Umkhonto we Sizwe - Structure, Training and Force Levels (1984 to 1994) by Tsepe Motumi


Umkhonto we Sizwe - Structure, Training and Force Levels (1984 to 1994) - African Defence Review No 18, 1994
      Umkhonto we Sizwe -
      Structure, Training and Force Levels (1984 to 1994)
      Tsepe Motumi
      Researcher, Institute for Defence Policy
      Published in African Defence Review Issue No 18, 1994
      In examining the history of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) since its establishment 
      in 1961, a number of distinct phases are discernible. Originally a small 
      insurrectionist group, MK expanded dramatically, as angry young men and 
      women fled South Africa in the wake of the Soweto uprisings in June 1976 
      and the violence that started in the Vaal Triangle in September 1984.
      Following some introductory remarks tracing MK's earlier history since its 
      inception, this article will focus on MK's more recent past - the years 
      from 1984 to 1994. Other areas which are examined are those of training, 
      structures, the changed regional context, Operation Vula, force levels, 
      etc. The article concludes with some remarks about the future facing 
      former members of MK at the time of their integration into the South 
      African National Defence Force.
      Since its inception by the African National Congress (ANC) in 1961, MK has 
      been a political army. MK was established to fight against apartheid, at a 
      time when all other forms of resistance had either proved ineffectual or 
      been outlawed. The form of the armed struggle at the time was mainly armed 
      propaganda, the targets being the sabotage of electricity pylons and other 
      infrastructure. Such acts signalled the launch of MK on 16 December 1961, 
      and the organisation's manifesto was made public in an illegal radio 
      broadcast by Walter Sisulu. The sabotage operations were executed mainly 
      by cadres who had some prior engineering knowledge and could manufacture 
      the explosive devices. At the same time, recruits were sent to receive 
      training abroad.
      Shortly after the launch of the armed struggle, MK suffered a serious 
      setback with the arrests of its leadership at the Liliesleaf farm in 
      Rivonia, where the headquarters of MK's operations had been set up. The 
      subsequent trial resulted in life sentences for the entire leadership of 
      MK, including Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu. The need to establish MK 
      as an externally-based army became imperative. This was not without 
      problems - mainly related to having to establish not only MK, but also the 
      ANC, externally.
      These factors, as well as the hostility of the then colonial 
      administrations in neighbouring Rhodesia, Mozambique, Bechuanaland and 
      Angola, complicated the execution of the armed struggle. As a result, 
      attempts were made in 1967 to establish an alliance between the military 
      wing of the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), the Zimbabwean 
      People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) and MK. In the absence of an 
      infiltration route directly from any of the neighbouring countries, MK 
      wanted to proceed through Rhodesia's Matebeleland and into South Africa. 
      The Luthuli Detachment, as the MK unit that took part in this campaign 
      became known, had among its members the late Chris Hani, as well as Joe 
      Modise, the present Minister of Defence. This objective was never 
      realised. Despite stiff resistance, ZIPRA and MK suffered many casualties 
      in the ensuing skirmishes in Wankie and Sipolilo with the Rhodesian/South 
      African security forces. An added setback was the political lull within 
      South Africa, which made recruitment for the ANC and MK very difficult.
      In an attempt to address the problem of the political lull within South 
      Africa, as well as the growing discontent within the ranks of the ANC and 
      MK about the harsh conditions of exile life, the Morogoro Conference was 
      convened on 25 April 1969. The conference also sought to overcome a number 
      of shortcomings regarding the execution of the armed struggle, and thereby 
      to establish a firmer base for future operations, including a strategy of 
      total mobilisation of the South African people. It was at this conference 
      that the Revolutionary Council (RC) was established. It emphasised the 
      need for better politically and militarily trained cadres. To this end, a 
      machinery (organisation) to deal with internal reconstruction and 
      propaganda was created, and the bulk of these resources were dedicated to 
      work in South Africa. Yet the problem of reaching the front areas still 
      dogged MK. In an attempt to overcome this, communication was esrablished 
      between external centres and the 'home front'. The RC was also charged 
      with overall planning, preparation and conduct of operations. It was 
      composed of senior members of the National Executive Committee of the ANC, 
      as well as leading members of the SACP, including Yusuf Dadoo, then 
      Secretary General, Moses Mabhida, who later succeeded Dadoo, and Joe 
      Slovo. The RC was chaired by the ANC President, which highlighted the 
      importance that the structure was accorded by the ANC leadership. MK's 
      actions were to be guided by the political considerations of the ANC, 
      which were broadly defined annually in the January 8th policy statement. 
      All armed actions had to fall within the parameters of the policy 
      Following the establishment of the RC, concerted moves were made to 
      establish an underground presence within South Africa through propaganda 
      and the infiltration of legal trade unions. An attempt to infiltrate 
      cadres by sea, off the Transkei coast, failed when the cadres involved 
      were arrested and imprisoned. Despite the arrest of the unit in 1971, the 
      gradual process of building the underground continued, and contributed to 
      the 1973 Durban strikes. This was the first mass action to occur since the 
      ANC had been declared illegal in 1960. In the meanwhile the region was 
      also changing following the coup in Portugal. During the pro-Frelimo 
      rallies in 1974, black university students demonstrated in support of the 
      Mozambican liberation movement, and the crisis besieging the colonial 
      Portuguese regime. Yet all was quiet in the armed struggle, so much so 
      that when the June 16, 1976 student riots broke out, the ANC and MK were 
      caught by surprise. They were not ready to exploit the events that 
      followed, although there were limited acts of sabotage in support of the 
      uprisings; railway lines were targeted - primarily in support of calls for 
      stayaways by students.
