56 Arrested After South African Ministers ‘Held Hostage’ by Anti-Apartheid Veterans

National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise. Picture: @ParliamentofRSA/Twitter
ParliamentofRSA/Twitter

Three South African ministers were confronted by several dozen angry veterans of the anti-apartheid movement at a hotel in Pretoria on Thursday and held hostage until police intervened to rescue them. The police reported making 56 arrests in connection with the incident, seven of them women.

The officials taken hostage included South African Defense Minister Thandi Modise. They agreed to meet with the veteran activists, who belonged to several different anti-apartheid groups, to address their demands for housing, medical benefits, and cash payouts.

According to the Associated Press (AP), the activists brought a swift end to the meeting by demanding $270,000 each in cash, plus benefits, as a reward for participating in the struggle against racial segregation in South Africa from the 1960s until the apartheid system was dismantled in the early 1990s.

The ministers were physically prevented from leaving by the irate activists, prompting a response by South Africa’s Police Special Task Force (STF).

The police did not say how long the hostage crisis lasted, or what methods were employed by the STF to resolve the situation, although a statement by South Africa’s National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NATJoints) said no shots were fired.

One of the hostage ministers praised the STF for acting “very effectively and successfully,” while NATJoints reported that three of the suspects had to be “taken for medical checks after they complained of pains.”

The STF said its officers were unable to resolve the standoff through negotiations, so a “tactical approach” was employed. A police spokesman said the 56 detainees are “likely to face at least three counts of kidnapping.” Everything else about the encounter has been left to the public imagination.

All of the disgruntled anti-apartheid veterans belonged to “the former armed wing of the ruling ANC (African National Congress)” and were supporters of former President Jacob Zuma, who was paroled on health grounds in September after being sentenced to 15 months in prison on corruption charges, Deutsche Welle reported.

Zuma’s imprisonment sparked riots across South Africa that killed hundreds of people, blocked highways, and inflicted extensive property damage through vandalism and looting.

The hostage-taking activists reportedly demanded to speak with the current president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, to press their case for quarter-million-dollar cash payouts, which they said they would use to launch new business endeavors.

The AP noted the aging militants regard themselves as military veterans who should be compensated for fighting to bring the ANC to power. Other South Africans insist ordinary people played a more important role in the anti-apartheid movement than paramilitary squads, and some say the paramilitary veterans’ groups have been infiltrated by opportunists and poseurs.

Jacob Zuma coincidentally spoke to his supporters from an undisclosed location by video link on Thursday. Zuma delivered what Agence France-Presse (AFP) described as a “rambling hour-long address” in which he compared his corruption prosecution to apartheid, but urged his followers to continue supporting the ANC in next month’s elections.

“Today we are a state governed by those who know what it is like to be oppressed and denied fundamental human rights. It is this state that has imprisoned me for contempt of court without trial. Something has gone terribly wrong in our country,” Zuma said

AFP noted that some of Zuma’s veteran apartheid-fighter supporters dressed in military camouflage to hear his speech, hailed him as their eternal “commander,” and suggested they were ready to take violent action if he is sent back to prison.

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