South African saboteurs go for strategic targets

Militant black opponents of the all-white South African government seem to be concentrating on key strategic targets as part of a calculated campaign instead of attacking "soft" civilian targets indiscriminately -- as has happened in other liberation movement struggles in Africa.

In this way, they may be hoping to increase their standing and legitimacy internationally, reinforcing their claims to being genuine "freedom fighters" waging a war, instead of being regarded as just terrorists.

They also stand to win certain political advantages in South Africa itself, especially among the overwhelming black majority of the population who could easily be hurt most in an out-and-out terrorist campaign.

At the same time they are denying the South African government a valuable propaganda ploy by concentrating on "military- style" targets instead of deliberately maiming and killing people.

The latest sabotage attack came this week in the middle of a bleak winter night. Seven transformers and five generator couplings were damaged or destroyed at two major Transvaal Province power stations about 100 miles apart, and a major town was plunged into darkness when another transformer at a substation another 100 miles away was also damaged.

Although officials of the Electricity Supply Commission, which provides all of South Africa's power, said that "only a fraction of our generator capacity has been affected" they conceded that the damage was "considerable" and that it would take "several weeks" to repair.

It is significant that the synchronized attacks on the power stations and the substation came after reported warnings by the Electricity Supply Commission that it was finding it difficult to meet the heavy midwinter peak demands for power.

Obviously there is widespread speculation now that the saboteurs, believed to be members of the banned African National Congress (ANC), hoped that they might be able to blast important areas of the country into a major blackout.

They failed, however, and the electricity undertaking managed to keep up the supply. Although Minister of Police Louis le Grange has uttered wrathful threats and assured the country that the police will hunt down the saboteurs "relentlessly, day and night," there does not seem to be any really considerable surprise at the latest attack.

Several government ministers, including the powerful minister of defense, Gen. Magnus Malan, have warned that "insurgency against South Africa aimed at weakening it militarily and economically" can be expected to intensify.

With this in mind, electricity commission officials have been asked how it could happen that saboteurs could penetrate such obviously strategic targets as power stations.

They countered that they believed the present security precautions prevented the saboteurs penetrating to the "heart" of the power stations, but acknowledged that precautions will now be made more stringent.

Previous to the attack this week, the most spectacular sabotage strike was just more than a year ago when limpet mines blasted huge fuel storage tanks at the country's first oil-from-coal plant at Sasolburg, and a related fuel depot nearby.

Nearby residents said they thought there was "an earthquake" when the tanks went up. The damage was estimated at well over $4 million.

At the time, the South African authorities claimed that the raid was organized by Jo Slovo, a prominent member of the South African Communist Party, who was operating from Maputo, in nearby Mozambique.

A few months later, South African security forces raided what they claimed was an ANC base on the outskirts of Maputo. Se veral people were killed.

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