Truth and Reconcilitation Commission: A mirror on apartheid's violent history

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The Independent Online
TWO AND A HALF YEARS in the making and 3,500 pages long, the final report of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission ranges over the entire history of the apartheid era.

The following extracts deal with Mrs Winnie Mandela and the exploits of her notorious Mandela United football team. It also implicates former head of state PW Botha and the state security services in an orchestrated campaign of violence against the opponents of apartheid. President Nelson Mandela received the report yesterday from Archbishop Desmond Tutu at a ceremony in Pretoria.

The single strongest finding against Mrs Mandela concerns her role in the January 1989 attack on Lerotodi Ikaneng, a youth who had attempted to distance himself from her "Mandela United" gang. He miraculously survived after having his throat cut by garden shears, wielded by Mandela United "coach" Jerry Richardson.

The Mandela United Football Club

IN LATE 1986 Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was instrumental in the resolution of an internal conflict within the Orlando West branch of the Soweto Youth Congress (SOYCO), which resulted in the formation of the Mandela United Football Club (MUFC).

A number of the youths involved in this conflict moved into the outbuildings of the Mandela home in Soweto.

Not only is Mrs Mandela associated with the team, the team is her own creation.

Between August 1988 and the end of February 1989, the residents and associates of the Mandela household, including Mrs Madikizela-Mandela, were implicated, either directly or indirectly, in a range of incidents - including assaults and abduction, and the murder and attempted murder of at least a dozen individuals.

The torture and mutilation of Peter Makhanda and Phillip Makhanda

ON 26 MAY 1987, the Makhanda brothers, Peter and Phillip, were taken by force to the back rooms of the Mandela home, were assaulted and had ANC slogans carved into their bodies and battery acid rubbed into their wounds.

Former MUFC member Gift Ntombeni confirmed the incident at the hearings. Whilst the Makhanda brothers had implicated her in the incident, Mrs Madikizela- Mandela was never questioned by the police. In her testimony she denied any direct knowledge of, or involvement in, this incident.

The commission finds that the assaults and mutilation of the brothers, Peter and Phillip Makhanda, took place in the back rooms of the Mandela house in Orlando West in May 1987 and that members of the MUFC participated in the assault and/or mutilation.

Abduction and killing of Lolo Sono and Anthony Sibuniso Tshabalala

TEBOGO MALULEKE was a relative of the Sono family. Mr Nicodemus Sono, the father of Lolo Sono, returned from Transkei on 10 November 1988. Mr Sono testified that on Sunday 13 November, Mr Michael Siyakamela, Mrs Madikizela-Mandela's temporary driver, came to his house.

He was told that someone wanted to see him.

When he went out, he saw Lolo sitting in the back of the minibus, with Mrs Madikizela-Mandela in the front seat. Lolo's face was swollen and bruised. Sono testified that Mrs Madikizela-Mandela informed him that Lolo was a police spy and that the MK cadres at Jerry Richardson's house had been killed because of him.

Despite his pleas to Mrs Madikizela-Mandela to release his son, Lolo was taken away. Mrs Madikizela-Mandela allegedly told him:

"I am taking this dog away. The movement will see what to do to him."

This was the last time that Mr Sono saw his son.

The commission finds that Lolo Sono was abducted by members of the MUFC on 13 November 1988 and taken to the home of Mrs Madikizela-Mandela where he was severely assaulted. The commission finds that Mrs Madikizela-Mandela had knowledge of the assaults.

The commission finds further that Lolo Sono was killed by Jerry Richardson, a close confidant of Mrs Madikizela-Mandela.

Abductions and assaults of Pelo Mekgwe, Thabiso Mono, Kenny Kgase and Stompie Seipei

ON 29 DECEMBER 1989, the four youths were abducted from the Methodist manse in Soweto and taken to the Mandela home ... Seipei was singled out and accused of being a police informer.

All four youths were assaulted, Seipei severely. In early January, Seipei's decomposing body was found in a river-bed on the outskirts of Soweto. His body and head were riddled with injuries and he had been stabbed in the neck three times.

Evidence to the Commission, by both perpetrators and victims, confirms that members of the MUFC and associates of the Mandela household abducted Pelo Mekgwe, Thabiso Mono, Kenny Kgase and Stompie Seipei from the Methodist manse in Orlando West on the evening of 29 December 1989.

The commission finds that the following people were amongst those involved in the assaults on the four youths:

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Jerry Richardson, Xoliswa Falati, Nompumelelo Falati, Katiza Cebekhulu, Skhumbuzo Mthshali, Gift Mabelane, Jabu Sithole and Brian Mabuza. The commission further finds that Guybon Khubeka was involved in a subsequent assault on Stompie Seipei.

Mrs Madikizela-Mandela denied knowledge of the attack on Lerotodi Ikaneng and the alleged reasons for it.

The commission finds that Lerotodi Ikaneng, one of the original members of the MUFC, was resident at the Orlando West home of Mrs Madikizela-Mandela.

