Saint James Church massacre

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The Saint James Church massacre was a massacre perpetrated on St James Church in Kenilworth, Cape Town, South Africa, on 25 July 1993 by four cadres of the Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA). 11 members of the congregation were killed and 58 wounded. In 1998 the attackers were granted amnesty for their participation by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.


The attack occurred during the Sunday evening service. Sichumiso Nonxuba, Bassie Mkhumbuzi, Gcinikhaya Makoma and Tobela Mlambisa approached the Anglican church in a vehicle stolen by Mlambisa and Makoma beforehand. Nonxuba, who commanded the unit, and Makoma entered the church armed with M26 hand grenades and R4 assault rifles.[1] They threw the grenades and then opened fire on the congregation, killing 11 and wounding 58.[2] One member of the congregation, Charl van Wyk, who wrote a book about the event (Shooting Back), returned fire with a .38 special revolver, wounding one of the attackers. At this point they fled the church. Mkhumbuzi had been ordered to throw four petrol bombs into the church following the shooting, but abandoned this intention as all four fled in the vehicle.[2]

Members of the congregation killed were Guy Cooper Javens, Richard Oliver O'Kill, Gerhard Dennis Harker, Wesley Alfonso Harker, Denise Gordon, Mirtle Joan Smith, Marita Ackermann, Andrey Kayl, Karamjin Oleg, Varaksa Velentin and Pavel Valuet.[2] The last four on this list were Russian seamen attending the service as part of a church outreach programme. Another Russian seaman, Dmitri Makogon, lost both legs and an arm in the attack.

The attack was seen as particularly shocking as relatively few terrorist attacks happened in white suburbs and the Cape Town area was regarded as relatively peaceful. The attack was seen as harming prospects for future constitutional negotiation.[3]

Similar attacks[edit]

APLA cadres were held responsible for several similar attacks. Among these were the attack on King William's Town Golf Club on 28 November 1992 in which four people were killed, and the attack on the Heidelberg Tavern in Observatory, Cape Town on 31 December 1993, in which four people were killed. Ballistic tests showed that the same rifles were used in the St James and Heidelberg Tavern attacks.

Arrest and trial[edit]

Makoma was arrested ten days later and convicted for 11 murders. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Nonxuba, Mlambisa and Mkhumbuzi were subsequently arrested and charged in 1996. They had in the meantime joined the South African National Defence Force as part of the integration of APLA operatives into the new national defence force.[citation needed]

In 1997, while on trial, Nonxuba, Mlambisa and Mkhumbuzi appealed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for amnesty, together with Makoma. They were granted bail pending their appearance before the TRC. Nonxuba died in a car accident while on bail.


Makoma, Mkhumbuzi and Mlambisa were all granted amnesty for the St James Church attack by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).[2] As a result, Makoma was freed after serving only 5½ years of his sentence, and the trial of Mkhumbuzi and Mlambisa was never completed.[citation needed]

In this and other APLA amnesty hearings, APLA operatives claimed that they were following their orders and that they regarded all whites as legitimate targets as they were complicit in the government's policy of apartheid. In statements made to the representatives of St James church they did however say that they were unaware that the selected target was a church until they arrived in Kenilworth. Dawie Ackerman, husband of one of the victims, noted that perhaps 35–40% of the congregation were people of colour, with the counsel for the APLA saying they had assumed all congregants would be white as the church was in a white area.[2]

Letlapa Mphahlele, national director of operations for APLA, took responsibility for ordering the attacks as part of his application for amnesty. He claimed that he had authorised attacks on white civilians following the killing of five school children by the Transkei Defence Force in Umtata.[4]

Amnesty in such cases was typically granted in terms of the TRC's mandate because the crimes were politically motivated, with the perpetrators following the orders of the APLA commanders, and full disclosure was made to the TRC.

Although amnesty was granted to the individual perpetrators, the TRC found that the act itself, and other APLA/PAC attacks specifically targeting civilians, were "a gross violation of human rights" and a "violation of internal [sic] humanitarian law".[5]


Several of the church members who were injured or who lost family members in the attacks, as well as Charl van Wyk, who had returned fire on the attackers, later met and publicly reconciled with the APLA attackers. [6]

Later developments[edit]

On 27 August 2002, Gcinikhaya Makoma was arrested along with six others following a cash-in-transit heist of a Standard Bank cash van in Constantia, Cape Town, in which R1.8 million was stolen.[7] He and the others were later acquitted, with the magistrate finding that the prosecution case had been badly put together and that documents had been falsified by an investigating officer.[8] Gcinikhaya Makoma was eventually found guilty on 16 February 2012[9] of murder and robbery and sentenced to life and 46 years in prison for his role in a December 2007 cash van heist in Parow, Cape Town.

In Oct 2004, Charl Van Wyk became one of the founding members of Gun Owners of South Africa, (GOSA), an online civilian gun rights ownership group, which is also involved in public demonstrations against the Firearms Control Act.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 33°59′33″S 18°28′37″E / 33.992387°S 18.47697°E / -33.992387; 18.47697