Following British victory in the South African War, the Union of South Africa was forged in 1910 under the British Commonwealth. The Union brought together the defeated independent Boer republics and British colonies. For the most part during the development of this Union, the government was in the hands of the pro British South Africa Party and United Party, which were led by Prime Minister Louis Botha and later Prime Minister Jan Smuts. The Afrikaner National Party held power at some point (1925 - 1934), but it was largely managed by entering into a coalition with the Labour Party first and later the Unionist Party and South Africa Party. As a result of these coalitions, the party was not strong enough to unilaterally pursue its domestic and foreign policies.
While the presence of MK has been covered in detail in some countries (eg Angola and Lesotho), SAHO is currently developing material on those African countries that have not been covered.
The growth of Afrikaner nationalism reached its momentum after the Second World War. This was shown during the Second World War when Afrikaner people were split between the pro-German and pro-British lobby. The National Party (NP) as a representative of the pro-German lobby was displeased with fighting on the side of what they thought of as a British war of imperialism. During both wars, the Afrikaner people and NP attempted to prevent the Union from supporting the British, but these attempts failed. In 1948, shortly after the war, the NP won the national election with a strong majority compared to previous years. The NP was an overtly racist party committed to a policy of separate development which would further entrench legislated segregation based on race.
This became evident in the 1950s as the government passing a series of legislation that divided people based on race. For instance, the passing of the Suppression of Communism Act, Act, the Population Registration Act, the Groups Areas Act, the Immorality Amendment Act, the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, Separate Representation of Voters Act among others. The government’s determination to enforce apartheid despite criticism from the Commonwealth of Nations led to the NP’s unilateral declaration of independence from Britain and pulling out of the Commonwealth in 1961.
The liberation movement and exile
These political transformations had a tremendous impact on South Africa’s liberation movements. The African National Congress, (ANC) South African Communist Party (SACP), the Indian Congress, and other parties began to seek alternative ways of fighting apartheid with increased determination. Initially, South African liberation movements were committed to a policy of non-violence and constructive engagement with the government. The increasing use of security forces to brutally suppress resistance and torture those fought against the government’s racially biased polices convinced the ANC that military option could succeed where non-violence had failed. Consequently, the armed wing of the ANC uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) was formed in 1961 jointly by the ANC and SACP to spearhead the armed struggle.
A positive development for the ANC was an increasing tide of Independent African states in the 1960s. Coupled with the growing influence of Pan Africanism and African nationalism in the foreign policy of these states. Most of them were committed to the liberation of Africa as a whole from colonial rule and apartheid. Thus, they supported the liberation struggle through the institutions such as the Organisation of African Unity. The ANC was supported by a number of African states which hosted ANC leaders fleeing from increasing repression by the Apartheid state. In some countries they were allowed to stay as refuges but not allowed to establish military bases while in others they could establish military training camps. From these countries MK operated and co-ordinated the liberation struggle abroad and in South Africa.
Though committed to the principle of supporting liberation movements in African colonies, efforts of some African countries were limited by their economic weakness and dependence on their former colonial masters. Aware of this weakness, South Africa adopted what it called a ‘new policy’ to entice African states into closer co-operation and friendly relations with her in return for financial aid, mainly in the form of technical aid. This was on condition that they did not support the ANC and MK activities within their borders. In instances where the desired outcomes by the South African government were not met, a deliberate policy of aggression was adopted. For instance the South African government embarked a deliberate policy of destabilisation by funding armed groups and assassination of political activists. Neighbouring countries like Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland were especially vulnerable.
Despite these threats these countries and others such as Tanzania, Angola, Zambia and Zimbabwe played an important role in supporting the South African liberation struggle. Furthermore, the MK campaign abroad extended to other countries in Europe and the Soviet Union where MK cadres received military training. This feature will examine in detail MK activities in a number of African countries, and briefly the international support from non African countries.
Bechuanaland (now Botswana) was declared a British Protectorate by a decree in March 1885 and incorporated into the British Colony encompassing South Africa. Under British rule several attempts were made to merge Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), but they were all unsuccessful. Later, when the South African Union was established in 1910 – three protectorates, Bechuanaland, Swaziland and Basotholand – were established and excluded from the Union. It was envisaged that they would be incorporated later when a ‘proper’ native policy was approved by the British government. This was vehemently opposed by the traditional leaders who sought to preserve their influence rather than cede it to the colonial government. Consequently, Bechuanaland remained under the administration of the British government until its independence.
In the 1930s local chiefs began demanding self-government and more independence from the British government. The latter rejected these demands, arguing that the Batswana were not yet ready for self-government. The desire for independence manifested itself in the formation of independent African churches and schools. In 1959 the Federal Party (FP), the first African political party in Botswana was formed by Leetile Disang Raditladi, a playwright and poet.
As the process of decolonisation across the African continent began in the 1950s, Britain felt the pressure to relinquish control of its African colonies. In 1961 a new constitution which provided for an advisory Executive Council, a representative Legislative Council and an Advisory African Council was inaugurated. The council was heavily in favour of preserving white minority rule as out of the 34 members of the Legislative Council, only 10 were Batswana. Around this period, the short-lived FP was succeeded by the Bechuanaland Peoples Party (BPP) under the leadership of Dr Kgalemang Motsete, with Motsamai Mpho as the secretary general. Mpho was a treason trialist in South Africa before moving back to Botswana. Now the BPP began demanding full independence from Britain.
In 1962 the Bechuanaland Democratic Party (BDP) was founded by Seretse Khama, a chief of the Ngwato ethnic group. In March 1965, the BDP won the country’s first general elections and Seretse Khama became prime minister. However, it was not until 30 September 1966 that the government of Botswana gained independence from Britain. After independence, Khama became the country’s first president. He was re-elected for another term in 1969 after his party won the elections that year.
Surrounded by a hostile enemy
The president of Botswana, Seretse Khama, was acutely aware of his country’s weakness in the context of cold war politics, as well as the moral imperative to support South Africa’s liberation from white minority rule. Compared to Lesotho and Swaziland, the government of Botswana was very vocal about its opposition to apartheid. Moreover, the country’s relationship with the government of South Africa was, for the most part, characterised by tension.
At independence, Botswana was surrounded by two hostile states under minority rule. South Africa was in the south and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the east. In the west and north it was bordered by South West Africa (now Namibia) mandated to South Africa under the mandate system introduced by Jan Smuts after the First World War.
Border disputes saw tensions rising with regard to the point at which the three countries bordered each other. South Africa and Rhodesia claimed that the crossing provided no room for the construction of a bridge or road without altering the borders of the other states. In short, they claimed that Botswana was completely surrounded by South Africa and Rhodesia. Botswana’s economic weakness and lack of a professional military to protect her territorial integrity or deter any attack from these two giants of southern Africa ensured that Botswana’s opposition to Apartheid was largely vocal. However, the government of Botswana acted as a host to refugees fleeing political violence in South Africa.
A conduit of the ANC and MK to exile, and a refugee hub
Despite its location between hostile neighbours ruled by white minority regimes which acted as a buffer for South Africa against a rising tide of Black Nationalism, Botswana became a preferred point of departure for African National Congress (ANC) and uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) cadres heading to Europe, Tanzania and later Zambia. Botswana functioned as a conduit for operations in South Africa rather than being a site for liberation movements to set up training facilities. The Botswana route for the ANC was established with the efforts of Fish Keitsing, a citizen of Botswana who left his country to work in South Africa. He later joined the African Mineworkers Union (AMU) and the ANC in 1949, becoming a branch leader for the Newclare Branch. Subsequently, he was arrested and charged with treason in the 1956 Treason Trial. As a result, he was deported back to Botswana and asked by Walter Sisulu to set up safe houses in the Lobatse area.
Between 1960 and 1962, he worked closely with Joe Modise in facilitating the movement of people through Botswana and relaying ANC messages to and from South Africa. With increased repression inside South Africa in 1960, the ANC resolved that Oliver Tambo and Yusuf Dadoo should leave the country. They passed through Botswana, and their brief presence in the country worried the colonial government. For security reasons they were moved from Lobatse to Serowe, where they were hosted by Lenyeletse Sereste, a cousin to Chief Seretse Khama.
After the launch of MK in 1961, Ketsing received a number of people who left the country for military training. In January 1962 Nelson Mandela crossed the border into Bechuanaland and spent a night at Ketsing’s house when his flight to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania was cancelled. Ketisng was joined in his work by Dan Tloome, an ANC member who fled to Botswana in 1963.
Another figure connected with the ANC’s early contact in Botswana was Jonas Dinoue Matlou. He was sent to formally establish an ANC office in Botswana and to work underground in setting up a transit point for ANC members leaving the country for military training. Matlou also worked with other African countries, establishing relationships on behalf of the ANC.
Apart from South Africans fleeing political persecution by the Apartheid government, there were citizens of Botswana who were sympathetic to the cause. For instance, Mike Dingake, Klaas Motshididi, Mack Mosepele and Mpho Motsamai played important roles in assisting recruits to move through Botswana on their way to Tanzania, and later to Zambia. Neil Parsons points out that the ‘pipeline’, a route that took South African refugees northwards across the Zambezi, was initially protected from local police interference – probably by Britain's secret intelligence service, MI6. The movement of MK recruits from South Africa into Botswana was also facilitated in part by members of the Hurutshe community who had fled to Botswana in the late 1950s – they experienced political persecution by the South African government after refusing to carry passes.
For MK recruits leaving through Botswana for military training, there were mainly three ways to leave. One was using a chartered aircraft which flew out of the country to Tanzania or some other African country, and then proceed to Europe. For instance, when Nelson Mandela left South Africa to moblise support for the armed struggle and military training, he boarded an aircraft which airlifted him from Botswana to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. Billy Modise, who was to board a chartered flight from Botswana to Accra, missed his flight and had to travel by road through Zambia to Tanzania. Similarly, upon their return the planes landed in Botswana and those tasked with infiltrating people back into South Africa would facilitate their safe passage.
Another route which several MK recruits used to exit Botswana for Tanzania was through Southern Rhodesia ((now Zimbabwe) into Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and onto Tanzania. The journey was made in close co-operation with members of the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), a liberation movement fighting against white minority rule in Southern Rhodesia. ZIPRA helped MK cadres to cross into Northern Rhodesia, from where they found their way into Tanzania. The same process was repeated in reverse when trained cadres were returning to South Africa. Thirdly, Kazungula became increasingly important for MK recruits leaving or returning to South Africa. Kazungula lay at the confluence of Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Caprivi Strip of Namibia. It was possible to cross the Zambezi River directly from Botswana into Zambia by boat. A ferry service which carried about 25 people at a time – operated by Nelson Maiblowa, a Zambian national – became an important link for MK in Zambia. Not surprisingly, the ferry was named the ‘Freedom Ferry’. From June 1962, MK guerrillas heading to Tanzania began using this route. For instance, Urea Maleka and Theophilus ‘Ranka’ Cholo took the ‘Freedom Ferry’ from Zambia to Botswana as they attempted to make their way back to South Africa. However, there were some limitations when the ANC attempted to infiltrate guerrillas back to South Africa, as the move put the Botswana government in a difficult position.
Botswana’s response to MK activities
Pressure applied by South Africa forced Botswana to take action – or at least to be seen to be taking action – against the use of its territory as a transit point by MK guerrillas. Botswana also had to behave in a manner that would not be viewed as detrimental to the struggle in South Africa. In 1967, the MK launched the Wankie campaign to establish communication bridges in South Africa and MK headquarters outside South Africa. A detachment, with Chris Hani as commissar, attempted to cross Rhodesia to reach South Africa. After at least two successful raids on Rhodesian and South African forces, the detachment was finally forced to retreat. On their retreat to Zambia they attempted to cross to Zambia via Botswana, where they were promptly arrested and taken to Francistown for interrogation. The arrest of this detachment was a result of pressure on the government of Botswana from South Africa, Rhodesia, and the British government. The Botswana paramilitary unit that arrested the group was under the command of a British commander. The government of Botswana took these measures to avoid reprisals from the two governments. President Sir Seretse Khama said:
[As] a consequence of Botswana’s geographical situation, we face unusual and onerous handicaps”¦ Whilst Botswana accepts that we are part of the Southern African economic complex and that the harsh fact of history and geography cannot be obliterated, for obvious reasons, we have to maintain normal friendly relations with South Africa (Niemann 1993).
After a week Hani’s group was charged with entering Botswana illegally, with importing and being in possession of arms. Hani was sentenced to six years in jail while other members received prison terms ranging from three to nine years. The imprisonment of MK fighters in Botswana led to an uneasy relationship between the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and Botswana. The latter demanded assurances from the former that its territory would not be used as a springboard by guerrillas going into South Africa. In March 1968 the OAU sent five of its representatives to Botswana to talk to the imprisoned guerrillas and compile a report. The committee recommended that the OAU council of ministers should appeal to the government of Botswana to release the guerrillas. With mounting pressure from the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the OAU, the guerrillas were released and deported to Zambia.
After 1969, a more assertive Botswana offered more open moral support for liberation movements. However, the position of Botswana remained precarious, while it supported the liberation struggle by providing refuge for political activists, it refused to allow its territory to be used as a base for military training for all the liberation movements. Botswana maintained its policy of prohibiting the ANC or any other liberation movement from launching military operation against South Africa from its territory.
With the explosion of student unrest inside South Africa in June 1976 and the heavy-handed response by the government, hundreds, and later thousands, of students went into exile in Botswana. While some left the country and proceeded to join liberation movements such as the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in Tanzania or Zambia, others stayed behind. Consequently, Dukwi refugee camp was established to house refugees.
Response of the Apartheid government
Paul Spray noted that South Africa put ‘Botswana under increasing pressure to try to force it to do four things: stop making anti-apartheid statements, recognise the Bantustans, expel South African refugees and sign a non-aggression pact’. This was done largely through measures such as economically squeezing Botswana, conducting raids and targeted assassinations of political opponents.
As a landlocked country Botswana relied on importing its goods through the railway line which was connected to South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. It also had agreements with South Africa regarding customs tariffs, and a number of its people worked on mines in South Africa. South Africa used the railway as a bargaining chip to apply pressure on Botswana and force it to accede to its demands. South Africa was able to squeeze Botswana economically. When Botswana made pronouncements against the Apartheid government in the OAU and United Nations, ‘South Africa conveniently failed to send refrigerator wagons to the abattoir for a few days’. In December 1980 and January 1981 oil deliveries which came through South Africa were disrupted, leading to severe shortages in Botswana during the festive season. There were more disruptions in February, April and August 1981. In response, Botswana built tanks capable of holding oil supplies for up to three months.
The second pressure point, aimed at forcing Botswana to recognise Bantustans in South Africa, was a proposal to produce soda ash from a salt lake in Botswana. South Africa was identified as a market as it imported all of Botswana’s soda ash. A company linked to Anglo stepped in, and proposed to make synthetic soda (which was much more expensive), thus effectively sabotaging the proposed agreement. When Botswana objected, the South African government put forward the recognition and inclusion of Bantustans in the customs union as a requirement. In 1984 the apartheid government said ‘the project could only go ahead if Botswana signed an Nkomati-type of agreement’, referring to the non-aggression pact signed with Mozambique.
Cross border raids and assassination of activists
Between 1981 and 1982, border incidents involving the South African Defence (SADF) surfaced. Troops on the Namibian side, particularly on the Caprivi Strip, shot at Botswana Defence Force members and game rangers. Furthermore, South African planes made illegal flights over Botswana territory to the Caprivi Strip and Angola. Tensions rose when, on 11 December 1982, Botswana shot down a civilian plane captained by an SADF member.
On 6 February 1982 Peter Lengene, a student leader from the Soweto uprising, who fled to Botswana in 1976, was kidnapped and driven in the boot of a car to South Africa. Then on 22 July 1982 Jacobus Kok, a warrant officer with the South African police, was arrested in Botswana while attempting to bribe a Botswana policeman to give him information about the ANC and PAC. Kok was jailed for two years, but the South African government applied to the Botswana government and Kok was released after spending less than a year in jail. In 1985 South Africa accused Botswana of allowing ANC guerrillas on its territory. Pik Botha, the Foreign Minister, threatened to pursue ‘terrorists’ into Botswana. On 13 February 1985 a bomb exploded and nearly destroyed the house of Nat Serache, a former Daily Mail journalist who fled to Botswana in 1976. On 14 May a car bomb exploded, killing Vernon Nkadimeng, the son of the secretary general of SACTU, the outlawed South African union federation.
The Gaborone Raid
The most brazen South African attack on Botswana, codenamed Operation Plecksy, was carried out on 14 June 1985. On the day, about 50 members of the SADF crossed into Botswana near the Tlokweng border post in 18 vehicles fitted with fake Botswana government licence number plates. Their aim was to destroy eight houses and two offices 12 kilometres from the border, which they claimed were being used as by the ANC for planning ‘terrorist’ attacks on South Africa. The SADF mobilised further troops and stationed about 50 to 60 tanks, helicopters and jet fighters at Zeerust in the event that Botswana retaliated. In order to sabotage communications between BDF units, the SADF cut telephone lines and sprinkled spikes on the road to prevent vehicles from pursuing them. Four houses were destroyed and another four were damaged by SADF mortars and machine guns.
During the raid, 12 people were killed and six others were injured. Nine of those killed were South African refugees, including three women and a six-year-old child. Two Batswana citizens and a Somali refugee were also killed. Relations between South Africa and Botswana deteriorated after the Gaborone raid. The United Nations unanimously passed a resolution condemning the attack and ordered South Africa to pay reparations – the South African government never paid despite the UN’s assessment of the damage and cost. The SADF claimed to have seized arms, documents and a computer, presumably used by the ANC.
The Mogodisane and Phiring raids
Putting further strain on the relationship, South African security forces launched an attack in Mogodisane, located just outside Gaborone, on 19 May 1986.
The SADF used spotter planes – which scattered anti- ANC literature – and eight helicopters, in an act of open aggression. The SADF fired on the BDF barracks and the latter returned fire in the direction of the aircraft. One person was killed and three were wounded. This attack differed from the 1985 operation in that it was carried out as part of simultaneous raids by the SADF in Zambia and Zimbabwe. At the UN, a veto by the US and Britain prevented the Security Council from adopting a resolution condemning South Africa’s invasion.
