Speaking last week at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the security police raid on Liliesleaf Farm at Rivonia in Johannesburg in July 1963, which culminated in the Rivonia Trial of Nelson Mandela and his colleagues, President Jacob Zuma made some fascinating remarks about the events surrounding the police raid on Liliesleaf farm which led to the arrest of top ANC leaders.
He described a time in the early 1960s when a group of ANC members in Durban wanted to start a “revolution” by “slaughtering” white people with bush knives. But the ANC’s senior leaders intervened beforehand and gave the prospective insurgents a tongue-lashing.
“If our revolution went through, there would have been chaos. Many people would have been killed,” Zuma told his audience.
In this article Paul Trewhela, a political prisoner and former Communist Party member, looks at the rise of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) in this period and why the ANC believed it had to confront it, with a focus on the role of Mandela in this process.
Imagery and resistance in the 1960s
The dominant political current in black politics over the period 1960-63 was not the ANC, still less the SACP, but the PAC. More specifically, after Sharpeville, it was that of the PAC’s armed wing – Poqo. The strategy outlined by Jacob Zuma in his address at Liliesleaf Farm last week was basically that of Poqo, as in the killings of five white people at Bashee Bridge in the Transkei in February 1963, which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission described decades later as an “indiscriminate targeting of civilians.”
The only coherent non-racial political current with a grounding in black politics in the country at this time was that of the SACP.
A call to arms
That is why Ruth First, who was a member of the Central Committee of the CP, and active at the head of MK as the most able person on the Propaganda Committee which functioned with Mac Maharaj (trained in East Germany) as its crucial technical person, asked me to write a leaflet in about March 1963.
The leaflet was designed which set out the military strategy of MK as opposed to that of Poqo. When printed, it was distributed in May 1963, two months ahead of the Rivonia raid.
Headed “The ANC spearheads revolution. Leballo? No!“, its reference was to the then head of the PAC military organisation, Potlako K. Leballo, who was attempting at that time to guide PAC insurgency from Lesotho.
Ruth showed me a single leaflet, which I then destroyed and never saw the text again until it came up on the ANC website decades later, well after her assassination in 1982.
The SACP’s decision to have a pamphlet of this kind written might well have been a direct response to the killings of white civilians at Bashee Bridge.
The party was very clear that if it did not initiate its own military organisation after Sharpeville, which then developed into that of the ANC, Poqo would have had all the running.
By any practical reckoning, this assessment was astute.
Unless he has been badly quoted – which is possible – Zuma however failed to place this sentiment in Durban in the context of Poqo.
Cultivating an Africanist imagery
At the time, however, Mandela was very conscious of this uprising of nationalist and even racial sentiment, which is why he chose to be photographed wearing the traditional bead necklace and kaross of the Thembu aristocrat when he was in hiding in Wolfie Kodesh’s flat in Berea in Johannesburg in late 1961.
This was just before his illegal journey across Africa to bolster ANC support between January and July 1962.
Following Mandela’s arrest near Howick in August 1962, after his return to South Africa, he again wore this specifically “Africanist” costume throughout his trial in Pretoria (with Bob Hepple, a member of the CP Central Committee, as his legal adviser).
I remember Mandela’s Thembu aristocrat’s costume from the day I attended the trial with the reporter from the SACP and ANC newspaper, New Age, at Ruth’s suggestion.
Women relatives in the visitors’ gallery, including Winnie, were in tribal dress too.
While he wore an authentic leather kaross in his trial, Mandela had had no choice for the series of formal portrait photographs taken by Eli Weinberg in 1961 in Wolfie Kodesh’s tiny groundfloor flat in Berea except to use Wolfie’s candlewick bedspread to suggest a kaross.
What is significant about these photographs – which became well known in the 1980s – is that every one involved was a member of the SACP, not least Mandela himself.
