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The "Third Force" was a term used by leaders of the "ANC during the late 1980s and early 1990s to refer to a clandestine force believed to be responsible for a surge in violence in "KwaZulu-Natal, and townships around and south of the "Witwatersrand (or "Rand").[1]

The "Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) found that:

while little evidence exists of a centrally directed, coherent or formally constituted "Third Force", a network of security and ex-security force operatives, frequently acting in conjunction with right-wing elements and/or sectors of the "IFP, was involved in actions that could be construed as fomenting violence and which resulted in gross human rights violations, including random and target killings.[2]

Uses after 1994[edit]

Today, the high rate of "protest in South Africa is often attributed to a "third force",[3][4][5] often assumed to be linked to foreign intelligence agencies, opposition political parties and white intellectuals.[6][7] However, "S'bu Zikode of the shackdweller's movement "Abahlali baseMjondolo has deconstructed the term by claiming the third force is the anger of the poor.[8] Abahlali baseMjondolo has also argued that "it is clear that the third force is just another name for the organised poor".[9]

The ANC also often refers to protestors and other critics as ""counter-revolutionaries".[10] "Cosatu President Sdumo Dlamini has claimed that popular organisations active in local politics are linked to the CIA.[11]

The "Mail & Guardian has reported that: "According to grassroots activists the accusations of 'criminality' and 'third forces' are familiar: used to delegitimise and dismiss dissent and grievances - and perpetuate the notion of a society homogenously content with an ANC-led government."[12] The newspaper also quoted activist "Ayanda Kota as saying that these allegations "take the agency away from us. It's the same argument used for the mineworkers fighting for a living wage: they are being used by some 'third force' . . .Poor people…apparently can't organize. It was the same with "Steve Biko and the "Black Consciousness Movement - the CIA were behind them."[13]

The xenophobic pogroms in May 2008 were also ascribed to 'the third force'.[14] In 2015 Malusi Gigaba also ascribed xenophobic violence to a "third force"[15]

Protest at mining on communal lands,[16] independent trade union action,[17] student protest[18] and the formation of new political parties has also been seen in conspiratorial terms by the ANC.[19] "Gwede Mantashe, secretary general of the ANC, has ascribed strikes on the mines to the agency of 'white foreigners'.[20]

Charles van Onselen argues that the ANC uses the idea of 'the third force' as a "conspiracy theory to deflect attention from its own failings.[21]


  1. ^ The Historical Significance of South Africa's Third Force, Stephen Ellis Journal of Southern African Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2 (Jun., 1998), pp. 261-299
  2. ^ "Section 4 Appendix: The 'Third Force'" (PDF), Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report, 6, 2003, p. 584 
  3. ^ ANC: "Abahlali and opposition a third force", Mhlabunzima Memela, The Witness, 17 October 2013
  4. ^ 'Third force' link to unrest GRAEME HOSKEN and SIPHO MASOMBUKA, The Times, 7 February 2014
  5. ^ A revolution’s dreams betrayed, Malaika wa Azania, Sunday Independent, 30 March 2014
  6. ^ Abahlali's Vocal Politics of Proximity: Speaking, Suffering and Political Subjectivization, Anna Selmeczi, Journal of Asian and African Studies, October 2012 vol. 47 no. 5 498-515
  7. ^ On the Third Force, SACSIS, 2012
  8. ^ Zikode, S'bu (2006), We are the Third Force, Abahlali baseMjondolo 
  9. ^ The Third Force is Gathering its Strength, Abahlali baseMjondolo, 3 March 2010
  10. ^ The ANC's imagined and real enemies: 'Creeping counter-revolution' vs. creeping scandals, Ranjeni Munusamy, 21 January 2012
  11. ^ Conspiracy theories tell us much about South Africa, ANTHONY BUTLER, Business Day, 23 AUGUST 2013,
  12. ^ Activists decry talk of 'third force' at Marikana, Niren Tolsi, Mail & Guardian, 24 August 2012
  13. ^ Activists decry talk of 'third force' at Marikana, Niren Tolsi,Mail & Guardian, 24 August 2012
  14. ^ Michael Neocosmos, From Native Foreigners to Foreign Natives, CODESRIA, Dakar, 2010, p. 118
  15. ^ Outbreak of xenophobic attacks ‘shows lack of leadership’, Staff Writers, Business Day, 16 April 2015
  16. ^ Mining is a 'done deal', Fred Kockott, IOL, 2008
  17. ^ Gwede's Swedish diplomatic row, By LOYISO SIDIMBA AND CANDICE BAILEY, Sunday Independent, 23 June 2013]
  18. ^ The top 10 ANC conspiracy theories, Charles van Onselen, Rand Daily Mail, 25 May 2016
  19. ^ New parties a sign of 'foreign agents', says MK Vets chairman, COLLEEN GOKO, Business Day, 30 APRIL 2013,
  20. ^ "White foreigners": The danger of history repeating itself, Terry Bell, GroundUp, 13 June 2014
  21. ^ The top 10 ANC conspiracy theories, Charles van Onselen, Rand Daily Mail, 25 May 2016

See also[edit]

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