Exposing the ‘Third Force’ behind South Africa’s pre-election violence

Political rivalry between the Zulu nationalist Inkatha movement and the United Democratic Front, aligned to the banned African National Congress (ANC), broke out in the mid-1980s in the South African province of Natal and the KwaZulu homeland. When Inkatha launched as a national political party, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), in the township of Sebokeng, south of Johannesburg, in July 1990, violence erupted and spread rapidly to other townships in the country’s economic hub.
Single-sex hostels, where many Zulu migrant workers resided, became bastions of Inkatha support. Horrific violence broke out between these hostel dwellers and ANC-supporting residents in many townships and adjacent shack settlements.
For the next few years, until the first democratic elections in 1994, conflict raged between the ANC and IFP in the Transvaal, KwaZulu, Natal and beyond, claiming as many as 16,000 lives. Many newspapers and observers attributed this so-called ‘black-on-black’ violence to political rivalry let loose after the unbanning of the ANC and other organisations in February 1990. This internecine violence, they argued, demonstrated that neither the ANC nor Inkatha was in control of its supporters in an era of intense jockeying for power during pre-democracy negotiations.

But the ANC, its allies and the alternative press – including Weekly Mail, Vrye Weekblad and New Nation – were of the view that a ‘Third Force’ was actively stoking the violence. Elements in the security forces – with the suspected sanction of top leaders in government – were engaged in covert attempts to foment the violence to weaken the ANC’s support base and boost Inkatha as a potential National Party ally. Whether these covert attempts were part of a renegade right-wing agenda inside the government to subvert negotiations or part of state-sanctioned policy was unclear.

The apartheid government had been engaged in a decade-long ‘total onslaught’ strategy to defeat liberation forces in Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique, dispatching covert and special force units with brutal effect. This divide-and-rule strategy involved funding, arming and training counter-revolutionary armies. After the outbreak of Inkatha/ANC violence on the Reef, it became apparent to many observers that the security forces were doing the same at home, bolstering Inkatha to weaken the ANC.
Evidence of police partiality towards Inkatha during the conflict supported these claims, as did anecdotal evidence of the sporadic involvement of masked whites and non-South African blacks in the fighting. Random violence on trains, at funerals and vigils and in other contexts, seemed designed to wreak maximum havoc, claim as many lives as possible and perpetuate the cycle of violence. Nelson Mandela, church leaders and anti-apartheid activists repeatedly called on President F.W. de Klerk to purge his security forces of those colluding with Inkatha to stoke the violence.

But where was the proof? Government leaders continued to deny any collusion and the repeated refrain from Minister of Law and Order Adriaan Vlok was, ‘bring us the evidence’.
Caprivi Trainees: On 21 September 1990, Weekly Mail journalist Eddie Koch reported that an elite unit of around 200 Inkatha fighters had been trained in guerrilla warfare at a secret Military Intelligence base in the Caprivi Strip, Namibia, in 1986. Under command of two SADF Special Force leaders, the fighters were reportedly trained for seven months to use heavy weaponry. The men returned to Ulundi where some then trained other Inkatha members. A former member of the Civil Co-operation Bureau, the SADF’s covert death squad whose existence Vrye Weekblad had exposed in May that year, corroborated Koch’s evidence. An SADF member stationed in Caprivi at the time and Inkatha members trained there, who had made statements to lawyers, also backed up the claims.
Koch further reported the existence of two training camps in KwaZulu for Renamo, the South African-supported Mozambican militia, and cited reports that former Renamo members were selling AK-47s to hostel-dwellers on the violence-wracked East Rand. Given the political climate at the time, Koch was not in a position to name his sources, some of whom may have been intelligence operatives in the ANC.

