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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) operations report 

1. THE OBJECTIVE OF THE ARMED STRUGGLE 

"The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices: submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means within our power in defence of our people, our future, and our freedom".

MK Manifesto, 1961

The objective of the armed struggle was the overthrow of the apartheid state in order to achieve democracy, freedom and peace in South Africa. The ANCs decision to embark on armed struggle was reached after many decades of non-violent resistance, which was met by increasingly brutal repression by the apartheid regime.

The African National Congress (ANC) had no choice but to resort to armed struggle after the National Party government first narrowed the arena of legal political activity and finally closed it in 1960 by banning the movement. The ANC asserted moral legitimacy for the resort to violence on the grounds of necessary defence and just war. Further, Umkhonto we Sizwe was a means to channel the revolutionary violence the oppressed were calling for, especially after the Sharpeville massacre:

Some (spontaneous actions of the people) result from Government provocation, the peoples patience becomes exhausted, and the masses become desperate in the absence of a strong militant organisation. In these circumstances people are likely to resort more and more into senseless dangerous forms of action. If we embark on unplanned and misguided political actions, we are playing into the hands of the enemy. (ANC National Executive Committee statement, 1963.)

From the very beginning, the ANC emphasised that armed resistance took place within political context, and was one of a number of inter-related methods of struggle. Cadres had to fully understand the basic policy positions of the ANC, the first step in military training; they were at all times guided by and subordinate to the political leadership of the ANC.

Cadres were taught to maintain the moral high ground occupied by the liberation movement, owing to the justness of our cause, in the actual theatre of battle. This meant that the choice of targets, attitude towards civilians and treatment of captives had to reflect the ANCs policies. The forms of armed struggle adopted by the ANC and MK were intended to achieve the goals of the movement with the least loss of life: in essence, the armed struggle was waged to bring peace to South Africa - to stop the apartheid regime as quickly and as effectively as possible in order to prevent the conflict in the country degenerating into racial civil war.

2. THE POLITICO-MILITARY CHAIN OF COMMAND 

MK was at all times subordinate to the political leadership of the ANC. Detailed information on ANC structures and personnel, including military structures and personnel, is attached to the main document of this second submission (appendix 1.)

3. MK TRAINING AND TRAINING CAMPS 

Few liberation movements have had to wage armed struggle under such complex, difficult and harsh conditions. In the early years, South Africa was surrounded by countries hostile to the idea of liberation, particularly Rhodesia and the former Portuguese colonies. There were no friendly bases on the borders of our country, which made infiltration into South Africa difficult and dangerous. Cadres spent many lonely years in the camps long after they had completed their training because of this difficulty. At times there was a scarcity of food and clothing, a lack of medicines and health facilities.

In this regard, the role of the Commissariat became crucial. In all the camps, there was a commissariat responsible for the political education, general welfare and cultural well-being of cadres.

Serious attention was given to the general education of cadres. Special literacy classes and bridging courses were designed. So successful were these courses that many who completed them were able to enroll in formal education institutions in countries such as Angola, Zambia, Tanzania and Uganda.

In a centre outside Luanda called Technical Training Centre (Moscow), formal education was given in mechanics and auto electrics; driving lessons were also available. The ANC also ran a huge centre called the Self-Help Medical Centre (the Plot) where courses in nursing, advanced motor mechanics, building and carpentry were offered. Hundreds of cadres trained in these centres became professionals.

There were two centres in Angola (Quela and Camalundi) for training cadres in agriculture and the production of food for the army. Production was very successful, especially in the early 1980s. We were able to supply most of the camps. Our camps were bee-hives of cultural activities. There was a network of committees to promote music, drama, literature, etc. In all camp programmes, cultural activity was compulsory. Many excellent choirs, drama and musical groups were formed. Many poets emerged from our camps, who continue to produce magnificent work to this day. Perhaps the highest achievement in this regard was the formation of the cultural ensemble known as Amandla Group. It was supported and nurtured by great South African artists such as Jonas Gwangwa, Dennis Dipale, Abdullah Ibrahim, Letta Mbuli, and others. The group became internationally renowned, staging successful tours in Southern Africa and Europe.

Military training courses were designed to produce a cadre with a broad range of skills, well equipped to execute the various tasks of the liberation struggle. Lectures were conducted on political science, and the art of warfare.

The following military subjects were taught in the camps:

Courses ran for three weeks, three months, six months, nine months or longer depending on the mission/tasks for which the individual or unit was being prepared.

Over the years thousands of cadres were produced, among them commanders, commissars, instructors and specialists in various military fields. Some would remain to staff the camps and continue to train other cadres; many infiltrated the country for various tasks; yet others joined the diplomatic corps to run the many external missions of the liberation movement.

Today many of these cadres are to be found among the leadership of the Alliance; some are ambassadors and officials in foreign missions; others are Ministers, members of Parliament, in the civil service and the private sector. Others served many years of imprisonment, or gave their lives for the liberation of this country.

A full list of MK training camps and the names of commanders, as requested by the TRC, is attached to the main document of this second submission as appendix 2.

