A Brief History
On March 14, 1982, an 11 kilogram bomb went off at the office of the African National Congress in London, England. The explosion that occurred at 9 am local time, did not kill anyone, but the considerable blast smashed windows as far as 400 meters away. Obviously, the human damage could have been much worse. ANC voluntary worker, Vernet Mbatha, a caretaker, was the only person injured. He had been sleeping in an apartment above the offices.
The ANC is currently the governing political party of the Republic of South Africa, a country that was once colonized by British and Dutch settlers that sought to displace the native Zulu and other Black African people. When the European settlers took over the land, rules governing the separation of the White and Black races called “apartheid” were instituted, highly discriminatory practices that greatly limited the political and economic power of the Native people. The ANC was formed by Black South Africans to oppose apartheid and attempt to gain political rights equivalent to the White minority population. The offices in London were the headquarters in exile of the outlawed ANC, pariahs in their own land.
By 1994, the ANC led by Nelson Mandela finally took control of the country, and Mandela was elected President. Every South African President since has been a member of the ANC. The organization that became the ANC started out as the South African Native National Congress, founded by John Langalibalele Dube in 1912. After decades of struggle, both politically and through the use of violence, to achieve racial equality, the government of South Africa finally began to relent in 1990 when Mandela was released from prison and the ANC was allowed to operate openly.
The attack on the ANC headquarters was conducted by the South African government as part of their efforts to fight anti-apartheid efforts by the ANC. The attack was both retaliation for rocket attacks against South African military targets and as a warning to the ANC that the South African government could reach anywhere. The South African government risked the ire of the United Kingdom by mounting the attack on the soil of that sovereign nation, partially in response to displeasure with the UK willingly hosting the ANC and publicly opposing apartheid.
Damage to the ANC building was repaired and operations continued at the same location until the 1990’s when the ANC was able to move to South Africa. The world found out the admitted involvement of the South African government in the bombing when former RSA security chief General Johann Coetzee and 8 of his secret police agents confessed to responsibility for the attack at amnesty hearings conducted by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1998. Coetzee said the authorization for the attack, which he referred to as “symbolic,” came from the central government.
Once a British colony, South Africa today is both the 24th most populous country (58 million) and the 24th largest country by size. The racial make up of the country is roughly 79% Black African and 9% White European, a large decline in the percentage of the White population which was once as much as 22%. Mixed race people called “coloured” in South Africa amount to 9% with Asians (including from the Indian sub-continent) making up most of the rest. The per capita GDP ranks only 89th in the world.
South Africa is unique in having not a single capital city, but 3 cities that each house a separate branch of the central government. Pretoria hosts the executive branch, Cape Town hosts the legislative branch, and Bloemfontein is the home of the judicial branch of the government.
Startling Fact: South Africa had developed nuclear weapons prior to the end of apartheid and became the only known country to voluntarily give up their nuclear arsenal in 1991. Having built at least 3 nuclear bombs by 1982, and later 3 more, the South African nuclear program reportedly worked with the Israelis in a cooperative effort to arm both countries with nuclear weapons. The end of White rule and apartheid spurred the White government to ditch their nuclear arsenal, thus denying the incoming Black government access to nuclear weapons.
Question for students (and subscribers): Was the Government of South Africa justified in bombing the ANC, an organization they saw as a terrorist threat to their country in a third party country? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Thompson, Leonard. A History of South Africa, Fourth Edition. Yale University Press, 2014.
Welsh, Frank. A History of South Africa. Harpercollins, 2000.
The featured image in this article, the ANC flag with three equal horizontal bands, is ineligible for copyright and therefore in the public domain, because it consists entirely of information that is common property and contains no original authorship.