South Africa mounted another raid by SADF Special Forces on 28 March 1988 at a house in Phiring, near Gaborone. The primary target of the operation was Patrick Sandile Vundla (alias Godfrey Mokoena). Four people were killed in the raid, three Batswana citizens and one South African refugee.
Despite this harassment by the South Africa government, Botswana continued to host refugees fleeing political violence and persecution in South Africa.
Dale, R, (1995), Botswana's search for autonomy in southern Africa, (Greenwood Press), pp.56-58
Ndlovu, S.M, ‘The ANC’ in Exile 1960-1970, in The Road to Democracy In South Africa, Volume 1, 1960-1970, pp.411-417
Ralinala, R.M, Sithole, J., Houston, G and Magubane B., 'The Wankie and Sipolilo Campaigns' in The Road to Democracy in South Africa, Volume 1, (1960-1970), pp. 529-532.
SellstrÁ¶m, T, (2002), Sweden and National Liberation in Southern Africa: Solidarity and Assistance in Southern Africa, Volume II, Solidarity and Assistance 1970-1994, (Stockholm), p.415
Judith B. Hecker, J.B, (2011), Impressions from South Africa, 1965 to Now: Prints from the Museum of Modern Art, p.83
Parsons, N, ‘The pipeline: Botswana’s reception of refugees, 1956–68’ in Social Dynamics, Volume 34, Issue 1, (2008), pp. 17-32.
Dale, R, The politics of national security in Botswana: 1900–1990, in the Journal of Contemporary African Studies, Volume 12, Issue 1, 1993, pp.40-56.
SAPA, (2000), Amnesty seeker tells of SADF raid on Gaborone, from the Independent Online, November 20, [online] Available at www.iol.co.za [Accessed 16 November 2012]
History of Democracy, Struggle for Independence, from the Embassy of the Republic of Botswana, November 20, [online] Available at www.botswanaembassy.org [Accessed 16 November 2012]
Botswana profile, from the BBC, [online] Available at www.bbc.co.uk [Accessed 16 November 2012]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ae09yy5R91E&feature=relmfu Watch the TRC Report on the Botswana Raids
When the South African Union was established in 1910, three protectorates were established and excluded from the Union. These were Bechuanaland, Swaziland and Basotholand. It was envisaged that they would be incorporated later when a ‘proper’ native policy was approved by the British government.
Lesotho formed various political parties in the 1950s who clamoured for independence from Britain. The Basotholand African Congress (BAC) was formed in 1952, but in 1959 the party changed its name to the Basotho Congress Party (BCP), led by Ntsu Mokhehle. The Christian Democratic Party (CDP), which later changed its name to the Basotho National Party (BNP), was formed in 1958 with Chief Jonathan Lebua as the leader. The Marematlou Freedom Party (MFP) was formed in 1963 by Chief Matete. All these political parties agitated for independence with differing aims and approaches in how to attain independence. On 29 April 1965 a pre-independence election was held in which all the major political parties participated and which the BNP under Jonathan Lebua won. Lebua then entered the Legislative Council as a nominated member. Faced with growing agitation for independence, on 4 October 1966 Britain granted independence to the protectorate of Lesotho with Leabua as the country's first Prime Minister. In contrast with Botswana and Swaziland, Lesotho is landlocked and its territorial borders are surrounded by South Africa.
After Lesotho gained independence, the government of Lebua initially allied itself with the apartheid government, to the extent that some members of South Africa’s National Party (NP) took up positions in the newly elected government. This was presumably to assist the new government in building administrative capacity to run a new country. It was only after the apartheid government raised security concerns that travel documents were required. Relations between the two countries changed over time and became confrontational as Lesotho began accommodating people fleeing political persecution in South Africa.
Early links between the ANC and Lesotho
The relationship between the African National Congress (ANC) and the people of Lesotho dates back to the formation of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) in 1912. At the congress Chief Letsie II was unanimously elected ‘Leader of the Nobles’ for the Upper House in which ‘Princes of African blood’ were to hold seats for life. Paramount Basotho Chief Letsie continued to be represented by Chief Maama, his personal secretary Phillip Modise, and various followers at SANNC meetings. After the congress was formally established, a special committee was established to look into the constitution and office bearers included three members from Lesotho, among others. Chief Letsie and a number of people from Lesotho attended a caucus meeting in Johannesburg to set a date for the first congress meeting and to consider the draft constitution.
MK, the ANC and Lesotho
The political activities of the ANC inside South Africa had an impact on political developments in Lesotho and this laid the foundation for future relationships. For instance, the founder of the Basotho African Congress in Lesotho was Ntsu Mokhehle, who studied at the University of Fort Hare in the 1950s. He was a former member of the ANC Youth League. It was after the formation of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) that Mokhehle switched his support from the ANC to the PAC. In the late 1950s Joe Mathews, a member of the ANC and South African Communist Party (SACP), fled political persecution in South Africa and went to Lesotho. Once there he became involved in politics and supported Mokhehle. He was opposed to Mokhehle severing ties from the ANC, and advised him against it. In 1960 Mathews was instrumental in establishing the Communist Party of Lesotho (CPL), which had close links with the SACP and the ANC.
After the banning of the ANC in South Africa in 1960, the party moved to establish structures outside the country. Some of its members, together with those of the PAC, fled the heavy handed state crackdown on political activists and went to Lesotho. Thus, the presence of the ANC in Lesotho dates back to the early 1960s, albeit a small number at the time. ANC members based in Lesotho in the 1960s included Ezra Sigwela, Khalaki Sello, Robert Matji, Khalaki Sello and Joe Mathews. Matji became a key organiser of the ANC and its armed wing Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) in Lesotho. One of his tasks was to receive arrivals and assist them in settling down in Lesotho. The early MK structure in Lesotho was headed by Matji and Sello. Mathews became an important figure in that he was responsible for channelling to Bram Fischer money raised by the SACP in the United Kingdom (UK) for MK activities. Once the money was received, he passed it on to Dr Letele, who in turn gave it to Fischer’s contacts sent across the border into Lesotho to receive the money. The money was then used to fund MK activities in the country. However, the number of ANC members in Lesotho in the 1960s was small compared to the period after the mid-1970s. Thus, MK military activities also inside South Africa were limited. This was partly due to the influence of the apartheid government on Lebua’s government, which was compelled to impose restrictions on the entry of South African refugees into Lesotho until 1973.
This changed dramatically in the mid 1970s as the relationship between Lebua’s government and the South African government soured. Large numbers of ANC members were then able to take refuge in Lesotho. Senior figures in the MK underground moved to Lesotho in order to reorganize and consolidate the activities of the movement. Chris Hani arrived in Lesotho in 1974 and connected with his father who had been banished from South Africa. Hani was introduced by his father to the underground network and members of the Lesotho government sympathetic to the ANC cause. Hani worked with Lambert Moloi to build underground units, linking them to units based in the Eastern Cape, particularly the Transkei and the Border regions. In the 1980s the Transkei, which shared a common border with Lesotho, became an important infiltration route for guerrillas.
Those recruited were trained in intelligence, politics and guerrilla tactics. ANC members sneaked into Lesotho at night to hold meetings and crossed back into South Africa the next morning through secret channels.
The initial relationship between the Lesotho government and the ANC was ambivalent. Despite turning a blind eye to the activities of the ANC in the country, at times MK members were detained. For instance, Hani and Moloi were detained by Lesotho’s authorities and only released after the intervention of Oliver Tambo. In 1976 the presence of the ANC was officially accepted in Lesotho and that same year Hani was appointed as the ANC’s chief representative in the country.
The outbreak of the Student uprising in June 1976 and the heavy handed response by the South African government forced hundreds of youth to flee into exile in Lesotho. Many of them joined the ANC and went for military training under the MK. Thabang Sampson Phathakge Makwetla, a member of the South African Student's Movement (SASM) who fled into exile in 1976, joined MK after his arrival, and also continued his studies, matriculating from Mmabathoana High School in Maseru in 1977. Some student arrivals enrolled at university and schools. Within the university campus those students aligned to the ANC became active in building underground ANC structures. By 1979, Hani claimed that the ANC had 200 members and 800 sympathisers inside Lesotho. Not all students fleeing the aftermath of the 1976 uprisings joined the ANC; some joined the PAC and others remained members of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM).
Lesotho’s accommodation of refugees in the country further increased tensions between the South Africa and Lesotho. The Lesotho government made special provision for the education of all young South African refugee in schools within its borders. Furthermore 25% of scholarships from the Lesotho Government’s coffers were offered to South African refugees for university education. Lesotho also provided a safe passage for refugees leaving the country. On 6 January 1978, Donald James Woods, editor of the banned Daily Dispatch, a newspaper based in East London, fled South Africa via Lesotho and Botswana to the UK after being harassed by the security police.
The ANC developed a network of safe houses and places of contact with cadres in country. MK recruits were trained in political organisation before they were given basic military training in intelligence and guerrilla warfare. In the early 1980s MK mounted numerous attacks in South Africa from neighbouring states such as Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho. The MK leadership in Lesotho directed operations in South Africa. After June 1982, MK units based in Lesotho carried out a number of bombings in Port Elizabeth and East London, inflicting damage to property and injuring people.
On 7 August 1981, members of the Lesotho based unit in Butterworth engaged in a shootout with police, killing two Transkei police officers. As the guerrillas attempted to escape to Lesotho, they ran into a South African Police (SAP) road block near Elliot, where another shootout ensued. Two MK operatives were killed and two SAP officers were injured. Six days later the remaining members of the unit clashed with the police near Aliwal North and were killed. Those killed in the shootouts included Senzangabom Vusumzi ‘George’ Khalipha, Anthony Sureboy Dali, Thabiso Isaac Rakobo, and Joseph Lesetja Sexwale. The remaining member of the group, Mveleli ‘Junior’ Saliwa, was arrested and put on trial. Clashes between the security police and MK were not limited to the Transkei, they also occurred in Qwaqwa, which shared its borders with Lesotho.
Assassinations, Cross-border raids and Abductions
In response to the growing activities of the ANC in South Africa, the apartheid government responded by subjecting exiles to surveillance, assassinating suspected ANC activists, conducting cross-border raids, and arming and supporting the LLA to destabilise Lesotho. In July 1978, six South Africans were seriously injured in Lesotho when one of them opened a parcel bomb disguised as copies of an ANC publication. This was followed by an attack in 1979 when an ANC supporter, Father John Osmers, had an arm blown off by a parcel bomb. In December of the same year, when a plane from Swaziland to Lesotho was forced to land in South Africa due to bad weather, the security police detained an ANC man on the plane. He was eventually released back to Lesotho in May 1980 after lengthy negotiations with the South African government.
In June 1980 the ANC’s Chief Representative Thembisile Chris Hani escaped death when a car bomb was prematurely detonated. In February 1981, a house belonging to Khalaki Sello, a lawyer with connections to the ANC, was damaged in a grenade attack. That same year in June a founder member of COSAS and an ANC activist, Sizwe Kondile from Port Elizabeth, was abducted and killed by members of the Vlakplaas security police unit. Kondile, who worked closely with Chris Hani was arrested in the Free State in June 1981. When the police attempted to turn him into an askari (a police agent) to assassinate Hani, he refused and was killed.
The apartheid government stepped up pressure on Lesotho by conducting more raids into the country. On 9 December 1982, just after midnight, about 100 commandos from South Africa crossed into Lesotho and raided flats and houses in Maseru, killing a total of 42 people, including three children. Thirty of those killed were South Africans and 12 were Lesotho citizens. Some of those killed belonged to the ANC, including Zola Nguini, the party’s representative in the country. Oliver Tambo and Jonathan Lebua attended the funeral of those killed in the raid.
More raids followed. A week after the 9 December raid, during an SADCC meeting in Lesotho, five bombs went off at the Maseru reservoir. On 13 February 1983, one of Maseru’s three main fuel depots was blown up. Towards the end of the 1982, Mobbs Gqirhana, on his way to meet the ANC leadership in Lesotho, disappeared at the Maseru border. He was last seen by Mzimasi “Donald” Gcina, an MK combatant based in Maseru.
By 1982, Hani had become prominent enough in the ANC to be the focus of several assassination attempts, including at least one car bomb. He was transferred from Lesotho to Lusaka in Zambia by the ANC political leadership. The increasing threat posed by South Africa to MK operatives in Lesotho became the subject of the ANC NEC meeting on 25 January 1984 in Lusaka. The NEC resolved to review the party’s activities in Lesotho, especially military activities and the transit of people and material.
On 20 December 1985, the South African security forces carried out a cross-border raid in Lesotho that killed nine people – seven South Africans and two Lesotho nationals. In retaliation, Andrew Zondo and other members of MK placed a bomb in a shopping centre at Amanzimtoti on 23 December 1985. In August 1987 Niclo Pedro, who was carrying a letter to ANC contacts in Lesotho, was arrested and taken to the security branch offices at Culemborg in Cape Town for interrogation.
Sponsoring the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA)
On 27 January 1970 Lesotho held its first post-independence elections, which saw a tight contest for power between the BNP and BCP. The BNP failed to retain its parliamentary majority. Confronted with the prospect of defeat, Lebua and BNP mounted a coup which denied the BCP ascendency to power. Several members of the BCP were detained at the end of January 1970. In 1974 Mokhehle’s party mounted an unsuccessful coup against the BNP and the plotters were forced into exile, where they formed an armed wing known as the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA). The PAC, which was sympathetic to the BCP, offered its facilities for guerrilla training. BCP recruits were to pretend to be PAC recruits, and then they would be given weapons by the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) which they would use in Lesotho. From 1974 APLA and LLA recruits were sent to Libya for military training.
The government of Chief Jonathan Lebua repeatedly criticised the South African Government’s policy of apartheid and Lebua declared his support for the African National Congress (ANC), which was banned in South Africa. This irked the apartheid government, who viewed the formation of the LLA as an opportunity to destabilise Lesotho and force members of the ANC and PAC to leave Lesotho. With the assistance of the apartheid government, the LLA launched a number of raids into Lesotho from May 1979 to 1985, attacking key installations in the country. On 19 August 1981 Lesotho Foreign Minister Mooki Molapo stated that at a meeting in Cape Town the South African government promised that there would be no LLA activities inside Lesotho if the government removed all the refugees. PW Botha reportedly stated: “If you want to do something about the LLA camps, you must do something about the ANC.” South Africa offered to hand over LLA leader Mokhehle to the Lesotho government in exchange for ANC representative Chris Hani.
On 20 December 1985 members of the LLA, working closely with the SADF, carried out an attack which killed five South Africans and three Lesotho nationals. While the LLA claimed responsibility, the government of Lesotho blamed Pretoria. It alleged that South Africa was allowing the LLA to use its territory as a base for launching attacks on its capital, Maseru. Ntsu Mokhehle, the leader of the BCP and LLA, remained in South Africa under the protection of the apartheid government. Former Vlakplaas security police member Joe Mamasela testified that Mokhehle was living at Vlakplaas, where he was supplied with arms. Among some of the targets of the LLA was the Leribe Airport, leading politicians, and the USA Cultural Centre. The LLA also established a command in QwaQwa, where it received support from the South African government and security forces.
Economic strangulation of Lesotho
In addition to the military raids into Lesotho, the apartheid government attempted to economically strangle Lesotho. The move was aimed at forcing Lesotho to sign a non-aggression pact with South Africa – just as Swaziland had done in 1982. In October 1982, the South African government had refused to allow the transport of British aircraft tyres and small arms into Lesotho, leaving them stranded in Durban and Johannesburg. Furthermore, an Italian helicopter destined for Lesotho was held by South African authorities. To further cripple Lesotho, South Africa refused to transport a donation of crude oil which was refined in Maputo.
In 1983 the government of Lesotho complained of border disruptions which began in May 1983 and continued throughout the year. This was followed by another threat in 1984 when South Africa threatened to expel Lesotho miners at its borders and impose severe border restrictions that would strangle the entire country. There were also deliberate about delays in customs union payments by the South African government. At times the disruptions were so severe that they caused shortages of basic foodstuffs such as milk and meat in Maseru.
When the Lesotho government demanded that these issues be addressed, the South African government put conditions such as the demand for Lesotho to expel three thousand South African refugees at its borders. South Africa halted talks regarding the Highlands Water Project and resumed support for the LLA. When Lesotho threatened to take South Africa to the United Nations (UN), SA Foreign Minister Pik Botha was forced to negotiate. South Africa agreed to stop its economic stranglehold of Lesotho if the country abandoned its threat to take South Africa to the UN and allowed ANC members to voluntarily leave the country.
On 1 January 1986 South Africa imposed a border blockade on Lesotho which resulted in the shortage of food and basic supplies. The blockade was followed by a military coup led by Major General Justin Metsing Lekhanya on 20 January 1986, in which Lebua was overthrown. Lekhanya announced that all executive and legislative powers would be vested in the king, who would rule through a six-man military council chaired by Lekhanya. There was widespread suspicion about the military government and its links to the apartheid government. Pretoria demanded the removal of the ANC from Lesotho as a condition for opening the borders. A week after the coup, on 25 January, about 60 ANC members and sympathisers were flown out of Lesotho to Zambia. Among those expelled were leading members of the ANC’s intelligence unit, who South Africa regarded as critical for the party’s Lesotho-based activities. On the day the ANC members were deported from Lesotho, South Africa lifted its border blockade on the country. Not all members of the ANC left Lesotho; some members of the Regional Political Military Council (RPMC) such as Tony Yengeni and Wabert Gaba remained, but were later arrested in South Africa.
Despite Lesotho’s economic dependence on South Africa, Jonathan Lebua repeatedly criticised the South African Government’s policy of apartheid and declared his support for the prohibited ANC. He called for international sanctions and established relations with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China. His stance put him on a collision course with South Africa.
While MK in Lesotho began as a small group, it grew over time, largely due to factors within South Africa. The harassment of political activists in the 1960s and 1970s drove people across the border into Lesotho. They joined the ANC and other liberation movements, creating a pool of foot soldiers who then launched attacks inside South Africa. Areas that shared borders with Lesotho, such as the Transkei and Qwaqwa, became sites of infiltration and clashes between the police and MK operatives.