Inkathagate: In July 1991 The Weekly Mail and the Guardian newspapers simultaneously broke ‘Inkathagate’, which offered documentary proof of security police funding of Inkatha and its union, the United Workers Union of South Africa. Both De Klerk and Buthelezi were weakened by the exposé internationally and at home. Buthelezi managed to stay afloat while his subordinate, MZ Khumalo, took the rap. Shortly afterwards, Vlok and Defence Force chief Magnus Malan were removed as ministers of police and the military respectively and reassigned to less influential cabinet positions

The Black Cats: Reporting on township violence in 1990 and 1991 for The Weekly Mail, I had developed strong contacts in the township of Wesselton, near Ermelo, where a civic association had organised rent boycotts to challenge corrupt local authorities. I reported on the activities of a group of vigilantes called the Black Cats that had been wreaking havoc there, singling out ANC-aligned activists to maim and kill. Gang members were often seen with local white policemen. In early 1992, Mbongeni Khumalo, a senior Inkatha member, broke ranks and told The Weekly Mail’s Koch about his own role in training the Caprivi paramilitary group and how members of the group had in turn trained other Inkatha members, including the Black Cats, to kill activists. Two Black Cats then gave detailed accounts to Garson and Koch about the weapons training gang members had received at a secret training camp and the crimes they’d committed back in Wesselton against ANC supporters. The Black Cat investigation showed how the MI-backed Caprivi trainees had participated in a cascading training model, recruiting vigilantes to join Inkatha and then training them to attack ANC-aligned activists.

The Black Cats alleged that local white policemen were complicit in arming them, initiating attacks and squashing investigations. They also charged that some Caprivi trainees had stoked violence in Wesselton itself. Among these was Daluxolo Luthuli, a former MK member turned Inkatha assassin, who led the training of the Black Cats. The Weekly Mail arranged for the two Black Cats, whose lives had been threatened, to go into hiding. However, taking care of them proved challenging in the absence of a proper witness protection programme. In a devastating turn of events, the mother of one of the renegade Black Cats was killed in an apparent reprisal killing.

Soon afterwards, the Goldstone Commission of Inquiry, set up in July 1991 to investigate the causes of political violence, held a special hearing on the The Weekly Mail’s exposés. The commission found that The Weekly Mail was justified in publishing Khumalo’s allegations but concluded that there was insufficient proof that the Black Cats were part of a Military Intelligencetrained hit squad or that local white policemen were involved.

Later, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concluded that the Black Cats had, together with Caprivi trainees, assassinated more than 20 ANC members. Furthermore, the TRC found that police had supplied the Black Cats with resources and covered up their involvement in ANC killings. The TRC also found that ANC-backed self-defence units were responsible for killing Black Cat members (TRC, 1998: 721). Regarding the Third Force, the TRC found that while there was no evidence of a ‘centrally directed, coherent and formally constituted third force’, that ‘a network of security and expert security force operatives’ often acting with ‘rightwing elements and or sectors of the IFP, fomented, initiated, faciliated and engaged in violence’, which included ‘random and targeted killings’ (TRC, 1998: 692–710).

It was also revealed at the TRC that the training of the covert paramilitary unit at Caprivi was part of Operation Marion, a project of MI’s Directorate of Special Tasks, similar to their Operation Katzen in the Eastern Cape. Luthuli and other Caprivi trainees also confirmed to the TRC that the Caprivi men were trained to be a hit squad and that he himself had led many attacks against UDF and later ANC leaders in KwaZulu and Natal (TRC Report, 1988). Further corroboration of MI involvement in fostering the violence emerged with the eventual release in 2007 of the controversial Steyn Report, which alleged covert SADF involvement in the ANC/IFP violence on the Reef and in KwaZulu-Natal. Former SADF chief of staff Pierre Steyn had been tasked in November 1992 by De Klerk to look into third force activities by the SADF after the Goldstone Commission uncovered evidence of a network of SADF front companies connected to acts of violence and criminality. Former security policeman and apartheid assassin Eugene de Kock would later confirm that he and his Vlakplaas colleagues had supplied heavy ammunition to Inkatha by the security police. However, after all these years, much of the truth about security force involvement in fomenting the violence has not come to light and few of those implicated have been brought to justice