This has now been firmly established by Stephen Ellis in his External Mission: The ANC in Exile, 1960-1990 (published last year), by Irina Filatova and Apollon Davidson in The Hidden Thread: Russia and South Africa in the Soviet Era (published last week by Jonathan Ball) and with strong confirmation from Bob Hepple as a surviving firsthand witness, in his autobiography published also last week, Young Man with a Red Tie: A Memoir of Mandela and the Failed Revolution, 1960-1963 (Jacana).
Winning primacy over the PAC and Poqo was no small thing, and not easily achieved. Maybe Zuma in his address last week did not wish to draw attention to Poqo and the PAC, but they were very real issues then.
Mandela’s Africa report
On returning to Liliesleaf Farm in Rivonia from his Africa tour at the end of July 1962, Mandela put the problem of the very high degree of support for the PAC which he had found among the continent’s leaders to the only top level meeting he was able to attend before his arrest.
This was a joint meeting of members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, the Working Committee of the ANC and the High Command of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK). These bodies were at this time “virtually as one, indivisible from MK”, as Hepple reported in 2008 to Mandela’s British biographer, David James Smith. (Young Mandela, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 2010, p.280)
Smith writes that Mandela had “written a report on his trip and the impact of the PAC, which was probably presented to this meeting. The document was found by Special Branch at Liliesleaf a year later and became an exhibit at the Rivonia Trial.”
Mandela’s report noted that there were “great reservations about our policy and there is a widespread feeling that the ANC is a communist dominated organisation.” (p.265)
Smith continues: “Mandela’s notes must have made depressing reading for his ANC colleagues. He stated that the PAC had started off with tremendous advantages ideologically and had skillfully exploited opposition to whites and partnerships.”
He cites Mandela’s remarks that there was an impression among African leaders that the PAC was “more militant than the ANC“, and that the PAC was “the only hope for the African people…the only organisation in South Africa that was in step with the rest of Africa.” (p.266)
Leaving the Party
This gives strong ground for thinking it was to this meeting that Mandela proposed that he withdraw from formal membership of the SACP, and that his argument was accepted by it. Everyone present at that meeting was in fact a leading member of the CP.
It makes no sense to think that the meeting to which Mandela’s report was presented was not in fact one of the Central Committee of the SACP.
As Mandela put the matter decades later in his own words in his autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, what he proposed were “essentially cosmetic changes to make the ANC more intelligible – and more palatable – to our allies. I saw this as a defensive manoeuvre, for if African states decided to support the PAC, a small and weak organization could suddenly become a large and potent one.” (Long Walk to Freedom, Little, Brown, New York, 1994. p.300)
The photographing of Mandela in an African kaross was part of this transformation. These most “iconic” photographs were taken by Eli Weinberg, a professional photographer and lifelong Communist Party member who was co-opted by Bram Fisher onto the CP central committee after the Rivonia arrests.
It is an indication of just how important the Communist Party believed the “symbolic representation” of Mandela was at this period, and thereafter. He became the principle symbol of resistance to apartheid which the SACP would promote, having carefully distanced him from their party.
As Mandela’s days draw to a close, the ANC remains determined to embellish its credibility with his legacy – just as the SACP did all those years ago.
The ANC Spearheads Revolution: Leaflet issued by the ANC, May 1963
The ANC Spearheads
The South African people are at war with Verwoerd. Twelve million people will be slaves no longer. For three hundred years the Whites have refused to hear our voice. The ways of peace have failed. Now we fight to be free. The Verwoerd government has made it impossible for us to win our birthright any other way.
The ANC tells the people straight: the struggle that will free us is a long, hard job. Do not be deceived by men who talk big with no thought for tomorrow. Freedom is not just a matter of strong words. Neither is it simply brave men and heroic deeds. Impatience, which makes men lose their heads, will not bring freedom.
The White Supremacy state is powerful and has tried to prepare itself for revolution. It has money, it is well-organised, well-armed. Verwoerd and his henchmen will not be frightened out of power.
TO DESTROY VERWOERD WE MUST DESTROY THE INSTRUMENTS OF WHITE POWER.
