Operation Great Storm launched by the Pan Africanist Congress's military wing against white farmers in the months before the April 1994 elections has returned to haunt the party as it seeks a new political identity.

The 1993 offensive aimed at driving white farmers off their land so it could be reclaimed by Africans was recalled this week in Bloemfontein where the PAC tried to obtain amnesty for former Azanian People's Liberation Army cadres.

This week's hearings of the Truth and Reconcialition Commission's amnesty committee heard numerous submissions by PAC officials who explained that killing and robbing farmers was part of the Great Storm strategy.

Speaking in defence of six APLA members who killed eastern Free State farmer John Bernard Smith, 62, and shot his wife Rene, in 1993, the PAC officials rehashed much of the rhetoric of the time.

Phrases like "the boer enemy" and "the oppressed, exploited and degredated masses" were commonplace as the APLA members explained that robbing and killing whites was part of the struggle for liberation.

Even though closely questioned by the committee about the stealing of appliances, clothing and liquor, the cadres insisted these were to be sold to raise funds for further operations.

Even after three years in prison the APLA cadres still described the attack on the Smith's farm as a military operation, using terms such as "reconnaissance" and "disarming the enemy". They also refused to accept that the Smiths were a "soft target" or innocent victims.

"They had seven firearms on their farm and were both trained to shoot. That can't be called innnocent," the leader of the APLA squad Thabo Mtjikelo told the committee.

Ironically if the Smith couple had suspected Mtjikelo and his men to be guerillas they would probably have fought them off quite easily because they had shotguns, rifles and handguns in their safe and the APLA men had only one pistol and knives between them. In the end the Smiths were tricked by the group who asked to borrow a can of petrol for their vehicle. Smith was stabbed in the back as he was siphoning the petrol for them.

Rene Smith, suspecting something amiss had two of the cadres at gunpoint, but must have hesitated and was overpowered and shot in the thigh. She was beaten, tied up and locked in a cupboard. She and her four children have opposed the granting of amnesty to the APLA men.

The group was arrested soon afterwards after their amateurish escape in the Smith's Mercedes-Benz was thwarted at a nearby roadblock.

While the PAC has supported their APLA cadres in their quest for amnesty it baulked at calling as a witness the man who was believed to be the mastermind behind Operation Great Storm. Letlapa Mpahlele who was APLA's operations director at the time told a press conference at the amnesty hearings this week that he would not cooperate with the TRC because it was "a farce and a sham".

In the fiery rhetoric reminiscent of the era of black struggle, Mpahlele said he could not cooperate with the TRC while APLA cadres were in prison but not a single member of the South African Defence Force had been charged with killing innocent children.

"The SADF has spilt more blood than any army south of the equator," he said, adding that he had no regret nor apology for his attack on whites.

"It was my proudest moment to see whites dying on the battlefield," he said.

The statements appear in sharp contrast to the new image of the PAC being created around the leadership of Rev Stanley Mogoba and the abandonment of the slogan politics of the past.

The amnesty committee has now to decide whether the six APLA members who are facing long prison sentences for their attack on the Smiths were acting as Storm troopers of the PAC or as ordinary murderers and robbers.

South African Press Association, 1997
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