Conflict in Bophuthatswana (1994) Print
Wednesday, 11 March 2015 07:07



Flag of the African National Congress (ANC) Members, supporters and sympathizers of the African National Congress (ANC)
including members of the Armed Forces of Bophuthatswana,
for the “new” Republic of South Africa (RSA) Empire

Flag of the “new” Republic of South Africa (RSA) Empire

With the support of the “old” Republic of South Africa (RSA) Empire Flag of the “old” Republic of South Africa (RSA) Empire


Flag of Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) AWB (Boer nation) Boer flag

Tswana nationalists for the independence of Bophuthatswana Bophuthatswana flag

Date: March 1994
Location: Bophuthatswana

The Bophuthatswana was a Tswana state, in southern Africa, autonomous since 1971 and independent since 1977.

Bophuthatswana map

Many parts of the text that follows are taken from chapter 23 of the book “Victory or Violence: The Story of the AWB of South Africa”, by Arthur Kemp. Additions and changes are by

The dramatic events leading to the collapse of the government of the Black state of Bophuthatswana in March 1994 also saw the AWB deploy for the first time a large number of Wenkommando members in a conventional conflict situation. The Bophuthatswana conflict also saw the final parting of the ways between the AWB and General Constand Viljoen and his supporters.
The Bophuthatswana government had consistently refused to take part in the April 1994 multinational elections, and when this boycott was formally endorsed by the Bophuthatswana cabinet, African National Congress (ANC) supporting mobs took to the streets of Mmabatho and Mafeking, the two main towns in the homeland, demanding that the independent state became part of the “new” Empire. The protest soon turned into a full blown riot and then into a popular uprising against that State’s president, Kgosi Lucas Manyane Mangope.

Bophuthatswana, 1994. ANC riots

Bophuthatswana, 1994. ANC riots

On 9 March the unrest situation in Bophuthatswana had reached critical proportions, and on that day Mangope made a personal telephone call appeal for help to the AWB leader in Ventersdorp. Terre’Blanche and some of his general staff then rushed through to Pretoria where an Afrikaner Volksfront (AVF) executive meeting was held, and at which it was decided to send in an armed force to try and stabilise the Mangope government. Viljoen was at that stage still part of the AVF’s executive, and was a party to this decision; this despite the 4th March 1994, in contrast to the AVF, he founded a political party, the Vryheidsfront (VF, in English: Freedom Front), to participate to multinational elections of 27th April 1994, whose aim was to make further evolution of the Republic of South Africa (RSA) empire on the capitalism-communism way. The political administration of the “new” Empire would be entrusted to the major political force in the Empire: a Communist force that international capitalism had helped to create, assist, finance, and promote.
The AWB generals were then allowed to use the AVF telephones to issue call up instructions to their immediate junior officers, and in this way a mobilisation call was sent out. It was claimed later that the nationalist station, Radio Pretoria (set up to the East of Pretoria) had issued AWB call up instructions, but this was not true. All that station did was to announce in its news bulletins that the AWB had called up its members to help Bophuthatswana.
Viljoen and his followers in the meanwhile mobilised their own “armed wing” - the Boere Krisis Aksie (Farmer’s Crisis Action - the same people who had been involved in the 1991 attack on the black squatters at Goedgevonden) and ordered them into Bophuthatswana as well. After arriving in the homeland, the AWB forces were deployed in the White residential areas of Mmabatho, where they were given a friendly reception by the White inhabitants, who had started to fear the rampant lawlessness and looting that was taking place in the centre of that town. The AWB forces were deployed under the command of one of the Wenkommando generals from Natal, Nicolaas Cornelius Fourie.

