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The Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA) was the military wing of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in South Africa. It was originally called Poqo.[1]


The organisation was founded in 1961 following the 1960 massacre by police of PAC-led protestors.[1] In the 1960s, APLA commander Potlako Leballo modeled the APLA on the Chinese People's Liberation Army, with Templeton Ntantala as his deputy. APLA, then known as Poqo, targeted Paarl on 22 November 1962. A crowd of 250 men, armed with axes, pangas and other home-made weapons, marched from Mbekweni location to the town and attacked the police station, homes and shops.[citation needed] They also killed two Whites, Frans Richard (22) and Rencia Vermeulen (18). On 4 February 1963 a family camping at Bashee River in the Transkei were murdered. Norman and Elizabeth Grobbelaar, their teenage daughters Edna and Dawn, together with Mr. Derek Thompson, were hacked to death in their caravans.[citation needed] In 1976, APLA received 500 recruits, including 178 Basotho for a new Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA), to be formed as an offshoot of the exiled-Basutoland Congress Party, under the leadership of Matooane Mapefane, who was a senior instructor of APLA in Libya. Ntantala's original group of 70 APLA soldiers felt threatened by the influx of new recruits. Ntantala attempted a coup against Leballo in Dar es Salaam, but was prevented by LLA soldiers, a move which exacerbated tensions within the PAC factions the "Diplomat-Reformist" (DR) and "Maoist-Revolutionary" (MR). Vus Make appointment as the new PAC leader sparked a mutiny at Chunya camp[Clarification needed] on March 11, 1980, during which several APLA forces were killed and the rest further factionalised and were confined to different camps, while many escaped to Kenya. Leballo himself relocated to Zimbabwe in late 1980 along with senior intelligence and air force personnel from the MR faction. Pressure from Tanzania, however, resulted in his deportation in May–June 1981, as well as the deportation or imprisonment of the others.

Make was replaced by John Nyathi Pokela (who was released from Robben Island in 1980), but his ineffectual term of office was marred by further mutinies, executions and assassinations. Following Pokela’s death, Leballo made a comeback through support from Libya, North Korea, and Ghana. After his sudden death in January 1986 (when it was discovered he was actually 70 not 60), the DR faction, outmaneuvered by the ANC, fell into disarray leaving behind the legacy of a semi-national socialist political front. After 1986, APLA rejected the MR faction's concept of the guerrilla as a social reformer and instead adopted an ultimately disastrous rallying cry of "one settler, one bullet." In the 1990–94 period, it became known for its attacks on civilians despite the progress in negotiations at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa.[citation needed]

In 1994, APLA was absorbed into the new South African National Defence Force, though MR members refused to accept the agreement. Attempts by MR officers to regroup in Vietnam, North Korea, and China were unsuccessful; although links were maintained with the Tamil Tigers and Maoist groups in Nepal and India. Occasional propaganda leaflets distributed within South Africa focusing on disparity of wealth and the issue of land.


In 1993, the APLA’s chief commander, Sabelo Phama, declared that he "would aim his guns at children - to hurt whites where it hurts most." [2] Phama proclaimed 1993 as "The Year of the Great Storm" and sanctioned the following attacks on civilians:

  • King William’s Town Golf Club on 28 November 1992, killing four people.
  • Highgate Hotel in East London on 1 May 1993, killing five people.
  • St James Church massacre in Kenilworth on 25 July 1993, killing 11 people during a church service.
  • Heidelberg Tavern in Observatory on 31 December 1993, killing four.

In total thirty-two applications were received for attacks on civilians. In these incidents, 24 people were killed and 122 seriously injured.[3] The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has presently charged that PAC-sanctioned action directed towards white South Africans were "gross violations of human rights for which the PAC and APLA leadership are held to be morally and politically responsible and accountable".

See also[]

Further reading[]

  • Leeman, Lieutenant-General Bernard “The Pan Africanist Congress of Azania” in Africa Today, A Multi-Disciplinary Snapshot of the Continent in 1995 Edited by Peter F. Alexander, Ruth Hutchison and Deryck Schreuder The Humanities Research Centre The Australian National University Canberra 1996, pages 172-195 ISBN 0-7315-2491


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