Vlakplaas: Apartheid Death Squads: 1979-1994

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Faced with the 'total onslaught' by its enemies, in 1979, Apartheid South Africa established Vlakplaas-lit. 'shallow farm', a 100-hectare farm nestling in the hills outside Pretoria on the Hennops River-as a secret operation under the arm of C1, a counter-terrorism division of the South African Police headed by Brigadier Schoon. The first phase of Vlakplaas operations, up until 1989, was aimed at fighting the enemy: the armed wings of the liberation movements, the African National Congress's Umkhonto we Sizwe (or 'MK'), the Pan Africanist Congress's Azanian People's Liberation Army (or APLA) and the South African Communist Party. The second phase was 'fighting organized crime' in which Vlakplaas itself seamlessly adopted the mantle of organized crime in the notorious downtown area of Johannesburg's Hillbrow. The final phase, the most destructive, was as the murky 'Third Force' that destabilized the country in an orgy of violence in the run-up to its first democratic elections, in 1994. Operating within South Africa as well as beyond the country's borders, it will never been known how many victims can be attributed to the Vlakplaas agenda-with much of the execution taking place on the farm itself-but a conservative figure of 1,000 murders and assassinations has been mooted.