Where a massacre is a way of life

No fewer than 49 massacres have occurred in the Reef and southern Transvaal in the past two years, costing the lives of 1250 people – an average of 25 per atrocity. These startling statistics are contained in a special report by the Human Rights Commission (HRC) giving details of recent massacres.  The HRC defines a massacre as resulting in at least 10 deaths.

In 34 cases, the HRC reports, Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) members were the assailants. Township residents supporting the African National Congress (ANC) were implicated in six massacres. Security forces are alleged to have been directly implicated in four mass killings, while unidentified whites allegedly played a role in others. Some of the kill fug sprees bear a remarkable similarity to the carnage in Boipatong. Just over a year ago, on May 12,27 people were slaughtered by balaclava-clad men in a pre-dawn attack on the squatter settlement of Swanieville, on the west Rand.

The report lists a number of very similar characteristics on the nature and objectives of the massacres, which show that in the majority of the killings:

  • Inkatha 's drive to establish political territory, influence and membership is a predominant theme.
  • Extreme terror tactics were used mainly to immobilise, disorganise and paralyse township communities.
  • Hostels were the main bases from which to plan massacres.
  • Persistent reports of police and security force complicity in these massacres – especially of the involvement of unidentified whites.
  • Retaliation was a frequent motive.
  • Of the 49 mass killings, which have occurred at a rate of two a month, funerals and night vigils were tar­ gets on three occasions, beer balls or taverns were attacked twice and on three occasions bus and train commuters were killed in major attacks.

The HRC also paints to a remarkable coincidence. As in the case of Boipatong, the Swanieville massacre occurred two days after President FW de Klerk visited IFP president Mangosuthu Buthelezi in Ulundi. These have been De Klerk 's only visits to the IFP headquarters.

But in crucial respects the Boipatong massacre is unique. Never before have 200 detectives been assigned to an investigation, or a special inquiry ordered into allegations of police involvement. Days after the inquiry began, police commissioner Johan van der Merwe announced that evidence implicating inmates of kwaMadala Hostel in the Boipatong slaughter had been uncovered. At the time of writing, 81 hostel residents had been arrested.


Among the HRC's catalogue of less well-publicised atrocities in the PWV alone are:

  • On May 12 last year in Swanieville (also known as Mshenguville) squatter camp, 27 people were killed and 30 injured as 112 shacks were razed during a two-hour dawn attack by a group of about 1 000 alleged IFP supporters. Witnesses claimed the attackers were backed by white balaclava-clad men who did not use the firearms they carried.
  • On December 2 1990, alleged IFP supporters killed 30 people in Tokoza during a pre-dawn house­ to-house raid aimed at Xhosa-speakers, which resulted in hundreds of people fleeing to the Phola Park squatter camp.
  • On November 26 1990, 11 people were killed and 16 injured when close to 150 armed men, among them whites, launched a sudden attack on residents of Mandela View squatter camp in Katlehong.
  • On September 4 1990, armed, balaclava-clad raiders-allegedly led by IFP leader Themba Khoza and accompanied by whites-stormed the Sebokeng Hostel in the early morning and killed 19people during the fighting which ensued.
  • At the night vigil for a victim of faction fighting in Alexandra on March 27 1991, 15 people were shot dead and 18 injured in a cold blood assault by AK47- wielding gunmen.
  • On January 12 last year in Sebokeng, 45 people were killed and 50 injured in a hail of AK47 bullets at the night vigil of Christoffel Nangalembe, a prominent ANC activist in the area.
  • On March 27 last year in Alexandra, 15 people were killed and 16 injured when uniformed gunmen invaded a night vigil at about 4am and opened fire with AK47s and automatic firearms. Police from the nearby police station, within earshot of the shootings, arrived an hour after the attack despite having agreed to providing protection for the mourners.
  • On October 7 last year in Tokoza, 20 people were killed and 24 injured at the funeral of community activist Sam Ntuli when gunmen attacked mourners. Police were accused of failing to check the attack and of themselves firing on mourners.
  • On May 12 1ast year in Sebokeng, 13 people were killed and 11 injured when two masked gunmen barged in to a beer hall and indiscriminately fired on patrons.
  • On October 13 in Mapetla, Soweto, 10 people were killed in another attack on tavern patrons. Stony-faced gunmen opened fire on the occupants of Twelepele Bar Lounge as well as people on the street outside for 45 minutes before moving off in two waiting mini-buses.
  • On July 22 1990, 19 people were killed and more than 45 seriously injured in the running battle between members of the IFP 1 and the civic association in Sebokeng. Police are alleged to have stood by while "impis” went on the rampage.
  • On March 24 1991, 12 people were killed and 38 injured in Daveyton when police opened fire on a group of about 250 ANC supporters before the 10-minute dispersal period given to them was up. Police alleged that they opened fire on the crowd who ignored a warning to: disperse and instead attacked them. In the incident one policeman was killed and two others also injured.                                    
  • On August 15 l 991 in the Crossroads squatter camp, 24 people were killed and several injured in a pre-dawn attack on the· predominantly Xhosa-speaking camp by armed men wearing red headbands.
  • On April 3 this year, 23 people were killed and 17 others injured when 30'shacks were flattened during an attack on the Crossroads squatter camp in Tokoza. Residents told how about 30 Xhosa-speaking men armed with guns, pangas and petrol bombs came toward the camp in the direction of the Holomisa squatter camp at about 11pm​.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

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