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Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, South Africa

The African National Congress organized a bombing of the Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant (pictured here in 2006) during its construction in 1982, causing major damage (around 500 million Rand) and delaying its completion for a year and a half. In a subsequent statement, the ANC said the attack was a “salute to all our fallen heroes and imprisoned comrades."

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Click here to download the Working Paper as a PDF.

The African National Congress and Apartheid South Africa’s Nuclear Weapons Program

Jo-Ansie van Wyk and Anna-Mart van Wyk

Abstract: Established in 1912, the African National Congress (ANC) became synonymous with the anti-apartheid and liberation struggle in South Africa despite its banning between 1960 and 1990, a period coinciding with the Cold War and the nuclear arms race, when it went into exile and underground. Prior to its banning, internal discussions on nuclear energy and weapons took place. However, during its three decades in exile, the ANC became aware of the secret nuclear weapons program of the apartheid government, an issue that soon became one of the pillars of its global struggle to end apartheid and the apartheid nuclear weapons program. Using available archival sources, the Working Paper traces the development of the ANC’s position on nuclear energy and nuclear weapons before discussing the organization’s transnational anti-nuclear tactics, including its armed struggle and attack against South Africa’s nuclear power plant, the Koeberg Nuclear Power Plant close to Cape Town, during its construction. This Working Paper contributes to scholarship on the nuclear position and anti-nuclear struggle of liberation movements which remains underdeveloped. It also shows the importance and extent of non-state transnational anti-apartheid and anti-nuclear activism and tactics of the liberation movement. Second, the ANC’s transnational campaign increased global awareness of apartheid and sanctions busting, while also unmasking the secret nuclear ambitions and weapons program of the apartheid government, which contributed to the total isolation of the country. Another significant element of the ANC’s anti-nuclear struggle was its campaigning at the UN that not only resulted in comprehensive UN sanctions and embargoes against South Africa, but also resulted in reforms within the UN to address and accommodate the anti-apartheid struggle. These factors contributed to the dismantling of the apartheid nuclear weapons program, the unbanning of liberation movements in South Africa, and the negotiation of the country’s democratic dispensation. The ANC that won South Africa’s first ever democratic elections in 1994 remains the country’s ruling party. Under its leadership, South Africa maintains its position on nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.


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