In October 1984 the apartheid state responded to the Vaal unrest and the almost total boycott of the coloured and Indian elections by sending 7000 South African Defence Force (SADF) troops into the black townships of the Vaal to crush the uprising. They named this 'Operation Palmiet.'
The UDF, and a newly formed organisation called the End Conscription Campaign (ECC), demanded SADF troops out of the townships.
In November UDF affiliates in the Transvaal organised the biggest work stayaway in 35 years. This was done through civics, youth groups, trade unions, and other township-based organisations. The UDF national leadership was in disarray at the time - either in detention or in hiding - and thus unable to meet.
The Transvaal stayaway showed the power of mass action, but it did not stop the repression. Both the mass violence and the government repression spread further.
Over the first part of 1985, police and the SADF were deployed in townships throughout the country. Police and the army fired on crowds - often on people gathered to bury the dead from earlier shootings. Leaders and activists were detained. Communities - both in urban and in rural areas - turned on those people seen as working for the government - policemen, "community councillors", government informers, "collaborators". Some were killed; others fled.
Reaction: The Transvaal stayaway
The following excerpt from Learn and Teach provides a vivid description of the events surrounding the massive Transvaal stayaway organised by the UDF and its affiliates and its impact:
For two days in November, most factories and firms in the big cities of the Transvaal were empty and silent. The workers were showing their anger. And they were showing their muscle - the muscle of unity.
For the first time in many years, old arguments and fights were forgotten. All kinds of student organisations, community organisations, and worker organisations came together. They came together to make the stayaway work.
The stayaway did work. On the East rand, 80% of the workers stayed in the townships and in the compounds. In the Vaal townships, 90% of the workers stayed at home. And few people from the West Rand and Pretoria went to work.
The people ... made a list of all their demands:
• No more rent increases in the townships
• No more bus fare increases
• No more tax and GST increases
• No more police and army in the townships
• No more community councils in the townships
• Trade union leaders and other leaders must be freed from jail ...
The people did not rush into the stayaway. On October 28, the students called the stayaway. People chose a special committee to plan for the stayaway.
The committee decided to have the stayaway on November 5 and 6 ...
"workers need time to decide such things", says a shopsteward from a big factory in Johannesburg. "People who don't work in factories must not tell workers to stay away. Workers must talk about things like stayaways. They must have meetings and decide for themselves."
The stayaway worked well because of another reason - hard work. People from many organisations handed out pamphlets on the trains, in the buses, in the streets and in people's houses. All day and all night the people worked to make the stayaway a success.
The stayaway was a big success - but the price was heavy. In the townships 25 people were killed - mostly in battles with police. Many leaders of the stayaway were arrested and are now sitting in jail.
And in Secunda, the bosses of the big Sasol factory fired 6500 workers - because they supported the stayaway.
Many people suffered because of the stayaway. But they showed the government their strength. Now they are waiting to see if the government will listen.'
Source: Learn and Teach, No. 6, 1984, pp. 1-3
Into the State of Emergency
On July 20, 1985, State President PW Botha announced a State of Emergency in 36 magisterial districts.
The Government reimposed the State of Emergency every year after 1985, changing restrictions and increasing the areas that it affected. By February 1988 it was estimated that 25 000 people had been detained under the Emergency regulations. By the end of 1987, 1200 people were known to be in detention (it was illegal to publish the names of people detained); of these, 400 had been in detention for over two years.
On February 24, 1988, the minister of law and order published new Emergency regulations, banning the UDF and 16 other organisations. Under this order, the banned organisations were only allowed to take legal advice, and to keep financial accounts. They could not hold meetings, run campaigns, publish media, and hold protests ...
What did living under a State of Emergency mean for a person? What did it mean for people who were known as activists in community organisations and in the UDF?
July 1985: news headlines: ‘what is happening in our country?'
Over the year following the Vaal Uprising, the government cracked down viciously, using both legal and illegal means. Government forces struck out at the UDF, at the grassroots organisations affiliated to it, at activists and people in the street, and at the liberation movement in the underground and in exile.