      In the years that followed, several thousand youths fled the country and 
      joined the ranks of MK. To a lesser extent some also joined the Black 
      Consciousness Movement of Azania (BCMA) and the Pan Africanist Congress. 
      This was the first major increase in numbers in those organisations but it 
      tapered off in the late 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s.
      The second major wave of recruits to MK joined in the mid-1980s, fuelled 
      by the Vaal uprisings in September 1984. This signalled what was to come, 
      when the country was engulfed by mass protests. MK experienced phenomenal 
      growth. Of these new members, a few went to further their studies, whilst 
      others worked for the various structures of the African National Congress. 
      The majority of current MK members joined during this period.
      The mass protests mentioned above were triggered by the rent and services 
      boycott in the Vaal Triangle. It was also a period when the ANC strategy 
      of a 'people's war', whose primary objective was to involve the entire 
      populace in the fight against apartheid, got under way. It coincided with 
      the government's introduction of the Black Local Authorities Act. The 
      people's war called for the isolation of members of the security forces 
      (especially those resident within black communities) and officials serving 
      in local authorities, or any persons perceived to be working for the 
      government, or 'system' as it was called. The period also saw the rise of 
      the United Democratic Front (formed a year earlier), whose objective was 
      to campaign against the new constitution establishing the tricameral 
      parliament and black local authorities.
      MK grew numerically and qualitatively during this time. It was a different 
      kind of youth who joined the ANC and MK, one who had been baptised by the 
      struggles of the mass democratic organisations. Their experience of mass 
      organisations resulted in a higher level of political consciousness than 
      among their predecessors in 1976 and immediately thereafter. This meant 
      that the ANC had to secure and expand facilities for training its MK 
      cadres. Additional training camps in Angola, mainly in the hinterland, 
      north and east of the country's capital, were opened. Various strategies 
      were employed to influence events on the ground in South Africa, to make 
      the presence of the ANC and MK felt, such as co-ordinated sabotage and 
      armed operations, in tandem with mass protests. In addition, the programme 
      of propaganda, in the form of leaflets and graffiti in public places, was 
      intensified. This armed propaganda phase was intended primarily to make MK 
      more visible and root it amongst the people. MK numbers multiplied within 
      South Africa. Operations at this stage still concentrated on sabotage, and 
      included the June 1980 Sasol oil refinery sabotage. Other special 
      operations carried out included the rocket attack on Voortrekkerhoogte in 
      August 1981, the Koeberg nuclear power plant sabotage attack in 1982, and 
      the 20 May 1983 car bomb explosion outside the South African Air Force 
      headquarters in Church Street, Pretoria. These operations also illustrated 
      a dramatic change in MK's strategy with a marked shift from symbolic 
      operations to a much more aggressive approach. This was confirmed by a 
      policy statement that 'there could no longer be any guarantee that 
      civilians would not be caught in the crossfire' in the execution of the 
      armed struggle.
      The strategy of a 'people'Á¶s war' and 'making the country ungovernable' 
      was reappraised at the Kabwe Consultative Conference in June 1985. This 
      conference, following on from the agenda set by the Morogoro Conference 
      sixteen years earlier (which had also identified problems with the 
      execution of the armed struggle), pointed to the weaknesses in MK's focus 
      on urban operations. This criticism resulted in the launching of 
      operations in the rural areas, which at that stage were isolated and had 
      not experienced mass protests like those in the urban areas. Following the 
      conference, from November 1985 onwards, there was a notable increase in 
      the number of 'rural incidents', with land mines being detonated by 
      vehicles, whilst others were lifted by security forces. During the period 
      from November 1985 to 17 December 1985, seven land mines were detonated by 
      vehicles. The main areas targeted for land mine warfare were in the border 
      areas of northern Natal and the northern and western Transvaal. The use of 
      land mines along the border areas made the retreat of MK cadres into 
      neighbouring countries easier.
      The choice of white farms in the rural areas was premised on the fact that 
      farmers were seen as 'legitimate targets' who supported apartheid and 
      formed part of the security forces' rural commandos. During the period in 
      which these operations were under way, there was also a considerable 
      amount of debate within MK on what exactly constituted a 'legitimate 
      target' for attack. There was increasing emphasis on a direct military 
      engagement of the security forces. There was also the formulation of 
      theoretical positions defining the objective of the armed struggle as 
      'insurrectionary'. The mobilised masses were defined as a 'political 
      army', and the armed component as the 'revolutionary army', within which 
      there was the 'organised advanced detachment', this referring to MK, which 
      at the time saw itself as the 'nucleus of a future people's army'.
