Events of 1994

Human Rights Developments

South Africa's first all-race elections, held from April 26 to 29, 1994, opened a new era in the country's history. A new interim constitution came into effect on the first day of voting, under which all South Africans will have for the first time the protection of a bill of rights enforced by a constitutional court. At the same time, the ten ethnically determined "homelands," the foundation of the apartheid system, were dissolved and were incorporated into nine new administrative regions. In a landslide victory, the African National Congress (ANC) won 62.6 percent of the national vote, and on May 10, Nelson Mandela, the president of the ANC, was inaugurated as State President. A five-year government of national unity (GNU) was installed, in which both the National Party (NP), led by outgoing president F.W. de Klerk, and Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi's Zulu-dominated Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) were represented in the cabinet. The new national assembly, in which women as well as black South Africans were substantially represented for the first time, was empowered to draw up and adopt by a two-thirds majority a final constitution for South Africa. In October, during a visit to the U.N., President Mandela signed the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Although ultimately certified as "free and fair" by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), which was charged with the conduct of the election, serious concerns were raised during the election campaign and the days of voting, particularly in Natal, the stronghold of the IFP. The IFP, together with several right wing parties and the homeland "governments" of KwaZulu (where Buthelezi was chief minister), Ciskei, and Bophuthatswana had withdrawn from multiparty negotiation in August 1993. Until one week before the poll, the IFP maintained it would boycott the vote. On April 19, 1994, well after all nominal deadlines had passed, Buthelezi announced that the IFP would after all participate. Although the criticisms of the IEC are mostly centered on lack of planning and disorganization rather than fraud or deliberate sabotage, there were allegations of ballot-stuffing, intimidation, and even of "pirate" voting stations in rural KwaZulu, where independent monitoring proved difficult to arrange at such short notice. With 50.3 percent of the regional vote, Inkatha received much greater support than had been predicted by opinion polls, although the IEC stated that it was satisfied that the final result had not been significantly affected by any irregularities in the poll.

The administrations of the homelands of Bophuthatswana and Ciskei, both hostile to the elections, collapsed in the weeks before the vote. In Bophuthatswana, a wave of mass strikes and protests by civil servants provoked a crisis in the second week in March in which the homeland president, Lucas Mangope, was deposed. Several thousand members of the extreme right-wing Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB) invaded the homeland in support of the government, but were eventually escorted back to South Africa by South African troops. At least twenty-seven black civilians were killed in the course of the disturbances, many of them in drive-by shootings by the AWB, others by Bophuthatswana security forces as civilians engaged in looting. Following an exchange of fire with Bophuthatswana security forces in which one AWB member was killed, two others were summarily executed. In Ciskei, which had for some months shown signs of weakening in its resistance to the elections, civil servants strikes led the government to invite South African intervention and voluntarily step down. Administrators were appointed by the government to take over responsibility for each homeland for the period leading up to the elections.

Political violence, which had been the principal threat to the transition process and was expected to disrupt voting in Natal and on the East Rand near Johannesburg, did not affect the election days themselves, which were amongst the most peaceful in several years. However, it was difficult to assess the effect that violence prior to the election had on voting behavior. During the last two weeks of March and first two weeks of April, 429 people were recorded killed in political violence in Natal/KwaZulu, the worst affected area, largely in clashes between supporters of the ANC and IFP. In an attempt to contain the crisis, the government declared a regional state of emergency on March 31. Levels of violence decreased dramatically after Chief Buthelezi announced that the IFP would contest the elections, and continued to decrease over the following months. The Natal state of emergency was lifted in August. By the end of October 1994, 2,480 people had died in political violence during the year, according to the Human Rights Committee of South Africa (HRC), a nongovernmental monitoring organization based in Johannesburg. One thousand six hundred thirty-one of these died before the election.

