Bophuthatswana coup d'état of 1994
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The Bophuthatswana coup of March 1994 occurred in the tribal homeland of Bophuthatswana. Following the coup, the territory was reincorporated into South Africa following the negotiated ending of apartheid. A major civil service strike was followed by the mutiny of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force, and then-president Lucas Mangope requested the right-wing Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF) to assist with peace-keeping. Heavily armed, paramilitary members of the white supremacist Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) also invaded the territory, claiming to have done so at the request of Mangope. The conflict is remembered mostly for an incident in which three white South African militiamen were shot dead execution style in front of rolling news cameras by a black member of the Bophuthatswana police. This proved to be a public relations disaster for the AWB and demoralized extreme rightists who wished to use violence in the fight to preserve minority rule. Despite the initial publicity, AWB leader Eugène Terre'Blanche claimed the failed campaign was an unlikely victory because only five Afrikaners were killed at the expense of over a hundred Bophuthatswanan soldiers.[not in citation given]
Negotiations to end apartheid in South Africa
In 1990, South African State President F.W. de Klerk began negotiations to end his nation's racialist policies, lifting a ban on black nationalist groups such as the African National Congress and releasing Nelson Mandela from prison. This led to a growth in support for right-wing political parties among the ruling Afrikaner minority, some of whom opposed the end of apartheid. At the World Trade Centre in Kempton Park, Johannesburg, negotiators agreed on 27 April 1994 to hold South Africa's first multiracial elections. It was clear that the African National Congress would prevail in these elections.
Bophuthatswana was one of several nominally independent black "homelands" established by the Afrikaner government under apartheid for the various South African tribes. Bophuthatswana's final leader was Lucas Mangope, an aging autocrat who made it clear at the 1993 Kempton Park negotiations that his country would remain autonomous of the new, integrated, South Africa. He also claimed that he would not allow any upcoming multiracial elections to take place in his country, despite popular opposition to this move among the citizens of Bophuthatswana. Mangope had previously used his security forces to suppress protests, and the loyalist authorities were implicated in charges of police brutality against demonstrating students.
Civil Service strike
In February 1994, a Crisis Commission was held when the ministers of fifty-two Bophuthatswana government departments went on strike, causing basic public services, including the operation of schools and hospitals, to collapse. The Bophuthatswana Defence Force was on the brink of mutiny because many of them were in favour of re-integration into a post-apartheid South Africa.
Most soldiers and policemen found it increasingly hard to remain loyal to their president; they were already utterly loathed by many people, who targeted their homes and families. Mangope loyalists refused to relent on their demands for Bophuthatswanan autonomy, however, and widespread rioting broke out. The Mega City shopping mall in Mmabatho was razed, and a breakdown in order saw massive bouts of looting. Desperate, Mangope opted to call on outside forces for help in restoring order.
On 8 March 1994, the president invited General Constand Viljoen, head of the all-white Afrikaner Volksfront, to a meeting of his chief ministers in the Bophuthatswana Defence Force, national police, and intelligence services. It was concluded that Viljoen would use armed Volksfront militias to protect key locations in Bophuthatswana if the situation deteriorated. If necessary, parliament would call on Viljoen's assistance sooner to thwart any serious attempt made by affiliates of the African National Congress aimed at re-integrate the homeland into South Africa by force. Mangope initially made it clear, however, that he would not tolerate the Volksfront's more extremist ally, the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging, being present because they were regarded as a violently racist organisation. Viljoen was regarded as a more moderate white leader, and was respected as the former head of both the South African Army (from 1976–1980) and the entire South African Defence Force (from 1980–1985).
The Invasion and AWB involvement
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By 10 March, the situation was only worsening and President Mangope was advised to leave Bophuthatswana for his own protection. He promptly left his country via helicopter at two o'clock on Thursday and flew to safety in Motswedi. Later that afternoon, a group of anti-Mangope policemen presented a petition to the South African ambassador, Professor Tjaart van der Walt, calling for Bophuthatswana to be re-integrated into the republic against their president's wishes. By late afternoon virtually all law enforcement authority had broken down and the military was left with the responsibility of maintaining order.
Following more protests and increasing rumors of ANC supporters massing on Bophuthatswana's established borders, Mangope asked Viljoen and the Volksfront to immediately assist in keeping the peace. The Afrikaners were hastily rallied and mobilised, under the command of retired South African Defence Force Colonel J. Breytenbach. Led by one of Breytenbach's lieutenants, Commandant Douw Steyn, a large Volksfront force mustered at the Mmabatho Air Force Base early on 11 March.
Meanwhile, the South African Army prepared to intervene, ostensibly to protect South Africa's Bophuthatswanan embassy and the lives of their nationals in the bantustan. Unwelcome AWB paramilitaries called in from Ventersdorp and the Western Transvaal (especially Witbank and Rustenberg) were also moving in. Their largest contingents were positioned near Mafikeng and Rooigrond, respectively.
