How the ANC crushed dissent
Phungulwa’s life and death reveal the tensions within the ANC in exile, writes Paul Trewhela
IN APRIL 1990, a group of eight former members of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), returned to South Africa a few weeks after Jacob Zuma, but under very different conditions.
While Zuma was smuggled into South Africa in secret by the gover nment (together with Penuel Maduna, head of the ANC’s legal department) to prepare for negotiations with President FW de Klerk, the eight had fled from the ANC in Tanzania following six traumatic years following mutinies of ANC troops in Angola in February and May 1984.
Less than two months after their arrival back in South Africa, one of the eight, Sipho Phungulwa – a former bodyguard of the SACP leader and MK chief of staff, Chris Hani – was shot dead by ANC members in Umtata in a daylight public assassination early in June 1990.
He had just left the ANC offices with a colleague, Nicholas Luthando Dyasophu. Narrowly escaping being shot, Dyasophu later gave evidence to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Three assassins subsequently received amnesty from the TRC, on the grounds that their act had been politically motivated.
Phungulwa’s life and death reveals the tensions within the ANC in exile between a top-down bureaucratic centralism and an ongoing struggle among the troops for a genuine participatory democracy.
It was a road that led from the mutiny in Angola in 1984 (in which a key demand had been for a democratic conference) through Quatro prison camp to an extraordinary, brief flowering of democratic selfactivity in 1989 among ANC exiles in Tanzania.
This was crushed by the ANC leadership just weeks before the unbanning of political organisations in South Africa and the release of Nelson Mandela.
After involvement in the 1976-77 youth uprisings in the Port Elizabeth area, Phungulwa had left South Africa with his close friend Amos Maxongo – later a fellow participant in the mutiny, in the prison ordeal at Quatro and in the democratic upsurge in Tanzania – to join MK.
Several years later, Phungulwa, Dyasophu and Maxongo, with about 90 percent of the ANC’s trained troops in Angola, from the genera- tion of the 1976 student uprising, took part in the mutiny, in which they demanded: a democratic conference; an investigation of the ANC’s security department, iMbokodo, on account of its brutality and their belief that it had been infiltrated by the apartheid regime; and to be transferred to South Africa to fight.
This was an extraordinary mutiny, in which the demand of the mutineers was to be sent into battle.
There followed five years’ imprisonment, first in Luanda State Security Prison, where they were tortured by iMbokodo, and then in Quatro.
Transferred to Dakawa camp in Tanzania in January 1989, they were permitted by the ANC to take part in normal exile activities.
Phungulwa became the main person responsible for organising sports and culture among the exiles, who the ANC prisoners on their arrival found dispirited and apathetic.
With their attachment to democratic principles and their political commitment, the former mutineers breathed life into the moribund structures in the camps. Towards the end of 1989, Phungulwa was elected sports and cultural co-ordinator for all the exiles in Tanzania, known to practically every ANC member in the region.
It was not long before these pariahs, who were not permitted to mention the mutiny or the repressions they had suffered, became an alternative pole of leadership to the security-dominated ANC bureaucracy in Dakawa.
On September 16, 1989, one of the seminal events in the life of the ANC abroad took place. In an astonishing rebuff to the ANC leadership, two former mutineers were elected to the leading positions on the Regional Political Committee, the most representative body of all the exiles in Tanzania.
This election was at an AGM attended by several topranking ANC leaders, including Andrew Masondo, regarded by the mutineers as one of the leaders most responsible for the reign of terror in the camps.
The two ex-prisoners from Quatro chosen to represent thousands of exiles in Tanzania were Omry Makgoale and Mwezi Twala, who was elected organising secretary.
Both had been members of the Committee of Ten, elected in Viana camp on the outskirts of Luanda to represent the demands of the troops to the ANC leadership in February 1984.
Makgoale had been present in Quatro prison when the leading figure in the mutiny, Ephraim Nkondo was dragged through the prison with a rope around his neck, just before his death
Within days of the election in Tanzania in September 1989, the ANC national executive committee in Lusaka set out to negate its embarrassing result.
This culminated in an administrative order the next month which dissolved the RPC and attempted to replace it with an appointed Interim RPC, which the ex-detainees described as a dummy body.
Phungulwa fought alongside his comrades to reverse this system of administrative decree.
At the AGM of the Zonal Youth Committee (ZYC) in Dakawa on 14 December, in the presence of SACP leader Rusty Ber nstein, of the regional department of political education, he argued that ANC officials should not dictate “who should be elected”.
He opposed the notion that individuals who had been elected to the RPC should agree to participate in an appointed “dummy structure”.
A person who was elected by the people, he stated, “should serve the interests of the electorate, not certain individuals.
As the ANC has taught us, we should elect people of our choice”. (Minutes signed by the ZYC administrative secretary Neville Gaba, December 28, 1989.)
A co-accused of Mandela and Walter Sisulu in the Rivonia Trial in 1963-64, Bernstein pointed out at the meeting that he was “happy to see the spirit of democracy”. (Minutes.) By continuing the fight for electoral accountability through the ZYC, the former prisoners made it plain that they had not given up their principles, but that these now had a wider audience than ever.
It was a challenge which ANC leaders were not slow to respond to. Within a fortnight, ANC headquarters in Lusaka sent two NEC members, first to the camp at Mazimbu and then to Dakawa on 24 December, in order to formally exclude the mutineers from office in any ANC structures.
The two delegates from the NEC were Chris Hani, who had played a major part in the suppression of the mutiny, and Stanley Mabizela, later South African High Commissioner to Namibia.
They became convinced that their only safety lay in flight. Phungulwa’s group, including Twala and Dyasophu, chose a route south via Malawi, believing there was greater security in an apartheid prison than in the hands of iMbokodo. Another group, including Phungulwa’s colleague, Amos Maxongo, chose a route north to Kenya.
Helped in Nairobi by ( then) Archbishop Desmond Tutu, it was this group that gave the first independent, verifiable news to the world about the mutiny, about Quatro and about the struggle for a genuine democracy.
A month after Phungulwa’s assassination, I had the honour to publish their history in Searchlight South Africa, a banned exile magazine published in London, in July 1990.
This is an extract from the chapter “A Death in South Africa”.
Inside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile History of the ANC and Swapo by Paul Trewhela is published by Jacana Media.
COMING CLEAN: Nicholas Luthando Dyasophu and Rodney Mwezi Twala, a seasoned ANC guerrilla, were both detained for five years in ANC prison camps. Here the ANC dissidents detail allegations of murder and torture against the ANC at a press conference in which they renewed calls for a commission of inquiry into ANC prison camps like Quatro in Angola.