Long-standing allegations that political violence had been perpetrated and deliberately provoked by "third force" elements within the security forces and members of extreme right wing parties and paramilitary groups, were confirmed during the election campaign, by the investigations of a standing commission of inquiry headed by Justice Richard Goldstone. On December 6, 1993, the Goldstone Commission's fourth interim report concluded that there was a "high probability" that at least one "hit" squad had been operating in the KwaZulu Police (KZP). On March 18, 1994, the Goldstone Commission published a report which finally confirmed that senior South African Police (SAP) officials had been involved in supplying Inkatha with weapons and financial support. On March 22, 1994, a task force appointed by the Transitional Executive Council (TEC) to carry out the investigation into the operation of security force hit squads concluded that hit squad activity was responsible for the killing of "a significant proportion of those who have died in political violence in Natal/KwaZulu." In July, the retiring commissioner of the KZP stated that he was convinced of the existence of hit squads and called for a thorough investigation. On May 18, 1994, the task group issued a further report concluding that paramilitary training camps set up by Inkatha in KwaZulu in 1993 and 1994 were illegal and "may have provided elements within the IFP and KwaZulu government with the capacity for large scale insurrection." A third report, leaked to the press, linked the minister of police in the new KwaZulu/Natal administration, to allegations of gun running for Inkatha. Several individuals implicated in the allegations were elected as IFP members of the new national or regional assemblies.

The white right wing, which had posed a potentially serious threat to the elections, was split into more moderate and hardline wings by the failed AWB "invasion" of Bophuthatswana. Although the hardliners continued to boycott the elections, ex-General Constand Viljoen contested the elections as leader of a new party, the Freedom Front, which won 2.2 percent of the national vote, and nine seats in the new national assembly. A right-wing bombing campaign culminated in several massive blasts which killed at least twenty-one people in and around the greater Johannesburg metropolitan area in the days immediately preceding the election. Thirty-four members of extreme right-wing organizations opposed to the elections were arrested during the next few days and charged with murder and attempted murder. However, although the Freedom Front continued to call for an "Afrikaner homeland," the threat of widespread white violence in resistance to a black government receded.

Reforms by the National Party government since 1990 or by the TEC, the body charged by the multiparty negotiating forum with facilitating the transition to a democratic order in South Africa, were accelerated by the new government. Amongst the most significant measures were a Police Bill, for the reform of the police force; a new child welfare program, to provide health care, primary education and promising that all children would be removed from South Africa's prisons; and a Restitution of Land Rights Bill, to establish procedures for the investigation and adjudication of claims by communities dispossessed by apartheid. The day before the election, following weeks of controversial debate within the TEC, President de Klerk signed a declaration abolishing the principal provision of security legislation allowing detention without trial. However, legislation allowing detention without trial in some cases remained in force, though subject to new guarantees of due process under the bill of rights.

Unrest in prisons was a feature during the entire negotiations process, in connection with disputes over the release of political prisoners and the extension of the franchise to prisoners, and continued to be a serious problem. Riots affected many prisons both before and after the elections; on June 10, Mandela announced a six month reduction in all prison sentences in an effort to quell the latest disturbances, and in August a program of new prison building to relieve overcrowding. A judicial commission of inquiry was appointed to investigate unrest in prisons over the election period. Several hundred people were still on death row at the end of September although a moratorium on executions remained in effect, some sentences were commuted and the ANC reaffirmed its opposition to the death penalty. In October, the constitutional court announced that its first case would be to decide the constitutionality of the death penalty.

The question of accountability for past abuses was one of the first issues to be addressed by the new government. The Minister of Justice, Dullah Omar, a longtime human rights activist, announced that amnesty legislation would be enacted for political crimes – as required by the interim constitution. Each person seeking immunity from prosecution would have to make a separate and public application, and amnesty would be linked to the operation of a truth commission, to be appointed to record the crimes of apartheid. However, the detailed terms of the truth commission and amnesty were the subject of intense negotiation within the GNU. Draft legislation was released in October, but without the agreement of the NP and the IFP. In the meantime, little was done to bring known human rights abusers to justice. In the last days of the old government, President de Klerk controversially granted amnesty under existing legislation to a number of security force members. Agreed draft legislation was finally released in November, which reflected NP pressure by providing for the amnesty hearings to be in secret. Despite the findings of the Goldstone Commission in regard to covert support for hit squads and for Inkatha, no high ranking officials were indicted and most remained in office. One prosecution was mounted against the commander of a unit and his subordinates found to have been involved in illegal covert operations near Johannesburg. However, the trial was postponed, after the principal accused indicated that he intended to apply for amnesty if he were eligible under the new legislation.

The Right to Monitor

With the installation of a new government, all official restrictions on monitoring human rights abuses in South Africa were lifted, although violence in the townships remained a serious threat to media reporters and human rights monitors alike during the lead up to elections: in January, a freelance photographer was killed in the East Rand township of Katlehong. Large numbers of international and local observers monitored the conduct of the election, with the agreement or under the control of the IEC. The ANC also indicated its intention of introducing a much more open style of government; for example, by establishing standing committees of the national assembly to monitor the performance of the executive branch and proposing a new freedom of information act.

