Evidence that Ciskei massacre was planned

Wednesday, September 30, 1992 - 10:00

By Norm Dixon

There is mounting evidence that the dreadful September 7 massacre of African National Congress marchers near Bisho by troops loyal to the Ciskei dictatorship was a premeditated ambush organised with the full knowledge of the "highest authorities" in Pretoria.

At least 32 people were shot dead and over 200 wounded in two deadly bursts of automatic gunfire.

According to Michael Opperskalski, editor of Top Secret, a German-based magazine which specialises in blowing the whistle on the activities of the world's secret police, the instructions which led to the massacre came from South Africa's head of military intelligence, General C.P. Van der Westhuizen. Opperskalski's information, which was revealed in the progressive South African weekly New Nation, leaked from within South African intelligence circles.

"During the weekend before the massacre", Opperskalski told New Nation, "the South African Director of Military Intelligence had received detailed information from sources within the ranks of the ANC about the character and strategy of the planned demonstration".

Van der Westhuizen then instructed the chief of the Ciskei Defence Force, Brigadier Marius Oelschig, a former South African military intelligence officer seconded to the CDF from the SADF, to use "all means necessary" to crush the demonstration. "The signal [from Van der Westhuizen] also clearly said that this instruction had the approval of the 'highest authority'", Opperskalski said.

There is firm evidence that Van der Westhuizen in 1985 ordered the "permanent removal from society" of four Eastern Cape activists of the anti-apartheid United Democratic Front. In July, Military Intelligence was found to have dispatched a hit squad to London to kill a senior South African police officer who defected to the ANC. President F.W. de Klerk's refusal to sack him indicates that Van der Westhuizen's activities do have the support at the "highest levels" of power in South Africa.

The premeditated ambush was part of the de Klerk regime's "Operation Thunderstorm", the official code name for the government's use of state-sponsored violence and destabilisation against the ANC. The Ciskeian arm of Operation Thunderstorm involves propping up dictator Oupo Gqozo's African Democratic Movement in the same way as Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party.

A reconstruction by New Nation of events which preceded the Ciskei massacre gives credence to the charge that it was a carefully planned ambush. The aim of the bloodbath was to discourage and intimidate the ANC and its followers from extending their mass action campaign into the fiefdoms of Pretoria's puppets in the

"The sequence of events began unfolding with the announcement of a mini-state of emergency by Pretoria on the eve of the march and the deployment of thousands of SADF soldiers. Next came the Bisho Magistrate's ruling which restricted the movement of demonstrators to the Independence Stadium.

"SADF soldiers, flown to the area, strung razor wire across the road to Bisho effectively blocking off the most obvious route from King William's Town to the Ciskei capital ...

"Ciskeian soldiers at the same time did not cover the break in the fence at the rear of the stadium. This offered the enticing option for the demonstrators to slip through behind the CDF line and outflank the homeland soldiers in a dash for Bisho.

"... Soldiers waiting in anticipation of such an eventuality then executed their final move and mowed down more than 200 demonstrators, killing 28."

New Nation concluded from its reconstruction that the Ciskei soldiers were issued with live "sharp" ammunition rather than crowd control equipment because the express intention was to shoot to kill. The newspaper found that soldiers fired "as per instruction, rather than spontaneously". This explains "the controlled character of the two rounds of gunfire". It also found that "the failure to repair an opening in the fence ... was not an oversight but part of a deliberate ploy to lure unsuspecting supporters into the ambush."

The Johannesburg-based Southern African Report on September 11 published information that points further to a premeditated attack. It reported that Ciskeian soldiers were seen practising firing two days before the march. On the day of the march, the troops who first opened fire were lying concealed in the grass with guns at the ready.

From GLW issue 73