From Partisanship to Neutrality? Changing Perspectives on the Role of the SA Security Forces During Transition

From Partisanship to Neutrality? Changing Perspectives on the Role of the SA Security Forces During Transition

Phillips, M. (1990). From Partisanship to Neutrality? Changing Perspectives on the Role of the SA Security Forces During Transition. Paper presented at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, Seminar No. 4, 27 June.


Presenter: Mark Phillips

Mark Phillips is a former Legal Adviser to Mr Tokyo Sexwale, former Premier of Gauteng Province.

Date: 27 June 1990

Venue: University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

The More Things Change?

South Africa has witnessed major changes in many areas of policy over the past year. But few are so profound in their implications or their symbolism as the changes which have swept the once all-powerful security establishment. Yet despite the massive downgrading of its power and the now almost ritualistic public degradations which formerly powerful army and police officers are subjected to in the Harms and other commissions of enquiry into crimes and abuses of power, the security establishment remains staffed by much the same personnel as before. It remains imbued with the same values of status quo defence which have always informed its practices and self-image.

There is the old adage to the effect that "the more things change the more they stay the same." And it certainly is true that changing circumstances have not always in the last few months inhibited the security forces from behaving in time-honoured fashion. How can South Africa create for itself a new set of security forces, more accountable to the elected bodies and more legitimate in the eyes of its people?

In this paper I will trace some of the changes which have occurred in the security establishment over the past year or so, temper these with an examination of what has not changed, and investigate some of the processes which need to occur to ensure that, as far as the security forces are concerned, things do not ultimately stay the same. In addition, I will look very briefly at changes in the intelligence establishment and in some detail at the police force, because this will help place the position of the SADF in the development of a new South Africa. I will not look at the roles that are increasingly being played by private security companies or at the complex political prerequisites to the creation of widely legitimate security agencies, but I will in conclusion try to pose some of the most difficult dilemmas facing the security forces as we make the slow and painful transition to a non-racial democracy.

Moving the Fence

The extent of the shift that has occurred in South African politics, and its implications for the security establishment, were portrayed by two very powerful symbols within the same week of June this year. Chris Hani, number 2 in Umkhonto we Sizwe and a figure of heroism to millions of township residents, returned to South Africa and was pictured by The Star walking the streets of Johannesburg. This man, formerly one of the most wanted opponents of the regime, whom it had tried on numerous occasions to assassinate, was free to go where he wished on his return. In the same week fugitive white right-winger Piet "Skiet" Rudolph released a bizarre video from his hiding place where he is on the run from the police. Surrounded by balaclava and machine-gun-toting thugs, this champion of white minority rule called for violent revolution against the National Party, ANC and SACP alliance which he fears (not without some justification) has taken control of the country. While Chris Hani, one of the country's leading revolutionaries, walked the streets in peace, the police placed a R50 000 prize on Rudolph's head. The irony cannot possibly have escaped these two men who seem to have suddenly swopped sides of the fence which divides the acceptable from the unacceptable in South African political life.

First, and most profound in its implications for what until recently was called "securocrat rule", has been the dismantlement of the National Security Management System, the abolition of its political management post of Deputy Minister of Law and Order and the downgrading of the role of the State Security Council. This has marked the overt end of counter-revolutionary warfare and the reimposition of civilian control over the security establishment. These developments undid at a stroke the formal trappings of the "silent coup" which occurred during the P W Botha years. As an additional step in the civilianisation of the state in November 1989 President de Klerk ordered an official investigation into the covert actions of all security branches "as part of a rationalisation process".

"It is my conviction", he said,

…that covert actions must be managed very carefully and firmly. As appears from my actions so far, I intend to ensure exactly that. Further, I believe that covert actions must be limited to the absolute minimum.

Within the defence force itself we have seen the end of the crude political programmes with antiquated racial and political stereotypes that were run for conscripts and permanent soldiers alike. "Know your Enemy" courses were ended within a week of the ANC being unbanned. Cindy Leontsinis and her Victims Against Terrorism organisation no longer enjoy semi-official propagandist status within the Defence Force, and the imaginary depiction of an effacing and compliant black society through the use of puppets like Atteridgeville councillor Justice Tshungu in SADF political education courses has been brought to an end.

There is also the far more cautious and reserved role the police force has played in many of the marches and demonstrations which have occurred in the country since Nelson Mandela's release. The almost ungovernable municipal police have at last been placed under SAP command and discipline. Armed white men in khaki have been arrested in Witbank for attempting to disrupt a legal COSATU march. A Bill has been passed in Parliament to abolish racial separation in prisons. Despite police and military objections, commissions of enquiry into violent police action in Sebokeng and the death squads have been established. These are publicly humiliating elements of the South African Defence Force and evidence given in the Harms Commission resulted in the previous unthinkable headline "Generaals versus Magnus" in Rapport newspaper in March.

The defence budget has been effectively cut by nearly 16% with more cuts expected. There have been severe cuts within the defence force and within Armscor as well. Two naval commands and the marines have been disbanded and more than 2 000 Permanent Force personnel have been retrenched. Eleven major weapons and equipment projects have been cancelled and 49 reduced or delayed. Ten percent of Armscor personnel – more then 2 000 employees – are expected to lose their jobs this year. Three squadrons and three Air Force bases have been closed. The construction of a new R250-million defence headquarters in Pretoria has been postponed, probably indefinitely.