4. MK OPERATIONS IN THE CONTEXT OF THE MAJOR PHASES OF THE LIBERATION STRUGGLE 

4.1. The Sabotage Campaign to the Morogoro Conference 

The first MK actions in 1960 were sabotage operations; cadres were under strict instructions to avoid all loss of life. Targets included government installations, police stations, electric pylons, pass offices, and other symbols of apartheid rule; in rural areas, there were arson attacks on sugar cane fields and wattle estates.

The sabotage campaign failed in its objective of convincing the apartheid regime to engage in negotiations in a National Convention. By the time of the Rivonia arrests, MK leaders were discussing the possibility of embarking on guerilla warfare to take the struggle forward.

The draft document Operation Mayibuye indicated aspects of the thinking of the leadership at this time, and identified targets as follows:

In the years following the Rivonia arrests the ANC built up a force in some of the liberated countries in Africa. It was decided to launch a joint campaign (later known as the Wankie campaign) with ZIPRA in Zimbabwe in 1967/8. This operation was aimed at infiltrating trained MK operatives into South Africa in line with the concept of rural-based guerilla warfare. However, some of the operatives were forced to move into Botswana and others had to withdraw to Zambia after considerable difficulties were encountered, particularly the lack of bases among the population. A group of cadres, including Chris Hani, were captured in Botswana and served prison sentences there.

Following the Wankie campaign, the ANC held a watershed Consultative Conference at Morogoro in 1969 to discuss ways of taking the struggle forward. Conference adopted a new programme, Strategy and Tactics of the ANC. This was the first comprehensive set of strategic guidelines for the ANC in the period of armed struggle.

A decision was made to shift the ANCs approach from sending armed groups of cadres into the country to spark off guerilla warfare, and instead emphasised that period of political reconstruction inside the country was necessary since the successful development of armed struggle depended on political mobilisation and strong underground structures, an important precursor to theories of peoples war developed in the early 1980s.

Military struggle was seen as forming only part of, and being guided by, a broader political strategy to ensure that the battle against apartheid was fought on all possible fronts, involving not just an army but all those oppressed by apartheid:

When we talk of revolutionary armed struggle, we are talking of political struggle by means which include the use of military force (...) It is important to emphasise this because our movement must reject all manifestations of militarism which separates armed peoples struggle from its political context. (Strategy and Tactics.)

4.2. 1969 - 1979: from Sabotage to Guerilla Warfare 

Guerilla warfare is carried out by a small and militarily weak organisation - poorly armed but highly mobile - against a highly organised conventional force which has all the resources of the state behind it. From the outset MK aimed to limit the loss of civilian lives, and constantly targeted the military and police, who formed the frontline of defence of the apartheid state.

Classic guerilla warfare roots itself among the rural population and moves from there into urban areas; it is dependent on the availability of suitable terrain, such as inaccessible mountains or forests where base camps can be established. In contrast, MKs tactics had to take into account the relatively unfavourable terrain in South Africa. A multi-faceted approach was adopted, with guerilla operations carried out throughout the country in both rural and urban areas, targeting the central pillars on which the apartheid state rested:

Ø     Economic infrastructure: this entailed attacks on fuel supplies, the lifeblood of the economy; the power network without which no modern developed country can function and the strategic road, railways and communications network essential for trade.

Ø     Military targets included the SADF and paramilitary police forces

Ø     Political-state infrastructure, which included all government installations and personnel involved in the administration of the apartheid state.

This basic approach did not change over the years, even under extreme provocation, However, by the early 1980s it was accepted that in the context of intensified confrontation between the apartheid regime and forces for democratic change, the fear of civilians being caught in the cross-fire could no longer be a decisive factor in avoiding certain armed operations directed against the personnel and infrastructure of the apartheid state.

The Soweto Uprising 

The 1976 uprising, and subsequent massacres and other atrocities by the security forces, gave new impetus to the struggle. Thousands of new recruits flooded into MK, bringing with them a fresh will to fight the enemy, born of their own bitter experience in fighting a brutal enemy only with stones. New vistas opened to intensify the struggle and to hit back in defence of the people.

The key challenge was to channel this youthful and impatient militancy into military/political struggle within ANC policy guidelines. The ANC had the responsibility to educate these youths to understand that the enemy was in fact the system of apartheid itself, not white individuals. It is a remarkable achievement on the part of the ANC that we succeeded in doing this. Many of these youths, after initial training in MK camps and in Eastern Europe, were briefed and infiltrated back into the country to begin operations.

Between 1976 and 1979 there was a marked escalation of armed actions: about 37 armed actions took place between June 1976 and the end of 1978. Railway lines were sabotaged, police stations attacked, and Bantu Administration offices were bombed. The battle was slowly but surely being taken to the enemy, and MK had moved from concentrating purely on sabotage operations to the first stages of guerilla war.

4.3. Guerilla warfare and Peoples War, 1979 - 1990 

As we stated in our main submission to the Truth Commission, the watershed 1978 Politico-Military Commissions Report (also known as the Green Book) again stressed the central importance of political mobilisation:

"The armed struggle must be based on, and grow out of, mass political support and it must eventually involve all our people. All military activities must at every stage be guided by and determined by the need to generate political mobilisation, organisation and resistance, with the aim of progressively weakening the enemys grip on his reins of political, economic, social and military power, by a combination of political and military action."

