The Church Street bombing was a car bomb attack on 20 May 1983 in the South African capital Pretoria by uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the paramilitary wing of the African National Congress. The bombing killed 19 people, including the two perpetrators, and wounded 217. The Church Street Bombing was the most deadly attack by the ANC against South Africa's ruling National Party.
The terrorist attack consisted of a car bomb set off outside the Nedbank Square Building, which was rented by the South African Air Force, on Church Street West, Pretoria, at 4:30 pm on 20 May 1983. The target was supposedly South African Air Force (SAAF) headquarters, but as the bomb was set to go off at the height of rush hour, those killed and wounded included civilians. The bomb exploded ten minutes earlier than planned, killing two of the perpetrators, Freddie Shangwe and Ezekial Maseko, along with 17 other people. At least 20 ambulances took the dead and wounded to hospitals.
Truth Commission hearingEdit
In submissions to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1997 and 1998, the ANC revealed that the attack was orchestrated by a special operations unit of the ANC's Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), commanded by Aboobaker Ismail. At the time of the attack, they reported to Joe Slovo as chief of staff, and the Church Street attack was authorised by Oliver Tambo.
The ANC's submission said the bombing was in response to a South African cross-border raid into Lesotho in December 1982, which killed 42 ANC supporters and civilians, and the assassination of Ruth First, an ANC activist and the wife of Joe Slovo, in Maputo, Mozambique. It claimed that 11 of the casualties were SAAF personnel and hence a military target. The legal representative of some of the victims argued that as administrative staff including telephonists and typists they could not accept that they were a legitimate military target.
Ten MK operatives, including Aboobaker Ismail, applied for amnesty for this and other bombings. The applications were opposed on various grounds, including that it was a terrorist attack disproportionate to the political motive. The TRC found that the number of civilians versus military personnel killed was unclear. Police statistics indicated that seven members of the SAAF were killed. The commission found that at least 84 of the injured were SAAF members or employees. Amnesty was granted by the TRC in 2000.
Nelson Mandela, who was serving time in prison at the time of the terror attack, wrote about its violent nature in his autobiography: “It was precisely because we knew that such incidents would occur that our decision to take up arms had been so grave and reluctant.”
- "1983: Car bomb in South Africa kills 16". BBC. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
- "ANC Mastermind Campaign Justifies Pretoria Church Street Blast". SAPA. 6 May 1998. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
- "Tambo ordered Church Street blast: ANC". SAPA. 12 May 1997. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
- "Truth and Reconciliation Commission Amnesty Committee AC/2001/003". 16 January 2000. Retrieved 14 March 2015.
- Nelson Mandela, The Long Walk To Freedom (New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 1994) p. 88.