From: A Crime Against Humanity - Analysing the Repression of the Apartheid State edited by Max Coleman

In July 1993, the date for South Africa's first non-racial democratic elections was announced: 27 April 1994. This announcement was the moment the whole nation had been waiting for and the next 10-month period of run-up to the elections was now being anticipated with a range of emotions from jubilation to apprehension. For those who were well aware of the ongoing strategy of destabilisation, a major concern was the anticipated impact on the loss of life during this period.

This chapter examines the actual course of destabilisation during the 10-month period and for that purpose draws upon HRC Monthly Reports from July 1993 to April 1994.

HRC monthly reports, July 1993-April 1994

The announcement in July 1993 of the date of the election produced an instantaneous and electrifying reaction. (See Fig. 20). Deaths in political violence for that month shot up to 605 from the previous month's figure of 267 (very close to the monthly average of 259 over the past 3 years). The figure of 605 deaths in one month far outstrips any other month since August 1990 when 709 deaths were recorded and it seemed the country was being taken back in time to those apocalyptic days. This dramatic escalation of violence centred mostly around the PWV region where the death toll leapt to almost 4 times its previous levels, stayed there for a couple of months and then slowly settled back to more 'normal' levels as the elections came and went. The pattern for Natal, while also reflecting an immediate increase in the political temperature, was somewhat different - a less sharp increase occurred in July of about 50% on the previous year's average, but then kept rising in a sustained manner peaking in election month at around 2.5 times previous levels.

In total for the 10-month period, 4608 deaths were reported across the country or 2000 more than predicted from an extrapolation of the previous 3 years. In percentage terms, the political death rate for the period was 78% higher than during the previous 3 years and the incident rate was 102% higher.

To some extent the pattern of deaths in Natal does not come as a great surprise if one takes into account the history of a battle for political turf and the uncertainty generated by events leading up to the eleventh hour decision on 19 April of the IFP to participate in the elections. However, the pattern in the PWV is a totally different story and the sudden explosion in July, August and September 1993 cries out for an explanation. There is clearly a hidden hand in this pattern, with the express intention of subverting the election process by creating a situation in which free and fair elections would not be possible. The epicentre of this thrust was in the East Rand sub-region accounting for 90% of all deaths in the PWV. The record of this period abounds with high levels of vigilante activity in and around hostels in the East Rand and persistent reports of security force complicity; in other words, a re-run of the events of August 1990. The message emerging from this East Rand war was that elections at this level of violence would be impossible and that the process should therefore be aborted or, at least, postponed.

Vigilante activity was not the only element to experience a revival. Other stakeholders in the perpetuation of apartheid power were also galvanised into action as the day of reckoning became a reality that was drawing close. Most visible were the governments and administrations of the 'self-governing' homelands and the 'independent' homelands, now faced with the issue of how to realign themselves within an imminent democratic South Africa of a unitary nature. The greatest resistance to this prospect came from Bophuthatswana under the leadership of Lucas Mangope. He moved quickly to prohibit all activity related to election campaigning on the basis that Bophuthatswana was an independent country and its citizens could not participate in the elections of another country. All election meetings, voter education workshops and general campaigning were prohibited. When they did occur, police moved in to break up such gatherings, confiscated and destroyed election material, detained and arrested large numbers of people and pressed charges in court. Attempts by the ANC and church groups to 'enter' Bophuthatswana for the purpose of promoting free political activity were forcibly blocked, as was a proposed visit by Nelson Mandela. A ban was placed on any South African trade union from operating in Bophuthatswana. Human Rights Day (10 December) celebrations were banned and student unrest was severely dealt with and the university closed for a period.

From July 1993 to February 1994 the message was clear-the elections have nothing to do with Bophuthatswana and Bophuthatswana is not about to relinquish its sovereignty. However, this was not a message which was acceptable to the vast majority of the inhabitants of Bophuthatswana who were not to be denied their South African birthright nor their right to participate in their own liberation. During March, 1 month ahead of the election, a popular uprising in the face of extensive but crumbling security force action, succeeded in overthrowing the Mangope regime; this in spite of the intervention of white right wing 'commandos' whose only identity of interest was to thwart democratic elections. This mission impossible by Mangope and his right wing allies resulted in the loss of close on 50 lives with 150 injured.

Another apartheid power stakeholder that came to the fore during this period was the white right wing itself. During the year prior to the announcement of the election date, right wing activity had been relatively subdued, being responsible for 10 deaths in 82 incidents, although several incidents were of a serious nature. From January 1994 onwards it became very apparent that the AWB was adopting terror tactics with the express purpose of obstructing the election campaign. The tactics involved the use of commercial explosives to bomb targets such as ANC offices, polling stations, taxi ranks and civilian high traffic areas. During the 4 months of January to April 1994, the HRC recorded 80 such bomb attacks of which close on half occurred in the last couple of weeks prior to the election date. Several of these were massive bombs and the murderous intent is evident from the fact that 2 bombs placed in the last week caused the random deaths of 19 people in high movement public areas. For the total 10-month period, the right wing caused the deaths of 48 people and the injury of 279 more in 172 incidents which included 85 bombings.

By the time election day arrived, the human cost of taking the process from the start of negotiations in mid 1990 to the actual elections to install a democratic government, a period of just under 4 years, was 14 000 dead and 22 000 injured. These are the terms in which the strategy of destabilization must be judged.

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