Witdoeke (South Africa)

Country: South Africa
Details of Formation: Witdoeke was mentioned for the first time on May 26, 1986 as a conservative Black pro-government group.
Details of Termination: Terminated with inauguration of President Mandela, as then not pro-government anymore.
Purpose: The main purpose of the group was to do the “dirty work” that the government could not achieve by other means, especially in the realm of burning shacks and relocating its (often refugee) residents.
Organisation: The Witdoeke are led by Mr Ngxobongwana. They cooperate and are aided by the police and the army.
Weapons and Training: Police supplied the Witdoeke with arms and ammunition, which included grenade throwers.
Size: A news source from June 1986 speaks of 1,000 Witdoeke members involved in an operation. Another news source mentions 3,000 members in that same month.
Reason for Membership: Members might be motivated by their rightwing ideology.
Treatment of Civilians: Most of the Witdoeke’s actions were directed against residents of squatter camps. They destroyed the squatters’ houses, forcedly relocated them, looted their belongings and assaulted people. One news source reports that in June 1986 they burnt the homes of 35,000 people, and a total of 50 people were killed. Police aided and colluded with the Witdoeke in these actions, and no arrests were made. In one occasion they attacked union members of a mine after having been brought to the mine by mine security personnel by bus.
Other Information: The Witdoeke’s name translates as “white handkerchiefs”, “white rag” or “white cloths”. They are called Witdoeke for the white arm and head bands they wear. Sometimes they are referred to as “the fathers,” which is a term widely used in the townships for older conservative blacks.
References: Information was taken from news sources listed in the PGMD