uMkhonto weSizwe (MK)

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MK Sabotage, Photograph by Drum Photographer © BAHA

uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) Timeline 1961-1990

uMkhonto weSizwe (Spear of the Nation or MK), the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), was jointly formed by leading members of the banned ANC and South African Communist Party (SACP) in 1961. The decision was endorsed by the Congress Alliance. MK launched into action that same year with a series of sabotage campaigns across major cities in South Africa and also established itself in exile. Several of its cadres trained in the Soviet Union, German Democratic Republic (GDR), set up safe houses and military training bases in friendly African countries. Several members and leading figures in the organisation were arrested in the 1960s and given long sentences or death severely crippling MK. The organisation’s early attempts to infiltrate its trained guerrillas back to South Africa were unsuccessful due to white minority led states surrounding South Africa which were hostile to the anti apartheid struggle. After the 1976 Uprising hundreds of young people who fled to exile swelled its ranks. MK stepped up its operations inside the 1980s with attacks across the country. As the ANC and the South African government moved towards a negotiated transition to democracy in the 1990s, MK suspended the armed struggle. After the 1994 elections MK forces were integrated into the South African National Defence Force (SANDF).   

1961
16 December, The formation of uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) by the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Communist Party (SACP) and other fraternal organisations is announced by a series of bomb blasts against apartheid structures in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Durban.
1962
January, Nelson Mandela leaves South Africa for military training.

March, Mandela receives training from the Algerian National Liberation Front at bases of the latter across the border in Morocco.

1963-1964
20 March, 1963, Police obtain information that Sisulu is an office bearer of Umkhonto weSizwe.
October - June, The Rivonia trail, which results in MK high command members Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Dennis Goldberg, Ahmed Kathrada, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni and Elias Motsoaledi's being sentenced to life imprisonment, takes place. The charge sheet at the trail lists 193 acts of sabotage.
1964
6 November, Vuyisile Mini, Wilton Khayingo and Zizakile Mkhaba, three prominent trade unionists from Port Elizabeth, are sent to the gallows for MK activities.
1967
30 July-3 August, The "Luthuli Detachment", comprising ANC and Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU guerrillas), crosses the Zambezi river into Southern Rhodesia (the present Zimbabwe) and engages joint Rhodesian and South African troops at the start of the Wankie and Sipolio battles, which rage until late 1968.
1970-1975
MK reconsolidates its underground structures. Among others, Chris Hani returns to South Africa.
1971
16 December, MK celebrates its 10th Anniversary.
1975
25 June, Mozambique receives its independence from Portugal after a protracted 10-year battle by Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO) troops against the Portuguese authorities, in which MK troops participated.
11 November, Angola gains independence from Portugal. The Angolan Government invites MK to train its cadres on Angolan soil.
1975-1976
MK commanders who were active in the early 1961-64 sabotage campaigns are released from Robben Island. Among them are Joe Gqabi, Indres Naidoo, Ismail Ebrahim and Andrew Masondo.
1976
16 June, Following the Soweto uprisings, thousands of young people leave South Africa to join MK. They are henceforth called "The June 16 Detachment".
16 December, MK celebrates its 15th anniversary.
1976-1978
There is a dramatic increase in MK operations, including the sabotage of railway lines, attacks on police stations and so on.
1979
The Year of the Spear, named in tribute to the history of unbroken resistance since the Battle of Isandelwana on 22 January 1879.
6 April, MK operative Solomon Mahlangu is hanged in Pretoria. His comrade, Monty Motloung, suffered brain damage from the torture he received at the hands of his captors.
1980
4 January, The Soekmekaar police station is attacked. The attack is aimed at a supporting the local community’s resistance to forced removals. Johnson Lubisi, Petrus Mashigo and Naphtali Manana are later arrested.
