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People's War: Reflections of an ANC Cadre

People's War: Reflections of an ANC Cadre

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People's War: Reflections of an ANC Cadre

560 pagine
10 ore
Jul 3, 2017


A great deal of the revolutionary work that Charles Nqakula undertookas an ANC underground cadre and combatant of Umkhonto we Sizwewas in the Eastern Cape. This book is a well-documented and detailedrecollection of those difficult and dangerous times when detention,imprisonment, torture, and even death were always imminent.It required massive courage and heroism to be part of that arrayof outstanding leaders and cadres of the revolutionary movements.Readers will be convinced that Charles and his wife/partner Nosiviwewere selfless, dedicated, loyal, disciplined, and brave freedom fighters.This book is noteworthy because Charles remembers, gives due credit,and attaches names to the many comrades who participated in thatheroic struggle with him and Nosiviwe. It is difficult to understand andappreciate the dialectical interconnectedness of the individual and thecollective. The collective is always more important than the individualbut the collective is at the same time the sum total of the individualcontributions. In this book, Charles successfully portrays that delicateand complex relationship. The People's War describes the work undertaken by Charles and Nosiviwe in the ANC underground and MK units in a dispassionatemanner without any self-praise or grandstanding. Charles also recountshow Nosiviwe nearly lost her life in an ambush carried out by Unita onan MK convoy as well as an attempted assassination outside their homein Cyrildene. In the latter chapters of the book, Charles writes about politicaldevelopments and processes from 1990 up to the present time. He recounts his work as a mediator in the conflicts in Burundi, Cte d'Ivoire, and Mauritania, the pain and anguish at the tragic murder of their son, Chumani Siyavuya, and comments on the debilitating challenges of factionalism, election slates, and corruption degrading the integrity, unity, reputation, values, and electoral support of the ANC.
Jul 3, 2017

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People's War - Charles Nqakula




The day was 16 June 1985. The occasion was one of the most important in the life of the African National Congress. June 16 has become one of the milestones in the revolutionary history of South Africa⁴ – it has gone into our history books as Youth Day. On that day in 1985, the ANC was starting its Second Consultative Conference in Kabwe, a small town in Zambia about 140km north of Lusaka. The First Consultative Conference had happened 16 years earlier, on 25 April 1969, in Morogoro, Tanzania.

Next to me in the conference hall sat my future wife, Nosiviwe Mapisa. We were undergoing training together in Angola. However, we were special guests at the conference and not part of the delegation from the ANC camps in Angola where the great majority of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) soldiers were trained.

Nosiviwe used her nom de guerre, Thembie Nomhle Dywili, to register herself.⁵ (The real Nomhle Dywili is Nosiviwe’s long-time friend from Cape Town. Their friendship has grown stronger over the years.) I had assumed the name Sandile Mtati, but that nom de guerre was blown when Sabata Dalindyebo, king of the abaThembu, took the platform to deliver a speech – an issue I will return to later. I had first encountered the name Sandile Mtati when I worked at Hintsa Siwisa’s law firm, as one of Siwisa’s clients. Siwisa will be dealt with more fully later in the book.

Both Nosiviwe and I could barely hide our excitement. We were seated near the front of the hall in the second row on the left. Both of us were new in exile and had never attended an ANC gathering of that size. We were underground workers, and the meetings we attended were very small as demanded by the rules of secrecy in clandestine work.

We were not the only ones to feel excited on that day. Everybody was excited. There was music and dancing – the atmosphere was phenomenal. The MK contingent led the singing.

Then there was momentary silence followed by a thunderous ovation: our leaders were entering the hall. Once more we exploded into song. Someone began singing ‘Tambo, s’khokele Tambo!’ (‘Tambo, lead us, Tambo!’). They sat down on the stage – there they were before our eyes, the leaders of the revolution unfolding in South Africa who had been declared outlaws by the apartheid regime; the leaders who were loved by the masses of our people in South Africa and by many progressive democrats across the world.

Oliver Reginald Tambo had been in exile since 1960 but was a household name in our country. Most South Africans followed his leadership and that of the organisation he led.

Many of us had never seen the collective leadership before and were trying to put names to their faces. We called them amaXhego (the old ones), which had nothing to do with their age but referred to their wisdom and wealth of experience in terms of their political thought and what was required to implement the demands of the people’s revolution. In other words, they were the Wise Old Men and Women of our revolution.

