THE 1993 SPECIAL FORCES RAID ON UMTATA
Updated: Jan 4
Forgotten now but alive inside Code Name One Alpha, where I give the background. It is a bit longer than the usual blog but worth reading.
I am not so sure that the 1993 Special Forces raid on Umtata was a fiasco operationally but certainly it was described as such by the media and others. What is sure, is that it was stupidly authorised and clearly shows how the last Cabinet Members of the Apartheid Government outlived their time in history. As background, by 1993, Mr Mandela and mates were released from prison for three years already and the country rapidly heading towards black majority rule, the 1994 election. No one thought that Nelson Mandela would not become the first black majority president, it was a given. But not all factions were peaceful. The most militant of them, the radical Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) was still fighting a “war of liberation.”
No one knows why. They could have joined the peace talks as invited and have their convicted members released from jail (amnesty) but they had to carry on, attacking churches and exploding bombs wherever they could. As an overt military threat, they were nothing, their guerrilla movement, the Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA), was seen as a nuisance factor only, nothing more, but they were fanatics. Where the rest, the ANC’s MK fighters would surrender when trapped, APLA would not. Seen in this light, of the end so near, it is frankly, astonishing, that the last remnants of the Apartheid Government decided to launch a military counterstrike on APLA. They ought to have foreseen the negative publicity that would automatically follow but in their utter arrogance and ideas on “baasskap,” they did not. They were still living in the old days and not awake to reality (“baasskap” is a term used mostly by liberals to indicate that a white man knows better and will always be placed in charge because of his white skin and nothing else).
Army Special Forces conducted the raid, shooting 5 dead inside a house inside Umtata (the deceased were between 12 and 16 years old). This attack became known as the “1993 Umtata Massacre” and filled with controversy to this very day. In later years, very predictably, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) found: “The commission finds that the killing of the five youths in the so-called Umtata Raid was a gross violation of human rights for which the former SSC (State Security Council) and the former SADF (South African Defence Force) are held accountable. In particular, the commission finds that the withdrawal of the reconnaissance team some eight hours before the operation meant that the SADF had no real way of knowing who was in the house at the time of the raid and regards this as grossly negligent. The commission further finds that the failure of the SADF to produce the weapons allegedly seized in the house for independent forensic examination casts doubt on the existence of the said weapons.”
More about this later, as usual, not totally the truth and nothing but the truth depending on who you believe. I am tempted to call it fake news.
The TRC was created under Archbishop Desmond Tutu to hear Apartheid Era political crimes and grant amnesties where the perpetrators explained their side of the story, and if done with a political motive and apologised most sincerely for, be granted amnesty. Legally, the apologising part was not required but most certainly, the apology was expected and given, many times cynically. As a nation builder experiment, it was a total failure.
* And after the 2020 fake US election, guess what, the Demorats demanded one to get Trump “deplorables” to confess. Exactly what they must confess to I have no idea. There were even talks of revenge, banning (on social media and the internet) as well as re-education camps as per the North Korea / North Vietnam etc. models. Yes, nice folks indeed. But let me assure you, the South African model did not work and was of no practical use either, GMJ.
In 1995, under Mr Mandela, the Minister of Justice, Dullah Omar (a good man, a well-respected member of the judiciary), said: “The raid on the house in Umtata was authorised on the strength of the intelligence provided by the security forces, that it was being used as an armed cache for attacks against civilians in other parts of South Africa. That information was inaccurate at the time of the operation and the killing of the youthful occupants was unjustified and inexcusable.”
A fairly large amount of money for this theatre was paid as compensation. Indirectly, the paying of compensation became very controversial. The Special Forces members did confiscate enemy weapons at the house during the raid and brought them back with them, indicating that the house was not as innocent as claimed later. Then, after the compensation was paid and the matter considered to be closed, finalised, the seized weapons were destroyed: “The SANDF (South African National Defence Force, the name change came after 1994) regards the whole matter of the Umtata operation as finalised. This follows a Cabinet decision to compensate the families of the deceased and the subsequent payment of R238,000 (about $83,000 in 1993) to the claimants. Once finalisation of the matter was reached, the weapons were destroyed in accordance with normal practice.”
Of course, it would never end there. The victims’ lawyer now jumped on the bandwagon, issuing a statement: “The news that these weapons have been destroyed is absolutely outrageous and amounts to what one can consider concealment of evidence that would obviously be crucial in any criminal proceedings.”
Now I don’t know exactly what “forensic tests” were to be done with the seized weapons. It is such a stupid argument in law as is the “concealment of evidence” charge that it cannot even be discussed among legal people. The weapons used to shoot the teenagers, yes, of course, they can be tested and seen who shot who, exactly if not why. The weapons seized and destroyed as admitted, what the hell for? It makes no sense legally and trust me, I know the laws of evidence. It further shows that the TRC had it completely wrong in their conclusion. They blatantly made it sound as if some cover-up was ongoing from the Army’s side where none was and what is worse, that is what mainstream media, as bad here as everywhere, remembers. Yet, the Army’s explanation is not unreasonable. Any less biased organisation than the TRC would have either not stated the last part or at least explained what went on, so that the reader may make an informed decision. By not doing so, and this was very deliberately done, it destroyed its already tarnished reputation with the Afrikaner. The image of Bishop Tutu, a man that denied that Jesus was resurrected and thought His body was eaten by dogs when it could not be found, crying openly in sympathy for the police victims, although comprehensible, did not endear his partiality to anyone. The right-wingers had a field day with it then and now.
