16 killed and more than 130 injured by a car bomb explosion in South Africa’s capital city, Pretoria (May 20, 1983)

On this day in 1983, a violent group tied to the African National Congress detonated a car bomb outside the Pretoria South African Air Force HQ killing 16.

Apartheid was a truly inhumane system but was it ok to kill innocent people to oppose it?

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA – For many of my readers the political and racist system known as apartheid may seem like ancient history. After all, today’s South Africa, where apartheid was in force for nearly half a century, is a very different country today (albeit with a very high violence rate).

While the apartheid system was still dominant there were a number of actors who protested the inherent inequality and viciousness of this type of ‘governance’, some of whom were jailed (the most famous being Nelson Mandela perhaps) or even killed (Steve Biko died in police custody in 1977: this was gruesomely portrayed in the 1987 film Cry Freedom).

When decent people are faced with a government such as that which ruled South Africa it is a legitimate question to ask what kind of opposition is acceptable. Certainly civil disobedience is (strikes, lockouts, those kinds of things). Smaller displays of non-compliance would also be ok to most of us. Sanctions proved to be a favourite tool of foreign governments as did the shunning of South Africa within international organisations (the Commonwealth is a good example).

But what about violence? Is it legitimate to meet the brutal acts of a brutal state with more brutality? Does the biblical Old Testament’s ‘eye for an eye’ rule apply or the New Testament’s ‘turn the other cheek’? What about terrorism?

Terrorism is terrorism

In 1961 the opposition African National Congress (ANC) set up the Umkhonto we Sizwe (‘Spear of the Nation”): more precisely, the MK as it was better known saw the light of day on December 16, 123 years after Afrikaaners had defeated the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River.

Initially the MK was instructed to undertake acts of sabotage in which no one got killed or injured. That was to change. On this day in 1983, 16 people were killed and more than 130 people injured in a car bomb explosion in South Africa’s capital city, Pretoria. The ANC, and more narrowly the MK, was blamed for the attack. The bomb had been placed in a blue Alfa Romeo car outside a multi-storey building which housed the headquarters of the South African Air Force.

One could argue that the evil apartheid regime killed many, many more people and that is undoubtedly true. One could also call the MK ‘freedom fighters’ rather than terrorists. Do we really want to go there? Terrorism is terrorism in my books.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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