Nosiviwe and I were fortunate to have seen some of them before we went to Angola for our military and political training. The first leader we met, who had recently arrived in Maseru, was Chris Hani. He was in Lusaka and was clearly on a mission there or in another theatre of war as demanded by his role in MK and the armed struggle. He was the army commissar at the time while Joe Modise was MK commander and Joe Slovo chief-of-staff. Those were some of the most recognisable names in the people’s revolution. They were in charge of the people’s army.

Hani asked to see us when he heard through ANC structures in Lesotho that we had left South Africa to join the movement in exile and arrived in Maseru. The debriefing session took a while but was extremely useful and enjoyable. All of us in the room, the leadership of the Alliance in Lesotho, Hani, Nosiviwe and I, were relaxed, speaking openly about our revolution, putting our strong points and weaknesses under the microscope.

I liked and respected Hani from that moment. He was open and frank in his analysis but, more importantly, welcomed suggestions on how to address our weaknesses and maximise our gains against the enemy. He was knowledgeable about developments inside South Africa and shed light on a number of strategic questions that faced us in dealing with the three-headed monster we had to confront: the racist regime, its Bantustan proxies, including Transkei and Ciskei, and the apartheid security forces.

We had met the ANC’s president, Oliver Tambo (Comrade O. R., as he was affectionately referred to), soon after our arrival in Lusaka. The ANC’s national executive committee had been in session and we were called to meet the leadership when the meeting ended. That encounter was arranged by Joe Nhlanhla, the NEC’s administrative secretary.

Lindinto Hlekani (nom de guerre Monde Keke), a member of the political committee in Lesotho, was also in Lusaka at the time and came to the meeting with us. Apart from Tambo, Modise, and Slovo, other NEC members who were present included the secretary-general, Alfred Nzo; the treasurer general, Thomas Nkobi; the national commissar, Andrew Masondo;⁶ national executive committee member, Simon Makana; Gertrude Shope, the secretary of the ANC’s Women’s Section; the president of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (Sactu), Stephen Dlamini; John Nkadimeng, the Sactu general secretary; Mark Shope, a Sactu executive member who conducted political education for MK members in our camps, and Mhleli Mgwayi (nom de guerre Gazi), who was in charge of Sactu’s operations inside South Africa.

One evening while we were still in Lusaka, Janet Love, one of the younger cadres of the movement who was working for the South African Communist Party (SACP) in the Zambian capital, arrived at offices of the Politico-Military Council (PMC). She told me Thabo Mbeki, who headed the ANC’s Department of Information and Propaganda, wanted to see me and dropped me off at his residence. Although I had read a lot of his writings and heard many stories about him, this was the first time I had met him in person. A pamphlet he had written on the United Democratic Front (UDF) in South Africa had landed me in trouble on an earlier date, but we will come to that later.

I had first come across Mbeki’s name at the Lovedale Missionary Institution when I arrived there in 1959. His name appeared on a list of students who had had done well in their Junior Certificate (Grade 10) exams that was posted on the notice board. His grades indicated that he was highly intelligent, and those who attended the school the previous year confirmed his brilliance. I also knew his father, Govan Mbeki, from reading his writings and listening to stories about him. Govan was based in Port Elizabeth at the time, and students from that city told stories about his work as a revolutionary.

Encouraged by my experience as a journalist, Mbeki was keen to draw me into the Information Department. He said it would be useful to use that experience to strengthen the movement’s propaganda campaign. I liked the way he explained his theory of our struggle; his brilliance radiated through everything he said. I also met Siphiwe Nyanda (Guebuza) at Mbeki’s residence. Another former journalist, he appeared to be a member of Mbeki’s team whose responsibilities also included international relations. The rapport between the two men was palpable – Nyanda had gone into exile in 1975 and their relationship must have developed over many years.

Nosiviwe and I also met Jacob Zuma, a member of the Political Committee (PC), at the PMC’s offices in Kabwata, Lusaka. The PC and Military Headquarters fell under the PMC, which was responsible for political mobilisation and guerrilla warfare inside South Africa. The PC had other heavyweights among its members, including Mac Maharaj, Josiah Jele, Ruth Mompati, and Nkadimeng.

With Zuma were two other PC members, Joel Netshitenzhe (Peter Mayibuye) and Vusi Mavimbela (Klaus Maphepha). We had already met Netshitenzhe and Mavimbela, who were regular visitors to the PMC Block. Mavimbela picked us up from a house we were initially assigned to on Kenneth Kaunda Square and brought us to the PMC Block, which was to be our new residence.

