Most deaths during the political conflict in South Africa occurred in the four years preceding the April 27, 1994 general election, the Human Rights Committee said on Tuesday.

In its submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on human rights violations during the apartheid years, the HRC said during the 46-month period starting in 1990 there were 14000 deaths and 22000 injuries.

For three years, around 260 victims died every month on average and, in the 10 months prior to the elections the monthly average jumped to 460 deaths: "A clear indication of the organised resistance to the advent of a democratic order."

"The fact that this carnage went hand-in-hand with negotiations that were supposed to be about the transfer of power to a democratic majority must surely earn it the description of the mother of all covert operations.

"Responsibility for its perpetration lies with those who were the beneficiaries of apartheid and who had a stake in defending and perpetuating the power which they enjoyed through, or inherited from, the system of apartheid.

"Collectively, these stakeholders could be described as having contributed to the so-called third force," HRC head Max Coleman said in the submission.

He added these stakeholders included:

- members and supporters of the Tricameral Parliament;

- the security establishment, the civil service and the business community;

- members and supporters of homeland governments, along with their administrations, security forces and private vigilante armies; and

- councillors of black local authorities, along with their hangers-on and vigilante groupings.

While some had passed on into history, others lingered on in a less organised and more opportunistic mould and had a potential for continuing destabilisation, the HRC said.

It was referring to political violence in KwaZulu-Natal, economic sabotage on various fronts, the taxi wars, hostel clashes and crime syndicates, among others.

The HRC said a wave of violence of unprecedented proportions emerged from the migrant workers' hostels in the PWV area to engulf the adjacent black townships shortly after the signing of the Pretoria Declaration in August, 1990.

"It took some time before a pattern could be discerned of an orchestrated campaign of destabilisation of the communities forming the support base of the liberation movement.

"Vigilantism became rampant, collusion by the security forces was thinly disguised and the hidden hands of the hit squads was manifest by the results.

"Thus, at the very moment of the apparent capitulation of apartheid, South Africa was being cruelly plunged into a period of destabilisation from which it is yet fully to emerge," the HRC said.

More than 90 percent of the 14000 deaths took place in the PWV and KwaZulu-Natal regions. During the first two years the battle raged mainly in the PWV region, but in the third year the pattern switched, with the majority of deaths occurring in Natal. This suggested a provincial focus was now placing a national focus in the destabilisation onslaught.

The announcement of the election date in July 1993 produced an instantaneous reaction both in terms of the level of political violence and its location, the HRC said.

In that month over 600 deaths were recorded, with the epicentre of the explosion in the East Rand and its hostels. Another 4000 lives were lost before April 27.

According to the submission over 90 percent of the 13933 deaths recorded were attributable to vigilante-related activity arising out of related attacks on township communities, retaliatory attacks, deaths in cross-fire and apparent indiscriminatory attacks on commuters, beerhall patrons and mourners.

Over 600 deaths were directly attributable to overt actions of the security forces.

"But much more serious were the unnumerable allegations and evidence of security force complicity in vigilante activity and massacres, said the HRC.

The assassination of 173 people bore the unmistakable stamp of state-sponsored hit squads, it said, adding the ultra rightwing also contributed to the death of about 100 people in random killings and bombings.

Within weeks of the election levels of political violence dropped to a third of those before the vote and gradually to 10 percent in 1996.

Of the residual violence, more than 80 percent of political deaths were occurring in KwaZulu-Natal, it said.

South African Press Association, 1997
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