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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

On MK Command Structure

Even when I talk about Special Operations we've got to be able to locate it and say what was the context, what stage of the struggle had we reached, where were we at, what was the thinking of the time. Let's start. Basically the MK commands - you had at the time GCHQ or General Command Headquarters which subsequently became the Military Headquarters. In the old days, in the sixties in Mandela and Mac's days -- I'm talking of the sixties -- you had the High Command. Through those years there wasn't much of a High Command except in exile where you had a command level, but a very loose structure in organisation. These structures started coalescing about 1976/77 onwards and at that time GCHQ had been established basically with Joe Modise as Commander. We had Joe Slovo there, Cassius Marke looked after logistics, which dealt with the ordinance, and then the general support that was required you had Mzwai Piliso, who looked after the personnel and training. It was a very small command structure.

In Angola after 1976 they also established a small structure to support them and Mzwai Piliso looked after the camps. You also had Andrew Masondo. After he came off Robben Island and went into exile, he became the National Commissar.

Basically you had commanders who were based in Lusaka that dealt with the western front and then you had others who were based in Mozambique that dealt with the eastern front. Whilst Modise was based in Lusaka to look after the commands from the west, Slovo was based in Maputo and looked after the commands based in the east. What had happened was that the country was divided into two broad areas using the highway from, say, Johannesburg, Pretoria going northwards to Beit Bridge as the dividing line. Everything west of it would be part of the western command; everything east of it would be eastern command. So you would have the Eastern Transvaal, Natal and then the Johannesburg/Pretoria area was an area where both of the commands had access into because it was the heart of the country and it was such an important area strategically. In Lesotho, you had Chris Hani and Lambert Moloi to look after the commands from Lesotho but because of having to traverse the country they were given a bit of autonomy and Chris Hani and Lambert Moloi were responsible for looking at operations into the Cape and parts of the Free State. But generally the main commands were operating on the west and the east and each of those areas in the provinces were also sub-divided into the urban and rural because the operating conditions in the urban and rural were very different, so you had commands for either of those.

What happened actually was that in Botswana you had the actual commanders and in the west you had Keith Mokwape and Snukie Zikalala at the time that were based in Botswana and they would commute between Lusaka and Botswana. On the eastern side you had the two Natal commands, urban and rural, and you had two Transvaal commands, urban and rural.

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.