On 17 June the EFF issued a statement to mark the 28th anniversary of the Boipatong massacre. It stated that the massacre had been orchestrated by “an Apartheid government led by FW de Klerk” who had “funded and supported the massacre in order to undermine negotiations…”
I remember Boipatong.
I was at the time head of the South African Communication Service (SACS). On 18 June I woke to the news of the awful event in which 45 residents of the Joe Slovo informal settlement in Boipatong had been brutally murdered. Boipatong was egregious – even by the violent standards of the times. Women and babies were among the victims who were mercilessly hacked and stabbed to death.
President De Klerk decided that he would visit the community to express his condolences to bereaved families the following Saturday - 20 June. I was disturbed to hear an announcement of the visit on the SABC on Friday evening - because it was not our practice to provide advance notice of visits to potentially sensitive areas.
Our party assembled under the eggshell blue skies of a highveld winter at a police depot about 5 kms from Boipatong. SACS had made arrangements to transport members of the local and international media who wished to cover the event. We all climbed into an ancient bus and followed the presidential motorcade on its route to Boipatong. As we approached the township from the north-west, it became clear that my concerns about the early announcement of the visit were ominously warranted. Hundreds of ANC activists were present at the entrance to the township with banners and slogans demanding that De Klerk should leave.
Nevertheless, the presidential motorcade pushed on into the hornets’ nest. It skirted the northern border of the township and then turned south on a street between Boipatong and the Joe Slovo informal settlement. All along the way we encountered angry shouting demonstrators. The motorcade stopped in front of one of the township homes which the president was to have visited. However, by this time the crowd had become so aggressive that De Klerk’s security team quickly hustled him back into his armoured Mercedes.
In the meantime, some members of the media had jumped from the press bus to cover the story. I followed them and headed in the direction of the President’s Mercedes – only to see it speeding off. I was deeply distressed to notice the press bus following it. I found myself in the middle on an angry mob without any apparent way out. At that critical moment a SAP Nyala vehicle passed me with its side doors open. I did not hesitate. I leapt in as quickly as I could and found a seat surrounded by four or five burley policemen. I was deeply relieved.
I realized that I would be missed when the bus returned to the depot – so I asked the commander of the Nyala to radio his HQ to inform them that I was safe. I was shocked to hear that the Nyala did not have a shortwave radio. When there was no sign of me after the bus returned – the police sent two Nyalas back into the township to find me. In “Tomorrow is another Country” Alister Sparks expresses his incredulity at this apparently provocative act – but did not realise that their mission was to retrieve what they feared might be my smoldering remains.
The Nyala that I had boarded followed the route out of the township that the presidential motorcade had been forced to take. This included detours through gardens and chicken runs necessitated by barriers that demonstrators had built in the streets. De Klerk’s private secretary, Noel Basson, was in a second Mercedes, following the president’s car, together with two SAP generals. As the motorcade extricated itself from Boipatong he heard one of the generals say “Nou kan hy sien hoe lyk sy f----- nuwe Suid-Afrika.”
The ANC used the Boipatong massacre to ramp up its propaganda campaign against the De Klerk government to fever pitch. On 21 June Nelson Mandela visited the township and declared that “We are not dealing with human beings… we are dealing with animals. I will not forget what Mr De Klerk, the National Party and the IFP have done to our people…” Two days later the ANC’s NEC used the massacre as a pretext to suspend constitutional negotiations at CODESA. It gave the left wing of the Alliance the green light to launch rolling mass action and their “Leipzig option” on the mistaken premise that if they could get enough people into the streets for long enough, the NP government would collapse - just as the East German government had collapsed two years earlier.
Responsibility for the Boipatong massacre once again became a core issue during the deliberations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. After De Klerk’s testimony to the TRC on 14 May 1997 Archbishop Tutu said he was “close to tears” over De Klerk’s failure to acknowledge responsibility for the massacre. He himself had told De Klerk about allegations of security force involvement in the Boipatong massacre, after visiting survivors and hearing their stories. The TRC went on to find that “KwaMadala (hostel) residents, with the police, planned and carried out the killings.” It claimed that security forces had ferried the IFP attackers to Boipatong in SAP vehicles and that white men with blackened faces were among the attackers.
However, the TRC’s finding contradicted the explicit judgement of its own amnesty committee that considered the amnesty applications of 16 residents of the KwaMadala Hostel. It found that IFP supporters from the hostel had perpetrated the killings on their own, without police help, and in revenge for repeated ANC attacks on hostel dwellers. The amnesty committee’s findings were in line with the findings of the Goldstone Commission and the investigation of Dr PAJ Waddington, an independent British expert. The 1993 trial of the hostel dwellers who were charged for their part in the massacre came to the same conclusion. Not one of the 120 Boipatong residents who testified at the trial saw police vehicles assisting the attackers or claimed that whites were present.
According to an article by Rian Malan the TRC “simply accepted phantasmagoric accusations made by ANC-aligned sources in the massacre’s confused and emotion-charged aftermath.”
So, 28 years after the Boipatong massacre the calumnies against FW de Klerk continue. The only consolation is that the latest accusation comes from the EFF: and attacks by the EFF are almost a badge of honour – and a sure sign that one is on the right course.
Dave Steward is Chairman of the FW de Klerk Foundation.