A scathing his­tory of Umkhonto weSizwe

CityPress - - Voices - JA­COB DLAMINI voices@city­press.co.za

Fords­burg Fighter: The jour­ney of an MK vol­un­teer by Amin Ca­jee (as told to Terry Bell)

Face2Face (an im­print of Cover2Cover) 192 pages R220

Many have been won­der­ing why South Africans in­sist on telling the story of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), the ANC’s mil­i­tary wing, in heroic for­mat when, in truth, the coun­try would be bet­ter served if it were told as a tragedy.

Far from be­ing a ro­man­tic tale in which a valiant peo­ple, with its army in the van­guard, suf­fered through tri­als and tribu­la­tions be­fore reach­ing the promised land that was a demo­cratic South Africa, the his­tory of MK is, in fact, a calamity or, as au­thor Amin Ca­jee tells it in his brave and nec­es­sary book, Fords­burg Fighter, a tragi­com­edy.

A mil­i­tary wing founded to lib­er­ate South Africa, MK could barely feed its mem­bers, let alone wage a peo­ple’s war. Heav­ily in­fil­trated by apartheid agents, the unit could lit­er­ally not shoot straight even when faced with an apartheid agent, un­masked in its ranks in a Tan­za­nian camp, stand­ing be­fore a three-man fir­ing squad made up of trained mil­i­tary mem­bers. The agent fell to the ground be­fore the squad fired, played dead and then fled into the Tan­za­nian bush while the mem­bers of the fir­ing squad dug his grave.

He resur­faced in South Africa as a mem­ber of the se­cu­rity po­lice, work­ing against the ANC. This, then, is the vaunted peo­ple’s army whose his­tory, as Ca­jee tells it, is less than heroic.

One of the first South Africans of In­dian de­scent to join the mil­i­tary wing in 1962, about a year af­ter its found­ing, Ca­jee found in ex­ile a move­ment torn apart by al­co­holism, cor­rup­tion, in­ep­ti­tude, trib­al­ism and vi­o­lence. In his telling, not even Chris Hani, beloved by many on the left to­day as the great­est pres­i­dent the new South Africa never had, was im­mune from the poison of trib­al­ism.

Such is Ca­jee’s ac­count of life in ANC camps in Tan­za­nia in the 1960s that it al­most does not mat­ter whether Joe Modise, MK’s first com­man­der in chief, was an apartheid agent or not. Modise was such a bully (in­sist­ing that Ca­jee pol­ish his boots; de­mand­ing that he hold Modise’s glass of water while Modise drank from it, for ex­am­ple) that the out­ra­geous­ness of his ac­tions turned him de facto into an agent provo­ca­teur.

No apartheid agent could have done more than Modise to de­stroy the morale of the men in the ANC camps, ac­cord­ing to the au­thor.

Even the Wankie and Sipo­lilo cam­paigns, claimed by the ANC as a heroic chap­ter in its mil­i­tary wing’s early his­tory, turn out to be less so. The cam­paigns – in which MK worked to­gether with Joshua Nkomo’s Zipra (Zim­babwe Peo­ple’s Revolutionary Army) fighters in a bid to chart a path from Zam­bia through the then Rhode­sia to South Africa – were, ac­cord­ing to Ca­jee, sui­cide mis­sions in­tended to rid the mil­i­tary wing, and Modise in par­tic­u­lar, of crit­ics who had been won­der­ing why young men who had joined MK to lib­er­ate South Africa were wast­ing away in Tan­za­nia in­stead of fight­ing for free­dom back in their home coun­try.

Ca­jee says that many of those who per­ished in the cam­paigns – ill-con­sid­ered, ill-fated and ad­ver­tised be­fore­hand in the Zam­bian me­dia to boot – were isiZulu-speak­ing mem­bers of MK who had been among Modise’s sharpest crit­ics. Modise sent them to their deaths. In fact, says Ca­jee, when Modise ac­cused one of these men, about to cross the Zam­bezi into Rhode­sia, of cow­ardice, the man re­sponded by ask­ing why Modise was stay­ing in the rel­a­tive safety of Zam­bia in­stead of go­ing with his men to bat­tle.

Modise walked away; he had no an­swer. This is one of the many tragic sto­ries Ca­jee tells in his book.

Some will no doubt de­nounce Ca­jee as a de­fec­tor. He ac­cepts the charge. But as he points out in his de­fence, he chose life over cer­tain death. We should be grate­ful to him that he chose to live; dead men can tell no sto­ries. Ca­jee has told his and we would do well to lis­ten to it.

To­wards the end of the book, Ca­jee asks if the mil­i­tary wing did, in fact, wage an armed strug­gle. He an­swers his ques­tion thus: Yes, MK did wage an armed strug­gle, but sadly, the bulk of that strug­gle was within MK it­self – mem­bers fight­ing against mem­bers; mem­bers killing mem­bers; mem­bers abus­ing mem­bers.

That is tragic, not heroic.

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