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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

The ANC After Nkomati - By Tom Lodge



This paper is the text of an address by Dr Lodge at the South African Institute of Race Relations on 26th June 1985.

Dr Lodge begins by referring to the sabotage campaign undertaken by the ANC in the early 1960s, and to the establishment of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) under a national high command drawn from the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP). He reports that the campaign failed in its purpose of mobilising mass, action, and that the underground structure of the ANC, the SACP, and Umkhonto was destroyed by the police in late 1963.

There was then a hiatus for more than a decade in ANC activity within South Africa, the organisation reconstituting itself around a leadership living in exile, and also establishing with the Soviet Union, Frelimo, and the MPLA the links which enabled it to launch a campaign of insurgency in South Africa after 1976.

Dr Lodge traces this campaign and points out that one of its aims was possibly to build a local political following, in which it was successful. Since the signing of the Nkomati Accord the.ANC had shown signs of an ability to continue operating within South Africa and had extended its range of targets to include private employers in central business districts.

Even before Nkomati, however, ANC strategists had been talking of the need to transform the organisation's "armed propaganda" campaign into "people's war". ANC pamphlets were urging that black townships be rendered ungovernable, an objective already accomplished in certain areas.

Dr Lodge concludes that the prospect of the ANC's being able to present a really formidable set of obstacles to the functioning of the State and the economy is still remote, but that it has in-creased its legitimacy to the extent that it is regarded as a "central and inescapable fact of South African political life."

In a footnote added subsequent to his talk, Dr Lodge lists some of the decisions taken at the ANC's conference in Kabwe, Zambia, towards the end of June.

It is an appropriate day to talk about the African National Congress (ANC).Not only is today one of its most important historical anniversaries, but the ANC has also just finished holding its national consultative conference, the second such occasion since the ANC leadership was driven into exile during the early 1960s. The last time the ANC held a 'national consultative conference' was in 1969 in Morogoro in Tanzania. It was an occasion. which marked a crisis in the organisation: mutinies in the camps arising from the boredom and frustration of soldiers with no prospect of action, ideological dissent in some sections of the leadership, and a pervading feeling of futility with the exile diplomacy which had had to serve as a ubstitute for significant political activity.

This week's onference has probably witnessed rather a different mood, for not only has the ANC survived the traumatic experience of exile, but it has succeeded since 1976 in re-establishing it-self at the centre of gravity in black politics within South frica. And particularly, with eighty or so attacks by Umkhonto we Sizwe guerrillas since the Nkomati accord, it has demonstrated its capacity for maintaining an armed presence within the country without bases in neighbouring territories.

In this talk I will first present a brief review of the ANC's history since its banning in 1960 up until last year when the agreement between South Africa and Mozambique was signed. I will then discuss the ANC's development since the Nkomati accord and the extent to which the organisation's capacity to maintain a presence within this country has been affected by the South African government's efforts to bludgeon its neighbours into non-aggression pacts.

The first phase of the ANC's history as a clandestine organisation comprises the efforts to create a violent insurgent movement based and led from within the country between 1961 and 1964.

On 16th December 1961 the first explosions in what was to be a series of approximately two hundred bombings took place. The responsibility for these was claimed by a new organisation, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) in leaflets which accompanied the first attacks. Umkhonto was established after the leadership of both the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP) had resolved in favour of a campaign of sabotage to precede (if necessary) a guerrilla war. Umkhonto was formed under a 'national high command' drawn from the ANC's national executive and from the SACP. The command decided to restrict the first phase of the organisation's activity to the destruction of infrastructure and symbolically important buildings so as to 'bring the government and its supporters to their senses before it is too late.' The desire to avoid, if possible, bloodshed, sprang from moral, political, and strategic considerations. Some of the ANC leaders had principled misgivings about violence, both the ANC and the SACP leaders wished to avoid the unnecessary alienation of potentially sympathetic whites, and finally they hoped to precipitate external intervention and hence wished to place the moral responsibility for the 'slide to civil war' on to the authorities.

