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Bophuthatswana conflict (1994)

1994 Bophuthatswana conflict
Part of the end of apartheid and drawdown to South African general election, 1994
The tribal homeland of Bophuthatswana in early 1994.
Date11 March, 1994
LocationSouth Africa

Opposition-SADF victory

  • Removal and abolition of Lucas Mangope's regime
  • Disestablishment of bantustan
Incorporation of Bophuthatswana into North West Province

23x15px Government of Bophuthatswana
23x15px Afrikaner Volksfront

23x15px AWB
23x15px BDF Mutineers
23x15px SADF[1][2]
Commanders and leaders
23x15px Lucas Mangope
23x15px Constand Viljoen
23x15px Jan Breytenbach
23x15px Douw Steyn
23x15px Eugène Terre'Blanche
23x15px Georg Meiring
23x15px Volksfront: 4,500[3]
23x15px AWB: 600[4]
23x15px Security Forces: 10,002[5][6]
Casualties and losses
Volksfront: 1 killed[7]
AWB: 4 killed, 3 wounded[8]
BDF: 50 dead, 285 wounded[9]

The 1994 Bophuthatswana conflict was a popular uprising against, and subsequent removal of, Lucas Mangope's regime in Bophuthatswana, a South African tribal homeland installed during apartheid. The conflict - which was formally suppressed by the South African Defence Force on March 12 - resulted from wildcat strikes, a wave of support for the African National Congress then sweeping the territory, mutiny in the armed services, and Mangope's refusal to participate in general elections. It has been remembered largely for the public shooting of three right-wing Afrikaner extremists by a black officer of the Bophuthatswana Police. This proved to be a public relations disaster for the far right and demoralised Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging militants hoping to preserve white minority rule.[10]

Historical background

A product of territorial apartheid, Bophuthatswana - popularly nicknamed "Bop" by her nationals - accepted nominal independence in 1977 from South Africa's Nationalist administration.[11] The second national unit to reach the status of a bantustan with limited but hypothetically increasing powers of self-rule, Bophuthatswana adopted as her governing document an act drafted by the former Tswana Territorial Authority under South African guidance.[12] South Africa was adamant that elections should take place as early as 1972, but there were no political parties in the new region. This changed rapidly with the ascension of Kgosi Lucas Mangope, who founded the Lekobo la Setshaba sa Bophuthatswana (English: "Bophuthatswana National Party"). Mangope targeted rural votes and carried an easy majority in the new parliament.[12]

Although Bophuthatswana was not recognised as a unique entity by any foreign state (with the possible exception of Israel),[13] an estimated two million Tswana lost their South African citizenship accordingly.[11] The 1977 Constitution made it a self-governing democracy inside the Republic of South Africa, with an area of jurisdiction spanning six black-populated districts of the designated Tswana area. Excluded were zones earmarked for white persons encompassing much of the capital and industry.[11]


Under Mangope's rule, political freedoms in Bophuthatswana deteriorated. Opponents of the state were subject to banishment, arrest, or extrajudicial harassment. The African National Congress was also considered an illegal organisation.[11] Nelson Mandela's release in 1990 and F.W. de Klerk's subsequent negotiations towards ending apartheid opened up the possibility of reincorporating the fragmented bantustans into a unitary South African state. Although all tribal homelands ceased to exist in 1993 under an interim constitution, Mangope remained committed to the principle of Bophuthatswana's "independence".[12] Tswana voters were appalled; opposition mounted but remained subject to escalating repression. Human rights groups complained that citizens were barred from attending voter education programmes and only Mangope loyalists enjoyed the right to assembly.[3]

On January 1, 1994, de Klerk restored South African citizenship to Bophuthatswana residents but balked at the notion of removing its government from power. Mangope agreed to convene with representatives from the Electoral Commission of South Africa yet refused to consider participating in the upcoming multiracial elections. A commission member subsequently warned that "...his [Mangope's] intransigence made confrontation inevitable".[11]


