily identifiable as such (as, for example, with the attacks on trains). During the past five years that trend has become more pronounced, with the perpetrators of many of the killings, and their motives, becoming far less obvious. Such acts – which include execution-style killings, and what amounts to wanton terrorism, especially in rural areas – serve political ends, in that democratisation and development are retarded. Violent crime, too, much of it seemingly well organised and linked to members of the security forces, also appears part of a broad destabilisation strategy. In other words, forces opposing South Africa’s transition to a non-racial democracy, and wishing to weaken the country’s government, appear to be still at work (which is not to say that each and every incident of violence is linked to some sinister strategy)

During the three months under review these trends have continued, as has taxi-related feuding and incidents clearly linked to supporters of specific political parties. For what statistics are worth (not a great deal), at least 165 people have died(40 in December, 60 in January and 65 in February). Again it must be stressed that this figure is a rough minimum estimate, based on information which is available at the time of compilation. It does not include many killings in areas such as KwaDukuza and large parts of Pietermaritzburg, where well-organised criminal gangsters conduct their reigns of terror with seeming impunity: Criminality on this scale is simply not possible without collusion on the part of some members of the police. Nor are known deaths in rural areas marked by endemic conflict, which are included, such as those around Greytown, reflective of the total number of people who are dying. A brief breakdown of regional trends follows.

Regional trends

In the NORTH COAST/NORTHERN KZN region, killings, and incidents of arson, continue in a number of places around NONGOMA, where the lack of freedom of political activity was demonstrated when, on 19 February, persons clad in IFP T-shirts disrupted a development-linked function which was attended by King Zwelithini and ANC Public Works Minister Jeff Radebe in eMona. In BABANANGO several murders, and wanton attacks on cattle, appear linked to power struggles in the area, including around the issue of traditional leadership (the local inkosi passed away recently). Two brothers of ANC MPP Mike Mabuyakhulu were murdered in the INGWAVUMA area towards the end of February, and a number of ANC supporters have been threatened and/or attacked in and around PONGOLA.

On 18 February Inkosi Bhekuyise Ngwane was gunned down at MNGOBOKAZI (Hluhluwe). Ngwane, a CONTRALESA member, had been involved in a dispute over chiefship with one of his brothers who, he alleged before he died, had threatened to kill him. He and his family had also been threatened by local security force members; in July 1998 his wife had been assaulted, and had a knife held to her throat, allegedly by members of the security forces. On at least two occasions appeals were made to the police to try to ensure Mr Ngwane’s safety (to no avail, it transpired).

Sporadic incidents of political and/or taxi violence were recorded in a number of other places, including around KWAMBONAMBI, EMPANGENI, MTUNZINI and MANDENI. In KWADUKUZA (formerly Stanger) attacks on SHAKAVILLE township, allegedly by persons from nearby Lindelani, left one person injured and, in a separate incident, three people shot dead (during February).

In the DURBAN FUNCTIONAL REGION, there were sporadic killings in hostels to the north and south of the city itself but, relative to the preceding months, the situation had improved. Intra-ANC struggles left several people dead in INANDA, and taxi-related conflict continued to spill over into the centre of the city (especially the crime-ridden Warwick Avenue triangle)

Sporadic incidents were recorded in the SOUTH COAST areas around UMZINTO and HIBBERDENE, but most of the known attacks in this region took place in areas around PORT SHEPSTONE/MARGATE, IZINGOLWENI and HARDING. There were two massacres just before Christmas 1998: The first in KWAMACI (Harding), where conflict had been endemic for several months, left six men dead; in NOSITA, (an area which had been fairly peaceful for some time) eight family members were gunned down as they gathered for Christmas. Several incidents of arson and death were reported from other Lower South Coast areas, including the killing of five people, in separate incidents on 13 February, in MEHLOMNYAMA.

After some months of peace, RICHMOND sprang into the national and international headlines once again with the murder of UDM leader S’fiso Nkabinde on 23 February. The assassination of Mr Nkabinde was followed, the same evening, by yet another massacre in which eleven people died (see ‘The Richmond investigations’ under Comment, below).