A New Approach

There have also been a number of interesting developments on a psychological level. In January six Casspirs were withdrawn from Soweto in a high profile media exercise emphasising the crime rather than riot-prevention function of the police. National Intelligence Service Chief Neil Barnard – for the previous decade of his appointment South Africa's most invisible man – appeared on television in a carefully stage-managed interview to introduce himself and his service to the public. We no longer see the police commenting on guerrilla attacks in the country or apportioning blame for incidents of violence. Comments on those issues are left to the politicians, and the police are no longer directly intervening. We see far more sophisticated responses to unrest from security establishment spokespersons, far more concentration on socio-economic causes of unrest, and far less pointing at the ANC and the Communist Party as the source of all South Africa's trouble.

Senior Law and Order spokesperson Herman Stadler, who certainly has no past reputation for reserve or inhibitions in his comments on the ANC, was quoted in The Citizen in March (13 March 1990) as saying that the post-Mandela release wave of unrest was the result of a combination of factors and was not necessarily orchestrated. He went on as follows:

One cannot say in general that the whole unrest situation is being orchestrated from some individual source. The situation is not simple. The socio-economic problems and high rate of urbanisation with its resulting large squatter camps also play a major role. It is almost impossible to get behind the true reason for the problem without an extensive study into all the factors involved.

Also very interesting is that commandos around the country, especially in the Transvaal, the Free State and Northern Natal are being disarmed. White South Africans, over strident right-wing objections, are being asked to return their weapons to the SADF for safekeeping. The ostensible reason is that there are too many weapons in public hands and too many are being stolen, but one can well imagine that there might be other more serious rationales for this as well.

Facing up to Old Enemies

On a more descriptive note, one could refer very briefly to processes that are developing in towns like Uitenhage, and even in Natal, despite the ongoing conflict there. In Uitenhage during the past six months there have been public meetings between UDF and ANC leaders on the one hand and senior police personnel including the Minister of Law and Order on the other. These have resulted in the establishment of a structured liaison relationship between the community and the police force. The police force no longer takes sides in internal conflicts in Uitenhage and is no longer trying to create or back up reactionary vigilante forces there. A peace pact has been established and there is agreement that it is in the interests of both sides to maintain an ongoing liaison relationship. In practice this has resulted in a quite peculiar situation: senior police officers sitting across the table from UDF and the ANC leaders, all of whom they had detained during the state of emergency – some for the full three years.

Even in Natal we are starting to see certain Inkatha warlords being arrested and put on trial for murder for the first time. SADF units moving through some Inkatha-controlled areas, not necessarily arresting anyone but disarming people, taking batches of R1s out of kraals and so on. At least one warlord, arrested and quickly released during the heyday of counter-revolutionary warfare, has been rearrested and is now on trial for murders committed in 1986.

Finally, one of the most commented-on phenomena among former targets of security force attention is the current inattention displayed toward them by the security branch. This is most revealing of the change that we have seen in South Africa: one of the things I did while I was preparing this paper was to phone around the country and ask people in different cities "What are the security police doing these days?" And except in some of the rural areas, the most common comment was "We never see them". Mkhuseli Jack from Port Elizabeth actually went for tea with the security cop who is in charge of the "Swartafdeling" in Port Elizabeth because he hadn't seen them for so long, was worried and wanted to know what the cops were up to.

The More They Remain the Same?

But of course many things stay the same. Some of them go without saying. The SADF remains institutionally one of the country's most segregated institutions, despite its public rhetoric about deracialisation and its role as a forward-looking agent of change. We still have complete white domination of the security forces. We still have a race-based system of training for the police force.

There is still a perception in many communities in South Africa, particularly in the rural areas, of ongoing police brutality against people. It is worth quoting UDF spokesperson Mohammed Valli, who said recently that police belligerence towards township residents is the same as at any time since 1976. (Business Day, 30 March 1990). That is a realistic perception for many people in South Africa. In the three months following Nelson Mandela's release police shot dead 139 people and wounded some 1 500 more. (HRC April Update). Especially in the Northern Transvaal and in some of the smaller towns in the Eastern Cape, but also in some metropolitan townships such as Alexandra, there is ongoing police harassment.1 The Sebokeng killings were a classic repeat of the sort of unprovoked brutality which has won the SAP worldwide notoriety. Just down the road, so to speak, in Welkom, political considerations still restrain the same police who opened fire without warning in Sebokeng from taking any sort of action against armed white vigilantes and AWB marchers.

We see special force-type raids and attacks continuing, such as the one against Father Michael Lapsley in Harare, and the attack on a PAC family in Botswana, and we still have suspicions that death squads in South Africa are being retained. Just this month a Brits activist, Abel Molokwane, was found dead in the veld two weeks after allegedly confronting Askaris with a hit list bearing his name. Certainly very few of the personnel of the CCB, for instance, have been revealed, and at the Harms Commission the police have been engaged in a crude and mendacious cover-up of the functions and actions of Vlakplaas-trained members. This Commission seems to have turned into an elaborate exercise at damage control and spreading confusion, rather than the promised clean broom through the rot in the security forces.