Lesotho’s continued accommodation of the ANC and other liberation movement organisations and its policy of non-co-operation with South Africa were viewed as a threat by the apartheid regime. It is evident that South Africa used various means to pressure Lesotho into expelling political activists, but when this did not happen, Pretoria resorted to economic sabotage, military raids and used the LLA to destabilise Lesotho.
In honouring Jonathan Lebua in 2004 with the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo in Gold, the ANC-led government described him as “a good and true comrade of liberation movements, including the ANC, PAC, FRELIMO etc, despite the risks to his own government and life”.
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SellstrÁ¶m T, (2002), Sweden and national liberation in Southern Africa: Solidarity and Assistance 1970 to 1994, Volume 2, pp. 660-673
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Medard Rwelamira, (1990), Refugees in a chess game: reflections on Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, (Motala), pp.33-36
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The relationship between the African National Congress (ANC) and Swaziland dates back to the formation of the SANNC in 1912. Swazi queen regent Labotsibeni and crown prince Sobhuza, who became King Sobhuza II in 1921, financed the Abantu Batho newspaper, a mouthpiece of the SANNC. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Swazis were involved in ICU and ANC activities, particularly in the Transvaal. For instance, Richard W Msimang, who grew up in Swaziland, and Benjamin Nxumalo, a relative of King Sobhuza II, were involved with the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) later renamed the ANC. Nxumalo served as Swaziland's representative on the committee that wrote the SANNC (later ANC) constitution of 1919. He later formed a Swaziland branch of the ANC in Sobhuza’s house in Sophiatown.
From the early 1900s there were moves to incorporate Swaziland, Lesotho and Botswana (the three British Protectorates) into South Africa. When South Africa imposed apartheid and pulled out of the Commonwealth in 1961, the idea of incorporation was abandoned. Swaziland was briefly granted limited self-rule by the British government before the passing of the Swaziland Independence Act in 1968. After this, on 6 September 1968 Swaziland became an independent country with a constitutional monarchy under King Sobhuza II. The strategic location of Swaziland in relation to South Africa, particularly Natal, and its proximity to Johannesburg and Pretoria, made Swaziland a haven for members of South African liberation movements facing violent repression in their country. Significantly, in late 1968 the South African government amended the South African Police Act to allow members of the police force to operate in other countries, and government spies and informants began operating in Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho and other countries.
The Establishment of MK in Swaziland
Thula Simpson, whose work focused on the ANC in Swaziland between 1960 and 1979, notes that South African refugees began arriving in Swaziland in significant numbers in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This development was due to increasing repression in South Africa as the apartheid government began to pass and vigorously enforce repressive legislation. By the mid-1960s there were a number of ANC and MK activists in Swaziland. By the time Stanley Mabizela arrived in Swaziland in 1965, Joseph Nduli, Ablon ‘Bafana’ Duma and Albert Dhlomo were already based there. Their task was to develop underground structures of MK cells by recruiting South African refugees in Swaziland. They worked with people inside South Africa, particularly in Natal, to facilitate movement across the two countries for MK assignments. Recruitment was not an easy task as some of the people were not politically active, enjoying a relatively comfortable life as middle class income earners – British policy sought to incorporate refugees into Swazi society by allowing them to work and settle there.
In the period around 1974 and 1975 the ANC embarked on a process to rebuild its structures in Swaziland. In December 1974, Thabo Mbeki and Maxwell Sisulu arrived in Swaziland and were tasked with improving relations with the Swazi monarchy and recruiting refugees for the movement. At a meeting in September 1975 the ANC’s Thabo Mbeki and Oliver Tambo met with King Sobhuza II. Later, Jacob Zuma, John Nkadimeng and Martin Ramokgadi also spent time in Swaziland to establish an MK military network. Zuma was involved particularly in forging links between Natal and Swaziland, while Nkadimeng and Ramokgadi worked on links to the Transvaal. Safe-houses for MK recruits in transit were also established in various areas of Manzini.
When Mozambique gained independence in 1975 the number of MK cadres passing through Swaziland to Mozambique and then to other countries increased. Swaziland was used as transit point for MK recruits on their way to military training in other African countries, and in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In 1977 the ANC used properties in Ngwane Park in Manzini, Swaziland, to assist with the processing of refugees who wanted to join its ranks. At these recruitment centres, potential recruits were instructed to write their biographies, state the reasons why they wanted to join the ANC, and describe how they ended up in Swaziland. They were then taken to Maputo, where they were vetted by the ANC’s security apparatus.
King Sobhuza II was initially sympathetic to the ANC and generally turned a blind eye to its activities, but as MK began using Swaziland as a transit point for weapons headed for South Africa, there was a change of attitude. A number of raids were conducted by the Swazis, resulting in the confiscation of ANC weapons in transit. According to Simpson, serious problems arose when two groups of recruits reported to the Swazi police who in turn informed the South African government.
The information provided resulted in the capture of Samson Lukhele, “a taxi operator who worked for the ANC as a courier shuttling letters, money and recruits between Natal and Swaziland”. It was the information supplied by Lukhele that led to the arrest on 18 March 1976 of Joseph Mdluli, a key figure in the ANC underground in the Durban area. That same month two other people, Joseph “Mpisi” Nduli and Cleophas Ndlovu were kidnapped by South African security forces near the Swaziland border in a trap set by the latter and Lukhele under the pretext of bringing recruits. Furthermore, Dhlomo, Mbeki and Zuma were arrested by the Swazi police and detained at Mbabane maximum security prison. They were nearly deported to South Africa, but Stanley Mabizela, Moses Mabhida and Thomas Nkobi managed to secure their release. They were subsequently deported to Mozambique.
On 17 February 1982 King Sobhuza II signed a secret agreement with South Africa. The pact bound both parties not to allow “any act which involves a threat or use of force against each other’s territory” and called for “action individually or collectively as may be deemed necessary or expedient to eliminate this evil”. After the agreement was signed, Stanley Mabizela, the ANC’s representative in Swaziland, was forced to leave the country. The death of King Sobhuza II in August 1982 worsened the position of the ANC in Swaziland as the country terminated the historical and sentimental connections between the Swazi monarchy and the ANC. The signing of the agreement was taken as a licence by Pretoria to deal with ANC activists in Swaziland in any way they wanted. In addition, the Swaziland security establishment mounted a sustained propaganda campaign and arrested many activists, particularly in the 1980s.
MK Missions launched from Swaziland
Elias Mabizela points out that the gunning down of Detective Sergeant Chapi Hlubi, a notorious police officer in Soweto, in January 1978, marked the beginning of an escalation of MK attacks inside South Africa. Hlubi was fingered as one of the black policeman who opened fire on protesting students in the 1976 uprising. In commemoration of Isandlwana, 1979 was declared the ‘Year of the Spear’ by the ANC, and 1980 was declared the ‘Year of the Charter’ to mark 25 years of the Freedom Charter. Both years were geared towards building morale for increased ANC activity inside South Africa, with Swaziland playing an important role as a transit point for MK cadres moving in and out of South Africa. Cadres were infiltrated into the Transvaal via the Jeppe’s Reef and the Oshoek border posts. MK used the Golela and Pongola border posts to link up with Natal underground machinery.
In 1980, MK carried out a sabotage attack on the Sasol 1 plant. They also attacked the Voortrekker military base in 1981, the Tonga outpost in 1982, and set off bombs in Hectorspruit in 1982 and Pretoria in 1983. All these were launched by MK operatives using Swaziland either as a base or a transit point.
Perhaps one of the most important areas from which MK launched operations was Ingwavuma in KwaZulu Natal, a town located less than five kilometres from the border with Swaziland. MK cadres, particularly those based in Natal, used the town as a transit point for guerrillas infiltrating into South Africa from Swaziland and Mozambique. Once in town, they stayed underground in safe-houses to avoid detection. Among those who played an important role in using the town was Jameson Nongolozi Mngomezulu, an active ANC and MK member born in Ingwavuma. After joining MK, he was deployed in Swaziland as a base commander and became central in facilitating the movement of cadres between Swaziland and Natal. When threats to his life escalated he fled to Swaziland.
Mngomezulu’s sister, Nokuhamba Nyawo, was also an important player. After being recruited to MK she gathered intelligence and provided supplies to MK operatives moving through the area. Nyawo would receive guerrillas passing through the area and help them skip the border into SwaziÂland. As Jacob Zuma noted: ‘Through her efforts and those of many people from Ingwavuma, the MK secured a very strategic base and point of entry into the country, easily accessible from both Mozambique and Swaziland.’ Weapon consignments destined for MK in Natal regularly passed through the area, especially in the 1980s.
Jabulani Nobleman Nxumalo was deployed to Swaziland in 1983, disguised as a reporter for the Swaziland Observer under the pseudonym of Jabulani Dlamini. He was detained by the Swazi police and forced to leave the country in 1983, but he returned to Swaziland in December of the same year under a new pseudonym, this time setting in the Shiselweni district in the south of the country. It was from here that Nxumalo crossed the border into KwaZulu-Natal, setting up an MK unit based in Ingwavuma. He served as a commissar for MK based in rural Natal, a move important for the establishment of Operation Vulindlela. In 1984, Nxumalo was once again arrested by the Swazi police and deported to Tanzania. Increased MK military activity in the Ingwavuma area was linked to Operation Ingwavuma, a move by the ANC to establish military bases in the area and politicise the rural population to create a fertile and safe ground for MK missions.
Operation Ingwavuma was conceived and implemented in 1984 by the Natal Regional Command of MK, in conjunction with its substructure known as the Northern Natal Military Command (NNMC). A political commissar was appointed, his job being to work as deputy commander liaising with the chief of staff, chief of intelligence and chief of logistics. Among the leading figures mapping out the operation was Zwelibanzi Nyanda.
The initial phase involved doing groundwork for the creation of guerrilla operational areas in Northern Natal by first politicising the local population. Other preparations included mapping out the terrain, recruiting people and establishing training bases. It was envisaged that recruits would establish mass peasant political organisations and underground units that would be assisted by MK military structures. Trained MK guerrillas were to constitute the core of the structure.
The area of Ingwavuma was chosen because of its strategic importance, as it is situated on the most Northern tip of Natal which borders Swaziland and Mozambique. MK and ANC operatives in Swaziland were a vital link between the movement and the local population. MK sought to take advantage of simmering anti-government discontent among the local population, who were unhappy that the government planned to cede the area of Ingwavuma and the KwaNgwane bantustan to Swaziland. Some of those who opposed the move became sympathetic to MK and joined the organization to undergo military training. Based on this development, MK concluded that it was possible to start a People's War at Ingwavuma.
A two-man reconnaissance team sent to the area for two weeks returned with a negative report about the possibility of establishing bases. Another team, however, compiled a report that encouraged the establishment of bases. Subsequently, two units were established, one named Nozishada and the other Maqendindaba. Both units trained several people from the local population. One MK recruit from the area was captured by the police and leaked information about the existence of MK bases in the area. South African security forces arrived to gather more information and later the KwaZulu police combed the area. One of the comrades, known as Post (possibly Linda Khuzwayo), went to the village and found that the Maqendindaba base was surrounded by SADF troops. He fired his pistol to warn four members of the unit, who escaped through a secret route, but Post was shot and killed. Others were arrested and sentenced to prison terms on Robben Island. Operation Ingwavuma thus proved to be a failure to establish an MK guerrilla force on the ground strong enough to ignite a people’s war.
Response by the South African government
The government responded to the presence of MK in Swaziland by bombing safe-houses, abducting and turning ANC activists into askaris or murdering those who refused to cooperate, and assassinations. Their activities received support from the Swaziland police, who stepped up patrols along the border with South Africa to prevent crossing by the activists. In addition to cooperation from Swaziland, South Africa used Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) operatives to carry out its work. The South African government also continued to pile pressure on the Swazi government to deal with ANC and MK, particularly after the signing of the Nkomati Accord with Mozambique – this because some MK operatives fled to Swaziland from Mozambique.
Abductions, Arrests and Detentions
One of the methods used by the South African government to neutralise MK operatives in Swaziland was abduction. The security branch in Port Natal played a critical role in the abduction, detention and murder of political activists and MK operatives who worked between Swaziland and Natal. Abductions began in the 1960s, but increased in the 1970s and 80s. Simpson notes that ‘the first refugee abducted from Swaziland was Rosemary Ann Wentzel – a Liberal Party member involved in underground work for the African Resistance Movement (ARM) ”¦ on 11 August 1964’.
Joseph Nduli and Cleophas Ndlovu, two MK operatives who carried out ANC underground work in the Greater Durban area, were kidnapped by South African security forces near the Swaziland border in mid-March 1976. Together with Ndlovu, Nduli recruited and facilitated the movement of MK recruits into Swaziland on their way to military training. The pair were taken to Island Rock near Sodwana, where they were interrogated. Ndlovu was assaulted, blindfolded, cuffed and had a rope put round his neck while tied to a tree. The pair were later tried alongside Harry Gwala and nine others in Pietermaritzburg from August 1976 to July 1977. The surgeon, Mr R Denyssen le Roux, filed an affidavit which noted scars on Nduli's forehead, the back of his head, neck, forearms and legs, pointing to signs of torture.
In February 1981 Dhayiah Joe Pillay, a South African refugee working as a teacher at St Joseph’s mission near Manzini, was kidnapped. One of his captors dropped a passport, leading to the arrest of some of Pillay’s kidnappers, who turned out to be members of RENAMO. The South African government intervened and asked the prosecutor not to oppose bail. This resulted in the release of Pillay’s captors and their disappearance. Pillay was released on 10 March 1981.
In December 1982 several ANC activists in Swaziland were rounded up and expelled to Mozambique.
In April 1984, Gaboutwelwe Christopher Mosiane, Vikelisizwe Colin Khumalo, Michael Dauwanga Matikinca, Ernest Nonjawangu and Glorius ‘Glory’ Lefoshie Sedibe (commonly known as the ‘Bhunye Four’) were abducted from Swaziland.
On 15 December 1986 South African security forces kidnapped Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim, Mandla Maseko and Simon Dladla in Swaziland and brought them to stand trial in South Africa. They were all tried and convicted; Ebrahim received a 20-year sentence, while Maseko and Dladla were sentenced to 23 and 12 years respectively.
On 4 June 1980 Patrick Makau, a member of MK; seven-year-old Patrick Nkosi, the son of an active ANC member; and Mawick Nkosi were killed in two separate bomb blasts in houses in Manzini. The attack came in response to an MK attack on the Sasol oil refinery in Secunda. The operation was ordered by Colonel JJ Viktor and Dirk Coetzee and the head of the Security Branch in Ermelo.
On 8 December 1981 two ANC men were ambushed close to the border and killed in their vehicle.
On 4 June 1982 Petrus Nzima Nyawose, the deputy ANC Representative in Swaziland, and his wife Jabu were killed in a car bomb planted by members of the security branch. In December 1983, a flat was raided in Manzini where ANC member Zwelakhe Nyanda and a Swazi national were killed.
In December 1981 members of the Special Task Force, a branch of the South African Police and Security Branch, killed two MK members in Swaziland to avenge the attack on the Voortrekkerhoogte Military Base on 12 August 1981.
After investigating and interrogating a person known only as Molefe, the detainee implicated Mnisi, a member of MK who under interrogation revealed information about MK operations inside the country, and its base in Swaziland. Mnisi was turned into an askari and ordered to lure MK operative George to meet him at the Swaziland border, where would be arrested. Mnisi and other members of the police proceeded to the Oshoek border post on the Swaziland border. Members of the task-force crossed the border and took up positions near the agreed meeting. George’s vehicle stopped some distance from the meeting point, throwing the operation into jeopardy But when George’s car moved within range, members of Special Task Force fired, killing George and his MK comrade Brown.
In 1983 Brigadier Schoon ordered the elimination of Zwelibanzi Nyanda, a commander of MK units operating in Swaziland. Accompanied by Captain Eugene de Kock, among other security policemen, Jan Hattingh Cronje crossed into Swaziland and stayed at a hotel in Mbabane, where they prepared for the operation. At night, they raided the house where Nyanda and lived with another MK member, Keith MacFadden. Both were killed, while the informer who had disclosed their address was allowed to escape.
In June 1985 South African policemen and a member of Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) crossed into Swaziland and kidnapped Jameson Nongolozi Mngomezulu and two other people. He was taken to Moolman, just outside Piet Retief in KwaZulu-Natal, before being moved to Leeuwspoor, a farm close to Jozini which was the headquarters of the northern Natal security police. After being severely tortured he lapsed into a coma and died. The security police then destroyed his body by blowing it up at a missile range near Sodwana Bay.
A year later, in June 1986, Jabulani Sydney Msibi, an MK operative who also served as the bodyguard of ANC president Oliver Tambo, was kidnapped in Swaziland on instructions from the Security Branch. He was brought to South Africa and taken to Daisy Farm, where he was assaulted and tortured. When efforts by the security branch failed to turn him into an askari, he was killed.
On 14 August 1986, two MK operatives, Jeremiah Timola and Mmbengeni Kone, were killed by members of the Eastern Transvaal Security Branch while they were on their way to South Africa.
The following year, in June 1988, Nontsikelelo ‘Ntsiki’ Cotoza, a young member of MK, was killed in an ambush on the Swaziland border.
Ms Phila Portia Ndwandwe, an acting commander of MK who operated from Swaziland, was also killed in 1988. She facilitated the infiltration of ANC cadres into Natal before she was abducted by members of the Durban Security Branch. After capture, she refused to cooperate with the police and they did not have enough evidence to prosecute her. Instead of releasing her, the police executed her and buried her on the Elandskop farm outside Pietermaritzburg in October 1988.
In July 1988, Emmanuel Mthokizisi Mbova Mzimela, an MK member was abducted in Swaziland by the members of the security branch in Durban. When he refused to cooperate with the police by becoming their askari, he was executed and buried on a farm in the Elandskop area.
In May 1987, Theophilus ‘Viva’ Dlodlo, an MK operative, was killed after he was ambushed while in his car in Swaziland. At the time of his death he had been married for five months and had a just had a son.
