Guerrilla violence is on the upswing in South Africa. Despite the South African government's efforts to counter back nationalists -- both politically and militarily -- another South African police station has been attacked by gunmen. Police claim to have found pamphlets of the banned African National Congress (ANC) left behind at the scene.
The latest police station attack is the fourth such incident in less than a year, and it marks an ominous escalation in urban violence here.
For the first time, guerrillas have used rocket-propelled grenades -- Russian-made missiles that were used extensively in neighboring Rhodesia's seven-year-long bush war. The attack is also the first in a "white" urban area here. (South Africa's residential areas are zoned on the basis of race.)
No one was injured in the seven-minute blitz on the South African police station in the Booysens section of Johannesburg, which occurred in the early hours of April 4. So far, no one has been arrested.
The incident is one more indicator of mounting conflict here in South Africa, the only remaining country where a white minority rules a black majority. Recent months have seen the discovery of arms caches in northern Natal Province, the capture of armed insurgents near the city of Durban, and the seizure of hostages at a bank in suburban Pretoria, the capital.
Government officials charge that Cuban, East German, and Soviet provocateurs in neighboring African countries are to blame for the unrest within South Africa. But many blacks say violence is the natural result of South Africa's apartheid (racial segregation) policy and the systematic closure of other avenues of protest against that policy.
The ANC is a case in point. From its founding in 1912, it operated as a conventional political organization. But shortly after it was banned for being an "unlawful organization" in 1960, it went underground and formed a military wing, Umkonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation).
In 1964, Nelson Mandela, the ANC president, was sentenced to life imprisonment for plotting the violent overthrow of the South African government.
Yet despite a bevy of broadly drawn laws that allow indefinite detention without a trial of any suspected ANC follower, the organization continues to operate within South Africa. By some accounts, the ANC is active in many, if not most, of the black townships bordering South Africa's cities, as well as in many rural areas.
The ANC, according to some sources, uses a tightly structured "cell" system -- with each member knowing the identities of only a few other members -- to avoid infiltration by government intelligence agents.
Besides maintaining offices in London; Lusaka, Zambia; and other cities; the ANC operates in many of the countries bordering South Africa. One activity currently high on the organization's list of priorities: military training for the estimated 4,000 South African youth who fled the country after the June 1976 uprisings in Soweto and other black townships.
The use of violence to bring about change is still a matter of debate in black African political circles here -- though less and less so. Some activists have become resigned to the view that some violence, although regrettable, is inevitable unless fundamental changes in South Africa are forthcoming.
As one black man says, attacks on such "hard" targets as police stations are justifiable because they "keep the pot boiling" (that is, keep the government aware of continuing black unrest) and warn of the need for change.
But whether the government is heeding that warning is also a matter of debate. Government officials publicly play down suggestions of coming political instability here, especially when they are trying to lure foreign investment. At the same time, however, police officials tell the citizenry to expect more "terrorism" in the future.
In attempting to introduce limited racial reforms here, South African Prime Minister Pieter W. Botha has bluntly told his countrymen: "We must adjust, otherwise we will die." Yet Mr. Botha is producing elaborate blueprints for "constellations of states" and multi-tiered governmental structures for each race group in the country -- even while some of the most moderate black spokesmen are demanding outright majority rule.
As long as the government and the country's black majority remain at odds on that fundamental issue, some black people say guerrilla violence undoubtedly will mount.
As one black man puts it: "The government thinks that the black man will rule himself everywhere else in Africa but here.
"But," he adds, "they are wrong."