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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

1. Introduction

The conditions which led the ANC leadership to adopt armed struggle as one of the "four pillars" of struggle for the liberation of South Africa have been described in some detail in our main submission.

The roots of NAT can be traced to the establishment of a military intelligence unit in the 1960s, tasked with undertaking reconnaissance missions to find routes for the infiltration of trained MK cadres; the establishment of reception areas inside the country for these cadres; and the selection of inanimate targets for armed propaganda attacks.

At this time the Department had no counter-intelligence capacity: there was no structure specifically tasked with the screening of recruits and exposure of agents in our midst.

In the 1960's, cadres were carefully recruited or selected by ANC branches inside the country before being sent abroad for military training.. This screening and selection process inside the country resulted in a degree of complacency in the ANC's mission in exile.

These weaknesses were exploited by the intelligence services of the apartheid regime, which managed to infiltrate some of its agents into ANC and MK structures. They went about their missions aimed at destroying the ANC's exile mission unhindered, since no professional structure existed to thwart their operations. In addition, Pretoria extended its defensive and offensive capacity through forging alliances with the intelligence services of neighbouring colonial states, and was also supported in this regard by a number of Western powers.

The ANC achieved some success with infiltrating cadres back into the country but in most cases they were quickly tracked down by the regime before or immediately after they had accomplished their missions. These cadres were arrested, usually tortured, imprisoned and later banned, or at times executed. The suspicion grew that the regime was well informed of MK's plans, and it was decided that the situation could not be allowed to continue unchecked. It was decided at the Morogoro conference that a Department of Intelligence and Security should be formally established, tasked with the protection of human and material resources of the ANC. Moses Mabhida, who was appointed head of this Department, was also head of MK's Training and Personnel section. This unit was tasked with establishing military training camps in Africa, and arranging courses in military training in sympathetic countries.

This was a huge mandate, entailing several different sets of tasks. Under ideal conditions, these tasks would have been carried out by clearly demarcated structures and personnel trained in various distinct skills.

In reality, as the tasks before the Department increased over the years, it came to assume the roles of Military Intelligence, Counter-Intelligence, Military Police, VIP protection, and correctional services in a relatively ad hoc fashion. In addition, from the late 1970's onwards, the Department began to build its strategic intelligence capacity, capable of forewarning the leadership of enemy moves, rather than merely being on the defensive. Besides this broad range of tasks, the head of the Department had the responsibilities of ensuring that all training camps were properly run, arranging specialised courses, and ensuring that only trusted cadres were sent on further training or on missions inside the country.

Despite these problems, the Department worked at improving its capacity and scored some major successes. In 1981, when an MK cadre died as a result of a beating ordered by Kenneth Mahamba, the commander of the camp where this incident had taken place, the case was investigated by NAT. This investigation facilitated a major breakthrough with the discovery of an extensive network of infiltrators in a number of countries, some of whom were linked not only to Pretoria, but also to the intelligence services of some Western powers.

As we mentioned in our first submission to the TRC, some of these agents had managed to move into important strategic positions within the structures of the Movement. Analysis of the activities of some of these agents in the political context in which they took place indicated that they were not merely involved in various attempts to disrupt or damage the ANC, but were actors in a far broader and more ambitious operation by the regime to eliminate and replace key leaders of the ANC, thereby setting the movement on a new route which would culminate in its destruction.

Given the very limited resources accorded to this Department, the trying physical conditions under which it worked, the nature of missions with which enemy agents had been tasked by their masters, and the lack of training of cadres in certain duties (such as prison services), it was probably almost inevitable - but by no means excusable - that regrettable incidents occurred. The lack of clearly defined lines of authority at times exacerbated these problems. These issues are dealt with more fully in the main document of this second submission to the TRC.

Because of its past achievements in disrupting enemy attempts to destroy the ANC, and the danger potentially posed by this Department to the success of the many covert operations which were running during the negotiations era, this Department was targeted for sustained attack by the former apartheid regime's stratkom structures. The perception has been deliberately created in some quarters that the Department became a monstrous and lawless force which terrorised ANC members in exile, and killed large numbers of detainees or "dissidents." While our main submission will deal with some of these issues, this operational report will also serve to dispel some of the mythology and disinformation surrounding the work of the Department.

We will provide a clearer picture of the evolution of the Department, the nature and scope of its activities, and the context in which they took place.

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.