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1986: South African raids wreck peace bid

South African troops have launched raids on three neighbouring countries in an effort to destroy bases purportedly used by the anti-apartheid organisation the African National Congress (ANC).

At least three people are reported dead after this morning's co-ordinated attacks on cities in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana by South African warplanes, helicopters and commandos.

The raids have severely jeopardised diplomatic efforts by a Commonwealth mission now in South Africa.

The Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group had been trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement with South Africa's ruling National Party and Prime Minister PW Botha to bring an end to national strife caused by the apartheid regime.

Five of the seven delegates have already left Cape Town in protest.

Call for sanctions

Along with Angola, Mozambique and Tanzania, the three nations attacked today form the so-called "frontline states" that support the ANC in their struggle against white minority rule. But all three deny providing the ANC with military bases.

There has been widespread condemnation of South Africa in the West and across Southern Africa.

Zambia's President Kenneth Kaunda called the raids a "dastardly, cowardly action". The government of Botswana issued a statement condemning "this naked act of aggression against our country".

And the Commonwealth Secretary General Sir Shridath Ramphal called the move "a declaration of war" and demanded immediate economic sanctions against South Africa.

But the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her Foreign Secretary, Sir Geoffrey Howe, while condemning the attacks are ignoring calls for early sanctions against Pretoria.

News of the raids - on Gaborone in Botswana, Zimbabwe's capital, Harare and Lusaka in Zambia - came in an announcement by the head of the South African Army, Lieutenant General AJ Liebenberg.

"The action taken against the terrorists should be interpreted as indicative of the firm resolve of the Republic of South Africa to use all the means at its disposal against terrorists wherever they may be," he said.

In Context
In the 1980s, South Africa was in crisis, with widespread civil unrest among the majority black population. President PW Botha allowed the repeal of some apartheid laws, but he was determined to crush the outlawed ANC movement, both at home and abroad.

By the end of the decade, sanctions imposed by the US, most Commonwealth nations and the EC - except Britain - along with the international sporting boycott were starting to hurt.

The ruling National Party knew that it was time for change and in February 1989, PW Botha was forced to step aside as prime minister in favour of the more liberal FW de Klerk, although PW Botha remained president.

Later that year, the South African government approved a visit by Prime Minister de Klerk to Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, who supported the ANC.

The move prompted PW Botha to resign as president.

He left the National Party in 1990, the year that saw the release of Nelson Mandela, head of the ANC.

Four years later the ANC formed South Africa's first democratically elected government with Mr Mandela as the country's first black president.


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