It was at the Kaunda Square house that I first met Chris Pepani (Ntokozo/Sbali). Nosiviwe knew Pepani, as they had gone to the same school in Mdantsane, near East London. She remembered him as a brilliant scholar who, after passing matric (Grade 12), enrolled for medical studies. He did not finish them – the security forces harassed him until he was forced into exile. The main tenant at the house was a very likeable comrade called Joseph Motou Phala (Warrah Simon) who told us many hilarious tales. Phala took us around Kaunda Square where we visited the houses of Zambians and those occupied by our comrades. He knew many Zambian nationals who were very fond of him.

The ANC had invested heavily in Netshitenzhe and Mavimbela, giving these talented youngsters military and political training and polishing their skills in such areas as strategic planning and writing. They were also members of MK and the SACP. My sense was that they were being groomed, together with many other young cadres, for higher office by the ANC.

The third member of our unit to arrive in exile was Mzwakhe Ndlela, who, we surmised, was to be deployed to a different structure and was given different accommodation. Another unit took charge of him from Lesotho to Lusaka and onwards to Angola. He was not at our debriefing sessions with Hani and Zuma and did not attend the meeting with the NEC members. Our team was reunited when we moved to Angola for training.

Concluding the debriefing, Zuma asked us which projects in the ANC’s political programme we wanted to be slotted into. He set out the options, including receiving further training in the work we did before leaving South Africa: Nosiviwe was a teacher and I was a journalist. We were quite clear that we did not want to return to our previous professions. Our three-person unit wanted military and political training, which we felt had to lead to being infiltrated back into South Africa to fight the apartheid system. We told Zuma this, and emphasised that, because we were a three-member unit, we were speaking on Ndlela’s behalf as well.

All of these militants were present at the Kabwe conference on the anniversary of the Soweto students’ uprising on 16 June 1976. Indeed, some of the students who had been part of that uprising were in the conference hall, many of them now members of MK. Other MK members at the conference came from older generations of exiles from the 1960s onwards.

There were others on the stage that we had seen in Lusaka before going to Angola. One of them, national commissar Masondo, was a former mathematics lecturer at Fort Hare University. He was quite young when he held that post. He had also been the Victoria East commander of the recently formed MK, and after being arrested in 1963 was sentenced to 12 years on Robben Island for MK activities.

Masondo often visited the PMC Block to teach mathematics to MK members who were based there. He loved maths. On one occasion while at the block, he described to us how he had been arrested. He had used a saw to cut down electricity pylons in Alice but was exposed when his shoeprints were found at the ‘crime’ scene and a search of his residence at Fort Hare found sawdust on the soles of his shoes. Someone must have sold him out, but Masondo did not venture into the blame game. He also provided no details of his trial.

Looking up at the stage, my eyes settled on Simon Makana, Ray Alexander, John Motshabi, Gertrude Shope, Pallo Jordan, and Mac Maharaj. A mischievous smile formed on my lips. I was thinking about what it would be like to pit the six leaders against each other, chaired by Makana: the abrasive Motshabi squaring up with Maharaj’s intellectual arrogance; the erudite Jordan’s argumentativeness; Alexander’s feistiness with Shope trying to get her contribution in edgewise and Makana working overtime to find ways to mediate between the divergent positions and bring order to the proceedings. That would be an interesting engagement.

At the time of the conference, Skweyiya, who obtained a doctorate in law from the University of Leipzig, was based in Lusaka where he had been instructed to set up the ANC’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Department. He was joined in that section by Penuell Maduna, Ntozintle Jobodwana and Teddy Phekane. The unit was further expanded towards the end of the 1980s to include Brigitte Mabandla, Sandile Nogxina, and Mathews Phosa.

In the row behind us, I saw Ruth Mompati, one of the ANC leaders whom I first met in Mazimbu, Tanzania. Members of one of the ANC’s sections took me from Dar es Salaam to Mazimbu and Dakawa, as a recent arrival from South Africa who could provide fresh news from home. I was asked to brief the comrades there, some of whom had been in exile for many, many years.

While in Mazimbu, I also visited the ANC’s Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (Somafco). One of the most engaging people I encountered on that trip was Rica Hodgson, who was working as the secretary of Henry Makgothi, chairperson of the ANC’s education committee, who inherited her from Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (Somafco) principal Tim Maseko. Rica’s husband was Jack Hodgson, a founder member of MK who trained early recruits in the making of explosives used in the ANC’s sabotage campaign. I was attracted to military engineering and Jack Hodgson became my icon.

