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Mitchells Plain police station bombing, 30 years later


Faiez Jacobs is an ANC Member of Parliament for Greater Athlone and whip for the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Small Business Development. He is visiting Germany for a five-day parliamentary exchange programme with fellow MPs from the ANC, the DA and the EFF.

As 1989 was gliding into 1990, and the National Party’s grip on white political supremacy in South Africa seemed secure, a group of young Umkhonto we Sizwe members attacked Mitchells Plain police station. Their goal was to explode a limpet mine on New Year’s Eve, to signal that they were at war with the state. Many have claimed responsibility for the attack. I was mere 16-year-old at the time, and one of the real bomb-planters. This is our story.


I have compiled this column in consultation with Raphael Martin, Desmond Mckenzie and Andre Bruce in honour of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. We salute the best in all of us.


I was a 16-year-old youngster planting a limpet mine not because I was a terrorist but because it was the highest expression of a freedom fighter, fighting for the liberation of our people. I believed that I was a part of the MK structures and it remains an honour for me to have been a part of that operation. We executed our tasks with dedication and commitment despite facing adversity, betrayal and deception.

It was an honour to be under the command of Raphael Martin, the real Che Guevara of the Cape Flats. Hy het plak gehad. He had courage, which I learnt from him, as well as discipline, commitment and bravery.

We keenly understood the dangers and we, like many ‘klipgooiers’ of our generation, picked up the spear of Ashley Kriel, Colleen Williams, Robert Waterwich, Anton Franch and many other freedom fighters.

We were so young on that New Years Eve of 1989. We shall forever remember how optimistic we were about the future despite the hardship and chaos at the time. We lived by the slogan ‘Freedom or Death, Victory is Certain’. We also believed and were committed to ‘United Action for People’s Power’.

The year 1989 was a tough one for us: our community, youth and student structures were militant, functional but infiltrated. Many of our Mitchells Plain student leaders were imprisoned by the apartheid police. There were daily running battles with the police. Teargas and burning tyres seemed like permanent features of the Mitchells Plain skyline. So too was life on the run for activists. We were in a permanent State of Emergency. We were at war with the apartheid police state.

As part of the Mitchells Plain Student Congress (MIPSCO) collective leadership, I have clear memories of a co-ordinated action on 18 July 1989. Under the slogan ‘Free Nelson Mandela’, all the high schools in Mitchells Plain burnt 71 tyres to mark Nelson Mandela’s 71st birthday. This action led by high school students action committees preceded the 1989 Defiance Campaign, when the Mass Democratic Movement unbanned the people’s organisations. 

By August 1989, most of us (the second tier leadership) were detained without trial and held in solitary confinement. At the time, I served on the Exco of the Western Cape Students’ Congress; I was also the youngest political detainee to be held at Victor Verster Maximum Prison.

Many of us were released in December 1989. As was our norm, we raided the fridges and cupboards of our parents’ homes and ‘gooied’ together and planned a New Year’s Eve braai at Andre Bruce’s house in Baobab Street, Eastridge, Mitchells Plain. Then, as comrades we were each other’s keepers, we were family and shared the little we had.

I was especially excited, not so much for the braai but for a special mission we had planned a while. While the festivities were in full swing, Raphael Martin, Desmond McKenzie and I slipped away quietly. We separated and used different routes to approach our target: Mitchell’s Plain Police Station, the most visible site of apartheid power in our area. It was a place where security forces congregated before they sowed terror in Mitchells Plain. It was also a place where our comrades were held and often tortured.

Dressed in a tracksuit and armed with Makarov pistol, Raphael pretended to be a jogger. He ran casually towards the police station, scanning the environment in the process. Desmond was stationed at what is now the Mitchells Plain library. I was the lookout stationed at Eastridge rent office. 

We prepared an onion bag filled with ‘mieliemeelsakkies’ and the detonator of the limpet mine. We targeted Mitchells Plain Police Station barracks because we wanted to show that MK could strike where the enemy thought it was safe. We knew that the police facility would not be well-guarded because it was New Year’s Eve therefore were thinly spread. The risk of being caught was slimmer than at other times.

By the time the limpet mine exploded at 23h20, we were back at the party. The blast could be heard above the music and there was a collective sense of ownership and celebration amongst all the comrades at the party. At the time, and for our own protection, we kept quiet about who did what, and how. In 2019, for operational reasons, we feel the same about revealing who detonated the limpet mine.

Although unspoken, it was clear that some among us were responsible for this action. The blast caused significant damage to the building, luckily nobody was injured or killed. More than the physical damage to the building, the blast was a clear message that the youth and students of Mitchells Plain were not only unwilling to be co-opted or silenced, but also able to strike at the heart of the apartheid police regime. It was a morale booster for the progressive forces and yet another nail in the coffin of apartheid. 

I didn’t want to die that night. As a 16-year-old, I had too much to live for but like many of our generation, I was committed to our struggle, our people and our freedom.

Our generation wanted freedom and we were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice if needed. We were ordinary community leaders, youth activists and high school students doing extraordinary things because we believed in, and were committed to, change, freedom in our lifetime and a better life for all.

Some people have written about this action and some have even claimed it as their own. For me, writing this is about healing, because connecting with our past and making meaning of our present will help us with our collective future. Let’s share our own stories and not allow others to narrate that the Cape Flats was not a key part of the struggle. We have great local unsung heroes and heroines. Their stories must be told and heard.

To the Cape Flats comrades, especially the generation of the 80’s, who have made a difference and brought about change, and who now might feel that their contribution was in vain, we say:  ‘A luta continua. Don’t lose hope, don’t lose faith. You remain a part of the struggle.’ 

We will keep our independence, we will keep our critical voice and we will continue to fight to save the Cape Flats. We must ensure hope prevails and prosperity reigns.

Although we can be described as a self-hating and broken community, with deep wounds that were caused by decades of apartheid, drug enslavement and state-sponsored gangsterism, we shall not submit.  We shall prevail. We are warriors of hope, change, action and renewal.

 As we approach the New Year’s Eve of 2019, we are older, more jaded but we remain committed to the people, especially of the Cape Flats.

My New Year’s message is: Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing and with whom so ever,  be safe, be peaceful and, more importantly, be a force for good. 

As my soulmate would say “Don’t be K#k, just be Kwaai!”

Let us make 2020 great for you, me and all of us. DM


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