25 January, The Silverton siege takes place. MK combatants are intercepted en route to a mission and take refuge in a bank in Silverton, Pretoria. The MK combatants explain the policies of the ANC to the hostages, pledge not to hurt them and demand Nelson Mandela's release. The police bundle the operation, and kill some of the hostages as well as the three MK comrades, but several policemen also succumb.
21 February, South Africa warns Mozambique it will not hesitate to strike back if Mozambique continues to shelter guerrillas conducting murderous operations and acts of sabotage against South Africa.
3 March, A large cache of arms is discovered in a township near Springs, East of Johannesburg. Together with the buried arms are bundles of ANC leaflets.
12 March, A court in Pretoria sentences nine Blacks to terms of imprisonment from five to seven years on charges of training as guerrillas outside South Africa or recruiting others to undergo training.
4 April, ANC insurgents launch a rifle, rocket and grenade attack on Booysens Police Station, Johannesburg. Pamphlets are scattered demanding the release from Robben Island of Walter Sisulu.
14 April, Nine men accused of being involved in the Soekmekaar and Silverton attacks appear in court. This becomes one of the most publicised guerrilla trials in South Africa.
1 June, The SASOL I fuel plant complex at Sasolburg, fifty miles south of Johannesburg, is attacked. On the same night SASOL II at Secunda sees an unsuccessful limpet mine explosion which fails to set off fires. Oliver Tambo, President of the ANC, claims that both attacks were launched by ANC guerrilla units. This event marks the first use of limpet mines by MK. The attacks result in $7 million in damages to fuel storage tanks.
6 June, Dr. Renfrew Christie, an academic and former student leader from the University of Cape Town (UCT), is sentenced to ten years imprisonment, with four other sentences of five years each to run concurrently, after being found guilty on five charges under the Terrorism Act. He is alleged to have supplied information to the ANC concerning South Africa’s nuclear programme, and to have exposed vital installations to the danger of sabotage.
27 November, The Silverton and Soekmekaar trial closes. The three involved in the Soekmekaar police station attack are sentenced to death while the remaining six are sentenced to between 10 and 20 years.
1981
8 January, In its January 8th statement, the ANC declares 1981 the ‘Year of the Youth’, to pay tribute to heroism. It also urges students to continue mass struggles and to join the MK.
30 January, The South African Army raids Matola in Maputo, Mozambique and assassinates 12 ANC members. General Constand Viljoen, Chief of the South African Defence Force (SADF), announces that earlier in the day a South African commando has attacked and destroyed the planning and control headquarters of the ANC at Matola in Maputo, Mozambique. According to the SADF, 30 ANC activists were killed and two SADF recruits died.
8 February, Mozambique stresses its continued support for the ANC in a statement made at the funeral of 12 ANC members killed in the South African raid on Matola, Maputo, on 30 January.
22 February, The Soviet Union supports Mozambique after the South African raid on Matola by sending two warships to Maputo.
6 April, The Heads of State of Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique and Swaziland meet in Mbabane, to discuss South African military incursions and subversive activities against black Southern African states.
20-21 April, A bomb explosion during the night at a power station near Durban, causes an extensive blackout and temporarily paralyzes industry in the area. It is attributed to members of the ANC.
25-27 May, There are several sabotage attacks - in Soweto, on the Natal coast, East London and in Durban - for which the ANC claim responsibility.
June, As part of nationwide defiance against Republic Day celebrations, MK strikes at several strategic targets, blows up railway lines, power plants, military bases and recruiting offices. Altogether, there are more than 90 armed actions against the apartheid regime and its installations during the year.
21 July, Explosions occur at two electrical power stations in the Eastern Transvaal, causing damage of several millions of rand. Responsibility is claimed by MK.
31 July, Joe Gqabi, journalist and member of the ANC and MK, is gunned down by members of an apartheid hit-squad while reversing out his drive-way at his home in Harare, Zimbabwe.
