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Close-Up | De Klerk spilled blood while negotiating with the ANC

By Fred Khumalo


On December 2 1988 a group of people – mostly women – held a vigil for an old man called Ze Sithole at a house in Trust Feed, a rural settlement near New Hanover, KwaZulu-Natal.

Typical of these gatherings, the candlelit vigil lasted the whole night. Then, in the early hours of the following day, marauders burst into the house and started firing indiscriminately.

When the guns finally stopped barking, the silence was oppressive. A lone candle burned dimly in a corner.

Then silence was finally broken by a gruff voice that said: “There’s another one still moving, shoot!”

Then the gun belched.

When the gunmen had flung themselves into the night, the only survivors (two women and a 12-year-old child) stayed where they were – under the pile of bodies that had fallen on top of them, saving them from bullets.

The following day, the country woke up to the news that 11 people had been murdered. The oldest was a woman of 66, and the youngest, a four-year-old boy.

SABC TV news screened police footage of the bodies being moved out of the house the next day.

The story was reported as the work of “ANC terrorists” who had attacked a house occupied by Inkatha supporters.

An inquest was held, but it did not bring justice.On June 17 1992, while De Klerk’s government was locked in political negotiations, a horde of marauders descended on the West Rand township of Boipatong, where they killed 45 people. The attack was blamed on the so-called Third Force.

It would take three years of tough, fearless, dangerous investigative work by Detective Frank Dutton and Warrant Officer Wilson Magadla to finally make arrests in connection with what had come to be called the Trust Feed Massacre.

As a young journalist working for UmAfrika, a Zulu-language weekly, I covered that case right from the beginning. Every weekday I was there, for six months, listening to horrific testimony.

The men in the dock were not “ANC terrorists”. They were policemen from the then SA Police (SAP). The most senior of them was Captain Brian Mitchell, a white man who was commander at the New Hanover police station. The other five accused included men I had grown up with in Mpumalanga township, outside the Hammarsdale industrial area in KwaZulu-Natal.

Captain Mitchell told the court that he had worked closely with Jerome Gabela, a local leader of Inkatha, in identifying houses belonging to United Democratic Front (UDF) supporters in the Trust Feed area.

On December 2, Mitchell and the five constables had gone around burning down houses that had been pointed out by Gabela. These were houses of known UDF-ANC supporters.

People who were not politically aligned were not spared – their houses were also burned down.

Then, in the early hours of the following day, Mitchell and his men pounced on the Sithole house. Mitchell admitted to have given the orders to attack the Sithole house.

The court heard that, in fact, he was the one who had barked that chilling order that night: “There’s another one still moving, shoot!”

But there was a sad twist to the Sithole attack. Mitchell and his men had attacked the wrong house. The Sitholes were not UDF-ANC supporters; their sympathies lay with Inkatha.

During the trial, Gabela, who had turned state witness, was almost in tears as he told of this mistake and his role in the entire plot.

For his role in the massacre, Mitchell was sentenced to death 11 times, which was later commuted to 30 years. His accomplices each received an effective 15 years imprisonment for their role in the attack.

Later still, Mitchell applied for and was granted amnesty! He was released last year.

In this trial that lasted six months, the collaboration between Inkatha and De Klerk’s government in unleashing terror in KZN was exposed to the world for the first time.

During the trial, it emerged that a group of men were recruited by Inkatha, primarily from Mpumalanga township. They were then sent for military training in the Caprivi Strip in the then South West Africa.

In 1965 the SAP established a secret camp in the Caprivi Strip. The role of the camp was to monitor Swapo activity. Like the ANC in South Africa, Swapo was the liberation movement for the people of South West Africa, now Namibia.

In 1988, as the fighting between Inkatha and UDF-ANC supporters intensified in KwaZulu-Natal, it was decided by the leadership of both the government of De Klerk and the leadership of Inkatha to take men to Caprivi Strip for military training.

Upon their return, the Caprivi Strip trainees were broken into numerous groups. Some were absorbed into the KwaZulu police force, others became so-called “kitskonstabels” (special constables) and were absorbed into the regular SAP. Their specialty was to hunt down UDF-ANC leaders and kill them. They also carried out random attacks on areas perceived to be UDF-ANC strongholds.In this trial that lasted six months, the collaboration between Inkatha and De Klerk’s government in unleashing terror in KZN was exposed to the world for the first time.

But how and why did they choose the sleepy Trust Feed settlement?

Trust Feed was, and still is, a small black rural settlement situated amid sugar cane farms owned by white people in New Hanover. Historically, the land belonged to 18 black landowners.

When the National Party (NP) came to power in 1948, bringing with it a battery of laws designed to further dispossess black people of their land, Trust Feed was declared a “black spot”.

With the NP in power, many black communities located in “black spots” were forcefully removed and dumped elsewhere. The people of Trust Feed lived under this threat from 1948.

Residents formed the Trust Feed Crisis Committee, which successfully resisted government plans for forced removals. The committee then negotiated with the Natal Provincial Administration to provide development for the area.

This resulted in water being supplied, a clinic being built and roads being upgraded from gravel to tar.

The progress achieved by the Trust Feed community apparently did not sit well with the apartheid government – especially because the crisis committee openly supported the UDF.

The story of Trust Feed is just one case study I wanted to share to illustrate FW de Klerk’s duplicitous ways and his willingness to spill blood to prolong his regime’s stay in power.

While he was making overtures to the ANC – releasing Mandela, unbanning the liberation movements – he was privately financing and arming Inkatha killing squads.

On June 17 1992, while De Klerk’s government was locked in political negotiations, a horde of marauders descended on the West Rand township of Boipatong, where they killed 45 people. The attack was blamed on the so-called Third Force.slide 1 of 1The funeral of the massacred at the site of the infamous Boipatong massacre on June 17 1992, when 46 township residents were massacred by local hostel dwellers while negotiations towards the end of apartheid were in progress. Photo: City Press Archives/Gallo Images

Subsequent investigations showed the attack was masterminded by Inkatha supporters, with the full knowledge of the police.

Clearly, part of De Klerk’s strategy was to destabilise and weaken the hand of the people with whom he was negotiating.

For all that, he was given the Nobel Peace Prize.

And in the sanitised history he had been frantically writing before he died, he wanted us to remember him as the man who ended apartheid, a peaceable being.

Some of us refuse to be complicit in the lie.

Fred Khumalo is a former Editor of Sunday World and a respected journalist

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