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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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Commission on strategy and tactics

June 1985


1.. It was our intention to place before you a document which would contain a summary of our strategy and tactics for the coming phase of the struggle. The basic strategic document which formed the foundation of our approach up to now, is the Strategy and Tactics document adopted by the 1969 Morogoro Conference which has been tabled under No F5. Since then, the only other all-round treatment of our strategic perspectives is contained in the 1980 'Green Book', a copy of which was available to the Commission but unfortunately was not made into a Conference document.

2.. The draft Strategy and Tactics document which we, as a Commission, were called upon to consider, is before you under No.,B2. We also had before us a number of other documents such as Planning for People's War (No.,B3) , a very thoughtful batch of contributions from the regions (particularly from the camps) contained in Nos D1 and E1, and a number of other relevant documents in Bthe E and F series.

3.. In considering the draft Strategy and Tactics document (B2) our Commission arrived at the following conclusions:

. a). A document which embodies our strategy and tactics and which is intended to provide guidance for some years to come, requires the most careful and widespread discussion by all levels of our Movement. In the case of the document which was before us, there had been no circulation to the regions and even Conference delegates saw it for the first time a few hours before proceedings began. It should be noted that when our Commission convened, the overwhelming majority of its members had not yet managed to read the draft, and we had to adjourn for some hours to enable them to do so. We concluded that we would be reporting to a Conference which itself had no real possibility of preparing effectively for such a detailed discussion.

. b). There was yet another reason why we decided not to attempt to place an amended draft before you. We are of the opinion that a document such as this should not only serve as a basic guide to all levels of our organisation, but also as a means of spreading our analytical message to all sectors of the broad front of our struggle to racist rule. We considered that the style of the document was not suitable for both these purposes. We considered the formulations in the document needed to be examined more carefully for the purpose of presenting its content in a style and language which is more accessible to a wider audience. This is a task which the Commission considered was impossible to do justice to in the time available.

. c). We therefore recommend that the task should be entrusted to the incoming NEC which should avail itself of the opportunity of circulating an amended draft for the kind of thorough discussion throughout our ranks, which such a document merits.

4.. Apart from the above, there was broad agreement with the general approach contained in the draft Strategy and Tactics document. It was, however, felt that a number of important questions which bear on our strategic approaches had been omitted and would have to find a place in a revised document. The Commission then devoted most of its discussion to these questions. Some of the major ones have been incorporated into formulations which attempt to summarise our consensus. Yet others will be referred to more briefly and elaborated verbally. But before we deal with these it is necessary to draw your attention to some fundamental propositions which formed a background to all our discussions. Additions Made by the Plenary Session:

. a). The document should identify the epoch during which our liberation struggle is taking place.

. b). The document should discuss the revolutionary alliance amongst ANC/SACP/SACTU; our international alliances; and the enemy's alliances.

. c). The omissions in the document which must be corrected are: the role and place of the working class in our strategy and the significance of the emergence of the democratic trade unions; the character of bantustan leadership and the changing nature of the bantustans.

5.. From the very beginning the following was emphasised:

Our discussions on strategy and tactics (more particularly in the area of armed struggle) must be informed by two basic realities about our situation. Since there is unanimity among us that there can be no destruction of the regime leading to the capture of People's Power without some form of revolutionary violence, we have to recognise two fundamental characteristics (one negative, the other positive) which, in combination, are very unique and special to our situation. Firstly, the negative factor: We have never had, we have not got, and we are unlikely to ever have a rear base in the classical sense. So when we begin to examine the concept of people's war, guerrilla activity, guerrilla zones, problems of arming the people, creating, sustaining and supplying a people's army in the initial stages, etc we must accept that all these objectives have to take off and grow within the limitation of the absence of an effective rear base with a friendly border. Secondly, the positive factor: We have revolutionary resources and potentials which no other Movement in Africa had. We have a people (and especially a proletariat and fighting youth) which constitute a revolutionary contingent which is highly politically conscious, experienced in struggle over a period of more than half-a-century, who stand ready in their tens of thousands to be recruited and organised into contingents of political and armed fighters and who show an unending creativity in finding forms of resistance and of mass legal and semi-legal organisation in the face of the enemy's continuous terror against the people.

6.. The key to the future unfolding of our strategy and tactics is, on the one hand, to compensate for and to find ways of overcoming the weakness of the absence of a rear base. On the other hand, we have to exploit to the maximum our strength, which is the people in political motion.

