War in Peace
Author: Nick Howarth
Copyrights belong to author.
Published by NIMA Books.
Nick Howarth volunteered for the South African Police’s East Rand Riot Unit as an 18-year-old national service conscript in 1986. Until then he had been unaware that in 1984 the ANC (African National Congress) had instructed its followers to make South Africa ungovernable. He gained rapid promotion to sergeant and remained with the unit for 9 years. The Riot Unit’s base was at Dunnottar which was surrounded by 17 black townships, the main ones being Katlehong, Tokoza, Vosloorus, Tembisa, Kwa Thema and Daveyton. The first three were jointly known as the Katorus Area — in 1990 it was rated by the United Nations as the most dangerous place in the world.
Countless thousands of black South Africans were brutally killed in the violence that ravaged the black townships in the years leading up to the landmark 1994 democratic elections. Because information was carefully controlled by the apartheid government, 90% of white South Africans were unaware that an all-out tribal war between the Zulu IFP and the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe was raging on their doorsteps, each side fighting for domination. Needless to say, many whites listened to the ANC’s propaganda which was never denied or rebutted by the government, so they understandably felt justified when castigating the Police Riot Units for alleged heavy-handed intervention in the townships. The press, also denied information by the government, in general followed a similar line of criticism.
The truth was somewhat different. Nick Howarth’s account is common to all riot squad policemen of that era. Night-after-night, day-after-day, week-after-week and month-after-month they did what they could to keep the peace, standing between the warring factions and for their pains being shot at by both sides. Many riot squad policemen, both black and white, were killed or maimed while performing their duties.
Generally, when the situation quietened down in the early hours of the mornings the Riot Units patrolled the townships in their Casspirs, picking up the many dozens of bodies of combatants of both sides and the numerous corpses of unfortunate black civilians who were frequently perceived by the combatants to be the ‘enemy’ — merely because they happened to be, through no fault of their own, at the wrong place at the wrong time. Many died horrible deaths from‘necklacing’ — a speciality execution method of the ANC.
This book is not meant to stir emotions or to change political outlooks. Its intention is to open people’s eyes as to what was really going on in South Africa during the transitional period leading up to the 1994 elections. That they passed peacefully is in itself a tribute to the riot policemen who worked the East Rand townships in the late 80s and early 90s. Without them it is possible the elections could well have gone horribly awry.
The book also reveals how ANC propaganda, designed to discredit the apartheid government, unjustly rubbed off on the Riot Units. But they were good men who put their lives on the line daily and deserved better than being depicted as out-of- control thugs. Until this day the vitally important role the Riot Units played in South Africa’s transition to a democratic country has never been publicly acknowledged.
Nick’s Howarth’s work is the first book to be published about the East Rand Riot Squads, most likely because until now budding authors who experienced the horrors of those years have been afraid their accounts would be greeted with disbelief.
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