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South Africa

Government Response

Under strong pressure to end the township violence of the early 1990s, the police undertook numerous security sweeps through townships and squatter camps. During one of the largest of these, Operation Iron Fist, in late 1990, some 1,500 SAP and several hundred SADF troops swept through workers' hostels around Johannesburg and recovered several thousand illegal weapons. More than 30,000 SAP and SADF personnel conducted routine crime sweeps after that, and they made 337 arrests in one operation alone in 1991. By 1993 more than 10,000 people had been arrested, and large quantities of illegal drugs and weapons had been confiscated.

President de Klerk's credibility was severely damaged in July 1991, when official documents leaked to the public confirmed long-standing rumors of police support for the Zulu-dominated IFP in its rivalry with the ANC. A burst of publicity, dubbed "Inkathagate" by the press, threatened to derail constitutional negotiations after evidence linked senior government and police officials with funds secretly channeled to the IFP's labor activities and membership drives, which many believed had fueled the violence. Public anger rose, both because of the politicization of the police and because the government then appeared incapable of halting the violence as the scandal intensified.

The September 1991 National Peace Accord marked a desperate effort by both the government and the ANC to end the killing and to ease anxiety about official involvement in it. The accord, signed by more than two dozen leaders of government and political organizations, established committees and channels of communication at national, regional, and community levels to try to avert bloodshed arising out of political disagreements. Under this accord, the government established the Commission of Inquiry Regarding the Prevention of Public Violence and Intimidation, chaired by a respected jurist, Richard Goldstone, to investigate the causes of the violence. The Goldstone Commission's interim report in early 1992 attributed most of the killing to the political battle between supporters of the ANC and the IFP, but it also confirmed suspicions that elements of the security forces, especially the police, had contributed to the unrest.

Then ANC leader Mandela, who was vocal in his criticism of the government for its failure to quell the unrest of the early 1990s, insisted that international attention be given to the issue of state-sponsored violence. In June 1992, Mandela, Foreign Minister Roelof "Pik" Botha, and IFP leader Mangosuthu (Gatsha) Buthelezi addressed the United Nations concerning this issue. After that, other countries increased their involvement in South Africa's political reform. In August of that year, former United States Secretary of State Cyrus Vance went to South Africa as United Nations special envoy. Acting on his suggestion, the United Nations sent political monitors to South Africa to demonstrate international support for the institutions that had arisen out of the National Peace Accord. At the same time, South Africa's political leaders implemented another of Vance's recommendations--to speed up the pace of progress toward nationwide elections.

Then, in late 1992, the Goldstone Commission concluded that secret cells within the police force had, with the cooperation of military intelligence officials, "waged a war" on the ANC, primarily because of its commitment to armed struggle to end apartheid and its association with the South African Communist Party (SACP). The commission's report also implied that elements in the security forces were continuing to provoke or commit violent acts. In response to rising pressures, President de Klerk persuaded twenty-three senior military officers to retire, including the heads of the SADF and military intelligence.

Despite significant progress, there were at least 4,300 politically motivated deaths in 1993, according to the South African Institute of Race Relations, and each new round of violence brought a new sense of urgency to the task of preparing for elections. More than 2,000 murders were in Zulu-inhabited areas of KwaZulu and Natal Province. The Goldstone Commission later concluded that some of the weapons used in the violence against ANC supporters had been supplied by the police.

The police arrested a few whites who advocated violence to block the elections, including Afrikaner Resistance Movement (Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging--AWB) leader Eugene Terreblanche. In most cases, the accused were fined for their activities or were granted immunity in return for information about their organizations and activities. White extremists were arrested for the April 1993 murder of a popular SACP leader, Chris Hani, and two were sentenced to death for that crime. (The death penalty was abolished before their sentences were carried out.)

Prison System

In the mid-1990s, South Africa's Department of Correctional Services operates 234 prisons. Of these, 226 are primarily or solely for male prisoners, and 119 of these have separate women's sections. The department also operates twenty prison farms.

There were roughly 114,000 prisoners nationwide--nearly 92,000 serving prison sentences and about 22,000 not yet sentenced--as of 1995. Some 70 percent of prisoners were black, 25 percent were coloured, 4 percent were white, and less than 1 percent were Asian. This prison population constituted roughly 130 percent of prison capacity. More than 400,000 people were jailed at some time during 1995, most for periods ranging from a few days to several months. Nearly 26,000 people per day were on parole.

The Department of Correctional Services has roughly 22,500 employees, at least 4,500 fewer than its workload requires, according to official estimates. Severe staff shortages are sometimes ameliorated by employing some of the 1,500 members of the Prisons Service Reserve Force (mostly retired prison staff) and as many as 1,000 military reservists.

Four categories of prisoners are held: unsentenced prisoners, most of whom are detained pending a hearing or sentencing; short-term prisoners, who are serving terms of less than two years; long-term prisoners; and juvenile prisoners, who are under twenty-one years of age. Through 1994 women made up about 4 percent of the prison population, but late that year, the new government granted an amnesty to all female prisoners with children under the age of twelve, if they had been convicted of nonviolent crimes. In late 1994, 250 prisoners over the age of sixty also had their sentences remitted and were released from prison.

In 1995 the prison population included 1,278 children under the age of eighteen, half of them awaiting trial, according to the Department of Correctional Services. The number represented less than half the number of juveniles in prison in 1992. A small, but unknown, number of children under age fourteen were among the juveniles in prison, according to international human rights observers.

Literacy training and vocational courses are offered in some prisons. Parole supervision is generally strict, and parole violators are returned to prison, where they must serve out their original terms and sometimes additional periods of incarceration. Some jurisdictions instituted a system of correctional supervision as an alternative to prison sentences in the early 1990s, partly in response to prison overcrowding. Correctional supervision entails community service, victim compensation, house arrest, treatment sessions, a prohibition of alcohol consumption, or a combination of these programs. The department also established correctional boards in 1992 to provide a communication link between its officials and residents of local communities. In addition, the department established a National Advisory Board on Correctional Services to advise prison authorities on legal and policy concerns. The National Advisory Board is chaired by a Supreme Court judge, and its members include specialists from the court system and the police, as well as social welfare authorities, and business and community representatives.

Data as of May 1996

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