In this connection we should remember that when we think of revolutionary violence, we must not restrict ourselves only to the organised presence of MK combat units. We must also pay attention to the way in which the people's revolutionary violence (organised or spontaneous or semi-spontaneous) relates to the unfolding of the revolutionary struggle as a whole. In short, we must find ways of harnessing the combat potential of the people, whether in the kind of small combat units referred to in the NEC's recent Call to the Nation, the creation of larger paramilitary formations in the shape of workers and people's self defence units, etc. We must also be ready, at the right moment, to provide guidance and lead the people in mass actions involving revolutionary force, such as land occupation, factory occupation, people's control of the townships in the face of constituted authority, etc. Our capacity to play an effective role at this level will depend largely on our combat presence and the availability of minimum armouries of weapons.

7.. Against the background of the general contents of the draft strategy and tactics document and the considerations referred to in paragraphs 5 and 6, our Commission concentrated its discussions on a number of important categories which were either missing from the draft or not sufficiently stressed. We proceed to enumerate these discussion items. A. People's War and Insurrection B.The Bantustans C. The Working Class D.Military Combat Work (MCW) E.Embryos of People's Power F.Relationship Between Urban and Rural Warfare G.Action Against the Enemy's Support Base A. People's War and Insurrection The Commission addressed itself to the relationship between protracted People's War and Insurrection, taking as the starting point the question raised in the Green Book which states: 'Do we see the seizure of power as a result of general insurrection or protracted People's War in which partial or general uprisings will take place?'

There was unanimity that the primary perspective continues to be People's War which, in our situation, will have a protracted character and that broadly speaking we see insurrection as a culmination of this.

By People's War we mean a war in which a liberation army becomes rooted amongst the people who progressively participate actively in the armed struggle both politically and militarily, including the possibility of engaging in partial or general insurrections. The present disparity in strength between the enemy's forces and our own determines the protracted nature of the struggle in which we need to reduce the enemy's resources, reserves and endurance, whilst gathering our own strength to the point where we are capable of seizing power. Such a struggle will lead inevitably to a revolutionary situation in which our plan and aim must be the seizure of power through a general insurrection (or whatever other ways might present themselves). What will count is such a situation will be our capacity to take advantage of that revolutionary situation. Unless we have the necessary forces and means under our command, and at our disposal, there is no way we can succeed and the opportunity will pass us by. Therefore, it is imperative that we continuously build the necessary forces and organisational structures which are the subjective conditions for success.

As for the question of how long we have to wait for such a situation to mature, this is impossible to state. The crisis in our country is such that we must be ready to respond to the most dramatic turn of events which might bring the whole situation to a decisive turning point.

Already the present explosive situation in the townships is pregnant with such possibilities and demands our decisive action, irrespective of our current strength. Hence the call to action issued by the NEC. Whilst we emphasise the need to purposefully and patiently build up the forces and means for the revolutionary seizure of power, waging People's War as we do so, it is necessary to stress that an insurrection cannot be mechanically planned on a drawing board to take place at some prescribed date in the future. It could occur as a result of a chain of events which trigger off widespread initiative from the people themselves or as a result of a call from the revolutionary movement at a special moment in the development of our revolutionary situation, or as a result of a combination of both. We must see to it that we are, in every respect, ready for any of these eventualities in the future.

This makes it imperative for certain steps to be taken now in order to be prepared for such an eventuality. i) We must build up stores of simple, basic equipment in the vicinity of all major urban complexes which, at the right moment, could be used to equip contingents which have been prepared or which can be quickly organised during emergency insurrectionary conditions. ii) A study must be completed of the main nerve-centres of every city. Such a study must provide us with the knowledge of which forces should be concentrated at which key points during an urban insurrection and should enable us to select priority targets. iii) There must be special concentration on the creation and strengthening of mass organisations in the rural areas (especially the bantustans) so that urban and rural action can be drawn together at the crucial moment. This, however, must not divert us from persevering with the all-round task of building the forces and means of waging a protracted People's War. 16 B. The Bantustans The Commission addressed itself to the bantustans and the question was raised as to our exact strategy towards these enemy-created institutions. The successful spread of People's War is inconceivable without the escalation of political and military struggles in the bantustans, in which over half the African population is forced to live.

Attention was drawn to the reality of the bantustans, which, though puppet creations of the enemy, have spawned a vast bureaucratic apparatus and civil service and endowed a whole range of black professionals with the benefits of public office.