In contrast to the post-1976 campaign the methods employed by Umkhonto were crude and the damage inflicted was superficial. Fire bombs were the most common weapon, a reflection of the lack of any external source of more sophisticated explosives. Most of the attacks occurred in Port Elizabeth, the main centre of ANC activity in the preceding decade, though Umkhonto was also fairly active in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban, and Pretoria. On the whole there was little co-ordination between the work of Umkhonto, an elite body of a few hundred men, and the remaining underground organisation of the ANC. As one of the saboteurs pointed out later in his analysis of the campaign, it failed 'on the main count - it did not raise the level of action of the masses themselves.'1 Nor did it succeed in undermining white solidarity and it also did not attract any significant foreign support for the insurgents. Though about three hundred recruits were sent abroad for military training, Umkhonto did not get beyond the planning stage of a protracted guerrilla war. In late 1963 most members of the high command were arrested in its Johannesburg suburban headquarters and subsequently, drawing on intelligence obtained through infiltration and torture, the underground organisations of the ANC, the,SCP, and Umkhonto were located and destroyed by the police.

In the following years the ANC reconstituted itself round a group of leaders who had evaded capture by fleeing the country and a nucleus of recruits in African military training camps. Between 1965 and 1976 there was very little evidence of,ANC activity within South Africa. It is true that a trickle of recruits continued to find their way to the Tanzanian training camps and on several occasions in the early 1970s couriers were arrested. Crucial to the resurrection of the ANC's network of support inside the country, however, was the possibility of establishing secure lines of communication between its base camps in East Africa and the main concentrations of population in South Africa. Until 1975 this was inhibited by a cordon sanitaire of hostile colonial territories.

There were three major efforts to return trained guerrillas to the country in this period. In 1967 and 1968, in collaboration with the Zimbabwe African People's Union, heads of ANC guerrillas together with ZAPU men crossed the Zambesi and attempted to reach the northern Transvaal through the game reserves on the western border of Rhodesia.' It is likely that the ANC men were guided by similar strategic considerations to those which prompted ZAPU military thinking, then influenced by Cuban guerrilla theory. On the basis of their own particular experience the Cubans argued that in certain contexts armed action should precede political mobilisation, that the initial guerrilla insurrection should develop independently of the civilian population and through its military offensive $l guld become 'a pole of attraction for the whole country.2 The ZAPU/ANC units were neither sufficiently trained nor adequately equipped to withstand the Rhodesian army and their heroic defeat in the Wankie game park did not serve as 'a pole of attraction'. Undaunted the ANC continued in its efforts to promote a rural-based insurgency: in 1972 two ANC members, Alexander Moumbaris and Sean Hosey, were arrested in South Africa and accused of being ANC couriers involved in a scheme to land Russian-trained guerrillas on the Transkeian coast and begin organising local peasants into a military force.

The most important developments within the ANC during this period involved political decisions made by the movement's leadership rather than the guerrilla actions carried out by rank and file. In the sphere of diplomacy the exile years witnessed the consolidation of two linkages, which would help to revitalise the movement in South Africa after 1970. The first was the alliance which developed out of a meeting between ANC representatives and Marcelino dos Santos, secretary of the Conferencia das Organizacaos Nacionalistas das Colonias Portuguesas (CONCP). Through CONCP, the ANC from 1963 regularly consulted with Frelimo and the MPLA. After 1975, when these movements became the governments of Mozambique and Angola, their support was fundamental in the launching of an insurgency in South Africa.

The second important source of external assistance was the Soviet Union, and the increasingly intimate relationship which developed between the overlapping ANC and SACP leaderships in exile helped to ensure a steady flow of finance and military equipment from the USSR and its allies. Without this the ANC would have been less well placed to absorb the large numbers of young men and women it recruited from the exodus of refugees in the wake of the Soweto uprising.

The most important political developments took place at the 1969 Morogoro conference, a meeting which was in part a response to a rising level of disenchantment in the training camps. Morogoro was important for two reasons. It also confirmed as ANC policy a document entitled 'Strategy and tactics of the South African revolution.' The reforms in organisation and structure included the establishment of a revolutionary council with the special responsibility of directing Umkhonto and supervising the re-establishment of the movement within South Africa. To meet some of the internal discontent (which chiefly arose from inactivity) the conference decided to set up a commission to listen to complaints and to formulate a code of behaviour. Finally it was allowed that in future 'non-Africans' could join the external movement 'on the basis of individual equality'; in other words whites, coloured people, and Indians could become ANC members though the national executive would remain exclusively African. This decision immediately set the ANC apart from what appeared to be the dominant political tendency amongst Africans within South Africa, the black consciousness movement emerging at the black universities.

