Apartheid regime resists an end to violence

Wednesday, May 1, 1991

By Jacqui Kavanagh

As the African National Congress' May 9 deadline for meaningful action by the government approaches, the negotiations process in South Africa is under greater strain than ever before.

The deadline was contained in an open letter on April 5, in which the ANC outlined urgent steps needed to halt politically motivated violence.

According to the South African Institute of Race Relations, almost 10,000 people have died in political violence since 1984. In 1990 alone 2900 people were killed. This year so far, an estimated 400 people have died.

Most attacks have been aimed at communities supporting the ANC. Collusion in the killings between the South African security forces and the Inkatha Freedom Party has been widely documented. Also suspected is the involvement of mercenary forces.

The letter states: "The ANC is of the view that the government's equivocal attitude to the cycle of violence reflects either an attitude of cynical irresponsibility or is evidence of connivance at acts of organised terror in the hope that they will succeed in destroying or seriously crippling the ANC.

"The government's inaction calls into serious question its true intentions and sincerity regarding the entire peace process and the democratisation of South Africa."

The demands set out are:

  • Legislation to prohibit carrying of weapons of any kind at public gatherings. Weapons such as spears, clubs, shields, axes, metal rods, machetes, knives and even pistols are permitted at Inkatha rallies. Experience has shown that these are not carried exclusively for their cultural significance.

  • The dismissal of Adriaan Vlok, minister for law and order, and Magnus Malan, minister for defence, and the disbanding of clandestine death squads which operate under them. The continuing activity of these units is indicated by the military precision of many of the recent attacks.

  • Civilised methods of crowd control, the immediate suspension of all police officers who have been implicated in massacres and the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry into all the violence and misconduct of the security forces.

The letter highlights the urgency of controlling the police in an account of their actions on March 24: "The known facts indicate that after a large number of persons were bussed into Daveyton, a provocative armed demonstration was staged from the hostels to a nearby stadium to hold a rally. The police had been advised of the probability of violence by township residents and were patrolling the streets. A group of residents, concerned because of the armed demonstration, assembled on an open space to discuss their response. The police opened fire on this group in an unprovoked attack, causing 12 persons."

Rather than respond constructively to these measures, the government has made only unilateral and cosmetic gestures aimed purely at convincing the international community to lift sanctions.

For example, the recent repeal of the Population Registration Act is applied only to babies born after April 1991. The repeal of the Separate Amenities Act has not prevented many conservative white local councils from enforcing segregation economically or even closing down public amenities to prevent their use by blacks. The repeal of the Land Acts and Group Areas Act does not rectify the forced removals suffered by 3 million blacks. The reforms of the segregated education system have so far affected the education of only a tiny proportion of students.

Steps to grant amnesty to exiles and indemnity to prisoners, which were agreed upon at the Groote Schuur and Pretoria meetings, have been taken at snail's pace. There are still thousands of prisoners, and tens of thousands of exiles have not been granted amnesty.

All these measures have been taken by an unelected apartheid administration. It is impossible that they can have any meaningful impact without the involvement of the democratic movement. Until the government takes the action required to bring this about, the reforms will remain confined within apartheid ideology — skin deep.

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