Bantustanisation has developed a momentum of its own and a significant number of government ministers, officials, civil servants and other hangers-on have acquired an economic and social stake in their survival. We must isolate the incorrigible collaborators and win over those whose job opportunities are not irreversibly dependent on the bantustan system.

Within the context of the above, our Movement must consider and be sensitive to the various shades of difference amongst the bantustan governments and leaders. Some bantustans are strategically located along or near the borders lending themselves as routes for penetrating the rest of the country. Yet others are run by brutal puppets, like Sebe and Mphephu, who do not hesitate to employ the most savage repressive measures against the people.

A lively debate also ensued on our strategy for the bantustans. The Commission felt that the creation of bantustan armies opens up new opportunities for the winning over of black soldiers to our side and to capture or obtain weapons from them. It was also accepted that the Movement should learn from the historical experience of regions where peasant uprisings and revolts have thrown up organisational forms and organs of struggle - such as the Mountain Committee in Pondoland - which could become core groups of a revolutionary underground.

Greater attention needs to be paid to the revolutionary slogans and programmes of struggle we place before the bantustan people. We cannot expect to motivate them effectively without placing before them perspectives of struggle against the bantustan administrations themselves. Land hunger remains one of the major national grievances which must be harnessed to activate the masses into struggle. The changing social stratification of the bantustans also received our attention. The emergence of a working class within these areas was noted as was the dumping of the unemployed from the urban areas and the role that migrant labour must play in linking the bantustans with the urban areas and industry. The Commission submits that it has become feasible to build up working class organisational forms in some bantustans, including organisations for the unemployed to demand work. Urban areas that have been incorporated into bantustans, such as Mdantsane, must become revolutionary springboards for mobilising the people in the bantustans.

The openly counter-revolutionary role that Chief Gatsha Buthelezi has assumed was noted. Buthelezi, unlike Mphephu, cannot be dismissed as a mere puppet of the racists. He projects the illusion of autonomy from the enemy and pretends to pursue national aims. His counter-revolutionary role must be exposed and we must work to win over his supporters and deprive him of his social base. The more notorious puppets, like Sebe in the Ciskei, have placed themselves, through their actions, squarely within the enemy camp and must be dealt with accordingly.

Clearly the bantustans should also be the targets of our Movement's efforts to render South Africa ungovernable. However, the scope and the pace of our efforts will be determined by our Movement's organised strength in these areas.

One of the questions most extensively debated was whether we should seek to advocate the overthrow of the bantustan administrations or whether we should focus exclusively on the struggle against Pretoria. If the former applies, it would involve the establishment of (if only for a short period) a radical administration with sympathies for the liberation movement. Would such an approach weaken our correct policy of unconditionally rejecting the legitimacy of the bantustans? It was generally felt that we should be flexible in our approach.

There is no doubt that Pretoria would intervene immediately to save its puppets. Such intervention would reduce the whole bantustan policy to shambles. By removing the puppets we would bring the people into direct confrontation with the racists, opening up the possibilities of transforming these areas into bases for the advancement of People's War. Additions made by the Plenary Session We require an in-depth study of the bantustans to provide a more adequate knowledge of social stratification, crystallisation of classes (if any) within these regime-created structures; patterns of land ownership and control, the distribution of power, the system of patronage, etc. C. The Working Class The Commission found the document on the labour front submitted by Sactu extremely useful. The most significant feature of the situation in our country has been the dramatic growth in trade union organisation (which, for the first time in South African history, has more black than white workers) , the escalating strike movement and the increasing involvement of the working class in the popular upsurge.

The special role of the working class was emphasised at the Morogoro Conference and enunciated in our 1969 Strategy and Tactics document. Stressed at that time was the observation that the 'military and political consciousness as a revolutionary class' of the workers 'will play no small part in our victory and the construction of a real people's South Africa'.

The present draft Strategy and Tactics document is not as emphatic on the working class role as the Morogoro Document and must be accordingly improved. It must keep pace with the times and say far more about the trade unions and deal with the tendency in certain quarters at home to keep them out of politics.

At a time when certain trade union leaders are raising the question of how the ANC will deal with the trade unions and workers demands in a liberated South Africa, we can do no better than the 1969 Morogoro formulation that the 'perspectives of a speedy progression from formal liberation to genuine and lasting emancipation is made more real by the existence in our country of a large and growing working class whose class consciousness complements national consciousness'. Furthermore, it is historically understandable that the doubly-oppressed and doubly-exploited working class constitutes a distinct and reinforcing layer of our drive towards liberation. Its socialist aspirations do not stand in conflict with the national interest.