References and further reading

Ellis, Stephen. 1998. ‘The historical significance of South Africa’s third force’, Journal

of Southern African Studies, 24(2). Available at: https://openaccess.leidenuniv.nl/ bitstream/handle/1887/9519/ASC-1241486-035.pdf, accessed on 18 August 2018. Reports of the Goldstone Commission on the Prevention of Public Violence and Intimidation (1992–1994). ‘Report by the committee appointed to inquire into allegations concerning front companies of the SADF and the training by the SADF of Inkatha supporters in the Caprivi in 1986’, Vol. 2. Taylor, Rupert & Shaw, Mark. 1998. ‘The dying days of apartheid’, in David R. Howarth & Aletta Norval (eds). South Africa in Transition: New Theoretical Perspectives. London: Palgrave Macmillan. TRC Report. 1988. Available at: www.justice.gov.za/trc/report/, accessed on 15 August 2018.

Inkatha’s Secret Training Base

Eddie Koch, The Weekly Mail, 21 September 1990

An elite unit of Inkatha fighters has been trained in guerrilla warfare by South African army officers at a secret base in the Caprivi Strip. This base, called Hippo and located on the banks of the Cuando River 80 kilometres west of Katimo Mulilo, fell under the control of the Chief of Staff Intelligence. This division of the South African Defence Force took over control of the Mozambique guerrilla group, Renamo, from the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organisation in the 1970s and turned it into the clandestine force that it is today. The Hippo base trained at least 200 Inkatha guerrillas in 1986. The SADF officer in charge of training was Major ‘Jakes’ Jacobs … Some recruits remember being met by four white men who slapped them on the back and joked about how they were going to make soldiers of them. At least two batches of Inkatha fighters, each about 100 strong, were trained to use AK-47s, RPG7 rocket launchers, G3 submachine guns, Browning machine guns and anti-personnel mines

urban and guerrilla warfare, use of explosives and demolition, and contra-mobilisation – a form of military intelligence work. After training was completed the unit was divided into four divisions – called ‘offensive’, ‘defensive’, ‘ministers’ aides’ and ‘contra-mobilisation intelligence’ – before returning to Ulundi where some of them were required to train other Inkatha members. These details have been denied by the government of kwaZulu and a representative of the SADF said he had no knowledge of the Inkatha training base. However, they have been verified by a former member of the military’s Civil Co-Operation Bureau (CCB), a member of the SADF who served in the Caprivi Strip region at the time, and by Inkatha members who were trained at Hippo and have made statements to lawyers about their experiences.

There are also reports that there was, at least until last year, a training camp for Renamo members at Lake Sibaya, near the border between Mozambique and Natal. Prior to that a supply base for Renamo bands operating in southern Mozambique existed at Katwyn village, which is in Ndumu game reserve. Both of these bases are in kwaZulu and fall under the control of Ulundi. Inkatha officials would have known of these camps. This would have provided extensive opportunity for collusion between members of the Zulu organization and the Mozambican rebels. A member of the kwaZulu police has made an affidavit stating that one of the camps where Inkatha ‘hit-men’ are trained is located at Mkuze about 60 kilometres from Ndumu.

The Third Force: Two Hit Squad Men Speak

Eddie Koch and Philippa Garson, The Weekly Mail, 24 January 1992

Two ‘Black Cats’, members of a pro-Inkatha gang that holds the eastern Transvaal township of Wesselton in a grip of fear, have come forward to explain how professional hit-men are able to spread civil strife through a volatile township. The history of the gang and reign of terror it has imposed on the people of Wesselton since the middle of 1990 provides a vital clue to the way in which mystery ‘third force’ gunmen have been able to fan the violence that is now endemic in the Transvaal. The evidence and the two Black Cat members are being placed before Mr Justice R Goldstone, who is heading a special inquiry into Military Intelligence involvement in violence. Around October 1990, some ‘kwaZulu policemen’ (known as KZPs) travelled from Ulundi to the township near Ermelo – where tension was running high because of a rent boycott and campaign by the African National Congress-aligned civic organization to depose local councillors – and recruited about 32 young boys and girls from the Black Cats.