On March 21 - the anniversary of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre - police opened fire on a demonstration in Uitenhage, killing 20 people.
On May 8, three leaders of the Port Elizabeth Civic Organisation, Pebco - Sipho Hashe, Qaqawuli Godolozi and Champion Galela - were abducted and murdered by South African security police.
On June 14, the SADF attacked the homes of people in exile in Botswana, killing 12 people.
In July, four leaders of the Cradock community, Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sicelo Mhlauli and Sparrow Mkhonto (the Cradock Four) were found murdered.
On July 21, the government declared a State of Emergency in 36 magisterial districts. The Emergency gave police and other officials wide powers to detain people, without revealing their names; it allowed them to ban meetings and organisations; and to prevent media from reporting on unrest and protests.
At least 136 UDF officials were known to be detained in the first swoops under the new regulations. Within months the numbers of people detained was in the thousands.
On August 1, lawyer and activist Victoria Mxenge was murdered in Durban.
In August, the largest UDF affiliate, the Congress of South African Students (Cosas), was banned.
Reverend Allan Boesak, president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and member of the executive committee of South African Council of Churches (SACC) at the meeting of the Special Committee against Apartheid, said in a statement released on July 24, 1985:
"I cannot begin to describe what has been happening in South Africa since the declaration of a State of Emergency last Saturday. I must say, however, that even before the formal and official declaration in the townships, our people were experiencing a reign of terror conducted by the South African police and the South African Defence Force that was equivalent to a State of Emergency. Even before Saturday, an unofficial curfew was in operation in our townships and many of our people were shot at and killed when they moved around after dark. Even before the State of Emergency, many people were detained without trial, arrested without cause, tortured in the goals and shot like dogs on the streets of our nation. Even before Saturday, we knew of the death squads that were roaming our streets and receiving uncommon protection from the police and the South African government. These are the well-known facts that disturb us about South Africa.
"In the last few months, more than 10 000 people have been detained without trial; of those, some have been released, some have been charged with treason, while others have simply disappeared. We do not know what has happened to those who have disappeared. A pattern is emerging, however, that has persuaded us that what we are seeing is a systematic assassination of the middle level of leadership, not only of the United Democratic Front, but of other organisations as well.
"We do not know exactly who these people are, although we have raised critical questions about the disappearances and deaths of certain leaders in South Africa which have not been answered satisfactorily by the South African government or by its police."
Source: Statement by the Reverend Allan Boesak, President, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and member of the executive committee of South African Council of Churches at the meeting of the Special Committee against Apartheid, African National Congress (ANC) website.
The following is an article written in 1985 explaining how the State of Emergency could affect those opposing apartheid:
'The police in South Africa have always had many powers. But on Saturday July 21, the state president gave the police even more powers ...
1. They can search your house and take away anything they want.
2. They can stop any meeting.
3. They can arrest you and keep you in jail for 14 days. If they want to keep you longer, the minister of law and order can sign an order - and then they keep you for as long as they like.
4. The head of police can stop the newspapers from writing anything about the places [magisterial districts or geographical areas] under the State of Emergency.
5. The newspapers cannot give the names of people in jail - even if someone says their son and daughter is in jail. The papers can only print the names that the police give them.
6. The emergency laws give the police many other powers. In some places they have started curfews ...
7. You cannot do anything if you are unhappy with the police or other people with special emergency powers. You can't take them to court - no matter what they do to you.
The rights of people in detention
People who are detained under the emergency laws have very few rights:
1. Your family can bring you clothes and some money to buy cigarettes and things like soap. You can't get any books for reading or for study. You can only read a Bible.
2. Your family can visit you - but only if the commissioner of police gives permission.
3. You must get one hour of exercise a day.
4. The district surgeon (doctor) must visit you.
5. They can lock you up all on your own. And if you break their rules in jail, they can punish you. They can fine you - and if they want, they can even whip you.
What to do if someone in your family is detained
1. Finding a detainee: find a good lawyer to help you. The police do not always listen to the families of detainees. If you do not know a good lawyer ... the Detainees' Parents' Support Committee (DPSC) and the Detainees' Support Committee (Descom) ...will help you to find a lawyer. ... Ask the lawyer to find out if your relative is in detention - and at what jail they are holding your relative.