On 9 July 1987 Job Tabane (alias Cassius Maake), who was the youngest member of the ANC National Executive Committee, and Sello Motau were killed in Swaziland after Motau picked up Tabane from the airport in Mbabane and their vehicle was forced off the road between Matsapa and Mbabane.
After his release from prison, Nelson Mandela visited Swaziland in November 1990 and met with some exiles still in the country. With the collapse of apartheid, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up to examine human rights violations that occurred under the apartheid. During this process the ANC submitted a list of 52 MK operatives killed by the apartheid security forces in Swaziland. However, the amnesty committee only received applications for 14 of the targeted killings. The number of MK operatives killed on the Swaziland-South Africa borders is higher compared to other countries that shared a border with South Africa. This underlines the strategic importance of Swaziland to MK in the struggle against apartheid.
Names of those killed in Swaziland or abducted from Swaziland and killed in SA
- Jameson Nongolozi Mngomezulu
- Victor M Mgadi
- Jeremiah Timola
- Mmbengeni Kone
- Zwelibanzi Nyanda
- Titus Dladla
- Thuluso A Matima
- MK George
- MK Brown
- Patrick Makau
- Mzwandile Radebe
- Oupa Funani
- Emmanuel Mthokizisi Mbova Mzimela
- Nontsikelelo “Ntsiki” Cotoza
- Portia Ndwandwe
- Theophilus ‘Viva’ Dlodlo
- Job Tabane ( alias Cassius Make)
- Sello Motau
- Keith MacFadden
- Petrus Nzima Nyawose
* The above is not a complete list, but it lists those covered in the narrative.
Odendaal, A, (1984), The Beginnings of Black protest Politics in South Africa to 1912, (Cape Town) pp.134
Vail L, (1991), The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa, (University of California Press), p.293-299
Simpson, T, ‘The Bay and the Ocean: A History of the ANC in Swaziland, 1960-1979’ in The African Historical Review, Vol. 41, (1), pp.90-117.
Masilela, E, (2007), Number 43 Trelawney Park KwaMagogo, (David Philip Publishers), pp. 86-92
Watson, W, (2007), Brick by brick: an informal guide to the history of South Africa, (New Africa Books), p. 99.
Du Preez, M, (2004), Of warriors, lovers, and prophets: unusual stories from South Africa's past, (Cape Town), pp 204-206
Hanlon, J, (1986), Beggar your neighbours: apartheid power in Southern Africa, (Indiana University Press), pp. 91-98
Meer, S, (1998), Women speak: reflections on our struggles, 1982-1997, (Cape Town), pp.120 &136-137
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SellstrÁ¶m, T Sweden and national liberation in Southern Africa: Solidarity and Assistance, Volume 2, pp.639, 416,
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Ellis, S & Sechaba, T, (1992), Comrades against apartheid: the ANC & the South African Communist Party in exile, (Indiana University Press), p.169
Mashego G, (2006), All I want are my daughter's remains, from the City Press, 16 April, [online] Available at http://188.8.131.52/argief/berigte/citypress/2006/04/16/C1/28/02.html [Accessed 21 July 2011]
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Zimbabwe and South Africa share more than borders, they share a common history of the struggle against colonialism. Colonised by Cecil John Rhodes through the British South Africa Company (BSAC) in the 1890s, the country was initially ruled by the BSAC. After suppressing the Ndebele and Shona uprisings in 1896, the company established the Southern Rhodesia Order in Council in 1898, which in turn established the Legislative Council. Over time there was growing discontent about BSAC rule and white settlers began to push for self-government, particularly after World War I.
The Legislative Council proposed a referendum to ascertain whether the colony should join the Union of South Africa or set up its own government. On 27 October 1922 a referendum was held which rejected union with South Africa. Subsequently, on 12 September 1923, Southern Rhodesia was declared a crown colony. Black African people were excluded from these processes and dispossessed of land, forced to pay hut tax and used as cheap labour. In addition they were denied basic democratic rights and as a result began to mobilise in the 1930s and 1940s, their struggle gathering momentum in the 1950s.
African organisations such as the British African National Voice Association were formed in 1947 by Benjamin Burombo and others. In 1957 the Southern Rhodesian African National Congress (SRANC), led by Joshua Nkomo, was founded, but the government banned it in 1959. In its place the National Democratic Party (NDP) was founded in January 1960. The party demanded “one man, one vote” and a constitutional conference with Britain. The NDP was short-lived; it was banned in the same year it was formed and in its place the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU) was formed. Two years later the Rhodesian Front (RF), a right wing white minority political party, was formed in March, and in December it won the elections. What galvanised the white minority vote against the Rhodesian Party, led by David Butler, was the perception that it adopted a softer approach to increasing African resistance to colonial rule.
Perhaps as an attempt to placate the concerns of the white minority, ZAPU was banned in September. Subsequent to this harassment by a government bent on preserving white minority rule, the liberation movement launched an armed struggle – its struggles intersecting with those of the South African liberation movement.
A cross pollination of ideas
While there were local initiatives in the struggle against colonialism and white minority rule in Zimbabwe, leading figures in the anti-colonial movement drew their strength from the South African experience. For instance, Benjamin Burombo a leading figure in the early struggles of African people in Southern Rhodesia, worked in South Africa and was heavily influenced by Clements Kadalie, leader of the Industrial and Commercial Union (ICU). This pattern of influence also became evident later, in the development of leading personalities and political organisations.
Several leaders of the Zimbabwean liberation movement who were without prospects of obtaining higher education in Rhodesia went to study in South Africa in the 1950s, most of them at the University of Fort Hare. At the institution, they came into contact with leading figures of the anti-apartheid African National Congress such as Oliver Tambo, Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe, among others. The 1950s was also the decade of the Defiance Campaign in South Africa and this gave these students an opportunity to evaluate and draw lessons from the South African experience. In addition they met students from other African countries such as Julius Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda.
This political exposure and influence was carried back to Southern Rhodesia and gave impetus to the political mobilisation of Africans against white minority rule. Black political activists in Southern Rhodesia set up a political party named the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress (SRANC), the name a variant of the ANC. In fact, the party was commonly referred to as the African National Congress. Its members included Joshua Nkomo and Robert Mugabe. When the party was banned, it re-emerged as the NDP, and when the NDP was banned it reconstituted itself as the People’s Catertaker Council (PCC), which later became ZAPU.
Cleavages within ZAPU over the approach to the liberation struggle resulted in a split. In 1963, a number of people – among them Robert Mugabe, Edgar Tekere and Ndabaningi Sithole – broke away from ZAPU to form the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), with a military wing called the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA). ZANU was closely aligned to the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of South Africa and incorporated Africanist elements in its ideology. The two organisations received assistance mainly from China, where they also received guerrilla training.
The MK and ZIPRA Alliance
While the liberation movements in Zimbabwe were fracturing, white minority rulers in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia fostered cooperation. The apartheid government’s support for white minority rule in Southern Rhodesia, particularly for Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front, pushed the liberation movements to cooperate. With persecution increasing within the country, ZAPU launched its armed wing, the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), and established military bases in Zambia. When the ANC also established itself in exile, it approached ZAPU in the early 1960s for assistance. Given that racial discrimination and the denial of political rights to the black majority were common elements in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, the ANC and ZAPU had a strong sense that they were fighting a common enemy.
ZAPU began helping the ANC’s Umkhonto we Zizwe (MK) recruits to cross from Botswana through Southern Rhodesia into Zambia and Tanzania, particularly in the early 1960s. Around June 1962, for example, ZAPU’s Dumiso Dabengwa helped 32 MK recruits to cross from Bechuanaland into Southern Rhodesia before helping them to cross into Northern Rhodesia. Among the recruits were Eric Mtshali, Lennox Mtshali, Isaac Makopo and Lambert Moloi.
In 1966, the idea of a military alliance between MK and ZIPRA was first mooted with the support of Tanzania and Zambia. Senior ANC leaders, Oliver Tambo, Moses Mabhida, Duma Nokwe, Moses Kotane, Tennyson Makiwane and John Beaver Marks convened a meeting in Tanzania to discuss military cooperation. Chris Hani was appointed to investigate the possibility of military cooperation between ZAPU and the ANC. The two movements reached an agreement and a joint military and political High Command was formed.
Oliver Tambo and James Chikerema, the head of ZAPU in exile, were responsible for political direction, whileJoe Modise (MK commander), Akim Ndlovu (ZIPRA commander),Archie Sibeko or Zola Zembe (MK chief of operations), Dumiso Dabengwa (ZAPU chief of intelligence) and Walter Mavuso Msimang, MK’s chief of communications, formed a joint military group.John Dube was tasked with commanding the joint force, named Luthuli Detachment in honor of Chief Albert Luthuli.
ZAPU was chosen for two basic reasons, ideological and practical. The ANC was ideologically closer to ZAPU as both political formations were aligned to the Soviet Union’s brand of communism. In fact members MK and ZIPRA, the military wings of the ANC and ZAPU respectively, trained in the Soviet Union and German Democratic Republic (GDR). Furthermore, they had bases and safe-houses in similar countries, such as Angola and Zambia.After Zimbabwe obtained independence in 1980, ZAPU left Angola for Zimbabwe and donated two military training camps, named Caculama and Camalundi, to MK. It also donated a flat in Luanda to the ANC. The linguistic similarities between Ndebele, Zulu and Xhosa would also have facilitated communication between MK guerrillas and the local populations. This would have made it easier for guerrillas passing through western parts of Southern Rhodesia to reach the borders of South Africa for infiltration. A number of border towns in Southern Rhodesia shared languages spoken across the border in South Africa.
The Wankie and Sipolilo Campaigns
Clashes in Wankie
The cooperation between the two movements culminated in the launch of the Wankie and Sipolilo Campaigns in 1967-68. In early 1967 MK cadres were moved from military training camps in Tanzania to Zambia. That same year ZIPRA and MK carried out joint reconnaissance missions to identify entry points into Rhodesia, hideouts and sites to store arms caches. Between 30 and 31 July 80 members of the Luthuli Detachment crossed the Zambezi into Southern Rhodesia. The group was split into two, one group was to head for South Africa to establish bases while the other would remain in Southern Rhodesia to support MK cadres that would follow. The move would also avoid stretching the supply lines.
Once inside the country they faced unfamiliar terrain, resulting in cadres losing contact with each other (as even ZIPRA cadres were not familiar with the Wankie area) and running out of supplies. Rhodesian forces received intelligence about the presence of guerrillas in the Wankie area and stepped up patrols. On 13 August clashes occurred between the Rhodesia forces and one of the detachments on banks of the Nyatuwe River. Two white officers, two African soldiers and five guerrillas were killed. In this clash, the British South Africa Police (BSAP) fled and returned with reinforcements to retrieve the bodies of the dead officers.
Between 21 August and September, a second and third round of battles broke out another detachment was spotted by Rhodesian security forces, leading to the death of more cadres and Rhodesian security forces. With ammunition and supplies running low and the resupply route cut by the Rhodesian and South African Forces, the group fled to Botswana, where its members were promptly arrested. After serving their sentences in Botswana they were deported to Zambia.
Clashes at Sipolilo
When the news of the Luthuli Detachment and the difficulties they were facing reached Lusaka, a decision was made to send another unit to Southern Rhodesia to divert the attention of the security forces away from the Wankie unit. The Pyramid Detachment was constituted and tasked with opening up the Eastern Front to open a second route to South Africa. The detachment was made up of 74 ZIPRA and 32 MK cadres under the command of Moffat Hadebe from ZIPRA. Three groups of MK and ZIPRA forces crossed the Zambezi River into Southern Rhodesia on 29 December 1967, assisted by Boston Gagarin, who enabled the cadres to carry arms and ammunition across the river. More fighters crossed in February and another group followed in July 1968.
Guerrillas initially set up camps and survived for three months, but food supplies began to run out and some of the communication equipment broke down. The Rhodesian security forces detected the presence of military activity in the area and clashes broke out as early as March, leaving casualties on both sides. The clashes between Rhodesian forces and the Pyramid Detachment lasted from March to July 1968. Some guerrillas retreated to Zambia, while 23 were killed and others were captured. Rhodesian forces listed 10 casualties. Several members of MK were captured and sentenced to lengthy prison terms at Khami Prison on the outskirts of Bulawayo. When Zimbabwe became independent in 1980, MK and ZIPRA members imprisoned since their capture in the Wankie and Sipolilo campaigns were released.
Post-independence cooperation between ANC and ZANU
The ANC had hoped that ZAPU would win the 1980s elections, but it was the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) that won. As a TRC Report pointed out, a ZAPU victory was considered the worst-case scenario for the apartheid government. Thus, after independence the ANC had to establish a relationship with ZANU-PF. The relationship was acrimonious at the beginning because of tensions between ZANU and ZAPU, the latter having been the ally of MK.
Reddy Mampane points out that in 1985, after he was appointed as the ANC’s Chief Representative in Zimbabwe, ZANU still regarded the ANC with suspicion – in his case especially when he was seen with people from ZAPU. This was because of disturbances in Matabeleland and Midlands at the time. Oliver Tambo and Thabo Mbeki facilitated the building of the ANC’s relationship with the newly established government of Zimbabwe. By 1986 MK had reached an agreement with Zimbabwe on its clandestine activities in the country. The government would allow a limited flow of MK weapons and military personnel into the country, on the condition that it was kept informed. Joe Modise ,the commander of MK, met with Solomon Mujuru (Rex Nhongo), commander of the Zimbabwe National Army, to discuss how MK could be assisted in crossing the border into South Africa.
Cross border raids, destabilization efforts and economic sabotage.
The ANC formally established its presence in Zimbabwe by appointing Joe Gqabi as the party’s Chief Representative in Harare. Several cadres of MK and the ANC – Penuell Maduna, Geraldine Frazer Moleketi, and Derek Andre Hanekom, among others – lived in exile in Zimbabwe. This stirred the apartheid government into action and it conducted targeted assassinations of ANC activists in Zimbabwe. On 24 February 1981 a bomb was discovered in the car of the ANC’s Chief Representative in Harare, Joe Gqabi. Despite this failed assassination attempt, the agents of the apartheid government ambushed and shot Gqabi – 19 times – on 31 July 1981 as he reversed down the driveway of his Harare home.
Pretoria took advantage of the tensions brewing in the post-independent military integration process in Zimbabwe. When former ZIPRA and ZANLA cadres clashed in military bases, some armed ZIPRA cadres deserted the army, leading to a government crackdown. Some disgruntled members of ZIPRA were recruited by the South African government towards the end of 1982. SUPA ZAPU, as they became known, received training, arms and ammunition from Pretoria and continued to operate in areas of Matabeleland. Also incorporated into this rebel movement were former members of the Sealous Scouts, a multiracial military unit established by the Rhodesian government. Several members of this unit crossed into South Africa after the 1980 elections and joined Special Units of the apartheid government security forces. After various military attacks and formal complaints laid by the Zimbabwean government, the group began collapsing around 1984. Thus, just as the apartheid government sponsored armed groups for destabilisation – such as the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) in Mozambique, UNITA in Angola and the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA) in Lesotho – SUPA ZAPU was established to destabilise Zimbabwe.
In May 1987 Tsitsi Chiliza, a Zimbabwean citizen married to an ANC member, was killed by a booby-trapped television set intended for Jacob Zuma. Later, in October of the same year, Jeremy Blackhill, a ZAPU member married the ANC’s Joan Freeman, was severely crippled in a bomb blast that injured 17 other people in a shopping complex in Harare. Also in 1987, Leslie Lesia was arrested in Zimbabwe in possession of a small bottle of poison given to him by the SADF's Department of Military Intelligence to poison ANC members and officials. Around February 1987 Odile Harrington, a South African Military intelligence agent, was sent to infiltrate the ANC in Zimbabwe and send back plans of the ANC offices in Harare. She was arrested and detained before finally standing trial in November 1987. She was sentenced to 25 years in jail, but her sentence was reduced on appeal.
In January 1988 a car bomb injured three ANC members in Bulawayo. Then in November 1988, Kevin Woods, Michael Smith and Philip Conjwayo – former members of the Rhodesian intelligence and security forces recruited by the South African intelligence service after 1980 to carry out destabilisation activities in Zimbabwe – killed a driver carrying a bomb intended for the ANC offices. Several members of the ANC were injured in the blast. They were subsequently arrested and sentenced to death, but their sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment by the Supreme Court. All three were released in 2006 by the Zimbabwean government on humanitarian grounds.
More attacks followed: the ANC office in Harare was hit by a rocket, and in April 1990, Michael Lapsely, an Anglican priest and member of the ANC, was seriously injured by a letter bomb sent to him in Harare.
Over and above the targeted bombings in Zimbabwe by the apartheid security forces, the South African government used RENAMO to sabotage Zimbabwe economically. When Mozambique became independent in 1975 it closed its border with Southern Rhodesia a year later, forcing Southern Rhodesia to send its goods and service through South Africa. When Rhodesia became independent as Zimbabwe in 1980, the trade route through Mozambique was reestablished and the route through South Africa was abandoned. South Africa retaliated by withholding goods destined for Zimbabwe and embarking on an economic destabilisation campaign.
In November 1980 more than 50 000 tonnes of Zimbabwean goods were held at South African ports, deliberately kept from reaching their destination. Then in 1981 300 000 tonnes of the country's goods, including three shipments of fertilizer, was withheld by South Africa. That same year, South African Railways (SAR) announced that it was terminating its trade agreement with the National Railways of Zimbabwe (NRZ), and demanded the return of 24 diesel locomotives leased to the NRZ under the Rhodesian government.
In more naked aggression, South African-funded RENAMO blew up bridges and the railway line connecting Zimbabwe to the Mozambican coast, leading to the deployment of Zimbabwean troops to guard the line. All these were attempts by the apartheid regime “to use its economic power to try and bludgeon Zimbabwe into political and diplomatic concessions” (Mlambo, N, RAIDS ON GORONGOSSA, Zimbabwe’s Military Involvement in Mozambique 1982 - 1992,)
The changing geo-political system which saw the collapse of the Soviet Union and pressure on the apartheid government by increasing internal unrest and international sanctions set the stage for a negotiated settlement. The ANC sponsored a document that laid down key milestones for the creation of a climate for negotiations and lobbied for it to be adopted by Frontline States, the Organisation of Africa Unity (OAU), the United Nations (UN), and the Non Aligned Movement. On 21 August 1989 Frontline States, the OAU, ANC, the South Africa government and religious figures held a summit in Harare and the document, henceforth known as the Harare Declaration, was adopted. This paved for way for negotiations which resulted in the dismantling of apartheid and the first all-inclusive democratic elections in 1994.