When the ANC government came to power, it awarded Rica the prestigious Companion of Luthuli Order in bronze for her ‘excellent contribution to the struggle for a non-racist, non-sexist, just, and democratic South Africa by carrying out onerous work for the liberation movement that included fundraising, organising, and producing underground political material while in South Africa and in exile’.

I met a number of other ANC leaders in Mazimbu, including Makgothi, Mendi Msimang, Robert Manci, Mohammed Tikly, and Eric Mtshali. Tikly had spent most of his time in exile in England where he was assigned various tasks by the ANC and where he qualified as a teacher. In the early 1980s, he was appointed Somafco director.

Our settlements of Mazimbu and Dakawa were close to Morogoro where the first Consultative Conference of the ANC was held in 1969 and where the working class was accorded a central role in the unfolding National Democratic Revolution.

We saw two other key leaders at the Kabwe Conference. Jack Simons, Ray Alexander’s husband, a senior communist and leading Marxist-Leninist theoretician, sat at the back of the hall and would later shout at the top of his voice for an ‘Open Door’! – the opening of the ANC national executive committee to members of all races. Then there was Pass Four – the nom de guerre of Johannes Phungula, commander of some of the MK fighters operating in northern Natal who would take the stage at an important point in the conference when the concept of a People’s War was under discussion. In the relevant commission, the idea was styled ‘People’s War and Insurrection’. Phungula asked Zuma to interpret for him as he wanted to address the conference in isiZulu, his home language.

We also saw communist and brilliant lawyer, Albie Sachs, his face embellished by his wonderful smile. I never saw him without that smile at Kabwe. Sachs went up to the conference lectern to deliver one of the most thought-provoking policy positions in the history of the ANC Alliance, which Tambo had asked him to develop. His work was the clearest illustration of how extraordinary the ANC was, given its underground status and the fact that it was involved in a revolutionary struggle to topple the South African regime and build democracy in the country.

The document, the ANC Code of Conduct, introduced a moral ethos into everything that was done in the name of the movement by its members, including the leadership, and laid down rules as a personal badge of morality and honour in the struggle for South Africa’s liberation.

The centrepiece of the code was humaneness and morality – even in the handling of exposed security agents infiltrated into our ranks by the apartheid security forces. When the code was finally endorsed by the conference, it included the following lines:

The ANC is the instrument created by the people of South Africa to achieve their goal of a just and democratic society, to build a world in which all our people live together as equals, countrymen and brothers.

In fighting for justice in our land, we must ensure at all times that justice exists inside our own organisation. Our members, the people of South Africa, and the people of the world must know and feel that, for us, justice is not merely an ideal but the fundamental principle that governs all our actions. Accordingly, we must at all times act justly in our own ranks, train our people in the procedure of justice and establish the embryo of the new justice system we envisage for a liberated South Africa.

The ANC is fighting for people’s power and, in the last analysis, it is the same power of the people that all the organs of the ANC, including the judicial organs, express. The people want justice and the people want to be protected both against external exploiters and against abuses within their own ranks. Accordingly, the people want proper institutions to guarantee the just exercise of their power.

It would be appropriate to give Sachs the last word on this subject as recorded in his book, Albie Sachs and Transformation in South Africa:

The young soldiers, and the not-so-young lawyers (at the Kabwe Conference), were making unambiguous statements about the kind of people we were, what we were fighting for, and what our morality and core values were about.

They had seen in practice how torture had dehumanised not only the tortured but the torturers themselves, transforming people who had been their friends, who had left school and university with them to join the freedom struggle, into behaving like brutes. In dealing with brutes, they had allowed themselves to become brutalised, even if only for brief spells. The speakers were adamant. They did not want to belong to an organisation that used torture, full stop.

Johnstone Mfanafuthi Makhathini – Johnny, as he was known – was another of the luminaries at Kabwe. The ANC’s Special Representative at the United Nations, his name often appeared in the South African media and on Radio Freedom, so we were familiar with it long before the conference. Johnny came over to where Nosiviwe and I were sitting during a break in the conference proceedings, took Nosiviwe by the hand and heaped a profound tribute on her. I will return to what he said later.

We were also impressed by a number of softly spoken ANC leaders at the conference: Masabalala Bonnie Yengwa, Reg September, Dulcie September, Alex la Guma, Job Tlhabane (Cassius Maake) and Hermanus Gabriel Loots (James Stuart), an MK veteran who was among the first group of trainees at the Kongwa camp in Tanzania. Jeff Radebe, who directed the funeral programme for Loots in Johannesburg in January 2016, told mourners that, according to Josiah Jele, Loots was nicknamed after James Stewart who starred in a cowboy film Loots loved called How the West Was Won. For some reason, ‘Stewart’ became ‘Stuart’.