We recognise that the working class is the key force in our revolution and this must find expression in the three fundamental detachments of our struggle - i.e. the broad mass democratic movement, our underground and our army. The Commission also emphasised the need to pay special attention to the organisation of workers in strategic industrial centres. D. Military Combat Work (MCW) The Commission argues that it is high time that our Movement applied the principles of MCW to the question of armed struggle. These principles have been ignored too long even though they are a key element in the training of our cadres. MCW involves the preparation of combat forces of the revolution according to specific principles, methods and structures. MCW derives from the experience of the Bolsheviks in three revolutions and the experience of revolutionary movements throughout the world. It is the heritage of the international revolutionary movement and a guide to the solving of the problems of armed struggle according to the specific particulars of a given country.

According to MCW guidelines the combat forces of the Revolution are composed of three components: a) The advanced combat formations (in our case Umkhonto we Sizwe) which are the nucleus of the People's Revolutionary Army and include the guerrilla formations of the countryside, urban combat groups, sabotage units and workers' and people's self-defence units based in the factories, townships and rural areas. b) The People in Arms - i.e. the advanced, active elements of the masses, prepared and trained by the vanguard formations - ready, arms in hand, to swell the ranks of the People's Army. c) Those elements of the enemy forces, ready at the decisive moment, to side with the revolutionary forces.

These elements constitute the forces and means of People's War. They have to be built up and prepared according to a planned approach under the centralised command of the political party or movement that has decided on the need for armed struggle. MCW, therefore, calls for a centralised organisational command, with one line of communication from top to bottom, i.e. from national leadership to regional to district area (in our case from PMC to Regional PMC to Area PMC) . Within this structure are the specialisations such as combat work, work within the enemy forces, security and intelligence, and the training centres and camps.

MCW builds up the Revolutionary Army of the People, wages all-out war against the enemy, works to disintegrate the enemy armed forces by undermining them from within and whilst engaging in combat, utilises all forms and methods of struggle, involving all the progressive forces of the people, to a stage where power can be seized by a nationwide insurrection. Unless the above is attended to as a matter of strategic necessity, we are afraid we will continue to remain distanced from the internal situation and therefore unable to properly enter the fray. E. Embryos of People's Power The Commission noted that in large areas of the country the people had acted on the ANC's call to render the country ungovernable. For all practical purposes the government's administrative organs in the black urban ghettoes have, in the course of the present unrest, been completely destroyed. In place of these puppet bodies various initiatives have been taken to create local organs such as civic associations and other bodies which claim to have popular legitimacy as representatives of the people.

In the light of these events the Commission noted that the NEC of the ANC had issued a call to the nation which included a call for the creation of people's committees in every black area which could become the embryos of people's power.

The Commission discussed the need to define, with greater precision, what the popular power represents. More particularly, we directed our attention to the question whether the people's committees should attempt to assume the functions of an administrative organ which caters for the daily needs of the residents or whether they should concentrate on their political role as representatives of the people.

We concluded as follows: a) In the absence of an early seizure of power those committees would not be able to sustain or finance any of the basic requirements of municipal government for any length of time. b) In these circumstances any attempt to hold out the promise of a permanent alternative administration would be frustrated and would therefore lead to a discrediting of the people's committees. c) In general we agreed that the main function of such committees should be to represent the people politically and to lead them in struggles to enforce municipal and broader demands. d) We further recognised that there may be short periods of time during which such organs are called upon to organise services which have completely broken down. Wherever possible, they should be instrumental in the setting up of people's militia to exercise the functions of popular order and control in a 'Free Zone' etc. But these possibilities can only be determined on the ground by the specific circumstances and context in which each people's committee emerges. F. Relationship Between Urban and Rural Warfare Certain key factors necessitate a reappraisal of our strategic approach towards our armed struggle in relation to the emphasis we put on either urban or rural warfare.

The classical approach, which is propounded in the Strategy and Tactics drawn up in Morogoro in 1969, lays stress on the development of guerrilla warfare in the rural areas and designates a supportive role for urban warfare.

But the objective conditions of our situation reveal that:

1.. We do not have and are unlikely to have a reliable rear base from which we can advance into the rural areas.

2.. The rural areas are not as politically organised as the urban. 3. Our organisational strength lies in the urban and surrounding areas.

