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Apartheid army's deadly secrets

Published Apr 30, 2006


By Chiara Carter

The South African Defence Force (SADF) was up to its neck in Third Force activities - including train massacres and hostel and township violence on the Witwatersrand and in KwaZulu-Natal, according to a recently declassified report.

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After 14 years of concealment, the controversial Steyn report, compiled by General Pierre Steyn, the former SADF chief of staff, gives some insight into who constituted the Third Force that caused so much bloodshed in the dying days of apartheid.

The report contains a list of military and other suspects, which, now that it is in the public arena, puts pressure on the authorities to bring the perpetrators to book.

The documents give credence to allegations that various military and paramilitary structures, in cahoots with people in the railways parastatal, co-ordinated and, in many cases, executed a series of train massacres that left hundreds dead and injured.

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The documents also implicate military intelligence in the hostel killings that played out in tandem with the train massacres in the early 1990s.

Some other allegations made in the report about SADF dirty tricks aimed at destabilising the country as it entered the negotiations period included:

- that the apartheid military cached illegal weapons in Portugal for use in internal uprisings;

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- that the military also maintained secret weapons caches in South Africa and neighbouring states;

- that orders were given for the murder of two detained Portuguese operatives;

- that military training was provided to resistance movements in neighbouring states;

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- that SADF officials gave orders to Pan Africanist Congress cadres to murder ANC members in the Transkei; and

- that senior officers in the SADF were involved in framing contingency plans for a right-wing coup.

Steyn was tasked by former president FW De Klerk 14 years ago to perform an internal investigation of alleged SADF involvement in destabilisation activities.

After Steyn reported to De Klerk in 1992, generals and other top brass in the military and other security apparatus were fired or retired. Subsequently, however, relatively little of the report's contents came to light - at least until now.

Dave Steward, De Klerk's spokesperson, said Steyn never gave the president a written report but rather an oral briefing. The contents of Steyn's briefing were "horrifying".

The documents that make up the Steyn report were probably the basis for this briefing. They were probably based on information from not only military counter-intelligence but other agencies. None of the information was corroborated.

Steward said De Klerk knew he had to act with "firmness and agility" and had been forced to rely on the very security personnel who were being accused.

"It was a difficult situation," Steward said.

De Klerk had then asked General Kat Liebenberg, then head of the SADF, to recommend action, following which top brass were told that their positions were being restructured.

Steward said some of the allegations had been referred to the attorney-general and the Goldstone commission, but most were never resolved.

He said that after Steyn's briefing to De Klerk it became impossible to unravel the truth and Steyn himself was ostracised by the defence force.

"After that the shutters went down and there was no way to know who on the list was deeply involved or not," Steward said.

"There was a lot of frustration in following up. Nothing really emerged in subsequent investigations."

Key among the declassified documents that make up the Steyn report is the Staff Paper, which outlines and evaluates insider intelligence provided by both military and National Intelligence Service agents.

Claims contained in the report are internally evaluated in annexures as being: "vague", "strong allegations", "probably true" and "confirmed".

The documents are now with the South African History Archives, which obtained them - after some difficulty - from the department of justice. The department initially inherited the then-classified information from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Some of the aliases of people allegedly involved in illicit activities have been deleted from the documents by the department of justice but, surprisingly, the real names of many of the alleged perpetrators have been allowed to remain and so enter the public domain.

The Staff Paper found that nearly all the alleged "third force" abuses attributable to the military fell within the umbrella of a covert operation called Project Pastoor.

According to the report, Pastoor derailed from its (unspecified) original objectives and became something of a rogue venture, operating outside the control of and accountability to top political and military command - who for the most part (and with the exception of those generals who were later fired) are exonerated from blame in the document.

The Staff Paper also alleges that operatives designated to Project Pastoor were integrally linked to violence racking the East Rand.

This claim was concluded from "telephone conversations, evacuations and transfers", according to the report.

Listed are the names of several senior special forces members who were allegedly loaned to Spoornet with a view to instigating violence through train murders. According to the report, three of those people had resigned.

The report also notes that the ANC seemed to have information linking the military to the killings, but had not used it. The report deals in detail with Pastoor, which it says was previously called Operation Phantom and controlled by the SADF.

The operation was subsequently staffed by members of the special forces and the old Civil Co-operation Bureau (CCB). It says individuals were abusing the project by engaging in activities not in line with government policy.

A sub-operation called Palmeira Project was involved specifically in arms caching for internal uprisings and the notes say that the Directorate for Covert Collection (DCC) shared an office with Pastoor in Malawi.

The report says allegations from independent sources were that DCC agents were involved in training Inkatha Freedom Party members who were placed at security firms under SADF and IFP control.

There is also an allegation that the DCC had full control over the "Zulu faction's participation in talks with the government". The report goes on to say that the infrastructure allegedly allowed 24 000 Zulus to be armed in the PWV area within 24 hours, according to various independent sources.

Also outlined are the whereabouts of alleged illicit arms caches inside the country - including in Irene near Pretoria. There are also allegations of corruption involving paying fictitious sources. There is also information about support being lent to right-wing organisations and indications that a coup was being planned.

The report was initially kept under wraps, but a synopsis was partly leaked when it was handed to the TRC in 1997. Steyn, and later the TRC, urged investigation of the allegations but critics from the old military establishment said the report was based on unproven allegations and motivated by resentment from the then National Intelligence Service, which together with the military's counter-intelligence provided much of the information.

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