AWB leaves Bophuthatswana

AWB leaves Bophuthatswana

AWB men in BophuthatswanaIt was however during this first night that things started to go wrong. Eugene Terre’Blanche, who had moved into Bophuthatswana along with his forces (which eventually totalled approximately 750 men, as opposed to the 350 men who made up the BKA faction), was asked by the commander of the Bophuthatswana army, General Jack Turner, to see him urgently at the latter’s head quarters. This Terre’Blanche did, where he was told by Turner that the Bophuthatswana Minister of Foreign Affairs, Rowan Cronje, had asked that Terre’Blanche and the AWB immediately leave the country.
Terre’Blanche spoke to Cronje, telling him that he had spoken personally with Mangope earlier that same day, and the State leader had asked for help. Turner then also told Terre’Blanche that Viljoen and the then serving head of the RSA army, General George Meiring, had visited the territory some four days previously, touring together in a helicopter. This news of course made Terre’Blanche highly suspicious of Viljoen’s motives, particularly in the light of the latter’s registration to take part in the multinational elections some six days earlier. As Terre’Blanche later asked Turner, why would Viljoen, who had already decided to take part in the multinational election, go and help Mangope, who did not want to take part in it?
Bophuthatswana Defence Force, Air Force Base MmabathoTerre’Blanche was further asked to move his forces to the Bophuthatswana air force base just outside Mmabatho - a move he made against the advice of AWB-Wenkommando General Nicolaas Fourie. The BKA forces had already started to arrive at the base when the AWB contingent moved in. It was however clear that large numbers of the Bophuthatswana’s army and police units had sided with the ANC backed uprising and were hostile to the presence of White Afrikaners and Boers in the territory.
The AWB and AVF men had been promised weapons from the armoury at the Bophuthatswana air force base just to the west of Mmabatho - but when they got there they were informed by General Jack Turner that the armoury was virtually empty, having apparently been ransacked earlier by Bophuthatswana security forces who had switched sides.

Bophuthatswana Air Force Base Mmabatho

At the air force base it was made very clear to Terre’Blanche, by both Rowan Cronje and representatives of the BKA, that he in his person and the AWB in general were not welcome. Terre’Blanche then decided to leave, saying that he would go back to Ventersdorp. The AWB contingent could decide whether to stay or not by themselves - even after a further stipulation was added that they had to remove all AWB insignia (which they did, except for the senior officers).
Terre’Blanche however went to the home of a supporter in Mmabatho, and remained in radio contact with his senior generals still at the air force base.
After Terre’Blanche’s departure, Viljoen’s appointed commander, Colonel Jan Breytenbach, formerly of the infamous 32nd Battalion of the “old” Republic of South Africa (RSA) Empire in South West Africa, arrived to take control. He made no secret of his dislike for the AWB, and was involved in a particularly nasty altercation with AWB-Wenkommando General Nicolaas Fourie, which only just stopped short of the two men physically assaulting each other.
According to AWB sources after the incident, Breytenbach also told Fourie that the AWB forces would get none of the available petrol or stores under his control at the air force base. Faced with no logistical backup, no food and no petrol, the AWB contingent then decided to leave Bophuthatswana, as it is was obvious that Mangope was no longer in control of the government.
The AWB men formed a new convoy and left the air force base, and accompanied by one Bophuthatswana army vehicle, sped through Mmabatho on their way to the border. However, the Bophuthatswana army unit led the convoy on a route through the city in which no fewer than four ambushes had been set.

AWB leaves Bophuthatswana

AWB fights in Bophuthatswana

In many of the cases the attackers were members of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force who had gone over to the ANC backed uprising, and even (according to the testimony of AWB-Wenkommando Gen. Alec Cruywagen and other men in the withdrawal convoy) by persons in 32nd Battalion uniform of the “old” Republic of South Africa (RSA) Empire. Although they were well armed with automatic weapons (R4 and R5 rifles) 40 mm mortars and armoured vehicles, they did not manage to kill any AWB men in these fire fights- and later SABC radio reported that over 50 Bophuthatswana soldiers had been killed and over 300 wounded by the AWB forces.
The fact that there were no AWB casualties during these ambushes was regarded by the AWB as nothing short of a miracle- the men were mostly riding on open pick up vans, armed only with handguns and light hunting rifles, while their attackers were heavily armed. Several AWB men were seriously injured when their vehicles were literally shot to pieces underneath them, but they all recovered from their wounds.
Somehow one vehicle was separated from the convoy - it is said that they turned off in search of petrol, but the truth will never be known as all the participants are dead - and it was this lone vehicle which was to become the focus of world attention at that time.
The vehicle in question was a blue Mercedes being driven by AWB-Wenkommando Colonel Alwyn Wolfaardt (43 y.o.), and had as its passengers AWB-Wenkommando General Nicolaas Fourie (40) and Veldkornet (Field Cornet) Jacobus Stephanus Uys (33).
As the vehicle was travelling all alone down the road directly in front of the main Mmabatho police station, it was riddled with gunfire from Bophuthatswana troops in and around two armoured personnel carriers standing outside the police station. The withering gunfire managed to bring the Mercedes to a halt.
Inside, AWB-Wenkommando General Fourie had been hit in the neck, and was already unconscious. Next to him Wolfaardt had been hit in the arm and in the back seat Uys had been hit in the leg.
In the full view of foreign and local television cameras, the two conscious men managed to open the car doors, push the dying Gen. Nicolaas Fourie out onto the road, and then themselves crawled out next to the car.
The Bophuthatswana police then placed them under arrest, taking away their weapons, but strangely not trying to remove them or to give them medical aid. In a bizarre interlude the men lay there for about twenty minutes, while the press conducted interviews with the two conscious men. Not one of the pressmen present lifted a finger to try and help the men, even thought Wolfaardt and Uys requested them to do so many times.
(This was in sharp contrast to another scene, also in Mmabatho, where journalists had given first aid to wounded Black civilians).
Then, still in full view of the cameras, a Bophuthatswana policeman, Ontlametse Bernstein Menyatsoe, armed with a R4 automatic rifle, ran up to where the wounded men were lying and gunned them down in cold blood. It was this cold blooded execution, far away from where the actual fire fights had taken place, which was misrepresented by the local and international media as the AWB forces being “defeated” in Bophuthatswana. This myth has persisted, even though it is palpably untrue.

