ISS Africa
Home / Publications / Monographs / Monograph 63: Fear in the City, Urban Terrorism in South Africa, Henri Boshoff, Anneli Botha and Martin Schonteich
Monograph 63: Fear in the City, Urban Terrorism in South Africa, Henri Boshoff, Anneli Botha and Martin Schonteich
1 September 2001

This monograph explores the only significant series of terrorist acts that has occurred in South Africa’s post-1994 history — that of urban terrorism in the greater Cape Town area — and the state’s response to these acts.

Between 1994 and the end of 2000 over 400 criminal detonations and explosions occurred in South Africa. Most occurred in the context of internecine gang warfare and vigilante action against criminal gangs and suspected drug dealers in the Western Cape.

After mid-1996 an increasing number of bombings and assassinations were motivated by a desire to create a climate of fear as urban terrorism inflicted death and destruction on the citizens of Cape Town. The bombers began to target central Cape Town and popular tourist spots, as well as the state in the form of police stations, court buildings and personnel of the justice system.

This study begins with the question: ‘What is terrorism?’ This is an important question to ask when looking at urban terrorism in a South African context where it can be difficult to distinguish between terrorist as opposed to criminally motivated bombings and assassinations.

At the time of writing no group has claimed responsibility for the bombing campaign in Cape Town. Government ministers responsible for security and justice have laid the blame for the bombings firmly at the door of People Against Gangsterism and Drugs (Pagad). This study looks at Pagad, its history, objectives and changing aims between 1996 and 2000 to establish whether the available evidence justifies the ministers’ allegations.

Operationally the state responded effectively in stabilising the internal security situation in the Western Cape. Through special intelligence-driven joint police and defence force operations the security forces contributed to a significant reduction in terrorist-related incidents by the end of 2000. The study evaluates the successes of four operations launched by the security forces to combat urban terrorism in the Western Cape.

The final section of the monograph looks at the state’s legislative response to terrorism in South Africa. More than 30 pieces of legislation are still on the statute books to be used to combat terrorism and related criminal behaviour. South African legal precedent has also created a number of common law crimes that can be used against people engaging in terrorist activities. These, and relevant international conventions that seek to combat terrorism and crimes committed by terrorists, are discussed.

In mid-2000 the South African Law Commission published a draft anti-terrorism bill. The draft bill seeks to address the issue of terrorism and related crimes in one piece of legislation. The draft bill contains some controversial provisions, notably proposals that suspects can be detained without charge or trial for up to 14 days, and an excessively broad definition of terrorism. These contentious provisions are analysed in some detail.

Even the best legislation is ineffective if it is not properly implemented and used by the personnel of the criminal justice system. Many of the existing laws designed to combat terrorism, and strengthen the hands of the security forces against terror groups are not being used fully. This is because of a variety of operational weaknesses in the criminal justice system such as a lack of detective and prosecution skills, resource constraints, a weak intelligence capacity and insufficient public co-operation with law enforcement agencies.