      In pursuance of the insurrectionary strategy, the focus of all training, 
      as well as mobilisation, shifted. Within South Africa, mass resistance had 
      been dampened by the harsh provisions of the national state of emergency 
      imposed on 12 June 1986, which had resulted in the detention of thousands 
      of activists. This, however, did not put a halt to armed operations. There 
      was a steady increase in the number of operations in the 1986-1988 period, 
      including special operations involving car bombs at the Johannesburg 
      Magistrate's Court in May 1987, and one outside the Witwatersrand Command 
      of the SADF in 1987. Operations continued until late into 1989, so that 
      when the ANC and MK were unbanned in February 1990, many were caught 
      unprepared for the new situation. Despite MK's continued operations, it 
      was hamstrung by long lines of command from the 'rear' with the majority 
      of cadres being stationed outside South Africa - MK was basically an 'army 
      in exile'. As a result, MK did not take full advantage of the evolving 
      situation within South Africa, to root itself. The mass protests that 
      engulfed South Africa were not sufficiently reinforced by the armed 
      In the thirteen years from 1976 to 1988, virtually all MK's general 
      training occurred in Angola. The instructors were initially Cuban and 
      Soviet (from late 1976 to mid 1978), whereafter ANC/MK instructors took 
      over the training of its cadres. This development also coincided with the 
      establishment of more training facilities within Angola. The initial camp, 
      Nova Katenga, situated in the south of Angola, was evacuated after an SADF 
      air raid. Other camps were started further north of the capital, Luanda. 
      These were in Quibaxe, as well as at Funda, Fazenda, and later Pango and 
      Caculama. The latter two training camps were started at the beginning of 
      the 1980s. As increasing numbers joined MK in the mid-1980s, the Pango 
      camp served mainly for the preparation of cadres for infiltration. It was 
      also used for providing crash courses for underground operatives who were 
      then reinfiltrated into South Africa. The regional negotiations for the 
      independence of Namibia eventually resulted in the relocation of training 
      camps from Angola to Uganda and Tanzania in 1988/9.
      The general training of MK soldiers, beginning late in 1976, lasted for 
      six months, and was followed by a specialisation course for another three 
      to four months. Some specialist courses took much longer, depending on 
      their nature. Instruction was generally in English, but allowance was made 
      for instruction in any other language, especially the vernacular, due to 
      the low educational level of some of the cadres. At times this made it 
      difficult to impart various military skills fully, but there was a general 
      grasp of what was required of an MK cadre. As an attempt to resolve the 
      educational problem, literacy classes were conducted on a daily basis 
      after the formal training period. The type of training was also influenced 
      by the nature of MK as an army. Founded as a guerrilla force, its training 
      was unconventional. It was simply not feasible to challenge the SANDF 
      conventionally because of its numerical and technological strength. An 
      important factor in MK's favour was that, whilst not necessarily having 
      the numbers and advanced military technology possessed by the SADF, it had 
      the political will to fight apartheid, and was supported by a majority of 
      the oppressed. This was not the case initially, when the armed struggle 
      was launched. The entrance requirement therefore was simply to be against 
      apartheid and to have the courage to take up arms. There was no 
      educational or other prerequisite. It was a volunteer army, and rejection 
      of volunteers was only on grounds of health or age.
      General training comprised the following subjects:
        Firearms: This concentrated on the use of rifles, especially the AK-47 
        and other rifles that are standard SADF/SAP issue, like the R1 and R4. 
        Training was also provided in pistol shooting, as well as general 
        maintenance and care of weapons. Training was given in the use of both 
        offensive and defensive hand grenades, and also rocket-propelled 
        grenades (RPGs).
        Engineering: This was instruction in the use of explosives including 
        limpet, anti-personnel and land mines. The explosives used were mainly 
        of Soviet manufacture.
        Politics: This focused on the history of the ANC, modern South African 
        history, international politics and aspects of Marxism-Leninism.
        Artillery: Instruction was provided in the use of the Soviet-made 82mm 
        mortar, the Grad-P or 122mm rocket launchers. Those who went on to 
        specialise were instructed in other artillery weapons.
        Communications: This concentrated on the use of military communications 
        equipment, as well as other forms of secret communication. It could also 
        be followed by advanced training.
        Military Topography: The subject concentrated on map reading, especially 
        topographical maps and navigation. Training in drawing sketches of 
        specific locations was given to enable cadres to sketch targets for 
        attack or specific locations of dead-letter boxes (DLBs) containing 
        armaments or leaflets. The acquired skill also assisted in establishing 
        locations where land mines were planted.
        Physical Training: This was combined with training in tactics and dealt 
        mainly with fitness and the crossing of obstacles on a mock battle 
        course or strip. It combined all elements of the other subjects in one.
        First Aid: This involved the general principles of first aid and how to 
        administer it in the case of bullet wounds. It also included battlefield 
        Marching Drill: The subject concentrated on military discipline, salutes 
        and general obedience to orders. It prepared cadres for parade duties, 
        which were required for special occasions.
        Military Combat Work: This subject focused on intelligence and 
        counter-intelligence and the theory of revolution, which included the 
        building of the revolutionary and political army. The purpose of the 
        course was to teach cadres clandestine techniques and how to build 
        underground structures. This course was compulsory for those who were to 
        be deployed in South Africa.
        Anti-Aircraft Training: This was only provided for a select few whose 
        task was the defence of the military camp against aerial bombardment. 
