South Africa's security chiefs do not hesitate to attribute the recent bomb attacks on white civilian targets -- there have been 13 during the last month -- to the outlawed African National Congress. The latest attack came yesterday when a bomb exploded in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, shortly after closing. The attacks have created a debate over whether the insurgents launched the attacks on their own initiative or whether they acted on instructions from the ANC leadership in exile in Zambia. The ANC is the dominant black nationalist movement in South Africa fighting to bring an end to white-minority rule. The attacks might be the work of ANC combatants acting independently rather than in response to orders from above, a senior security police officer said.
``There is an element of uncontrollability,'' the senior officer said. But at the same time, he added, ANC leader Oliver Tambo has exhorted his guerrillas to take the war into the white-occupied towns and cities. Mr. Tambo has also blurred the previous distinction between ``soft'' (civilian) and ``hard'' (noncivilian or government) targets.
At a January press conference in Lusaka, Zambia, Tambo seemed to foreshadow unilateral action by rogue ANC units.
``There is nothing in ANC policy which calls for attacks on civilians in supermarkets, schools, and cinemas unless these are regarded as military installations,'' Tambo said, replying to questions about a Dec. 23 bomb attack in a supermarket in the town of Amanzimtoti. ``Even so, the ANC will not attack children even if they are in military zones. Therefore, there could have been no orders for the Amanzimtoti attack from the ANC.''
Significantly, he did not exclude the possibility that the attack was a strike by ANC insurgents acting without orders.
``Some [ANC guerrillas] resolve to face being disciplined by the organization,'' he said. ``We, therefore, expect there to be more Amanzimtotis in the future.''
The later trial and conviction of a young ANC man, Andrew Zondo, for the Amanzimtoti bomb, showed it to be the work of a guerrilla acting on his own initiative. Mr. Zondo received five death sentences, one for each person killed.
In the wake of the government's June 12 declaration of a state of emergency, Tambo's forecast of ``more Amanzimtotis'' appears to be have been fulfilled. Police said Wednesday, without elaborating, that they had arrested five suspected members or accomplices of the ANC in connection with landmine explosions responsible for two deaths and 12 injuries since April.
Tom Lodge, a senior lecturer in political studies at the University of the Witwatersrand, recently completed an analysis of guerrilla attacks for the six months ending June 30, 1986. Dr. Lodge found that, compared to all of last year, there has been a marked increase of attacks on soft targets and a corresponding decrease of attacks on hard targets.
The first six months of 1986 saw 14 attacks on or near soft targets -- hotels, restaurants, and businesses. There were only two similar attacks for all of last year. During the same six-month period of 1986 there were no guerrilla attacks on government buildings, including those belonging to the South African military or police. Last year there were 19. Other attacks of early 1986 were assassinations of alleged collaborators with the government and attacks on noncivilian targets, such as electricity and transport facilities.
On the one hand, these figures may reflect a degree of desperation by ANC combatants in South Africa, observers say. It is less risky to attack civilians. And, according to some theorists of guerrilla warfare, it is more effective in destroying the enemy's will to resist.
On the other hand, the figures may be an indication of the hardening attitudes of young blacks serving in the ANC's underground army, Umkhonto We Sizwe (``The Spear of the Nation''), observers say. There may also be evidence that many of the newer recruits are not as well trained as former ANC members, and are therefore less capable of mounting sophisticated attacks on police stations and Army barracks.
Whereas earlier ANC recruits received thorough training in neighboring countries, the security officer indicated that recent recruits receive crash courses and hasty training inside South Africa.
That would support the theory that the recent run of assaults on civilians is a product of meager training. But that alone does not mean that ANC morale is low and its fighters are desperate. In fact, analysts say, the reverse can be inferred from the mounting frequency of attacks.
The first six months of 1986 have seen 116 attacks, compared with 136 for all of last year, and a mere 44 during 1984.
Hasty training also means recruits are less likely to be well disciplined by the ANC leadership in Lusaka. A lack of discipline in the ANC ranks was implicitly acknowledged by Joe Slovo, the chief of staff of Umkhonto We Sizwe, in a recent interview with the BBC. Mr. Slovo, who is reported to be chairman of the central committee of the South African Communist Party, described the bomb attacks on civilians as a diversion from, and a blemish on, the ANC's armed struggle.
Among much debate about the culpability for the terror attacks, few people seriously think, as some observers have speculated, that they are the work of white ultra-rightists. The security officer was emphatic in his rejection, saying, ``There is no evidence of that.''