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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

201 extended footnote on Nkomati Accord

Chapter 20/footnotes/[] 201

Extract from Howard Barrell "Conscripts to their Age" at []general information/ Conscripts to their Age/[] Chapter

In February, South Africa and Angola signed a non-aggression pact in Lusaka. Within days, South African newspapers provided public confirmation that a non-aggression pact with Mozambique was imminent.136 Yet, until late January, the ANC remained strangely inert about seeking to protect, or move, its operational capacity from its main concentration, Mozambique

But the inertia soon became panic. The ANC had only six weeks to cope with the devastating implications of the Nkomati Accord137, signed on March 16 1984. The Accord shocked both the ANC's domestic supporters and its members in Mozambique, who could hardly believe what was happening.138 Among senior ANC personnel, Chris Hani, Lennox Lagu, Joe Slovo as well as Ronnie Kasrils, who was hiding out in Swaziland after being trapped there,139 were expressly barred from Mozambique. More than 100 other operational personnel, who were in Mozambique at the time, mainly MK members, were hurriedly spirited across the border into Swaziland,140 together with truckloads of arms.

According to Sue Rabkin, serving in the Mozambique-based political structures, the combination of the unsatisfactory new operational structures and the Nkomati Accord tipped us upside down, so to speak. The prospect for rooting large numbers of cadres inside [South Africa] looked a bit bleak, and this was at the same time as this massive upsurge in political activity at home.142

As MK combatants and arms flooded into Swaziland, Kasrils and the two key MK commanders in the area, Siphiwe Nyanda (who headed the Transvaal urban machinery of MK) and Thami Zulu143 (recently arrived from Angola to head the MK's troubled Natal machinery) decided to ditch the separation between political and military commands decreed by the PMC; they set up a combined political-military command in Swaziland to cope with the crisis.144 Ivan Pillay, a member of the Swaziland political machinery, explains:

[P]eople in [Swaziland] felt that there should be an integrated approach, and saw the parallel structures created after the RC [in 1983] as a setback, or as a reinforcement of parallelism, even worse. But, now that Nkomati took place, firstly...it gave [Swaziland machineries] some independence because communication lines had broken down. We also had with us during that period Ronnie [Kasrils], who was there - he was trapped... [W]e took the decision and then implemented it on the ground, and then sought endorsement from HQ... We were cut off, there was a lot of pressure, there were a lot of cadres who were moved from Maputo into [Swaziland], pressure from the Swazis, etc. So there was no way but to coordinate...at the level of resources, personnel, security and so on...145

Rabkin echoes this:

It no longer made any difference if Sue from the political [machinery] was saving the guns or Keith [Mokoape] from the military was saving the guns. Those guns had to be [saved]. And, if Sue got there first, there was no-one who was going to say she was interfering.146

Swaziland machineries soon received the PMC's endorsement for their exercise in coordination.147

The ANC's main operational capability was caught in a three-jawed pincer between Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa. Cases of indiscipline by MK members hiding out in Swaziland led to shootouts with Swazi security forces and the deportation of about 80 ANC members.148 As pressures in Swaziland increased, the local ANC command decided to move as many people as possible into South Africa as quickly as possible.149 Scores of ill-prepared MK guerillas were put across the border with only 'few' internal receiving structures to head for

Swaziland structures snatched a victory of sorts from the jaws of defeat. The fact that MK cadres managed to mount 39 attacks over the rest of the year after the chaos and panic caused by the Nkomati Accord created a false impression in the public mind, but a useful one from the ANC's perspective. It was that the ANC's military capacity had been largely undamaged by the Nkomati Accord. Underground propaganda units were also told to step up their activities.151

But South African security forces killed or captured 77 MK combatants in 1984. Against this figure, the number of reported insurgent attacks over the year totalled a mere 45.152 That meant an appalling casualty rate - of about five neutralisations for every three attacks.

Back at PMC headquarters, the dreams of December 1983 had been shattered. The Nkomati Accord, recalls Slovo:

disastrously impeded the prospects that had existed at the beginning of 1984 to raise our urban and rural combat presence to a qualitatively higher level... It is no secret to concede...that Mozambique had been crucial to our ongoing efforts. We had also, despite numerous decisions, tended to make very little progress in developing other areas to a similar level.153

The Accord would have been a blow to the ANC however minimal its reliance on Mozambique had been. The gravity of the setback it caused, however, resulted not from the ANC's failure to develop its operational capacity in other forward areas, as Slovo suggests. Rather, it was by the external missions repeated failure to develop an underground leadership inside South Africa able to direct and combine political and military operations. The Nkomati Accord was a chilling vindication of those who had long argued for integration of political and military structures both in exile and inside South Africa.

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.