      With the exception of anti-aircraft training, all these subjects formed 
      part of the general course. Further advanced, specialist training followed 
      the general course for those who had performed well in the general 
      training, or in line with the requirements of the situation.
      Other special courses that were provided were pilot training for a select 
      few and tank or armoured personnel carrier drivers. Such training was 
      initialy only provided to a small number of cadres. This began to change 
      in 1986, when the first group went for extensive training in conventional 
      warfare in the former Soviet Union. The training varied from two to four 
      years. Whatever prompted the move, this began a gradual preparation of 
      cadres for a future defence force of which MK saw itself as a nucleus. At 
      the time the USSR was one of the few countries willing to provide 
      conventional military training. Although other countries also provided 
      training, it varied from two months to a year. These countries were the 
      then German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the former Yugoslavia. Together 
      with the USSR, they catered for most of MK's training needs, specifically 
      in specialised areas. Other countries which provided training, albeit for 
      short periods and of a highly specialised nature, were Bulgaria, Hungary, 
      Cuba and Algeria. The latter two countries trained Special Forces and 
      accommodated only small groups at a time. Cuba also provided training in 
      intelligence and counter-intelligence. Bulgaria and Hungary did not 
      provide any military training, but rather political and agricultural 
      training respectively. In addition to Special Forces training, Cuba also 
      provided political training, similar to that of the Soviet Union, the GDR 
      and Bulgaria. Academic courses were also provided by these countries to 
      ANC members for varying periods.
      This process continued until the beginning of the 1990s. However, a change 
      in the political situation of the eastern bloc countries that provided 
      most of the training, prompted a relocation to other areas. The notable 
      new host nations were Tanzania, Uganda, India, Zimbabwe, Ghana and Zambia. 
      The decision to switch to conventional army training was clearly based on 
      a realisation by the MK leadership that if it was to become the nucleus of 
      a future defence force in a democratic country, the organisation would 
      require soldiers with the appropriate conventional military training, who 
      could form the leadership of such a defence force.
      The 1983 Maputo Conference
      During the period 1986-1988 various changes were made to structures 
      charged with internal political and military work. These changes coincided 
      with a process of restructuring organs charged with internal ANC and MK 
      work, which were under the Revolutionary Council (RC). Until this period 
      military and political affairs structures inside South Africa had been 
      separate, with fusion only at the level of the RC at the top. In the 
      regional command structures in the forward areas, there were separate 
      sections for planning and operations. MK was politically accountable to 
      the ANC's National Executive Committee, from which it took directives. The 
      MK commander also acted as accounting officer. It was, however, the 
      Politico-Military Council (PMC) which supervised implementation of 
      decisions of the NEC in so far as the political and armed struggle was 
      concerned. Within the PMC, however, the Military Headquarters (MHQ) had 
      immense power regarding control of MK cadres in the field. Pressure to 
      undertake operations resulted in large numbers of casualties due to 
      infiltration into South Africa, through lack of proper planning, either 
      through arrests, injury or even death in encounters with the South African 
      forces. This occurred especially from the middle of 1987 into 1989. MK's 
      hardest hit forward area was Swaziland, with the death of three members of 
      a unit during infiltration into South Africa at the beginning of June 
      1988. This was not the first of such incidents, particularly in this area.
      The result was separate structures, with the right hand not knowing what 
      the left hand was doing, and little or no joint command and control. To 
      remedy this situation, a conference of all front commanders and commissars 
      was held in 1983 in Maputo. The conference recommended joint planning, 
      command and control regarding all operations and the execution of the 
      armed struggle. Intelligence functions were also included in the new 
      approach. From the top level, a restructuring process began which was to 
      be in line with decisions of this conference. By 1985 the ANC/MK command 
      and control had undergone significant changes (see figure on the next 
      The Politico-Military Council (PMC)
      The RC was replaced by the Politico-Military Council (PMC), and the 
      barrier between the political and the military was removed. The new 
      structure was an attempt at improved co-ordination of political and 
      military activities.
      The heightened political activity within South Africa required that cadres 
      focus on the political and military training of their recruits within the 
      country. They had at the same time to build structures of underground 
      leadership, drawing on the best recruits from the activist core. This 
      approach required painstaking work and sought to remedy the problem of 
      reaching the home front, where the struggle was to be waged, as well as 
      improving overall communication between external and internal centres. The 
      structures of the forward areas gained greater operational freedom in 
      terms of planning, operations, communication and execution of operations. 
      Only special projects would henceforth require the 'green light' from 
      The PMC was given wide powers of overall planning, preparation and 
      implementation of all activities related to the execution of the struggle 
      in South Africa. It was chaired by the President of the ANC, whilst most 
      of its members sat on the National Executive Committee (NEC). It had its 
      own budget and could determine needs as they arose, including staffing and 
      personnel in all structures dealing with internal work. It therefore 
      minimised problems of co-ordination, and made the realisation of 
      strategies feasible. It represented an integrated approach to political 
      and military work for the enhancement of ANC and MK structures. Under the 
      integrated politico-military plan, political command guided all 
      specialised politico-military work, and the Regional Political Military 
      Councils (RPMCs) and Area Political Military Councils (APMCs) provided 
      this integrated leadership. Though better, it also became influenced by 
      the changing situation in the southern African region, as will be 
      illustrated later.