2. Parcels: detainees can get clothes and money - if there is a shop in the prison. If there is no shop, they can get food parcels. Ask the lawyer to help you get permission to take parcels.
3. Visits: you can ask for visits. You must say why you want to visit ...
4. Doctors: if the detainee has a sickness or a health problem, you must tell the doctor at the prison ...
5. Help with money: if the detainee is the breadwinner in your family, speak to an organisation called the Dependants' Conference. They will give you money for rent and food.
6. Start a care group: try to start a care group with the detainee's friends and family. ... For example, the group must tell the detainee's employer about the detention ... They should try to help the detainee's family - and to keep their spirits high'.
Source: Learn and Teach, No. 4, 1985
Dr Coleman, an official of the Detainees' Parents' Support Committee (DPSC), gave this statement to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on the number of people detained without trial, and the use of detention without trial against the youth and children:
We come now to detention without trial ... we estimate that at least 80 000 detentions have occurred from 1960 right up until 1990. And most of them actually occurred from 1985 onwards during the States of Emergency.
Children and youth featured very prominently. Again we had tried to make an assessment ... of just how many people were detained and how many amongst them were children and youth. For this assessment, we have drawn from monitoring of our own organisation, monitoring by other organisations and also official information which was obligatory under the Public Safety Act, and certain police affidavits in court revealed a lot of information.
From that we are able to arrive at what we regard as a conservative analysis that there were a total of 80 000 detentions, amongst whom there were about 48 000 youth - in other words 60% of those detentions. This is during this period to 1989.
And within that about 20 000 children, 25%. As far as age is concerned, this went down to as young as seven. Sometimes entire schools, preparatory schools were detained. As far as the gender of detainees, we found that something like one in eight, about 12% of all detainees, were women and girls.
So that we would estimate that 10 000 women and girls were detained in this period (from 1960 - 1989) of whom 6000 would have been youth, 25 and younger, and 2500 would have been children under the age of 18.
Torture and assault in detention: here again we estimate that one in four detainees would have been abused by torture or assault before they were finally released. This estimate we make from countless numbers of interviews with detainees after their release; we regard that one in four as a very conservative figure.
And of course assault begins at the arrest stage. Interrogation follows and that could take place either in army camps, under the control of the South African Defence Force or in prison cells by the members of the SAP particularly the security police.
And torture during interrogation can only be described as routine and that included electric shocks, suffocation, beatings as we've heard this morning, suspension, sleep deprivation and so on.
It is important to note what the purposes of torture were. They were basically to extract names of colleagues for additional detentions, to extract confessions and information and to intimidate and to try to pressure people into becoming informers.
And of course a byproduct of torture and assault in detention, is death in detention. It is inevitable. And deaths have occurred. We assessed that, or we have records of, 73 deaths which have occurred in security detention during this period.
And with them, there were of course deaths of young people. So of the 73 deaths that we have recorded, we know the ages of only 53 of them and within that 53, a third of them, were young people, 25 years of age and younger.
And there was even one young man under the age of 18 who died in detention. And it is actually interesting to examine the official causes of deaths in detention, such as the familiar ones like suicide by jumping, accidental fall from the 10th floor and so on, slipping on the soap. What happens frequently is a verdict given within a magistrate's court or inquest courts, of suicide by hanging. This comes up at a rate of about 50% of all deaths in detention, suicide by hanging.
One has to ask the question, how many of these suicides by hanging were genuine and how many were simulated? And whether they were simulated or induced by the conditions of detention, it is a tragedy either way. One needs to note that detention or the fear of detention brought about what we call a large body of internal refugees, people on the run being scared of being picked up for detention and incarcerated for one, two, even three years.
So lots of young people lived away from their homes on the run, living a twilight existence. Hostage-taking was another rather disturbing event. When the security police arrived at a particular home and they could not find the particular person that they were looking for, the particular child, they would take a brother or they would take a mother or the father and say when your relative is found, then we will release you.
