Boipatong massacre: Still no real answers

Piers Pigou Apartheid assassin Ferdi Barnard’s revelations before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) amnesty committee this week about destabilisation before the 1994 election have again raised questions about the extent of security force participation in the Boipatong massacre. Barnard claimed that hitmen provided guns to Zulu hostel dwellers to carry out a series of massacres across the Reef, including the Boipatong massacre in which more than 40 residents of the small Vaal Triangle township were murdered in June 1992 by Inkatha Freedom Party supporters from the nearby KwaMadala hostel.

In startling new evidence Barnard testified that several days before the massacre he was informed that guns would be given to KwaMadala residents for an attack on the African National Congress. He was, however, unable to say whether security force elements were involved in the attack. Theories regarding security force involvement in the massacre remain highly contested. Seventeen hostel residents, including 16 convicted for their role in the massacre, have applied for amnesty. All, with the exception of Andries Nosenga, denied that the security forces played any role in the attack. Amnesty was opposed by a large contingent of Boipatong residents, some of whom also contended that the security forces were involved in the massacre. Lawyers and supporters of the applicants asserted that no evidence of police or military collusion had been established, by either the Goldstone commission, the massacre trial judge or the TRC itself. Although allegations of security force involvement were explained away as an ANC-inspired conspiracy, no evidence of such a conspiracy was produced. Nosenga told the committee that a notorious security policeman had participated in the attack. It also received a transcript of a conversation between the same policeman and journalist Rian Malan in which the policeman admitted being in the township in an armoured vehicle on the night of the massacre. This was remarkable new evidence, as the original police “investigation” made no mention of this vehicle. The committee, however, decided that the policeman’s testimony would take the matter no further. Boipatong residents were stunned, believing an opportunity to further examine the role of the police in the Vaal Triangle had been lost. A few weeks after the original Boipatong hearing the late Ernest Sotsu, whose family had been murdered by KwaMadala residents in 1991, said he expected that amnesty would be granted and that the truth would remain buried. Increasingly isolated from the ANC leadership in the Vaal Triangle, he was bitter about the rapprochement between the IFP and the ANC at the national level. In recent weeks several sources inside the TRC have indicated the amnesty committee is likely to grant amnesty to the bulk of applicants in the Boipatong case. If so, this means that it will reject the versions provided by Nosenga, a number of Boipatong residents, as well as other contextual evidence of police-IFP collusion in the Vaal Triangle. It will also mean that they reject the findings contained in the TRC’s interim report that the police were involved. Given the reasoning behind some of the recent amnesty decisions, it is evident that the amnesty committee is bending over backwards to grant amnesty, even in matters where applicants have clearly failed to fulfil the provisions of certain amnesty criteria. The stakes in the Boipatong matter are high. Rejecting amnesty will automatically send the applicants back to prison. As Nosenga was not convicted for his role in the massacre, he will not face jail if his version is rejected, although it will probably undermine his chances of being granted amnesty in other hit-squad activities for which he has been convicted.

With the exception of the Boipatong hearings, the only other attention given to the violence in the Vaal Triangle region was a week of Human Rights Violation Committee hearings during 1997. Although an epicentre of repression during the mid-1980s and early 1990s, only three policemen from the Vaal have applied for amnesty. All were implicated by former Vlakplaas commander Eugene de Kock and others for falsifying evidence when the late IFP Youth Brigade leader Themba Khoza and others were caught at the Sebokeng hostel in September 1990, in possession of guns and hand grenades provided by the Vlakplaas unit. This week former security policeman Paul Erasmus said he had also handed on illegal weapons to the security police’s counter- revolutionary “C” section in late 1990 and early 1991 and that there was a directive for all “skelm wapens” to be directed to De Kock’s unit. It was common knowledge, Erasmus said, that these weapons were intended for the IFP. Erasmus is due to appear before the amnesty committee later this month. Whatever decision is taken regarding the Boipatong massacre, the amnesty committee cannot claim that the matter has been properly investigated and allegations of security force involvement disproved. As with many other matters brought before the TRC, no significant inquiry has ever been conducted. The allegations of Barnard – and others – suggest that further investigation is indeed warranted. Piers Pigou is a former TRC investigator

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