The ANC and the boers

James Myburgh on what MK's landmine campaign of 1985-1987 says about the concept of "ibhunu"

In an article published in ANC Today on Friday Ayanda Dlodlo, secretary general of the Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association (MKMVA), stridently criticised Judge Collin Lamont's recent judgment in the hate speech case against ANCYL President Julius Malema. Dlodlo complained that the judgment was aimed at killing the history of MK.

She argued that when MK cadres sung "awudubula ibhunu" ("shoot the boer") the "ibhunu" being referred to were the military enemy, not Afrikaners in general. Dlodlo stated:

"In MK military language and I dare say struggle colloquium, ‘ibhunu' is the ‘enemy'. And contrary to Judge Lamont's view, a hausfrau who supported apartheid did not necessarily constitute, the ‘enemy' or ‘ibhunu' and neither did a farmer who was not an extension of the South African Defence Force (SADF) brigade as a member of the Commandos. By extension it is not everyone who supported the apartheid system that was the ‘enemy' in a military sense." (For Dlodlo this definition of the ‘ibhunu' as the specific enemy "was one that was destroyed when we found liberation. Today ‘ibhunu' is no more. ‘Ibhunu' died when apartheid died.")

As Dlodlo implicitly acknowledges white farmers who were members of the commando system were regarded as ‘ibhunu' i.e. as legitimate targets of attack. Indeed, farmers were openly targeted by MK cadres in the mid-to-late 1980s most notably in the landmine campaign in the Northern border areas that ran between 1985 and 1987. It is instructive returning to that period for it casts considerable light on the ANC's conception of the "enemy."

On November 26 1985 two people were injured in two separate land mine blasts on roads near Messina in the then Northern Transvaal. A Pretoria News report the same day proclaimed that this was "the first time that mines have been planted on South African roads." (Edward Meluba, a passenger in one of the vehicles, died sometime later of his wounds). Four South African Defence Force (SADF) members, sweeping the area for other mines, were slightly injured the following day after their troop carrier detonated a mine.

In a Radio Freedom broadcast from Addis Ababa on November 28 1985 the ANC took credit for these attacks. It said the landmines in Messina were a "sign of the intensification of the struggle that is seen inside our country by our people." It warned white South Africans that this and other such activities would soon "become the order of the day" and advised that "they must also keep it in mind that such activities will not only intensify but will also spread and engulf the entire country including their residential areas."

The first person to die in these attacks was Jas Balie, 25, a black tractor driver. His vehicle had struck a landmine on a farm road on November 27 and he died the following day. A day or two later another black farm worker, Philemon Ngcobo, was killed when his tractor was blown up on a farm in the area. On 16 December six people were killed when their bakkie detonated a landmine on a game farm near Messina. Mrs Kobie van Eck, 34, her children Ignatius,2, and Nellmarie,8, Marie Denyschen, 59, and her grandchildren Kobus, 3, and Karna, 9, were all killed in the blast.

In a Radio Freedom broadcast on January 6 1986 the ANC effectively accepted responsibility for these deaths. It described the victims of the blasts as "six white Boer farmers and one black." It stated that "The ANC HQ in Lusaka has not admitted responsibility for the recent blasts while it awaits reports from our combatants operating inside the country" but "really it is not even important whether the ANC HQ does finally admit the action or not because it is, after all, one of the actions that are part of the on-going and intensifying armed struggle inside South Africa. Whoever carried out the attack or planted the mine is most certainly a South Africa patriot..."

In early January 1986 Elize de Beer, 32, and her father-in-law Hubert de Beer, 63, died after their vehicle struck a landmine on a farm close to the Botswana border near Ellisras in the Northern Transvaal.

In a Radio Freedom broadcast on February 26 1986 Chris Hani, then army political commissar and deputy commander of MK, made clear that although MK was not targeting white civilians willy-nilly white farmers were regarded as legitimate targets:

"Umkhonto we Sizwe is a revolutionary army and it is not about to embark on mayhem against whites, civilians, against children, but we are going to step up our attacks against enemy personnel we are referring to the members of the police forces, to the members of the SADF, to those in the administrations terrorising and harassing our people to those farmers and other civilians who are part of the defence force in our country, of the military, paramilitary and reserves. But comrades we are realists. The theatre of these actions are going to be in the white residential areas, and it is inevitable that white civilians will die."

(According to a contemporaneous press report in mid May 1986 two MK cadres were killed when the landmine they were priming on a farm near Hectorspruit exploded. A farm worker, Mzanzi Mabone, was also killed in the blast.)