In line with this approach, the Revolutionary Council (formed in 1969 and chaired by OR Tambo) was reorganised to reinforce the supremacy of political leadership. It was also intended to ensure that the task of mass mobilisation and underground organisation received the necessary emphasis - to reinforce the links between the armed struggle the mass base and the underground structures of the ANC.

A Central Operational MK HQ was established by Joe Modise and Joe Slovo. After several years in which there had been no MK actions inside the country, following the impetus of the Soweto uprising units were sent into the country in 1978 to carry out attacks on police stations - this has come to be known as the G5 Operation. It was commanded by Siphiwe Nyanda; stations attacked included Moroka, Orlando and Booysens The following year, in 1979, the President, OR Tambo, asked the NEC for a mandate to form a special unit to attack key strategic targets - spectacular operations that would hit the economy hard, and inspire the oppressed majority. The unit would report directly to him; he would authorise such attacks and take political responsibility for them. This was agreed to, and the first Special Operations Command consisted of Joe Slovo, Montso Mokgabudi (Obadi), and Aboobaker Ismail (Rashid.)

As with other MK units, targets were carefully selected in accordance with the political policies of the movement, and planning for operations was as careful as possible. Whenever possible, a final reconnaissance was undertaken just before an attack to ensure that conditions had not changed: this was to ensure we minimised the loss of civilian life. A further aspect of all planning was to ensure that cadres had planned for their safe withdrawal after attacks, and had the necessary resources to do so.

Initially the targets were limited to oil refineries, fuel depots, the Koeberg nuclear plant and military targets such as Voortrekkerhoogte. With the increasingly indiscriminate attacks on neighbouring states and the viciousness of attacks on South African civilians by the security forces, it was decided by Special Operations Command to attack military personnel. This resulted in operations such as the car bomb at South African Air Force HQ in Pretoria.

The case studies presented will indicate that such operations were not carried out on the spur of the moment or on the whim of a particular individual, but were based on months of careful preparations.

Parallel to operations carried out by Special Operations, there was a steady increase in the number of operations carried out by other MK units from Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and, in later years, Zimbabwe. One study estimated that 150 cases of armed action took place between 1976 and 1982, overwhelmingly concentrated on economic targets, the administrative machinery of apartheid, SAP and SADF installations and personnel.

In mid-1983 MHQ produced a discussion document Planning for Peoples War1 which posed the question as to whether the time was ripe to move away from the 1979 approach towards peoples war, defined as war in which a liberation army becomes rooted among the people who progressively participate actively in the armed struggle both politically and militarily, including the possibility of engaging in partial or general uprising. Among the conclusions were that the ANC should continue carrying out and even escalating those actions which had played an important role in stimulating political activity, mass resistance and mass organisation, but that there should be more concentration on destroying enemy personnel. )The term enemy personnel referred primarily to members of the SAP and SADF.) The concept of potential future guerrilla zones inside the country was raised.

This document noted that the policy of arming the people cannot mean that we begin now to distribute arms to whosoever wishes to receive them among the oppressed. In the first place, we had neither the capacity nor the means to do this on any meaningful scale. In the second place it would be completely wrong to engage in a policy of merely distributing weaponry to people, trusting to luck that they will use them on the side of the revolution.

This document reflected the debates that were taking place all the time in the ranks of the liberation movement on how to respond to new situations as they emerged. The essence of these debates was around the restraint of the ANC in the face of the enemy s brutality - whether we should not adopt the easy route, and allow less discriminate control over the usage of weapons and choice of targets. At each stage of struggle, people on the ground would respond with anger to repression, and themselves start to take initiatives which would not strictly accord with the strategy and tactics of the ANC.

The constant challenge facing the ANC and MK was how to channel anger on the ground to ensure that the strategic perspective of a democratic and non-racial society is not sacrificed on the alter of quick-fix, dramatic and misguided actions. The tension between such intensification of struggle and the need to avoid a racial war that the MK Manifesto eloquently expressed at the founding of the liberation army, remained with the movement to the last day of armed struggle.

In contrast to this highly disciplined and restrained approach to the use of violence, the South African regime committed atrocity after atrocity against civilian targets inside and outside the country, including supporting the war efforts of UNITA and Renamo, and massive raids against what were portrayed as ANC targets in neighbouring states such as Matola in 1991,1982 Maseru massacre, Gaborone in 1985, Lusaka in 1987, Harare and Bulawayo, to quote a few examples. Several of the casualties in these operations were nationals of the host countries. No distinction whatsoever was made between hard and soft targets - between MK operatives and unarmed refugees and civilians including women and children.

In an interview with OR Tambo published on 06/08/83 in The Guardian, the issue of civilian casualties was dealt with:

"When we blew up the Sasol tanks, where thousands of people were working, the attack was carried out in such a way that no-one was injured. Yet on the other hand our people were being captured, tortured and mercilessly interrogated. We have fought back when attacked, and there have been many clashes with the police, but only the police. Lately the regime has become almost desperate. There have been assassinations of our people. In 1979 they tried to kill hundreds of our people at a military school in Angola."