      The President of the ANC was the chairperson of the PMC. The diagram below 
      illustrates how co-ordination occurred, from the top (Secretariat), down 
      to the Military Headquarters (MHQ), the Internal Political Committee (IPC) 
      and NAT (Intelligence, Counter-Intelligence and Security). Each of these 
      structures had smaller sub-structures and were mostly in Lusaka. The 
      RPMCs, existed underground in Swaziland, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, 
      Botswana and London. Certain areas inside the country had APMCs, the 
      locally-based internal area leadership. Other, more developed areas in the 
      Western Cape, Border region, Durban, Pretoria and Northern Transvaal, had 
      RPMCs based internally. These were few and far between, because of the 
      difficulty of building such structures under conditions of illegality.
      The structures charged with internal work were composed as follows:
      Internal Political Committee (IPC)
        Underground (U/G): dealing with special underground training, 
        infiltration and mission assignment. This section was headed by Ronnie 
        Kasrils who, prior to this, was chief of Military Intelligence.
        Propaganda (Prop): writing of pamphlets, statements, etc. for internal 
        distribution. This section worked closely with the Department of 
        Information and Publicity (DIP), and was headed by Joel Netshitendze, 
        presently head of communications in President Mandela's office.
        Mass Mobilisation (MM): strategies and tactics of mass mobilisation 
        internally, political briefings and direction. This section was headed 
        by Steve Tshwete.
        Data Processing Group (DPG): processing and action on all reports from 
        internal units, in conjunction with the relevant unit(s) within the IPC 
        or higher - the PMC. This section fell under Mass Mobilisation, but 
        reports were generally utilised by all the other structures within the 
        IPC, or forwarded for attention to the MHQ. 
      Military Headquarters (MHQ)
        Chief of Staff (CoS): responsible for overall leadership and training 
        needs of MK. It is a position that was occupied by Joe Slovo, later 
        Chris Hani, until 1992, when he was succeeded by Siphiwe Nyanda.
        Operations (Ops): seeing to the actual planning and execution of 
        operations. This position was, for some years, occupied by Lambert 
        Moloi. The operations task also included infiltration of cadres and 
        material and it works closely with Ordnance.
        Ordnance (Ord): chiefly responsible for infiltration of weaponry or any 
        equipment for utilisation in armed operations. This especially with 
        regard to bulk supplies of material. The position was occupied by Rashid 
        Patel since late in 1987. His predecessor, Cassius Maake, was 
        assassinated in Swaziland in 1987.
        Military Intelligence (MI): collection of army intelligence data for use 
        by MK, joint planning and execution with all other structures mentioned. 
        Keith Mokwape headed MI until 1990, having succeeded Ronnie Kasrils in 
        1987/8. He was succeeded by Mojo Motau in 1992.
        Communications: equipping the army and units with necessary army 
        communication equipment. Also performing a signals unit function. This 
        extended from MHQ to RPMCs, and in certain special instances, internally 
        as well. It was headed by Jacqueline Molefe. 
      NAT (Intelligence, Counter-Intelligence and Security)
      The overall head of the NAT was Joe Nhlanhla, who succeeded Mzwai Piliso 
      in 1987. His predecessor was ousted following reports of excesses which 
      members of the department committed. Within the department, there has 
      traditionally been a division of the functions of security and 
      intelligence. It was only in 1988 that a division between intelligence and 
      counter-intelligence was announced. Jacob Zuma took over the intelligence 
      function in 1987.
      The PMC was composed of the following personnel:
        Chairperson - President of the ANC.
        Secretary - a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC). This 
        position was first occupied by Joe Nhlanhla until early 1987, when it 
        was taken over by Josiah Jele.
        Military Headquarters (MHQ): MK Commander and chief of the Army; Chief 
        of Staff; Deputy Chief of Staff; National Army Commissar; Chief of 
        Operations; Chief of Communications; Chief of Military Intelligence.
        Internal Political Committee (IPC): Overall head of the IPC, the 
        Underground, Mass Mobilisation and Propaganda sections.
        NAT: Chief of Intelligence and Counter Intelligence; Chief of Security.
        Secretaries General of the ANC, SACP and SACTU. This was to facilitate 
        effective joint planning as the three bodies formed an alliance. 
        Membership of the three organisations overlapped, hence the need for 
        their presence on the PMC, as cadres sent into the country in certain 
        instances also did work for the ANC, SACTU or the SACP. 
      The full PMC met once a month and was tasked with the overall strategic 
      planning for internal ANC/MK work, and to make an assessment of the state 
      of the nation. Almost half of the NEC members belonged to the PMC, with 
      different responsibilities, including meetings with delegations from South 
      Africa. The PMC was the most important structure of the ANC after the 
      National Executive Committee (NEC), which had its own National Working 
      Committee (NWC), charged with implementation of NEC decisions. The PMC 
      also had an executive committee, the Secretariat. The Secretariat of the 
      PMC met between full PMC meetings on a weekly basis. It had to see to the 
      implementation of PMC decisions, through the MHQ, IPC, NAT and the RPMCs 
      in the regions and the analysis of reports received from inside South 
      Africa and from the structures in the forward areas. These reports would 
      then be forwarded to a specific structure (like MHQ/IPC/MI) for attention 
      and action. In short, the PMC was the executive arm of the NEC in relation 
      to all matters pertaining to the conduct of the political and military 
      struggle inside South Africa.
