Although South Africa’s inquiry into public violence last April denied there was evidence of a “third force” operating in the country, it did not, as the South African government first claimed, clear the country’s security forces of complicity in the violence. The Commission of Inquiry Regarding the Prevention of Public Violence and Intimidation, popularly known as the Goldstone Commission, did report that it had been unable to uncover evidence of a third force “existing as a sinister and secret organization orchestrating political violence on a wide front.” The government chose to interpret this as exonerating the state’s security forces from either causing the violence or being complicit in it. However, in doing so, the government was ignoring what the report did, in fact, say – that the police force and army which for many decades “have been instruments of oppression by successive white governments in maintaining a society predicated upon racial discrimination,” were actually one of the chief causes of violence.

Indeed, the government sought to shape opinion to its own purposes by not releasing, for a whole month, the actual report to the other parties in the convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA, then the country’s principle negotiating forum) or to the general public. By underplaying the role of the security forces in the violence, the government sought instead to present the political rivalry between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) as being the chief cause of what has simplistically become known as “black on black” violence.

For its part, the IFP readily accepted the government’s official communique. It was left to the ANC to repudiate the report (at least as it was presented in the government communiqué) as providing a misleading explanation of the causes of the violence which had afflicted the country for almost eight years. The controversy surrounding the government’s release of the report was only settled by the intervention of Justice Goldstone who publicly stated the Commission’s findings and thus demonstrated that the government had not provided the full contents of the report.

For the report did in fact reveal “a history over some years of state complicity in undercover activities which include criminal conduct.” “Those activities,” the report continued, “have enabled critics of the government and others, fairly or unfairly, to place the blame for much of the violence at the door of the security forces. That and the well-documented criminal conduct by individual members of the South African police and the KwaZulu police exacerbate the perceptions of the many South Africans that the government or its agencies are active parties responsible for the violence”!

This approach helped take the discussion of any “third force” outside the framework of a discussion cast in legalistic and organizational/conspiratorial terms and placed it in a more broadly sociological and political context were the real determinants of violence in South Africa – not least the state’s own active role in sustaining it – can be identified.

Alternative explanations

There are two main explanations of the present violence in South Africa. The first – it is, as noted, that of the de Klerk government – is that the violence is a manifestation of the struggle for hegemony between the IFP and the ANC. Moreover, exponents of this view allege that historically-based ethnic animosities, in this case between Xhosas and Zulus, exacerbate the conflict. The assumptions by this camp are that the ANC is predominantly Xhosa in character while the IFP is a Zulu nationalist organization. This interpretation removes the state from the centre of the violence and makes the latter an ethnic or tribal “black on black” confrontation. Hence, whereas the Goldstone Commission cited the political conflict between the ANC and the IFP as one cause of the ongoing violence, the government singled this out as the main cause in its official communique, cited above.

There is, of course, no denying that the present conflict is political in nature, and that behind the violence lies the struggle for power and control. But to understand this in the government’s terms would be a mistake. In the first instance, the IFP in its historical and present structural position does not have an organic existence outside of the state apparatus. Secondly, the ethnic allegation cannot explain the nature and dynamics of the violence. Empirically, for example, there is no evidence of ethnic conflict among settled residents in the townships on the Reef where the violence has been concentrated over the past two years. Rather the violence has been between Inkatha-aligned hostel dwellers and the township communities or residents in informal settlements. Moreover, in Natal, where the violence has its longest history, the African population is ethnically homogeneous (i.e. almost exclusively Zulu). The violence thus follows clear lines of political, not ethnic, cleavage – and it in this context that allegations of involvement of the security forces on the side of Inkatha have their place.

For the second explanation of South Africa’s violence is that neither the ANC nor the IFP has the capacity to sustain violence on a scale that has been witnessed in the past three years. In other words, proponents of this view argue, there must be other forces at work, forces engaged in a process of destabilization designed to scuttle the negotiations that are underway and work to maintain the status quo of white domination. The argument here is that in the majority of the cases where large-scale violence has occurred, evidence has indicated collusion, either through commission or omission, between the security forces and the IFP. In a number of instances, they claim, only the IFP has played the role of a visible aggressor; moreover, quite visibly, it is the security forces or elements from within them that instigate and manage the process.

