Waging a war of sabotage in South Africa. The African National Congress dazed South Africa's white rulers when it hit high-security police and power installations in 1982 and '83. The outlawed movement, which went underground in 1960, claims it is forced to resort to sabotage because all nonviolent channels of protest have been closed by the government
The atmosphere was electric. Thousands of blacks were marching on Johannesburg. Tens of thousands were marching on Cape Town. The police and Army roared into action. Roadblocks shot up. Tanks rolled into position. Jet fighters buzzed African crowds at rooftop level.Skip to next paragraph
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The time: March 1960. It was the month of mass passive resistance demonstrations against the South African race laws. It was also the time of Sharpeville, when 69 Africans protesting the carrying of passes were shot dead by the South African police.
The South African government was facing its sternest test. There was an alarming flight of capital out of the country. Either the government would regain control through a massive crackdown, or the resistance movement would seize this opportunity to change the existing apartheid order.
Reports of nationwide unrest snowballed on the day of Sharpeville. A prominent professor on the small campus of the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg then gathered his white students together, and in the hushed tones of one who believes history is in the making, said flatly: ''I think the government will fall tonight.''
''We thought exactly the same thing at the time,'' says Mfanafuthi Makatini, who heads the observer mission to the United Nations of the outlawed African National Congress (ANC).
The government didn't fall. It prevailed through batons and banning orders, through sweeping pre-dawn raids on the houses of suspected revolutionaries and through a flurry of legislation that tightened the screws on political dissent. African (black), Indian, and white opponents of the government were scooped up in the detention net.
Organizations such as the ANC and its rival, the Pan African Congress (PAC), were banned shortly after Sharpeville. Hundreds of activists like Mr. Makatini and the ANC's current president, Oliver Tambo, escaped through neighboring African countries and regrouped to fight another day.
The dawning of that day has apparently come. For within the last two years the underground resistance movement, which has become virtually synonymous with the ANC, has carried out over a hundred highly selected acts of sabotage that have put South Africa's security forces on edge and left whites uneasy about what might follow next.
Ruth Mompati, chief executive of the ANC's branch in the United Kingdom, says that what agitates the South African authorities is that the ANC has been able to carry out daring acts of sabotage under the noses of South African security forces. In a recent interview in London, she said:
''We hit Sasol (the oil-from-coal refinery near Johannesburg), which is high security. And then we hit Koeberg (a nuclear power station near Cape Town), which is also high security, twice in a month. First they said it was an electrical fault that would take six weeks to correct. We didn't worry. We went back again. We hit it four times at regular intervals with limpet mines. They couldn't say it was an electrical fault after that. They couldn't believe it could happen in the heart of their Afrikanerdom. This is what is making South Africa so angry, and their followers are starting to see their weaknesses.''
By all accounts, including reports from South African intelligence, Pretoria has seen the enemy and the enemy is the ANC.
How vulnerable, then, is the South African government? Who belongs to the ANC , and what is its strategy? To what extent will strife in South Africa drag in South Africa's closest black neighbors - Angola, Zambia, Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mozambique, and Tanzania - to which South African political opponents have fled?
These questions are uppermost in the minds of Africa watchers. They have become more pressing since the ANC claimed responsibility for the May 20, 1983, bomb attack outside Air Force Headquarters, Pretoria. As many as 17 people were killed, eight of them black, and more than 200 injured in South Africa's worst incident of sabotage.
The blast was carried out in broad daylight, a departure from the past, and killed civilian bystanders. The attack immediately raised questions as to whether the ANC, in escalating its campaign, was moving away from buildings and installations toward indiscriminate civilian killings.
ANC official Ruth Mompati denies that the ANC is shifting tactics:
''It's been our policy, and still is, to hit hard targets - military and economic targets. Even in Pretoria we chose military targets. One was the South African Air Force; the other, security intelligence headquarters. These were two places we hit. We killed Air Force personnel. They were military men. We didn't hit a supermarket or concert hall where there were lots of civilians.''