Tensions rise after guerrillas mortar radar post

The African National Congress mortar attack on a South African Defence Force radar installation in the Western Transvaal on Wednesday – the largest in the history of the conflict in South Africa – has heightened tensions between South Africa and its neighbours. South Africa has said the guerrillas moved from Zimbabwe through Botswana before crossing the border. Yesterday the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pik Botha warned both Zimbabwe and Botswana that South Africa could take action following the attack.

The surprise early morning raid, involving at least 21 ANC soldiers, caused "slight damage" to the radar station and living quarters, but no casualties, according to an SADF statement. A landmine was detonated by a police vehicle during the SADF's follow-up operation, in which one suspected guerrilla, who was injured, was captured. The rest apparently managed to escape over the Botswana border. The incident is the latest, and most dramatic, in a series of ANC attacks on military and police installations and personnel. It provides a further indication that despite the setback of having to withdraw its bases from Angola, the ANC has succeeded in increasing the scale of its military operations. It also suggests a continuation of the shift towards attacks on "hard targets" and away from civilian targets. The radar installation is situated in Slurry, about 25km from Mafikeng, an area which has become the centre of a series of ANC incidents.

In the past month a railway bridge and railway line have been damaged in explosions, scores of landmines have been found and several ANC guerrillas have been arrested. According to Commissioner of Police Hennie de Witt, the guerrillas started their mission in Zimbabwe, entering South Africa via Botswana. It is believed that six mortar bombs were fired from a distance of 2,5km. De Witt said the insurgents were armed with at least five 82mm mortar shells, three RPG missile launchers and 30 RPG missiles, two landmines, a large number of AK47 rifles and ammunition, as well as an unknown quantity of hand grenades. An abandoned vehicle with "a large quantity'' of weapons was found in the follow-up operation, he added. He said the group had travelled ­ from Zimbabwe to Gaborone in Botswana, from where they launched, their attack. They are believed to have returned to Zimbabwe via Botswana.

According to a source in Mafikeng, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, at least 100 South African Coin (counter-insurgency) police have been manning roadblocks and patrolling the area over the past month. The police, based in Lichtenburg in South Africa, refused to allow anyone one to enter or leave a farm in Ditsobotla after several landmines were discovered in the area, according to the source. At least four suspected ANC guerillas are believed to have been treated at the Bophelong Community Hospital in Mafikeng, after having been wounded in clashes with Bophuthatswana and South African security forces, one source said.

The April 14 edition of the Mafikeng Mail reports that at 9.30pm the previous day, a bridge on the Mafikeng-Johannesburg railway line was damaged by an explosion and that the railway line at Lenenong village near Phokeng was also damaged in a suspected sabotage attack.  Wednesday's raid follows a series of attacks on police and army personnel and members over the past six – months. Last week, five special South African Police constables and two municipal policemen were injured in hand grenade attacks on a police base in the East Rand. There are also strong indications that ANC leaders' instructions that attacks on "soft" targets should cease are succeeding. Over the past seven months there has been a marked reduction in the number of attacks on civilian targets, and a significant increase in the number of attacks on military and police targets.


According to government figures, between 1984 and 1988 the number of ANC attacks rose from 44 to 322  – an increase of 732 percent. In this period the ANC lost its military bases in Mozambique Angolan and its official presence in Swaziland and Lesotho. According   to De Witt, between 1985 and October 1988 there were 243 attacks on police targets, as against 52 over the previous nine years, and 48 on military targets, compared with six between 1979 and 1985. He said there had been 73 attacks on civilian targets in the first 10 months of last year as against 82 in 1986 and 69 in 1987.Commenting on Wednesday's attack, De Witt said the police were in possession of information that "further similar groups of terrorists" were preparing to launch attacks in South Africa.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.                                               

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