Yengwa, a delegate from the United Kingdom, had suffered a stroke and was not in good health. But the twinkle in his eye was still there, speaking volumes for his resilience and intellect. He died two years after the Kabwe conference, on 21 July 1987. Kabwe was also the last high-level ANC event La Guma attended. He died in Havana, Cuba four months after the conference and 21 years after leaving South Africa for exile. While out of the country, he represented both the ANC and the SACP.

The other delegate who died a few years after Kabwe was Dulcie September, who was assassinated in Paris on 29 March 1988. Athol Visser, a member of an apartheid death squad, gave the following background to the killing in The Devil Incarnate, a book about him by Wayne Thallon:

Planning (for assassinations) was carried out by us, the overts, while the operational parts were often contracted out to the coverts, especially when it came to assassinations. That’s not to say that we overts did not carry out assassinations too. Soon then, hit squads drawn from mercenaries, the security wings of the extreme right and veterans like me of South Africa’s 32 Battalion, were tendered and put to work, resulting in, to name but a few: the attempted murder of Godfrey Motsepe, the ANC representative in Brussels, on 4 February 1988; the death of Dulcie September, the ANC representative in Paris, on 29 March 1988, involving my close friend the late Dirk F. Stoffberg, who, as an arms dealer and head of Z-Squad Incorporated, a consortium of highly trained assassins, paid two former Foreign Legionnaires a sack of money to shoot her; and, only a couple days beforehand, the planting of a 17kg bomb at the ANC’s office in Brussels by two more of our agents.

There were others whose names we knew from the underground material and Radio Freedom. There were a number of former Robben Island prisoners whose profiles were already in the public domain, and writers such as Essop Pahad, who was based in Prague and whom I had met when he worked for the World Marxist Review.

In a recent interview with me, Pahad expressed great pride that the SACP had honoured him with his deployment to the Review, which made him, at the time, the only member of the party to represent it on an international platform.⁷ He was appointed to the position after the death on 18 June 1974 of Michael Harmel, a leader of the SACP, a member of the High Command of the ANC’s armed wing, and a leading theoretician of the revolutionary movement.

Mittah Seperepere, the courageous woman activist and struggle icon, was also in attendance. MaSeperepere went into exile in 1966 with her husband, Maruping. At the time of the conference, she was the Women’s Section representative in the Women’s International Democratic Federation based in East Germany. The ANC appointed her as its representative in Madagascar in 1986.

The conference was called to order and everyone stood to sing Enoch Sontonga’s Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika. The singing threatened to raise the rafters of the conference hall, whose excellent acoustics lent space and expression to the music. The rendition of the anthem was so beautiful that it stayed with me for a long time after Kabwe. The ANC and SACP leader, Dan Tloome, chairing the session, made his opening remarks and then called on the ANC president to address the conference. We clapped ecstatically.

Then O. R. moved to the podium and began his address, speaking in his usual measured tones. Near the beginning of his speech, his eyes wandered momentarily from his written text, and he described the conference as ‘a council of war’:

The days we will spend here will live forever in the records of (our) struggle as marking a turning point in the history of all the people of South Africa.

Our conference will be remembered by our people as a council of war that planned the seizure of power by [the] masses, the penultimate convention that gave the order for us to take our country through the terrible but cleansing fires of revolutionary war to a condition of peace [and] democracy.

Seven days later, as he was closing the conference on June 23, he predicted: ‘There shall be change following this conference!’


1. Originally published in 1987 by Kwela Books, Oliver Tambo Speaks contains the speeches, writings, and interviews of Tambo over many years. It has a new introduction, which was delivered as a lecture on 19 October 2012 at Fort Hare University as part of the ANC’s centenary celebrations.

2. Ibid. Tambo was replying to Carlos Cordosa of the Mozambique Information Agency who, in an interview in July 1983, asked him where the ANC bases were.

3. The quotation comes from Brazilian poet, musician, and songwriter Gilberto Gil’s foreword to Fela, This Bitch of a Life by Carlos Moore, published in June 2016 by African Perspectives Publishing.

4. On 16 June 1976, students in Soweto rose against the apartheid regime, which had imposed the oppressor’s language, Afrikaans, as a medium of instruction on all African schools. The uprising was met with brute force: many students were killed and others fled into exile, often to join the ANC.

5. Names used by revolutionaries to hide their true identity to stymie efforts to trace them.

6. At the time, the ANC had two commissars: the army commissar and the national commissar. The rank of national commissar was abolished after the Kabwe Conference.