'Strategy and tactics' remains the most important public statement by the ANC on political and military methods. Understandably, though, it does not provide a precise blueprint fox any future campaign.

Instead it outlines a set of general principles which should inform the choice of strategy. The document begins by firmly committing the ANC to a socialist ideal by defining its struggle as being within the 'inter-national context of transition to the socialist system.' It also makes reference at various stages in its argument to 'national liberation' as being a phase or a stage in the progression to an ultimate social goal. It then reviews the ANC's. development up to 1969 dealing first with the non-violent mass campaigning of the 1950s and afterwards discussing the activities of Umkhonto between 1961 and 1964.

The sabotage campign had, it is argued, three main purposes. It was intended to draw in suitable recruits for the guerrilla movement, to demonstrate an open break with previous methods of resistance, and finally to present 'an earnest indication' of the ANC's intention to overthrow 'white supremacy through armed rather than spontaneous activity.' In itself, urban-oriented sabotage, the document claims, was not perceived as being capable of destroying the state or even inflicting significant damage. The transition to guerrilla warfare would. take place in the countryside after extensive preparations so as to ensure 'all-round political mobilisation' to accompany military activity. By implication the report appears to be critical of the premises which motivated the ANC/ZAPU excursions (which are not discussed directly):

'We reject the approach which sees as the catalyst for revolutionary transformation only the short cut of isolated confrontations and the creation of armed resistance centres.'

As well as the guerrillas themselves, organisational structures should exist for educational and agitational work within the population. If the. movement was going to present an effective challenge to the authorities the need for mass involvement was vital; popular participation in the struggle and the 'primacy of political leadership' over it would correct any tendencies towards militarism. The report concludes on a note of qualified optimism. Despite the material resources and the technological sophistication of the South African state it was vulnerable. It depended on black labour for food production and other important materials, it had no secure sources of external support, the advanced nature of the economy depended on well developed communications - themselves a target difficult to protect; and finally, the vast size of the country and the relative isolation of parts of it enabled the development of a war of shifting bases. There was also the future possibility of an erosion in white solidarity as white workers became increasingly disaffected. To take advantage of this possibility the movement should be non-racial in character though at the same time its leadership should remember that in the present context 'the national sense of grievance is the most potent revolutionary force which must be harnessed' and consequently the ANC should be careful to stimulate 'a deepening of naC 9nal confidence, national pride, and national assertiveness.3

External assistance, fairly tight discipline both within rank and file and leadership, and a well developed sense of strategic purpose helped the ANC to survive the difficulties and frustrations of an inactive exile. With Frelimo's accession to power in Mozambique in June 1975, it was once again possible to establish regular contact between the external movement and its supporters inside South Africa. The capitulation of the Portuguese colonial administration to guerrilla insurgencies, the inability of the South African army to prevent the accession to power in Angola of the MPLA, and the onset of the Soweto disturbances probably helped to prompt the ANC's allies to increase the flow of military and. other forms of assistance.4

The guerrilla campaign which developed between 1977 and 1984 did not entirely correspond to the strategic prescriptions adopted at the Morogoro conference. Apart from some effort to set up organisational structures in the Transkei, the main emphasis of campaign was urban, and notwithstanding the in-junctions against 'militarism' in 'Strategy and Tactics', Umkhonto activity has tended to precede preparations for political mobilisation. Indeed, the 'armed propaganda' provided by the two hundred or so sabotage attacks in fact functioned to promote the conditions in which political organisation can take place. The ANC's strategic thinking in 1969 was possibly influenced by the rural struggles of Frelimo and the MPLA, struggles which took place in very different circumstances from those which exist in South Africa.

