Title page for ETD etd-06232009-103157

Document Type Doctoral Thesis
Author Le Roux, Cornelius Johannes Brink
URN etd-06232009-103157
Document Title Umkhonto we Sizwe, its role in the ANC’s onslaught against white domination in South Africa, 1961-1988
Degree DPhil
Department Historical and Heritage Studies
Advisor Name Title
Dr J E H Grobler Supervisor
  • white domination
  • armed struggle
  • Umkhonto we Sizwe
  • African National Congress
Date 1992-04-23
Availability unrestricted
Although a great deal has been written over the past two decades on the armed struggle in South Africa and the role that the African National congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP)have played in it, virtually nothing of academic value has been written on the main vehicle of the struggle, namely Umkhonto we Sizwe or 'MK' as it is more commonly known. Besides the research undertaken by Edward Feit in the 1960's and the account left to us by Bruno Mtolo on the formation and activities of Umkhonto in Natal prior to the Rivonia events, most of the material that has been written on the subject of Umkhonto makes no meaningful contribution to the history and activities of the organisation. As a result a serious vacuum has been left in the history of the liberation movement but particularly the armed struggle in South Africa. There was therefore an urgent need for a systematic and detailed study of Umkhonto and the specific role it played in the liberation struggle since 1961.

Identifying the need for this study vas however the easy part. Writing it on the other hand presented numerous complex problems, part of which was brought about by the lack of suitable source material, and the fact that the organisation vas proscribed by law. The problem was further compounded by the fact that although Umkhonto was created to be independent (initially at least) of the ANC and to fulfill a function that the ANC could not do in the 1960's, the two organisations became so closely associated with one another and with the SACP that most of the time it is very difficult if not nearly impossible, to always draw a clear distinction between the three of them. Of course the problem has not been made easier by the Press which, for the sake of simplicity and expediency, have chosen to equate the ANC and Umkhonto with one another. Virtually none of the newspapers which have reported on the armed struggle over the years have taken the trouble to draw any meaningful distinction between the organisation and activities of the ANC on the one hand and Umkhonto on the other. While it is true that the two organisations have very close ties and there is a strong degree of overlapping between both members and leaders, this research will show that the two organisations are nonetheless different from one another and have organisational structures and functions that support this.

The main difference between the two organisations has always been the fact that while Umkhonto was specifically created as the military component of the ANC-SACP alliance, the ANC on the other hand has remained the main political instrument of the liberation movement. As such, members of the ANC were not supposed to undertake any direct military missions against apartheid targets in South Africa. At best they fulfilled a supportive role such as the distribution of propaganda, the provision of transport, the supply of weapons and the creation of weapons caches etc., to support Umkhonto's cadres in the field. The members of the ANC thus concerned themselves primarily with political and diplomatic work in the armed struggle.

By the middle of the 1980's however, the relationship between the ANC and Umkhonto began to change when the political and military functions of the two organisations were brought together under the control of the newly created political-military-council (PMC)following the collapse of the ANC and Umkhonto's organizational structures in the frontline states of Mozambique and Swaziland, as a result of the South African government's persistant counter-insurgency operations. The new organisational structure that was set up by the beginning of 1983 to replace the defunct Regional Command and was sanctioned by the ANC and the SACP and accepted at the former's National Consultative Conference at Kabwe, Zambia, in 1985. This new direction in the armed struggle was further reflected in the decision to introduce compulsory military training for all members of the combined liberation movement. In theory thus, after 1985, all members of the ANC and the SACP were subjected to military training in Umkhonto's training camps in Angola and elsewhere. This move further helped to blur the lines between the ANC, the SACP and Umkhonto. Much of this will become clear in the course of this thesis. Where possible, interpretations will be attached to the facts to highlight certain developments in the armed struggle. Unfortunately, the facts pertaining to Umkhonto is not always volumous or conclusive enough to make statements that will withstand the test of time.

