From: The South African Communist Party In Exile 1963 - 1990

The end of the 1960s was another important phase in the history of the exiled liberation movement as a whole. The ANC, with the experience of the 1961- 63 MK sabotage campaigns, tried again between 1967-68 to infiltrate MK fighters into the country through Rhodesia, via the Wankie game reserve, with the support of the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU). The SACP Secretariat in London only learnt about the Wankie Campaign in the press. Nonetheless, the Wankie Campaign was to result in a number of problems, especially with MK soldiers, to the extent that the ANC had to convene the historic Morogoro conference which, according to one SACP contemporary report, "was the first occasion of an extended consultative conference at which the Party and other sections of the liberation movement were represented by delegates with full participation and voting rights".1

The ANC's Morogoro conference of 1969 was a watershed in the history of the liberation movement in exile. The conference solidified the ANC as an organisation and an ideological force, and formalised the process of including other oppressed groups and organs such as the SACP into the liberation alliance under the leadership of the ANC. A Revolutionary Council, with representatives from other Congress alliance partners - including Dadoo (as the vice-chair) and Slovo - was established for the co-ordination of the struggle inside the country. Thus the Congress alliance as conceived in the 1950s underwent a change as the SAIC and the CPC virtually disappeared in exile; the "alliance" WQ5 now to refer to the anc, SACTU and the SACP. The conference also adopted a programme, Strategies and Tactics, whose analysis of South African society was informed by the SACP's theory of Colonialism of a Special Type.

The Party celebrated the achievements or the Morogoro con­ference in its document "The Results of the Consultative Conference of the ANC and the Tasks of the Party". According to the document, "there was unanimous support for the integration of all national groups and revolutionary forces including our Party in the revolutionary struggle led by the ANC". Therefore, "the consultative conference was historic. If its decisions are carried out in the letter and spirit of the deliberations in the conference much progress will be made in the revolutionary struggle." The document also issued an eight-point list of principles that were to guide Party members on the ground which, among other things, called on Party cadres to "always set an example of devotion to the people and respect for their interests and traditions, and noted that "Party members wherever they are represent the high ideals of Communism and the liberation of mankind from the bonds of oppression". 2 Indeed, Tambo wrote to Slovo about the conference: "...much water has flown under the bridge since I last saw you... a whole year has ended... But nothing yet has happened to... the memory of that great meeting we all had. Looking back to it, I cannot help feeling it was the starting point of a new phase in our strategy - at the very least, a new and welcome element." 3

However, the outcome of the conference was not without controversy. Some members of the ANC who were unhappy with the outcome of Morogoro organised themselves into a "dissident" group because, according to them, the conference had resulted in the ANC being taken over by minorities, and the SACP in particular. This view has been accepted and popularised by some academics. 4 The dissidents' view was based on the fact that the ANC, on the basis of the process initiated at the 1967 Consultative Conference, formally opened its ranks to non-African groups, but only insofar as the latter could not be elected to the National Executive Committee. Secondly, the dissidents were concerned that non-Africans, including leading SACP members such as Slovo and Dadoo, were elected to the Revolutionary Council. 5 The dissidents' struggle was to persist until the expulsion of the "Group of Eight" in October 1975 under the leadership of Tennyson Makiwane. Their view was that: "The SACP white lead­ership who oppose the political philosophy embodied in the concept of African nationalism and who oppose the African image of the ANC reflect their social and class roots as petty-bourgeois whites...". 6

The emergence of the "dissident" group was a reflection of the difficult transition that the liberation movement had to make organisationally and ideologically in order to incorporate non-African groups, including the SACP, into an integrated fighting force. Parallel to this transition were efforts in Africa, led by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Liberation Committee, to urge the ANC and the PAC to form a United Front, and the SACP was seen as a stumbling block towards that goal. The view on the continent was that the ANC was not pursuing a "proper" nationalist, liberation struggle because of the influence of "communists".