A number of incidents over the past two years are cited, including the Boipatong massacre in June. Reports by the Lawyers for Human Rights, the International Commission of Jurists and Amnesty International emphasize the role of the security forces in the violence. Further periodic reports by groups monitoring the violence in South Africa have constantly revealed episodes where the state’s security forces have either directly attacked communities or aided Inkatha in the attack on opponents of the state. Most of these reports are drawn from statements by eye-witnesses or from affidavits provided by the victims of the attacks.

The response to these allegations from both the government and the IFP has often been that such claims have not been tested before the law courts. However, the much publicized Trust Feed Case (discussed below) has not only vindicated the monitors and the various commissions, but has given fresh impetus to the development of a more sophisticated socio-political understanding of the nature and composition of the so-called “third force.”

Security forces and local politicians cooperate

The foundations of the “third force” lie in the policy of “total strategy” as enunciated and put into effect by the former state president P.W. Botha. This total strategy demanded a `total defence’, both physical and psychological. To co-ordinate this strategy, direct links between the army, the security police, business and local government structures were formed. The Joint Management Councils, corresponding to nine Defence Commando areas, became the instruments of defence against “communism” as well as for winning the hearts and minds of the local communities. Joint Management Councils were accountable, through structural links, to the State Security council, thereby allowing the state, through its security apparatus, to penetrate civil society.

This penetration by the state created structural networks and personal allegiances that have proved difficult to untangle in the process of transition. And given that Inkatha supported participation in local government – to the point that some of its members ended up on the Joint Management Councils – and that the extra-parliamentary opposition boycotted the state-sponsored structures, it was inevitable that ideological and personal links between state security personnel and Inkatha councillors were cemented in this union. And as the community/town council system and the tribal authorities, both so closely tied into the structures of the apartheid state, became objects of attack by the disenfranchised in the early 1980’s, the state security apparatus became even more entangled in the task of baldly effecting control through local political structures.

For the record

Numerous court cases provide interesting evidence of the links thus forged between the security forces and Inkatha. For example, in the trial of Samuel Bhekizizwe Jamile, this Kwazulu government minister and member of the Inkatha Central Committee was eventually found guilty of murdering five political opponents Committee. He was charged in 1990 with five counts of murder, seven counts of attempted murder and three counts of incitement to murder but only after a great deal of evidence of police and security force collusion and attempted suppression of evidence.

The Trust Feed trial arose out of the 1988 murder of eleven people and attempted murders of eight others in a house at Trust Feed, a “black spot” in the New Hanover District in Natal marked for removal. There, to counter the formation of an Anti-Removal Crisis Committee the security establishment, led by Captain Mitchell, chairman of the local Joint Management Committee, decided to promote Inkatha as an alternative organization in the area and the murders in question could be shown to be traceable to the Inkatha committee then formed. But here again the trial also revealed extensive collusion in mounting and later atrocities. Indeed, when clear evidence to this effect was introduced, Justice Wilson, the presiding judge, expressed distress because it had become clear that “the evidence of senior police officers could not be accepted and that official records produced from the files were also subject to suspicion or shown to be completely inaccurate.” Moreover, it is evident that the Trust Feed events were not an exception but part of an overall plan whereby the police used their legal powers to facilitate Inkatha’s takeover of territories deemed to be in hostile hands or to reinstate Inkatha in territories they had “lost” to the opposition.

Nor has the Goldstone Commission been the only inquiry that has revealed state involvement in political violence, the Harms Commission having previously found that the Civil Co-operation Bureau, a special unit of the security forces, had been created specifically to eliminate government opponents. Beyond this, the South African press has been carrying numerous reports uncovering evidence of security forces collusion in violence against anti-apartheid activists. Thus, in a Weekly Mail interview, a former member of the Inkatha Central Committee publicly revealed that he had left the organization because “I felt it was no more than an SADF agent”!