Politically-linked killings and/or tensions continue in a number of other MIDLANDS/INLAND areas, including ESTCOURT/LOSKOP and BERGVILLE (where a struggle over chiefship, with clear political overtones, continues). Large parts of PIETERMARITZBURG,such as Imbali and Dambuza, are ravaged by apparently well orchestrated criminal violence; some appears to be targetting political activists. There were a number of taxi-related killings in LADYSMITH. Of utmost concern is the low intensity war (which incorporates taxi-related violence) which continues, seemingly unchecked (despite the presence of a police unit) in a number of areas to the south, north and east of GREYTOWN, including Mapumulo, Dalton, eTembisweni (where an IFP-aligned induna was amongst those killed in January) and eMatimatolo Large groups of well-armed men roam around, and may even attack security forces. Is it simply a co-incidence that training in the use of arms is reported to have been taking place in this region for the better part of this decade? It is significant, too, that most of the attacks on farmers during the three month period under review occurred in this region – in areas such as Weenen, Kranskop, Pomeroy and Muden. Whilst there has, quite correctly, been a great deal of attention given to dealing with crises in Richmond, the continuing destabilisation of ‘deep’ rural inland areas to the north and south of the Tugela river is not receiving anything like the attention it should from the national government. Whilst most victims are the poor and powerless, no one – including white farmers and holiday-makers – is safe. The apparent neglect of safety and security in rural areas has potentially dire consequences for this province.

Countdown to the 1999 elections :Can they be ‘free and fair’?

What is at issue here is not whether or not people have bar-coded IDs – for, after all, those complaining on this front have had ample time to procure these documents. Crucial to assessing freedom and fairness is the extent to which large numbers of potential voters are allowed to receive information about different political parties Even more importantly, they need to know that by casting their votes they will not be jeopardising their pensions, their houses, or even their lives.

Sadly, political intolerance – evidenced by attacks on, or threats to, persons of a different political persuasion, or the tearing down of party political posters – is still rife in many areas. Posters advertising voter registration may also be removed, and persons conducting voter registration may be harassed. Amongst the areas for which reports of such intolerance have been received during the past three months are Pongola, Nongoma, KwaMbonambi, Ozwateni, Umtwalume and KwaMavundla(Harding).

A major thrust of the post-1994 violence has been directed towards the control of rural areas falling under traditional leaders/amakhosi/chiefs. In the pre-colonial era political functionaries known in Africa as ‘chiefs’ owed their position to a sufficient degree of support from their subjects, who had various means of removing them should they not fulfill their mandate. Colonial governments and, in South Africa the apartheid regime, removed the vestiges of democracy and incorporated traditional leaders into the bureaucracy of government : They became civil servants, whose jobs (and salaries) depended – not on their constituencies – but on the largesse of those who paid them.

When the colonial/apartheid legislation was being dismantled in the early 1990s, the KwaZulu homeland re-enacted key elements of the 1927 Administration Act in its Amakhosi and Iziphakanyiswa Act. Traditional leaders were placed firmly under the control of the provincial authorities (not their subjects) and the right to appoint/suspend/remove them was legally vested with the Chief Minister of the homeland. Post 1994 this function has been taken over by a provincial Minister of Traditional Affairs. The inherent tension between popular support and (provincial) government control (which may be diametrically opposed) remains, and has become exacerbated in a climate in which control over scarce resources, and over development, is a prime means of winning political support (including by coercion) and winning votes.

In a number of areas the utterances and actions (and track records in fanning the flames of violence) of traditional leaders have stifled freedom of political association. The lives of some Amakhosi who allow such freedom – the South Coast areas of KwaXolo and Dududu are but two of several examples – remain in great danger. Also at risk are the lives of leaders who assert their claims in the face of attempts by politicians (acting in accordance with legislation which has its origins in colonial oppression) to decide on who should be leader on the apparent basis of political expediency. The late Bhekuyise Ngwane asserted that his claim to chiefly office had been validated by the Supreme Court – but that the KwaZulu government refused to recognise him. Similarly, Chief T A Hlongwane of Bergville – removed from his position in 1980 for daring to stand up to apartheid – has recently had his position confirmed by the chiefly family council, but is being ignored by the government; he and his supporters fear for their lives.