Referring to the Matola raid, the Maseru raid and the SAAF bombing of Maputo, OR Tambo added:

"This means the conflict is escalating. We always thought it was going to be a bitter, brutal , vicious struggle, almost as a necessary precondition for the liberation of South Africa. We have to go through that. The conflict is reaching new levels. There is to be much destruction, much suffering, and a lot of bloodshed which will not be confined to South Africa. (...)

...In 1980 we signed the Geneva protocols and said that if we captured any enemy soldiers we would treat them as prisoners of war. The fact is we are not against civilians. We do not include them in our definition of the enemy. The ANC was non-violent for a whole decade in the face of violence against African civilians. What do we mean by civilians? It really means white civilians. No one refers to Africans as civilians and they have been victims of shootings all the time. Even children. They have been killed in the hundreds. Yet the word has not been used in all these years. Now it is being used, especially after the Pretoria [SAAF/HQ] bomb. But implicit in the practice of the South African regime is that when you shoot an African you are not killing a civilian. We don t want to kill civilians. But some will be hit, quite accidentally and regrettably. I am sure we are going to lose many civilians and many innocent people, as happens in any violent situation. (...)

We do not boast about it in the way the SA regime boasts about its killings...I think South Africa is going to be a very happy country one day and we will avoid all avoidable loss of life but - harsh though this sounds - we cannot allow the system to persist for the sake of saving a few lives. It is not so harsh when one considers how many lives apartheid has destroyed. "

4.3.1. 1985: The Kabwe Conference and controversies surrounding the issue of soft targets 

The questions of ANC policy towards soft targets and taking the struggle to white areas arise in the context of the unprecedented, mass-based confrontation with the apartheid state which was taking place at all levels of society within the country from the early 1980s onwards. Civics, community organisations, and trade unions were all engaged in intense struggles. MK operations increased sharply, most of them carried out by formal units based inside the country, many of which were supported and housed by underground political cells.

The Kabwe conference was held in June 1985 to assess developments since the Morogoro conference of 1969. The day before it opened, Pretoria attacked several homes in Gaborone, Botswana, killing 12 people - two young female citizens of Botswana (who were blown to pieces), one Somalian, a six-year old child from Lesotho, and eight South Africans, five of whom were members of the ANC, but none of them members of MK. All those killed were unarmed.

Conference reaffirmed ANC policy with regard to targets considered legitimate: SADF and SAP personnel and installations, selected economic installations and administrative infrastructure. But the risk of civilians being caught in the crossfire when such operations took place could no longer be allowed to prevent the urgently needed, all-round intensification of the armed struggle. The focus of armed operations had to shift towards striking directly at enemy personnel, and the struggle had to move out of the townships to the white areas. This was immediately seized on by the propaganda machinery of the apartheid regime, and falsely portrayed as a decision to begin indiscriminate killings of white civilians.

OR Tambo expressed the mood of the Conference eloquently. It represented, he said,

"...a turning point in the history of all the people of South Africa. Our Conference itself will be remembered by our people as a council-of-war that planned the seizure of power by these masses, the penultimate convention that gave the order for us to take our country through the terrible but cleansing fires of revolutionary war to a condition of peace, democracy and the fulfilment of our people who have already suffered far too much and far too long."

At a press conference he noted that in the preceding nine to ten months many soft targets had been hit by the enemy - nearly 500 civilians had been killed. The distinction between hard and soft targets is going to disappear in an intensified confrontation, in an escalating conflict. (...) I am not saying that our Conference used the word soft targets. I am saying that Conference recognised that we are in it. It is happening every day, he said.

By the end of 1985 an official pamphlet titled Take the Struggle to the White Areas! was distributed inside the country.

Targets were identified as follows: the racist army, police, death squads, agents and stooges in our midst, and the call to take the war to the white areas is defined as follows:

Ø     "Strengthening our workers organisations and engaging in united action in the factories, mines, farms and suburbs

Ø     Spreading the consumer boycott to all areas of the country

Ø     Organised and well-planned demonstrations in the white suburbs and central business districts.

Ø     Forming underground units and combat groups in our places of work and taking such actions as sabotage in the factories, mines, farms and suburbs, and disrupt the enemys oil, energy, transport, communications and other vital systems

Ø     Systematic attacks against the army and police and the so-called area defence units in the white areas.

Ø     Well-planned raids on the armouries and dumps of the army, police, farmers and so on to secure arms for our units."

The ANC leadership had called on all members and supporters of the ANC to intensify the struggle at all costs, to move towards creating a situation of ungovernability and peoples war.

There were long and insecure lines of communication, command and control. Many of the established MK units had been allowed a degree of initiative in executing their operations, as long as these remained within policy guidelines.