The BKA unit then withdrew later that day, also running into several ambushes along the way. A little known fact is that a further two men who were with that unit, Francois Alwyn Venter (54 y.o.) an another Veldkornet of the AWB, Francois Willem Janse van Rensburg (36), were killed during the AVF withdrawal. Several others were wounded during further ambushes on the BKA convoy.

Francois Alwyn Venter died on March 11, wounded by shot of an automatic weapon fired by a member or members of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force from an armoured vehicle of the BFU, along the Mafikeng-Ramatlhabama Road.
The AWB Veldkornet Francois Willem Janse van Rensburg, was shot through his jaw during an ambush along Voortrekker Road. He died at 00:30 on 12 March.

[News from Beeld, 16th March 1994]
Adriana Janse Van Rensburg (34 y.o.), from Swartklip near Rustenburg, widow of Francois Willem Janse van Rensburg, the 15th March 1994 said: “I can only thank God that my husband died bravely for the Boer nation.” Her husband had left her Thursday, March 10, saying he go “to help to stabilize Bophuthatswana.” She asked him if it was necessary, and he replied, “My darling, I’m an officer. My country called me and I must go.”
The veldkornet of the AWB-Wenkommando Francois Willem Janse van Rensburg, also left two children, Francois (4 y.o.) and Marte (12).

Journalists and ANC aligned spokesman later alleged that AWB men had shortly after the murder of the three men, gone on a shooting spree in Bophuthatswana, shooting looters and Black passers-by alike. Although it was never finally proven who had shot the civilians, at least 60 died, either in cross fire or as combatants in one way or another - this being in addition to the 50 soldiers allegedly killed by the AWB contingent in earlier fire fights.
There is however no evidence to indicate that the AWB force did go about randomly shooting Black civilians - and indeed several instances have been recorded where AWB men actually saved Black civilians who were serving Bophuthatswana government officials, from being killed by mobs of ANC supporters.

Bophuthatswana, 1994. ANC riots

One of the most notable of such actions was undertaken by AWB General Roelf Jordaan from Ladybrand. While he and his hastily mobilised force were outside Mmabatho on their way to the air force base, they were flagged down by a Black civilian, who turned out to be the Bophuthatswana Minister of Agriculture. He informed Jordaan and his men that an ANC mob had attacked his house, setting it on fire. He and his wife had managed to flee, but his 15 year old son had been lost in the chaos. He had however later been able to track his son down by telephone.
His son had informed him that he was sheltering in a house several kilometres away and that an ANC mob was busy searching all the houses, and would soon reach the one in which he was hiding.
Jordaan and AWB brigadier Leon van Deventer from the AWB’s Kalahari Wenkommando then put together a small force of AWB men in five pick ups and raced to the house where the youth was hiding. By a combination of stealth and bravado, they managed to take the youth away from under the noses of the rioting ANC mob. They returned the youth to his relieved parents and then proceeded on to the air force base - an example of where some AWB men actually put their lives at risk for Black civilians. Incidents such as these do not support the media generated image of rampaging AWB men shooting at all and sundry.
On a military level, the operation was not a success, but the fault for this was the failure on the part of the Bophuthatswana Defence Force to provide the necessary logistical support and armoured personnel carriers as had been promised, and for the fact that a large number of army units switched support to the ANC backed uprising before White Afrikaners and Boers arrived in the country.
However, the portrayal of the operation as the “AWB being routed” is also not true - the facts were that the AWB went in and then left again after encountering a hostile reception from the BKA section in Mmabatho. The AWB forces did not leave after being “defeated” by the Bophuthatswana army, as the media alleged, and in fact in the few incidents where fire fights took place, the casualty figures show that the AWB force acquitted themselves well in the face of far superior firepower.
The interesting contradiction raised by Terre’Blanche - why would Viljoen, who was going to take part in the multination election, want to help Mangope, who did not want to take part in it, can only be explained by the intention of the Bophuthatswana government to hold a full sitting of its parliament the week following its downfall. This session of the Bophuthatswana parliament would have in all likelihood have reversed the decision to stay out of the elections, and Mangope and his supporters would have then been able to enter the election in their own right.
Viljoen was in all likelihood aware of this, and his motivation in going in try and stabilise Mangope was to enable him to take part in the multinational election. The AWB of course went in to Bophuthatswana with the intention of stabilising Mangope - but intending to keep him out of the election. The AWB’s presence in Bophuthatswana must have then come as an unwelcome surprise for the Viljoen faction.