12 August, MK launches an attack on a military base at Voortrekkerhoogte, outside Pretoria, using Soviet Grad P rockets.
18 August, Three Black men are found guilty of high treason and of having been involved in the sabotage of SASOL fuel installations and the attack on Booysens Police Station. They are sentenced to death, with appeals being lodged on their behalf.
26 October, A police station near the Sibasa, near the Capital of Venda, Thohoyandou for which the ANC claims responsibility. However, the Venda government charges three ministers of the Lutheran Church with murder.
3 November, The "Indian Affairs" building in Durban is blasted a day before the South African Indian Council elections.
16 December, MK celebrates its 20th anniversary.
1982
8 January, On the 70th anniversary of the formation of the ANC, MK attacks the Koeberg nuclear power plant in Cape Town.
7 March, Six Front Line States meet in Maputo and decide to coordinate their military and economic policies to counter South Africa’s economic and military aggression.
14 March, A bomb wrecks the ANC offices in Islington, London, shortly before the beginning of a mass rally organized by the Anti-Apartheid Movement.
20 March, A powerful bomb at 2:05am destroys the cells behind the Langa Commissioner's Court in Cape Town where thousands of pass law offenders have been sentenced. The blast causes widespread damage to the office which houses personal files on Africans in the Western Cape. The blast was part of ANC campaign aimed at creating confusion in the apartheid administration by destroying records of blacks, and took place on the eve of the anniversary of the Sharpeville massacre. No one was injured.
12 May, A powerful bomb damages the office of the West Rand Administration Board in Meadowlands, Soweto, at 7:00 pm. No one is injured.
2 June, The State President commutes the death sentences on three black men for their part in the attack on the Soekmekaar Police Station in 1980, to life imprisonment.
4 June, ANC Chief Representative in Swaziland, Petrus ‘Nzima’ Nyawose and his wife are killed in a car bomb explosion.
6 August, Three ANC members are sentenced to death for attacks directed against the Moroka and Orlando Police stations in Soweto and the Wonderboom Police station in Pretoria in which four policemen were killed. The attacks took place in May 1979 and December 1981.
17 August, Ruth First is killed in a parcel bomb, sent by the South African security police, at the University of Maputo, Mozambique.
9 December, South African forces raid houses in Maseru, killing thirty members of the ANC and seven women and children caught in the crossfire. A chain of sabotage incidents within South Africa are blamed on the ANC command structure in Lesotho. The incursion is widely condemned. General Constand Viljoen describes it as a pre-emptive raid to prevent attacks during the festive season.
18-19 December, Four bombs explode at the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, outside Cape Town, for which the ANC claims responsibility.
1983
January-April, Three bomb explosions damage the old building housing the Supreme Court in Pietermaritzburg, and the new building nearing completion.
18 February, A bomb explosion in an administrative building in the Batho township of Bloemfontein injures 79 Blacks while seeking registration for employment. The ANC denies responsibility.
26 March, The Lesotho government accuses South Africa of launching raids into Lesotho, an accusation that South Africa denies
20 May, A car bomb explodes outside the South African Air Force Headquarters and the South African Defence Force Military Intelligence headquarters in Pretoria, killing several civilians. MK claims responsibility.
23 May, In retaliatory action for the Pretoria car bomb, the South African Air Force (SAAF) launch a raid on six ANC targets in the suburbs of Maputo. South African Air Force bombers attacked a Maputo suburb. Five Mozambicans (including two women and two children) and one South African refugee were killed. Over 30 people are injured.
26 May, Slow traffic flow at the border posts between South Africa and Lesotho is reported following bomb explosions in Pretoria and Bloemfontein, for which the ANC office in Lesotho first claims, and later denies, responsibility.
27-29 May, Swazi police discover a hidden arms cache in the Mlilwane Game Park. Three men, said to comprise an ANC military training group in the park, are arrested as part of a renewed crackdown on ANC activities.
9 June, Jerry Mosolodi, Terry Mogerani and Thabo Montaung are executed for their part in an attack on the Wonderboom police station in Pretoria.