In contrast with a conventional military force, in which planning takes place at HQ level by experienced officers, in guerilla warfare most of the detailed planning takes place at the lowest level: each cadre has to be trusted to make principled and educated decisions with regard to choice of target, whilst keeping a close eye on developments and feelings among the people in his/her community - a responsibility which no soldier in a conventional force ever has to face. There was no hotline to higher structures to ask for guidance; communication could - and at times did - result in deaths, given the degree to which communication lines were monitored. Consequently, a great deal depended on the political maturity, general experience, and immediate situation in which each cadre operated.

Maintaining discipline in guerilla and conventional armed forces is also fundamentally different. In the case of a guerilla force, discipline flows from a thorough understanding of the political objectives of the armed struggle - not from threats of court-martial or punishment.

MK cadres conducted crash courses for eager volunteers inside the country. Some of these recruits had sketchy political understanding of the nature of the struggle in comparison with those cadres who had gone through the intensive political and military training offered in camps in exile. Some supporters drifted in and out of structures, were never thoroughly under the discipline of the ANC and MK, yet commanders on the ground sometimes found their contributions indispensable.

Cadres made decisions in the context of pressures they encountered on a day-to-day basis, in which enemy atrocities against civilians were mounting. Increasing numbers of attacks took place in urban areas, and civilians were increasingly caught in the crossfire. Bona fide cadres and supporters who carried out attacks of this nature believed they were fulfilling the general direction to carry the struggle to the white areas in accordance with the political will of the leadership of the ANC.

The period between 1985 and 1988 witnessed unprecedented violence, overwhelmingly directed at black civilians, as the regime fought to regain the strategic initiative it had lost.

Increasingly in this period, attacks took place in urban areas, in which civilians were caught in the crossfire. Bona fide cadres and supporters who carried out attacks of this nature believed they were fulfilling the general direction to intensify the struggle and carry it into the white areas in accordance with the political will of the leadership of the ANC.

This behaviour of the regime was a significant factor in provoking certain attacks which were in breach of policy. Anger on the ground was explosive: the atrocities committed by the apartheid regime demanded retaliation, and the careful response was at times met with angry contempt. In some cases, cadres responded to state brutality by hitting back in anger, as soon as possible - as in the case of the Amanzimtoti bomb, described in detail in our main submission. A comment by OR Tambo in response to this attack is worth repeating:

"Massacres have been perpetrated against civilians: Mamelodi, a massacre. Uitenhage, a massacre. Botswana, a massacre. Queenstown, a massacre...certainly, we are beginning to see South Africans of all races (burying) their loved ones who have died in the South African situation. The whole of South Africa is beginning to bleed...If I had been approached by an ANC unit and asked whether they should go and plant a bomb at a supermarket I would have said, Of course not . But when our units are faced with what is happening all around them, it is understandable that some of the should say, Well, I may have to face being disciplined, but I am going to do this."

A factor which should not be underestimated is that the banning by the regime of all ANC literature and jamming of broadcasts from Radio Freedom made it extremely difficult for senior ANC leadership to get through to cadres and activists on the ground to ensure a proper understanding of policy. Every effort was made to block and distort the ANCs message, or anything which could be remotely construed as supportive of the message of the liberation movement. An extraordinary range of items were banned; possession of ANC publications such as a pamphlet or a copy of Mayibuye or Sechaba could result in a lengthy jail sentence.

Given the circumstances at the time, it is remarkable that so few armed attacks took place in which there was a high rate of civilian casualties. MK acted with great restraint; we certainly had the capacity to kill many thousands of civilians - it would have been easy to do this - but the ANC leadership never took this route, even under extreme provocation. The humanity of this approach has never been acknowledged - nor reciprocated - by the apartheid regime, which always saw black civilians in general (and all those who opposed the regime) as forming an integral part of enemy forces, whether they were armed or not.

Operational and technical difficulties leading to unintended consequences 

When unexpected difficulties arose, cadres had to think on their feet: and sometimes they made the wrong decisions. At times, given the refusal of the regime to treat MK members as prisoners of war, the situations they faced were desperate to the extent that it is highly unlikely that there would be a peaceful outcome, no matter what they decided - the Silverton bank siege and the Goch Street incident are cases in point.

Gathering reliable information and tactical intelligence was often exceptionally difficult. At times attacks which appear to be aimed at civilian targets were nothing of the sort - the cadre may have had information to the effect that an SADF or SAP g roup would be present at a particular railway station or hotel or restaurant a particular time, but due to a range of difficulties - ranging from faulty intelligence to devices which malfunction and accidentally go off at the wrong time - an explosion occurs, apparently senselessly, in a civilian area. It is also possible that some of these incidents occurred through deliberate disinformation, in which infiltrators into MK units set up attacks of this nature.

At other times, an attack would take place in support of campaigns or other struggles taking place within the community - such as strike action, mass retrenchments, a rent or bus boycott. An explosion at an office block, factory or chain store makes sense in this context, although the timing of the blast could go wrong for a range of reasons and result in unintended civilian casualties.

In some cases, cadres were entirely correct with regard to the political reasoning behind their choice of target but placed a bomb at an inappropriate time which resulted in unnecessary civilian casualties. In addition, they did not have sufficient capacity to convey the intentions of their actions, or were blocked from doing so by censorship.

