a memorial for all wars: the Polynational War Memorial


Political Violence during South Africa's post-apartheid transition

Years: 1989-1998
Battle deaths: 0
Non-state conflict, battle-deaths: 4,024 [3]
Onesided violence: 532 [2]

Nation(s) involved and/or conflict territory [note]
South Africa

Published prior to 2013 | Updated: 2018-08-02 16:38:31

During the transition from an authoritarian rule based on race segregation and repression of the black majority and asian minority groups (officially called "apartheid") to an inclusive multiparty democracy, South Africa went through a period of political violence involving supporters of the political parties that emerged during the struggle against the apartheid regime: primarily the African National Congress (ANC) with its armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe, and the Zulu organisation Inkatha and its political wing the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). Furthermore, the government, most notably its police force, was involved in extrajudicial killings during this period and accused of fanning the flames and trying to stop the transition by aiding parties to the conflict.

The conflict between ANC-aligned grops and Inkatha followers had begun already in the 1980ies when the resistance against the apartheid system intensified. Violence escalated when Inkatha was transformed into a political party, IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party), in July 1990 and it spread quickly and would eventually obstruct and stall the ongoing peace negotiations and transition process.

After negotiations, in September 1991 the government, ANC and IFP eventually drafted a National Peace Accord. This did not put an end to violence but moved the peace process further. The same year The Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) started its work to draft an interim constitution, a process that collapsed when members of ANC were massacred in Biphong in 1992. It would take another year to resume negotations.

The violence between ANC and IPF-supporters would continue albeit on a less intensive scale after 1995. In 1995 the transitional government established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to handle amnesty applications and make a full historical account of the conflict. The TRC:s findings were published in 1998.

The introduction to volume 2, chapter 7 provides an excellent summary of the extent and nature of the violence:

8. The violence during the 1990s stemmed from intensification in the levels of conflict and civil war in KwaZulu/Natal. While the province had been plagued for five years by a low-level civil conflict, conflict intensified dramatically in the 1990s. The Human Rights Committee (HRC) estimates that, between July 1990 and June 1993, an average of 101 people died per month in politically related incidents - a total of 3 653 deaths. In the period July 1993 to April 1994, conflict steadily intensified, so that by election month it was 2.5 times its previous levels.
9. Moreover, political violence in this period extended to the PWV (Pretoria Witwatersrand-Vereeniging) region in the Transvaal. The HRC estimates that between July 1990 and June 1993, some 4 756 people were killed in politically related violence in the PWV area. In the period immediately following the announcement of an election date, the death toll in the PWV region rose to four times its previous levels.
10. The escalation of violence coincided with the establishment of Inkatha as a national political party, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), in July 1990, and its attempts to develop a political base in the Transvaal. The development of self-defence units (SDUs) in largely ANC/UDF strongholds led to an escalation of violence in both provinces.
11. Many came to believe that a 'hidden hand' or 'third force' lay behind the random violence, which included military-style attacks on trains, drive-by shootings and a series of massacres and assassinations. The train violence swept the Rand from 1990 onwards. By June 1993 it had caused some 400 deaths and countless more injuries, and left thousands of commuters consumed with fear on a daily basis. Such attacks frequently generated further violence.
12. At this time, there was also a marked increase in attacks on police officers. Between July 1991 and June 1992, the HRC recorded a total of sixty-eight police officers killed. A further 200 deaths were recorded between July 1992 and June 1993.
13. Violence also arose from the continued use of lethal force in public order policing. The HRC estimated that killings by the security forces, primarily in the course of public order policing, numbered 518 between July 1991 and June 1993. In the first major incident, less than six weeks after President de Klerk's speech, seventeen people died and 447 were injured when police fired without warning on a crowd of 50 000 protesters at Sebokeng. Other massacres occurred in Sebokeng in July and September 1990 and in Daveyton and Alexandra townships in March 1991.[1] 



Uppsala Conflict Data Program (Date of retrieval: 2018-08-02) UCDP Conflict Encyclopedia, Uppsala University. ANC vs IFP http://www.ucdp.uu.se/#/nonstate/5450

Uppsala Conflict Data Program (Date of retrieval: 2018-08-02) UCDP Conflict Encyclopedia, Uppsala University. South Africa Government vs ANC http://www.ucdp.uu.se/#/conflict/345

Further reading

Justice Denied:Political Violence in KwaZulu-Natal after 1994 by Rupert Taylor, Violence and Transition Series, Vol. 6, 2002

The Report Of The Truth And Reconciliation Commission (TRC), from the Padraig O’Malley archive at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory:

Vol 2, ch 5, 279-288 1990s: The IFP-ANC war for supremacy in KwaZulu, Natal and the PWV, retrieved 2018-08-02

Vol 2: Chapter 7 Political Violence in the Era of Negotiations and Transition, 1990-1994, retrieved 2018-08-02 


[1]    The Report Of The Truth And Reconciliation Commission (TRC), from the Padraig O’Malley archive at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory: Vol 2, Chapter 7, §8-13 Political Violence in the Era of Negotiations and Transition, 1990-1994, retrieved 2018-08-02


[2] UCDP One-sided Violence Dataset v. 1.4-2017 (link) including actors: / Government of South Africa / IFP / ANC
Low: 532 High: 941

[3] UCDP Non-State Conflict Dataset UCDP Non-State Conflict Dataset v. 2.5-2017 (link) including dyads: / Supporters of ANC vs Supporters of IFP / Supporters of IFP vs Supporters of UDF / Supporters of ANC vs Supporters of AZAPO / ANC - 'Greens' vs ANC - 'Reds' / Supporters of ANC vs Supporters of UDM
Low: 4,020 High: 5,914

More about sources


NOTE! Nation data for this war may be inconlusive or incomplete. In most cases it reflects which nations were involved with troops in this war, but in some it may instead reflect the contested territory.



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