28 June, Two bomb blasts, at the Department of Internal Affairs and the police headquarters at Roodeport, Johannesburg, cause extensive damage. The ANC is suspected as the responsible.
6 August, A bomb explodes at a synagogue in central Johannesburg four hours before State President Viljoen is due to attend a ceremony there.
11-12 September, The Lesotho Foreign Ministry protests to South Africa, following further clashes with guerrillas in the Leribe district, and an eight-hour attack against Maryland Roman Catholic mission near the border.
17 October, South African forces raid ANC offices of the ANC in Maputo. The raid is internationally condemned.
5 December, A bomb explodes at the Johannesburg office of the Department of Foreign Affairs becoming the 42 attack by ANC saboteurs in 1983.
1984
Radio Freedom begins to broadcast newly written revolutionary songs which the youth in South Africa begin to sing. Mosiuoa Lekota states that these ‘were instruments of revolution ”¦ used to advance the policies of the ANC, announce them, and popularise them’. The songs celebrate MK successes such as the attack on the Sasol oil refinery and promised victory over apartheid.
8 January, In its January 8th statement, the ANC calls for a people’s war based on four pillars – ANC underground activity, united mass action, MK attacks and an international campaign to isolate the apartheid government.
16 March, P.W. Botha and Samora Machel sign the Nkomati Accord, a nonaggression treaty between South Africa and Mozambique. Under the accord, the two signatories agree not to allow attacks to be mounted from their territories. The ANC is allowed to have only 10 of its members based in the country, and is forced to close its camp in Nampula. Most of the members move to Tanzania, while a 50-member team infiltrates South Africa.
24 March, ANC houses and offices in Maputo are raided by Mozambican authorities searching for weapons.
31 March, It is disclosed that South Africa and Swaziland signed a non-aggression pact in February 1982. The two countries now also agree to exchange trade representatives and to establish trade missions in their respective countries.
11 April, General Magnus Malan tables a wide-ranging Defence White Paper focussing on strengthening South Africa’s border defences to counter sabotage attacks by organizations seen as proxies for the Soviet Union.
18 May, Saboteurs blow up tow railway lines south of Johannesburg.
23 May, It is stated by the Minister of Law and Order that a total of 14 armed attacks and explosions have occurred between January and May 1984.
June, Writing in the journal Dawn, the official MK journal, Oliver Tambo calls on South Africans to ‘organise, mobilise, and step up the mass offensive around the immediate issues of the day and the fundamental question of the people’s war’.
28 June, Jeannette Schoon and her six-year old daughter, Katryn, are killed by a parcel bomb at their home in Lubango, northern Angola. The bomb was targeted at Marius Schoon who was not home at the time.
12 July, A car bomb explosion in Durban kills five and injures 27 people.
14 August, Lesotho rejects South Africa’s proposal for a draft security treaty.
September, MK operatives increase dramatically in response to the Vaal Uprisings. Actions include engaging South African Defence Force and police personnel, as well as sabotaging economic and military installations.
1985
7 May, Thabo Mbeki announces on Radio Freedom that the ANC would continue to make the country ungovernable and would ‘attack on all fronts in a united and co-ordinated political and military offensive’.
14 June, South African Defense Force Special Forces, together with members of the security branch, launch a cross border raid on ANC targets in Gaborone, Botswana.  Twelve people are killed and six wounded in this operation.  Among those killed are eight South Africans, two Botswana nationals, a Lesotho and a Somali citizen.
26 June, Eight young activists are killed and at least seven are injured in explosions involving booby trapped hand grenades in Duduza, Kwa Thema and Tsakane, Transvaal. The zero-timed grenades had been provided by a Vlakplaas operative purporting to be an MK operative. The operation, code-named ‘Zero Zero’ had been authorized by the Minister of Law and Order.
