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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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

In the case of the first units set up by the SACP, training was done by Jack Hodgson1, Joe Slovo, and Rusty Bernstein, who had served in the Second World War. Arthur Goldreich2 had been in the Israeli struggle. So there were different people with little bits of experience, which was pooled when MK was formed. Jack, I think, had the recipe for Molotov cocktails. Madiba says that one of the first things he did when he set up MK was to go to Jack Hodgson and Wolfie Kodesh3 to be taught how to conduct sabotage. He was insistent that he should carry out a trial explosion. Then, in 1962, Madiba left the country and trained in Algeria and Ethiopia while he was travelling around Africa.

By September 1961, a group had already gone off to train in China for six months - Raymond Mhlaba, Wilton Mkwayi, Andrew Mlangeni,4 Patrick Nthembu, Joe Gabi and Steve Naidoo. Other groups were sent out after September 1961, to Algeria, Egypt, Ethiopia, the Soviet Union and China.

Madiba, and Walter, who was in the High Command, and people like Slovo, who knew many people in the Communist Party ranks and the trade unions, helped find and select people for MK. It was a matter of who you thought were tried and tested comrades. You would make a suggestion within your MK unit. If they agreed, a message would be sent to the Regional Command recommending that so-and-so be approached. A decision would be taken and you would be mandated to do so. Anyone selected, who agreed, would be trained in the country and then, sometimes, taken outside. No volunteering took place on any large scale until after Soweto 1976, when a flood of refugees began to leave the country and ask to join MK. We would process them in Botswana and Swaziland. We offered them a choice: study or military training.

There was no way to do a background check on such people. All we could do was ask questions, get a CV, as it were, in Botswana, then send them to Lusaka, or Angola, where we were busy setting up camps, and ask again for a CV. Then we'd compare the two CVs for inconsistencies. Of course were penetrated by a number of enemy agents - we found this out in the 1980s when there were mutinies, and when everybody in a camp fell ill and we found food had been poisoned. It could not have been accidental. Those were real problems. We did catch a few enemy agents and they confessed. We can't have caught them all.

But my view is that the apartheid regime only slowly cottoned on to the possibility of infiltrating MK in this way. In the first batches in 1976, maybe there was a handful of informers, but it became systematic only later.

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.