The conference of Kabwe and the ANC/SACP's armed struggle [Die konferensie van Kabwe en die ANC/SAKP se gewapende stryd]

Scholtz L. ; Scholtz I. (2011)


The ANC/SACP alliance has always defended their armed struggle by referring to the long non-violent struggle against apartheid before 1961 and the fact that the then Government's intransigence forced their recourse to violence. The alliance further contends that their armed struggle never included indiscriminate terrorism and attacks against civilians, but that the Government's own brutal violence caused a situation where the liberation movement had to accept that civilians would be caught in the cross-fire. The purpose of this article is to analyse this contention and the role the Conference of Kabwe in Zambia in June 1985 played in the movement's decision making. It is argued that the armed struggle, up to 1983, did indeed testify to a moral unwillingness to shed blood. But the South African attack on ANC targets in Matola, Maputo in 1981, caused a mindshift, and Oliver Tambo promised vengeance. The upshot was the Church Street Bomb of 1983, in which 19 people, including 12 civilians, were killed. At Kabwe the ANC National Consultative Conference decided that the avoidance of civilian casualties could no longer stand in the way of military operations. This was communicated to the operatives on the ground in a way in which they understood that no holds were barred any more, and the result was an indiscriminate wave of terrorism against restaurants, disco's, sports venues, shopping malls, and the like. The ANC leadership became worried about the adverse publicity and in 1987 tried to reign in MK, but the armed wing was basically out of control. The later years' armed campaign is weighed against the Geneva Convention, and the conclusion is that MK's actions in the latter years were not only inefficient but morally dubious.

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