St James Church massacre

St James Church Massacre Image source

Sunday, 25 July 1993

Azanian Peoples' Liberation Army (APLA - the armed wing of the Pan-Africanist Congress) operatives attack St. James Church in the Cape Town suburb of Kenilworth during the Sunday evening service. Approximately 1000 congregants were inside the church at the time. Using automatic weapons and two grenades, the APLA cadres killed eleven worshippers and injured 58. Four of the dead were Russian seamen attending the service as part of a church outreach programme. Another seaman lost both legs and an arm.

The St James Church Massacre was one of a string of APLA attacks and was followed later that year by an attack on the Heidelberg Tavern in Observatory in which 4 people were killed. Ballistic tests proved the same weapons were used in both attacks.

Gcinikhaya Makoma was arrested ten days after the St James Church Massacre. He was convicted of 11 murders and sentenced to 23 years in prison. Sichumiso Nonxuba, Thobela Mlambisa and Basie Mkhumbuzi were subsequently arrested and charged in 1996.

While on trail, they applied to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for amnesty. In accordance with its mandate that crimes for which amnesty was sought be shown to have a political motivation and that applicants make full disclosure of the details of the crime, the TRC granted amnesty to Mlambisa, Mkumbuzi, and Makoma. Nonxuba died in a car accident while on bail and before the TRC process was concluded. In its findings, the TRC stated that targeting civilians was "a gross violation of human rights ... and humanitarian law". Several of the church members who were injured or who lost family members in the attacks, including one congregant who returned fire on the attackers, later met and publicly reconciled with the APLA attackers.


  1. St James Hurch Massacre. Website:
  2. Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report, vol. 2. 'The Liberation Movements from 1960 to 1990'.

Last updated : 24-Jul-2017

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011

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