7. The interview took place on 26 January 2016.

8. All excerpts from Tambo’s speeches at the Kabwe Conference are taken from the compilation Oliver Tambo Speaks.



The ANC had various structures in its regions in exile and underground in South Africa that ensured uniformity in the dissemination of information from the senior to lower levels. The NEC made the call for a Second Consultative Conference to all members and structures of the movement on Freedom Day, 26 June 1984.

In Lesotho, where I was in exile at that time, we broke into groups to discuss and analyse the conference themes. The conference documents were produced by the national preparatory committee, comprising Mbeki, Nhlanhla, Makana, Jele, Loots, Jordan, Nzo, Tloome and, representing the ANC’s younger generation, Peter Ramokoa and Manala Manzini.

The discussion that was dearest to my heart related to the concept of People’s War. I suppose I was influenced by what was already happening inside South Africa where people all over the country were rising up against the apartheid state. It required extraordinary courage to confront the State directly, buttressed as it was by one of the most formidable security structures on the African continent and a regime that did not shy away from maximum force in dealing with dissent, as was evident from its treatment of schoolchildren in 1976.

The apartheid security forces overstated the effect of the Rivonia Trial on the national revolutionary movement.¹⁰ The regime, believing implicitly in its assessment, claimed that the revolution had been stopped dead in its tracks and that the back of the ANC and its alleged master, the Communist Party, had been broken.

In his book, Rivonia: Operation Mayibuye, one of South Africa’s prominent apartheid judges, H. H. W. de Villiers, made this claim:

During the long months of the trial there was a lull in the attempts of the subversive forces to further their nefarious aims through acts of sabotage and violence. They had suffered a serious setback and their ranks were in disarray …

And then, suddenly, there was a spurt of sporadic acts of sabotage in various parts of the country, hundreds of miles apart …

Ever on the alert, the Security Police closed in once more and made a series of arrests in a concerted nationwide drive to round up the remnants of the conspiracy … It was after this second series of arrests that the authorities could say that the back of the conspiracy was broken. The Minister of Justice (Balthazar Johannes Vorster) told the people of South Africa on 27 July that the police were closing in on white people known to be the brains behind the wave of subversion and sabotage …

I was relieved by a very recent assurance by the Minister of Justice that there would be no organisations left to commit sabotage after the present mopping-up operations of the police had been concluded. He indicated that this would be the end of organised sabotage in this country.

No one can deny that the Rivonia arrests seriously dented the revolution. By the time they happened, though, the ANC had formed underground cells across the country under the Mandela Plan, or M-Plan, and many of them were not affected. Before the arrest of the Rivonia High Command, many other ANC leaders and cadres had been taken in by the security forces across South Africa.

The underground cells continued to work and started rebuilding themselves. The working class, given its superior organisation, discipline and militancy, became the most fertile ground for the regeneration of struggle. As the Morogoro Conference had clearly seen, workers had become an important revolutionary building block, and the re-emergence of militant trade unions in the early 1970s was a product of that rebirth. This development was not coincidental – it was part of a plan, closely linked to the political education that some worker leaders had received. When they rose against their bosses, workers were also motivated by a desire to resuscitate the liberation struggle.

Leading the political reawakening in the Border region and the regeneration of worker militancy was the South African Allied Workers Union (Saawu) led by Thozamile Gqweta, its president, and Sisa Njikelana, its general secretary. Many workers in the Border region were recruited into the ANC and its allies, Sactu and the SACP, from the labour movement in that region, especially from Saawu and the African Food and Canning Workers Union, which was later absorbed into the Food and Allied Workers Union (Fawu) and was led in those days by Bonisile Norushe.

One of the key ANC underground workers in the labour movement at the time was Bangumzi Sifingo, who became the link in the Border region between the labour movement and Sactu. He also served the ANC and the SACP and did much work for the Alliance. His underground unit comprised Bonile Tuluma, Rufus Rwexu, and Humphrey Maxhegwana.

Students across the country and unemployed young people emulated the workers and confronted the enemy with whatever came to hand. They threw stones at the police and army units that invaded the townships in 1984 but also lobbed petrol bombs at security force vehicles.

The ANC, in its call to the people of the world at the end of the Kabwe Conference, described the situation unfolding in South Africa in the following words:

In the factories, mines, schools and townships of South Africa, the people have risen. The racist colonial regime meets the legitimate desires of our people with increasing violence and exports that violence into the countries of Southern Africa …

The oppressed and downtrodden have shown by their mass uprisings in different parts of the country that they will spare neither their energies nor their lives in the fight for national liberation.