Indeed, some in the Party, whose position was contained in a confidential "Report by a Group of Comrades" dated March 1972, were of the view that "the present effort by the OAU Liberation Committee to force the organization into a United Front would also be viewed seriously by the Party". According to this document whose main focus was on the "dissident" group, the Party's response should be to "make a strive to draw membership from the ordinary MK members - those who deserve it even if their standard of education is low" as these were the main targets of the dissidents' message. "Furthermore," continued the docu­ment, "members of the Party who are in the RC [Revolutionary Council] should try by all means to strengthen the underground Party machinery at home so that when the armed struggle starts at home, the Party should be in a strong position in the ranks of those who will take an active part" so as to frustrate the efforts of the "rabid nationalists who will want to give the revolution a different direction". 7 The attitude towards the OAU was to persist right into the 1980s. For example, in one Party document pro­duced in the mid-1980s, a concern was raised: "More and more, the tendency to reactionary policies in the African States is ham­pering our struggle. This is reflected in the attitudes and actions of the Liberation Committee and in particular its executive machinery in Tanzania"; and as to Tanzania and Zambia, "our relationship with these two countries... [is] complicated by the attitude, role and influence of China". 8

But these problems were also a reflection of-the transition that the Party itself was also undergoing in the early 1970s at the ideological and leadership level. Ideologically, the Party was struggling with its Leninist notion of vanguardism within a liberation movement that was led by the ANC. The Party's 1962 pro­gramme, Road to South African Freedom, had tried to distinguish between one position where the "Communist Party unreservedly supports and participates in the struggle for national liberation headed [my emphasis]" by the ANC, and the belief that the "immediate task of the Communist Party is to lead the fight for the national liberation of the non-White people [my emphasis]". 9 The distinction between "headed" and "lead" aside, there was confusion within the Party's ranks, especially in London, on what constituted the vanguard role of the Party; others argued that such a role implies that the Party was, in effect, a leader of the national democratic struggle. This interpretation, as shown later, created problems with the ANC.

Related to this, and as reflected in the above citation from the SACP document on "dissidents", was how a socialist agenda was to be pursued during the course of the national liberation struggle; how should the Party engage "rabid nationalists" and defend the resolution of its 1968 CC meeting on the subject? At the leadership level, the hospitalisation in Moscow of Kotane in January 1969 and Marks in July 1971, as well as the death of the latter in 1972, deprived the Party not only of its general secretary and chairperson who had had very strong and intimate relations with the ANC in general and Tambo in particular, but also an African leadership in the literal sense. With the absence of Kotane and Marks, Slovo and Dadoo became the face of the Party, and this presented the organisation with a difficult challenge. In fact, even though Marks was replaced by Dadoo after his death, Kotane remained the general secretary of the Party until his death in 1978, despite the fact that he had been physically incapacitated by a stroke. Kotane was conscious of this fact, and thus requested Marks in 1971 to raise the matter with the Secretariat on his behalf: "Comrade Moses has... approached me... that in view of the nature of his present ill­ness coupled with his relatively advanced age he be relieved of all leading positions held by him including that of General Secretary and that you consider the election or appointment of a suitable person as General Secretary". 10 However, a replacement was only appointed in 1979.

Nonetheless, the Morogoro conference ushered in a new era for the Party. For the first time in exile, a meeting took place immediately after the conference between the Party and the ANC. Present at the meeting, chaired by Marks, were nine persons including Tambo, Dadoo, Slovo, Harmel and Joe Mathews. Dadoo, who invited Slovo to put forward the CC position, led the Party input. Areas of disagreement revolved around three points: (a) whether the Party should establish its units in the army; (b) lack of contact between the Party and ANC leadership; and (c) confusing interpretations of the Party's vanguardist role. With regard to the first point, the decision was that the Party could not establish units within the army, but could appoint a CC representative in each of the major centres in exile to maintain discreet contact with the soldiers; but outside the army, the Party could set up its collectives. As to contact with the ANC, Tambo's view was that he had always understood the contact he had with Kotane, Marks and Nokwe to constitute contact with the Party: "Some of us, including myself, have been unaware of the gap which appears to have existed between the two bodies as collectives. We have not always felt the need for joint discussions of this character because we had thought that the party was a collective and operates as a collective." It was, however, resolved that a CC member, to be designated, was to act as a link with Tambo. On the issue of the Party's vanguardim, Marks raised a concern: "...the isola­tion of our members from the SACP has created wrong attitudes even towards some basic problems of the South African revolu­tion. There is even a questioning of the wisdom of the present democratic phase of our revolution led by the ANC.11 "Marks was here referring to a view current within some circles in the Party's London groups which confused the Party's vanguard role with the issue of leadership within the liberation movement. All in all, the meeting was a success inasfar as the opening of channels of communication between the two leadership was concerned. The Party was to move into the 1970s with the determination to establish units and regional committees.