The following principles seem to have motivated the second Umkhonto campaign. First, guerrillas have, in the selection of their targets and the timing of their attacks, demonstrated some concern not to inflict civilian casualties. Secondly, a large proportion of the targets chosen have been those which would have an immediate salience for and impact on a township audience: administrative buildings, rail links between townships and city centres, police stations in black residential areas, and so forth. More generally, in the pre-Nkomati period the targets chosen have been those which can be directly associated with the state (this would apply even to the SASOL oil installations). Thirdly, on certain occasions guerrilla attacks have been mounted in such a way as to make obvious the ANC's identification with popular struggles and grievances: for example, the bombing of an Orlando community hall housing rent collection offices during a rent strike. The intention of this phase.of the ANC's guerrilla activities was not, I think, to present a serious challenge or threat to the state, but rather to build a local political following. If that was the aim, the campaign was successful, though by Nkomati much work still needed to be done to convert informal popular support into the harder currency of a permanent underground organisation.

The Nkomati accord of 16th March 1984 was widely perceived as a setback for the ANC. Many commentators, myself included, understood the guerrilla campaign to be heavily dependent on its external lines of communication, informed as we were by the accumulated evidence of the trials of key guerrillas who were trained abroad and worked in relatively small groups for quite short periods after entering this country via Swaziland and Mozambique. Though initial ANC reactions to Nkomati reflected some disenchantment with the Mozambicans (with whom relations had not been altogether easy), the leadership seemed surprisingly unperturbed by the military implications of the accord, contending that the ANC had in recent months significantly succeeded in 'internalising' its military operations. Was this simply a show of bravado for public consumption? Certainly, the continuing Umkhonto activity since Nkomati has to an extent depended on the transit of guerrillas through Botswana (though it must be stressed that the evidence produced by the police after the Gaborone raid did not signify the presence of any high level military command there). The passage of guerrillas through Botswana has been evident over the last year in the several clashes between Umkhonto bands and police in Bophuthatswana and the western Transvaal. The continuing flow of logistical support for the guerrillas is evident from the half dozen or so recently established arms dumps uncovered by the police since Nkomati. Clearly access for the external organisation to South African territory remains vital for the continuation of the guerrilla campaign. But there are also signs that to maintain Umkhonto activities at their present level does not require uninterrupted external lines of communication, reinforcement and support. Trials have produced evidence of recruitment and simple training within the country, externally trained men function inside South Africa for lengthier periods, and the speed with which guerrillas react to internal political events demonstrate the extent to which they operate on their own initiative.

A notable instance of this latter point was the bombing of two gold-mining headquarters in Johannesburg within a day of the sacking of 17 000 striking workers. Sometimes that initiative can be a little too freely exercised. In July 1984, after five people were killed by a car 5bomb in Jacobs industrial estate, Durban, Oliver Tambo angrily reproved the men responsible for not taking adequate precautions to avoid harming civilians. The bomb was apparently intended for a 6military convoy which pa9sed through the estate regularly, but it exploded prematurely.7 The ANC leader's reaction to the incident showed that one essential feature of ANC strategy had remained unchanged after Nkomati: that civilians were not to be the object of Umkhonto attacks. More recently the ANC's disavowal of responsibility for assassination attempts on two coloured MPs indicated that the same restraints continue to operate though the ANC does not normally have any qualms abut the killing of those it perceives to be 'collaborating'8 Nevertheless the last year has witnessed a hardening of ANC resolve in certain respects. The attacks on the Anglo American gold and uranium divisional offices and the Anglovaal building testify to a new concern in extending the range of targets to include private employers. In March an ANC. spokesman in Lusaka stated that in future 'foreign companies which identi.fy with apartheid' could become targets of sabotage attacks.9 This seems to be a logical corollary of a recently stated resolve to link armed activity more directly with working-class struggles inside the country. Then, before Nkomati even, ANC strategists were talking about the need to broaden the base of armed struggle and about transforming a relatively specialised 'armed propaganda' campaign into 'people's war'.

