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06 Feb 2013

They called us terrorists yet they crossed borders to terrorise and ambush MK
South African Defence Force (SADF) raids into Mozambique

In the 1950s and 1960s the South African government intensified its clamp down on political activities in the country. In 1950 the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) was declared an illegal organisation according to the Suppression of Communism Act, No. 44 of 1950 which came into force on 17 July 1950. Subsequent to this other laws, such as the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act No 8, were passed in 1953 in response to the Defiance Campaign. These laws gave the government the power to declare a state of emergency and to detain, imprison, whip and fine people.

The turning point came in 1960 when the police shot and killed unarmed civilians demonstrating inSharpeville. Protests spread to other parts of the country such as Cape Town and Durban. Subsequent to the protests, the government declared a state of emergency on 30 March 1960 and political organizations such as the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress(PAC) were banned under the Unlawful Organisation Act. The violent response of the government forced liberation movements to use more militant methods of waging the struggle against apartheid.

Political activists who escaped being banned, detained or imprisoned went into exile. Their aim was twofold: firstly, to establish a platform where they could voice their cause to the international community and secondly, to establish bases or obtain support for military training for cadres. Once liberation movements were given permission by various countries to operate, more people left the country for military training.

In addition, two significant developments took place in Southern Africa in the mid-70s. Mozambique gained independence on 25 June 1975 and later in the year Angola gained its independence from Portuguese colonial rule on 11 November 1975. Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) remained under white minority rule until 1980. As these countries made their ground available for use by the ANC and PAC, the crumbling of white minority rule around South Africa removed the ‘ sense of security’  that was enjoyed by Pretoria.

The South African government policy on cross border raids was not always uniform  it evolved over time, within the structures of the National Party (NP), from engagement to outright force. The NP, under BJ Voster, initially engaged on a policy of soothing relations with African states which supported the international isolation of South Africa because of its policy of apartheid.

Vorster’ s policy sparked infighting within the NP. Pfister has categorised the South African government policy into four. One was outward movement which involved engagement of African states beyond Southern Africa after 1967, dialogue initiated by the military around 1966 with Francophone West African states, secret diplomacy practiced by the Department of Information from 1972 and the detente which related to South Africa’ s attempts to deal with the changing situation in Southern Africa particularly between 1974 and 1975. Significantly, during this period Vorster adopted the dé tente approach towards countries in Southern Africa. (Pfister R, (2005), Apartheid South Africa and African states: from pariah to middle power, 1961 to 1994 (New York), pp.39)

After government security forces violently put down the student uprising in 1976, and proscribed 18 other organisations on 19 October 1977, more young people left the country to join liberation movement in exile, mainly the ANC, for military training. These developments alarmed the South African government which then began its campaign of political destabilisation of the region and cross border raids.

In the 1980’ s the President of South Africa, and the leader of the NP, P. W. Botha, discarded the dé tente policy pursued under Vorster and launched his “ Total Strategy”  in response to what he saw as the “ Total Onslaught”  of communism within the country and from neighbouring states. On 26 November 1980, Botha warned South Africa’ s neighbours that continued support for ANC guerrillas would result in cross border raids by the SADF. Subsequently, the government intensified cross border raids in the 1980s in Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The South African Defence Force (SADF), through the State Security Council (SSC), carried out a number of attacks on ANC houses in Mozambique over a period of three years. Cross border raids by the SADF took three basic forms. One of the methods used was assassinations through car and parcel bombs - attacks were either made on ANC offices or alternatively the bomb was sent directly to the ANC representative. Another method was sending in commandos across borders - this involved gathering of intelligence on liberation movement activities and then sending in a group of commandos from the SADF to destroy infrastructure and kill political activists. Lastly, the government allowed abductions or kidnappings of political activists who were then secretly transported back to South Africa for interrogation or trial. The activists could also be turned into an askari (an agent of the government masquerading as a member of the liberation movement).

On the morning of 30 January 1981 SADF commandos drove 70kms across the South African-Mozambican border to Matola, a suburb in Maputo. The suburb contained a number of houses that served as safe houses or operational bases for MK. They attacked and destroyed three houses and killed 16 South Africans and a Portuguese national, Jose Ramos, who bore a striking resemblance to Joe Slovo. For brief period the SADF celebrated the death Slovo before news of the true identity of the Portuguese national emerged.

At one of the houses, the ANC fought back and killed two commandos and injuring others. One of the commandos killed was a British mercenary named Robert Lewis Hutchinson who had served in the British Army and the Rhodesian Special Air Service before moving to South Africa. Hutchinson was wearing a helmet with a swastika and a slogan which read ‘ Sieg Heil’ , which was a Nazi salute. The other commando was Ian Suttill who shared a similar military background with Hutchinson.