These mysterious men from Ulundi were, in fact, part of a 200-strong paramilitary group trained for Inkatha in mid-1986 by the South African Defence Force’s Department of Military Intelligence (DMI) at a secret base in the Caprivi Strip in the art of ‘offensive warfare’. The ‘KZPs’ took the Wesselton youngsters in two mini-buses to Ulundi where they were housed in the old police barracks … Later the gangsters were transferred to the Mkuze camp and a select group of about 22 were put through an intensive course in how to shoot with AK-47s, 9mm handguns and shotguns. They were also taught how to apprehend people, search and detain them.

them. The gang then went on the rampage. Backed by a handful of Caprivi graduates who routinely visited Wesselton as members of the KZP, including Mandlanduna (former MK soldier Duloxolo Luthuli), they attacked members of the ANC … The manner in which the Black Cats were recruited and trained followed an ‘each one teaches 10’ principle: small groups of professionals trained by the DMI teach a larger group of gangsters how to use firearms and this group provides a bigger cohort of the gang with the rudimentary skills of killing. In this way Inkatha obtains command over a three-tiered group of trained fighters to use in its contest with the ANC for control over the township, and the level of violence escalates dramatically.

For the First Time: An Insiders’ Account of the Third Force

Eddie Koch and Philippa Garson, The Weekly Mail, 24 January 1992

A pair of Black Cat vigilantes, members of a notorious gang that operates in the eastern Transvaal township of Wesselton, describe how white police officers used the gang to bomb the office of a human rights lawyer and helped orchestrate a string of murders, assaults and arson attacks. And the very police officer responsible for some of these attacks, a Warrant Officer Van Zwiel, was appointed to investigate complaints against the Black Cats, say the dissident gangsters. The gang members decided to speak to the press because they had been threatened by other Black Cat members for voicing criticism of the gang’s activities and its close alliance with Inkatha. They are now in hiding in fear of their lives and their names have been changed to protect them. The gang is still operating in the township.

Other evidence supplied by the Black Cats confirms earlier Weekly Mail reports, based on testimony from high-ranking Inkatha defector Mbongeni Khumalo, that members of the South African Police in Ermelo released professional hit-men from Ulundi in August 1990 after they had been arrested for shooting up an ANC funeral and killing two of the mourners. After suffering several defeats at the hands of the ‘comrades’, 32 Black Cats were taken to Ulundi and then Mkuze camp, where they underwent military training. They returned with instructions to establish themselves as an Inkatha force in the area. And although the two Black Cats told their stories separately to The Weekly Mail, there is a startling consistency to their accounts. Lucas recounts how white policemen picked three of the strongest Black Cats to petrol bomb the offices of lawyer Stephen Ngwenya as well as the shop, truck and homes of local businessmen in 1990.

… (Lucas tells) how on the night of July 22 and into the next morning the Black Cats – named after the black whips they brandish – ran amok in the location, breaking doors and windows of civic leaders and known ANC supporters, and attacking several people with pangas, knives and axes. At least eight people were admitted to hospital. The Weekly Mail is in possession of affidavits made to lawyers by victims and witnesses at the time. Lawyers’ attempts to get a restraining order on the activities of the gang proved futile. No arrests were made and the violence escalated. In his disclosures to The Weekly Mail, Khumalo described how a colleague had told him how members of a team of Inkatha hitmen, trained by the Department of Military Intelligence (DMI), had gone to the Wesselton funeral and ambushed the procession, opening fire on mourners and spraying bullets into the coffin.

Lucas, who was with the team of hit-men – the ‘eight KZPs’ – on that day, tells the inside story … ‘When the funeral procession came past (the KZPs) started shooting. We were watching. The one carrying the flag fell near the coffin. The coffin was dropped. The one who fell, Jabulani Sibanyoni, was not dead. The one KZP (identified as Nhlanhla Khawula) ran forward and shot him in the head. He opened the coffin and shot the dead body many times,’ he said. That evening SADF troops arrested about 30 people, including the eight KZPs, and confiscated their weapons. ‘A couple of days later they were all released and came to the (gang leader)’s house,’ he said. Khumalo told The Weekly Mail that after the kwaZulu hit-men were released, their confiscated weapons were also returned to Ulundi.