At times insufficient training could have resulted in situations in which cadres were not able to ensure that explosions took place at the intended time, or accidents occured. Technical failures also occurred, resulting in unintended civilian casualties.

False flag operations 

The regime did not only block ANC communications of all kinds. It saw the active dissemination of disinformation as a critically important aspect of its programme of counter-revolutionary warfare, in which much emphasis was laid on psychological and strategic communication operations. A central concern of successive apartheid regimes has always been to alienate the people from MK and the ANC. No effort was spared to discredit and demonise MK - and certain attacks on civilian targets portrayed as the work of MK were carried out by the regime, such as the KwaMakutha massacre. In this regard the regime was drawing on the experience of other wars against liberation movements, including the tactics adopted by the security forces in the Zimbabwean war of liberation, such as pseudo operations in which they would attack civilians whilst masquerading as guerrillas. The tactics developed in Namibia in attempts to counter-mobilise the civilian population against Swapo were also harnessed (see our main submission, pp 35 - 36.)

In the mid- to late 1980s, the situation was further complicated by the stepping up of false flag operations as the regime intensified its efforts to discredit the ANC internationally, and alienate growing popular support on the ground. Various examples of work of this nature - such as the Khotso House bomb and the murder of Griffiths Mxenge were cited in our main submission, and there is little doubt that several other operations of this nature will come to light as the work of the Commission proceeds.

In some cases agents infiltrated structures and consistently attempted to influence people towards un-planned or ill-considered violence, in order to discredit the ANC, create divisions in communities, and disrupt structures.

There have been indications that some of those who have applied for amnesty have information on the extent to which false flag operations were carried out in the 1980s and 1990s. We call on the TRC to ensure that all available information on covert projects, including what the NP has called disinformation projects approved during this period is obtained, in particular strategic communications projects, which were controlled by a sub-committee of the State Security Council. Considerable detail in this regard was presented in our first submission, pp. 34 - 40.

Paul Erasmus, a member of the SAP security branch tasked with stratkom (strategic communications) work, has stated that a number of the limpet mines that exploded in central Johannesburg in the late 1980s, for which the ANC was blamed, were planted by the security police in order to discredit the ANC. Joe Mamasela has made similar claims regarding blasts in certain Wimpy Bars. We trust that the TRC will ensure that the truth in this regard is exposed.

Response of the leadership 

In late 1987, all members of MK HQ were called in by OR Tambo, who expressed his concern at the number of unnecessary civilian casualties which had occurred in certain attacks, particularly those involving the use of anti-tank landmines. He tasked MK HQ with ensuring that all cadres fully understood ANC policy with regard to legitimate targets. Failure to comply with these orders would be considered violations of policy and action would be taken against offenders.

In response, MK HQ sent senior commanders to the forward areas to meet with MK structures there, and convey the concerns of the national leadership. When possible these senior commanders also met with units. In cases where meetings could not be held with units, command structures in the forward areas were told to contact all command structures of their units, whether they may have been involved in attacks of this nature or not, and ensure that all cadres were entirely clear on ANC policy regarding legitimate targets.

Chris Hani, Aboobaker Ismail and Keith Mokoape visited structures in Maputo; Ronnie Kasrils visited structures in Swaziland and other areas. Lambert Moloi, Chris Hani and Julius Maliba (Manchecker) met with Zimbabwe structures, and Chris Hani, Aboobaker Ismail, and Lambert Moloi visited Botswana structures.

In most cases cadres responsible for these actions had not deliberately set out to flout ANC policy, but had believed they were acting in accordance with the wishes of the leadership, or had acted in anger. This was particularly the case with younger, more recent recruits. Conveying the instructions of the leadership in this unequivocal manner through the most senior officials of MK HQ was sufficient action, as the overwhelming majority of MK cadres were disciplined soldiers and activists.

In August 1988 the NEC issued a statement specifically on the conduct of armed struggle in the country:

"The NEC further re-affirmed the centrality of the armed struggle in the national democratic revolution and the need to further escalate armed actions and transform our offensive into a generalised peoples war. (...,) However, the NEC also expressed concern at the recent spate of attacks on civilian targets. Some of these attacks have been carried out by cadres of the peoples army, Umkhonto we Sizwe, inspired by anger at the regimes campaign of terror against the oppressed and democratic forces, both within and outside South Africa. In certain instances operational circumstances resulted in unintended casualties."

"Yet it has come to our notice that agents of the Pretoria regime have been detailed to carry out a number of bomb attacks deliberately to sow confusion among the people of South Africa and the international community, and to discredit the African National Congress."

4.4. Post 1990: Suspension of armed operations 

Most MK MHQ personnel returned from exile for the December 1990 Consultative Conference. After this conference, MHQ awaited further instructions from the NEC with regard to its role and future direction. MK cadres inside the country had begun surfacing and coming to the ANC office to seek guidance. A rudimentary structure was set up to look after the needs of these cadres while awaiting policy decisions from the political leadership.

The ANC had taken a principled decision to release agents of the regime who were still imprisoned in Uganda at this time as part of the process of furthering the negotiations. However, the regime did not reciprocate and many ANC cadres, especially those on death row, were only released in 1992 after the signing of the Record of Understanding.