The MK members who were killed include Lancelot Hadebe, Mandla Daka, Daniel Molokisi, Steven Ngcobo, Vusumzi Ngwema, Thabang Bookolane, Krishna Rabilal, Themba Dimba, Motso Mokgabudi, Collin Khumalo, Levinson Mankankaza, Albert Mahutso and William Khanyile. The president of the ANC, Oliver Tambo, in the company of Mozambican president, Samora Machel, addressed mourners on 14 February 1981, at the funeral of those who were killed. As a result, the day was declared the Day of Friendship between South African and Mozambique. The January 1981 Matola raid was not the only raid conducted by the SADF. On 29 May 1983 jets deployed by the South African Airforce carried out ‘ Operation Skerwe’  and attacked Matola and Liberdade, suburbs of Maputo. After the raid the SADF claimed it had destroyed ANC bases and killed 41 ''ANC terrorists''.

The raid had however failed as it killed three workers arriving for work at the Somopal jam factory. At least 40 other people, mostly women and children, were injured by shrapnel. The SADF justified the raid by stating that it was retaliation for the explosion of bombs planted by the ANC in Pretoria which killed 16 people and injured 130 people on 20 May 1983. Two of the targets for the explosions were the South African Air Force Headquarters and the Military Intelligence and Naval Offices in downtown Pretoria.

Other raids into Mozambique

In addition, there were other commando raids and assassinations conducted in other parts of Mozambique by the SADF. On 17 March 1981 the SADF sneaked into Mozambique and went to the resort of Ponta do Ouro. The primary purpose was test whether the Mozambican government had increased its security patrols along its border after the Matola raid in January 1981. A clash with the Mozambican army ensued resulting in the death of one member of the SADF.

On 17 August 1982 Ruth First was killed by a parcel bomb at Eduardo Mondlane University. She was research Director for the Centre for African Studies and was active in promoting the relationship between the ANC and Frente de Libertaç ã o de Moç ambique(FRELIMO), the ruling party of Mozambique. First was also the wife of Joe Slovo, a senior member of the SACP and ANC.

On 17 October 1983 SADF commandos bombed the ANC office in Maputo and inured five people. One of SADF commandos Wynand Petrus du Toit was caught later and admitted his role in the raid.

On 7 December 1983 two members of the ANC were injured when their house in the suburb of Xipamanine was bombed.

Albeit the outdated intelligence that they were acting on, the SADF carried an operation on 23 August 1984 targeting the ANC in the town of Namacha which was located at the confluence of Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland. As a result of the raid two Mozambicans and a Portuguese national were killed. Three others were kidnapped and taken across the border back to Phalaborwa, in South Africa, for interrogation about ANC activities in Namacha.

On 7 April 1988, Albert “ Albie”  Louis Sachs survived a bomb explosion that was placed in his car near the corner of Eduardo Mondlane and Julius Nyerere Avenues in Maputo –  the bomb was planted by South African security agents, but was intended for Indres Naidoo. Sachs lost an arm and the sight of one eye.

In July 1989 Enoch Reginald Mhlongo, Themba Ngesi and Samuel Phinda died after they were poisoned by members of the South African Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB), a hit squad targeting political opponents outside the country that operated under the SADF.

As South Africa faced the rising tide of protests in the country, in addition to increasing pressure from the international community and military pressure from within the NP, Botha was forced to engage Mozambique. The economic dependence of Mozambique on South Africa played to the latter’ s advantage. Talks between Samora Machel, the leader of the Mozambican government FRELIMO and Botha resulted in the signing of the Nkomati Accord on 16 March 1984. In terms of the agreement, both countries resolved not to harbour hostile forces or allow their countries to be used as launching pads for attacks on one another. Mozambique agreed to expel the ANC from their country while South Africa agreed to cease its support of RENAMO, an anti-government guerrilla organisation in Mozambique. South Africa, however, breached the agreement by clandestinely continuing to support RENAMO, resulting in the collapse of the agreement. On 26 May 1988 the two countries agreed to revive the Nkomati Accord.

Cross border raids by the SADF, which started in the 1970s intensified in the 1980s, targeted political activists in Mozambique and other neighbouring countries. The Truth and Reconciliation Report noted that human rights violations committed by South African security forces, their agents or surrogates was not just limited to regional states, but it also extended as far as Western Europe, in countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Netherlands and Scandinavia.

On 14 February 2011 the South African Minister of Arts and Culture, Paul Mashatile, and the Mozambican Minister of Culture Armando, Joã o Artur, signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the construction of a monument in honour of the 13 South African freedom fighters killed in the Matola raid. Names of other people killed by the apartheid armed forces in other raids in Mozambique would also be added to the monument.