The commission finds further that Ikaneng left the Madikizela-Mandela household in August 1988...

The commission finds that members of the MUFC made several attempts on Ikaneng's life following his departure from the Mandela household.

He was accused of being a police informer... The commission finds that Mrs Madikizela-Mandela was involved in and responsible for the attempted murder of Ikaneng.

THE TRUTH commission's final report puts much of the blame for the rising tide of state violence on the government of PW Botha, who came to power in 1978. According to the report, Mr Botha presided over an inner cabinet or "state security council" that deliberately planned illegal attacks, both at home and abroad, on members of the armed liberation movement and unarmed civilian opponents.

The report also blames the ANC for carrying out what it calls "gross violations" of human rights during the struggle against apartheid

On the ANC

THE AFRICAN National Congress perpetrated gross violations of human rights in that the distinction between civilian and military targets was blurred ... resulting in ... civilian injury and loss of life.

The commission takes note that the political leadership of the ANC and the command structure of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK - Spear of the Nation) has accepted political and moral responsibility for all the actions of its members in the period 1960-1994, and therefore finds that the leadership of the ANC and MK must take responsibility, and be accountable, for gross violations of human rights perpetrated by its membership.

It finds that the ANC's landmine campaign in the period 1985-1987 in the rural areas of the northern and eastern Transvaal cannot be condoned, in that it resulted in gross violations of the human rights of civilians, including farm labourers and children, who were killed and injured.

The ANC is held accountable for such gross violations of human rights.

Botha and his cabinet

CERTAIN MEMBERS of the SSC (the State President [PW Botha], Minister of Defence [General Magnus Malan], Minister of Law and Order [Adriaan Vlok], did foresee that the use of words such as "take out", "wipe out", "eradicate" and "eliminate" would result in the killing of political opponents.

They are therefore responsible for deliberate planning which caused gross violations of human rights...

Certain members of the SSC (particularly those not directly involved in security matters - FW de Klerk served on the SSC as minister for education in the late 1980s) did not foresee that the use of these words would result in killings, but nevertheless remain politically and morally accountable for the deaths that occurred ... They failed to exercise proper care in the words they used; they failed properly to investigate killings that occurred and they failed to heed complaints about abuse.

Through their use of militant rhetoric, they also created a climate where violations of human rights were possible. They are therefore guilty of "official tolerance" of violations and are accountable for such violations... During the period 1979-89, Mr PW Botha chaired the state security council...

Under his leadership, the SSC ... recommended that the government support covert projects aimed at opposing and destabilising the government of neighbouring countries which were supportive of liberation movements and recommended that the government support covert projects to help destabilise and oppose organisations and people opposed to the government.

As a consequence, the SSC created a political climate that greatly facilitated the gross violation of human rights, and in which such violations occurred on a wide scale.

Mr Botha was responsible for ordering former minister of law and order Adriaan Vlok and former police commissioner Johan van der Merwe unlawfully to destroy [South African Council of Churches headquarters] Khotso House in Johannesburg, (a building occupied by organisations considered a threat to the security of the government) thereby endangering the lives of people in and around the building...

Primary finding

THE SOUTH African state in the period from the late Seventies to early Nineties became involved in activities of a criminal nature when, amongst other things, it knowingly planned, undertook, condoned and covered up the commission of unlawful acts, including the extra-judicial killings of political opponents and others, inside and outside South Africa.

In pursuit of these unlawful activities, the state acted in collusion with certain other political groupings, most notably the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP).

The policy of elimination

FOR THE first five to seven years of the Botha administration, the security forces engaged in various forms of counter-revolutionary warfare with the states it perceived as a threat to the existence of that administration.

With the intensification of conflict inside South Africa in the mid-1980s, tactics that had worked externally began to be applied on the domestic front. The domestic application of an essentially military counter-revolutionary strategy was a significant landmark.

Whereas the SADF had previously directed its military operations at external targets, it now began to play an increasing role in support of the SAP inside South Africa. The policing of internal resistance became militarised.

Military operations aim at eliminating enemy personnel, weaponry and bases. Hence, as a military approach to policing gained ascendancy inside South Africa from the mid-1980s, so too did the incidence of killing or "eliminating" activists, which had already become an established practice outside the country. Although the SSC was merely an advisory body to cabinet and had no executive powers of its own, its decisions were almost always accepted or adopted by cabinet. All the key cabinet ministers sat on the SSC, as did the leadership of the security forces.

The SSC also formed the pinnacle of a vast network of joint security structures in the form of the National Security Management System (NSMS), which extended from national to local level. Thus the SSC carried enormous influence. Its decisions both reflected and influenced the perceptions and mindsets of senior politicians and security force personnel.

Members of the security forces who participated in SSC- or NSMS-linked structures, and to whom decisions or policy were communicated, would have regarded those decisions as specific instructions or general authorisation.

