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Q: Does the Church Street Bombing mean the ANC was just as bad as the Apartheid government?

Updated: Jan 3, 2021

This week we saw a number of racists and apartheid apologists posting about the Church Street bombing by the ANC which happened the 20th of May 1983. The ANC's Umkonto we Sizwe (MK) detonated a 40kg car bomb outside the Nedbank Square building in Church Street, Pretoria which killed 19 people and injured more than 200 people.

Every year, racists often recall this bombing using it to remind themselves that the ANC are evil murderous terrorists.

But is there more to the story? Was this an evil terrorist attack intended on murdering innocent white people?

Firstly, the ANC only begun bombing civilian areas after almost 70 years of mostly peaceful activism. during that time, the white minority government had always used brutal force, torture and murder against anti-apatheid activists.

The Church street bombing was authorized by then ANC president OR Tambo as a direct retaliation to a South African cross-border raid into Lesotho in December 1982, which killed 42 ANC supporters and civilians (including women and children), as well as the assassination of Ruth First, an ANC activist in Maputo, Mozambique.**

Ten former Umkhonto we Sizwe members applying for amnesty for a series of bomb attacks told the TRC that the bombing was part of the ANC's campaign to demoralise the apartheid government in the 1980's and retaliate for acts of terror perpetuated by the apartheid regime against black civilians and activists.*

The intended target of the car bomb were South African Air Force (SAAF) military personnel based at the SAAF headquarters on Church Street. Though the location of the target inside an urban area posed a threat to civilians, they believed it was important to show the war raging in the townships to the white civilians so as to "...bring [the white civilians] to their senses."*

An official plan stated "The objective was to carry out a highly visible attack which was impossible to cover up, against military personnel in uniform." It was intended to target military personnel who waited for buses outside SAAF HQ at 4.30pm each day.**

Aboobaker Ismail who masterminded the Church Street bomb blast said although he regretted the deaths of innocent civilians, the ANC's policy was that they should not be deterred from striking at the apartheid state "for the sake of a few civilian lives". He added that the security forces had been callous in their treatment of black people in South Africa.*

The ANC claimed that 11 of the 19 casualties were SAAF military personnel. Ismail reported to the TRC that he saw a "sea of blue" in the rubble after the explosion referring to the blue uniforms of the killed or injured Air Force staff. He felt this confirmed that the attack on the SAAF headquartes had been an "overwhelmingly military target".* Over 80 of the injured were SAAF military personnel.

There were civilian telephonists and typists killed in the bombing whose families appealed against the MK fighters. However, Ismail argued that they contributed to the operation of the military machine and had to be seen as part of the whole structure and not as individuals.*

The TRC granted amnesty for the Church Street bombing to the MK fighters as it was deemed a retaliatory attack against a legitimate military target.**

The tendency of seeing only the reaction to apartheid state violence while ignoring the years of brutal repression and provocation is very misleading. We do not condone the use of political violence, but we are also staunchly against such one-sided narratives. Especially when they are being used to serve a racist agenda.

When racists manipulate such events (including farm murders) to promote their 'swartgevaar' fairytales of "evil murderous blacks", we shouldn't just ignore them. Rather we should engage them. Do your research and question the fear-mongering bigots spreading unfounded racial fears.


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