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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Note On Sources And Footnoting

THE EXTREMITY OF CONFLICT in a revolutionary struggle can create a number of difficulties for someone attempting a serious study of such a struggle.

Firstly, the antagonists, for reasons of their security, tend during their struggle to release for public consumption little of value about their actual intentions and plans. What they do release in this category tends to be coloured by rhetoric and considerations of propaganda. Moreover, the constant danger of infiltration by the enemy means that much information of real value to the student - what the antagonists decided upon in secret -is not only not readily available to a student but may not have been committed to paper. Furthermore, at the conclusion of their struggle, the antagonists' accounts of earlier events may be self-justificatory or tend, with hindsight, to attribute a consistency or meaning to events which, at the time that they occurred, lacked any appearance of coherence.

Secondly, many, though not all, histories or biographies published in the course of, or shortly after, such a struggle are often evidently partial or hagiographic.

Both these sets of difficulties have been present in this study. I have sought to overcome them in various ways.

Whilst I have examined and drawn on ANC and SACP publications - periodicals as well as bound collections - as well as the available histories and biographiess,1 I have not relied upon them as my main primary source. Instead, I have sought to penetrate the mask of rhetoric and propaganda and to inform myself about events and important decisions for which documentary evidence is either unavailable or non-existent. In order to do so, I have conducted a number of interviews with leaders, strategists and members of the ANC who were in exile in the 1976-1986 period; with leaders and members of the pro-ANC 'mass democratic movement' who lived inside South Africa over that period; and with the South African Security Police's leading 'expert' on the ANC, Major-General Herman Stadler, who also headed the Security Police Intelligence Department for much of the period.

I conducted all but two of these interviews in the 1989-1990 period,2 that is after the events with which they are concerned. My interviewees consequently had considerable opportunity to rationalise their actions and to engage in self-justification. They seldom, however, seemed to do so. Rather, my interviewees are often highly critical of themselves, of their colleagues and of the ANC.

There appear to have been a number of reasons for the independence of mind and self-critical disposition evident in many of the ANC interviews. Firstly, as interviewer I was a former member of the ANC. I knew some of my interviewees well and had worked with, or under them, on clandestine ANC projects; they trusted me as a result. I had told my interviewees that my intention was to write an independent and critical examination of ANC operational strategic policy, and they seemed to respond positively to this approach. Some of my interviewees also knew that I had enough personal knowledge to be able to correct them, in some cases, if they engaged in hindsighted rationalisation or self-justification.

Secondly, I continually stressed to interviewees the need to recall their views, actions and reasons for decisions at a particular time, and to avoid the apparent clarity afforded by hindsight. Interviewees appeared to have no difficulty in understanding the need for this and conducting themselves accordingly to the best of their abilities.

Thirdly, I was fortunate to find myself conducting the bulk of my interviews in two periods of considerable ferment in the ANC. The first of these periods, mid-1989, was a time of unusually anxious and intense self-criticism in the ANC in exile, as the movement felt itself being drawn inexorably into negotiations with the South African government. Many ANC members appeared to feel at that time that some 29 years of clandestine revolutionary struggle had left it remarkably weak at an operational level, notwithstanding its huge popular legitimacy and support inside South Africa. The second of these interviewing periods was the latter half of 1990, a few months after the ban on the ANC had been lifted. Newly-returned ANC exiles and their pro-ANC allies inside South Africa were finding out about each others strengths and weaknesses, and both were debating their movement's achievements and failures as it prepared for a consultative conference due in December of that year. Whilst one might have expected this latter period to have been one in which interviewees sought to bolster old myths about the ANC and its leaders, this was not my experience.

And fourthly, I was given access to some confidential ANC and SACP strategy documents in the course of my research. These documents were dated, covered the 1976-1986 period and were, in my estimation, clearly authentic. They provided me with a 'control' of sorts. The documents enabled me to assess what some of my interviewees told me and to challenge some hindsighted rationalisation.

The documents fell into two categories. I was given only conditional access to the first and most valuable category. These were strategic plans adopted between 1976 and 1985 by the ANC's chief operational organ (until 1983 the Revolutionary Council, and then the Politico-Military Council). I was allowed, under supervision over two nights in mid-1989, to copy extracts from this first category of documents and I was told I could present these extracts as 'answers' to questions, as if in an interview. These questions and 'answers' comprise the first of two interviews with Joe Slovo - the person who kindly made these documents available. In these 'answers', I changed tenses to give the authentic ring of an interview; I also added the occasional bridging phrase or date to specify the time period being referred to. This first 'interview' with Slovo is, in all respects, a faithful reflection of the extracts which I considered important at that early stage in my research. I was, however, not allowed to copy the documents in their entirety. But, after the unbanning of the ANC, I was promised full copies of these documents. The first promises came from ANC individuals. When these promises were not fulfilled I approached the South African Security Police, who claimed to have their own copies. They also promised delivery. But delivery never came. I felt I needed the full versions of the documents to guard against distortions that might have resulted from my initial selection of extracts. This may, unintentionally, have affected this dissertation's presentation of ANC strategic decisions. But any researcher is bound by the realm of the possible. And I am reasonably confident that my interviews have considerably broadened the perspective of this dissertation, filled in many gaps and prevented distortion on any significant scale.

The second category of confidential ANC documents covers the ANC conference in 1985 and a variety of debates and developing strategic perspectives.

I have very occasionally in the chapters that follow footnoted items to 'Personal knowledge'. This means I have no reference for the item other than my own direct personal knowledge as a one-time ANC member or journalist reporting on the ANC; I usually also explain how I came by the information. Where I very occasionally footnote to 'Confidential information', this means my informant does not want to be identified as the source of an item.

At various points I provide statistics of ANC armed activity. The statistics used are usually those provided by the South African Police, and are footnoted as such. Where there are major discrepancies between police and other figures, I provide the alternatives as well. The ANC itself did not systematically keep statistics on its armed activity - not until 1987. My attempts to get those figures the ANC did keep before 1987 were unsuccessful. I use police statistics largely to illustrate ANC strategic debates and my arguments about the progress or setbacks of the ANC's armed activity - something which they do remarkably well. I seldom depend upon these statistics as evidence, although I consider it would not be misguided to do so.

My interviews and a range of rare or hitherto confidential documents on which this dissertation relies are listed in the Bibliography. Full transcripts of the interviews and these documents have been deposited in the collection of Rhodes House Library, University of Oxford, as Appendices to this dissertation.3 There are four volumes of interviews and two of documents. I can testify to the substantive accuracy of the transcripts, which total some 1,370 pages, as I transcribed them myself. Occasionally, in citing material from the interviews, I have, however, improved upon the punctuation I initially inserted in the transcripts. Each transcript states where and when each interview was conducted.

For the sake of brevity, I have developed my own style for referencing to my interviews and those unpublished documents on which I rely.

A footnote denoting one of my interviews as a source carries the prefix IV/; this is followed by the name of the interviewee, for example Slovo; and this is followed by a page number/s reference, which accords with the pagination of my interview transcripts. Thus IV/Slovo, p.980 denotes a reference to the interview with Slovo at page 980 in the transcripts.

Where I have made reference to a document in the Appendix of rare or hitherto confidential documents, I use the prefix App/. This is followed by the letter A or B, indicating in which of the two volumes the document can be found. After this, there is a document number. If necessary, I also provide a page number within that document. Thus App/A/3, p.4 denotes Appendix of Documents, Volume A, Document Three, at page 4.

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.