Reviving the underground

The Party Secretariat in London had never abandoned the hope of rebuilding the underground in the country after the arrest of Fischer, and this factor was to contribute significantly to the growth of the Party in the 1970s and 1980s. One of the exercises conducted by the Secretariat for this purpose was to conduct a survey, in the late 1960s, among its members, mostly those based in London, to determine their state of preparedness for deployment inside South Africa for illegal work.

Between around 1969 and 1971, the Secretariat dispatched a number of cadres, mainly from inpiduals who had been to London for a variety of reasons, to re-establish the Party presence inside the country by creating units and engaging in propaganda work. Communication with these operatives required a specialised technique that was sophisticated for its time; using an invisible ink to hide a message behind an innocent text addressed to a friend, for example. A developer would then be used to retrieve the hidden message following a variety of formulae, some of which were described by Ronnie Kasrils in his autobiography:

"Developers for our operatives inside South Africa could be as simple as an oven-cleaner lightly sprayed over the page. Within seconds, the secret writing would emerge. Other developers included a caustic soda solution and even a drop of blood dissolved in a few milliliters of distilled water. Soaked in a piece of cotton wool and lightly wiped over the page, the developer would reveal a vivid orange or yellow message." 12 The innocent letter would be organised around a relationship between the sender and the recipient - be it, for example, a relationship between a boy anrf a girl or between old friends - and would contain, within the text, conventional signs such as "my dear" or "sincerely yours" in order to indicate to the recipient what chemical formula to use for the retrieval of the hidden message.

The operatives used different code names such as "Cobra", "Patrick", "Fred". "Stephen", "Rufus", and "Herbert". One of the first operatives of this phase, named "Patrick", was active in Johannesburg from around 1969 to at least the end of 1971. As early as 1969, "Patrick" was trying to establish his own units, and received a positive reply from the Secretariat in London: "The Committee favours the idea of your forming a unit with the two people you named and propose that, as a preliminary to this, you organize a meeting with them and, in the context of the tasks already given to you, you discuss with them what you and they can do about them. Report to us on these discussions and await further directives [emphasis in the original]." 13 Other operatives such as "Rufus", who was active around 1970-71 in. Cape Town, were more successful in their endeavours, even recruiting inpiduals some of whom were later to play a prominent role in the Party such as Jeremy Cronin and Rob Davies. 

The central brief of operatives during this phase was limited to propaganda work. They distributed Party propaganda material received from the Secretariat, but some were innovative enough to develop their own pamphlets and "journals". For example, "Rufus", thanks to his journalistic skills, could produce his Revolt for distribution in Cape Town. While the operatives had to get permission from the Secretariat before they could recruit any person, potential recruits were nonetheless put into three categories: (a) those to be recruited for Party work; (b) those to be recruited for general national liberation work; and (c) those to be moni­tored and assessed. Furthermore, it would appear, if the available correspondence file on the subject is anything to go by, that operatives were largely based in Natal, Cape Town and Johannesburg. Finally, the operatives were kept informed about Party developments, and some were even sent reports of CC meetings.

The Party tried to explore other innovative ways of resuscitating the underground inside the country. One of the attempts, for example, was to try to use white "tourists" to carry arms and fighters from the Zambia-Botswana border to Francistown. Indeed, there is no doubt that Party underground work during this period was a seriously risky undertaking. Not only was the level of polit­ical mobilisation of the people low, but me activities of the security forces, especially the Special Branch, further complicated the terrain for the operatives. Some of the Party operatives of this phase were arrested and, like Ahmed Timol, died at the hands of the apartheid security forces.

As the Secretariat was busy with attempts to deploy operatives inside the country primarily for propaganda work, another big initiative involving the ANC was also underway. The idea of landing MK troops inside the country by sea was considered as early as 1963, but was only formally raised when Slovo tabled a formal request to the Soviet Union for support in August 1967. The initiative came to be known as "Operation J". Both the ANC and the Party were very optimistic about the operation, a series of correspondence even flowing between Tambo and Slovo between 1969 and the period towards the implementation of the plan. 14 The Soviet Union, which decided in favour of the Operation J in October 1970, was to focus its support in three areas: financially, including the £75 000 required for the purchase of the vessel which was to be used for the shipment of the MK soldiers; training of the soldiers in the necessary, specialised techniques; and continuous technical and security support by Soviet personnel.15