It seems highly improbable to this commission that the members of the SSC did not foresee the possible consequences of such a shift in counter- revolutionary strategy. Indeed, their increasingly strident language and rhetoric on both public platforms and in documents was laced with phrases such as: elimineer vyandelike leiers (eliminate enemy leaders) "neutralise intimidators by using formal and informal policing", "destroy terrorists'' fisiese vernietiging - mense, fasiliteite, fondse, ens (physical destruction - people, facilities, funds, etc) uithaal (take out), neutraliseer (neutralise), uitwis (wipe out), verwyder (remove/ cause to disappear), maak 'n plan (make a plan), metodes ander as aanhouding (methods other than detention), onkonvensionele metodes (unconventional methods). This rhetoric made no distinction between persons engaged in military operations or acts of terrorism and those who opposed apartheid by lawful or peaceful means. All were lumped together as one target - a single category of persons to be killed.

Whether one carried a gun, or only shared a bed or offered food and shelter to the combatant, seems to have been a matter of indifference to the total strategists.

In the opinion of the commission, the kind of rhetoric employed by politicians and SSC functionaries was reckless, inflammatory and an incitement to unlawful acts ... The sheer scale of resistance, the time-consuming and resource-intensive nature of prosecutions and the widespread reluctance of ordinary people to testify in courts of law resulted in a shift to unlawful methods of combating resistance.

This shift was conceded by numerous high-ranking security force members, including former police commissioner Johan van der Merwe.

At the commission's hearings on the SSC, senior politicians and some senior military and intelligence heads argued that although "ambiguous language" might or could have been interpreted as authorising illegal conduct, it was not the intention of the SSC or the cabinet that any illegal acts or actions should be undertaken.

This view was in sharp contrast to that of security force operatives, who said that the word "eliminate" could, in certain circumstances, mean "kill", or that they interpreted it as meaning 'kill'.

Findings and Conclusions

DESPITE AMNESTY provisions extending to criminal and civil charges, the white community often seemed either indifferent or plainly hostile to the work of the commission.

With a number of rare individual exceptions, the response of the former state, its leaders, institutions and the predominant organs of the country's civil society of that era, was to hedge and obfuscate.

Often, it seemed to the commission, there was no real appreciation of the enormity of the violations of which these leaders and those under them were accused, or of the massive degree of hurt and pain their actions had caused. Some members of the former state ... seemed intent on obstructing the work of the commission, particularly ... former state president PW Botha.

There is an enormous... - perhaps unbridgeable - chasm between the perspectives of those who wielded power in the apartheid era and those who suffered at their hands.

The appearance of the African National Congress (ANC) national leadership before the commission was marked by the fact that, in contrast to the National Party, it took collective responsibility for the human rights violations of its membership and dealt frankly with the commission's questions.

This spirit of openness was not, however, always translated into participation by other echelons, and frequently membership, of the ANC. It needs (also) to be stated at the outset that the former state deliberately and systematically destroyed state documentation in an attempt to ensure that a new democratic government would be denied access to incriminating evidence.

Hundreds of thousands of classified records - literally scores of tons - were destroyed. Much of this documentation related to the inner workings of the security forces and intelligence agencies, covert projects, informer networks, personnel records of security force members, and material confiscated from institutions and individuals.

The destruction of this documentation deprived the commission and the country as a whole of a rich and valuable source of material for its investigation into the conflicts of the past.



Winnie Mandela was the boss of the so-called Mandela United Football club (MUFC) that terrorised Soweto while her husband was in jail.

The report said: "The commission finds that the MUFC was involved in... killing, torture, assaults and arson. Mrs Mandela was aware of the criminal activity... and deliberately chose not to address the problems.

"Those who opposed Mrs Mandela and the MUFC... were branded as informers, then hunted down and killed.

"Their labelling as informers was deemed to justify these killings."

pw botha

PW Botha toyed with reform in the latter days of his decade-long presidency, before he was ousted from power in the late 1980s by FW de Klerk.

Mr Botha was one of the worst perpetrators of apartheid-era atrocities, according to the TRC report, presiding over the deaths of thousands of blacks and the detention, without trial, of many more.

"Mr Botha was responsible for ordering former minister of law and order Adriaan Vlok and former police commissioner Johan van der Merwe unlawfully to destroy Khotso House (which housed anti-apartheid groups)," the report said.



Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi is the founder and undisputed leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party.

The report said: "The Inkatha Freedom Party made no pretense of co-operating with the commission. Its submission to the commission consisted largely of a lengthy exposition of how the president of the IFP had been vilified by his political enemies ... its submission was singularly unforthcoming, evasive and defensive."

"It added: The South African Defence Force conspired with Inkatha to provide the latter with a covert, offensive paramilitary unit (or hit- squad)"

desmond tutu

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is the prime mover behind the report. He says the path to national reconciliation must lead through acknowledgment on a personal level of all the wrongs associated with the apartheid era.

"However painful the experience has been we remain convinced that there can be no healing without truth," he said yesterday "My appeal to South Africans as they read this report is not to use it to attack others, but to add to it, correct it and ultimately to share in the process that will lead to national unity through truth and reconciliation."