In An Unpopular War: From Afkak to Bosbefok by J. H. Thompson, a 20-year-old South African Defence Force (SADF) soldier, identified only as Nick, gives the following account:

The mid-eighties were hectic …We went in these Buffels (anti-mine vehicles) and we heard that some guys had run and lobbed a petrol bomb into the bin of the Buffel and all the guys (soldiers) were burnt alive … that was what I feared the most – getting trapped inside a burning Buffel.

Petrol bombs were also thrown at the houses of police and people in the townships who were identified as collaborators. For the first time, areas occupied by South Africans the regime defined as ‘Coloureds’ also went up in flames. The Western Cape saw an unprecedented wave of civic unrest on the Cape Flats, in sync with what was happening in all the African townships in that part of our country. Bonteheuwel and Athlone, Coloured areas in Cape Town, became the fiercest cauldrons of the revolution there.

The Coloured youth entered the trenches of the revolution alongside the other oppressed masses of the Motherland. They were following in the footsteps of MK cadres James April and Basil February, who were born and raised in Cape Town’s Coloured areas and who clashed with former Rhodesian security forces in the Wankie campaign of 1967.¹¹

February was killed, while April was part of the Hani group that fought its way into Botswana from Wankie.

He was later sent into South Africa by the movement, was arrested and went on trial in Durban on 6 May 1971. He was convicted of terrorism and sentenced to 15 years on Robben Island. When he was finally released he would see the truth of stories circulating on the Island that South Africa was burning; he must have been encouraged by the confrontation between the people and the forces of apartheid. He discovered that MK had put down roots among the people and that, in some cases, weapons of war, especially the AK-47, were being used to register anger at the racist regime.

The masses of our people were ready to confront the enemy in whatever way possible, using whatever projectiles they could find. Some carried dustbin lids to protect themselves from bullets, vividly demonstrating the lack of fear in their hearts.

The UDF, side by side with the underground formations of the ANC, led the masses brilliantly. Under its umbrella, the UDF brought together many community and sector-based structures. Religious and business leaders found and marked their positions in the people’s trenches. The working class, through the labour movement, was at the heart of the new spirit of revolution and became the UDF’s mainstay.

Workers and students embarked on strikes; there were boycotts of buses and shops. The economy was crumbling. What was needed was spelt out by Tambo at Kabwe, when he said: ‘We need a strong organisation of revolutionaries because, without it, it will be impossible to raise the struggle to greater heights in a planned and systematic fashion. Without such a strong revolutionary organisation, we cannot take advantage of the uprisings we have spoken about and which are a reality of the mass offensive of our people.’

He added: ‘As a result of the strength and tenacity of the people’s offensive, many areas in our country are emerging, perhaps in a rudimentary way, as … revolutionary bases. The people are engaged in active struggle as a conscious revolutionary force and accept the ANC as their vanguard movement. They have destroyed the enemy’s local organs of government and have mounted an armed offensive against the racist regime, using whatever weapons are available to them. What is missing is a strong underground ANC presence as well as a large contingent of units of Umkhonto we Sizwe.’

From that point, most of the ANC’s guerrillas were infiltrated into the country to help give direction to the anger of the people and train as many revolutionaries as possible in clandestine work – defined by the ANC as ‘military and combat work’. The leadership believed this was necessary because the revolutionary moment was fast approaching. There needed to be weapons inside the country to arm those trained to use them, in case an opportunity for insurrection presented itself. I became convinced that elements of People’s War were already in place inside South Africa.

Another ANC activist who loved the concept of People’s War was Zukile Matakane (Zakes Khulu), who led the discussion on that issue in Lesotho. I was impressed by the way he expressed his thoughts and how cogently he argued his case. I concluded that Matakane would be among those cadres of our movement who could instruct our operatives inside the country on People’s War and channel the anger of the thousands who were marching in the streets. He understood very well the following credo of MK:

We fight a People’s War, not by armed struggle alone, but first and above all by political education, leadership and mobilisation. It is a People’s War because the struggle is to win the active support and participation of all who resist oppression, discrimination, poverty and injustice.¹²

Matakane was tragically killed by security forces in 1986 near Fort Jackson just outside Mdantsane, together with the driver of the car he was travelling in, Makhaya Ngalo (the brother of Wankie campaigner Ben Ngalo), and Andile Gwintsa (Vuyani), a fellow guerrilla. Both Matakane and Gwintsa were born and grew up in the Alice area.