International and U.S. Policy

Following the election, South Africa completed a process of reintegration into the international community begun under the previous government. In ceremonies over the next months it was readmitted to the Commonwealth and joined the Organization of African Unity and Southern African Development Community (SADC). In October, Nelson Mandela became the first South African head of state to address the General Assembly of the U.N. Presidents François Mitterrand of France and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe were the first heads of state to be received by the new government; British Prime Minister John Major visited South Africa in September, announcing a $160 million aid package from the U.K. British officers were retained to assist in the integration of ANC cadres into the new South African army. The European Union, South Africa's largest donor, announced the inclusion of South Africa within its Generalized System of Preferences, and authorized $350 million worth of loans from the European Investment Bank. Crises in the small enclave state of Lesotho, in January and in August, saw high level representatives of the old and new governments meeting for the first time with the leaders of Botswana and Zimbabwe to discuss a common approach.

In May 1994, the U.N. Security Council finally lifted the arms embargo in force against South Africa since 1977, opening the alarming possibility of South Africa becoming a major weapons supplier to the rest of Africa. The chief executive of Armscor, the procurement agency for the South African army and the armaments industry's marketing organization, announced that he expected South Africa to double arms exports as a result – and to gain 25,000 jobs in arms manufactures. South Africa participated in several major arms exhibitions throughout the year. However, the new government stated that South Africa would contribute to the U.N. conventional arms registers, announced a ban on the export of landmines, and stated that South Africa would not export arms to countries that abused human rights or were divided by civil war. In November, a commission of inquiry appointed by the new government held hearings into illegal arms trading by Armscor both before and after the election. Inquiries focused on an October shipment of AK-47 rifles, supposedly bound for Lebanon, that had attempted to offload in Yemen and been returned to South Africa. Armscor admitted that, provided an end-user certificate was provided, it made little effort to verify the final destination of weapons. Due to outstanding criminal proceedings against Armscor in a Philadelphia court, in connection with violations of arms sanctions during the 1980s, U.S. arms sales to South Africa remained embargoed after the new government was installed.

Nelson Mandela was the only African leader invited to President Clinton's inauguration; although Clinton did not himself attend Mandela's own inauguration, a high level delegation headed by Vice-President Al Gore and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton represented the U.S. at the ceremony. The Vice-President spoke of the "beginning of a new partnership" between the U.S. and South Africa, at both government and commercial levels. In October, President Mandela visited the U.S.

In May 1994, President Clinton announced that U.S. assistance would be increased to $600 million over three years; including a doubling of U.S. AID's contribution to $166 million for 1994. Although continuing to support the nongovernmental sector, U.S. agencies would for the first time work directly with the South African government. In addition to previously announced investment guarantees by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), other components of the aid package included trade promotion services by the Commerce Department; a 30 percent increase, to $3.4 million, in the U.S. Information Agency budget for South Africa; a $100,000 Department of Defense training program for the South African military; and negotiation of a double taxation treaty. During Mandela's October visit, AID committed a further $150 million in loan guarantees for housing and electrification programs, as well as a $100 million enterprise fund for the southern Africa region. OPIC announced two equity funds, totaling $150 million, designed to generate about $1.3 billion in new investment.

Legislation lifting the ban on U.S. support for IMF and World Bank loans to South Africa, and removing all conditions on Export-Import Bank guarantees, was passed through Congress shortly after the formal lifting of U.N. sanctions in September 1993. In June 1994, the U.S. Information Agency hosted a two-day conference for representatives from the business, government and nonprofit sectors of both South Africa and the U.S., to stimulate ties between the two countries. In October, a new cooperative commission was announced, chaired by Vice-President Gore and South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, to promote joint initiatives in energy, education, and economic development.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Africa

A representative of Human Rights Watch/Africa traveled to South Africa in January and February, following up previous work by investigating violence in Natal and abuses of freedom of expression and association in Bophuthatswana. A report based on the research, Impunity for Human Rights Abuses in Two Homelands: Reports on KwaZulu and Bophuthatswana, was published in March 1994. In February, a report on prison conditions in South Africa was published, based on research carried out in 1992 and 1993.

Two representatives of Human Rights Watch attended a conference in South Africa in February examining the question of accountability for past abuses, and a detailed letter urging respect for the need for truth and justice was sent to President Mandela in June. Beginning in October, a representative of Human Rights Watch/Africa was currently based in Pretoria.

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