JMCs' Metamorphosis

There is also a suspicion that the dismantlement of the JMCs has not always been as thorough-going and honestly implemented as it was supposed to have been. One known example here is that of Alexandra, a peaceful community in which there is no Natal-type conflict. Yet the minutes of a new body called the Alexandra Advisory Committee reveal the insidious ability of JMC-type structures to survive and mutate into new forms. This Advisory Committee rather peculiarly had its 222nd meeting on the 11th of April this year. This is very interesting because in September last year the JMC in Alexandra held its 200th anniversary celebration at a restaurant called MacRib in Sandton. The personnel at the meeting of this Alexandra Advisory Committee meeting were the same people who used to attend JMC meetings, including SADF and SAP colonels, a commandant, a major, and four lieutenants. The chair, as before, was Alex Administrator Steve Burger.

It is worth quoting a couple of points made in the minutes of this document. The first, which is minuted without comment, is that the councillors in the Alexandra community "want the police to wipe out troublemakers without any formal charge being laid." In this connection the document refers to the death of a Bennie Kutemela who had been shot, apparently because he was a troublemaker in the taxi war. It also evidences clear examples of partisanship on the part of the officials in the meeting. Alex administrator and former JMC chair Steve Burger is quoted as saying that "concrete evidence is necessary against Moses Mayekiso, before he can be accused of causing a war. The community will not help in this regard". The question is: who will help in this regard, who could cause a war in Alex and who could ensure that blame was placed on leaders who the community itself is unwilling to blame? Also of interest is the fact that the "advisory" structure is continuing to involve itself in education and health matters in the community. This is just the sort of politicisation of security force involvement which the De Klerk era was supposed to mark an end to. The document is known to the Alexandra Civic organisation and to the many members of that community. The suspicion this sort of document creates in communities should not be underestimated.

So, although much has changed, there are also many remnants of the past in many of the practices and structures of the security establishment in South Africa. One of the most important of all is the continuance of whites-only conscription and of the white commando and Citizen Force systems. This is the most important sense in which the SADF remains a political institution contrary to SADF claims that conscription in fact inhibits political involvement by the army. As far as the black community is concerned, the militarisation of white society in general, the exclusive white command structure of the force and the involvement of almost all white South African men in the defence force is ultimately the guarantor of the SADF's political role in South Africa.

What all this means is that we haven't yet seen a sufficient shift towards neutrality or a sufficient shift towards equality of treatment of all transgressors of the law. Yet in any negotiations process, equality of treatment must be practised, and it must be seen to be practised to overcome suspicion and achieve the sort of good faith that both the ANC and NP leadership have committed themselves to at different points over the last few months.

Nis on the Up

As far as the changes in the intelligence establishment are concerned, one can summarise them as a downgrading of the role of the security police and the role of Military Intelligence and an upgrading of the National Intelligence Service. This is partly because, just like each of his predecessors, F W de Klerk will work most closely with the intelligence agency most akin to his own thinking, and partly because Military Intelligence at least badly blotted its copybook through its far too close relationship to P W Botha in the 1980s. But perhaps the most important reason relates to the functions and styles of work of the different agencies.

The security branch and MI have over the years collected tactical information and responded tactically. For instance, tactical information on an ANC house in Gaborone, or an activist meeting in a township would be gathered, and this would then be acted on tactically – through a raid, an attack, the placing of an informer, detentions or whatever. Its rise to pre-eminence marks an upgrading of the role of strategic thinking so as to aid the long-term political strategy formulation which we are now seeing coming from the South African government.

Under P W Botha there was in the end little strategy and lots of boot. For that sort of state, the type of information and preferred actions of MI and the security branch were ideal. The F W de Klerk state is strong on strategy – and for this the work of NIS is indispensable, as De Klerk himself made clear in his address to the 21st anniversary of the organisation in April this year. The new political rules increase the importance of NIS, he said: "Intelligence gathering has become an indispensable instrument to assist in implementing government decisions." (The Argus, 27 April 1990). Its primary task is to identify obstacles to the realisation of the government's strategic goals (Burger, 27 April 1990). In this context the intelligence service is likely to devote far more resources than in the past to monitoring the far right-wing.

A New Role for the Police

The most immediate serious problem for the new De Klerk government to deal with, once the security establishment and its amibitious military leadership had been forced out of national policy formulation, was the South African police. A single indication of the extent of the problem, among thousands that could possibly be given, is the fact that in the decade between 1976 and 1985, the South African Police killed 9 771 people in the course of their duties in South Africa. Over the last few years increasing concern has been expressed from within the white establishment about the state of the police. Since De Klerk's assumption of power there are at least some real indications of important changes which the government is attempting to implement in the police force.

