uMkhonto weSizwe (MK)

Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) in exile

MK Soldiers in Malange Camp in Angola. Source: Zolile Nqose Collection

Background

Tanzania, situated on the eastern part of the African continent, was colonised by Germany in 1884 and named Tanganyika. However, the territory of Zanzibar, which consists of the two islands Unguja (Zanzibar Island) and Pemba, became a single British Protectorate in 1890. After the First World War, the League of Nations mandated Britain to take over the territory of Tanganyika in 1918.  Leading African labour activists formed the African Association (AA) in 1927, but the body remained largely ineffective.

In 1948 the AA reconstituted itself as the Tanganyika African Association (TAA), which began calling for constitutional reforms that reflected African interests. The TAA criticised racial discrimination, calling for the Africanisation of the civil service and increased expenditure for educational loans. In April 1953 Julius Nyerere was elected the president of the TAA, defeating his rival Abdulwahid Sykes. On 7 July 1954, the Tanzanian African National Union (TANU) was formed in Dar-es Salaan and succeeded the TAA. TANU grew in popularity in various areas of Dar-es Salaam, growing its membership in urban and peri-urban areas. The British attempted to establish systems that would protect their interests and those of the settler population, in particular by organising an electoral system in the period from 1957 to 1958. When Legislative Council elections were held, TANU won all the seats reserved for Africans, paving the way for the establishment of a popularly elected government. Other parties such as the African National Congress (ANC) and the All Muslim National Union of Tanganyika (AMNUT) – an alternative to TANU – were less successful.

In December 1959 the British government agreed to allow self-government after general elections scheduled for August 1960, but the country remained a colony. Nyerere became the chief minister of the government, but he had limited powers, as foreign policy and control of the army remained under the direction of the Colonial Office in London. In May 1961, Tanganyika was granted autonomy and Nyerere became the Prime Minister with full powers under a new constitution. On 9 December 1961 Tanganyika was granted independence and Nyerere became the first president. On 19 December 1963, Zanzibar also became independent, leaving the way clear for the unification of mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar on 26 April 1964 as the United Republic of Tanzania and Zanzibar. In October 1964, the country was renamed the United Republic of Tanzania.

The African National Congress in Tanzania

After taking power in Tanzania, Nyerere became one of the architects for the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and remained an ardent supporter of the continent’s liberation struggles. Tanzania provided facilities for liberation movements such as the African National Congress (ANC), Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU), the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), the South West African People’s Organisation (SWAPO), FRELIMO and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), and allowed them to operate from its soil. In addition, the Tanzanian government allowed the organisations to use Radio Tanzania to broadcast messages to their respective countries.

In the aftermath of the Sharpeville Massacre, the government banned the ANC and the PAC in South Africa. The ANC then sent Frene Ginwala to Tanzania with instructions to establish an office in Dar-es Salaam, and await further communication. Once in the country, she worked as a journalist while carrying out work for the ANC, which included receiving comrades arriving in Dar-es Saalam. Meanwhile, in 1960 the party instructed Oliver Tambo to clandestinely leave the country and establish offices for the movement in exile. He was also authorised to seek international support for the struggle against apartheid. Tambo skipped the country through Bechuanaland, in a car driven by Ronald Segal. Once in Bechuanaland he contacted Frene Ginwala, who made arrangements for a plane to fly Tambo, Dr Yusuf Dadoo and Segal to Dar-es-Salaam. Upon arrival they were welcomed by Julius Nyerere, and from that time Tanzania became an important point of contact and transit for the ANC in exile.

In 1961 the ANC and SACP launched Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) as its armed wing,  and It became imperative to seek military training facilities in friendly African and East European countries. As part of advancing this idea Nelson Mandela visited Tanzania in 1962 to seek financial and military assistance to enable MK to wage the armed struggle. The meeting ended in disappointment for Mandela as Nyerere urged the ANC to postpone the armed struggle until the release of PAC leader Robert Sobukwe. Despite this disappointing response, the Tanzanian government facilitated Mandela’s travel arrangements by issuing him with documents to travel to Ethiopia and by liaising with Emperor Haile Selassie. Mandela notes in his biography that the Tanzanian government also issued him with documents which enabled him to travel to other African countries and Britain.

Establishment of MK Camps in Tanzania in the 1960s and 1970s

Despite the initial hesitancy, Tanzania allowed MK to establish camps as transit centres for cadres training in the Soviet Union, China and Czechoslovakia. In 1962 the first military camps were established by Tlou Theophilus Cholo and Joe Modise. The names of the camps were: Kongwa, which held the majority of MK cadres in Tanzania; Morogoro, which functioned as the headquarters of the ANC and MK; and Mbeya and Bagamoyo. Funding and sustenance for the camps came various sources. The OAU Liberation Committee assisted MK by paying for rent and associated expenses for offices in Dar-es-Salaam and Morogoro. In addition the Swedish and Norwegian governments assisted with more funding and technical expertise through various organisations.

