Twenty Years Ago Today: The Conspiracy Ran Deep in South Africa

Inkatha Freedom Party supporters at a rally in 1994 South Africa in 1994 was on the rocky road to ditching the old system of apartheid. But it wasn't a simple process; both the white minority who had been running the country and the black majority who had endured systematic oppression were riven by divisions. In particular, there was a deep divide between the Khoi-San people who made up the bulk of the ANC, and the Zulus who formed the Inkatha Freedom Party; a divide that some within the white security forces sought to take advantage of.

Twenty years ago today, it was revealed that a whistleblower from the police had approached a judicial commission with evidence that hard-liners within the police had been deliberately supplying Inkatha with weapons, and training their fighters to use them against the ANC - all in the hope that the movement to end apartheid would dissolve in a black-on-black civil war. This conspiracy was not unsuspected; and in this case the conspiracy theorist who suspected it was Nelson Mandela himself (along with quite a lot of other people, no doubt). But until this day twenty years ago, his suspicions had been disregarded as mere paranoia, at least as far as the authorities were concerned.

It had been going on since at least 1989. Weapons used in a war against Namibia were cleaned in acid and their serial numbers were removed. They were distributed to Inkatha, along with some that were manufactured by members of the police force. The effort was led by a group of senior police officials, including one who had once led Vlakplaas, a notorious police assassination unit that had since been disbanded (though some members were still working in hit squads with the collusion of the police). Violence in townships and massacres on trains had been the result, and the situation between the ANC and Inkatha remained tense at a time when it was desperately important that they co-operate in ensuring peaceful elections.

The National Party government was swift to deny any involvement, and, at least as far as the leadership was concerned, this seems credible. F. W. de Klerk, the president of South Africa at the time, was doing his level best to manage the transition to majority rule peacefully, and had made an effort to prevent the police from continuing their murderous activities. That he was being undermined by forces within the police just goes to show how desperate some people were to maintain their tyranny.

Here's a film about Eugene de Kock, one of the unpleasant people behind all this: