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The Church Street bombing was a car bomb attack on 20 May 1983 in the South African capital Pretoria by Umkhonto we Sizwe, an activist group co-founded by Nelson Mandela, Joe Slovo and Walter Sisulu which served as the military wing of the African National Congress. The bombing killed 19 and wounded 217, and was one of the largest attacks engaged in by the ANC during its armed struggle against apartheid.
The attack consisted of a car bomb set off outside the Nedbank Square building on Church Street at 4:30pm on a Friday. The target was South African Air Force (SAAF) headquarters, but as the bomb was set to go off at the height of rush hour, those killed and wounded included civilians. The bomb went off ten minutes earlier than planned, killing two ANC operatives in the vehicle, Freddie Shangwe and Ezekial Maseko. At least 20 ambulances took the dead and wounded to hospitals.
In submissions to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1997 and 1998, the ANC revealed that the attack was orchestrated by a special operations unit of the ANC's Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), commanded by Aboobaker Ismail. Such units had been authorised by Oliver Tambo, the ANC President, in 1979. At the time of the attack, they reported to Joe Slovo as chief of staff, and the Church Street attack was authorised by Tambo.
The ANC's submission said that the bombing was in response to a South African cross-border raid into Lesotho in December 1982 which killed 42 ANC supporters and civilians, and the assassination of Ruth First, an ANC activist and wife of Joe Slovo, in Maputo, Mozambique. It claimed that 11 of the casualties were SAAF personnel and hence a military target. The legal representative of some of the victims argued that as administrative staff including telephonists and typists they could not accept that they were a legitimate military target.
Ten MK operatives including Aboobaker Ismail applied for amnesty for this and other bombings. The applications were opposed on various grounds, including that it was a terrorist attack disproportionate to the political motive. The TRC found that the number of civilians versus military personnel killed was unclear. South African Police statistics indicated that 7 members of the SAAF were killed. The commission found that at least 84 of the injured were SAAF members or employees. Amnesty was granted by the TRC.