Operation J involved landing MK soldiers on the Transkei coast for infiltration into the hinterland of the country, as one of the attempts aimed at circumventing problems associated with land-bound infiltrations like the Wankie campaign. Preparations for Operation J were not limited to finding a country from which to dispatch the vessel, but also involved sending reconnaissance missions into the country to study the landing sites; immigration, customs and other border controls; the movement and vigilance of the security forces; and the state of readiness of the "people". The vessel finally left for South Africa on 6 March 1972 from Kisimayo, Somalia, but within 24 hours had to return to the shore at Mogadishu, following a message sent by the captain that the radar had collapsed. However, as the Party was to report later, it turned out that the crew, recruited from Greece with the help of the communist party of that country, had a hand in the problems that were encountered by the ship: "...we have now strong reason to believe that both the generator and the electric steering motor [of the ship] may have been deliberately tampered with in order to give more substance to the rather thin excuse of a return based on a slight deterioration in the clarity of the radar".16

Within two weeks, having lost hope in persuading the Greek crew even with the intervention of the leadership of the Greek Communist Party, another crew arrived from England "which not only combined a great deal of scientific and technical talent but which proved to be a model in devotion to work and revolutionary commitment and courage". 17 Thus on 13 April the ship departed, but, within one and a half hours, experienced a mechanical failure, forcing it to return to the shore again: "In the light of all [these]... we had no option but to abandon the whole mission, whose basic failure we believe to have been caused by sabotage on "the part of the cowardly Greek crew".18 The failure of Operation J was to affect the confidence that the Soviet Union had in the SAC P.

Soon after the failure of Operation J, another "new method" was explored in order to "return all or most of our men to our country"; the new plan was based "on the provision of 'valid' travel documents for each of the men who will travel inpidually to points close to our borders and then illegally make their way across".19 However, as shown by Shubin, this "new method" also suffered a setback, even resulting in nation-wide arrests: "A number of people were arrested, all Umkhonto fighters, who had already reached different destinations inside South Africa". 20

The external mission never lost hope. One of the important moves taken in this regard was to send Chris Hani into the country in 1974 to undertake both SACP and ANC underground work. Hani, code-named "Phoenix" in correspondence with the Party Secretariat, entered the country using the name Lawrence Socishe, accompanied by another operative, known as "Thomas", carrying £500 and the latter £300, with £5 000 scheduled to be delivered by a courier. Hani later moved to Lesotho, opening, with the help of his father Gilbert, a shop to use for underground work. However, because of lapses in security, especially the careless use of foreign exchange currencies, Hani was arrested in June 1975 under the Lesotho Security Act of 1974. On his release from prison after 60 days, he was re-arrested. During the course of his incarceration, with "Thomas" of course, he was tortured and even put in solitary confinement. It emerged later that the Lesotho government was particularly concerned that the foreign currencies Hani was cashing were being used for the activities of the then banned Basotho Congress Party.

Hani's mission was nonetheless a great success. First of all, and unlike other operatives who were being sent into the country by the Party, Hani and "Thomas" had both the political and military mandate. They established a Party, ANC and SACTU underground presence in various parts of the Eastern Cape, Western, Cape, Natal, the Free State and the Transvaal. For this reason, Lesotho, to be known later as the "Island" in the underground vocabulary, became an important centre of operations of the external missions of both the ANC and the Party, and this was to be the case until the Maseru massacre of December 1982. Finally, because of his seniority in both the Party (already a CC member) and the ANC, Hani did not need to get the permission of the Secretariat before he could recruit cadres into his machinery as was the case with the operatives discussed above.

It was thanks to efforts such as these - operatives of the period 1969-71, Operation J, and the work of Hani and "Thomas" -that the Party, and the whole liberation movement, was on the ground at the time of the eruption of the June 1976 students riots. A number of party and ANC units became engulfed in the strug­gles of this period, and the apartheid regime responded with the determination to dislodge these organisations as it had in the 1960s. For example, the fruits of the work of operatives such as "Rufus" received a blow when in July 1977 a number of Party activists in Cape Town, among them Jeremy Cronin and David Rabkin ("Rufus"), were arrested. However, Cape Town was to remain one of the important centres of the Party's underground presence inside the country. Whatever the setback, the external mission of both the ANC and the Party had now, in the 1970s, accumulated enough experience to be able to sustain the momen­tum throughout the decade, into the 1980s.