Chan, S, (2003), Robert Mugabe: a life of power and violence, (New York), p.29
- Ralinala, R.M, Sithole J, Houston G, & Magubane B (2004), The Wankie and Sipolilo Campaigns, in The Road to Democracy in South Africa, Volume 1, (1960-1970), pp.491-528
- Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in Zimbabwe, (1997), Gukurahundi in Zimbabwe: A Report on the Disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands 1980-1988, (New York), p.58.
- Sellstrom, T, Sweden and National Liberation in Southern Africa, Volume II, Solidarity and Assistance 1970-1994, (Stockholm), p.691
- Peta, B, & Maughan K, (2006), Zimbabwe frees apartheid killers, from Independent Online, 2 July, [online], Available at www.iol.co.za [Accessed 8 November 2010]
- Mlambo,N, RAIDS ON GORONGOSSA, Zimbabwe's Military Involvement in Mozambique 1982 - 1992, [online], Available athttp://ccrweb.ccr.uct.ac.za/archive/defencedigest/defdigest03.html [Accessed 07 October 2011]
- SellstrÁ¶m, T, (2002), Liberation in Southern Africa: regional and Swedish voices, (Stockholm), pp.142-147
- Reuter, (1987), Woman Given 25 Years in Zimbabwe as S. African Spy, from the Los Angeles Times, 27 November, [online], Available at www.latimes.com [Accessed 13 October 2011]
- SOUTH AFRICA, Torture, ill-treatment and executions in African National Congress camps, from Amnesty [online], Available at www.amnesty.org [Accessed 10 November 2011]
- Thomas, S, (1996), The diplomacy of liberation: the foreign relations of the ANC since 1960, (London), 217.
- Zimbabwe: Information on the Selous Scouts with respect of Human Rights, from the Immigration and Refugee Board Canada, [online], Available at www.unhcr.org [Accessed 10 November 2011]
The forces fighting the war of liberation in Angola were divided into three: the socialist Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), the Front for the National Liberation of Angola (FLNA) and the pro-capitalist National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA). Initially, the MPLA and UNITA co-operated in fighting their common enemy, the Portuguese colonisers, but in the course of the Cold War they became opponents. The South African government supported Portuguese white minority rule in Angola: as early as February 1968, the MPLA was reporting that South African helicopters in South East Angola were attacking MPLA positions. Angola became the only country in Southern Africa where South Africa engaged in a conventional war. In addition, the United States of America (USA) also supported the Portuguese. But the 1974 coup in Portugal forced it to accede to demands for independence in its African colonies.
After 14 years of armed resistance against the Portuguese, the MPLA, the FLNA and UNITA signed the Alvor Agreement in January 1975, paving way for the independence of Angola. On 11 November 1975 Angola became independent and the MPLA seized power with the backing of the Soviet Union and Cuba. But due to political and ideological differences between the MPLA and UNITA, civil war broke out. Unhappy with the MPLA’s rise to power, the South African government established relations with UNITA to destabilise Angola. In the ensuing civil war, the MPLA was backed by the Soviet Union, which provided training and equipment, while UNITA was backed by the United States and South Africa.
In South Africa the African National Congress (ANC) was also backed by the Soviet Union and German Democratic Republic (GDR) in its fight against the apartheid government. Thus, for the United States and South Africa, UNITA was a front against the spread of communism. As a result of this polarised geopolitical context, the ANC allied itself with the MPLA. For 13 years between 1976 and 1988, Angola served as an MK military training ground.
The establishment of Camps in Angola
The independence of Angola paved way for other liberation movements in Southern Africa to establish bases for military training in the newly independent country. For instance, the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) and the South West African People's Organization (SWAPO) established bases in Angola. At the beginning of 1976 the ANC began negotiations with the Angolan government to establish bases for military training. That same year, the ANC set up the Central Operations Headquarters of uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) and began a process of establishing military training camps in Angola. By the end of 1976 the ANC had established its first military base in Angola. Cassius Maake was appointed as the ANC’s representative and, working closely with Max Moabi, did the groundwork for the establishment of bases. Mzwandile Piliso was appointed the person in charge of all the camps in Angola.
The first group of MK soldiers was sent to a camp south of Luanda in Gabela. By late October and early November 1976, other MK cadres were brought from Tanzania and sent to a transit camp called Engineering. Funda, another camp located just outside the Angolan capital Luanda, began operating in 1976. Camps Gabela and Engineering were closed in 1977 and people were moved to Nova Katengue (popularly known as the University of the South) in the south. In 1979 the Quatro base was established as a prison and ‘rehabilitation’ centre, where enemy agents caught after infiltrating the ANC were to be re-educated. Just prior to an attack several members of the ANC were moved from Nova Katengue to Pango another camp north of Luanda. A transit camp known as Quibaxe was opened in 1977 and another camp, Fazenda, was established in 1978. After Zimbabwean independence in 1980, ZAPU left Angola for Zimbabwe and left two of their camps, Caculama and Camalundi, for the use of the ANC. Other camps included Camp 32 and Hoji ya Henda.
In addition to the camps the ANC also occupied blocks of flats in Luanda, for example Residence 1, which housed members of the leadership and command. Residence 2 was a general residence, while the ANC Chief Representative had his own house. The latter’s house was donated to the ANC by ZAPU when they left Angola in 1980. Another block of flats housed Radio Freedom and a warehouse which stored food and clothing for cadres. A printing press established in Luanda under Patrick Sebina was used to produce Dawn and other bulletins.
The first detachment to graduate from the Angolan military training camps was the June 16 Detachment, composed of MK’s first set of recruits after the uprisings in 1976. This was followed by the Moncada Detachment in 1978 – named after the July 26 Movement in Cuba which stormed the Moncada barracks; and the Madinonga Detachment, named after a Zeerust woman arrested during the peasant revolts of the late 1950s. The Isandlwana Detachment, named after the Battle of Isandlwana, – when the Zulu regiments defeated the British forces in 1879 – was another unit that came out of Angola. Detachments consisted of a company commander, a commissar, a training team covering various aspects of military training, and political instructors.
A regional commander was appointed and all structures in Angola reported to the Revolutionary Council. Each camp had a commander, commissar, chief of staff and a medical team set at the top of a hierarchical structure. The camp commissar, whose task was deal with the political life of cadres, was assisted by a chief of staff, chief of logistics and a recording officer.
Life in the Camps
At Nova Catengue, the average day began with comrades being woken up at 5am, putting on their training attire for exercises, followed by bathing and breakfast. In areas that were prone to malaria, cadres were given antimalaria tablets. During the day cadres received weapons training, which amongst other things involved assembling and disassembling weapons such as AK47s and pistols, and using them in training. In addition, training focused on the use of explosives (such as grenades), radio communication and topography. The basic military training course lasted six months.
Evenings were punctuated by cultural activities – traditional dances such as the indlamu and choral music. On weekends camp residents would do their laundry, polish their boots and participate in sporting activities such as soccer and volleyball. People such as Barney Molokoane were recognised as one of the best players. Holidays on the Revolutionary Calendar – such as Sharpeville Day on 21 March, South African Freedom day on 26 June, and the Great October Socialist Revolution on 7 November – were observed annually.
The leadership of the ANC emphasised the importance of political education over military training. Cadres attended courses where they were taught that military confrontation with the apartheid government was an extension of the party’s political objectives. The course covered the history of the ANC, the emergence of the working class in South Africa, and theories of communism and historical and dialectical materialism, among other subjects. Most political classes at Nova Katengue took place in the evening after the daily routine was completed. These classes were taught by Mark Shope, Jack Simonsand Ronnie Kasrils, among others. Other cadres were also trained to become teachers of political education.
Because of the constant threat of attack, camps had to be guarded 24 hours a day. Cadres were deployed on two-hour rotational shifts. Ngculu notes that:
“The first post was at 18:00 to 20:00 ”¦ the next port was from 20:00 to 22:00, which was generally fine but undesirable when there were cultural activities ”¦ the shift from 24:00 to 02:00 was unpopular because you had to be woken up to go on duty. The most frustrating shift was 02:00 to 04:00, which we called ‘break my heart’ because you were woken up while you were in the midst of your sleep.” (Ngculu, p. 46)
Late shits were a source of tension among comrades when their replacements took a long time to assume their duties. While camp conditions changed over time and even influenced relationships between rank and file, the general routine and administrative structure of the camps remained the same.
Problems in Camps
Camps were also beset by disciplinary problems. For instance, in 1984 the ANC’s military tribunal ordered the execution of Thabo Makhubethe (alias Ruphus Maphalie), who was found guilty of raping an Angolan woman. He was executed by firing squad in Luanda. In another case, Josiah Malhobane (alias Shaka Dumakude) and Jeremiah Maleka (Zweni Mdingi) randomly shot and killed two Angolan women and injured others while they were drunk in a local market. They too were sentenced to death.
Other forms of ill discipline included smoking dagga, drinking the local liquor brew and illegally selling ANC property. These offences were increasingly punished by beatings, a change from earlier forms of corrective measures. In general, life in an MK camp was not easy, and at times stressful conditions resulted in outright confrontations between rank and file comrades and the leadership of the organisation.
Camps were established with great hope and expectation that once trained, comrades would be deployed back to South Africa to fight the apartheid government. As Ngculu notes, “The most traumatic thing in camps was waiting. This became the source of all our frustrations and feelings of despondency. We moved from one post to another, from one camp to another, without ever being deployed to the front ”¦” (Ngculu, p. 50). This sense of frustration and over time the deterioration of basic conditions were some reasons for mutinous outbreaks in Angola.
The Pango Mutiny
On 16 May 1984 a mutiny broke out in Pango, with the mutineers storming the ANC armoury, disarming guards and shooting a comrade who refused to surrender his weapon. A gun battle ensued between mutineers and those who remained loyal to the camp administrators. Camp commissar Zenzile Pungule, staff commissar Wilson Sithole, David Maseko and a guard were killed. The camp commander and those loyal to the camp administration escaped and mobilised more troops. A gun battle ensued, with Timothy Mokena, a regional commander, and Raymond Monageng leading an assault on the camp. When the fighting ended 14 guerrillas were killed and the mutiny was subdued.
Several mutineers were arrested and detained, while others escaped. A military tribunal headed by Sizakele Sigxashe was established to try the mutineers. Seven people – James Nkabinde, Ronald Msomi, Thembile Hobo, Wandile Ondala, Mahero, ‘Stopper’ and Bullet – were sentenced to death by firing squad. Those who escaped arrest fled in an attempt to establish contact with Angolan government authorities and the ANC leadership. After arriving at a camp manned by Soviet and FAPLA troops, they surrendered their weapons and informed the camp of their mission. The Soviets informed the ANC security department, whose members came and arrested the group. They were subsequently detained at Pango camp, and later some were transferred to Quatro.
The ANC established a commission of inquiry headed by James Stuart, with Antony Mongalo, Sizakele Sigxashe, Aziz Pahad and Mtu Jwili serving as commissioners. Among the tasks of the commission was finding “the root cause of the disturbances; the nature and genuineness of the grievances; outside or enemy involvement; their aim and methods of work; and ringleaders and their motives”. The Stuart Commission found that deteriorating relations between rank and file in camps, the development of elitism in the allocation of privileges, and mismanagement of resources and deterioration of conditions in the camps combined to increased friction among comrades within camps. In addition, long stays in camps without deployment, the conduct of the ANC security department and lack of contact with the leadership, together with a litany of other grievances, combined to spark the mutiny.
Quatro was described as a camp where prisoners were denigrated, humiliated and abused, often with staggering brutality. ANC President Oliver Tambo visited Quatro in 1987 and was "apparently disturbed" by conditions.
Responses by the apartheid government to the ANC presence in Angola
The government responded in a variety of ways to the establishment of MK military training camps in Angola. Perhaps the most common response was the infiltration of MK structures by government agents. They would arrive in camps and carry out their work. A prime example of this was the Black September poisoning. In September 1977, everyone at the Novo Catengue camp was poisoned. Although few details were available regarding the exact time of the poisoning, the effects came to light when comrades went for their evening classes. People vomited, suffered from diarrhea and complained of stomach pains and dehydration. Instructors were forced to cancel classes.
The cadres rushed to the camp’s clinic, which quickly filled up, and the two doctors – Nomava Ntshangase and Peter Mfelang – were unable to cope with the volume of those taken ill. An estimated 90% of the 500 camp residents, including those at guard posts, were affected. In order to relieve the unmanageable situation, some of the sick were taken to a medical post manned by Cubans for treatment. The Cubans sent medical personnel and others to man the posts, including camps security. After a few days health was restored at the camp and there were no fatalities as a result of the poisoning. Upon investigation, the kitchen area was found to have inadequate security. Kenneth Mahamba – who had risen through the ranks of MK to camp commander – and other suspected agents were fingered in the Black September poisoning.
On 14 March 1979 the South African Air Force bombed the Novo Catengue camp with accuracy, killing one Cuban soldier and one MK member and injuring 14 others. The precision of the attack led to suspicions that informers within the camp had passed information about the camp to the SA Defence Force (SADF). Again, Mahamba was suspected of giving information to the SADF. It was not until 1981, when a man known as ‘Piper’ was captured and interrogated in Zambia, that Mahamba and others within the ANC were exposed as government agents. Mahamba was detained at Quatro, where he later died. After the raid, the camp was abandoned and recruits were transferred to Pango camp. UNITA, which was supported by the South African government, also targeted MK vehicles transporting weapons and supplies to camps.
Targeted assassinations of ANC activists also took place in Angola. On 28 June 1984, Jeannette Schoon and her six-year old daughter Katryn were killed by a parcel bomb at their home in Lubango, northern Angola. The target of the bomb sent by a security police unit was Jeanette’s husband Marius Schoon, who was not home at the time. Thus, the apartheid government used a number ways to pursue and eliminate political activists in Angola.
The closure of MK camps in Angola.
MK camps in Angola were closed or shifted as the level of threat increased, or because of organisational problems, and mostly as a result of changes in the political situation in Southern Africa. Funda, which was preparation camp, was closed in 1979; Nova Catengue was closed the same year after its bombardment; and Benguela camp was closed in 1983. When Cuban and Angolan forces were dangerously close to Namibia, which was under South African rule, all the camps in Angola were closed.
On June 27 1988, Cuban MIGs (fighter jets) attacked SADF positions near the Calueque dam, 11km north of the Namibian border. In response, the SADF destroyed a nearby bridge over the Cunene River to halt the Cuban advance. The threat of Cuban troops crossing the border into Namibia forced the South African government to agree to a settlement. Negotiations for the independence of Namibia began in earnest after a lengthy period of dithering by the South African government. The last South African soldiers left Angola on 30 August 1988. All parties involved in the Angolan conflict – Cuba, South African and Angola – signed a US-mediated peace agreement linked the United Nations Resolution 435 in December 1988. The agreement set a timetable for Namibian independence and provided for a phased withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola.
Also included in the conditions was the withdrawal of MK from Angola, which resulted in the closure of all MK camps in Angola. MK had helped Cuban and Soviet advisers by providing intelligence on SADF activities, and by intercepting and translating Afrikaans radio messages transmitted by SADF troops. In his testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, South African spy Craig Williamson claimed that Marius and Jeannette Schoon were teaching English to Cuban soldiers in Angola, which could have threatened the success of SADF Air raids. As a result, Jeannette Schoon and her six-year old daughter Katryn were killed by a parcel bomb at their home in Lubango, northern Angola. Furthermore, MK also occasionally assisted SWAPO and FAPLA units in fighting against UNITA and the SADF.
Camps such as Pango, Quibane, and Quatro, including those camps donated to the ANC by ZAPU, were closed in 1988. In 1989 Quarto inmates were transported to Mbarbara camp in Uganda. Other MK forces were moved from Angola to Iringa and Mbeya in Tanzania, and also to Mbarara. After the removal of MK from Angola, OR Tambo issued the following warning to the South African government:
"Nowhere on the African continent is South Africa too far, no difficulty too great for this army. We trained in Egypt; we trained in Morocco, trained in Algiers and went into the country. If Botha and Malan are clapping hands and saying that we are moving further and further away, they are living in a dream and theyÂ´ll soon know it."
Angola was an important arena in the battle for the independence of a number of countries in Southern Africa such as Zimbabwe, Namibia, and South Africa. Liberation movements from these countries were permitted by the Angolan government to train their fighters and launch their struggle against white minority rule in the subcontinent.
Hanlon J, (1986), Beggar your neighbours: Apartheid power in Southern Africa, (Indiana University Press), p.151-172.
Ndlovu, SM, The ANC’s Diplomacy and International Relations, in The Road to Democracy in South Africa: Volume 2, 1970-1980, (UNISA) pp.657-659.
Senzangakhona M, Mabitse E, Abrahamse U and Molebatsi G, Umkhonto we sizwe: Within Living Memoriesin Umrhabulo, Number 15, 2nd Quarter 2002, from the African National Congress, [online], Available at www.anc.org.za[ Accessed 4 July 2011]
SAPA, (1996), ANC EXECUTED AT LEAST 34 OF ITS CADRES IN ANGOLA: MBEKI[online] Available at http://www.justice.gov.za/trc/media/1996/9608/s960822b.htm, 22 August, [Accessed 06 October 2011]
Trewhela, P, (2010), Inside Quatro: uncovering the exile history of the ANC and SWAPO, pp.26-33.
Lodge T, Spectres from the camps: The ANC's Commission of Enquiry, from Allfiles, Southern African Report Archive, Vol8, No 3-4, [Accessed 06 October 2011]
Ngculu, J, (2009), The Honour to Serve Recollections of uMkhonto Soldier, (David Phillip), pp. 44-47 & 61-66
Callinicos L. (2004), Oliver Tambo: beyond the Engeli Mountains,(David Philips Publishers), p.456.
