Azanian People's Liberation Army
The Azanian People's Liberation Army (APLA) was the military wing of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

. It was originally called Poqo.


In the 1960s, APLA commander Potlako Leballo
Potlako Leballo
Potlkako Leballo was an Africanist who led the Pan Africanist Congress until 1979. Leballo was co-founder of the Basutoland African Congress in 1952 and a World War II veteran and primary school headmaster.-Early Years:...

 modeled the APLA on the Chinese People's Liberation Army, with Templeton Ntantala as his deputy. In 1976, APLA received 500 recruits, including 178 Basotho
The ancestors of the Sotho people have lived in southern Africa since around the fifth century. The Sotho nation emerged from the accomplished diplomacy of Moshoeshoe I who gathered together disparate clans of Sotho–Tswana origin that had dispersed across southern Africa in the early 19th century...

 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
Dar es Salaam
Dar es Salaam , formerly Mzizima, is the largest city in Tanzania. It is also the country's richest city and a regionally important economic centre. Dar es Salaam is actually an administrative province within Tanzania, and consists of three local government areas or administrative districts: ...

, but was prevented by LLA soldiers, a move which exacerbated tensions within the PAC factions the "Diplomat-Reformist" (DR) and "Maoist-Revolutionary" (MR).

After the death of the PAC leader Mangaliso Sobukwe in 1978, the American Government financed a take over of the PAC by David Sibeko of the DR faction as part of the Carter administration's quid pro quo
Quid pro quo
Quid pro quo most often means a more-or-less equal exchange or substitution of goods or services. English speakers often use the term to mean "a favour for a favour" and the phrases with almost identical meaning include: "give and take", "tit for tat", "this for that", and "you scratch my back,...

 strategy whereby South Africa would put pressure on Ian Smith
Ian Smith
Ian Douglas Smith GCLM ID was a politician active in the government of Southern Rhodesia, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, Rhodesia, Zimbabwe Rhodesia and Zimbabwe from 1948 to 1987, most notably serving as Prime Minister of Rhodesia from 13 April 1964 to 1 June 1979...

's Rhodesian regime to negotiate a settlement in return for American pressure on the ANC and PAC to accept a détente and dialogue instead of armed struggle. The attempt was only partially successful, for although Tanzania banished Leballo, the new leadersship of APLA assassinated Sibeko, and the LLA managed to extricate themselves back to Southern Africa before the crisis erupted. Vus Make appointment as the new PAC leader sparked a mutiny at Chunya camp 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
Robben Island
Robben Island is an island in Table Bay, 6.9 km west of the coast of Bloubergstrand, Cape Town, South Africa. The name is Dutch for "seal island". Robben Island is roughly oval in shape, 3.3 km long north-south, and 1.9 km wide, with an area of 5.07 km². It is flat and only a...

 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
Convention for a Democratic South Africa
The apartheid system in South Africa was ended through a series of negotiations between 1990 and 1993 and through unilateral steps by the de Klerk government. These negotiations took place between the governing National Party, the African National Congress, and a wide variety of other political...


In 1994, APLA was absorbed into the new South African National Defence Force
South African National Defence Force
The South African National Defence Force is the armed forces of South Africa. The military as it exists today was created in 1994, following South Africa's first post-apartheid national elections and the adoption of a new constitution...

, 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." 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
    St James Church massacre
    The Saint James Church massacre was a massacre perpetrated on St James Church in Kenilworth, Cape Town on 25 July 1993 by four cadres of the Azanian People's Liberation Army . 11 members of the congregation were killed and 58 wounded...

     in Kenilworth
    Kenilworth is a town in central Warwickshire, England. In 2001 the town had a population of 22,582 . It is situated south of Coventry, north of Warwick and northwest of London....

     on 25 July 1993, killing 11 people during a church service.
  • Heidelberg Tavern in Observatory
    An observatory is a location used for observing terrestrial or celestial events. Astronomy, climatology/meteorology, geology, oceanography and volcanology are examples of disciplines for which observatories have been constructed...

     on 31 December 1993, killing four.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission found{ that "PAC action directed towards whites to have been gross violations of human rights for which the PAC and APLA leadership are held to be morally and politically responsible and accountable."

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
    Australian National University
    The Australian National University is a teaching and research university located in the Australian capital, Canberra.As of 2009, the ANU employs 3,945 administrative staff who teach approximately 10,000 undergraduates, and 7,500 postgraduate students...

    Canberra 1996, pages 172-195 ISBN 0-7315-2491
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