MASAKONA, SOUTH AFRICA — LEADERS of the militant Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) have for the first time taken full responsibility for attacks on white farmers by its military wing, the Azanian Peoples Liberation Army (APLA), and vowed to continue the violence until it feels South Africa has made irreversible progress toward democracy.
"The farmers are part of the defense structures of the regime," PAC first Deputy President Johnson Mlambo says. "They occupy the land from which our people were expelled."
Speaking at a weekend funeral for APLA member Mbengeni Mudau, who was shot by police on April 28 near the eastern Transvaal town of Tzaneen, Mr. Mlambo referred to the APLA as a "component structure of the PAC which fully understands and accepts the political objectives of the PAC."
He says Mudau, who was repeatedly described at the May 22 funeral as a liberator and a hero, had "directed his war against those people who have forcibly evicted people from their land."
In the first four months of the year, 108 attacks on farmers - including 28 deaths - were reported nationwide. Half of the attacks have taken place in Transvaal Province.
Some attacks have been of a particularly brutal, victimizing whole families. Others have targeted cattle. Farmers believe the attacks are part of a national terror campaign to drive whites off the land. Until this weekend, no political group had accepted responsibility for the violence.
Masakona is a barren and stony village in the nominally independent homeland of Venda situated in the far northern Transvaal near the Zimbabwe border. The overwhelming majority of people in this and surrounding villages have been forcibly removed - some two or three times - from fertile farming land as part of the government's program of ethnic engineering whereby different tribes are assigned to different ethnic homelands.
The northern parts of South Africa have a history of brutality against black farmworkers. Farmers convicted of killing their farm workers were often let off with light sentences in the courts.
But the tide has shifted. PAC National Organizer Maxwell Nemadzivhenani says farmers are a legitimate target. "The farmers have perpetually occupied our land and are guilty of committing abuses against our people," he says. "We are very upset that the police are collaborating with the farmers."
R. Nemadzivhenani says that if the government had continued the negotiations it began with the PAC and APLA leadership earlier this year in Botswana it may have been possible to negotiate a mutual cessation of hostilities.
"If they had followed on those talks, perhaps the farmers would not be in the plight they are now in," he says. "They should pressure the regime to discuss seriously the issue of a cessation of hostilities."
Mlambo agrees. "We feel this pressure must be sustained until we reach a point of irreversibility in the democratization process," he says. "It would be suicidal for us to release all the pressure at this stage."
The government provoked a white backlash when it opened negotiations with the PAC and APLA, and its attempts to portray the killing of farmers as a law-and-order issue has further incensed right-wing forces and farmers who have vowed to take the law into their own hands if the government does not outlaw the APLA and round up its members.
Leaders of the agricultural unions in Transvaal and Orange Free State provinces warned of a civil war if government did not act decisively by the end of May. "This proves that we are targets of terrorism and nothing else," says Piet Gouws, chairman of the Free State Agricultural Union.
The attacks have also put new pressure on the African National Congress (ANC). It faces a mounting challenge from the PAC, whose militant stance and slogans appear to be attracting radical black youths.
Police say that the shooting of Mudau occurred when he forcibly resisted arrest. Seven other people, allegedly members of an APLA unit who shot a farmer's wife, Sandra Swanepoel, on a small holding in the Litsitele area of Tzaneen, were arrested.