The Groote Schuur Minute, the Pretoria Minute and the DF Malan Accord determined the future of MK activities.

The armed struggle was suspended in August 1990 with the signing of the Pretoria Minute. It was decided that those MK cadres who were outside the country - in camps or in the Front Line States - should undergo further training to prepare them for integration into a new South African Defence Force. Limited numbers of cadres were sent for advanced officers training in conventional warfare. Countries including India, Ghana, Pakistan, Uganda and Tanzania hosted these cadres.

In terms of the Pretoria Minute the ANC had agreed to stop bringing arms into the country. The DF Malan Accord of 1992 aimed to bring the arms of all the armed forces in the country under control. However, the De Klerk regime interpreted the Accord to mean that this applied only to MK; various negotiations ensued, without resolving the matter.

We dealt with the issue of SDUs in considerable detail in our first submission, and our responses to questions raised by the TRC in this regard are dealt with in the main document of this second submission. It will suffice to note that SDUs were formed in response to the violence which erupted as the ANC suspended armed struggle. In response to pleas for assistance from communities under attack, the ANC tasked some members of MK Military HQ to attend to issues relating to SDUs, their organisation, training and the provision of weaponry. It was made clear that SDUs would be exclusively for the purpose of self-defence, that the overall control of SDUs was to remain with the communities concerned, and if MK cadres participated in SDUs they would do so as members of the community: MK Command would not play a leading role, as it was felt this might jeopardise negotiations.

In 1991, MHQ organised a conference for MK in Venda to inform cadres of the state of the negotiations and to get their views on the future of MK. The conference was attended by representatives of cadres from inside the country as well as those in camps in Tanzania and Uganda.

The Venda MK conference supported the decisions taken at the ANCs July conference in Durban, and called on the ANC leadership to secure the release of MK combatants who were still in prison. Cadres called on Chris Hani to remain MK Chief-of-Staff.

The conference also called for a reorganisation of MHQ with the view to preparing for serious negotiations with the regime on military matters and a future defence force. It was decided that multi-lateral talks would be held with all forces within the country, and that the homeland armies should be discouraged from individually holding bilateral negotiations with the SADF.

Following the Venda Conference, the ANC re-organised MHQ (details in this regard appear in the appendix on ANC structures and personnel.) Regional structures were established in each of the ANCs 14 organisational regions and cadres appointed to liaise with MK personnel living in these areas.

By this time, in preparation for negotiations, MHQ had begun to have some contact with the SADF.

There was increasing pressure from the military camps from cadres anxious to return home. Once negotiations appeared to be proceeding relatively smoothly at Kempton Park, the return of these cadres was speeded up.

After initial bi-lateral negotiations between MK Command and the SADF, we went on to have multi-lateral negotiations with the seven existing armed forces in the country. MK and other forces participated in the Joint Military Co-ordinating Council under the Transitional Executive Council.

In December 1993, MK held its final parade. After the elections, the integration of all members of all armed forces into a new SANDF began in earnest in May 1994. Later that year, the weapons that were in MK Ordnance stockpiles were handed over to the SANDF. Other weapons were collected and handed over. The President decided that all MK arms stockpiled in foreign countries should he donated to those countries; they were not compatible with those used in the SANDF.

5. CASE STUDIES 

We have selected two case studies - one from Special Operations, the other from general military operations - to illustrate some of the points regarding the conduct of armed struggle that we have highlighted in our submissions to the TRC. Operations such as the attack on SAAF HQ and the laying of anti-tank mines have been seen in some quarters as contradictions of ANC policy regarding the avoidance of civilian casualties.

The SAAF HQ operation illustrates the problems which arose as a result of the enemy locating strategic installations in high-density civilian areas. In the section on anti-tank landmines, we provide the TRC with more detail on the objective of these operations and the operational difficulties which arose.

5.1. The Attack on SAAF HQ 

This operation came in the wake of a cross-border raid into Lesotho in which 42 ANC supporters and BaSotho were killed, and the assassination of Ruth First in Maputo. The objective was to carry out a highly visible attack, which was impossible to cover up, against military personnel in uniform. No direct operations had previously been carried out against military personnel except for a number of skirmishes between MK cadres and the security forces, usually in the remote border areas.

It was decided to target military personnel who waited for buses outside SAAF HQ at approximately 16h30 each day. In the early stages of planning this operation, discussions were held on the possible loss of civilian life, and whether this would be justified. After careful consideration it was decided by OR Tambo, in terms of the mandate he had been given by the NEC, that Special Operations should proceed with the operation, taking great care to ensure that the target was unmistakably military.

On the afternoon of May 20th, 1983, the unit drove into Pretoria and parked the car packed with explosives in Church Street, at the entrance of Air Force HQ. When the bomb exploded a few minutes earlier than planned, 19 people were killed, including both MK cadres and 11 Air Force officers, According to initial media reports, more than 200 military personnel and a few civilians were injured, but these figures were later distorted by the government in an attempt to portray this attack as aimed at civilians.