During the 1960s several members of the ANC were deployed in Tanzania. For instance, after JB Marks was elected as Chairman of the SACP at its Fifth Conference held underground in 1962, he was instructed by the National Executive Committee of the ANC to join the headquarters of the External Mission in Tanzania. In 1963 the ANC sent Jo Matlou to Tanzania, where he was followed by his wife Violet Matlou and their children. They became the only complete family living at the Luthuli Camp. Later, in 1965, Ben Turok arrived in Tanzania after serving three years in prison and briefed Tambo on the state of the ANC in South Africa. That same year the ANC relocated its headquarters to Morogoro, but its main military training camp remained Kongwa.

Kongwa Camp

Kongwa Camp was established between 1963 and 1964 about 400km west of Dar es Salaam, with Ambrose Makiwane the first camp commander. This the first MK camp to be established in Tanzania, Kongwa housed MK guerrillas who had returned from military training in the Soviet Union, China, Egypt and Algeria. MK recruits from South Africa who continued to make their way to Tanzania during this period by and large ended up at Kongwa. Over time the camp developed the capacity to train cadres on site without having to send them to other countries for training. The Tanzanian government supplied uniforms and one meal a day for each soldier.

By 1965 the ANC had a total of 800 guerrilla trainees in Tanzanian camps, many of them stationed at Kongwa; while others were undergoing military training in China, the Soviet Union or Czechoslovakia. As the number of trained cadres increased, some began to complain about the lack of willingness by the ANC leadership to send them back to South Africa to fight. This frustration exploded when Justice Gizenga Mpanza and other cadres from Natal stole a vehicle and drove to Morogoro, the ANC headquarters, to table their grievances. On the way they were arrested by Tanzania soldiers who suspected them of desertion. After the intervention of the ANC leadership, they were released and reprimanded, and the group was relocated to Lusaka in Zambia. Several members of this group formed part of the Luthuli and Pyramid Detachments, which were deployed during the Wankie and Sipolilo Campaigns in 1967.

Apart from the frustration of not being deployed to South Africa, there were other problems in the camps. Commanders had to deal with ill discipline, men involved in sexual relations with women from surrounding villages, and accusations of tribalism, and had to mete out corporal punishment.

By 1973 about half of the cadres in Tanzania had been trained at Kongwa. During that period Ambrose Makiwane was redeployed from Kongwa to Cairo and replaced by Joseph Jack. After the fall of Portuguese minority rule in Mozambique and Angola in 1975, Tambo organised to move MK guerrillas from the training camps in Tanzania and Zambia to Angola, near the South African border.

The Morogoro Conference

Growing discontent in the camps and criticisms of the leadership of the ANC precipitated the Morogoro Conference. ANC leaders were accused of a lack of progress in advancing the armed struggle. Numerous trained cadres remained in camps and were not deployed to South Africa, resulting in incidents such as the Mpanza debacle. Moreover, many felt that although countries such as Botswana and Swaziland had become independent, the leadership had failed to use these territories, which shared borders with South Africa, to infiltrate guerrillas into the country.

Around the mid-1960s, the OAU Liberation Committee, which provided both financial and political support for the armed struggle, put pressure on all liberation movements to intensify their military campaigns. The ANC initially responded by sending some trained guerrillas for retraining, but this was not enough to placate those who were discontented.  In response, a group of commanders and commissars sent a memorandum to ANC leaders accusing them of being out of touch with events in South Africa, precipitating a rift between the political leadership and military rank-and-file within the movement. Those who wrote the memorandum were suspended, but others continued to identify with their grievances.

Consequently, a national consultative conference was convened from 25 April to 1 May 1969 at the ANC headquarters in Morogoro in what became known as the Morogoro Conference. The conference addressed the issue of communication between members of the ANC in exile and those inside the country. A Revolutionary Council (RC) was established to integrate political and military strategy. The Conference also considered whether non-Africans should be allowed to become members of the ANC leadership. For the first time, the ANC membership was opened to members of all races, but only Africans could be members of the National Executive Committee (NEC). Subsequent to this decision, Joe Slovo, Yusuf Dadoo and Reg September were elected to serve on the RC. At the end of the conference the ANC adopted the Strategy and Tactics Document, which became the first major policy document adopted by the ANC since the Freedom Charter.