* Tutu’s comments on Jesus are available online, there is no doubt that he uttered those words. GMJ.
What is more important to me is that seen in the times of the day, is that the raid should never have taken place. Obviously, the children would never have been killed if the raid was never authorised. So where did this start? Let us look at those who ordered it.
The last Apartheid President, FW de Klerk, defended his actions as could also be expected from a professional turd: “Although the operation was tragically botched, Mr De Klerk himself acted in his capacity as head of government with due deliberation and care and in complete compliance with national and international law.” In his autobiography he explained further, trying to distance himself: “The defence force said that they had the house under surveillance for several days and had corroboration that it was being used by APLA for terrorist purposes. They had no doubt that it was a legitimate target... It was an extremely difficult decision to take and, because it would involve military action in a country that South Africa regarded as independent, it was a decision that I, as head of the government, would have to take... In my mind I was satisfied that we had taken all the peaceful options at our disposal to persuade (General Bantu) Holomisa to prevent APLA from using Transkei as a base for cross-border terrorist attacks... I accordingly authorised the defence force to raid the house, but stipulated that minimum force should be used and that care should be taken to avoid serious injuries and casualties.... When I later confronted the SADF with their failure to carry out my instructions that minimum force should be used, they explained that the troops involved had thought that the occupants of the house were reaching for their weapons - so they opened fire, believing that they were in a combat situation.”
Okay, fair enough but I wish to highlight a few points here. In the first place, De Klerk is ignorant beyond belief of military operations if he believed that such a raid could be done in a manner to “avoid serious injuries and casualties” and “using minimum force.” That is wishful thinking to put it very mildly.
A journalist asked General George Meiring, Chief of the Army at the time of the attack if the soldiers were ordered to commit murder when authorised to protect themselves. He replied correctly: “...a soldier is never trained (to do) anything but shoot to kill. There is no way of asking how to shoot, you shoot for effect if you do shoot.”
De Klerk's entire account of the affair seems farfetched and devoid of reality or perhaps it summarizes the man perfectly.
Then, secondly, the Transkei Police found 78 empty cartridges and 26 projectiles (no idea what is meant by that, probably used flashbangs and teargas or smoke grenades) after the raid. They treated the house as a crime scene, as a terrorist attack. There were 12 Special Forces operators involved. Not all would have entered the house (outside perimeter, guarding the escape vehicles, etc.) and yet, 78 shots were fired. That is nothing, that is 6.5 shots per man and four of the five victims were shot in the head. In no way will you then deduct that a cowboy shooting was ongoing. These were aimed deliberate shots and done in the dark and probably within seconds of entering the house. They used tactical flashlights only, strapped to their weapons, no electric lights were switched on and if you wonder why not, tactical reasons, light betrays your position. No one outside the house was injured or killed, not one, nor even threatened and each man would have had at least 240 rounds with him, a 6.5 expenditure is nothing, they used great fire discipline. The raid itself was conducted behind enemy lines without any massive conventional force waiting to rescue them if something went wrong. Umtata was then seen as being in another country, Transkei, with their own Police, Army, and troubles.
Thirdly, children of that age, 12 to 16 years, were found to be armed terrorists here in previous years. It is not uncommon for child soldiers to be part of conflicts in Africa. The soldiers later said that they responded in kind when the occupants reacted in a hostile manner (as in grabbing for firearms). They reacted by killing them, the headshots show what they were aiming to do and did. They also expected many more people there than found, they expected 12 terrorists and this is very important. During such attacks, you have no time nor desire to make arrests. You will if possible, but usually, it is not. Think about this logically - the house is dark, you find people making what you perceive to be hostile moves, you kill them and move on, searching for the rest that you expect would be there. You cannot, it is stupid as an idea, stop in the middle of the attack, patiently subdue someone and then search for the rest that may well be hunting you in return or switch the lights on so that you can be seen and you lose your tactical advantage. Insane, and sadly, the 5 children died.
(A tactical flashlight can be used as a weapon, it is blinding if you shine it into someone’s eyes or switch it on and off rapidly, that is what Foxtrot means when he says you will lose your tactical advantage if the overhead lights are switched on. Everyone sees each other, see Code Name Ndebele 14 where the technique is used.)
Fourthly, the fact that no one shot back at them is irrelevant in the extreme. The soldiers were inside the house and neutralising threats or perceived threats before the enemy could react in kind. Therefore, no enemy had time to shoot back apart from making the described hostile moves. From this view, the soldiers followed a perfect procedure.
Historically, there were other such raids, and they never missed before despite the expected claims of “civilians” being murdered and then later to be found out it was a lie. Nevertheless, in South African Special Forces history, the 1993 Umtata Raid is seen as a failure and regretted. Never again would a house be attacked without being under constant surveillance, the lesson learned. The withdrawing of the spies around it, 8 hours before the attack, presumably to get to safety, was wrong and as far as I know, the only time that ever happened. Nevertheless, you cannot blame the men on the ground, that is stretching matters to be politically correct.
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