The most important indication of the changing role of the police force comes from a confidential speech which F W de Klerk gave to 500 senior police officers in January this year. The contents of the speech are widely known because it was leaked to the Sunday Times. Among other things, De Klerk told the police command that

Matters that have in the past been dealt with by strong-arm tactics will in the future be handled differently… We cannot become involved in an 80 years war. If Armageddon takes place and blood flows deep in our streets and four or five million people lie dead the problem will remain exactly the same as it was before the shooting started…

He went on to specify the new role of the police force as he saw it:

Up to now the police had been required to perform two types of functions. The one is handle typical crime situations… This is the task which will always be that of a police force all over the world. But you also had other tasks to fulfill. And that was a control function connected to a specific political policy…

When people gather politically to voice their views in an orderly fashion you will be asked to keep law and order. But you will not be required to prevent people from gathering to gain support for their views. This is the political battlefield, and we want to take the police out of it. We will not use you any longer as instruments to attain political goals. Let the politicians look after politics. We must stop requiring of the police to lay in the first line of trenches into the political battles… We want to take you out of the political crossfire and free your hands to concentrate on the prevention of crime.

De Klerk hurried to reassure the assembled officers that the government had not changed its views on the danger of communism, nor was it willing to expose to unacceptable risks such fundamental values as a free market, religious freedom, equality before the law or an independent judiciary. But the protection of white minority rule was clearly abandoned as a defensible value.

Depoliticising the Ranks

Soon after this speech was delivered Law and Order Minister Adriaan Vlok announced that it would henceforth be illegal for policemen or members of the approximately 40 000-strong police reserve to be members of any political party. The move was primarily directed against the successful recruitment of white policemen by the Conservative Party – to the extent that figures as high as 80% of white policemen in the Transvaal being members or sympathisers of the CP have been bandied about. Between 2 500 and 3 000 police reservists resigned within one week of the announcement – despite CP appeals for them to stay on.

Most spectacular has been the way in which the government has moved to stem the tide of resignations and rising discontent within the force2 by offering huge salary increases of up to 79% (in addition to standard civil servant increases awarded earlier in the year) which make the force competitive with private sector rivals such as the burgeoning private security industry.3

Just as important as the increases themselves was the new emphasis on differentiation and training within the force. According to Vlok, the new salary structure would most benefit those policemen who excelled. Those who showed initiative and were promoted quickly would be rewarded financially. A new rank of lance-sergeant, requiring the passing of a prescribed examination, has been established. Writing and passing exams would be rewarded across the board with higher salaries. (Business Day, 13 June 1990). It would be most interesting to know the content of the new examinations which most members of the force will be writing. The Star reported in April (4 April 1990) that US Under-Secretary of State for Africa, Herman Cohen, had said Adriaan Vlok had described to him psychological reorientation programmes in the force which had been designed to reorient police to the new political situation. The report was denied by Vlok, who said that Cohen was referring to nothing more than ongoing police training courses.

New recruitment has also been re-emphasised. The police have proved inadequate to the policing task – this is why the army was sent into the townships in 1984 and also partly explains why the police now seem powerless to prevent a rising tide of crime in the country. A recent Sunday Times (10 June 1990) scare story under the heading "Farmers let loose the dogs of war" wrote of Natal farmers living in a state of siege against rampaging armed gangs. The farmers, who have apparently adopted a "shoot to kill" policy, are banding together to put up money for bounty and operating "buddy systems" on two-way radio sets. To avoid the proliferation of such self-defence units the government aims to bring in 10 000 new recruits over the next year, 4 000 of them into the SAP itself, 3 000 into municipal police forces, 2 000 special constables and 1 000 office workers to free trained police personnel from clerical duties.

Is the Police Force up to its New Role?

While the new intentions are undoubtedly worthy and should produce some professionalisation of the force there remain numerous indications of trouble within the ranks of the various police forces which South Africa's fragmented society accommodates. The essential problem we have with regard to the police force is that it is regarded by the Government as the predominant and primary peace-keeping force during the period of transition, but in fact the police force is nowhere near being up to this task. Five reasons can be advanced for this: it is partisan and lacking in legitimacy, it is unprofessional, it remains understaffed, it is fragmented and it is a largely paramilitary force.

Still Taking Sides

One does not need to look far to understand the partisanship of the police force. For decades the police have been the front line of defence of a racist order against the ANC-led "revolutionary onslaught". Policemen have been taught that the ANC is the enemy, to be fought with all means at their disposal. Security police action has long been concentrated on ANC-aligned organisations and activists. Riot police have seen years of action against ANC-supporting crowds. Police have time and again been alleged to stir up and support right-wing vigilante violence in communities across the country, in accordance with crudely imported theories of low intensity conflict and counter-revolutionary warfare.

Township residents complain bitterly of a lack of police interest in fighting crime. Many gave up reporting crime or criminals to the police years ago for lack of any hope of a response. The role they have played has put the police in the front-line of attack by cadres of the ANC's army, Umkhonto we Sizwe. Today, the police are willing on the one hand to excuse large-scale demonstrations of armed might by Inkatha supporters in Natal on the grounds that the arms they bear are merely "cultural weapons", while on the other hand justify the shooting of ANC supporters in Sebokeng on the basis of a few sticks and knobkerries in the crowd.

A kitskonstabel interviewed by Legal Action Project researcher Derrick Fine gave his perception of his own legitimacy in the community in which he had grown up:

Because I am a special constable I know that people hate and are prepared to attack me. That makes me not part of the community. This therefore means that this job has cut my community relationships.

The government has now come round to the notion that policing is in the long run impossible without at least the grumbling consent of the policed, but the complexity of undoing widespread perceptions derived from past experience should not be underestimated.