Ellis S & Sechaba T, (1992), Comrades against apartheid: the ANC & the South African Communist Party in exile, (Indiana University Press), p.116-118
The Mozambican history of liberation is similar to that Angola with few exceptions. Firstly, Mozambique shares a common border with South Africa and Zimbabwe (southern Rhodesia). Therefore, Mozambique could be used easily to launch an attack against either South Africa or Rhodesia. Secondly, the people of Mozambique are culturally similar to some of South Africa’s cultural societies, for example the Tsonga, Shangaans, and Shona people. The people of Mozambique had long been closely tied to economic developments in South Africa. They came to work in South Africa as migrant labourers prior to their colonization by the Portuguese. As a result, political developments such as the formation of black party politics and liberation struggle were to a certain extend linked. Frelimo (Frente de Libertacao de Mocambique), front for the liberation of Mozambique, adopted socialist principles and maoist guerilla tactics to fight the colonial government. The close alliance they had formed with Tanzania a socialist state guaranteed them that they would have access to weapons.
Tanzania also backed the ANC and Julius Nyerere allowed the MK to open military bases and headquarters in Tanzania. To destroy the ANC and MK the South African government together with the Rhodesian forces carried out raids against Frelimo and MK in Tete province. On a number of occasions the MK attempted to use Swaziland as a passage to reach and launch attacks in South Africa. After independence in 1975, the relationship between Frelimo led by Samora Machel, president of Mozambique reached a critical stage for South Africa because now the MK could operate freely on South Africa’s doorsteps. In 19 October 1986, Samora Machel’s plane crushed in South Africa’s Lebombo Mountains killing all on board. South Africa was suspected for causing the crash by changing the beacons and thereby cause Samora’s plane to take a wrong direction.
South African Defence Force (SADF) raids into Mozambique
In the 1950s and 1960s the South African government intensified its clamp down on political activities in the country. In 1950 the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) was declared an illegal organisation according to the Suppression of Communism Act, No. 44 of 1950 which came into force on 17 July 1950. Subsequent to this other laws, such as the Public Safety Act and the Criminal Law Amendment Act No 8, were passed in 1953 in response to the Defiance Campaign. These laws gave the government the power to declare a state of emergency and to detain, imprison, whip and fine people.
The turning point came in 1960 when the police shot and killed unarmed civilians demonstrating inSharpeville. Protests spread to other parts of the country such as Cape Town and Durban. Subsequent to the protests, the government declared a state of emergency on 30 March 1960 and political organizations such as the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) were banned under the Unlawful Organisation Act. The violent response of the government forced liberation movements to use more militant methods of waging the struggle against apartheid.
Political activists who escaped being banned, detained or imprisoned went into exile. Their aim was twofold: firstly, to establish a platform where they could voice their cause to the international community and secondly, to establish bases or obtain support for military training for cadres. Once liberation movements were given permission by various countries to operate, more people left the country for military training.
In addition, two significant developments took place in Southern Africa in the mid-70s. Mozambique gained independence on 25 June 1975 and later in the year Angola gained its independence from Portuguese colonial rule on 11 November 1975. Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) remained under white minority rule until 1980. As these countries made their ground available for use by the ANC and PAC, the crumbling of white minority rule around South Africa removed the ‘sense of security’ that was enjoyed by Pretoria.
South African Government Policy
The South African government policy on cross border raids was not always uniform; it evolved over time, within the structures of the National Party (NP), from engagement to outright force. The NP, under BJ Voster, initially engaged on a policy of soothing relations with African states which supported the international isolation of South Africa because of its policy of apartheid.
Vorster’s policy sparked infighting within the NP. Pfister has categorised the South African government policy into four. One was outward movement which involved engagement of African states beyond Southern Africa after 1967, dialogue initiated by the military around 1966 with Francophone West African states, secret diplomacy practiced by the Department of Information from 1972 and the detente which related to South Africa’s attempts to deal with the changing situation in Southern Africa particularly between 1974 and 1975. Significantly, during this period Vorster adopted the détente approach towards countries in Southern Africa. (Pfister R, (2005), Apartheid South Africa and African states: from pariah to middle power, 1961 to 1994 (New York), pp.39)
After government security forces violently put down the student uprising in 1976, and proscribed 18 other organisations on 19 October 1977, more young people left the country to join liberation movement in exile, mainly the ANC, for military training. These developments alarmed the South African government which then began its campaign of political destabilisation of the region and cross border raids.
The "Total Strategy" of P.W. Botha in the 1980's
In the 1980’s the President of South Africa, and the leader of the NP, P. W. Botha, discarded the détente policy pursued under Vorster and launched his “Total Strategy” in response to what he saw as the “Total Onslaught” of communism within the country and from neighbouring states. On 26 November 1980, Botha warned South Africa’s neighbours that continued support for ANC guerrillas would result in cross border raids by the SADF. Subsequently, the government intensified cross border raids in the 1980s in Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The SADF attack MK members in Maputo.
The South African Defence Force (SADF), through the State Security Council (SSC), carried out a number of attacks on ANC houses in Mozambique over a period of three years. Cross border raids by the SADF took three basic forms. One of the methods used was assassinations through car and parcel bombs - attacks were either made on ANC offices or alternatively the bomb was sent directly to the ANC representative. Another method was sending in commandos across borders - this involved gathering of intelligence on liberation movement activities and then sending in a group of commandos from the SADF to destroy infrastructure and kill political activists. Lastly, the government allowed abductions or kidnappings of political activists who were then secretly transported back to South Africa for interrogation or trial. The activists could also be turned into an askari (an agent of the government masquerading as a member of the liberation movement).
On the morning of 30 January 1981 SADF commandos drove 70kms across the South African-Mozambican border to Matola, a suburb in Maputo. The suburb contained a number of houses that served as safe houses or operational bases for MK. They attacked and destroyed three houses and killed 16 South Africans and a Portuguese national, Jose Ramos, who bore a striking resemblance to Joe Slovo. For brief period the SADF celebrated the death Slovo before news of the true identity of the Portuguese national emerged.
At one of the houses, the ANC fought back and killed two commandos and injuring others. One of the commandos killed was a British mercenary named Robert Lewis Hutchinson who had served in the British Army and the Rhodesian Special Air Service before moving to South Africa. Hutchinson was wearing a helmet with a swastika and a slogan which read ‘Sieg Heil’, which was a Nazi salute. The other commando was Ian Suttill who shared a similar military background with Hutchinson.
The MK members who were killed include Lancelot Hadebe, Mandla Daka, Daniel Molokisi, Steven Ngcobo, Vusumzi Ngwema, Thabang Bookolane, Krishna Rabilal, Themba Dimba, Motso Mokgabudi, Collin Khumalo, Levinson Mankankaza, Albert Mahutso and William Khanyile. The president of the ANC, Oliver Tambo, in the company of Mozambican president, Samora Machel, addressed mourners on 14 February 1981, at the funeral of those who were killed. As a result, the day was declared the Day of Friendship between South African and Mozambique. The January 1981 Matola raid was not the only raid conducted by the SADF. On 29 May 1983 jets deployed by the South African Airforce carried out ‘Operation Skerwe’ and attacked Matola and Liberdade, suburbs of Maputo. After the raid the SADF claimed it had destroyed ANC bases and killed 41 'ANC terrorists'.
The raid had however failed as it killed three workers arriving for work at the Somopal jam factory. At least 40 other people, mostly women and children, were injured by shrapnel. The SADF justified the raid by stating that it was retaliation for the explosion of bombs planted by the ANC in Pretoria which killed 16 people and injured 130 people on 20 May 1983. Two of the targets for the explosions were the South African Air Force Headquarters and the Military Intelligence and Naval Offices in downtown Pretoria.
Other raids into Mozambique
In addition, there were other commando raids and assassinations conducted in other parts of Mozambique by the SADF. On 17 March 1981 the SADF sneaked into Mozambique and went to the resort of Ponta do Ouro. The primary purpose was test whether the Mozambican government had increased its security patrols along its border after the Matola raid in January 1981. A clash with the Mozambican army ensued resulting in the death of one member of the SADF.
On 17 August 1982 Ruth First was killed by a parcel bomb at Eduardo Mondlane University. She was research Director for the Centre for African Studies and was active in promoting the relationship between the ANC and Frente de Libertação de Moçambique(FRELIMO), the ruling party of Mozambique. First was also the wife of Joe Slovo, a senior member of the SACP and ANC.
On 17 October 1983 SADF commandos bombed the ANC office in Maputo and inured five people. One of SADF commandos Wynand Petrus du Toit was caught later and admitted his role in the raid.
On 7 December 1983 two members of the ANC were injured when their house in the suburb of Xipamanine was bombed.
Albeit the outdated intelligence that they were acting on, the SADF carried an operation on 23 August 1984 targeting the ANC in the town of Namacha which was located at the confluence of Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland. As a result of the raid two Mozambicans and a Portuguese national were killed. Three others were kidnapped and taken across the border back to Phalaborwa, in South Africa, for interrogation about ANC activities in Namacha.
On 7 April 1988, Albert “Albie” Louis Sachs survived a bomb explosion that was placed in his car near the corner of Eduardo Mondlane and Julius Nyerere Avenues in Maputo – the bomb was planted by South African security agents, but was intended for Indres Naidoo. Sachs lost an arm and the sight of one eye.
In July 1989 Enoch Reginald Mhlongo, Themba Ngesi and Samuel Phinda died after they were poisoned by members of the South African Civil Cooperation Bureau (CCB), a hit squad targeting political opponents outside the country that operated under the SADF.
As South Africa faced the rising tide of protests in the country, in addition to increasing pressure from the international community and military pressure from within the NP, Botha was forced to engage Mozambique. The economic dependence of Mozambique on South Africa played to the latter’s advantage. Talks between Samora Machel, the leader of the Mozambican government FRELIMO and Botha resulted in the signing of the Nkomati Accord on 16 March 1984. In terms of the agreement, both countries resolved not to harbour hostile forces or allow their countries to be used as launching pads for attacks on one another. Mozambique agreed to expel the ANC from their country while South Africa agreed to cease its support of RENAMO, an anti-government guerrilla organisation in Mozambique. South Africa, however, breached the agreement by clandestinely continuing to support RENAMO, resulting in the collapse of the agreement. On 26 May 1988 the two countries agreed to revive the Nkomati Accord.
Cross border raids by the SADF, which started in the 1970s intensified in the 1980s, targeted political activists in Mozambique and other neighbouring countries. The Truth and Reconciliation Report noted that human rights violations committed by South African security forces, their agents or surrogates was not just limited to regional states, but it also extended as far as Western Europe, in countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Netherlands and Scandinavia.
On 14 February 2011 the South African Minister of Arts and Culture, Paul Mashatile, and the Mozambican Minister of Culture Armando, João Artur, signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the construction of a monument in honour of the 13 South African freedom fighters killed in the Matola raid. Names of other people killed by the apartheid armed forces in other raids in Mozambique would also be added to the monument.
Pfister R, (2005), Apartheid South Africa and African states: from pariah to middle power, 1961 to 1994(New York), pp.39-
Hanlon J, (1986), Beggar your neighbours: Apartheid power in Southern Africa, (Indiana University Press), p.136-139.
Ellis S & Sechaba T, (1992), Comrades against apartheid: the ANC & the South African Communist Party in exile, (Indiana University Press), p.107
Terry Bell T& Ntsebeza BD, (2001), Unfinished business: South Africa, apartheid, and truth, (London), pp.307
SellstrÁ¶m T, (2002), Sweden and national liberation in Southern Africa: Solidarity and Assistance 1970-1994, Volume 2(Stockholm), pp.634&649
Brecher M & Wilkenfeld J, (1997), A study of crisis(University of Michigan Press), pp.460
Hanlon J, (1991), Mozambique: who calls the shots?(London), pp.18-19
Margaret Hall M & Young T, Confronting Leviathan: Mozambique since independence
Jacob Zuma, (2004), Address by the Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa, HE Jacob Zuma, at the 23rd anniversary of the Matola Raid Maputo, Mozambiquefrom the South African Government Information, 14 February [online], Available at www.info.gov.za[Accessed 23 March 2011]
Truth and Reconciliation Report, Vol 2, (1998), (Cape Town), p.42
Tanzania, situated on the eastern part of the African continent, was colonised by Germany in 1884 and named Tanganyika. However, the territory of Zanzibar, which consists of the two islands Unguja (Zanzibar Island) and Pemba, became a single British Protectorate in 1890. After the First World War, the League of Nations mandated Britain to take over the territory of Tanganyika in 1918. Leading African labour activists formed the African Association (AA) in 1927, but the body remained largely ineffective.
In 1948 the AA reconstituted itself as the Tanganyika African Association (TAA), which began calling for constitutional reforms that reflected African interests. The TAA criticised racial discrimination, calling for the Africanisation of the civil service and increased expenditure for educational loans. In April 1953 Julius Nyerere was elected the president of the TAA, defeating his rival Abdulwahid Sykes. On 7 July 1954, the Tanzanian African National Union (TANU) was formed in Dar-es Salaan and succeeded the TAA. TANU grew in popularity in various areas of Dar-es Salaam, growing its membership in urban and peri-urban areas. The British attempted to establish systems that would protect their interests and those of the settler population, in particular by organising an electoral system in the period from 1957 to 1958. When Legislative Council elections were held, TANU won all the seats reserved for Africans, paving the way for the establishment of a popularly elected government. Other parties such as the African National Congress (ANC) and the All Muslim National Union of Tanganyika (AMNUT) – an alternative to TANU – were less successful.
In December 1959 the British government agreed to allow self-government after general elections scheduled for August 1960, but the country remained a colony. Nyerere became the chief minister of the government, but he had limited powers, as foreign policy and control of the army remained under the direction of the Colonial Office in London. In May 1961, Tanganyika was granted autonomy and Nyerere became the Prime Minister with full powers under a new constitution. On 9 December 1961 Tanganyika was granted independence and Nyerere became the first president. On 19 December 1963, Zanzibar also became independent, leaving the way clear for the unification of mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar on 26 April 1964 as the United Republic of Tanzania and Zanzibar. In October 1964, the country was renamed the United Republic of Tanzania.
The African National Congress in Tanzania
After taking power in Tanzania, Nyerere became one of the architects for the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and remained an ardent supporter of the continent’s liberation struggles. Tanzania provided facilities for liberation movements such as the African National Congress (ANC), Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO), FRELIMO and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and allowed them to operate from its soil. In addition, the Tanzanian government allowed the organisations to use Radio Tanzania to broadcast messages to their respective countries.
In the aftermath of the Sharpeville Massacre, the government banned the ANC and the PAC in South Africa. The ANC then sent Frene Ginwala to Tanzania with instructions to establish an office in Dar-es Salaam, and await further communication. Once in the country, she worked as a journalist while carrying out work for the ANC, which included receiving comrades arriving in Dar-es Saalam. Meanwhile, in 1960 the party instructed Oliver Tambo to clandestinely leave the country and establish offices for the movement in exile. He was also authorised to seek international support for the struggle against apartheid. Tambo skipped the country through Bechuanaland, in a car driven by Ronald Segal. Once in Bechuanaland he contacted Frene Ginwala, who made arrangements for a plane to fly Tambo, Dr Yusuf Dadoo and Segal to Dar-es-Salaam. Upon arrival they were welcomed by Julius Nyerere, and from that time Tanzania became an important point of contact and transit for the ANC in exile.
In 1961 the ANC and SACP launched Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) as its armed wing, and It became imperative to seek military training facilities in friendly African and East European countries. As part of advancing this idea Nelson Mandela visited Tanzania in 1962 to seek financial and military assistance to enable MK to wage the armed struggle. The meeting ended in disappointment for Mandela as Nyerere urged the ANC to postpone the armed struggle until the release of PAC leader Robert Sobukwe. Despite this disappointing response, the Tanzanian government facilitated Mandela’s travel arrangements by issuing him with documents to travel to Ethiopia and by liaising with Emperor Haile Selassie. Mandela notes in his biography that the Tanzanian government also issued him with documents which enabled him to travel to other African countries and Britain.
Establishment of MK Camps in Tanzania in the 1960s and 1970s
Despite the initial hesitancy, Tanzania allowed MK to establish camps as transit centres for cadres training in the Soviet Union, China and Czechoslovakia. In 1962 the first military camps were established by Tlou Theophilus Cholo and Joe Modise. The names of the camps were: Kongwa, which held the majority of MK cadres in Tanzania; Morogoro, which functioned as the headquarters of the ANC and MK; and Mbeya and Bagamoyo. Funding and sustenance for the camps came various sources. The OAU Liberation Committee assisted MK by paying for rent and associated expenses for offices in Dar-es-Salaam and Morogoro. In addition the Swedish and Norwegian governments assisted with more funding and technical expertise through various organisations.
During the 1960s several members of the ANC were deployed in Tanzania. For instance, after JB Marks was elected as Chairman of the SACP at its Fifth Conference held underground in 1962, he was instructed by the National Executive Committee of the ANC to join the headquarters of the External Mission in Tanzania. In 1963 the ANC sent Jo Matlou to Tanzania, where he was followed by his wife Violet Matlou and their children. They became the only complete family living at the Luthuli Camp. Later, in 1965, Ben Turok arrived in Tanzania after serving three years in prison and briefed Tambo on the state of the ANC in South Africa. That same year the ANC relocated its headquarters to Morogoro, but its main military training camp remained Kongwa.
Kongwa Camp was established between 1963 and 1964 about 400km west of Dar es Salaam, with Ambrose Makiwane the first camp commander. This the first MK camp to be established in Tanzania, Kongwa housed MK guerrillas who had returned from military training in the Soviet Union, China, Egypt and Algeria. MK recruits from South Africa who continued to make their way to Tanzania during this period by and large ended up at Kongwa. Over time the camp developed the capacity to train cadres on site without having to send them to other countries for training. The Tanzanian government supplied uniforms and one meal a day for each soldier.
