By Norm Dixon
JOHANNESBURG — Nelson Mandela received a tumultuous welcome from tens of thousands of triumphant residents of Bophuthatswana when he entered Mmabatho's Independence Stadium on March 15. The African National Congress president, making his first visit to Bophuthatswana, praised the "people's uprising" that unseated the homeland's apartheid dictator, Lucas Mangope.
The 50,000-strong crowd erupted when Mandela said that the white far right "were given a lesson by the Bophuthatswana Police and Defence Force which they will never forget. They were chased out and humiliated."
Mandela told the packed stadium that there remain elements in the South African security forces still resisting progress towards democracy, but the Bophuthatswana uprising proved their resistance would be as futile as that of those "who wanted to maintain the tyranny here".
Mandela also issued a thinly veiled warning to Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi: "The people have risen and tyrants have fallen. The demand for free and fair elections is very strong. What is happening here is going to send a message to similar areas."
Mandela earlier spoke to a mass meeting of public servants, whose strikes brought Mangope down. He promised them that their pensions and jobs were safe. Meanwhile, at the Bophuthatswana parliament buildings, where Mangope had claimed he was to hold a cabinet meeting that day, the only sign of him was a now forlorn statue. The doors of the building were locked, and the area was guarded by South African Defence Force soldiers.
The Transitional Executive Council and the South African government on March 12 formally relieved Mangope of control of Bophuthatswana. Two administrators have been appointed to run the homeland's affairs. Mangope is under virtual house arrest by the South African Defence Force.
The Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) is immediately to begin voter education programs in the territory. The SADF and the Bophuthatswana Defence Force are jointly charged with security.
A two-day tussle within the TEC produced an important victory for the ANC. The ANC accused South African President F.W. de Klerk of attempting to restore Mangope, reneging on a March 10 agreement with Mandela that the TEC would take over administration of the homeland.
On March 11, de Klerk unilaterally agreed that Mangope could remain in power in exchange for participation in the elections. Mangope immediately announced he would register his Christian Democratic Party. De Klerk said that Mangope had promised he would comply with TEC resolutions on free political activity in the homeland.
An incensed Mandela insisted that Mangope provide this in writing and dispatched the head of the IEC to Mmabatho to get it. Mangope refused. The TEC management committee met for two hours from 9pm on March 12 and sealed Mangope's fate. Mandela said soon after he was "satisfied" with Mangope's eclipse. "We have now forgotten about Mangope. He belongs to the past."
The demise of Mangope came at a high cost with as many as 70 people killed and 300 injured, many at the hands of thousands of AWB and Afrikaner Volksfront thugs who invaded Mmabatho and Mafikeng in an effort to prop up Mangope.
A large force of right-wingers, mobilised by General Constand Viljoen's Afikaner Volksfront (AVF), entered Bophuthatswana late at night on March 10, setting up their headquarters at Mmabatho's Bophuthatswana Air Base. Mangope had asked the AVF to secure the base and other "strategic facilities". White officers of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force, several seconded from the SADF and others permanent members, collaborated with the AVF.
The Mangope regime, according to its defence minister, Rowan Cronje, earlier rebuffed an offer of assistance by the AWB's Eugene Terre'Blanche. Despite this, several hundred AWBers under the command of Terre'Blanche arrived at the base. The initial AVF force also contained hundreds of AWB commandos who are an integral component of the AVF military structure.
During the morning of March 11, cars and utes (bakkies as they are called here) full of armed right-wingers from Terre'Blanche's force were tearing around Mmabatho and Mafikeng shooting at any black people seen in the streets. At least 10 people were reported shot dead in the right-wing terror.
The conduct of the AWB commandos in town and the presence of the large force of right-wingers at the air base approved by the BDF's white officers provoked a rebellion by black BDF officers. They entered Mmabatho and Mafikeng in armoured vehicles, rounded up the AWB and began escorting them out of town.
As the BDF soldiers moved about town, throngs of residents cheered. BDF soldiers returned their cheers with clenched fists and thumbs-up. For a period the main AVF force was marooned at the base and at the mercy of the rebel BDF.
The remaining AWB were ordered to leave the air base. This group of right-wingers stopped to beat and rob some journalists who witnessed their humiliating retreat. They opened fire on onlookers. Journalists saw the three AWB commandos in the last car in the convoy fire shots at bystanders. They paid for their stupidity with their lives.
Prior to their deaths, these thugs could not hide their unrepentant racism. Lying wounded, one was heard to mutter "black bastards" in Afrikaans, which enraged further the already seething black police. Earlier a journalist was told by a policeman: "We want to shoot these fucking dogs. They have killed women. They are animals, not people."
Soon after the AWB deaths, the BDF ordered the main force of the AVF out of Bophuthatswana.
Few here, least of all journalists on the spot, could find much sympathy for this bunch of rednecks who had rushed to battle to prop up a despised dictator. Faced by an army more than their equal, the response of these thugs was to kill unarmed civilians.
Peter De Ionno, writing in the Johannesburg Sunday Times on March 13, wrote: "The execution of the rightwingers in Mafikeng was as unexpected as it was brutal ... Neither cold-blooded nor premeditated, but a crime of passion ... But after four days of rioting, shooting and bodies it was hard to find sympathy for the men who had come to the homeland armed and looking for trouble."
The Johannesburg Weekly Star, not often known for its enlightened views on political issues, editorialised that the AWB and AVF "acted as an arrogant and dangerous vigilante gang ... the vigilantes received a bloody nose for their trouble. It was of vital importance that this self-appointed, uncontrolled band did not succeed in gaining physical control of Mmabatho. The fact that they were sent packing by black soldiers before the arrival of the South African Defence Force suggests that the rightwingers will think twice before boarding their bakkies in another wrong headed crusade."
The editorial in the March 13 Sunday Times, also not known for a progressive bias, summed up the results of the uprising in Bophuthatswana and the right-wing debacle: "South Africa has emerged from a nerve-stretching week somewhat shaken, but in better shape to conduct elections. The Freedom Alliance, which constituted the major obstacle to the electoral process, has been shattered, not only by the collapse of Mr Lucas Mangope's puppet regime in Mmabatho, but by the ensuing split in the Afrikaner Volksfront."
Meanwhile, public servants in several other homelands are expressing growing discontent with their less than democratic regimes. Ciskei public servants have threatened "Bop-style" civil disobedience if they are not paid their pension fund contributions and accrued leave before reincorporation into South Africa. Lebowa's police force went on strike on March 15 demanding back pay owed them. The rest of the public service struck in solidarity.
In an attempt to defuse rising discontent, Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi's KwaZulu government has assured the bantustan's 84,000 public servants that their salaries and pensions are secure.