Too Few Professionals

The police force's general lack of professionalism has a number of sources. One is historically poor pay. Another is the relative absence of academically inclined training courses. Unlike military officers, senior police officers have not been required to receive much more than standard training in the basic elements of their craft. Very few have a tertiary education. But the most important source of police indiscipline must without doubt be the blind eye which the political bosses of the force have turned to flagrant abuses of power within the police force since the early 1960s.

Standard regulations are not obeyed because they have not been expected to be obeyed. Ever since torture became a routine aspect of police investigations (and not only in political cases) the government has preferred to either covertly encourage it, turn a blind eye or pay annual fortunes in settlement of court claims without ever acknowledging culpability or enforcing rules within the force. As a result a widespread culture of violent retribution and extra-legal punishment has developed within the ranks of the South African police. Whole communities have come to be seen as the enemy, senior officers have told judges that stone-throwers should be shot to kill, policemen have organised large-scale vigilante wars and secret assassination squads and it is a rare cop indeed who believes that professional regulations are there to be obeyed.

Apartheid Fragmentation

The police force is fragmented racially and politically. Training occurs in four racially separate training colleges. According to SA Barometer (2 December 1988) the National Diploma in Police Administration – the prerequisite for promotion to officer rank – is held by 1 640 white police, 38 Indians, 17 Africans and 8 coloureds. Of 363 captains in the police force, 356 were white as at the end of 1988. There were no blacks in higher officer ranks – major, colonel, brigadier or general – at all. This vast racial imbalance exists despite the fact that only 45% of police are white, down from 49% in 1983 and 59% in 1950.4 Although there are now many non-white station commanders in the country, not a single one to my knowledge serves in a white or "grey area". The ultra-right AWB is generally regarded to have widespread support among white policemen while Gregory Rockman's uncompromising Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) has aligned itself unequivocally with the ANC. Thandeka Gqubule of the Weekly Mail discovered bare walls in prisoners' quarters when she toured a prison recently, but ANC and SACP posters on the walls of most black warders.

The police force has also been politically fragmented by the designs of grand apartheid. Each homeland has its own police force and own security branch under separate command. In KwaNdebele this autonomous force, under the command of seconded SAP officer Brigadier Herzog Lerm, waged a campaign of terror against that homeland's residents for much of the mid-1980s. In KwaZulu today the KwaZulu police, under the command of KwaZulu Minister of Police Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and seconded SAP officer and counter-revolutionary warfare expert Brigadier Buchner are believed even by members of the SAP in the region to be little more than Inkatha's private army.

Paramilitary Crime Prevention?

During the course of the last decade paramilitary training became standard for all South African police. The number of police going through training in counter-insurgency and riot control each year increased from 3 383 in 1977 to 12 917 in 1987 (Police Annual Reports 1977 and 1987). But even in government circles it is increasingly recognised that we do not need a paramilitary force as we move into the new South Africa. The SAP is now believed to be an appropriate kind of force both in its training and in the way it is currently structured.

Giving Local People Control

It seems there is increasing thinking around decentralising the police forces and orienting them more toward crime prevention (see for example the speech of Justice Minister Kobie Coetsee to the AGM of the Institute of Town Clerks in George on 5 June, 1990). The infamous kitskonstabels, once the shotgun-toting frontline against township political protest, have already been reoriented toward crime prevention (Derrick Fine). The most interesting idea under discussion in National Party circles is that most police in South Africa do not need to be under national police command. According to Coetsee, attention should be given to the possibility of devolving responsibility for "elements of policing" to local authorities – possibly along the lines of the municipal police force presently being formulated by the NP-DP coalition in the Johannesburg City Council. But far more radical ideas than this could usefully be considered for the future.

Bringing authority for most policing down to a level at which communities can directly influence it will surely be one of the most important ways of re-legitimising policing in this country. We need nothing more under national control, it could be argued, than a national FBI-type structure – a national investigative structure for complex and cross-community crimes – and a special task force to deal with certain emergencies. Other than that most policemen could be under the control of local or perhaps regional authorities and should pursue a largely crime-fighting function. The security police, who have contributed most to the partisanship of the police force and its poor reputation, could be done away with and replaced by a single separate internal intelligence agency. There is no need for the police to be tainted by the political and partisan work which intelligence agencies inevitably find themselves engaged in.

A Beeld editorial of 22 May suggested that there was a need to take money out of the defence budget and put it into the police force. The salary increases announced a few weeks later were a first indication of this reorientation of priorities, but there are likely to be more. Few people would disagree that we are going to need many more police and fewer soldiers. The government certainly thinks so, and may be starting to think that the more of them that are under local and municipal command the better. These are ideas that the ANC may be very open to.

Joint Responsibility?

There is one final issue of interest in this area. A member of the President's Council who spent many years working for the police force – several of them covertly – said in an interview in May that "we need MK vitally in the police force …". What he was essentially expressing was a desire for joint responsibility in policing and law and order maintenance with the ANC. This goes well beyond the concept of "joint monitoring" which has been mooted by the ANC. There is undoubtedly some way to go before such a proposal could be seriously considered, but it has very many interesting implications. What would be the response of Inkatha, the PAC or AZAPO, or of the ANC's own supporters for that matter? How would it affect attempts to shift policing in a politically neutral direction? And how would such a proposal fit in with "dual power"-type perspectives currently under consideration in liberation movement circles?

