‘Felt Fulfilled’ by Joining Rebels, She Says : S. Africa White Admits Bombing Police

Times Staff Writer

A 28-year-old white woman pleaded guilty to treason charges here Monday, admitting that she planted bombs at three South African police stations and was trained as a guerrilla by the outlawed African National Congress.

The woman, Marion M. Sparg, a former Johannesburg journalist who left the country in 1981 to join the African National Congress, said in a letter read into the court record that she has no regrets about her actions.

“I do not regret the commitment I have made,” she wrote in an emotional letter to her parents shortly before her arrest last April. “The struggle to get this country free is my life now. My life has meaning now. I know where I’m going, and I know we’ll reach there--even if I don’t personally make it. I’ve never felt more fulfilled.”


Sparg is to be sentenced later this week. Although treason carries the death penalty in South Africa, she is considered likely to be given only a lengthy prison sentence, perhaps 20 to 25 years.

She also pleaded guilty to two charges of arson and one of attempted arson, stemming from the attacks on the police stations early this year, and, in 1981, on neighborhood offices of the white opposition Progressive Federal Party.

“This war has to be fought to the bitter end,” she said in the letter to her parents, who sat behind her in court and sobbed softly as it was read into the trial record. “And it is going to be bitter. I have no illusions about that. But in the end there will be a happier life for all of us--black and white.”

Sparg, who had joined a small Marxist group here in the late 1970s, is the latest of a number of white radicals convicted of treason, terrorism or similar political crimes for helping the African National Congress, the principal group fighting white minority rule in South Africa.

Three other whites were convicted of treason or terrorism earlier this year after a warning from Louis le Grange, the minister of law and order, that the African National Congress was actively recruiting whites for its political and military wings. Le Grange described the recruiting of whites as another escalation in “the ANC’s campaign of terror.”

A Belgian woman, Helene Passtoors, 44, was sentenced to 10 years for smuggling arms and explosives into the country for the guerrillas and helping select targets for their attacks. A 21-year-old man, Eric Pelser, was sentenced to seven years after admitting that he was trained as a guerrilla in the African National Congress military wing, Spear of the Nation.


The third defendant, Stephen Marais, 29, a former rural development worker, was sentenced last week to 10 years for smuggling into South Africa the explosives that Sparg planted. Marais is also implicated in the case of a schoolteacher, also white, who has not yet been brought to trial.

Sparg said in a sworn statement that she joined the African National Congress in 1981, underwent military training in Angola and worked on a magazine published by the women’s wing of the group. She said she then volunteered to join a “special operations unit” of the Spear of the Nation and returned to South Africa under a false name.

Acting on the group’s instructions, she planted bombs in three police stations, one in East London and two in Johannesburg, early this year, she said. Two of the bombs caused extensive damage but no serious injuries, and the third was found and detonated safely by the police.

“There really is no going back for me,” she said in the letter to her parents, which was written shortly before she planted the Johannesburg bombs. “Neither can I stand still. We can only move forward now. If it means my life, I’m quite prepared. In fact, I’ll be proud to be counted amongst those who fought and died for this country and people.

“This is probably sounding very romantic and reckless. But then it is very difficult to put down in words the simple yet profound principles of one’s life.”

The depth of Sparg’s commitment to the anti-apartheid movement was evident from the letter, in which she asked her parents for their understanding but recognized that they would still disapprove of her willingness to use violence in that effort.


“Quite simply, there is no other life for me except the one I’m living,” she said. “I hope that one day, if time is kind, you will be able to understand and be proud.”

What had turned her into a radical from a white liberal who believed that political, economic and social changes could come through gradual reforms, she said, was her daily experience of apartheid, what she saw all around her, the suffering it caused for blacks--and the commitment of those she met in the anti-apartheid movement.

“I do get very bitter and angry still,” she told her parents, “but what these last years have given me is confidence and hope--the knowledge that we will win. This government knows it, too. They are only prolonging the agony for all, black and white.

“It is the people who give me hope. . . . I have been able to discover what real friendship and love and trust are all about. I know our future is safe in their hands.”