By 1965 the ANC had a total of 800 guerrilla trainees in Tanzanian camps, many of them stationed at Kongwa; while others were undergoing military training in China, the Soviet Union or Czechoslovakia. As the number of trained cadres increased, some began to complain about the lack of willingness by the ANC leadership to send them back to South Africa to fight. This frustration exploded when Justice Gizenga Mpanza and other cadres from Natal stole a vehicle and drove to Morogoro, the ANC headquarters, to table their grievances. On the way they were arrested by Tanzania soldiers who suspected them of desertion. After the intervention of the ANC leadership, they were released and reprimanded, and the group was relocated to Lusaka in Zambia. Several members of this group formed part of the Luthuli and Pyramid Detachments, which were deployed during the Wankie and Sipolilo Campaigns in 1967.
Apart from the frustration of not being deployed to South Africa, there were other problems in the camps. Commanders had to deal with ill discipline, men involved in sexual relations with women from surrounding villages, and accusations of tribalism, and had to mete out corporal punishment.
By 1973 about half of the cadres in Tanzania had been trained at Kongwa. During that period Ambrose Makiwane was redeployed from Kongwa to Cairo and replaced by Joseph Jack. After the fall of Portuguese minority rule in Mozambique and Angola in 1975, Tambo organised to move MK guerrillas from the training camps in Tanzania and Zambia to Angola, near the South African border.
The Morogoro Conference
Growing discontent in the camps and criticisms of the leadership of the ANC precipitated the Morogoro Conference. ANC leaders were accused of a lack of progress in advancing the armed struggle. Numerous trained cadres remained in camps and were not deployed to South Africa, resulting in incidents such as the Mpanza debacle. Moreover, many felt that although countries such as Botswana and Swaziland had become independent, the leadership had failed to use these territories, which shared borders with South Africa, to infiltrate guerrillas into the country.
Around the mid-1960s, the OAU Liberation Committee, which provided both financial and political support for the armed struggle, put pressure on all liberation movements to intensify their military campaigns. The ANC initially responded by sending some trained guerrillas for retraining, but this was not enough to placate those who were discontented. In response, a group of commanders and commissars sent a memorandum to ANC leaders accusing them of being out of touch with events in South Africa, precipitating a rift between the political leadership and military rank-and-file within the movement. Those who wrote the memorandum were suspended, but others continued to identify with their grievances.
Consequently, a national consultative conference was convened from 25 April to 1 May 1969 at the ANC headquarters in Morogoro in what became known as the Morogoro Conference. The conference addressed the issue of communication between members of the ANC in exile and those inside the country. A Revolutionary Council (RC) was established to integrate political and military strategy. The Conference also considered whether non-Africans should be allowed to become members of the ANC leadership. For the first time, the ANC membership was opened to members of all races, but only Africans could be members of the National Executive Committee (NEC). Subsequent to this decision, Joe Slovo, Yusuf Dadoo and Reg September were elected to serve on the RC. At the end of the conference the ANC adopted the Strategy and Tactics Document, which became the first major policy document adopted by the ANC since the Freedom Charter.
The expulsion of the ANC from Tanzania
In October 1969 Oscar Kombona, a former minister who held the Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs and Defence portfolios in the post-independent Tanzanian government, and others were charged with treason. Kombona was accused of working with the US’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to overthrow the government of Tanzania and assassinate Julius Nyerere.
The state’s witness was Potlako K Leballo, a founder member of the PAC, which also had camps in Tanzania. Leballo testified that Kombona had tried to enlist him and a co-conspirator. During the trail Leballo alleged that the ANC was also involved in plotting the coup. The Tanzanian government was enraged, and expelled the ANC from Tanzania. All ANC people were to be rounded up and sent to refugee camps, but ANC leaders such as Moses Kotane, JB Marks and Oliver Tambo resisted the move, contending that they were not refuges but freedom fighters. The ANC was forced to close its camps in Tanzania and evacuate its military personnel to the Soviet Union, with assistance from the latter.
The ANC moved its headquarters from Morogoro to Lusaka in Zambia. Although the party was readmitted into Tanzania between 1971 and 1972, the clampdown by the Tanzanian government damaged relations between the two. When Reddy Mampane was appointed as the ANC’s Chief Representative to the country in 1976, relations between the government and the ANC were still frosty. Despite this setback, South African refuges continued to arrive in Tanzania and their numbers swelled, particularly after 1976.
Tanzanian support for the ANC was not without qualification, and known communists such as Yusuf Dadoo, Joe Slovo Michael Harmel and Ruth First, who were also members of the ANC, were later banned from Tanzanian soil and forced to operate elsewhere, mainly Europe.
Education in Tanzanian camps: Mazimbu and SOMAFCO
Camp Mazimbu was initially established to accommodate and educate the children of South African exiles in Dar-es Salaam. Mampane notes that the Tanzanian government grew concerned about children ‘loitering’ in Dar-es Salaam. For the ANC’s Chief Representative, the task of finding a suitable place for the children became urgent. Initially the children were taken from Dar-es Salaam to a place near Morogoro, where the ANC owned some land. However, the site was close to a Tanzanian military base and the move presented a new set of problems.
Mampane and another comrade approached Tanzanian Regional Commissioner Anna Abdallah and requested a larger, more suitable location for the children. The central government granted the request by donating an old sisal estate with dilapidated buildings at Mazimbu. After submitting a report to ANC headquarters in Zambia, Mampane was instructed to build a school at the site. Oswald ‘Ossie’ Dennis, a civil engineer, and architect Spencer Hodgosn were engaged to make the place more habitable. In July 1977, work on the construction of the Mazimbu camp commenced. For the first group of students, life was difficult as there was no electricity or water supply. Water was sourced from Morogoro and delivered by a truck.
After the Soweto Uprising in 1976 and the subsequent crackdown on political activists and student organisations, scores of young people fled into exile. Many of them joined the ANC and went for military training under the MK, while others joined the PAC. Some students went to Tanzania, and were received by Reddy Mampane who then sorted them according to whether they wanted to join MK or further their studies. In 1977 the first group of young people fleeing the tense political situation in South Africa arrived at Mazimbu, and they helped clear the land for construction. Plans to expand the buildings to accommodate more people were set in motion. Although Mazimbu was designed to be a refugee camp, informal educational classes became the main activity, and after some debate, the ANC eventually agreed to establish a school. Formal teaching commenced in 1978 and Wintshi Njobe was appointed as the principal.
Nordic countries provided support for the construction of school buildings and on 8 January 1979 foundations were laid. Later that year students were able to move into the first completed dormitory. Because of the limited capacity, rooms were used as classrooms as well as places of accommodation. A crèche, nursery, and primary and secondary schools were established to cater for the growing number of children of various ages. In 1980 a primary school with Terry Bell as its first principal, and in 1984 the Charlotte Maxeke Children’s Centre was opened in Mazimbu, alleviating the problem of transporting children daily from Morogoro to Mazimbu.
Apart from construction work, Nordic countries extended their help to include skills training, construction, teaching and medical assistance. A hospital, named the ANC Holland Solidarity Hospital, was opened on 4 May 1984. Mazimbu was renamed the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (SOMAFCO) after Solomon Mahlangu, who was executed by the apartheid government. In 1985 SOMAFCO was officially opened by Oliver Tambo.
SOMAFCO was also the site of other projects. In 1980 the Vuyisile Mini Furniture Factory was established to produce chairs, tables and doors for Mazimbu. A garment factory, a welding workshop and a farm where animal husbandry flourished were also set up. As the political situation in South Africa began to change in the 1990s, the process for a negotiated settlement gathered momentum, and the ANC and other liberation movements was unbanned and exiles were allowed to return to their country. On 9 September 1992, SOMAFCO was officially closed by the ANC and Oliver Tambo handed it over to the Tanzanian government.
Dakawa Development Centre
The increasing number of refugees and the decision by the ANC in Lusaka to keep Mazimbu strictly as a place of learning precipitated the establishment of another centre. Once more, the Tanzanian government was approached with a request for land. Anna Abdallah, with permission from the central government, donated 2800 hectares of land to the ANC. An underutilised farm in Dakawa, 60km from Mazimbu, the land was used to meet the housing, educational, cultural and recreational needs of the refugees. The first people to move to Dakawa lived in tents until proper accommodation was built. Mary Thuse was appointed as the first Director of Dakawa.
With the other camps lacking capacity, new arrivals were mostly being taken to Dakawa, where they stayed until they enrolled for classes at SOMAFCO. The Ruth First Education Orientation Centre and a Vocational Training Centre were established. In addition, small agricultural projects were initiated and between 1988 and 1989 the garment factory in Mazimbu was moved to Dakawa. The Dakawa Arts and Craft Project, set up to allow space for creative expression, proved to be popular among the exiles.
After the ANC was forced out of Angola, those imprisoned for the 1983 mutiny in ANC camps in Angola were transferred to Dakawa. Their conditions were relaxed somewhat as they began to play an important role in the life of the settlement. Dakawa also served as a Rehabilitation Centre for offenders from the Mazimbu camp. For instance, in 1983 when a student from Mazimbu was convicted of attempted rape, he was sent to the Dakawa Rehabilitation Centre. This was also the case for four students found guilty of impregnating female students in Mazimbu.
Dakawa was initially planned to accommodate 5000 people, but by 1990, when the transition to democracy was in progress, it had only 1200 people. With the demise of apartheid imminent, the Dakawa Arts and Craft Project was transferred to Grahamstown in October 1992.
South African government responses
Countries that shared borders with South Africa bore the brunt of attacks by the apartheid government for supporting the ANC or MK operatives. South Africa employed a variety of methods to deal with its enemies: ranging from assassination, abduction, destabilisation by sponsoring armed groups, and economic strangulation. Apartheid state terrorism also targeted countries that did not share borders with South Africa but which were strategically important to the ANC and MK, such as Angola and Zambia. This clearly shows that although Tanzania did not share borders with South Africa, it was not beyond the reach of South Africa.
Thus, South Africa still posed a threat to ANC camps in various parts of Tanzania. One of the ways in which the apartheid government was kept abreast of ANC activities in Tanzania was through its network of informers. Reddy Mampane states that there were many enemy agents in Mazimbu and he was involved in arresting those that had been identified. Mary Thuse, the Director of Dakawa, also stated that both camps were infiltrated by government agents. In 1983 a political commissar who had risen through the ranks at SOMAFCO was revealed to be an apartheid government informer.
Various suspicious incidents pointed to underhand attempts by the South African government to kill activists in Tanzania. In one incident, the water supply for SOMAFCO from the Ngerengre River was poisoned, leading to the death of many fish in the river. The incident aroused suspicions of water poisoning and Tanzanian authorities were informed. After testing the water, it was found to contain a poisonous substance, but the perpetrator was never caught. In another incident, Siphiwe Xaba, an apartheid government agent trained to produce poisonous substances, was caught. He revealed how he had been trained and confessed to poisoning comrades.
SOMAFCO had a prison of its own, nicknamed ‘Alcatraz’, where suspected spies were detained for interrogation by the ANC Security division. Other suspected spies were taken to Quatro in Angola for detention and ‘rehabilitation’.
Fortunately, none of the ANC military and refugee camps in Tanzania were ever raided by South African military forces.
Tanzania functioned first as a springboard and holding site for MK cadres who went for military training in countries such as the Soviet Union and GDR. Several MK recruits who left South Africa in the 1960s through Botswana via Southern Rhodesia into Zambia ended up in Tanzania. From here they were transported to the Soviet Union before being brought back to the camps to await further instructions. Tanzania itself later became a site for military training and refugees fleeing political persecution by the apartheid government.
Even after the ANC headquarters moved to Zambia, Tanzania continued to play an important role for the ANC and MK in exile – until the end of apartheid. In recognition of the role played by Julius Nyerere in the struggle for the liberation of South Africa, he was posthumously awarded the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo in 2004.
Brenman, J, R, Burton, A &Lawi, Y, (2007), Dar es Salaam: histories from an emerging African metropolis, (Dar-es Salaam), pp.49-51.
Copinger Easton, S.C, (1960), The twilight of European colonialism: a political analysis, (London), pp.229-232.
Mwakikagile, G, (2010), Nyerere and Africa: end of an era, (Dar es Salaam), p.111-114, 334, 362-368.
Eriksen, T, L, (2000), Norway and national liberation in southern Africa, (Stockholm), p.231, 342
Callinicos, L, (2004), Oliver Tambo Beyond the Engeli Mountains, (Cape Town), p. 236, 315, 435
Sisulu E, (2002), Walter & Albertina Sisulu: in our lifetime, (David Phillip Publishers), p.325
Morrow S, Maaba B & Pulumani, L, (2004), Education in exile: SOMAFCO, the African National Congress school in Tanzania 1978 to 1992, (Cape Town), pp.115-118.
SellstrÁ¶m, T, (2002), Liberation in Southern Africa: regional and Swedish voices, (Stockholm), pp.142-147, 585.
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Zambia was colonised in the 1890s by the British South Africa Company (BSAC) under Cecil John Rhodes. By 1900, the BSAC controlled an area covering the present day countries of Malawi, Zimbabwe and Zambia. When the company failed to find large deposits of gold, it relinquished political control of these areas in 1923. In August 1953 the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was formed with the aim of facilitating economic development in what was termed British Central Africa. This was met with fierce opposition by the Africans, resulting in the declaration of a state of emergency. On 31 December 1963 the Federation was dissolved.
Following the dissolution of the Federation, Nyasaland became independent on 6 July 1964 as the country of Malawi, and on 24 October 1964, Northern Rhodesia gained independence from Britain and became known as the Republic of Zambia, with Kenneth Kaunda as its first president. Kaunda’s party, the United National Independence Party (UNIP), won 55 out of 75 seats in the legislative assembly, defeating the African National Congress Party (ANCP) led by Harry Nkumbula.
The victory of Kaunda in the elections signaled an important phase in the struggle against colonial domination in the subcontinent. Immediately after assuming office, Kaunda sent letters to the South African Prime Minister asking for African leaders, including Nelson Mandela, to be imprisoned in Zambia rather than South Africa. Under his presidency, Kaunda allowed liberation movements from Angola, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe to use his country as a launch pad for the struggle against white minority rule in the subcontinent.
ANC establishes its headquarters in Zambia
Political developments within South Africa made it imperative for the liberation movement to establish itself in exile. The violent state response to growing demands for basic democratic freedoms curtailed the activities of the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). On 12 March 1960, the PAC embarked on an anti-pass march which was violently put down, resulting in 69 people dying and 180 being seriously wounded in what became known as the Sharpeville Massacre. In response to the growing protests, the government declared a state of emergency on 30 March 1960, banning all public meetings and arresting thousands of political activists. Finally, on 8 April 1960, the ANC and the PAC were banned under the Unlawful Organisations Act.
After banning of the ANC, the party set about establishing structures to carry out underground political activity within the country and set up offices outside the country. Significantly, in 1961 the ANC established its armed wing, uMkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation, or MK), as a vehicle to wage the armed struggle. That same year, Chief Albert Luthuli, the president of the ANC, sent Vice President Oliver Tambo abroad. Oliver Tambo was secretly driven across the border by Ronald Segal into Bechunaland (now Botswana). Later Dr Yusuf Dadoo, Chairperson of the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) and Chairperson of the underground SACP, followed. Both were tasked with mobilising international financial and diplomatic support for sanctions against South Africa. Tambo was instrumental in establishing ANC offices in London and Dar es Salaam. In addition, in 1962 Nelson Mandela, MK’s commander in chief, visited numerous African countries – among them Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco – where he and Tambo secured military training facilities for MK.
In the early 1960s Zambia was not yet independent, and was used only as a transit point for MK guerrillas on their way to Tanzania. MK guerillas who skipped the country travelled to Bechuanaland (now Botswana) via Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) into Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) on their way to Tanzania. A group of 32 MK recruits left South Africa in 1962 and travelled to Bechuanaland before proceeding to Southern Rhodesia, where they met their ZAPU contacts who in turn helped them cross the border into Northern Rhodesia on their way to Tanzania. As the route through Southern Rhodesia came under increasing surveillance by Rhodesian security forces, an alternative route which bypassed Southern Rhodesia was identified.
Kazungula lay at the confluence of Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Caprivi Strip of Namibia, and it was possible to cross the Zambezi River straight from Botswana into Zambia by boat. A ferry service which carried about 25 people at a time, operated by Zambian national Nelson Maiblowa, became the MK lifeline into Zambia. Not surprisingly, the ferry was named the “Freedom Ferry”. From mid-1962, MK guerillas heading to Tanzania began to use the route. It should be noted that the use of Northern Rhodesian territory as a transit point began before the country became independent.
After Northern Rhodesia became independent as the country of Zambia in 1964, the ANC opened an office in the capital, Lusaka, in 1965. Thomas Nkobi was appointed the ANC’s chief representative in Zambia, a position he held until 1968 when he was appointed Deputy Treasurer General. That same year a leading member of MK, Mavuso Msimang, and a reconnaissance team were deployed in Zambia to explore the possibility of establishing an infiltration route to South Africa across the Zambezi River via Southern Rhodesia. At the same time MK explored the idea of cooperation with other liberations movements and approached ZAPU.
Negotiations with ZAPU began in 1966 and in 1967 leaders of the two movements agreed on a joint military campaign. Subsequent to this, a joint military and political High Command was formed. Significantly, the move was supported by Zambia and Tanzania, thus Zambia allowed MK and ZIPRA guerrillas to use its territory as a launch pad for the Wankie and Sipolilo Campaigns. Weapons were smuggled into Zambia from Tanzania and hidden in various places on the Zambia side of the Zambezi Valley.
After the failure of the Wankie campaign, several members of MK were arrested and imprisoned in Botswana, where they had fled. Zambia played a crucial role in negotiating their release and they were deported to its territory. In one instance, in August 1967, several guerillas from the Wankie campaign were arrested in Botswana. They were given varying prison sentences ranging from six to nine years. Among those imprisoned in Botswana were Chris Hani, Justice Mpanza, James April and Tlou Theophilus Cholo. Kenneth Kaunda met with Seretse Khama, the president of Botswana, to negotiate their release. After mounting pressure from the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the Anti-Apartheid Movement, Botswana released the prisoners and deported them to Zambia.
Developments in Tanzania’s internal politics eventually drove the ANC to establish itself in Zambia. In October 1969 Oscar Kombona, a former minister who held the Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs and Defence portfolios in the post independent Tanzanian government, and several other suspects were charged with treason. Potlako K Leballo, a founder member of the PAC who testified in the treason trial of Kombona, implicated the ANC in the plot. This angered the Tanzanian government, which expelled the ANC from Tanzania. As a result the ANC moved its headquarters from Morogoro in Tanzania to Lusaka in Zambia.
