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Attacks on the UDF


The apartheid state did not only impose restrictions through declaring a State of Emergency, with the full might of the military, prisons, courts and police to enforce these restrictions. They also resorted to the illegal use of force.

On May 7, 1987, "forces unknown" bombed Cosatu House.

In February, 1988, the state passed new restriction orders on the UDF, Cosatu, and 16 other organisations.

On August 31, 1988, "persons unknown" blew up Khotso House, the headquarters of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), which also housed the UDF national offices.

Dilip Waghmarae describes his work as media officer for the UDF in 1988:

"I would leave Benoni at 6:30, go to Johannesburg Photo Agencies by 8; finish there at five; go to Khotso House (before it was bombed). I used to walk, be there from 5:30 to midnight, two, three o'clock. I would stay with a friend. My mom stayed at home, alone in Actonville.

One night I said, ‘I'm taking a break, I have to go see my mom' - and we all left early. That night, Khotso House blew up."

Peter Storey, who worked for the SACC, described the scene in his testimony to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission:

"When we got there we were met by a scene of utter devastation. I have never seen anything like it in my life."

The blast, which took place on September 1, 1988, blew all the windows out of Cornerstone House, a building opposite Khotso House, in which the SACC housed a number of pensioners and people with mental disabilities. All of them had come out of their rooms, and Storey found them wandering around in their night clothes in a daze.

"Some of them were bleeding - their faces and their forearms had been lacerated. Some were in such shock that they could not reply to me when I asked them how they were."

Storey said the windows of Cornerstone House facing Khotso House had been blown out and pieces of steel and masonry - projectiles from the blast - were embedded in the walls opposite the windows. He did not know how everybody survived - the most likely reason being that the window sills in the building were high and sheltered people from the explosion.

The TRC later confirmed that security forces had been responsible for the explosion at Khotso House, which had caused extensive damage. On August 5, 1999, the TRC granted amnesty to those responsible for the bombing:

Former Minister of Law and Order Mr Adrian Vlok and former Commissioner of Police General Johannes van der Merwe were part of a group that was granted amnesty today for their involvement in the bombing of Khotso House in 1988.

Also granted amnesty for the same offence are former senior and junior security police officers, General Gerrit Erasmus, Willem Schoon, former commander of the C Unit at Vlakplaas, Eugene de Kock, Wahl du Toit, Paul Erasmus, Douw Willemse, Charles Zeelie, Andries van Heerden, Izak Bosch, Jacob Kok, Larry Hanton, Nicholaas Vermeulen, Hendrik van Niekerk Kotze, George Hammond and Michael Bellingan.

Amnesty was granted to all applicants in respect of public violence and malicious damage to property, and the unlawful possession of arms, ammunition and explosives for the purposes of bombing Khotso House.

They were also granted amnesty for defeating the ends of justice, by inter alia spreading misinformation about the possible involvement of Shirley Gunn, in the explosion and any other offence directly or indirectly linked to the explosion caused at Khotso House based on facts disclosed in evidence before the committee.

Evidence was led before the committee that Minister Vlok discussed the plan to bomb Khotso House with General Van der Merwe who was then head of the security police. They submitted a report to PW Botha, the then state president, and the matter was discussed by the Security Council.

Source: South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Amnesty Decision - Khotso House Bombing, TRC, August 5, 1999

Natal violence before 1990

During the second half of the 1980s, violence in Natal (now Kwazulu-Natal) reached an unprecedented low point. UDF-affiliated youth and their families were harassed by Inkatha vigilantes, vying for influence in the region, and police, who largely ignored cases of vigilantism and reflected overt 'bias' in their intervention by arresting UDF members.

The following excerpt, from a 1991 Human Rights Watch Report on the Natal violence, made the following observations regarding the persecution of the local UDF:

The police have also demonstrated bias by detaining UDF supporters. The Inkatha/UDF detention ratio for the period from July 1987 to July 1989 was 1:50.54. In 1987 there were approximately 1000 UDF detainees in the Pietermaritzburg area; only some 10 Inkatha detainees. Police obstructed peace efforts between the UDF and Inkatha when they detained key UDF representatives scheduled to appear at peace talks in November 1987 and February 1988. In March 1988 the police arrested, photographed, and release any male over 15 they could pick up on the street of the UDF strongholds of Sobantu and Ashdown. Although SAP spokesman Brigadier Leon Mellet claimed that the hundreds of UDF youths near Pietermaritzburg were detained for crimes, not their political affiliation, few were ever charged although most spent several months and some more than a year in detention. Prisoners went on hunger strike in February and March 1989, demanding either to be charged or released. Minister of Law and Order Adriaan Vlok later ordered hundreds to be released, causing the pattern of police detention to change in 1989 to short, intensive interrogations and threats.

Source: The violence in Natal - Human Rights Watch Report on the killings in South Africa, January, 1991

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