How the ANC crushed dis­sent

Phun­gulwa’s life and death re­veal the ten­sions within the ANC in ex­ile, writes Paul Trewhela

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

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.

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