      The well-being of cadres in transit, as well as those deployed inside 
      South Africa, was the responsibility of the sub-structures of the PMC, in 
      this case the MHQ, IPC and NAT. The Intelligence section had its own lines 
      of communication and control with its operatives, but there was at times 
      an overlap of functions, e.g., someone charged with political or military 
      work, or both, could simultaneously work as an intelligence operative.
      Regional Politico-Military Council (RPMC)
      The PMC had general knowledge of the number of units on the ground, as 
      well as their location. This, however, did not necessarily extend to the 
      specifics of knowing the actual identities of the operatives. In-depth 
      knowledge of the units was the preserve of the Regional Politico-Military 
      Council (RPMC) in a particular region. The RPMC's task was to service 
      specific regions within South Africa, through cadres of MHQ and the IPC, 
      by utilising RPMC structures in the 'forward areas' of Swaziland, Lesotho, 
      Botswana, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and London. These structures in the forward 
      areas provided a direct link between the headquarters in Lusaka and the 
      situation on the ground and also reported directly to the PMC. Given this 
      situation, the line of command was a long one. It was only in exceptional 
      circumstances that there was direct communication between a unit in South 
      Africa and the PMC at the Lusaka headquarters.
      The RPMC structures in the forward areas were similar to but smaller in 
      size than the national headquarters. They represented an attempt at 
      changing the orientation of the armed struggle, with more emphasis on an 
      integrated approach to the conduct of military and political struggles, as 
      well as ensuring better and effective control, command and communication 
      with units on the ground. The old approach of compartmentalised planning 
      and execution had proved costly in terms of the lack of exchange of 
      information about units and individuals on the ground, with the result 
      that the South African Security Police task of infiltrating these 
      structures was made easier.
      With the adoption of this integrated approach, internal recruitment and 
      training was intensified, as well as direction being given to the mass 
      organisations in line with the ANC's strategy of 'people's war' and 
      insurrection. Emphasis was thus placed on creating organs of people's 
      power (OPPs) - such as street committees, self-defence units (SDUs) and, 
      in certain instances, people's courts. The SDUs were based among the 
      people (in rural and urban areas), and were conceptualised as a 
      constituent part of the revolutionary army, whose other two key components 
      were the guerrilla units in the countryside and the combat units in the 
      urban areas. The role of the SDUs was at first to launch attacks against 
      security force patrols in the townships. This task was enhanced by 
      training from MK structures internally, as well as more advanced training 
      received by some SDU members abroad. Over time, however, and with the 
      unbanning of organisations, the SDUs represented a dilemma. This temporary 
      dilemma was answered by the sudden surge of violence in August 1990 on the 
      East Rand. Problems were later experienced with the SDUs because of loss 
      of political command and control. There are at present moves to demobilise 
      and restructure the SDUs - the solution being to return the young members 
      to school, and to place the remaining members either in the police 
      reservists, or part of community based policing. Those who would fall into 
      either category would receive vocational training.
      Area Politico-Military Council (APMCs)
      Locally-based Area Political Military Councils, or APMCs, were structured 
      similarly to the RPMCs, but were smaller in size and operated under 
      completely different conditions to the larger and externally-based PMC 
      structures. Their main task was providing political and military 
      leadership at the local level, as well as intelligence-gathering. A 
      typical APMC would be made up of the Commander (in overall charge of the 
      unit), Commissar (providing political leadership), and cadres responsible 
      for propaganda, military training, acquisition of weapons, 
      intelligence-gathering, logistics (responsible for safe houses and 
      The sensitivity of work executed by these individuals required high levels 
      of secrecy, and in this regard, recruits would not be exposed to members 
      of the APMC but would only be exposed to those dealing with matters 
      relevant to their purposes. The principle of operation was to work on a 
      'need to know basis' to avoid infiltration and detection by the Security 
      Police, National Intelligence or Military Intelligence. The APMC therefore 
      had the task of ensuring thorough screening of recruits, planning and 
      execution of operations, communication within the unit and with the RPMC 
      under the command of which they fell, or in exceptional circumstances even 
      directly with the PMC. Members of a particular RPMC would at times meet 
      their operatives in a different forward area.
      The wave of mass action that swept the country as a result of the 
      imposition of black local authorities, and the tricameral parliament, 
      gained momentum as MK also changed and intensified its armed operations 
      from symbolic to harder security force targets. The May 20th 1983 car bomb 
      at Air Force Headquarters in Church Street, Pretoria was one such 
      operation. Other smaller scale operations also increased. This situation 
      of increasing mass resistance and MK armed attacks simultaneously, 
      resulted in the South African Government entering into accords with 
      neighbouring states, especially those thought to allow the infiltration of 
      MK cadres:
        In March 1984, South Africa signed the Nkomati Accord with Mozambique. 
        This was an attempt to curb MK and ANC presence in Mozambique, thereby 
        cutting off ANC links with its internal operatives. South Africa's 
        economic muscle was used to strengthen the agreement. As a result of the 
        Accord senior MK and ANC officials were expelled from Mozambique. The 
        trade-off for Mozambique was that South Africa would cease its support 
        for Renamo (MNR) bandits fighting against the Frelimo government. 
