Home > Article > INTRODUCTION




This is a book about repression. More specifically, it is a book about the repression of the apartheid state and particularly the repressive structures and methods, which were devised and refined by the Nationalist government on its assumption of power in 1948 in order to safeguard and perpetuate that power in the face of a hostile and non-compliant majority. That is not to say that repression was not exercised in South Africa before 1948 or that apartheid did not exist before that date. On the contrary, the foundations for both were laid as early as the arrival of the Dutch colonists in 1652, and later in some earnest by the British colonists especially after the discovery of gold and diamonds. The divide-and-rule tactics of British colonialism so successfully practiced elsewhere in the world were to set the pattern for the co-option of a privileged elite within the indigenous population of South Africa by according it limited power and providing the elite with the means to defend that power.

Notwithstanding the long history of colonial conquest and suppression, and of racial exploitation and discrimination, the year 1948 stands out as the time of a qualitative shift from the ad hoc art of control to the rigorous science of repression in South Africa. As such, it forms a natural starting point for this book on the repression of the apartheid state.

The need for this book

Need this book have been written? The HRC believes so for 2 compelling reasons. Firstly, there seems to be a great deal of ignorance, puzzlement and now - as a result of TRC hearings - curiosity within the South African public's mind about the gross violations of human rights that have been perpetrated in this country during the last 50 years, ostensibly in the name of an ideology of social engineering. Anything which can make a contribution to penetrating that ignorance and respond to the public's need for a clearer understanding of this terrible past, must have value. This book is an attempt to make just such a contribution; it is hoped at the same time to complement and reinforce the excellent work of the TRC by submitting this manuscript into its record.

Secondly, the very considerable accumulated data of 15 years of monitoring by the HRC and its predecessor, the Detainees' Parents Support Committee (DPSC), constitute a valuable historical resource which cannot be allowed to lie fallow. It was realized that this resource could and should be translated into a reference work, hopefully in an accessible form, for the benefit of the public at large, and for the interest of students, domestic and international, of recent South African history and with a particular interest in the subject of the repression wrought by apartheid.

The plan of this book

The design of the book divides the subject matter into four distinct periods from 1948 to the end of 1996. Part A covers the period of 1948 to 1989 during which 'total strategy' was conceived, born and matured as the classical form of apartheid repression. Part B is concerned with the incipient collapse of apartheid power that became evident from 1988 to 1990 and opened the way to a negotiated transfer of power. Part C then traces the 'destabilization strategy' which emerged as the successor to total strategy and which accompanied negotiations during the period from 1990 to the first democratic elections in April 1994. Finally, Part D takes stock of the post-election period of May 1994 to December 1996 in an attempt to assess the completeness of the eradication of apartheid repression and destabilization.

The style of this book

The book draws largely for its content from material published by the DPSC from its formation in 1981 to its banning in 1988 and by the HRC from its formation in 1988 to the present time. These publications have been incorporated in a sequence which fits naturally into the 4 parts outlined above, and have been joined together within this framework by appropriate narrative and commentary. No attempt has been made to modify the tense of original publications, but on the contrary every effort has been made to preserve the 'real-time' integrity of each document and to preserve the impression of a running commentary of the times and circumstances in which they were written. Readers are invited to immerse themselves mentally in the time of writing and to assist them in this the date of publication of the document is always prominently indicated. This immediacy of the material used is particularly strong in Parts C and D when the HRC was geared up for an intensive daily monitoring of events. However, Parts A and B, while often more backward looking, still rely heavily on publications which were written at critical times in our history and were reflective of their time of writing.

Another feature of this treatment of the material which has been incorporated into the book is the ease with which reference can be made by the interested student or researcher to a specific aspect of repression. For example, someone with a special concern about deaths in detention will be able to discover a complete publication on the subject in Part A, Chapter 3.

The title

The choice of title, A Crime against Humanity, was made for two reasons. Firstly, it is a matter of history that the United Nations General Assembly adopted a number of resolutions declaring the system of apartheid to be a crime against humanity and a negation of the UN Charter. These expressions of censure culminated in the adoption by the General Assembly (Resolution 3068) on 30 November 1973 of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crimes of Apartheid. The Convention was entered into force on 18 July 1976. The following are extracts:

Observing that the General Assembly of the United Nations has adopted a number of resolutions in which the policies and practices of apartheid are condemned as a crime against humanity,

Observing that the Security Council has emphasized that apartheid and its continued intensification and expansion seriously disturb and threaten international peace and security.

Article I

1. The States Parties to the present Convention declare that apartheid is a crime against humanity and that inhuman acts resulting from the policies and practices of apartheid and similar policies and practices of race segregation and discrimination, as defined in Article II of the Convention, are crimes violating the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, and constituting a serious threat to international peace and security.

2. The States Parties to the present Convention declare criminal those organizations, institutions and individuals committing the crime of apartheid.

To emphasize international condemnation of apartheid and its practices as expressed within the world body, the General Assembly in 1974 refused to accept the credentials of the South African delegation, effectively resulting in the expulsion of apartheid South Africa from the UN and its agencies, and providing impetus to the growing isolation of South Africa from the outside world that would eventually bring apartheid to its knees.

A second reason for the choice of title is to be found in the content of this book itself. In it the reader will be exposed to the litany of brutalisation of an entire population which has left its impact on victims and perpetrators alike. Apartheid repression, as one of the most deliberate, systematic and ruthless expressions of the practices of apartheid, must surely qualify as a crime against humanity. The reader is left to judge the record.

The information bank

As already indicated, the basic sources of material for this book are the files and publications of the Detainees' Parents Support Committee and the Human Rights Committee (formerly known as the Human Rights Commission); there are two or three exceptions where documents have been externally sourced and these are acknowledged where they occur.

The DPSC was established in October 1981 to oppose and expose detention without trial in particular and repressive human rights violations in general. Its effectiveness received the acknowledgement of the apartheid government in the form of a restriction order in February 1988 banning it from any activity whatsoever. During its life the DPSC performed an intensive monitoring function, producing and disseminating over 50 detailed monthly reports in that time. The HRC was created to take up the cudgels and from 1988 to the present time has produced over 120 monthly reports in the course of monitoring over 20 000 incidents. This prodigious feat of sustained investigation and analysis must be ascribed to dedicated teams of researchers all determined to expose the inherently evil character of apartheid repression. Their work was the foundation for the numerous publications and documents which form the basis of this book.

Amongst the sources relied upon by the research teams for their information were thousands of victims, community organizations, the press, electronic media, political organizations, other monitoring groups, religious groups, trade unions, lawyers, and individual researchers as well as government sources and police unrest reports.



Last updated : 03-Apr-2011

This article was produced by South African History Online on 03-Apr-2011

Support South African History Online

Donate and Make African History Matter

South African History Online is a non profit organisation. We depend on public support to build our website into the most comprehensive educational resource and encyclopaedia on African history.

Your support will help us to build and maintain partnerships with educational institutions in order to strengthen teaching, research and free access to our content.