n Journal for Contemporary History - Troops, townships and tribulations : deployment of the South African Defence Force (SADF) in the township unrest of the 1980s

Volume 31, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0258-2422
  • E-ISSN: 2415-0509



As South Africa's violent political crisis of the 1980s intensified, the SADF enteredthe internal fray - at the behest of the South African Police (SAP). The militarysupplied auxiliary support to the police in their drive to squash township unrest.The deployment of the army was a controversial move. Both within and outsideSouth Africa anti-apartheid activists condemned military involvement, arguing thatit proved the brutality of the regime and, propagandistically, that Pretoria,apparently compelled to deploy the military, was losing control over the violentconflict. The military was apprehensive about involving itself in the local turmoil.Starting with Operation Palmiet of 1984, this article examines the development ofthe military's internal role, as well as the police's justification for calling on theSADF and, on the other hand, the army's qualms about entering the internal arenaalongside the police. Finally the article will reflect on the army's approaches andconduct during its local foray.

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