The Trust Feed Massacre

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Saturday, 3 December 1988

An incident occurred in December 1988 which shocked the nation and forever changed the lives of the close-knit community of Trust Feeds, a rural village near New Hanover in the Natal Midlands.

On 15 October a group of people, mostly women, had gathered in the Sithole homestead the wake of a man who had died of natural causes. They were unexpectedly attacked at 3 am, by assailants who kicked doors and randomly shot at anything that moved or talked in the house. The attack, later dubbed by the press, the "Trust Feeds Massacre" left 11 people dead and two seriously wounded. The youngest victim was a 4-year-old boy and the oldest a 66-year-old woman.

The investigation that ensued was hampered by silences or unco-operativeness of police witnesses, unwilling to tell the truth about their colleagues, who had gunned people affiliated with the very organization they were clandestinely supporting: Inkatha. Eventually, in October 1991 seven members of the then South African Police, who had operated under the command of Captain Brian Victor Mitchell stood trial on eleven charges of murder and eight of attempted murder. The significance of this case at the time was that Mitchell was the first senior policeman during the anti-apartheid struggle to be tried and sentenced to death for a part in initiating and maintaining the endemic political violence rife in South Africa since 1984. It was a landmark trial in that it revealed that this violence was co-ordinated and sponsored by state structures, the mysterious 'third force', and not the organizations repressed by the state (e.g. ANC) and their enemies (e.g. Inkatha).

In a closely followed and world publicized trial lasting six months, Mitchell finally admitted to having given orders to attack the Sithole homestead, "on the spur of the moment". The evidence given by Mitchell was contradictory and illogical. On 30 April 1992 Mitchell was sentenced to death eleven times, which was later commuted to 30 years imprisonment. His accomplices each received an effective 15 years imprisonment for their role in the attack.

Mitchell subsequently applied for and, to the surprise of many, was granted amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

• Ottaway, D.B. (1992). 'Senior South African Police Officer Sentenced To Death', Washington Post, 112(24)2, 1 May, 1992,
• Truth and Reconciliation Commission, (2003). 'Amnesty Hearings and Decisions: Transcripts 1996 - 2001',
• South African Institute of race Relations, (1999). 'A funny thing happened on the way to the Truth Forum', 6 August,

Last updated : 06-Mar-2019

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011

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