Civil Service strike

In February, the executives of fifty-two Bophuthatswanan ministries formed the so-called "Mmabatho/Mafikeng Crisis Committee", initially to address their role in the post-election period. When it became apparent that Mangope would continue to oppose territorial integration for the near future the committee went on strike.[11] Since Bophuthatswana was set to be disestablished by the South African government on April 27, they demanded their wages - and civil service pensions - well in advance of that date. Lacking treasury funds, Mangope simply issued no response.[3] This alarmed the Bophuthatswana Police, which joined the strike immediately. Anarchy ensued and troops were deployed to restore order. Despite their efforts mass looting became widespread as appliances or furniture worth hundreds of rand began disappearing overnight.[3]

By Wednesday, March 11, authority had imploded. Striking staff seized the Bophuthatswana Broadcasting Corporation and took Mangope's son Eddie hostage, students boycotted classes at Mmabatho University, and the civil servants were joined by thousands of others demanding incorporation into South Africa and the right to campaign for the election.[14] When the security forces failed to take action, widespread disorder ensued. Businesses in Mmabatho, including the lucrative Mega City Shopping Centre, were looted or razed. A desperate Mangope made the decision to call on outside forces for assistance in restoring order.

On 8 March 1994, the president invited General Constand Viljoen, head of the right-wing Afrikaner Volksfront, to a meeting of his chief ministers in the Bophuthatswana Defence Force, national police, and intelligence services. It was agreed that Viljoen would use the Volksfront's militia to protect key locations in Bophuthatswana if the situation deteriorated. Parliament was empowered call on Viljoen's assistance sooner in the case of a forcible re-integration. 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

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 Jan 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 Defence Force 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 advancing. Their largest contingents took up positions 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 remove his supporters 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 an extremist. Terre'Blanche finally agreed to leave Bophuthatswana, and his men ordered to remove all AWB insignia from their uniforms.

During the evening of negotiations several civilians were injured by AWB forces, who fired upon looters and passerby alike.[15] 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 Mmabatho, 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

File:Bophuthatswana coup Execution.jpg
Alwyn Wolfaardt pleads for his life.

The single most publicised event of the conflict 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 convoy of AWB vehicles that had been firing into roadside huts.[16] 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.

Amnesty hearing

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.[17]

Menyatsoe was granted amnesty by the TRC.[18]


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.


  1. A Pillar of Apartheid falls
  2. 72 days that shaped South Africa
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Allister Sparks. Tomorrow Is Another Country: The Inside Story of South Africa's Road to Change (1996 ed.). University of Chicago Press. pp. 206–218. ISBN 978-0226768557. 
  4. TRC Final Report
  5. Bophuthatswana South African history online
  6. 'Policing Agencies: 1994, Prior to Amalgamation: South Africa'. Website of the South African Police Service.
  8. Historical AWB
  9. Hearings
  10. Forging Democracy From Below: Insurgent Transitions in South Africa and El Salvador by Elizabeth Wood, (Cambridge Studies in Comparative Politics) Cambridge University Press 2003
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 The End of an Absurdity
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Georg Pfeffer & Deepak Kumar Behera. Contemporary Society: Social concern (1999 ed.). Concept Publishing Co. pp. 129–130. ISBN 81-7022-737-2. 
  13. Sasha Polakow-Suransky, The unspoken alliance: Israel's secret relationship with apartheid South Africa (Random House Digital, 2010)
  14. Alec Russell. Big Men, Little People: The Leaders who Defined Africa (1999 ed.). Macmillan Publishers Ltd. pp. 129–130. ISBN 978-0814775424. 
  15. The day the military threat to the new order evaporated
  16. Marinovich, Greg; Silva Joao (2000). The Bang-Bang Club Snapshots from a Hidden War. William Heinemann. pp. 138–140. ISBN 0-434-00733-1. 
  17. "Truth and Reconciliation Commission amnesty hearing for Ontlametse Bernstein Menyatsoe". 
  18. "Truth and Reconciliation Commission Amnesty Decision". 

External links