That evening, Colonel Antonie Botse was displeased to see AWB leader Eugene Terre'Blanche and the Volksfront commandant together at the air base, insisting that the former vacate his men immediately. Jack Turner of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force reiterated Botse's request but Terre'Blanche insisted that Mangope had requested his presence. Turner was concerned that his troops and the local black civilians would panic when they saw AWB personnel, due to Terre'Blanche's established reputation as a hardline racist. Terre'Blanche finally agreed to leave Bophuthatswana, and his men were requested to remove all AWB badges from their uniforms.
During the evening of negotiations several civilians were terrorized by rowdy and undisciplined AWB men, who fired upon others indiscriminately. Greg Marinovich, journalist and member of the Bang-Bang Club, stated that one AWB member present had remarked in wry Afrikaans, "Ons is op 'n kafferskiet piekniek" ('We are on a kaffir-shooting picnic'). In response, the predominantly black Bophuthatswana Defence Force, agitated by their superiors' inability to control the white gunmen, threatened to attack Afrikaner militias.
In a filthy mood, the AWB pulled out of the Mmabatho Air Force Base via column, leaving their Volksfront compatriots behind. Many of the personnel refused to remove their insignia and serve under Commandant Steyn as agreed. Driving recklessly through Mafikeng and downtown Mmbatho, some AWB fighters continued to shoot black citizens in the street. Crowds of angry Bophuthatswana residents, some white, mostly black, eventually moved to block the convoy's way, chanting defiant slogans. An Afrikaner with an automatic weapon fired several rounds over their heads to disperse the human roadblock.
The Volksfront Commando withdrew in a much more orderly fashion later that afternoon, accompanied by a military escort to avoid the general public.
Killing of Wolfaardt, Uys, and Fourie
The single most publicised event of the coup was the killing of three wounded AWB members who were shot dead at point-blank range in front of journalists by a Bophuthatswana police constable, Ontlametse Bernstein Menyatsoe.
AWB Colonel Alwyn Wolfaardt, AWB General Nicolaas Fourie and Veldkornet (Field Cornet) Jacobus Stephanus Uys were driving a blue Mercedes at the end of a convoy of AWB vehicles that had been firing into roadside huts. Members of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force returned fire and hit the driver of the car, Nicolaas Fourie, in the neck, another gunman, Alwyn Wolfaardt, in the arm and the remaining passenger, Jacobus Uys, in the leg. Wolfaardt stumbled out of the car and brandished a handgun but was advised by the onlookers not to start shooting. A Bophuthatswana police officer relieved him of the weapon. Another policeman tried to fire on nearby journalists but his rifle jammed and was promptly confiscated. Ontlametse Menyatsoe approached and spoke to Wolfaardt, asking if he was a member of the AWB. Wolfaardt confirmed this, reporting that they had been dispatched from Naboomspruit. He then pleaded for the lives of his two injured fellows. In response, Menyatsoe shot the three wounded men dead at point blank range with an R4, shouting angrily, "Who do you think you are? What are you doing in my country?" The shooting was captured by the nearby journalists and broadcast worldwide.
Menyatsoe was not charged with murder. He applied for amnesty to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), on the grounds that the killings were politically motivated. The application was opposed by the Wolfaardt, Uys and Fourie families. At the hearing in August 1999, Manyatsoe was cross-examined by AWB leader Eugene Terre'Blanche. Menyatsoe claimed that his emotions were raised by his seeing a wounded mother, who had been hit when the AWB had fired from their vehicles into a nearby crowd. According to other journalists dozens of paramilitaries had been firing into traditional houses along the road out of Bophuthatswana. Terre'Blanche pointed out that the three soldiers were wounded by the time Menyatso shot them and that they no longer posed any threat. Menyatso claimed that he acted on his own initiative because of the absence of a commanding officer. Terre'Blanche countered that he could not claim he acted as a policeman because his function was to protect high-ranking government officials, i.e. Mangope, that he was a part of a mutiny, and that the AWB and AVF were an ally of Mangope's regime brought in to quell rioting and suppress the mutiny.
Menyatsoe was granted amnesty by the TRC.
Whereas many Bantustan leaders and elites had entered their own parties into the first multiracial elections in 1994 or joined the ANC, Mangope and his supporters stayed out. However, in 1999 the United Christian Democratic Party, a continuation of the ruling party in Bophuthatswana, entered elections and has remained a political force in North West Province, where most of the former homeland lies.
- Forging Democracy From Below: Insurgent Transitions in South Africa and El Salvador by Elizabeth Wood, (Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics) Cambridge University Press 2003
- "Tebbutt Commission". Retrieved 2007-04-22.
- Marinovich, Greg; Silva Joao (2000). The Bang-Bang Club Snapshots from a Hidden War. William Heinemann. pp. 138–140. ISBN 0-434-00733-1.
- "Truth and Reconciliation Commission amnesty hearing for Ontlametse Bernstein Menyatsoe".
- "Truth and Reconciliation Commission Amnesty Decision".