        Another effect of the accord was that MK cadres in transit to South 
        Africa in Maputo were hastily infiltrated into South Africa without the 
        necessary prior arrangements. Skirmishes with the Swazi and South 
        African security forces followed, resulting in some MK members being 
        arrested and imprisoned by the Swazi authorities. It emerged after these 
        incidents that Swaziland had secretly also entered into an accord 
        similar to Mozambique some two years earlier. The provisions were 
        similar in nature - eliminate the ANC/MK presence. Prior to this the 
        RPMC structures in Swaziland and Maputo had serviced the eastern 
        Transvaal, Natal and parts of the PWV.
        In Lesotho, Leabua Jonathan's government buckled under pressure from the 
        South African Government's blockade of that country's borders. A 
        military coup d'état followed in January 1986, allowing Maj.-Gen. Justin 
        Lekhanya to take over, much to the chagrin of the ANC and the delight of 
        the South African Government. This also resulted in deportations of a 
        number of ANC members and specific MK operatives whose names were 
        provided by the South African Government. The loss of a sympathetic 
        Lesotho Government was a serious blow to the ANC and MK. Lesotho 
        structures had primarily been responsible for servicing the eastern and 
        western Cape, Transkei and to a limited degree, the PWV.
        Similar diplomatic pressure was applied against Botswana to achieve the 
        same goal. This was coupled with hit squad activities, arrests, 
        abductions and deportation by the Botswana authorities of ANC/MK 
        operatives. These activities severely complicated the integrated 
        approach to planning and execution of operations of the RPMC, which 
        controlled operations into the PWV, western Transvaal/ Bophuthatswana 
        and parts of the northern Transvaal. Following the coup in Lesotho this 
        RPMC had to look after the eastern and western Cape operations.
        The Zimbabwe situation was somewhat better compared with that in the 
        rest of the region. Unlike Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique, Zimbabwe 
        had, at least on the surface, resisted South African pressure, and 
        continued to provide a relatively safe haven for ANC and MK activity. 
        From Zimbabwe, MK cadres could infiltrate the northern Transvaal, PWV 
        and, in certain cases, parts of the Cape. Infiltration into South Africa 
        was assisted by the normal flow of traffic from and to South Africa. 
        This did not, however, stop the activities of the South African security 
        forces, as evidenced by the bombing of a safe house for MK cadres in 
        transit in Bulawayo in 1988. Swift reaction from the Zimbabwean 
        intelligence services, the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), led 
        to the arrest of some of the South African government spies. 
      Given these conditions, MK suffered serious limitations to its operations 
      and infiltration into South Africa. These developments worked against MK's 
      development inside the country, and slowed down the process of 
      infiltration of personnel and matériel. The result was also evident with 
      the sudden increase in the number of casualties MK suffered. Most of the 
      casualties were cadres who had been hastily infiltrated without the 
      necessary prior preparation, due to pressure from the governments of 
      Mozambique and Swaziland to remove from their territories the MK and ANC 
      These developments soon resulted in the impatience of cadres in transit 
      for operations inside South Africa, the emasculation of MK, and long lines 
      of infiltration. Furthermore, the reliance on forward areas that were 
      remote and which were at times weak in terms of command and control, had a 
      negative effect on growth within South Africa. The ideal objective was the 
      building of MK within South Africa. This, and the settlement in Namibia 
      resulted in Operation Vula (Open).
      Operation Vula was a top secret operation which was initiated in 1986. Its 
      main task was to establish and strengthen the senior and middle level 
      leadership of the ANC and MK within South Africa. Conceptualised by late 
      ANC president Oliver Tambo, its aim was to create a national underground 
      political and military leadership structure inside South Africa. At the 
      time when Operation Vula was initiated, negotiations over Namibia's 
      independence were nearing completion. The agreements reached would present 
      MK with more serious problems in terms of planning and relocating MK even 
      further from South Africa, thus making the execution of the armed struggle 
      more difficult. Training was seriously affected. As part of the 
      negotiation terms for Namibian independence, MK was forced to relocate and 
      withdraw from Angola, where the vast majority of its training was being 
      A lot of time, human and material resources went into the Operation Vula 
      effort. The operation was uncovered in 1990, after the 'untimely' 
      unbanning of the ANC, but before the commencement of negotiations. It was 
      'untimely' because it occurred after the painstaking process of planning 
      but before the plans could be implemented.
      There are no accurate published figures about the exact strength of MK. 
      Lists submitted to the TEC during negotiations are reported to contain up 
      to 23 000 names. The question to ask, however, is: who exactly is an MK 
      soldier? This is a difficult question to answer since there are those who 
      have been formally trained - generally outside the country - and others 
      who received training informally - generally inside South Africa. The 
      latter category would also include some members of the SDUs, which 
      expanded in the post-1990 period. Both categories have increased 
      dramatically in size in the last few years, but no more than 10-12 000 
      members of MK received formal training outside the country's borders.
      Both categories regard themselves as soldiers and have acted in such a 
      manner. They have all been influenced by conditions on the ground, and 
      reflect the nature of MK as 'an army of the people'. What further 
      complicates the question is MK's nature as a political army. The question, 
      therefore, of the precise force levels will probably never be answered. 