4.. The bulk of our army comes from the urban areas.

5.. In the urban areas there already exist many organised units which have sprung up spontaneously from the mass action and resistance of our people to engage the enemy by violent means using rudimentary weapons.

6.. It is in the urban areas that our call to make South African ungovernable has found practical translation. Our people have destroyed the enemy institutions and are seeking ways of creating organs of People's Power.

7.. The most advanced elements of our people, such as workers and the township youth, are in the urban areas. In practical terms, this means that the potential exists more in the urban areas for the creation and rooting among the people of the organs of our Movement to lead our people and organise the armed struggle.

Given the advantages and favourable factors we enjoy in the urban areas, including migrant workers and the impact of the city on the countryside, we see the strategic potential of using our urban stronghold as a base from which to prepare the ground for the countryside for the launching of armed struggle there.

In the rural areas it is necessary to create underground and mass political bases as a foundation for the armed struggle. In areas where suitable conditions exist units must be sent to be based in the terrain to make contact with and train the local population for action against the enemy. We must undertake a sustained drive to clear the white farms and harass the enemy with mine warfare. Sustained armed activity in the rural areas is important both as a politicising factor locally and nationally, and as a tactic to disperse the enemy. Given the geographic conditions of the countryside and the lack of a rear base, we do not envisage the early creation of liberated areas in the classical sense. But it is realistic to work for the creation of a combat presence which will begin contesting for control of the area with the enemy. Additions Made by the Plenary Session The movement should initiate a comprehensive study of all the rural areas outside the bantustans focusing on: a)Land ownership and distribution - identify the actual landowners, who is presently using the land (eg leases to big companies). b)The changing demographic patterns - who lives in the rural areas, (racial distribution), in what numbers, what are they doing? c)The agricultural workforce - who are the agricultural workers, what proportion of them reside permanently in these areas, and how many are migrants; what sort of skills do they have? d)Organisations in the rural areas. e)Problems encountered in the unionisation of agricultural workers. f)The border lands and the regime's regional defence infra-structure in these. G. Action Against the Enemy's Support Base We have always gone out of our way to avoid a confrontation along racial lines and we will continue to do so.

But those among the white community who constitute the core of its social base for race domination are increasingly being mobilised in support of brutal repression. In particular the enemy has begun to transform almost every farm into a military outpost. Certainly in the countryside they are more and more blurring the distinction between what is civilian and what is military.

In many other ways, both in the urban complexes and in industry, it is also militarising its civilian support base.

Up to now our dedication to the avoidance of racial confrontation has often prevented us from dealing telling blows against the enemy and his installations for fear that white civilians would be caught in the cross-fire or be killed or injured in the vicinity of an enemy installation.

We have even inhibited ourselves from inflicting direct blows against whites who are ostensibly civilians but are in fact part of the military, paramilitary and security machine.

The escalating brutality perpetrated daily against our people is now creating a new situation. We can no longer allow our armed activities to be determined solely by the risk of such civilian casualties. We believe that the time has come when those who stand in solid support of the race tyranny and who are its direct or indirect instruments, must themselves begin to feel the agony of our counter-blows.

Our Movement will continue to do all in its power to win over sections of the white community; indeed this has become more necessary than ever. But at the same time it is also becoming more necessary than ever for whites to make it clear on which side of the battle 19 lines they stand.

Additions Made by the Plenary Session

1.. On logistics and ordnance: we must reduce our reliance on supply lines from outside and orientate ourselves to seize weapons from the enemy.

2.. On the religious front: we must pay closer attention to the politicisation of religious communities and provide political education consonant with their beliefs. The NEC should send a delegation to Nicaragua to study their experience to discover what we can apply to our situation. 3. NEC: the majority of NEC members should concentrate on the home front, cut down on travel abroad in order to supervise work inside the country. 4. The Luthuli Detachment should be activated and its members reintegrated into the military work of the movement.

The Commission also touched upon a number of other topics (which will be elaborated upon verbally) which fall into the following categories: a)Internal growth and training b)The special role of ordnance in the developing situation c)The General Political Strike as an insurrectionary weapon d)Work in the enemy armed forces e)Armed propaganda in the present phase f)The liberation alliance between ANC/SACTU/SACP g)Our international alliances h)The content of our revolutionary nationalism in relation to the epoch in which our struggle is taking place i)The concept of internal colonialism and the special character of the South African state.

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