The Boers killed in Bophuthatswana were commemorated by AWB the 15th October 1994. They are remembered at the AWB memorial.

The official ceremony  held by AWB to honour the fallen Boers in Bophuthatswana, 15th October 1994

[From AWB’s website, 2002]

The Battle of Mmabatho

Chaos broke out in Bophuthatswana. The lands stability was threatened by ANC demonstrations and looting to force the homeland into submission and to participate in upcoming elections, whereupon Pres. Lucas Mangope called in the help of the AWB, something that to this day he strenuously denies. Even if he alleges that he asked the assistance of Viljoen and the AVF, the AWB was part of the AVF. AWB members were called up even from AVF offices to assist. The call up instructions was: Weapons and food rations will be provided by the Bophuthatswana army fatigues, issued with weapons etc., etc.
On 10 March 1994 the AWB moved into Bophuthatswana. After residential areas and business centers had been secured the AWB was called on to regroup at Bophuthatswana Air force Headquarters for further planning. Heated arguments arose, inter alias, between Rowan Cronje, Bophuthatswana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jan Breytenbach from the AVF (who was sent by Constand Viljoen and who should have been in command of the operation), and the AWB top leadership structure. At the request of Cronje and Breytenbach Mr. Terre’Blanche withdrew to a farm outside Mmabatho, where he monitored the situation by radio.
His presence in Bophuthatswana, it was believed, would rouse the people’s spirit. After Mr. Terre’Blanche’s withdrawal, the AWB was also requested to leave, even though the AWB declared themselves prepared to fight under the command of Breytenbach. The AWB then withdrew. Breytenbach and a few AVF remained behind however, to go into action and restore stability in the land. Nothing ever became of this action, even up to this very day.
The ANC got the upper hand and forced the Bophuthatswana government to participate in the elections. It can be justifiably asked, if the AWB had entered Bophuthatswana uninvited why were they permitted to gain entrance to Air Force Headquarters? No country would surely allow uninvited guests to occupy their military bases.
During the withdrawal of the AWB, one of the vehicles left the convoy to fill up with petrol. When it attempted to rejoin the convoy the vehicle was brought to a halt by gunfire and the tragedy, which took place, was shown time and time again on television. On the way out of Bophuthatswana, the AWB was drawn into numerous ambushes where they were fired upon with automatic weapons and mortars. The men returned fire where several wounded and dead were left on the Bophuthatswana side. The impression given by the media is that the AWB members fired both wildly and knowingly on innocent blacks walking alongside the road. The truth is that they were shot at by the Bophuthatswana army as well as activists in civilian clothing and from houses and crowds of people flocked together. It is only logical that people caught in such crossfire will be injured or killed.
With the events in Bophuthatswana the impression was given that the NP government wanted to trigger off the Boervolk’s own Sharpville. In the first instance why was the AWB permitted to enter Bophuthatswana if they were not welcome there, secondly, why where they lured into ambushes and shot at from Nyala armoured vehicles? Thirdly, why were three AWB members murdered at precisely the place where the world press was congregated?
These murders were obviously to serve as deterrents to the Nation. Wives and mothers should now dissuade their husbands and sons from fighting for their freedom. Nevertheless who wants to die in such a manner? This had certainly created the right breeding ground for the more “peaceful” alternative.


Conflict in Bophuthatswana (1994) - video