No More Beiruts

A concluding cautionary comment on decentralisation of the security forces is needed. The danger is that if poorly carried out and ill-considered there is the possibility of a Beirut-type internecine conflict situation developing. In Beirut the army was decentralised and different parts of it under separate commands sided with different sides in the political conflict. We already have some of the potential elements of this sort of situation in Natal with the KwaZulu police and 121 Battalion having fought one another and the SAP. The danger of neighbouring local authorities under the control of different political forces setting locally controlled police forces at each other's throats must be avoided at all costs. We have numerous highly partisan, highly divided instruments in the security establishment. We should avoid creating more at all costs.

Preventing Chaos and Anarchy

The primary role of the army as expressed by current Defence Minister Magnus Malan is that no army can allow chaos and anarchy to reign. If chaos and anarchy threaten, it is the role of the Defence Force to step in. Its role is to protect territorial integrity and borders, the lives and property of inhabitants. But, despite some of Malan's more bellicose and intransigent utterances in recent weeks, there is a widespread recognition that the army will have to change.

The two most important changes I would like to focus on here are integration on the one hand and deracialisation on the other. The two are somewhat different issues.

Integrating Opposites

Integration with other military forces, particularly with MK, is officially rejected at the moment by the Minister of Defence (Business Day, 18 May 1990). It is interesting that his rejection was predominantly on technical rather than on political grounds. Perhaps he is missing the point. On the other hand that rejection might allow for the possibility of a discussion about integration for political purposes at some future stage. But there are also good political reasons for SADF wariness about integration at this stage. One is the lack of preparedness for such a move by SADF soldiers themselves. A second reason relates to the government's overall negotiating strategy, which is to attempt to refuse the ANC the status of sole negotiating opponent. The ANC is regarded, government spokespersons are at pains to point out, as simply one of the participants in the future negotiating process.

As far as the ANC is concerned

An integrated army is the ideal that we should struggle for. There would not be an army dominated by blacks. It would be an integrated army. We believe it is important to address the fears of the white officer and the career officer. (Chris Hani in Business Day, 1 March 1990).

When integration is considered, very different perspectives are frequently put forward by MK and SADF representatives. At its most crude, the SADF may be thinking that it can perhaps swallow or absorb MK, which is a far smaller force. On the other hand, the ANC's army is looking towards creating an entirely new defence force, not simply being absorbed into the old. These are very important political differences which will have to be dealt with. The agreement reached between senior citizen force officers and MK in Lusaka in May provides an interesting example of how a compromise can be reached which meets the most important concerns of both.

Deracialising the White Army

As far as deracialisation is concerned, to my knowledge the highest officers who are not white in the SADF are colonels. Most of them are either in public relations or in charge of units composed only of members of their ethnic group. I know of no black officers of any medium or high rank who have officered white soldiers in operational circumstances. Something in the region of 90% of the defence force as a whole is white, although black soldiers are said to have done most of the fighting in the latter years of the war in Angola and Namibia.

This racial structure is an important problem as we move into a period of transition. If we want the SADF to accept that it is going to withdraw from politics, that "it should not become involved in any way with the politics of opposing internal factions", as The Citizen put it (21 March 1990), and that there is going to be a new kind of government in the country, one of the things it is likely to insist on is maintaining its internal professional integrity. Magnus Malan was doing just this when he responded to criticisms of the deployment of 32 Battalion in Natal. He said "the SADF will not allow anyone to prescribe to it who will be deployed and where." (The Star, 17 May 1990).5

Two problems arise here. Firstly, can the SADF be placed under civilian control and adapt to the new South Africa without reacting defensively to what it will see as "civilian interference"? Is there space for compromise between professional criteria, political appointments and affirmative action? There is going to be a very complex balance between deracialising and producing a politically acceptable defence force, without provoking extreme counter-reactions from those within the defence force who insist on the maintenance of professional standards and processes. The recognition of this dilemma by MK representatives at the recent conference in Lusaka, and the concomitant recognition by the SADF representatives of the need to deracialise as rapidly as possible was an encouraging indication of the potential for military men to reach acceptable compromises with one another without civilian interference. There is an irony here however. This is that the whole argument for the depoliticisation of the SADF which has been advanced by the ANC may turn back on the ANC: if it wants a professional defence force which does not interfere in politics, then it may have to respect the Defence Force's internal professional procedures, and live with the consequences.

Secondly, can the intentions of the top brass to position the SADF impartially be effectively communicated to the rank and file? Some evidence already exists of the difficulties the military will experience. The Democratic Party Unrest Monitoring Committee's Roy Ainslee commented on the SADF's record in Natal that "senior members of the SADF do recognise the need for them to play an impartial peacekeeping role. The problem is that there appears to be a communication breakdown between the top level and the lower echelons." (Democracy in Action, May 1990). The attitudes of rank and file police and soldiers and their ability to adapt to the new political situation in the country are crucial to the success of a negotiated transition. Even with reorientation courses and greater professionalism, it is likely to take years for attitudes to change.