The Lusaka Manifesto
In April 1969 representatives from thirteen countries in Central and East Africa met in Zambia to discuss African issues such as diplomatic relations between African governments, including apartheid South Africa. The conference produced a document known as the Lusaka Manifesto, and on 13 April all the countries except Malawi signed the document. While the document called for the independence of African states from colonial rule, it took a conciliatory approach to South Africa. Part of the manifesto recognised South Africa as “”¦an independent sovereign state and a member of the United Nations ”¦ On every legal basis its internal affairs are a matter exclusively for the people of South Africa.” Nevertheless it called for the overthrow of white minority rule through non-violent means and pressed for economic sanctions if South Africa did not abandon its policy of apartheid.
The ANC was unsettled by the manifesto and rejected it for two reasons. One was that the manifesto came just after the Wankie Campaigns, which were part of the attempt by the ANC to intensify the armed struggle. Yet, African countries were adopting a seemingly conciliatory approach to South Africa. As Thomas points out, the “second and possibly more worrying [reason] for the ANC, [was that] the Lusaka Manifesto undermined one of its main diplomatic positions: that the South African government was an illegal regime”. While the ANC did voice its criticism in public because of support MK was receiving in Tanzania and Zambia, the party was clearly unsettled by the development. Oliver Tambo attempted to address the issue by approaching Kenneth Kaunda and Julius Nyerere to convey the ANC’s views.
ANC in Zambia
From the 1970s onwards, Lusaka assumed prominence in the ANC’s struggle against apartheid, largely as a result of the souring of relations between the ANC and the government of Tanzania in 1969. Despite readmission to Tanzania in 1971 and 1972, the movement’s headquarters remained in Lusaka. It was from Lusaka that the ANC operated and coordinated the activities of MK in various parts of Southern Africa. Recruits who left South Africa via Lesotho or Mozambique ended up in Lusaka before they were sent for military training. In 1974 Gertrude Shope was appointed as the ANC’s Chief representative in Zambia, a position she held until 1981, when she moved to head the Women`s Section.
The relationship between Zambia and the ANC depended on what was in the best interests of Zambia. In the mid-1970s Kenneth Kaunda engaged in what became known as “détente" with the South Africa government. This had a chilling effect on the operations of the ANC for most of the 1970s. Late in 1975 the Zambian government halted the ANC’s Radio Freedom broadcasts to South Africa, made from its territory. This continued through 1976 and 1977, but in 1978 the Zambian government let the ANC and MK to expand their propaganda capabilities by allowing regular transmissions from Lusaka – in addition to broadcasts from Tanzania. Other transmissions areas, for example Angola, Madagascar and Ethiopia, were added later. Among those who were attached to Radio Freedom were Pallo Jordan (1977), Lindiwe Mabuza, Josiah Jele and Johannes Refiloe Mudimu, the co-ordinator of ANC Youth Radio Programmes as well as a member of the Editorial Board of Youth Publications.
Zambia, nervous about its proximity to South Africa, placed restrictions on ANC activity in the country. Thus the Zambian government did not allow the establishment of MK military training camps on its soil and forbade ANC members from keeping weapons. In view of this limitation, the ANC worked closely with ZAPU’s armed wing ZIPRA, which had military training camps in Zambia. Olefile Samuel Mnqibisa, an MK recruit, provides some insight into this arrangement:
“I left South Africa on June 25 1976, after and during the bloody June 16th Soweto school uprisings, to join Umkhonto weSizwe MK in Botswana. I was trained by the Cubans in 1977 in Novo Catenga, a camp in the south of Angola, as an MK freedom fighter. After this training I left for Zambia to undergo survival course training in Zipra’s training centre outside Lusaka. In December 1978, after undergoing Zipra training, I was picked up at MK House, which we termed Yellow House because it was painted yellow. This was the MK underground house in Lusaka, Nychonga compound.”
This cooperation went further than just military training; ZIPRA also helped MK in Zambia to detain those suspected of being spies for the apartheid government. Mnqibisa was detained in one of those camps on suspicion of being a government informant.
Secondly, MK established a network of underground houses across various suburbs in Lusaka where recruits were relayed to other countries for military training or sent to ZIPRA training camps. One such house was the Yellow house referred to by Mnqibisa. Apart from being used as an underground transit point for recruits, the house was used as a venue for meetings. There were also ANC houses in Lusaka townships such as Lilanda and Chilenje. Others were established in suburbs such as Roma, Kabulonga and Woodlands. In addition, the government allowed the ANC to purchase farms and own property.
Zambia became even more important for the ANC and MK in the 1980s, as its members were pushed out of other countries. With the signing of a secret agreement between South Africa and Swaziland in 1982, and the Nkomati Accord in Mozambique in 1984, Lusaka became increasingly valuable. In the early 1980s, relations between the newly independent state of Zimbabwe and the ANC were still a work in progress.
The Kabwe Conference
The National Consultative Conference at Kabwe, held in Zambia from 16 to 23 June 1985, was the first meeting in sixteen years since the national conference of the ANC at Morogoro in Tanzania in 1969. Under the theme “From the Venue of the Conference to Victory”, 250 delegates representing missions in South Africa met with 21 members from abroad. In addition numerous members of the ANC’s security department attended ex officio. Zambian troops surrounded the conference hall to provide protection from possible commando raids by Pretoria hit squads.
The conference proceedings were chaired by Jack Simons, while John Nkadimeng and Dan Thloome chaired other sessions. Ngculu points out that at the conference “the issue of continuing tension around the lack of coordination between the political and military structures of the organisation was raised”. Emphasis was put on the people’s war and the power of the oppressed masses to fuel internal unrest and use their economic strength to bring the apartheid government down. Furthermore, attacks on soft targets such as border area farmers, civil defence workers, state witnesses and police informers was legitimised.
Significantly, at the Kabwe Conference a decision was taken to allow non-Africans to become members of the ANC’s NEC. This was a step forward from the Morogoro Conference which had granted whites and others membership of the ANC, but kept the ANC NEC an Africans-only body.
Another pressing issue for the Kabwe conference was the need to formulate a response to overwhelming demands from the rank and file, which had led to the mutiny in MK camps in Angola in 1984. The mutiny ended with public executions at Pango camp in northern Angola the following May. However, at Kabwe the issue was not even tabled for discussion, nor were any of the findings of the Stuart Commission Report which investigated the mutiny. ANC leaders controlled the agenda by saturating the conference with office holders and handpicked delegates. Consequently, throughout the proceedings some of the most crucial problems facing the ANC and MK were evaded. However, the ANC adopted a Code of Conduct with a set of rules and procedures for dealing with security detainees, but consideration of the reform of its security apparatus was deferred to a later meeting.
At the end of the conference 30 members of the NEC were elected. Tambo was re-elected as president of the ANC. Among those elected were Thomas Nkobi, Thabo Mbeki, Joe Modise, Joe Nhlanhla, Pallo Jordan, Ruth Mompati and Jonny Makhathini. Crucially five non-African members were elected to the NEC for the first time – Joe Slovo, Mac Maharaj, Aziz Pahad, Reg September and James Stuart.
MK in Zambia also faced internal problems when allegations of racial discrimination were made by John Motshabi, an NEC member. He claimed that Indians and Whites were given preference in the party, and as evidence he pointed to differences in accommodation standards. Indians and Whites, Motshabi alleged, were housed in suburbs such as Roma, Kabulonga and Woodlands, while Africans were accommodated in townships such as Lilanda and Chilenje. He also decried what he claimed was the domination of the party by Xhosa-speakers. Jack Simons responded to this allegation by attacking the document compiled by Motshabi.
Allegations of miscarriages of justice and abuse of those detained by the security wing of the ANC, iMbokodo, were also leveled against the party. Perhaps one example that continued to hover over the party was the death in Lusaka in November 1989 of Muziwakhe Ngwenya, an MK Commander and member of SACP whose alias was Thami Zulu. He was detained for about 16 months after it was alleged that he was an agent of the apartheid government. Five days after Zulu was released from detention he died. Suspicions regarding his death spawned rumours that he was murdered by fellow comrades. His death set in motion a Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses committed by the ANC in its military training camps in exile, headed by Advocate Thembile Louis Skweyiya. Despite the probe, the death of Zulu has continued to haunt the ANC with the party’s National Working Committee issuing a statement on the matter as recently as 13 March 2009:
"The fact is that on three separate occasions these deaths were investigated – in the Skweyiya Commission, the Motsuenyane Commission and South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) – and at no point was there any evidence presented that linked Jacob Zuma directly or indirectly to any of these incidents."
The apartheid government’s response: Cooperation with Southern Rhodesia
The apartheid government responded to the presence of MK and the ANC in Zambia in several ways. Perhaps one of the earliest responses was increased cooperation with Rhodesian security forces. After the failure of two MK and ZIPRA military campaigns to infiltrate guerillas into South Africa via Southern Rhodesia, the latter requested assistance from South Africa. In response, South Africa sent police officers to help the Rhodesians capture MK and ZIPRA guerrillas. Some MK guerrillas arrested in Southern Rhodesia were handed over to South African authorities. Michael Kitso Dingake was arrested in Southern Rhodesia on his way to Zambia on 8 December 1965 and illegally transferred to Pretoria, where he was charged with sabotage and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Around this period Zambia expressed concerns about the presence of South African forces in Southern Rhodesia.
South Africa also shared intelligence about ZAPU/ZIPRA activities in Zambia. Craig Williamson, a South Africa government counter-intelligence operative, worked closely with a certain Anthony White, a former Selous Scout, to assassinate Joshua Nkomo. Williamson passed on information regarding the Liberation Centre run by ZAPU in Lusaka to the Rhodesian government, suggesting suitable targets. In April 1979 the Liberation Centre in Lusaka was bombed. On the morning after the attack Williamson visited the destroyed site, accompanied by Laban Oyaka, the Assistant Executive Secretary of the OAU Liberation Committee.
Zambia came under increasing pressure from South Africa in 1973 when Southern Rhodesia closed its borders with Zambia. The South African government trained and supported a rebel group led by Adam Mushala in 1975 and deployed the unit in western Zambia in 1976. The South African government hoped to capitalise on discontent in Barosteland in western Zambia. The group engaged in military activities that disrupted the Western Province and Northwestern Province. South African involvement in Mushala’s activities was confirmed by the TRC Report, which notes:
“”¦there is much stronger evidence of South African involvement in the creation of a Zambian dissident force during the 1980s, in the form of the Mushala Gang. What is significant about this Zambian case is that it pre-dates by several years the conventional wisdom as to when surrogates like UNITA, RENAMO and the Lesotho Liberation Army (LLA) became key components of South Africa’s regional counter-mobilisation strategy.” (Truth and Reconciliation of South Africa Report, Volume 2, p.18.)
Zambia complained to the United Nations that South Africa was sponsoring destabilisation efforts in Zambia through Mushala, an accusation that Minister of Defence Pieter Botha did not deny. On 26 November 1982 Mushala was killed by Zambian security forces, but his followers continued with their activities in the mid-1980s. In 1984 an Italian group of prospective miners were forced to flee the affected areas due to attacks.
Infiltration of ANC structures in exile
The apartheid government recruited people inside the ANC and MK to provide South Africa with intelligence. In March 1981 the ANC’s intelligence agency accidentally discovered an elaborate spy network in Zambia which had been operating for a long time. Piper, a member of the ANC’s NEC, SACTU and the SACP based in Lusaka, accidentally blew his cover and attempted to flee to South Africa. He was arrested in Botswana and handed back to the ANC’s security department in Zambia. After interrogation he admitted to working for the apartheid government and provided names of others who were also government informants. Timothy Tebogo “Chief” Seremane (alias Kenneth Mahamba), who had risen to become an MK camp commander at Quibaxe in Angola, was fingered by Piper as an undercover agent for the South African government. Mahamba was found guilty by an ANC tribunal and executed in Angola.
Attacks on the ANC on Zambian soil
In addition to working together with Southern Rhodesia, South African security forces carried out targeted assassinations in Zambia. These began in the 1970s and escalated in the mid-to-late 1980s. In 1974 Boy Adolphus Mvemve (alias John Dube), the ANC Deputy Chief Representative in Lusaka, was killed by a parcel bomb in Zambia. Mvemve and Maxwell Sisulu were working at the ANC’s office and sorting mail during lunchtime. Sisulu recalled the incident: “We normally sorted the post during lunchtime, when it was quiet. People were away from the office, and we ourselves could take some time off for other things.” Then Mvemve opened “what looked like a book” and it exploded, severing his hands and face, killing him instantly. Sisulu, who was injured but survived the explosion, regained consciousness in hospital a day later.
List of attacks by South Africa in Zambia
- On 2 July 1985 a bomb was thrown over the wall of the ANC headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia.
- On 19 May 1986 the SADF launched simultaneous raids in Lusaka, Harare and Gaborone during the visit by Commonwealth EPG.
- September 1987, a parcel bomb exploded, killing one person and injuring seven others as postal workers unloaded a train from South Africa.
- 7 December 1985, a parcel bomb exploded in Lusaka, injuring one ANC member.
- December 1985, two men were killed while trying to kidnap ANC members from a transit camp in Zambia.
- 20 January 1988, the ANC’s Lusaka offices were bombed, and four Zambians were injured.
- December 1988, a car bomb exploded in Livingstone, Zambia, killing two people and injuring 13 others.
- January 1989, two bomb blasts in Zambia killed two people.
- In February, a bomb explosion in a private house in Lusaka failed to kill ANC secretary-general Alfred Nzo.
It is evident that the South African government embarked on a campaign of targeted bombings, particularly on ANC people and infrastructure, to discourage Zambia from supporting the liberation struggle. Despite this pressure, Zambia remained the ANC’s nerve centre, the site from where struggle for liberation was coordinated.
Zambia and the South African transition to democracy
Increasing internal pressure from social unrest driven by the Mass Democratic Movement, tightening sanctions imposed by the international community and gradually changing geopolitical conditions forced the apartheid government to consider negotiations with the ANC. A series of delegations from various groups began approaching the ANC in Lusaka, particularly in the mid-to-late 1980s, in preparation for a transition. As early as 1984 the idea of bringing in National Party leaders to Lusaka was mooted but rejected by the ANC. Then in March 1986, a delegation from the Inyandza movement led by Chief Minister Enos Mabuza from the Kangwane homeland met with the ANC in Lusaka. In May 1988, legal academics, attorneys and lawyers also met with the ANC in Lusaka. Thus Zambia became a point of convergence for attempts to create an environment that would facilitate a transition to democracy in South Africa.
After their release from prison, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Walter Sisulu and other Rivonia Trialists went to Lusaka to attend an ANC NEC meeting on 1-2 March 1990. The delegation was met by Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, exiled members of the ANC, leaders of the Frontline states and Commonwealth representatives. When Kaunda suggested that the ANC should suspend the armed struggle as an incentive for the South African government to implement reforms, Mandela rejected the idea. He stated:
“The ANC is not in the same position as the National Party in regard to negotiation ”¦ We can't be expected to make any concessions to the Government, no matter what difficulties it has ”¦ It is quite clear that the Government is not yet prepared to meet us and you can't expect us, therefore, to make any concessions to the Government.” (New York Times, 1 March 1990).
During the ANC NEC meeting issues discussed included the removal of obstacles by the South African government to create an enabling environment to facilitate negotiations. Mandela was appointed as the Deputy President of the ANC and the party decided to establish headquarters in Johannesburg. In May 1990 the ANC Women’s League met in Lusaka where an interim leadership corps was established. As negotiations began in earnest, exiled ANC and SACP members began leaving Lusaka and returning to South Africa.
After the transition to democracy, the South African government awarded Kenneth Kaunda the the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo in Gold in December 2002 in recognition of his role in the struggle against apartheid.
Dale, R, (1995), Botswana's search for autonomy in southern Africa,( Greenwood Press), p.33
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International Support for the MK
International Support for the MK
Support for the ANC and the armed struggle was to a certain extent influenced by the prevailing atmosphere of the Cold War. The South African government exploited cold war fears and rivalry between the United States and Soviet Union to secure the support of the United States. South Africa labeled the ANC a rooi gevaar (red danger) and the MK a terrorist organisation aided by the Soviet government. Moreover, the United States considered South Africa a strategic partner in the fight against the spread of communism, in particular the spread of communism in southern Africa. Without the United States support, the ANC looked east to find support. The Soviet intend on increasing its power base in the southern hemisphere gave her support to the ANC. As a result, members of the MK were trained by the Soviet Union in Moscow. Moreover, the ANC began to align itself much closely with the communist ideology. A growing number of ANC members increasingly saw the struggle against apartheid as a class struggle with black people serving as the underclass. Socialism became a promising solution to South Africa’s problem and Africa as a whole. ANC strong backers in Africa, like Ghana, Zambia, and Tanzania had adopted socialism as a governing policy capable of securing the benefits of freedom. It was under this guise, however, not the only guise, that the MK was able to find support internationally.
The MK was probably an ambitious development in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. The MK was faced with a formidable army backed up by a growing economy. Thought the MK could rely on the support of neighbouring countries, their economic dependence on South Africa was disheartening. It was because of this dependence and lack of military strength that the MK was forced to open its military bases far from South Africa. Their objection to allowing the MK to use their territories to launch attacks against South Africa weakened the MK in the early 1960s until 1980. The MK had to use a very dangerous path (Zimbabwe) to launch its campaigns. This meant that it had to do battle with two equally formidable Rhodesian Army and South African Army. To a large extend these difficulties reflect the difficulties of the 1960s and early 1970s. Because after these period there was a shift in the balance of power with Portuguese colonies gained their independence and provided the MK with a safe haven to open its military bases and launch attacks against South Africa. In 1980 Rhodesia was freed from military rule and it changed its name to Zimbabwe. In the early 1970s southern African countries began to organize themselves into Frontline States opposed to white minority rule in Southern Africa and also to decrease their dependence on South African economy. Developments such as these meant an increased support for the ANC and military operations.