Government's hand seen in Inkatha massacre

Wednesday, September 18, 1991

By Norm Dixon

Many South Africans are convinced that the massacre of 23 Inkatha supporters on September 8 was carried out by covert elements of the South African Defence Forces.

They believe the aim was to reignite violence within the black community to take the heat off the de Klerk regime. The violence allows defenders of apartheid to argue that majority rule will lead to the violation of the human rights of minorities.

In the week following the attack, more than 100 people, mostly residents of townships surrounding Johannesburg, were killed by Inkatha supporters.

Unidentified killers shot up passenger trains, killing and wounding many. Several passengers were killed when they jumped from moving trains to escape. Black workers waiting at bus stops were gunned down.

The September 8 massacre occurred as 300 hostel dwellers in the township of Thokoza were marching to an Inkatha rally. Three killers stepped out of surrounding houses and opened fire with automatic rifles.

Without evidence, senior Inkatha leaders in the Transvaal immediately blamed the ambush on the African National Congress, encouraging their followers to launch reprisals.

Leaders of the ANC vehemently denied any role in the attack. ANC deputy president Walter Sisulu described the massacre as a "wanton act of provocation". The Congress of South African Trade Unions described it as bearing "all the hallmarks of state and vigilante violence".

Referring to a peace plan that was due to be signed by the ANC, Inkatha, the South African government and other parties on September 14, Archbishop Desmond Tutu commented that "it seems as if the Thokoza action was planned to wreck the [peace] summit".

ANC president Nelson Mandela said, "The suspicion is that there is an attempt to derail the signing of the peace convention, and this was a deliberate provocation to that end."

Many in the South African government and the military are unhappy with the draft peace plan, which among other things provides for an independent commission to investigate acts of violence, including those of the security forces.

Former SADF officer Nico Basson, who recently exposed the role of the SADF in fomenting township violence, said that the Thokoza attack bore the signature of the SADF's covert Fifth Reconnaissance Command, known as "Five Recce".

"They are highly trained troops, many of them from other African countries, who can go behind enemy lines and do the job. That's exactly what happened in Thokoza ... There is one reason for this craziness, that's to stop the signing of the peace agreement."

The massacre and many of the subsequent reprisals resemble previous operations of the Five Recce. According to a former SADF sergeant, Felix Ndimene, Five Recce operatives were responsible for a massacre of 26 people aboard a Soweto-bound passenger train on September 14, 1990. Participants in the massacre later told Ndimene what happened.

"They got on the train with pangas [machetes] and AK-47s and they were using the name of Inkatha", Ndimene told the press in July. "They shot the people and killed them with the AK-47s. They say they were not allowed to speak during that attack because most of them were Namibian and could not speak Zulu."

He said that about 120 Five Recce soldiers were involved in similar operations during 1990, both in the townships around Johannesburg and in Natal.

There were widespread reports of black non-South Africans participating in attacks in the townships following the unbanning of the ANC in February 1990.

The Five Recce is the operational arm of South Africa's top secret Directorate of Military Intelligence. It was notorious in the '80s for its counter-insurgency methods and raids into neighbouring countries to attack ANC bases. It is a mercenary regiment containing soldiers from Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zaire, Australia and Ireland.

In August, the progressive South African weekly New Nation reported that more recently the Five Recce has been actively recruiting a force within the migrant hostels around Johannesburg, where much of the township violence has originated. New Nation said this force has participated in preparations for or direct attacks on train commuters and residents.

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