This former official stated that military intelligence and Inkatha collaborated closely in violent acts, including Inkatha’s bloody push into the Reef townships in 1990 and the gruesome attack on an ANC funeral in Wesselton in the Eastern Transvaal. Meanwhile, on other fronts, the New Nation, in May, 1992, produced written proof that a senior official in the Eastern Cape Military Intelligence of the SADF ordered that four prominent UDF activists be “permanently removed from society as a matter of urgency.” The official admitted he had signed the order on instructions from the Head of Military Intelligence in the region.

Unfortunately, such evidence could be produced almost endlessly, presentation of anything like a full litany of relevant instances being beyond the scope of the article. All too typical, however, is City Press (a Transvaal weekly) article from last year which noted that Natal’s Attorney General was investigating allegations of official assistance by members of the SADF, the KwaZulu police and Inkatha to Amasinyora, a gang of thugs who had through murder, arson and looting, terrorized residents in a section of KwaMashu for over four years. And in July,1991 the New Nation newspaper alleged that after the State Security Council had disbanded, a network of individuals in both the police and the army had developed to carry out destabilization projects that often involved killings. One such grouping, Recce, was sponsored by the security forces and was involved in the training of foreigners to carry out the killings on trains bound for Soweto in September 1990. This is backed up by witnesses; some of the train commuters had reported that the attackers spoke a foreign language. A few arrests were made but the suspects were released because the police claimed to have failed to muster “sufficient evidence.”

The third force in perspective

In sum, the existence of a “third force” as we have come to conceive it here – the existence of an unholy alliance between state security apparatus and local African politicians – has a logical explanation within the context of developments in South African politics. The state has historically been engaged in a systematic process of destabilization of its opponents inside and outside of the country and this entailed manipulation of both its own apparatuses as well as the manipulation of social and political forces within the nation more generally.

At an institutional level, once organizations like the CCB were brought into existence and created their own networks, it would have required considerable effort to bring them back under control. At the same time, structurally, apartheid’s own creations – the hostels and the councils in particular – established sufficient sociological space for the generation and promotion of conflict and violence. The government dithers on the issue of abolishing hostels, knowing that Inkatha supports them and itself claiming – despite its reputation for unilateral action – the need for consultation. 

The government has also demonstrated gross inconsistency on the issue of carrying arms in public, where Inkatha is the main offender under cover of its right to carry “traditional weapons.” These are some of the examples of what total strategy has degenerated into at the level of community-security force interface, providing the context for the Inkatha gate affair and for an all too typical statement by one Major Botha, Chief of the Security Police in Pretoria: “This aspect holds tremendous advantages for Inkatha during any negotiations. It is of cardinal importance that enough people be at Kings Park to support and show everyone that he does have a strong base”!

In the light of this record, the will of the state’s security forces to investigate acts of violence must be doubted. This does not necessarily imply official sanction from the government for each and every abuse of power, but rather a combination of factors that may well include the activities of dissident elements in the security forces, as well as recalcitrant officials not convinced of the need to change. Moreover, it is also the case that sociological conditions and psychological factors, particularly in the hostels and shack settlements, have provided ample ground for manipulation of marginal elements, maleducated and economically vulnerable.

Nonetheless, whatever the complex of ingredients that feed into third force-like activity one is still left with the apparent unwillingness by the state, at an institutional level, to effect an efficient investigative process by the police or to attempt to clarify, say, the jurisdiction of the South African police and that of the homelands’ police forces Instead, a whole range of exposés have called into question the state’s role as honest-broker with regard to the question of violence.



Source: www.africafiles.org (Southern Africa Report, 

SAR, Vol 8, No 2, November 1992, 

Page 8) 

Paulus Zulu is a Senior Reseatch Fellow and head of the Maurice Webb Unit for Race Relations at the Centre for Social and Development Studies at the University of Natal, Durban. He lives in Umlazi township outside Durban.