Another of the problems which the security establishment is going to face is the problem of language. Afrikaans has been imposed as the dominant language within both the SADF and the SAP as part of a clear strategy of Afrikanerisation. Apart from language problems this imposes in the day-to-day work of soldiers and policemen, the dominance of Afrikaans poses particular problems with regard to training. Non-Afrikaans-speaking members of the forces are placed at a considerable disadvantage when lectures and training materials are almost exclusively in Afrikaans. It is quite clear that the defence force of the new South Africa will not be able to maintain Afrikaans as its lingua franca, and some change is going to have to occur in this context.

Joint Responsibility?

A second very important question is that of how Umkhonto we Sizwe is to return. What role it is it going to play and what role are the security forces going to play through the transitional process? Here again, the Lusaka conference made some interesting recommendations. The most surprising point on which agreement was reached was that MK should return as soon as possible and be enabled to establish itself properly within the country as a viable independent force. The SADF, it was generally agreed, should make facilities available to the ANC's army to help it in this regard.

Some confusion surrounds the ANC's view of the role of the security forces once its army returns. The Harare Declaration provides for no role at all for the security forces during transition – ANC statements leading up to the declaration called for the removal of all troops and paramilitary police from the townships. The declaration itself calls for the removal of all troops. But other more recent comments from ANC leadership have been quite different.

Chris Hani said at the IDASA conference in Lusaka in May that "we are looking towards a mutually binding ceasefire, mutually reinforced." This could be interpreted either as a call for joint monitoring, or as a call for joint responsibility for keeping the peace. Either way, it accords a role to the security forces. When questioned about township violence, he said that "the maintenance of law and order is the responsibility of the South African Government." This again gives an approved role to the police. Few in the ANC currently seem to believe that the Harare Declaration formulation is either realisable or really desirable. It is open to question whether joint responsibility for law and order or integration of forces would be possible without the establishment of an interim government, but the issue is fairly open at the moment.

Too Many Guns

Another issue which worries many people is the problem of the number of weapons within South Africa. What it comes down to is the question of the right to bear arms and a majority have probably exercised their right. There are today no formal race bars on the issuing of gun licences – there is in any case no shortage of guns in black communities. In a new fully deracialised South Africa, either no-one will have the right to bear arms or everyone will have that right. At the moment no-one has the right to disarm the AWB, even were anyone foolish enough to try. If everyone has the right, we are going to continue to have a very complex situation of many guns within the country in the hands of many antagonistic political forces which will have to be managed politically.

A New Strategic Direction

One of the most important but rarely posed questions is what the role definition of the new army will be once the white state is gone and there are no longer any military threats to be countered? The purpose and the doctrines with which the SADF have worked have been fairly clear, but they are going to have to change substantially. The question of the doctrine of a new army is closely tied up with a whole series of questions about its role and structure. What is the army going to exist for? Who will its enemies be? What will its functions be and how large will it need to be? Do we really need homeland armies to be the core of regional armies in the future? Do we need regionally based units of the defence force at all? Don't we need police force units which are under local control, rather than armies, and perhaps a much smaller defence force for crisis situations? It should be a relatively straightforward task to retrain soldiers from both sides for police work in the future.

Demilitarising South Africa

During the 1980s we saw unprecedented militarisation of the South African state and of South African society. Furthermore, as a result of the South African Government's long-time refusal to deal with the political problems in the country by political means, we also saw the development of widespread militarism among township residents. At its most obvious level we have songs praising Umkhonto we Sizwe, the use of AK-47s and RPGs, the explosions at Voortrekkerhoogte, Sasolburg, Koeberg and so on. Most worrying are rising levels of violence and the meting out of arbitrary or "kangaroo court" type justice against criminal suspects and political opponents.

On both sides a culture has developed of a militaristic and violent approach to dealing with political problems, which one can trace back to the refusal of the South African Government over a period of 40 years to respond to popular political demands.

Now the question is: Was this militarisation merely a kind of "simple parenthesis without institutional consequences" (Rouquie) – a brief interlude in South African history which will have no permanent social effects – or is it something that we will have to deal with for a prolonged period of time? Demilitarisation is obviously a question of degree. You do not have a militarised state or a non-militarised state. There are degrees of militarisation and demilitarisation. It bears remembering that analysts such as ourselves were writing of a "silent coup", the "rule of the securocrats" and the "militarisation of the state" as recently as a year ago. Today we have switched to new topics: "negotiations" and the dilemmas of transition, but we should be wary of overlooking the very recent historical legacy of violent conflict and emergency rule – or its continuation in Natal.

Like everywhere else where it has adopted a role at the heart of state power, the South African military used its time at the helm of politics to further its own institutional interests. De Klerk has gone a long way toward cutting back on these, but it will take a long time to do away with the secondary consequences and effects of the Botha interlude and to encourage a culture of political democracy and tolerance in South Africa rather than one of militarism. Civilian government – or black majority rule government for that matter – is not automatically going to ensure the permanent and certain civilianisation of power, even after free and representative elections. "Sword power politics", to use the apt term of NIS chief Neil Barnard, is not yet altogether a thing of the past.

Coup Poker

An important fear in black communities and in the ANC and in opposition forces generally, is that ultimately the SADF is the real bottom line of white minority rule, or of white minority interests. This needs some explanation. We have a lot of talk in South Africa at the moment of economic power or constitutional guarantees as being the final guarantor of white interests in a future South Africa, but there is probably a more common perception among many people that ultimately it is not a piece of paper, but the Defence Force which is the ultimate guarantor of white interests and which will remain largely under white control. Constitutions, after all, are poor protectors of bottom lines.

