Official versions of the ANC’s history in exile are challenged by Inside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile History of the ANC and Swapo by Paul Trewhela (Jacana Media). This is an edited extract.
In April 1990 a group of eight former members of Umkhonto weSizwe (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 government (with Penuell 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 after 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 South African Communist Party leader and MK chief of staff, Chris Hani — was shot dead by ANC members in Mthatha in a daylight public assassination early in June 1990, after he had 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 self-activity in 1989 among ANC exiles in Tanzania, which was crushed by the ANC leadership only 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. Under his “travelling name” Oscar Sizwe, he was one of the first group of MK cadres posted to Lesotho to help organise underground structures in the Transkei and Border areas, working closely with Chris Hani and acting as his bodyguard.
Several years later Phungulwa, Dyasophu and Maxongo — with about 90% of the ANC’s trained troops in Angola, from the generation of the 1976 student uprising revolt — 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. They were released only when the ANC was required to withdraw from Angola, with Cuban, Soviet and East German personnel, following the Crocker Accords of 1988 leading to independence for Namibia.
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, whom 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 practically to 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 16 September 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, at an annual general meeting attended by several top-ranking ANC leaders, including one — 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 (previously MK district commander in Luanda, who was elected chairperson of the RPC under his “travelling name” of Sidwell Moroka, also known as Mhlongo) and Mwezi Twala, who was elected organising secretary, under the travelling name of Khotso Morena.
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 (known to the mutineers by his travelling name, Zaba Maledza), was dragged through the prison with a rope around his neck, shortly before his death.
Twala, later author of Mbokodo: Inside MK. Mwezi Twala, a Soldier’s Story (Jonathan Ball, 1994) — an important first-hand history of the exile period — was one of the group of eight, including Phungulwa, which escaped from Tanzania in January 1990, and was their main spokesman when they gave a press conference in Johannesburg on May 16 1990. Phungulwa then had less than three weeks to live.