The aim of this study is to examine the history of Umkhonto from its origins in 1961 to the end of 1988 when as a result of the New York Accord between South Africa, Cuba and Angola the ANC and Umkhonto were forced to remove all their military bases and personnel from Angola with immediate effect. Although this particular move severely crippled the ability of Umkhonto to continue with its armed struggle it vas not the only factor influencing its performance and status by the end of 1988. A host of other factors such as poor organisation, weak leadership, dissention, dissatisfaction with the role of the SACP in the liberation movement, and lack of sufficient funds among others also contributed to its weakened position by the end of the 1980's. These and other factors effecting the position and performance of Umkhonto are extensively dealt with in the second half of this study.

Although increased cooperation between the military and political segments of the liberation movement became an important element in the armed struggle after 1985, the leadership of the ANC, the SACP and Umkhonto were not always in agreement on important issues. This became increasingly apparent towards the end of the 1980's when the combined effect of the South African government's counter-insurgency operations and the changes that were taking place in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were beginning to have a direct affect on the position and future of the liberation alliance led by the ANC and the SACP. Although the ANC, like most political organisations, always had a fair share of dissention in its ranks the formation of Umkhonto in 1961, the destruction of the organisation's underground structures inside South Africa by the mid-1960'S and the growing hegemony of the SACP over both the ANC and Umkhonto's leadership since, have produced some serious dissention in the ranks of the liberation movement. The first came in 1975 with the expulsion of the African National Congress African nationalist faction from the ranks of the ANC. The second came with the isolation of the Okhela organisation which was reported to have been a predominantly white anti-communist organisation inside the ANC. The third attack was on the leadership of the liberation movement was averted with the expulsion of the dissident Marxist group known as the “Marxist Tendency within the ANC” in the early 1980's.

Although the ANC and the SACP have always denied that the influence of these attacks on its combined leadership were in anyway serious, this study has shown that these developments in association with other developments had indeed a deep effect on the effectiveness of Umkhonto and the outcome of the armed struggle. The latter is particularly evident in the decision by Chris Hani, who was Chief of Staff of Umkhonto and his protégé, Steve Tshwete, to challenge the ANC's National Executive committee in 1981 to allow them to execute the decision taken at the Kabwe conference to extend Umkhonto's attacks to include white civilian targets inside South Africa. Although the ANC had accepted such action in principle at its Kabwe conference in 1985, it remained reluctant to fully implement it out of fear that such action could tarnish its image internationally and loose its much needed international support, particularly among the nations and people of Western Europe. Such considerations seemingly did not carry much support with Marxist radicals and militants such as Hani and others who preferred a military to a political or negotiated settlement in South Africa. With the support of the central Committee of the SACP (or rather. key elements of it) behind them, Hani and Tshwete issued a directive to all Umkhonto commanders in 1987 to extent their attacks to white civilian targets. The fact that the ANC did nothing to stop the directive or to counter Hani's actions is clear indication of the position that the military hardliners had come to occupy in the ANC-SACP alliance and Umkhonto by the latter part of the 1980's.

Unfortunately for Hani and his followers, the signing of the New York Accord at the end of 1988 came as a severe setback to their plans and left them with a cause that was becoming increasingly difficult to execute successfully. This research will show that as a result of these developments and the changes that were taking place in the Soviet Union particularly with regards to Soviet Third World policy, the military hardliners in the ANC-SACP alliance and Umkhonto were increasingly forced to take a backseat to the views and activities of more moderate leaders such as Thabo Mbeki, who was the ANC's Chief of Foreign Affairs. In view of the above this study will show that the SACP since the early 1970'S has taken steadily control of the ANC and the liberation struggle in South Africa and that by the end of the 1980'S Umkhonto was more a fief of the SACP and its Central Committee than of the ANC and its National Executive Committee, which had a clear majority of communist members by 1988.

Although some major developments have taken place since the signing of the New York Accord in December 1988, such as the unbanning of the ANC, the SACP and Umkhonto and the release of many political prisoners, these events and developments falls outside the scope of this study and are dealt with in the postscript.

© 1992, University of Pretoria. All rights reserved. The copyright in this work vests in the University of Pretoria. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the University of Pretoria.

Please cite as follows:

Le Roux, CJB 1992, Umkhonto we Sizwe, its role in the ANC’s onslaught against white domination in South Africa, 1961-1988, DPhil thesis, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed yymmdd < http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-06232009-103157/ >


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