This ‘traditional’ institution thus has little to do with pan-African cultural values that ‘a chief is a chief by his people’ – and everything to do with colonial/apartheid-imposed controls which continue to serve vested political interests and objectives. The end result of the increasing politicisation of chiefship, accompanied in some places by endemic violence, is that fear and repression – which is inimical to political freedom – is more pronounced than it was in 1994.

Is a Commission of Enquiry the solution to the problem of violence?

Representatives of different political parties have been calling for a Commission of Enquiry into the violence in this province for some time. Recently the IFP has attempted – unsuccessfully, following Supreme Court intervention – to establish a Commission to investigate allegations by one of its representatives against an ANC provincial minister. At the same time, the national government has indicated that it is giving serious consideration to setting up a Commission to look into the causes of violence in the province.

It should be pointed out that both the Goldstone Commission and the Truth and Reconciliation uncovered a great deal of information which has a direct bearing on the root causes of the violence, and some of the material has a direct bearing on what is still happening. Much of this material has not received the attention it should have – particularly with regard to the deployment of security force personnel, especially police, in this province. There are also a number of important prosecutions which should have taken place by now – including those being handled by Gauteng-based investigators. Cases have reportedly been withdrawn, and a couple of sacrificial lambs in the persons of Eugene de Kock and Ferdie Barnard have served to deflect public attention from other serious matters which have a direct bearing on what continues to happen in this province.

In other words, we have had large, expensive Commissions, which have uncovered a great deal of information which, for a number of reasons (including coverups) has not been fully utilised. What lessons are to be learnt from these exercises – and what could a new Commission hope to achieve?

Obviously, any Commission will stand or fall on the integrity and expertise of the person or persons who head it. Political nonpartisanship (including any connections with apartheid justice structures) is also a prerequisite for the position/s. What should be avoided is the ‘reinvention of the wheel’ option, in which some large, costly body would take months to accumulate evidence and issue a report. The aim should be a fairly small, cost-effective structure which would have wide powers to follow up, immediately, on information which has a bearing on the violence – whether it is reports of paramilitary training, the movement of weapons, or coverups in investigations. In other words, it should be a reputable ‘lean and mean’ judicial body, with at least one Judge or senior advocate who would have the power to access police documentation. Great care would need to be taken with staffing, because experience of various similar bodies suggests that it is at this level that harmful leakage and sophisticated coverups occur. The example of gun controls is one of the areas such a Commission could oversee.

Gun control : The number one priority

Whilst news of proposed amendments to gun control legislation is welcome, it may well be a case of ‘too little, too late’ – for the problem is that even existing legislation is not being properly implemented. For example, people (especially those linked to endemic violence in the communities concerned, walk around openly armed (sometimes with more than one gun, one of more of which may be automatic/semi-automatic) yet no action is taken by the security forces (who may claim that these weapons are ‘legal’) that weapons can be acquired quite easily from nearby territories such as Mozambique is fairly common knowledge – and border controls appear to be very lax successful prosecutions do not necessarily follow when guns are removed by army and police – and these weapons may re-circulate guns ‘disappear’ from supposedly safe storage in police stations Vlakplaas weapons of war – including mines and rocket launchers – are presumably still in this province Judging from the number of cases in which police and army members shoot each other and members of the public, many appear unfit to carry weapons (and off duty members are themselves killed, seemingly for their guns The private security industry has mushroomed, and has access to large quantities of weapons. At the same time the credentials of many of these companies appear extremely suspect, and regulation of their activities is minimal. The magnitude of this problem is such that it simply cannot be left to the police alone to deal with – especially as they have shown themselves unwilling or unable to do so.

Incidents of crimes such as hijackings would decline rapidly if anything like a proper effort were made to deal with weapon proliferation.

If a Judicial commission can do something about cover-ups at the level of policing, and about implementing controls over guns and security companies it will have served a useful purpose.