A debate conducted within the letters column of African Communist in 1982 gave some indication of the sorts of ways that this could be done: the creation of 'temporary training bases' offering courses of a weekend's duration and the building of an army of 'part-time' guerrillas as the first stage in the preparation for a warfare of mass insurrections.10 This type of thinking is reflected in recent ANC pamphlets circulated locally which advocate 'the formation of small bands of armed youth to turn black townships into "no go" areas', as well as 'the formation of people's committees as an alternative administration in townships'.11 Here of course the ANC is partly echoing rather than anticipating events; in certain areas its strategic intention of rendering black communities ungovernable has already been accomplished. An insurrectionist strategy of 'people's war', if the ANC had the local organisational resources to remain in control of the forces it would unleash,12 because of its incorporation of the spontaneous violent movement which already exists, would be consider-ably less dependent on external supplies and manpower than the relatively technically sophisticated guerrilla campaign. Ironically, Nkomati, and other similar attempts to isolate the ANC from its local popular base, may ultimately be seen to have deepened the degree of political violence rather than thwarting it. But even in terms of preventing the more traditional type of Umkhonto sabotage, South African armed diplomacy has not been spectacularly successful. A measure of the extent to which the armed struggle has intensified since 16th March 1984 has been the increasing frequency with which attacks on offices and installations take place within working hours, as well as the extent to which the guerrilla war has moved from the townships into, the central business districts. Civilians are still not considered to be legitimate targets of ANC attacks, but the possibility that passers-by may get hurt is no longer a factor which inhibits a certain kind of sabotage operation from being mounted.

The consultative conference which began 'somewhere in southern Africa' on 16th June is expected to confirm in policy decisions these recent trends in the conduct of guerrilla activity. In addition, important ideological matters are apparently on the agenda. A more central role in the struggle is predicted for the working class, and this will have obvious programmatic implications in the future for the ANC's general political position. It seems likely that all levels within the ANC, both externally and internally, will be open to 'non-African' membership - up until now this has only been the case with the external mission and the national executive has remained exclusively African. The re-election of the leadership due to take place at the conference will probably enable the rise to positions of importance of some of the post-Soweto influx of recruits who now occupy middle-level posts in the organisation. If this is the case .one can expect a reduction in the ANC's ideological eclecticism and, perhaps, a tougher stance on military issues. he conference should not, though, be understood as a time while the existing leadership is under challenge; in particular Oliver Tambo is held in high regard throughout the movement and his retention of the presidency is assured. The one area in which soul-searching and self-criticism is expected is over the deficiencies of permanent organisational structures within the country.

The most vivid contrast between the ANC of today and the exile movement of the late sixties and early seventies is the broad political context within which it operates in South Africa. This week sees the thirtieth anniversary of the Freedom Charter, an anniversary which will be celebrated with enthusiasm by those UDF affiliates which can rightly be considered as representing the mainstream of township political life., The youthful political sub-culture which is increasingly to the forefront in the ritual and ceremony of black political protest, at funerals, church services, cultural events, and mass meetings, has as its mentors, incorporated into its slogans, songs, and dances, the iconography provided by the heroes of Robben Island and the soldiers of Umkhonto. In the last nine months, oorbeligte Afrikaner Nationalists, the SRC presidents of Stellenbosch and RAU, the deputy editor of Beeld, and 43% of the whites polled in ap HSRC survey, have all expressed themselves in favour of negotiations with the ANC. All these facts testify to the increasing legitimacy of the ANC - or at least to the measure with which it. is regarded as a central and inescapable fact of South African political life. Sure, a bomb a week does not add up to a Bull-scale guerrilla war, and the prospect of the ANC being agile to present a really formidable set of obstacles to the functioning of the state and the economy is still remote.(18) But it could be reasonably contended that it has largely won the battle of ideas.

7. For detail on the genesis of ANC-Frelimo tensions see: Joseph Hanlon, Mozambique: The Revolution under Fire, Zed Books, London, 1984, pp.255-262.

8. This is especially the case if, as police have asserted, the current level of insurgency rests on the efforts of about thirty or so guerrillas (The Star, 21st June 1985). If the South African authorities cannot prevent the passage of guerrillas into the Republic, what can be expected of the weaker neighbouring administrations? A few men and women, slipping through occasionally, bringing with them small quantities of arms and explosives would be sufficient to maintain Umkhonto's activities at their present rate.

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