The trio drove into a police roadblock near Breidbach, the Coloured residential area about five kilometres from King William’s Town. After a shootout, Ngalo managed to turn around and drive back towards Mdantsane, only to be ambushed by a second police contingent.

Matakane had survived an earlier shootout at a house in Mdantsane. Apparently, after receiving information, armed police tried to arrest him while he was sleeping, but with lightning speed he drew his pistol from under his pillow and started firing, leaving a policeman injured. He then escaped and retreated to Lesotho but returned to South Africa soon afterwards. Sikhumbuzo Radu (Nceba), who worked with Matakane in South Africa, was exposed and forced leave South Africa for exile, where he received further training from MK.

The death of Matakane and his comrades had further consequences, which were described to me by Makaka Rubushe and Ntsikelelo Bungane, internal operatives that Matakane recruited into his unit.¹³ Rubushe and Bungane, as well as four other members of the unit – Zola Tyikwe, Denzil Skweyiya, Mbonisi Komani, and Mabhuti Gwagu – were all arrested. Police searches uncovered a hand grenade that Tyikwe was hiding, while Skweyiya was found to be in possession of a pistol magazine. Both were freed on bail while the police continued their investigations. They jumped bail and left for exile.

The remaining unit members were released when no case could be made against them. When asked about Zakes, Bungane told the police he knew no one of that name. Shown a photograph of Matakane, Bungane said he recognised him but had last seen him at Lovedale, where they were both training as teachers but where Matakane was a year ahead of him. The police bought his story, and he was released.

The police did not know that Rubushe had earlier gone to Lesotho with Lulamile Nazo to pick up weapons for Matakane. Some of these were passed on to another guerrilla operating in Mdantsane, Mathemba Vuso (Dlomo), who also died in a shootout with the police.

The battle became a talking point and a major motivator for the masses of Mdantsane. It ended only when the security forces used a bulldozer to destroy the house where Vuso was holed up after an hours-long shootout.

Many cadres thrown up by the revolution at home went into exile. Together with those produced by the June 16 student uprising, they were the largest contingent to leave South Africa and join the ANC abroad. Many of them, designated the UDF Detachment, joined MK, while the students forced into exile by the 1976 uprising were called the June 16 Detachment. Before them came the Luthuli Detachment – the older generation of cadres who skipped the border in the early 1960s.

The struggle on the home front continued to gain momentum. Apartheid structures were rendered ineffective, crumbled, or tottered on the brink of collapse. The masses were making South Africa ungovernable. In some cases, the people formed their own organs of power as they drove out apartheid cohorts who had been deployed by the regime to keep apartheid structures running and serve as a buffer.

Describing the crisis, O. R. said in his opening address at Kabwe:

The darkness that has shrouded our country for so long is now lit by flames that are consuming the accumulated refuse of centuries of colonialism and racism. For us, these flames are beacons which draw us faster towards our goal. Botha prefers darkness and the night. But his nights are festivals of nightmares. All that his fearful eyes can see is a desolated road that ends in an abyss.

He added:

The apartheid system is in deep and permanent general crisis from which it cannot extricate itself. The apartheid regime cannot rule as before. It has therefore brought its military forces into the centre of its state structures and is ready to declare martial law when the need arises. The South African army returned to Angola where it remains to this day. The puppet forces went on the rampage throughout southern Africa, in Lesotho, Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Where none could operate, as in the Seychelles, the Pretoria regime sent in its own forces, reinforced by mercenaries.

Just over three weeks before the start of the Kabwe Conference, units of the South African war machine entered Angola clandestinely with the aim of destroying the oil facilities in the Cabinda Gulf. The official name of this escapade was Operation Argon, but the name that has stuck is Operation Cabinda. The unit assigned responsibility for the operation was the South African Special Forces, fondly referred to by the apartheid warmongers as the Recces. Leading the unit when it entered Angola under cover of darkness on 20 May 1985 was Captain Wynand du Toit. It was found the next day by a Fapla patrol and, after a short firefight in which some of the Recces were killed, Du Toit was injured and captured. He was hospitalised and subsequently debriefed by the Angolan security forces.

Du Toit had some interesting things to say at a media conference convened for local and international journalists, including reporters who worked for MK’s journal, Dawn. I will return to this later in the book.


9. June 26 was declared National Freedom Day by the ANC Alliance and has been celebrated every year since 1950. It originally marked the day of mourning and general strike organised by the ANC in protest against the police crackdown on a ‘stay at home’ on 1 May 1950 in protest against the Unlawful Organisations

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