The question this poses for the ANC is at what point could a military veto – so-called "veto coup" – come into play? Is the ANC going to be playing "coup poker" (O'Donnell and Schmitter) in its negotiations with the government? What are the Government's cards and what are its bottom lines? Talk of a coup in South Africa cannot be taken seriously at this stage. The basic problem which any military government would have to face here, as elsewhere, is not so much how to take power, but how to maintain it and how to use it. The same pressures, only much intensified, would confront any post-coup government. The difference is that it would find itself far less well-equipped to deal with them. But on the other hand the ANC does not have endless latitude to push the SADF or the National Party government in directions which they find completely unacceptable. There is going to be an awkward balance between maintaining the "good faith" between parties which negotiations seem to require and holding the military in reserve to wave as the big stick when negotiations reach crunch points.

This problem relates ultimately to the question of what the new South African Defence Force will be loyal to? This is an especially difficult question, but another important one which will have to be answered. Since the unbanning of the ANC, General Magnus Malan has said that in his opinion the loyalty of the South African Defence Force is to the "tried and tested institutions of South Africa". That is going to have to change, because most institutions have been tried and found wanting. Ultimately what we are looking at here is the difficult question of the building of a common South African loyalty in the future which will have to be incorporated in the defence and security forces as well as accepted by the major political parties.

Nuremberg Trials

The final question that I would like to deal with is one which evokes immediate and strong reactions from the side of the government and the police and army. This is the threat of South African Nuremberg trials. In all transitions to democracy this is a complex dilemma which faces new governments. One possible approach is a complete amnesty on the past and a policy to forgive and forget the past completely. This has commonly been the African approach. In all cases it has been the Southern African approach. But in the Latin American experience, such as in Argentina, it has often been believed that some accounting needs to be made with the past in order for people to move forward into the future together, even if that accounting ends up being largely symbolic. For whatever governments decide, it is very difficult for ordinary people to forget altogether the crimes that were committed in the past.

One important point to make here is that in the South African conflict, as in all other conflicts, there are no angels and no moral purists. Crimes have been committed on all sides. Crimes committed in camps in Angola have been acknowledged by the ANC. Certainly Albie Sachs in discussions and talks in South Africa has been questioned on the torture of people within ANC camps extensively, and there are a number of people who have returned to South Africa recently who were victims of crimes committed by members of the ANC. So this is not a problem that is solely directed at punishing one side.

A headline in an Argentinian newspaper at the time the Argentine government decided that ultimately very few people would be prosecuted for the political crimes of the past poses the dilemma very well. For political reasons – essentially to retain the loyalty of the military – it was considered to be necessary to forgive and forget rather more quickly than many people had hoped. The headline read: "The honour of the barracks is above the rights of man." I wonder whether in South Africa the honour of the barracks is also going to be above the rights of man or whether it will be politically feasible for us to do some kind of accounting with the past. I do not know what the answer is, but it is one more difficult yet important question thrown up by the transition we are starting to go through.


1 It should be remembered that it is in terms of the legislative framework provided by the government, in the form of the Internal Security Act and the emergency regulations which remain in place in Natal, that the police are empowered to harass individuals and communities. This is why the ANC has demanded the full lifting of the emergency and the repeal of security legislation before full negotiations begin.

2 In January 1990 11 police per day were reported to be resigning (The Citizen, 22 January 1990). By March this figure had escalated to some 20 per day (Business Day, 5 March 1990). Shortly before the salary increases were announced the figure was believed to have risen to 30 per day – or between one and two per cent of the force each month. An interesting aside is that high rates of police resignations are in fact nothing new. As long ago as 1937, a police Commissin of Enquiry reported "severe demoralisation" in the ranks and a serious shortage of manpower resources. According to Philip Frankel, 11 183 white policemen resigned between 1970 and 1977 and as long ago as January 1979, 20 policemen were resigning each day from the force. Thinking about it, it is a wonder that there are any policemen left in the force since they have been resigning at the rate of 10, 20 or more a day for at least 10 or 11 years.

3 At this stage the increases do not seem to include the poorly paid, poorly qualified and poorly trained municipal police or kitskonstabels, though similar increases are going to be extended to equivalent ranks in the prisons service and army (The Citizen, 14 June 1990).

4 This has not always been the Minister's response, however. The Zulu-speaking 121 Battalion was withdrawn from strife-torn Mpumalanga township in Natal within a week of a demand from KwaZulu leader Chief Buthelezi for black troops, whose ranks he claimed had been infiltrated by the ANC, to "voetsek out of the townships" (Democracy in Action, May 1990).

5 The SAP have 82 251 members. Of these 36 406, some 45%, are white. But if the 5 000-10 000 kitskonstabels, the 9 000-10 000 municipal police (SA Barometer, 2 December 1989) and 18 000-20 000 homeland police (Brewer) are included in total police numbers, the white component falls to about 30% of the force.

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CSVR is a multi-disciplinary institute that seeks to understand and prevent violence, heal its effects and build sustainable peace at the community, national and regional levels.

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