Third Force (South Africa)
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The "Third Force" was a term used by leaders of the ANC during the late 1980s and early 1990s to refer to a clandestine force believed to be responsible for a surge in violence in KwaZulu-Natal, and townships around and south of the Witwatersrand (or "Rand").
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) found that:
while little evidence exists of a centrally directed, coherent or formally constituted "Third Force", a network of security and ex-security force operatives, frequently acting in conjunction with right-wing elements and/or sectors of the IFP, was involved in actions that could be construed as fomenting violence and which resulted in gross human rights violations, including random and target killings.
Uses after 1994
Today, the high rate of protest in South Africa is often attributed to a "third force", often assumed to be linked to foreign intelligence agencies, opposition political parties and white intellectuals. In this context the term 'third force' functions in South Africa in the same way that the term 'outside agitator' functions in the United States, a term often argued to have racist origins.
However, S'bu Zikode of the shackdweller's movement Abahlali baseMjondolo has deconstructed the term by claiming the third force is the anger of the poor. Abahlali baseMjondolo has also argued that "it is clear that the third force is just another name for the organised poor".
The ANC also often refers to protestors and other critics as "counter-revolutionaries". Cosatu President Sdumo Dlamini has claimed that popular organisations active in local politics are linked to the CIA.
The Mail & Guardian has reported that: "According to grassroots activists the accusations of 'criminality' and 'third forces' are familiar: used to delegitimise and dismiss dissent and grievances - and perpetuate the notion of a society homogenously content with an ANC-led government." The newspaper also quoted activist Ayanda Kota as saying that these allegations "take the agency away from us. It's the same argument used for the mineworkers fighting for a living wage: they are being used by some 'third force' . . .Poor people…apparently can't organize. It was the same with Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement - the CIA were behind them."
The xenophobic pogroms in May 2008 were also ascribed to 'the third force'. In 2015 Malusi Gigaba also ascribed xenophobic violence to a "third force". Protest at mining on communal lands, independent trade union action, student protest and the formation of new political parties has also been seen in conspiratorial terms by the ANC. Gwede Mantashe, secretary general of the ANC, has ascribed strikes on the mines to the agency of 'white foreigners'. The ANC controlled eThekwini Municipality in Durban has repeatedly claimed that 'the third force' is behind land occupations in the city. Charles van Onselen argues that the ANC uses the idea of 'the third force' as a conspiracy theory to deflect attention from its own failings.
- Ellis, Stephen (1998). "The Historical Significance of South Africa's Third Force". Journal of Southern African Studies. 24 (2): 261–299. ISSN 0305-7070.
- "Section 4 Appendix: The 'Third Force'" (PDF), Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report, 6, 2003, p. 584, archived from the original (PDF) on 2005-08-19
- ANC: "Abahlali and opposition a third force", Mhlabunzima Memela, The Witness, 17 October 2013
- 'Third force' link to unrest GRAEME HOSKEN and SIPHO MASOMBUKA, The Times, 7 February 2014
- A revolution’s dreams betrayed, Malaika wa Azania, Sunday Independent, 30 March 2014
- Abahlali's Vocal Politics of Proximity: Speaking, Suffering and Political Subjectivization, Anna Selmeczi, Journal of Asian and African Studies, October 2012 vol. 47 no. 5 498-515
- On the Third Force, SACSIS, 2012
- Sunshine, Spencer (2 June 2020). "The Anti-Black and Anti-Semitic History of "Outside Agitators": An Interview with Spencer Sunshine". It's Going Down.
- Zikode, S'bu (2006), We are the Third Force, Abahlali baseMjondolo
- The Third Force is Gathering its Strength, Abahlali baseMjondolo, 3 March 2010
- The ANC's imagined and real enemies: 'Creeping counter-revolution' vs. creeping scandals, Ranjeni Munusamy, 21 January 2012
- Conspiracy theories tell us much about South Africa, ANTHONY BUTLER, Business Day, 23 AUGUST 2013,
- Activists decry talk of 'third force' at Marikana, Niren Tolsi, Mail & Guardian, 24 August 2012
- Michael Neocosmos, From Native Foreigners to Foreign Natives, CODESRIA, Dakar, 2010, p. 118
- Outbreak of xenophobic attacks ‘shows lack of leadership’, Staff Writers, Business Day, 16 April 2015
- Mining is a 'done deal', Fred Kockott, IOL, 2008
- Gwede's Swedish diplomatic row, By LOYISO SIDIMBA AND CANDICE BAILEY, Sunday Independent, 23 June 2013]
- The top 10 ANC conspiracy theories, Charles van Onselen, Rand Daily Mail, 25 May 2016
- New parties a sign of 'foreign agents', says MK Vets chairman, COLLEEN GOKO, Business Day, 30 APRIL 2013,
- "White foreigners": The danger of history repeating itself, Terry Bell, GroundUp, 13 June 2014
- .eThekwini says third force behind increased land invasions in Durban, Se-Anne Rall, The Mercury, 17 January 2019