In 1983, the ANC armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, made good on a bold promise to step up attacks on military targets. On May 20th that year, in the heart of Pretoria, MK cadres exploded a car bomb in front of a building that was headquarters to both the South African Air Force as well as the South African Defence Force’s Military Intelligence arm. Nineteen people died in the blast, and more than 200 SADF personnel were hurt. After the day of covering the carnage, I returned to the Sunday Times newsroom with my black canvas shoes wet with blood. There were shock waves across the country – triumphant fists in the air from some quarters, and sorrow and anger from others. The Apartheid government reacted swiftly and harshly, intensifying its crackdown on political activists. In June of that year, three men who’d been part of an attack on the Wonderboom police station, Jerry Mosolodi, Terry Mogerani and Thabo Montaung, were executed. Activists were killed, their homes bombed; a punitive ai...

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