The Richmond investigations

A recent NIM/HRC report, which synthesises relevant information from the TRC investigations, is a useful compilation on the role of the security forces in Richmond. However, the recommendations it makes are not necessarily realistic, particularly insofar as the establishment of a judicial body to hear evidence of alleged police complicity in Richmond violence is concerned. The model of the Shobashobane Inquiry – which is hearing evidence about policing issues related to the massacre – is used as an exemplar. Whilst the Shobashobane inquiry is indeed yielding valuable insights about what happened at that time, it is not practical, given the extremely limited resources – in terms of competent personpower and finance – for policing and justice -to set up a similar commission for Richmond. For one thing, the problems of Richmond are by no means unique – similar issues are in need of investigation all over the province. Furthermore, the lesson learnt from the Shobashobane Inquiry is that it is extremely costly: Police members have a number of top legal teams at their disposal, at taxpayers’ expense – but money has to be raised independently(and increasingly difficult task) to cover even a small legal team for the victims. Without lawyers acting for the victims little progress is likely to be made in a commission of this nature. Similarly, in principle, there is nothing wrong with recommending that investigations be ‘intelligence driven’; the reality is, however, that the composition of some of the intelligence units operating in this province – in terms of the backgrounds of certain members – is itself hugely problematic.

The NIM/HRC report also recommends that all dockets be channelled through the recently appointed Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions – which appears to be happening. Again, this may seem a reasonable proposal but in practice it appears to have led to potentially serious problems in terms of the impact on the morale of black police members. It should be noted that police members who were investigating in the Richmond area before the arrival of Mr McAdam had made a number of breakthroughs in investigations – and that the latter months of 1998 had been relatively peaceful ones.

There are extremely sensitive issues here in terms of the racial composition of investigating units – for, unfortunately, due to the lack of meaningful transformation, perceptions based on race still hold sway within the SAPS. One of the carry-overs from apartheid has been the racial nature of command structures in specialised units, including detectives : Whites (and sometimes Indians)are in command, and Africans – who do the bulk of the work in African areas – are in subservient positions. The VIU headed by Captain Mandla Vilakazi was, until the latter part of 1998, the exception – an exception which certain members of police management strove hard to remove. During the latter part of 1998 African members were appointed to head other VIUs, including in Richmond. The changes which have been initiated since Mr McAdam took control of the Richmond investigations have – no doubt unintentionally – been extremely hurtful for African members. There is a perception that the long-standing pattern (including in Richmond) of removing dockets from credible African detectives is continuing, and that, in typical baaskap fashion, Africans are only required to play a junior, subservient role, whilst others take credit for their work.

There is yet another disturbing development in investigative work, which relates to the use of lie-detectors (polygraphs). From press reports it seems that witnesses who had come forward were considered unreliable because they had failed lie-detector tests. Subjecting witnesses to such tests raises a number of extremely serious questions, as to whether they – and the community from which they came – were fully informed about the nature of such testing, and their permission was obtained (surely a basic ethical consideration when witnesses come forward voluntarily).

The time is overdue for the mythology of polygraphs to be exposed. These tests rest on the fundamental premise that physiological processes (such as blood pressure and heart beat), which are closely linked to emotional states, may fluctuate in situations of stress – the assumption being that telling lies will cause people stress. The truth of the matter is that the very process of being connected to such machinery may be extremely stressful – especially for relatively unsophisticated people – and that the stress they are experiencing may be erroneously interpreted as due to their lying. Conversely, emotionally shallow people such as psychopaths may sail through such tests! It is generally acknowledged that if polygraphs are to be administered they must be accompanied by extremely skillful questioning – and that even then the results are not conclusive, but merely point in a certain direction. Unless certain ethical and professional guidelines are followed, such tests are nothing better than trial-by-ordeal used to obtain confessions from supposed witches!

FINALLY, SOUTH AFRICANS MUST TAKE EVERY CARE THAT THEY DO NOT LOSE THEIR HARD-WON GAINS IN CONSTITUTIONALLY-ENTRENCHED HUMAN RIGHTS. MOVES BY THE POLICE TO RESTRICT INFORMATION ARE REGRESSIVE AND UNACCEPTABLE – AND UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD THE SECURITY FORCES BE GIVEN ANY MORE POWERS THROUGH THE PASSING OF ADDITIONAL ‘ANTI-TERRORIST’ LEGISLATION.