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Black group declares war on SA whites

UNIVERSAL condemnation, widespread anxiety, and not a little disbelief, was the response yesterday to a declaration of war on white South Africans by the the Azanian People's Liberation Army (Apla), the hitherto ignored and ineffectual armed wing of the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC).

A man claiming to be an Apla military intelligence deputy commander, who called himself Congo Jibril, also said in a telephone call to the South African Press Association (Sapa) on Sunday night that senior members of the government, including F W de Klerk, would be targeted for assassination. Similar, if less specific, noises have been made by a number of Apla officials in phone calls to other South African news organisations.

The government, the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Communist Party, international observers based in South Africa and the Christian churches have issued statements harshly critical of Apla. Once the ANC takes power, a senior official said: 'We will find them and lock them up. We will smash them.'

Fringe right-wing extremists - the White Wolves, the Boere Weerstandbeweging (Boer Resistance Movement) - have seized the opportunity to join the fray, warning that the long-promised 'holy war' against 'the Communists' is at last imminent.

The curious thing is that had it not been for two terrorist attacks against whites last week in the Eastern Cape, Mr Jibril's half- hour telephone conversation with a Sapa reporter would have been dismissed, in all probability, as the rantings of a madman.

Speaking from 'somewhere in Johannesburg', Mr Jibril said that whites formed 'part and parcel of the oppressive regime'. This made them 'a legitimate target'.

The leadership of the PAC, the ANC's radical poor relation, has responded with some confusion to Apla's claims that it had opened fire on a golf club Christmas party, killing two white married couples, and had planted a bomb in a crowded restaurant, killing one and injuring 18.

Benny Alexander, the PAC's secretary-general, would not condemn the attacks but at the same time sought to convince a South African television audience on Sunday night that the PAC's national executive knew 'nothing about Apla'. Then he added that the PAC was responsible for Apla's continued existence. And then he said he had never heard of Congo Jibril.

Nor had anybody else. Jakkie Cilliers, a former army commander who now heads the Institute for Defence Politics, noted yesterday that at the height of the insurgency campaign in the Eighties - indeed during the last 30 years - the PAC army had existed only on paper. 'Up to a week or two ago I would have said Apla was a two-bit organisation. And I'm not so sure, even now, that it isn't' Mr Cilliers expressed doubts lingering in many people's minds about the veracity of the Apla commanders' claims and whether, if true, they are in any position to sustain their threatened terror campaign.

The only certainty is that the PAC is in a mess, according to Johannes Rantete, a researcher who has worked extensively on the organisation. 'The PAC leadership is not unlike the ANC's in that it is sober and pragmatic. But their grassroots followers have grown up with the famous slogan, 'One settler, one bullet'. The major dilemma the leadership have is that they can't completely dissociate themselves from the claimed attacks because then they'll lose their followers. The only benefit, I suppose, is that they have got some much-needed publicity.'

The most serious question, Mr Rantete said, was how much support Apla's stand would generate in the townships. 'I think it's a two-edged sword. Some of the radical youth will be applauding, and may be tempted to throw in their lot with them. But I expect most ordinary black South Africans will be appalled.'

The ANC president, Nelson Mandela, says he expects multi- racial elections to end white minority rule will be held by the end of 1993. But ANC officials tried yesterday to play down his remark, saying that organising the country's first election for all races may take until 1994, AP reports.

Mr Mandela said the white government agreed in closed talks with the ANC last week to hold elections by the end of next year.