5.2. Anti-tank mine operations 

The ANC never used anti-personnel mines, specifically because we were concerned to avoid civilian casualties. The ANC used only anti-tank mines, which require at least 300kg to detonate. The objective of these operations was to strike at the SADF personnel patrolling borders, and at the Commando units consisting of farmers linked to the area defence systems within the overall security network. The areas in which these operations took place were primarily the designated areas along the Botswana, Zimbabwe and Swaziland borders.

In 1979 the Promotion of Density of Population in Designated Areas Act, No. 87, was passed in an attempt to stem the exodus of white farmers from border areas, and increase the number of farmers in these areas to serve as the first line of defence against the infiltration of guerrillas from neighbouring states. At least R100m was made available over a period of five to six years for the provisions of loans to such farmers, and for the construction of strategic roads and airstrips in these areas.

The Act stipulated that loans be given on condition that farms were managed according to SADF directives, and that all white farmers in the areas had to undergo military training, be members of the regional and area commandos, and make themselves available to the SADF and Department of National Security to carry out reconnaissance and intelligence tasks whenever called on to do so. All were linked into the Commando system of part-time SADF forces and the military radio network known as MARNET. Many farm buildings were constructed in such a way as to constitute a chain of defence strongholds along the borders ready to be used by the SADF whenever necessary. The Act stipulated that the SADF was empowered to enter any property in the designated area to demolish or erect military facilities or any other structure without the consent of the owner. (For more information, please refer to p. 59 of our main submission.)

These measures were not only defensive: Messina, Louis Trichardt, Alldays, Ellisras, Thabazimbi, Zeerust, Piet Retief, and Amsterdam were all key towns from which acts of aggression were launched against neighbouring states.

The tactic adopted was to lay anti-tank mines overnight so that they would be triggered when the SADF patrolled first thing the next morning. Roads in the immediate border area were used primarily by the SADF and farmers actively supporting the efforts of the SADF, thereby defining themselves as legitimate targets. Most farm workers went on foot and would, it was reasoned, not be affected.

The decision to use landmines and the choice of area of operation was made at Military HQ; the commands were based in Zimbabwe and later, for operations in the Eastern Transvaal, in Swaziland.

Units would be sent into the country to conduct reconnaissance with the aim or determining the movements of enemy personnel on the roads, their routines and schedules, the habits of local people, etc. This usually took a few days; once the reconnaissance had been completed, cadres reported back to their commanders. Operational plans were drawn up, and the reports and plans were then sent to Military HQ. When operations were approved, detailed implementation plans were drawn up and cadres instructed to lay the mines.

Initial operations were carried out fairly close to the borders - within 2-4 km. However OR Tambo ordered that operations should be carried out deeper inside the country as the governments of neighbouring countries were coming under pressure from the apartheid regime. The effect of this was to move some operations into areas where the roads were not used almost exclusively by the defence force and Commando farmers. In addition, because cadres had to be in the country longer there was an increase in the number of firefights between guerrillas and the security forces.

When it became apparent that the landmine operations were not having the desired effect of consistently striking at security forces, they were suspended by MHQ.

5. APPENDICES: MK OPERATIONS AND OTHER ARMED ACTIONS 

It is not possible to give a detailed account of every MK operation, as requested by the TRC. We did not keep records of this nature, mainly for security reasons. More detail will be forthcoming in applications for amnesty by various commanders and combatants.

There are two lists of armed actions attached to this submission. Appendix 4 provides information on operations carried out by members of MK, arranged chronologically and according to the nature of the target in each case. It is drawn from reports, recollections of the MK commanders, press reports, and the SAIRR annual surveys. There are probably omissions, and some mistakes may have occurred due to incorrect reporting or a range of other reasons.

The incidents and attacks listed in Appendix 5 fall into the grey area described above. We are not certain that all these attacks were carried out by MK personnel or by people trained by MK personnel. We cannot state with certainty what the objectives of these attacks were, but it is probable that many were carried out in good faith in the belief - incorrectly at times - that the cadre was acting in accordance with the injunctions by the leadership to intensify the struggle at all costs and carry the struggle to white areas. In other cases we strongly doubt that our cadres were responsible, but do not have sufficient information to substantiate this.

6. CONCLUSION 

In the course of war life is lost. The challenge before us was to avoid indiscriminate killing of civilians, which MK certainly had the capacity to carry out. Although it is possible that entirely accurate statistics will never be known beyond any doubt, it is evident that MK acted with great restraint.

This record should be compared with the many thousands of deaths of civilians at the hands of successive apartheid regimes - with this continuing right until April 1994 - in countless massacres, assassinations, and executions. In addition there have b een millions of civilian casualties - bloodshed of holocaust proportions - in wars waged by surrogate forces in neighbouring states.

We also register our deep regret for the deaths of innocent civilians killed in the course of the struggle for justice and freedom. We extend our condolences to the families of all those who were killed or injured, including the soldiers and police wh o fought against us. The taking of life is not an easy thing; to us all life is sacred, and we have never been callous in our struggle.

1 We regret that we have not been able to locate a copy of this document 

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.