Poqo was formed as an armed wing to the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) during the 1960's and was known for its aggressively violent sabotage campaign. Unlike other resistance organisations of the time, such as uMkhonto we Sizwe, Poqo made no effort to avoid loss of life and was the most anti-White underground movement of its time. Its aim was to overthrow the South African government in order to replace it with a socialist African state. The word 'poqo' means 'pure' or 'alone' in Xhosa and the organisation drew most of it's following from the Western Cape and the Transkei.
Arguably the largest underground grouping of the 1960's, Poqo's strategy intentionally involved killings. Their main targets were Langa and Paarl policemen and their alleged informers as well as Transkei chiefs (read as collaborators with the apartheid regime) and their followers. The structure and functioning of the organisation was based on the Communist cell, where members do not know the identity of their fellow members. Any person who disclosed Poqo information was sentenced to death and about ten members of the organisation were executed for betrayal.
Following Poqo's aim of destabilising the country and inspiring an uprising, organisation targeted Paarl on 22 November 1962. The crowd of 250 men, who were armed with axes, pangas and other home-made weapons, marched from Mbekweni location to the town and attacked the police station, homes and shops. They also killed two Whites: Frans Richard (22) and Rencia Vermeulen (18).
They followed this attack with the violent murder of a family camping at Bashee River in the Transkei on 4 February 1963. Norman and Elizabeth Grobbelaar, their teenage daughters Edna and Dawn and Mr. Derek Thompson were hacked to death in their caravans. People across the country became fearful and the government was spurred to vigorously suppress any potential rebellion. Already strict security laws were strengthened when the Minister of Justice, B. J. Vorster, enforced the 1964 General Laws Amendment Act, otherwise known as the Sabotage Act and the 90-day law. This law made sabotage a capital offence and gave the Minister house arrest and detention without trial powers.
Both Poqo and uMkhonto we Sizwe armed responses to the injustice of the White minority state of South Africa, but Poqo proved more dangerous at the time. Its leaders were less known in security circles and its approach was much more brutal and potentially powerful as a movement sowing mass terror. Due to apartheid's repressive response and the virulently anti-White stance of Poqo, it found itself without the mass support it needed, and the organisation fell apart.
The PAC in exile (1976-1983)
In the 1960s there were conflicts in South Africa between the government and the groups representing black people. The period after 1976 witnessed increased confrontations between the state and the African political organisations. In the aftermath of Soweto, a number of students went into exile. The PAC's Azanian People Liberation Army (APLA), the successor to Poqo, just like the MK, was also active in exile although for the greater part of the time it was subdued by bannings and the ANC's growing stature as the more powerful liberation movement.
There were a number of camps that were established for the PAC's military wing (APLA). Some APLA cadres were accommodated at Itumbi camp in Mbeya (Tanzania). A section of this camp was called Shangai where members of the organisation's Central Committee who visited the area stayed. Another important APLA base was the Ruvu camp. The exiled PAC responded to the June 16 Soweto uprisings by establishing the camp. The Ruvu settlement started during the era of P. K. Leballo in 1978. The settlement grew remarkably under the leadership of Nyathi John Pokela in 1982 when the Tanzania government granted 440 hectares of land to the PAC. The aim was to help the organisation to establish a settlement for self-reliance and other developmental activities. Ruvu was conceived by Leballo to be similar to the ANC's 'June 16 Detachment' (initially based in the Nova Katengue camp in Benguella Province (Angola) in 1978 and later moved to Fezenda situated further north across the Rio Donge). Initially the Ruvu camp was a small refugee or 'transit camp' for PAC members who fled the repression of the South African government following the Soweto uprisings. It accommodated new recruits who were awaiting military training. From 1982, with the change in leadership in the PAC, the camp was remodeled to be similar to the ANC settlements in Mazimbu and Dakawa. Both accommodated the generation of June 16th exiles from South Africa. A detailed analysis of the development of the two ANC settlements gives the impression that the ANC settlement projects were more robust than the PAC camps, in terms of scale and organisation.
Nevertheless, from 1982, the scope of activities at the PAC Ruvu camp developed beyond the provision of a sanctuary for activists, to the establishment of a self-sufficient community where PAC members could acquire skills which were to be beneficial to a liberated South Africa. Facilities included; a clinic, classrooms and mechanical and agricultural training centers.
From 1981, the Ruvu camp became the centre of the ideological debate and critique of the PAC leadership under the chairmanship of Vusumzi Make. The cadres in this camp demanded that the leadership derive its mandate to lead from the rank and file membership. They also questioned the abuse of funds and criticised the lavish life-style of the PAC Chairman, Vusi Make and the entire Central Committee.
PAC Leadership Crisis
Life was never been simple for the PAC in exile. Its existence was characterised by problems ranging from the suspension of the constitution, scattered leadership and misappropriation of funds or corruption. The PAC leadership dismally failed to develop and portray itself as a coherent liberation movement. The situation caused discontent among its members who felt that the party was disoriented and that it had also lost the reputation it enjoyed under the leadership of the founding President of the PAC, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, who died on 27 February 1978. The PAC situation was blamed on Leballo's leadership style. He was accused, among other things, of forging an unholy friendship with whites who were considered agents of the apartheid state. This became one of the PAC's major internal problems.
Problems at Ruvu camp
As the camp community grew, problems of ill-discipline also increased. The Ruvu settlement was regularly infiltrated by ill disciplined people from the PAC army. This trend strengthened from 1981 onwards as punishment and various forms of abuse were reported. It can be noted that the camp accommodated groups of people who differed not only in terms of background and language, but also had developed a host of traditions and norms over the years in exile.
Quite often, there were quarrels among the inmates. Some were of a petty nature, resulting from drinking and womanising over weekends, but others contained a serious political element. In an attempt to maintain order, the political leadership resorted to corporal punishment for offenders. However, many ordinary PAC members who lived in the camps became victims of the unguided authority of camp commanders who administered willy-nilly corporal punishment, without regard for organisational procedures and policies. The hope that one day 'Azania' (a term used to refer to a liberated South Africa) would be liberated sustained the loyalty of camp inmates. Some endured the camp conditions because they had no alternative. Others, who could not bear the situation anymore deserted the organisation, and joined the ANC whilst a few others declared themselves refugees in various parts of Southern Africa including Botswana where the Dukwe refugee camp had been set up.
The Arusha Conference (1978)
The Arusha Consultative Conference was held in September 1978 to try and resolve various organisational problems. For instance, the impatient APLA cadres who wanted to be sent back to South Africa to fight against the apartheid regime. These cadres were also outraged by the misappropriation of funds and the luxurious lifestyles led by their political leadership in the cities while they endured unpleasant living conditions in the camps. Another instability problem addressed by the conference was the persistent struggle for leadership between the two fighting factions led by Leballo (a political leader) and Ntantala (a military leader). The personal differences between the two resulted in serious physical confrontation between their respective factions. Attacks on each other (including knife-stabbings) became common practice in the camps. This prompted some members of the military command to vacate their positions in fear of their lives.
Clearly, these conflicts affected the morale of the cadres in the camps and tarnished the image of the PAC both in exile and in South Africa.