Robert McBride. Picture: ALON SKUY
Robert McBride. Picture: ALON SKUY

Robert McBride is not proud of causing deaths and injuries in a Durban restaurant bombing in 1986 but remains defiant that the attack was a collective one in the fight against apartheid.

McBride, then an ANC operative, was arrested for the bombings at the Why Not restaurant and Magoo’s Bar on June 14 that year. Three white women were killed and 69 others injured.

Though McBride was sentenced to death and spent time on death row, he was released from prison in 1992 after the conclusion that his acts were politically motivated.

“For me, the issue is [that] I cannot apologise for fighting against apartheid. On one level, as part of the resistance movement against a system that was regarded as a crime against humanity ... I can justify it in terms of the decisions taken by the ANC and put my political hat on.

“But if I respond as a human being and the fact that I caused the death of fellow South Africans, albeit in a conflict, albeit in an unequal and oppressive society, then I don’t feel proud that I have caused the death and injury to South Africans or other human beings,” McBride said.

“I don’t request understanding from anyone. I took decisions that I needed to take then, which thousands of other South Africans took. I was part of an organised resistance.” 

McBride, the former police watchdog head was talking with TV anchor and journalist Stephen Grootes at the launch of Robert McBride: The Struggle Continues, a book by Bryan Rostron, in Hyde Park, Johannesburg on Tuesday. The book deals with McBride’s trial and his time on death row. Originally written in 1991, it has been updated to include McBride’s life after the end of apartheid.

Grootes said the bombing was traumatic for many people, including McBride. He asked what McBride was prepared to say about the incident, to which McBride responded he had already spoken of the bombing at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

McBride said he accepted all the consequences of his action and did not run from the threat of death that was awaiting him. He said eight people applied for amnesty for the bombing, from the commander down to those at the bottom.

“The issue is that the special operations unit of the ANC was within the office of the presidency of the ANC.” He said no operation took place without clearance from the presidency.

“In the endeavour to protect the organisation, which, in 1986, was coming under a lot of pressure from the US and from the [British, Margaret] Thatcher government, it was important that I did whatever and said whatever I had to say to take the blame upon myself and appear to be a maverick and a loose cannon, something that both my enemies and some of my comrades use against me until today,” he said.

When asked whether the views of white South Africans towards him had changed or whether he cared, McBride said he generally responds to people based on how they respond to him.

He said attitudes have changed in SA, not only towards him. “And while sometimes politicians heighten tensions for the ballot box, normal people are getting on. Not that we brush over inequality or we brush over the injustices of the past, but we are reaching out to each other. If attitudes did not change against me, it would still be OK. I am a mirror and will respond in the same way.”