July, A Dutch national, Klaas de Jong, is detained under the Internal Security Act for distributing arms and ammunition to the ANC. He seeks refuge in the Dutch Embassy in Pretoria.
18 October, Malesela Benjamin Moloise is executed in defiance of international calls for clemency.
28 November, Two acts of sabotage against the oil-from-coal plants in Secunda fail to hit their targets. Though the MK does not claim responsibility for these acts the South African Defence Force alleges that it was the ANC that planned and execute the sabotage attempts.
23 December, The Sanlam shopping centre in Amanzimtoti, outside Durban is bombed by MK cadre Andrew Sibusiso Zondo. Five people are killed and more than 40 injured.
1986
8 January, In its January 8th statement the ANC declares 1986 ‘The Year of Umkhonto weSizwe, the People’s Army’. It extols the destruction of local councils, and looks forward to ‘the gathering collapse of the apartheid economy’. The government, it said, had lost the strategic initiative and its attempts at reform were collapsing. The slogan for the year, coined by Thabo Mbeki, is ‘Every patriot a combatant, every combatant a patriot’.
3 March, Seven men are shot dead in a field at Gugulethu, Cape Town.  Police claim that they were known terrorists and had been killed in a legitimate anti-terrorist operation.  Later it is revealed that the security forces had created an elaborate cover up of their involvement. 
8 March, Moses Mabhida, MK commander and secretary-general of the SACP, dies of a heart attack in Maputo, Mozambique. He is buried in a temporary grave. He is succeeded by Joe Slovo who takes up the position in 1987.
May, Malcolm Fraser (Australian Prime Minister) and Olusegun Obsanjo (former military ruler of Nigeria) visit South Africa as part of an Eminent Persons Group and visit Nelson Mandela in prison. During their visit, the South African Defense Force attacks the neighbouring states of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana.  The Group leave the country immediately and recommend that economic sanctions against South Africa be increased and maintained.
June, Two car bomb attacks in Johannesburg by the MK kill several people and many are injured.
14 June, A car bomb explosion outside Magoo’s and Why Not bars on the Durban beachfront kills three people and injures 69. Robert McBride is later arrested and convicted for the bombs.
8 September, The ANC’s Diplomatic Office in Stockholm, Sweden is bombed. However, no one is injured.
9 September, Andrew Zondo, who was responsible for the 1985 Amanzimtoti bomb, is hanged. Along with Zondo, Clarence Payi and Sipho Xulu are hanged for the murder of ANC agent Benjamin Langa.
19 October, Samora Machel, President of Mozambique, dies after the plane he was travelling in crashed in the Lembombo Mountains, near Mbuzini, South Africa.
1987
9 January, A bomb explodes in a major departmental store in the centre of Johannesburg.
20 January, The Margo Commission of Enquiry set up by the South African government to investigate the crash that killed Samora Machel, has its first sitting at the Rand Supreme Court, Johannesburg.
April, Joe Slovo resigns his post as a Chief of Staff of MK to take up the position of general secretary of the SACP. He is succeeded by Chris Hani.
22 March, Archbishop Desmond Tutu meets the ANC in Zambia and fails to convince the organization to abandon the armed struggle.
20 May, Two bombs outside the Johannesburg magistrates court kills four White police officers and injures 10 others.
At an SACP conference Joe Slovo rejects the idea that the ANC should give up the military struggle in favour of constitutional negotiations. The SACP central command also warned that the time was not yet ripe for talks, since premature talks would leave the capitalist system intact.
9 July, Paul Dikeledi and Cassius Make are assassinated by South African agents in Swaziland. This occurred when the taxi they were travelling in was ambushed. A Mozambican national is also killed.
30 July, A car bomb explodes outside the Witwatersrand Military Command Headquarters, central Johannesburg which injures 68 people.
October, Chris Hani is appointed new Chief of Staff and Deputy Commander of MK.
