Foreign Secretary David Miliband was accused last night of condoning terrorism after declaring that there were circumstances in which it was ‘justifiable’.
His remarks–made in support of the ANC’s armed struggle against apartheid in South Africa–were swiftly condemned by the Conservatives, who accused him of giving succour to the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The military wing of the ANC carried out a number of terrorist attacks during its campaign, including the Church Street bombing in Pretoria in 1983 in which 19 people were killed and more than 200 wounded. Many of the victims were civilians.
Mr Miliband was speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Great Lives programme, in which he chose to pay tribute to the South African anti-apartheid activist Joe Slovo–a friend of Mr Miliband’s father, the academic Ralph Miliband.
Mr Slovo, who shared Miliband senior’s belief in Marxist ideology, was one of the leaders of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed military wing of the ANC.
Asked by presenter Matthew Parris whether there were any circumstances in which terrorism was justified, Mr Miliband said: ‘Yes, there are circumstances in which it is justifiable, and yes, there are circumstances in which it is effective.’
He added: ‘The importance for me is that the South African example proved something remarkable: the apartheid regime looked like a regime that would last forever, and it was blown down.
It is hard to argue that, on its own, a political struggle would have delivered. The striking at the heart of a regime’s claim on a monopoly of power, which the ANC’s armed wing represented, was very significant.’
Last night, Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague said the remarks were ill-judged. He said: ‘Ministers must be very careful before advancing any argument that seems to legitimise terrorism in some circumstances.
When so much of the efforts of our security services, and the sacrifices of our troops in Afghanistan, are devoted to defeating terrorists, this is hardly the time to argue that terrorism is sometimes acceptable.’
Mr Miliband, who appeared on the programme with Mr Slovo’s daughter Gillian, described fondly how, as an 18-year-old, he opened the door to Mr Slovo, who had turned up unannounced at the Miliband family home to discuss politics with his parents.
Mr Slovo, who died in 1995, aged 69, once wrote about his experience of bomb-making, describing how he and his fellow militants would experiment with different explosive materials and timer technology.
Umkhonto we Sizwe was formed in alliance with the South African Communist Party (SACP), which Mr Slovo led for six years from 1984. The SACP backed the Soviet invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, and was regarded as the most Stalinist branch of the communist party outside the Soviet Union.
The Church Street attack involved a car bomb set off outside the Nedbank Square building at 4.30pm on a Friday. The target was the South African Air Force headquarters, but as the bomb was set to go off at the height of rush hour, those killed and wounded included civilians.
Other ANC-linked atrocities included the 1986 car-bombing of Magoo’s Bar in Durban, in which three people were killed.
At one point in the programme, Gillian Slovo suggested that if her father was to be termed a ‘terrorist’, then so should ‘the Bush administration for going into Iraq’ because it was using ‘terror to pursue political ends’. Mr Miliband did not contest her assertion–despite the Blair Government’s role in the invasion.