In the early hours of December 9th, 1982, South African Defence Force commandos crossed the border into Lesotho. Their target was a cluster of houses on the outskirts of Maseru where members of the African National Congress (ANC) were believed to be in hiding. Meeting no opposition from Lesotho's tiny 2 000-man paramilitary force, they blasted their way through numerous homes. By morning 42 people were dead, 30 of them believed to be members of the ANC. The remaining victims were Lesotho residents, including five women and two children. Their mission accomplished, the members of SADF returned across the border to South Africa without incident.
In a dawn announcement in Pretoria, General Constand Viljoen, chief of the South African Defense Force, explained that the raid, named "Operation Blanket," had been a pre-emptive strike against ANC militants who had taken refuge in Lesotho over the past few months. According to Viljoen, the ANC members were planning attacks in South Africa against political leaders in the black "homelands" of Transkei and Ciskei. The SADF displayed a rocket launcher, rifles and some grenades of Communist-bloc origin that they said had been captured in the raid.
The ANC denied the South African charges and denounced the invasion as a "cold-blooded massacre." Charging that the ANC members killed were political refugees, not terrorists, Lesotho's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Charles D. Molapo, labeled the attack, "murder."
The raid met with a chorus of international outrage, even from Pretoria's few remaining defenders. From Washington DC, the Reagan administration deplored the attack and called for a settlement in Southern Africa "through peaceful negotiations”. The South African government however, was not yet ready for such an approach, and the "Maseru Massacre" as it came to be called, was one of many brazen cross-border raids conducted by the SADF during the 1980s.
Read Phyllis Naidoo's book on the massacre here
• Coleman, M. (ed)(1998). A Crime Against Humanity: analysing the repression of the apartheid state, Johannesburg: Human Rights Committee, p. 262
• Wallis, F. (2000). Nuusdagboek: feite en fratse oor 1000 jaar, Kaapstad: Human & Roussea
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