Ex-soldier tells court of orders to beat people

A conscript in the South African Defence Force, giving evidence in support of a conscientious objector, yesterday told how an army major had ordered troops to assault township residents because the police were “ineffectual”.

Steven Louw, 21, was giving evidence in mitigation yesterday after Phillip Wilkinson was found guilty of failing to report for military service. He gave a detailed account of incidents of misconduct he bad witnessed during active service from June 1985 to June 1986.

Louw, a first-year student at the University of the Witwatersrand, said that while performing service in the Eastern Cape, the major had ordered the troops to “beat up blacks”. This was because police were ineffectual in handling the situation, and township residents would call in lawyers who would ensure they were let off on a technicality.

Among the things he saw troops doing were:

  • Using catapults with stones against residents to provoke “action”.
  • Placing a 10-year old boy in a small “bin” behind a Buffel. A corporal then beat the boy with a stick.
  • Blackmailing shebeen owners into providing them with liquor.
  • Breaking up fences for firewood.
  • Driving at a congregation as they left a Sunday church service and then teargassing them.
  • Hiding among township houses while a Buffel was driven about in a manner which it was hoped would provoke action.
  • Conducting high-speed trips through the townships in order to give residents locked in the “bin” (the back of the truck) a “joy ride”.
  • Assaulting residents using sticks cut from trees because troops were not issued with sjamboks.

The information secretary of the Namibian Students Organisation, also giving evidence in mitigation, told how he and 15 fellow pupils fled, Namibia after the SADF established a camp close to their school. The SADF had started placing “devices” around the school and behaving in a manner which made him fear for his life, he said.

On May 4 1978, he was at a camp called “Vietnam” 60km into Angola when the SADF attacked. He described a 30minute jet bombing attack, followed by a troop attack. He said about 100 civilians died. The camp had been protected by about 20 Swapo soldiers. He was then detained for six years in Mariental Camp, south of Namibia.

At the camp, he was once forced to dig a hole that was 10m by 1cm for daring to voice complaints about conditions. When he became thirsty, an SADF soldier had poured water into the ground in front of him. Later, 15 soldiers had kicked him about, “like a football”, and he was unable to move for two days. After his release, SADF soldiers drove over the fence around his family home in Ovamboland.

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