1988
29 March, ANC official Dulcie September is shot dead outside the ANC offices in Paris, France.
4 April, In a South African Defence Force raid in Gaborone, Botswana on ANC members in hiding, four innocent citizens are killed.
7 April, Albie Sachs is seriously wounded by a car bomb in Maputo. He loses his arm and sight in one eye.
2 May, Olivia Forsyth, a self-confessed spy for the South African security police within the ANC, escapes from her guards and seeks refuge in the British Embassy.
26 May, South African and Mozambique agree to revive the Nkomati Accord after the agreement collapsed when South African government continued, despite pledging otherwise, to support RENAMO.
9 June, Stanza Bopape of the Mamelodi Civic Association, and suspected head of MK operations in Pretoria, is detained, and disappears without trace. Police claimed he had escaped while being transported to Vereeniging, but the TRC later heard that he died while in custody after electric shocks had been administered. Police threw his body into the crocodile-infested Komati River.
30 June, Zimbabwe foils an attempt by a South African commando to rescue five alleged South African agents awaiting trial for bomb attacks against the ANC in Zimbabwe.
12 October, The trial of three Zimbabwean intelligence officers begins in Harare for attempting to car bomb a house in Bulawayo, occupied by ANC refugees. The bomb exploded prematurely.
1989
A large contingent of MK combatants attack a South African Air Force secret radar installation at Klippan in the Western Transvaal, causing extensive damage and undisclosed casualties.
5 January, The ANC agrees to close its military training bases in Angola and in return South Africa must stop aid to the rebel Angolan UNITA movement, the Angolan president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos says in an interview.
March, Soviet ambassador to Botswana and the USSR’s first deputy foreign minister both declare that the Soviet Union would continue to support the ANC’s armed struggle and supply arms to the organisation.
12 June, Three whites, Damion de Lange, Ian Robertson and Susan Donelly, are convicted for terrorism for being in possession of arms cache in Broederstroom.
1990
March,  In an exclusive interview with The Herald, the ANC military commander Joe Modise, stated that the organisation could consider the suspension of the armed struggle but not the laying down of arms, to facilitate negotiations.
14 April, Nelson Mandela admitted that members of the ANC had tortured dissident guerrillas, but said the officials involved had been punished and any further torture had been banned.
22 July, According to South African press reports, based on leaks from the security forces, up to 40 members and officials of the ANC's military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe, were recently captured while infiltrating South Africa from bases in exile.
25 July, Senior ANC member, Sathyandranath 'Mac' Maharaj and over forty other members of the ANC and the SACP, are detained for allegedly attempting to overthrow the government as part of Operation Vula.
August, The ANC NEC resolves to suspend the armed struggle in advance of a meeting with the government in August. 
7 August - The ANC and the South African Government issued a joint declaration (the "Pretoria Minute") at the conclusion of 15 hours of talks. The ANC announced that it would immediately suspend all armed actions, while the Government undertook to consider lifting the state of emergency in Natal "as early as possible" and to continue reviewing the security legislation and its application "in order to ensure free political activity". The final report of the Joint Working Group on political offences was accepted by both parties. Both sides pledged to redouble efforts to reduce the level of violence in the country.

References:
• Jeffery, A., 2009. People’s War: New light on the struggle for South Africa. South Africa: Jonathan Ball Publishers.
• Kalley, J. A., Schoeman, E., and Andor, L.E., (1999). Southern African Political History: A Chronology of Key Political Events from Independence to Mid-1997. USA: Greenwood Press
• O’Malley, P., 2011. ‘Chronologies: 1980’s’ from O’Malley: Heart of Hope [online] Available at www.nelsonmandela.org/omalley [Accessed 13 September 2011]
• Mozambique Resource Centre, 1984. Mozambican Notes, No. 4. New York: Mozambique Resource Centre [online] Available at http://africanactivist.msu.edu [Accessed 14 September 2011]

Last updated : 25-Jul-2017

This article was produced for South African History Online on 20-Mar-2011

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