About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Mandela's statement on Vula, 22 June 1991

PRESS STATEMENT OF ANC DEPUTY PRESIDENT, NELSON MANDELA, ON THE OPERATION VULINDLELA AND THE INDEMNIFICATION OF ANC MEMBERS

22 June 1991

Our country is moving along the difficult path of finding a negotiated resolution to the crisis brought about by white minority rule. The commitment of the ANC and its allies to this path has often been severely tested.

Without question, we are the force for peace in our country, consistently searching for a negotiated solution. It is a matter of historical record that the current phase has arisen through the initiatives and actions of the ANC.

Operation Vulindlela has been portrayed by the government - from the time of the first detentions in July 1990 - as a sinister plot. Until now it has been mainly the version of the government that has been presented to the public. Today the ANC wishes to present the facts about Vulindlela.

It is essential that for our country to proceed along the path of negotiation, that political processes and political life in general be normalised. We have insisted that the government has the obligation to normalise the lives of thousands of freedom fighters who have been held in prison, driven into exile and forced to live clandestine lives within our country because of their opposition to apartheid.

We welcome the indemnification of comrades who have been associated with Operation Vulindlela and who successfully evaded all attempts by the security services to capture them. In particular, I refer here to comrades:

Ø     Ronnie Kasrils, a member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC

Ø     Vuso Shabalala

Ø     Charles Nqakula

Ø     Janet Love

Ø     Christopher Manye

Ø     Mo Sheik

Ø     Solly Shoke and

Ø     Mpho Scott

I also welcome Comrades Ivan Pillay and Jabu Sithole.

Ø     Comrade Ivan was the chief co-ordinator and administrator, working at ANC Headquarters, Lusaka, in the President's Project which was responsible for Operation Vulindlela.

Ø     Comrade Jabu, who was the Chairman of the Durban region's overall leadership committee, was detained but never charged.

All these and many other comrades associated with Vulindlela and the underground in general were acting on the instructions of the ANC. They displayed exemplary qualities by refusing to be panicked by the detentions and relentless search by the security forces. They kept cool heads, maintained their discipline, and stayed at their posts. Today, I am pleased to take this opportunity to present them to the public and I welcome them to the overt, legal structures of the ANC.

I wish to use this occasion to point out that we are not satisfied with the manner in which the process of indemnification is being attended to by the government. We cannot tolerate a situation where the government, in complete violation of agreements arrived at with the ANC, arrogates to itself the right to delay - for whatever reasons - the process of release and the granting of indemnity, and accords differential treatment to our cadres, all of whom acted in terms of instructions from the ANC.

In the case of Ronnie Kasrils, even though he is a member of the National Executive Committee, his indemnity is specific rather than general, as is the case with all other NEC members.

In the case of Jeremy Seeber, inexplicably, his indemnity has been referred to the review committee. To date he does not know when or if he will be granted indemnity.

We insist that the only way to clear the record and to bring about speedier movement to achieve a negotiated resolution is to ensure that unconditional, across-the-board indemnity is granted. All our members must no longer be subjected to harassment, intimidation, assassination and continual threats of prosecution for one or other act committed in our long march to freedom.

It is necessary that no one who has participated in the liberation struggle remain in prison; none should languish in exile; and none within the country should be required to live clandestinely and in fear of arrest for actions they carried out in order to bring about the destruction of apartheid. The harassment, intimidation, assassinations and threats of prosecution for actions committed in the struggle for freedom must end.

I wish to take this opportunity of publicly raising with the government a matter which has been addressed on several occasions by the Vula comrades. We are deeply concerned about the fate of two Vula comrades, Mbuso Shabalala, brother of Vusi Shablalala and a long-standing member of the underground, and Charles Ndaba, an MK commander who came into the country to joint Operation Vula in February 1990. These comrades were members of the underground overall leadership body for the Durban region. They were also members of the military committee of that leadership body. They were the first from the Vula group to be detained, during the weekend 6-8 July 1990, in KwaMashu. The security services deny they were detained. Their whereabouts and fate therefore remain unexplained. In the light of the fate of so many others who have disappeared at the hands of the security forces, we demand a full and satisfactory explanation from the state.

On the platform today we have many others who have in one way or another been associated with Vulindlela. Most of them have been either detained and/or sought by the security police for their involvement in this operation. We have chosen to present to you only those that the government detained or named as co-conspirators. The presence of the comrades on this platform refutes the propaganda which the government unleashed in relation to Operation Vulindlela. I welcome them all and present them to the public of the exemplary way in which they have served in this mission, the manner, in which they faced and survived against the power of the apartheid state and for their services in the liberation of our country.

Operation Vulindlela was one of the numerous missions undertaken by our movement. In its planning and execution it brought together the experience we had gathered in almost three decades of clandestine struggle. It was special because it was conceived at a special moment in our struggle. The revolt of our people had plunged the apartheid state into a permanent crisis. Our movement was faced with an almost continual series of uprisings by the people against the apartheid state, epitomised by the uprisings of 1984-1986. Each revolt was drowned in blood. Each revolt generated an army of freedom fighters. A substantial and tested leadership was developing within the country.

The time had arrived where the conditions had been created for the leadership of our movement, who had been driven into exile, to begin relocating itself within the country despite the formidable power of the apartheid state.

The time had arrived that while relocating itself that leadership had to merge with the forces and leadership that had been developing within the country. The time had arrived where such a leadership would enable the movement to respond speedily and effectively to the rapid changes that were taking place. This was a task that had to be undertaken if our struggle was to rise to the challenges that we faced.

Vulindlela was a part of a series of missions, carefully planned and with the fullest regard for the immense risk involved. It was not a knee-jerk reaction, nor was it a quick-fix solution. It was conceived and planned for in terms of the long-term strategy for the movement. It did not supplant other operations - it reinforced them.

It is a tribute to the leadership qualities of our President, O R Tambo, that he and his team planned and set about executing Vulindlela in such a way that for more than two years the government and its security forces had no inkling of its existence; had not detected that members of the leadership were living and working inside the country.

This mission had its origins in a 1986 resolution of the NEC of the ANC, which authorised our President, together with Comrade Joe Slovo, to undertake the task of relocating senior members of the movement - including members of the NEC - in the country to create on-the-spot integrated political-military structures charges with the task of giving day-to-day leadership to the struggle and enhancing the work of the NEC.

This is not the occasion to present a detailed appraisal of Operation Vulindlela. What can be placed on record is that the mission found conditions inside the country such, that with amazing speed, the movement was able to root leading cadres in region after region. Throughout, the response was such that the leadership could begin to plan and transfer numerous leading members into the country on an indefinite basis.

The movement had developed its techniques to such an extent that, for example, in the case of communications, our President was in a position to receive detailed reports about progress and the situation in the country on a daily basis and in turn provide guidance to the mission.

In varying degrees this same sophistication began to manifest itself in all areas of work, including the bringing of personnel and weapons into the country. It is common knowledge between the government and ourselves that the majority of this personnel and the bulk of this material did not fall into the hands of the security forces despite the arrests.

On behalf of the African National Congress and its allies, let me clarify one further point. Vula and other similar projects did not in any way constitute the pursuance of a double agenda, nor did they constitute actions inconsistent with our search for a negotiated resolution. anything, they strengthened negotiations rather than undermined them.

Comrade Mac Maharaj was the internal commander of Operation Vulindlela. I call upon him to expand on this briefly.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.