Cape Town - President Nelson Mandela yesterday defended his instruction to African National Congress guards last year to repel an Inkatha Freedom Party attack "even if they had to kill people".
Opening a rowdy parliamentary debate on the so-called Shell House massacre, he said the clash in which eight people died outside ANC headquarters in central Johannesburg on 28 March last year occurred in a context of intense conflict.
The eight were among at least 55 people killed in and around Johannesburg during a march by supporters of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi's mainly Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party to oppose the terms of the country's first all- race elections a month later.
Mr Mandela, who has been locked in an increasingly bitter conflict with Mr Buthelezi over the past two months, acknowledged for the first time in the Senate last week that he gave ANC guards the authority to kill Inkatha attackers if necessary.
"Shell House was not a bolt from the blue," he told parliament yesterday.
"Before the march on that day, the ANC had received information that some of the marchers were to be directed to attack Shell House, destroy information and kill members of the leadership."
Mr Mandela said he warned the then President FW de Klerk and police about the threat, but no action was taken. "The surging columns on Shell House, away from the routes to their destination, shots fired and the fact that the few policemen deployed decided to run away gave credence to the information we had gathered," he said.
It was in that context that he instructed ANC guards to protect Shell House "even if they had to kill people". He added: "This is nothing more nor less than a statement of the common law right to self-defence."
The ANC's deputy secretary general, Cheryl Carolus, told a news briefing in Johannesburg before the parliamentary debate that the ANC had genuinely feared a Zulu attack on the building, which she said police had failed to protect. "We must take ourselves back to the kind of fear all of us lived in that day," Ms Carolus said.
Police Commissioner George Fivaz, the country's first police chief appointed by the post-apartheid government, said Mr Mandela had briefed him on the context within which he had made his Shell House statement.
Mr Mandela has accused Mr Buthelezi of being the main source of violence in Inkatha-ruled KwaZulu-Natal.Reuse content