The expulsion of the ANC from Tanzania

In October 1969 Oscar Kombona, a former minister who held the Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs and Defence portfolios in the post-independent Tanzanian government, and others were charged with treason.  Kombona was accused of working with the US’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to overthrow the government of Tanzania and assassinate Julius Nyerere.

The state’s witness was Potlako K Leballo, a founder member of the PAC, which also had camps in Tanzania. Leballo testified that Kombona had tried to enlist him and a co-conspirator. During the trail Leballo alleged that the ANC was also involved in plotting the coup. The Tanzanian government was enraged, and expelled the ANC from Tanzania. All ANC people were to be rounded up and sent to refugee camps, but ANC leaders such as Moses Kotane, JB Marks and Oliver Tambo resisted the move, contending that they were not refuges but freedom fighters. The ANC was forced to close its camps in Tanzania and evacuate its military personnel to the Soviet Union, with assistance from the latter.

The ANC moved its headquarters from Morogoro to Lusaka in Zambia. Although the party was readmitted into Tanzania between 1971 and 1972, the clampdown by the Tanzanian government damaged relations between the two. When Reddy Mampane was appointed as the ANC’s Chief Representative to the country in 1976, relations between the government and the ANC were still frosty. Despite this setback, South African refuges continued to arrive in Tanzania and their numbers swelled, particularly after 1976.

Tanzanian support for the ANC was not without qualification, and known communists such as Yusuf Dadoo, Joe Slovo Michael Harmel and Ruth First, who were also members of the ANC, were later banned from Tanzanian soil and forced to operate elsewhere, mainly Europe.

Education in Tanzanian camps: Mazimbu and SOMAFCO

Camp Mazimbu was initially established to accommodate and educate the children of South African exiles in Dar-es Salaam. Mampane notes that the Tanzanian government grew concerned about children ‘loitering’ in Dar-es Salaam. For the ANC’s Chief Representative, the task of finding a suitable place for the children became urgent. Initially the children were taken from Dar-es Salaam to a place near Morogoro, where the ANC owned some land. However, the site was close to a Tanzanian military base and the move presented a new set of problems.

Mampane and another comrade approached Tanzanian Regional Commissioner Anna Abdallah and requested a larger, more suitable location for the children. The central government granted the request by donating an old sisal estate with dilapidated buildings at Mazimbu. After submitting a report to ANC headquarters in Zambia, Mampane was instructed to build a school at the site. Oswald ‘Ossie’ Dennis, a civil engineer, and architect Spencer Hodgosn were engaged to make the place more habitable.  In July 1977, work on the construction of the Mazimbu camp commenced. For the first group of students, life was difficult as there was no electricity or water supply. Water was sourced from Morogoro and delivered by a truck.

After the Soweto Uprising in 1976 and the subsequent crackdown on political activists and student organisations, scores of young people fled into exile. Many of them joined the ANC and went for military training under the MK, while others joined the PAC. Some students went to Tanzania, and were received by Reddy Mampane who then sorted them according to whether they wanted to join MK or further their studies. In 1977 the first group of young people fleeing the tense political situation in South Africa arrived at Mazimbu, and they helped clear the land for construction. Plans to expand the buildings to accommodate more people were set in motion. Although Mazimbu was designed to be a refugee camp, informal educational classes became the main activity, and after some debate, the ANC eventually agreed to establish a school. Formal teaching commenced in 1978 and Wintshi Njobe was appointed as the principal.

Nordic countries provided support for the construction of school buildings and on 8 January 1979 foundations were laid. Later that year students were able to move into the first completed dormitory. Because of the limited capacity, rooms were used as classrooms as well as places of accommodation. A crèche, nursery, and primary and secondary schools were established to cater for the growing number of children of various ages. In 1980 a primary school with Terry Bell as its first principal, and in 1984 the Charlotte Maxeke Children’s Centre was opened in Mazimbu, alleviating the problem of transporting children daily from Morogoro to Mazimbu.

Apart from construction work, Nordic countries extended their help to include skills training, construction, teaching and medical assistance. A hospital, named the ANC Holland Solidarity Hospital, was opened on 4 May 1984. Mazimbu was renamed the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (SOMAFCO) after Solomon Mahlangu, who was executed by the apartheid government. In 1985 SOMAFCO was officially opened by Oliver Tambo.