Then something which has been alluded to earlier today, mass detentions of schools. The special regulations that we heard about earlier during the State of Emergency which would allow the security forces to go into schools, was extraordinary: some of the actions in detaining entire schools, must have convinced the outside world that here was a government gone mad.
There were a couple of instances on August 22 and 23; over 800 schoolchildren were piled into trucks and taken away and kept overnight and then 360 of them were charged the following day, including an eight year old, if you can imagine that.
Another report was a school in September, all 786 pupils and 33 teachers as well of a Soweto Secondary School, were loaded into trucks by heavily armed police (indistinct) and detained in terms of emergency regulations for boycotting classes.
There was the issue of mothers and babies in detention. There were young, pregnant ... women in detention. Young women giving birth in detention, young women nursing babies in detention and young mothers separated from babies whom they were nursing at the time.
Hunger strikes, there were numerous hunger strikes and in the Detainees' Support Committee almost on a monthly basis we would receive letters from detainees, smuggled out of prisons, saying we are on hunger strike, please explain our plight to the world and we have one example of that in this document.
The national hunger strike of 1989 was a very important event in that all practically al, detainees who could, went on hunger strike and this was about 1000 of them and this actually pressured the authorities into releasing them and this had the effect of throwing open the gates of the jails. This was after people had been in detention for over two-and-a-half years.
We also discovered the existence of rehabilitation camps where young detainees were. Some of them were advised: ‘Look, we will take you to a rehabilitation camp and this is your way out of detention and there ... you will live in comfortable conditions'. Obviously there was a sting in the tail, that these people were pressured to become informers and to engage in counter mobilisation organisations. We list the camps that were discovered, there were about six of them in various parts of the country.
Just briefly, the banning and restriction of children and youth: Many people when they were released from detention, were banned. In other words they had to be in their homes at certain hours, they couldn't go to meetings, gatherings, they couldn't associate themselves with various organisations. In other words what was happening was that their detention was being extended into their homes. And this was at no expense to the government. Some of these detention orders were quite extraordinary in that a person would be obliged to report twice to a police station on a daily basis and what - all that they were doing was going backwards and forwards between their homes and police stations and doing nothing else.
And of course, they could not engage in any formal employment. Political imprisonment, of course in the unrest, very large numbers of people were arrested for all kinds of reasons and brought to court and charged and to a certain extent convicted and again, we have tried to assess the numbers.
And it is assessed by us that during this period around 100 000 youths, aged 25 or less, have been arrested and tried in court with about 60 000 convicted and sentenced for politically related offences.
About half that number would be under 18. And of course it is important to note that not all sentences resulted in imprisonment.
One aspect of political sentencing were political executions. ... We have on record names of 49 prisoners who were executed by hanging. And amongst them were 16 who fall into the age group of 25 or younger."
Organisations - a large number of youth and student organisations were banned either under the Internal Security Act or under the State of Emergency regulations.
The first wave of bannings occurred in October 1977 after the Soweto Uprisings. Nine such organisations were banned. The second great wave occurred in 1988, when 13 youth and student organisations were banned.
Gatherings - for 15 years there was a blanket ban which was renewed every year for prohibiting any outdoor gathering of a political nature.
Then in 1986, there was an additional blanket ban which was introduced, which forbade any indoor gatherings which related to advocating a number of things, including educational boycotts.
And then apart from these blanket bannings, countless thousands of individual gatherings were banned and of course ... amongst the consequences were getting yourself killed or being assaulted or arrested in the course of gatherings which now became illegal.
Banning of publications - obviously the student press became a target and our assessment from all publications is that something like 10 000 publications were banned by the - or regarded by the publications control board-as undesirable and that possession or distribution of these was an offence.
There was one particular student newspaper, called Sasco National, which had a circulation of 60 000 copies. The apartheid state set out to smash Sasco National and amongst the things they did was, they banned certain editions for possession and made two attempts to ban all future editions. Then they detained and banned the two co-editors and finally the premises and equipment of Sasco National were destroyed in attacks by persons unknown.