In May 1986 Biza Mahlangu, 25, and Daniel Sindane, 40, were killed after the minibus they were travelling in hit a landmine on a farm in the then Eastern Transvaal near Davel. On August 17 1986 three woman and two children were killed after the BMW they were travelling in struck a landmine on a road near Nelspruit. Ernelena Sebiti, 28, Lindiwe Mdluli, 20, Katie Sambo, 23, died in the blast as did Joyce Nkowayne and Regina Nkowayne, both whom were less than one year old.

On October 28 1986 the ANC defended these attacks in a long broadcast on Radio Freedom (see full transcript here). It stated:

"For some time now, areas around the northern borders of our country have experienced a spate of landmine explosions in which quite a number of racist farmers have either been killed or seriously injured...The vanguard liberation movement of our people, the ANC, has long declared these areas war zones. This is because the farmers in these areas have been fully integrated in the enemy's so-called security and defence network. White men, women and youths are part and parcel of the military and paramilitary units of the SADF."

The ANC's justification for the targeting of white farmers extended beyond just their participation in the structures of the SADF however. It stated that "This white farmer community is [made up of] exploiters with a slave-owner mentality... they monopolise the land claiming it as their own...  the Boers impose their presence and their rule with cold-blooded brutality. They do not think twice before beating a farm worker to death. They see nothing wrong in taking our children on nightmare joyrides or sexually assaulting black women farm workers: And this is all in the name of white civilisation, white power, super profits and free enterprise."

Apart from promising to escalate MK actions in farming areas the ANC incited black farm workers - who it said were not targets of its actions - to go after white farmers. "You owe the Boers nothing. In fact it is they that owe you everything because they have grown fat and wealthy on your poverty and labour. Sabotage his farming operations. Destroy his crops. Sabotage his implements and machinery. Daring actions of Umkhonto we Sizwe are not the only way of confronting the enemy. Sabotage operations are part of the people's war. And actions of the people are: Do not allow the Boers to arm you against the people. Take the guns and communication equipment ...and everything you can lay your hands on and turn them on the exploitative farmers."

 On November 2 1986 Lance Corporal Albert Marthinus Le Roux was killed after his horse detonated a landmine near Barberton. In a landmine attack on March 29 1986 two Motha brothers, a Mrs Phikhiti and an unnamed black female were killed when their vehicle detonated a landmine. (Siphiwe Nyanda, Solly Shoke, and Dick Mkhonto were granted amnesty in 2000 for these latter two attacks.)

In early May 1987 Karel Thou was killed after the truck he was transporting ten others in hit a landmine near Messina. These operations were finally called off by the ANC in late 1987.

Between November 1985 and May 1987 at least 24 individuals were killed in the ANC's landmine campaign (excluding the three who died in the Hectorspruit incident). Of these, 15 were black and 9 were white. Of the white South Africans killed three were women, four were children and two were men. Lance Corporal Le Roux was the only soldier, and only white male of army going age, killed in these operations.

Despite its overt ANC sympathies the Truth and Reconciliation Commission nonetheless found that "the ANC's landmine campaigns in the period 1985 -1987 in the rural areas of the Northern and Eastern Transvaal cannot be condoned, in that it resulted in gross violations of the human rights of civilians including farm labourers and children, who were killed or injured, The ANC is held accountable for such gross human rights violations."

As the Radio Freedom transcripts indicate the targets of this campaign were farmers and their families. The concept of "ibhunu" - as defined by Dlodlo - was an elastic one which could be extended, if need be, from white male farmers to their wives and children (not to mention black ‘collaborators'). The October 28 1986 broadcast further suggests that farmers were not simply being targeted for their involvement in SADF structures but for racial and ideological reasons as well. Furthermore the ANC persisted with these attacks despite the consistently high fatality rate among black civilians from the beginning to the end of the campaign.

In 1957 C.W. de Kiewiet observed that the "Afrikaners with the strongest sense of grievance developed a special feeling of innocence and rectitude, which blocked their ability to envisage a society, hospitable to all men, or to discern error in themselves."

Something of the same spirit seems to be at work among the ANC, and its supporters, in their strident defence of their right to go around singing "awudubula ibhunu" wherever they please and regardless of the consequences.

Such is the ANC's feeling of "innocence and rectitude" that it seems incapable of taking meaningful responsibility for the crimes it committed during the armed struggle and for its complete failure, once in power, to protect farmers from the most horrendous criminal violence.

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