The SADF attack on a target in Umtata in which the Mpenbdulo twins and their friends were killed took place against the background of APLA terrorist attacks against civilian targets in South Africa in 1993. These attacks included the attack on 25 July 1993 on the St James Church in Cape Town during which 12 worshippers were gunned down by five masked APLA gunmen. It should be borne in mind that by that time constitutional negotiations on the establishment of a new non-racial South Africa had already been under way for almost two years and were nearing their conclusion. There was accordingly no justification whatsoever for the continuation of armed attacks by anyone. There can be no doubt that the attacks were launched from bases in the Transkei.

At the beginning of October, 1993 the SADF informed President De Klerk that they had located an APLA safe house in Umtata that was being used for the storage of weapons and for the accommodation of APLA terrorists in transit. The SADF said that the house had been under surveillance for several days and had corroborated intelligence that it was being used for APLA terrorist purposes. They warned the President that if the government did nothing the house would be used in more terrorist attacks against South African citizens. The South African Police advised the President that the SADF intelligence had been confirmed by two separate informants.

President De Klerk was satisfied that the government had already done everything it could – but without success – to try to persuade the Transkeian government not to permit its territory to be used for the launching of terrorist attacks against South Africa. Because the house was located in a country that South Africa regarded as being independent, the President was required to authorise any armed attack to neutralise the perceived threat. President De Klerk accordingly authorised the SADF to raid the house – but stipulated that minimum force should be used and that care should be taken to avoid unnecessary casualties.

In the subsequent attack, on 8 October 1993, troops of the SADF killed five people who were later identified as teenagers. If any weapons had previously been stored in the house they had been removed by the time of the attack. When President De Klerk confronted the SADF with their failure to carry out his instructions that minimum force should be used, they explained that the troops involved had thought that the occupants of the house were reaching for their weapons – and opened fire believing that they were in a combat situation.

President De Klerk deeply regretted the incident and later in the Government of National Unity supported the ample settlement of the ensuing civil damages. However, faced with the imminent threat of APLA terrorism and the assurance from both the SADF and the SAP that the intelligence was correct, any responsible head of government would have had no option but to take the decision that President De Klerk took.

It should be remembered that by that time there was no longer any justification whatsoever for the continuation of an armed struggle of any kind. It should also be remembered that the central purpose to which FW de Klerk dedicated his presidency was the negotiation of a new non-racial constitutional dispensation that would end, once and for all, any reason for the continuation of armed conflicts of any kind between South Africans. This he achieved and it was for this that he received the Nobel Peace Prize – as well as ample recognition from former President Nelson Mandela of the indispensible role that he had played in helping to create our new non-racial constitutional democracy.

CAPE TOWN, 19 January 2015