Raid on Gaborone

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Raid on Gaborone
(Operation Plecksy)
Location Gaborone, Botswana
Date 14 June 1985 (1985-06-14)
1:40 am (UTC+02:00)
Target Umkhonto we Sizwe cadres hiding in Botswana
Deaths 8 South African refugees, 2 Batswana, 1 Dutch national, and a six-year-old Mosotho boy
Non-fatal injuries
1 South African soldier wounded
Perpetrator South African Defence Force
Motive to "[destroy] the nerve center of the African National Congress operations against South Africa from Botswana"[1]
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The Raid on Gaborone (called Operation Plecksy by the South African Defence Force) occurred on 14 June 1985 when South African Defence Force troops, under the order of General Constand Viljoen, crossed into Botswana and attacked the offices of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the African National Congress, in Gaborone. The raid, the fifth South African attack on a neighbouring country since 1981, killed 12 people including women and children; only 5 of the victims were members of the African National Congress.

Background[edit]

South Africa will not hesitate to take whatever action may be appropriate for the defence of its own people and for the elimination of terrorist elements intent on sowing death and destruction in our country and our region.

South Africa Foreign Minister Pik Botha in a press conference 1985 on the motivation for the raid[1]

[The SADF]'d attack some houses, kill people then create a fiction around who these people were and what they were doing.

Ex-MK member Muff Andersson in a 2000 interview on the SADF's tactics[2]

In the 1980s, relations between Botswana and South Africa were strained. Anti-apartheid groups like the African National Congress (ANC) used Botswana and other countries in Southern Africa as refuge.[a] The ANC set up bases in Gaborone that issued crash courses for terrorist attacks; under the guise of weekend tourists, new recruits would receive training on grenade handling and a list of targets to attack.[3] Despite Botswana's non-alignment policy,[b] the South African Defence Force conducted several cross-border raids to stop the groups.

In 1981, the Botswana Defence Force (BDF) purchased Soviet weaponry. President Quett Masire justified the deal as a way to allow BDF to better prevent groups like the ANC from crossing into South Africa.[5] Shots were fired across the Botswana-South African border in April 1982. Grenade attacks earlier in the week outside Cape Town that killed two South Africa members of Parliament and news of an expected attack on Pretoria in July 1985 pushed General Constand Viljoen to launch the attack.[1]

The following locations were identified as MK safe houses in Gaborone by the SADF:[6]

  • Plot C, Tlokweng: Safe house used for ANC training of the Transvaal and Western Cape suicide squads
  • Plot A, Tlokweng: Occupied by "George" who accommodated terrorists
  • 7819 Broadhurst: Occupied by Duke Machobane, provided accommodation for Umkhonto we Sizwe
  • 13212 Broadhurst: Occupied by Nkukwane Motsweni, alias Mkhulu, responsible for the transportation of trained terrorists from Zambia to safe houses in Botswana
  • 2914 Pudulugo Close: Occupied by Mike Hamlyn, responsible for accommodating terrorists and for transporting ANC recruits attached to the "Transvaal Suicide Squad"
  • Cycle Mart Building: housing the offices of the intelligence gathering apparatus of the ANC in Botswana and who also distributed a propaganda pamphlet in "newsletter" form aimed against South Africa
  • 15717 Broadhurst: Occupied by George Pwale, controller of ANC financial affairs and responsible for the bomb blast at the Carlton, Johannesburg, in December 1976.

The attack[edit]

Around 1:30 am on 14 June, South African soldiers crossed the border into Botswana.[1] To lead the attack, the SADF hired Selous Scouts, a special regiment of the Rhodesian Security Forces.[7] General Viljoen stated that the soldiers used megaphones to urge the residents of Gaborone to hide in their houses while the raid occurred.[3] According to Manuel Olifant, a policeman involved in the raid, the SADF called up around 50 tanks, helicopters, and jet fighters in Zeerust for use if Botswana retaliated, but they were not needed.[7]

Casualties[edit]

Twelve people were killed in the attack. A partial list follows:

  • a six-year-old Mosotho boy
  • Ahmed Mohammed Geer, a Somali-born Dutch citizen[3][c]
  • two Batswana women
  • Mike Hamlyn, a South African student who was studying in Botswana
  • Thami Mnyele, a South African graphic artist[8]
  • Dick, Mtsweni, a 71-year-old man employed by the ANC as a driver.[9]

Aftermath[edit]

Witnesses say that civilians were killed despite what SADF reports said at the time. Muff Andersson, a former member of MK, said that instead of attacking legitimate targets, the SADF instead arbitrarily picked ANC sympathisers to "teach the ANC a lesson".[2] She asserts that the SADF "did not care who was killed."[2]

Reactions[edit]

  •  South Africa: At first, the attack was shown in a positive light by the South African press.[10] A memorial, Freedom Park, was built in Pretoria to honour those who died in this attack and others during the apartheid years.[11]
  •  United Kingdom: In 1985, the representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations said that South Africa "in no way justified the violation of sovereignty and the killing or wounding of innocent people."[12] In 1986, the United Kingdom announced that it would provide military aid to Botswana to stop South Africa's raids.[13]
  •  United States: The raid prompted the United States to recall its ambassador to South Africa.[1]

United Nations Resolution[edit]

On 17 June 1985, the United Nations representative of Botswana sent a letter to the President of the United Nations Security Council asking for help to deal with the raid. The representative from South Africa sent a letter on the same day stating that Botswana had been warned about harbouring groups like the ANC, citing that "a State had a right to take appropriate steps to protect its own security and territorial integrity against such attacks."[14] The Botswana Minister of Foreign Affairs said that the evidence of terrorist activities starting in Botswana was fabricated. South Africa responded that since Botswana did not sign the Nkomati Accord, a non-aggression pact with South Africa, the ANC was able to use Botswana as a base for its attacks.[15] Resolution 568 was drafted on 21 June 1985 that ordered South Africa to pay Botswana for damages, allowed Botswana to house refugees, and encouraged other countries to help Botswana and condemn South Africa.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "From Botswana the ANC had been responsible since August 1984 alone for 36 acts of terrorism and violence. During this period six people were murdered and extensive damage was caused to property."[3]
  2. ^ "...it remained Botswana's policy to accommodate South African refugees, while not allowing them to use the country as a base for attacks on South Africa."[4]
  3. ^ Geer was found to have relations with the Palestine Liberation Organization.[3]

Citations[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Video about the attacks as told by the widow whose husband, Dick Mtsweni, a 71 year old ANC member, was killed in the raid
  • Full text of UN Security Council Resolution 568