SOMAFCO was also the site of other projects. In 1980 the Vuyisile Mini Furniture Factory was established to produce chairs, tables and doors for Mazimbu. A garment factory, a welding workshop and a farm where animal husbandry flourished were also set up.  As the political situation in South Africa began to change in the 1990s, the process for a negotiated settlement gathered momentum, and the ANC and other liberation movements was unbanned and exiles were allowed to return to their country. On 9 September 1992, SOMAFCO was officially closed by the ANC and Oliver Tambo handed it over to the Tanzanian government.

Dakawa Development Centre

The increasing number of refugees and the decision by the ANC in Lusaka to keep Mazimbu strictly as a place of learning precipitated the establishment of another centre. Once more, the Tanzanian government was approached with a request for land. Anna Abdallah, with permission from the central government, donated 2800 hectares of land to the ANC. An underutilised farm in Dakawa, 60km from Mazimbu, the land was used to meet the housing, educational, cultural and recreational needs of the refugees. The first people to move to Dakawa lived in tents until proper accommodation was built. Mary Thuse was appointed as the first Director of Dakawa.

With the other camps lacking capacity, new arrivals were mostly being taken to Dakawa, where they stayed until they enrolled for classes at SOMAFCO. The Ruth First Education Orientation Centre and a Vocational Training Centre were established. In addition, small agricultural projects were initiated and between 1988 and 1989 the garment factory in Mazimbu was moved to Dakawa. The Dakawa Arts and Craft Project, set up to allow space for creative expression, proved to be popular among the exiles.

After the ANC was forced out of Angola, those imprisoned for the 1983 mutiny in ANC camps in Angola were transferred to Dakawa. Their conditions were relaxed somewhat as they began to play an important role in the life of the settlement. Dakawa also served as a Rehabilitation Centre for offenders from the Mazimbu camp. For instance, in 1983 when a student from Mazimbu was convicted of attempted rape, he was sent to the Dakawa Rehabilitation Centre. This was also the case for four students found guilty of impregnating female students in Mazimbu.

Dakawa was initially planned to accommodate 5000 people, but by 1990, when the transition to democracy was in progress, it had only 1200 people. With the demise of apartheid imminent, the Dakawa Arts and Craft Project was transferred to Grahamstown in October 1992.

South African government responses

Countries that shared borders with South Africa bore the brunt of attacks by the apartheid government for supporting the ANC or MK operatives. South Africa employed a variety of methods to deal with its enemies: ranging from assassination, abduction, destabilisation by sponsoring armed groups, and economic strangulation. Apartheid state terrorism also targeted countries that did not share borders with South Africa but which were strategically important to the ANC and MK, such as Angola and Zambia. This clearly shows that although Tanzania did not share borders with South Africa, it was not beyond the reach of South Africa.

Thus, South Africa still posed a threat to ANC camps in various parts of Tanzania. One of the ways in which the apartheid government was kept abreast of ANC activities in Tanzania was through its network of informers. Reddy Mampane states that there were many enemy agents in Mazimbu and he was involved in arresting those that had been identified. Mary Thuse, the Director of Dakawa, also stated that both camps were infiltrated by government agents.  In 1983 a political commissar who had risen through the ranks at SOMAFCO was revealed to be an apartheid government informer.

Various suspicious incidents pointed to underhand attempts by the South African government to kill activists in Tanzania. In one incident, the water supply for SOMAFCO from the Ngerengre River was poisoned, leading to the death of many fish in the river. The incident aroused suspicions of water poisoning and Tanzanian authorities were informed. After testing the water, it was found to contain a poisonous substance, but the perpetrator was never caught.  In another incident, Siphiwe Xaba, an apartheid government agent trained to produce poisonous substances, was caught. He revealed how he had been trained and confessed to poisoning comrades.

SOMAFCO had a prison of its own, nicknamed ‘Alcatraz’, where suspected spies were detained for interrogation by the ANC Security division. Other suspected spies were taken to Quatro in Angola for detention and ‘rehabilitation’.

Fortunately, none of the ANC military and refugee camps in Tanzania were ever raided by South African military forces.

Conclusion

Tanzania functioned first as a springboard and holding site for MK cadres who went for military training in countries such as the Soviet Union and GDR. Several MK recruits who left South Africa in the 1960s through Botswana via Southern Rhodesia into Zambia ended up in Tanzania. From here they were transported to the Soviet Union before being brought back to the camps to await further instructions. Tanzania itself later became a site for military training and refugees fleeing political persecution by the apartheid government.

Even after the ANC headquarters moved to Zambia, Tanzania continued to play an important role for the ANC and MK in exile – until the end of apartheid. In recognition of the role played by Julius Nyerere in the struggle for the liberation of South Africa, he was posthumously awarded the Order of the Companions of OR Tambo in 2004.

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