      Since the process of negotiations began, intermingling of MK soldiers, ANC 
      officials and SDU members has taken place within South Africa.
      However, the question of having been 'formally' and 'informally' trained 
      need not bring into doubt the effectiveness of the training to the 
      recipients. Some MK missions in the late 1980s were undertaken by elements 
      that were 'informally' trained but who had the advantage of knowledge and 
      familiarity of the terrain on which they were operating. This was in 
      contrast to those trained externally, who would have the disadvantage of 
      extended absence from the particular area.
      The task to negotiate the creation of the new national defence force was 
      recently the responsibility of the Sub-Council of Defence (SCD), a 
      sub-structure of the Transitional Executive Council (TEC). For purposes of 
      co-ordination, the Joint Military Co-ordinating Council (JMCC) was 
      established, to oversee all planning, preparation and training of a future 
      South African National Defence Force. The submission of a certified 
      personnel register of all members has been a requirement.
      Protracted negotiations also recently resulted in the short-lived 
      formation of the National Peacekeeping Force (NPKF). The NPKF was 
      essentially a force made up of all defence and police forces of parties 
      participating in the Transitional Executive Council (TEC), in terms of the 
      Transitional Executive Council Act, 1993. It has now been disbanded, with 
      members returning to their original organisations.
      MK members have formed an active component in the planning of both the now 
      disbanded NPKF and the newly-created national defence force. Several 
      thousand MK soldiers will form part of an integrated national defence 
      force. This process will be different to the NPKF's formation, which was 
      hurried and also included policing agencies. The process of gathering MK 
      soldiers at Assembly Points has already begun. Two locations have been 
      identified - Wallmansthal and Hoedspruit. The latter is in the eastern 
      Transvaal and will take a smaller number of MK soldiers, whilst 
      Wallmansthal will absorb the biggest number of them, at least 8 000. At 
      this stage, it has been decided that the De Brug base, used by the NPKF 
      recently, will also be utilised as an Assembly Point for MK soldiers who 
      were in the disbanded NPKF. This means that even the contingent that was 
      at Koeberg would join those at De Brug - a total of about 1 200.
      In the Assembly Points, preparation for integration of MK into a newly 
      constituted national defence force will occur. At the same time, it will 
      also be a sorting of those who want to have a career in the army and 
      actually qualify. Here 'qualification' needs to be understood as a 
      candidate's being in good health, and within the required age limit to be 
      part of the national defence force. This means that there will be 
      voluntary demobilisation of those who no longer want to be part of the 
      army. Thereafter, once integration of all armed formations has occurred, 
      there will be rationalisation that will take place over a three year 
      period. This process needs to be carried out with caution and will have 
      its own problems, chief of which could be unemployed demobilised soldiers. 
      Even those who will be retrenched over a five year period after 
      integration will face a problem similar to that confronting those who were 
      demobilised. To address this problem, plans are under way for the 
      formation of a Service Brigade, whose main task would be a transition to 
      final exit from the army. The Service Brigade would teach vocational and 
      life skills to those who require these. During the period this occurs, 
      there would be some form of remuneration for a fixed period until eventual 
      exit from the defence force into civilian life.
      The current process of planning for integration of all the armed 
      formations, including the Homeland and Self-Governing territories, needs 
      to take into consideration what the needs of a democratic state will be. 
      With no perceived threat from any of the neighbouring states, the future 
      size of the National Army will become crucial, especially in light of 
      other needs of a society emerging from high levels of unemployment and 
      poor education. The new army will (and should) have as its primary role, 
      the defence of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, as well as the 
      country's national sovereignty. The expertise that will be brought by MK 
      from training in different countries in conventional warfare should be 
      seen as a contribution to a future national defence force.
      The processes outlined cover a period marking the end of MK as a guerrilla 
      army after 33 years of existence. The ideal for which MK was established 
      have been achieved. It brings to a close a chapter in South Africa's 
      history of white minority domination and long resistance to it, initially 
      through peaceful, non-violent means, but later by revolutionary violence. 
      This is MK's role which will stand in history. It is this achievement 
      which places the role of MK in its true perspective.
      Barrell H, Umkhonto we Sizwe, MK, Penguin Books, 1990.
      Cilliers J K, Collective Political Violence in the PWV and Cape Peninsula 
      from 1976 to 1986: Origins and Development, vols 1 & 2, unpublished DLitt 
      et Phil Dissertation, University of South Africa, 1987.
      Cilliers J K, Mistry D & Motumi T, The History of the National 
      Peacekeeping Force, in The National Peacekeeping Force, Violence in the 
      East Rand and Public Perceptions of the NPKF in Katorus, June 1994.
      Ellis S & Sechaba T, Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & SACP in Exile, 
      London, Curry 1992.
      Meli F, A History of the ANC: South Africa Belongs to Us, James Currey, 
      London, 1989.
      Motumi T, Self Defence Units - A brief Examination of their History and a 
      look at their Future, in African Defence Review, Issue No 15, March 1994.
      Wlliams R D, The Other Armies - Writing the History of MK, Military 
      Research Group Working Paper Series, no. 7, 1993.

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