We will not win until we destroy the forces that make the White state powerful. We must break the instruments of oppression, take them over, and use them to smash White baasskap.
WHAT ARE THE INSTRUMENTS OF WHITE POWER?
They are the army, the mines, the railways, the docks, the factories, the farms, the police, the whole administration.
HOW ARE [WE] TO SMASH THEM?
With planned, strategic violence. Already scared, the Whites are on the look-out. We must outwit them. We must hit them when they are not looking. We must strike where they do not expect it. We must hit them hardest where they are soft.
Will Smash Apartheid!
The Leballo way is useless
Young men, brave and impatient for freedom have joined PAC and POQO. The nation needs brave men! We are all impatient, thirsty for
freedom. But impatience alone leads to recklessness, and recklessness can lose us the battle. The Leballo way is useless, worse than useless.
LEBALLO TALKS OF FREEDOM IN 1963
From Basutoland, Potlako Leballo challenges Vorster and says: “Our revolutionary council is discussing the time and manner in which positive action will be launched. It is imminent.” Any sane man knows that the struggle will be longer than the eight months left this year. It took the Algerians seven years to get rid of the French. We will not smash Verwoerd in a day. Instead of organising, Leballo incites our bravest men to rush unarmed into the guns of Verwoerd as if freedom was a Christmas present.
LEBALLO TALKS TOO MUCH
Leballo has always been a boaster. He is confused: he says one thing today and denies it tomorrow. Now he has betrayed his people. Either Leballo genuinely believes there will be freedom in one action – in which case he is wrong, and other men will die for his mistakes, or else he knows the revolution will take time, but for some mysterious reason wants to deceive us.
THE PAC LEADERS FIGHT AMONG THEMSELVES
There is no room in freedom organisations for ambitious men out for their own gain. The PAC leadership has shown it cannot work together. They expel a Philip Kgosane then a Madzunya. Next Leballo will expel Sobukwe. Can we trust these men? They talk the loudest, and think the least; they say one thing and mean another. Revolution is serious business. These men – vain, squabbling and confused – will waste our noblest soldiers as if they were toys.
PAC KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT WAR
A crowd of unarmed men on a midnight march to town cannot break the police, the army and all the oppression of Verwoerd. That was Paarl – a heroic effort born out of oppression, but badly conceived. It is no good to think in terms of impis, not of modern guerrilla war. PAC leaders like Leballo talk of revolution but do not work out how to make revolution. War needs careful plans. War is not a gesture of defiance. For a sum total of nine Whites killed – only one of them a policeman, and he killed by accident – hundreds of Poqos are in jail serving thousands of years imprisonment. For a wild boast Leballo has caused the round-up of unknown numbers of young fighters.
These ways achieve nothing politically. These ways squander men, make of the life and death struggle a game of prestige and big talk.
BRAVE MEN MUST KNOW HOW TO FIGHT
The leaders must have control over their soldiers. The soldiers must know what the leaders want. The freedom forces of South Africa must be coordinated – cell with cell, branch with branch, region with region – in revolution. There must be strong discipline – no actions going off halfcock.
NO MISUSE OF MANPOWER
It is a misuse of manpower to send out all men on every job, as if enough followers could make up for too little leadership. Freedom fighters must be trained. Ten men, well trained and organised, can often without fuss, do a job that 200 men, heroic but badly-led, would bungle.
DON’T MISTAKE THE REAL TARGET
Poqo is said to have killed five White road-builders in the Transkei recently. There are more effective ways of busting the White supremacy state. A few road-builders make no difference to the revolution. Instead, smashed railway lines, damaged pylons carrying electricity across the country, bombed-out petrol dumps cut Verwoerd off from his power, and leave him helpless. And these acts are only the beginning-
WHY MAKE ENEMIES OF OUR ALLIES?
The Leballos spurn men of other races. We say that just as Africans bear the brunt of oppression under the White state, so will the White state be broken by the main force of African people. But this is no reason we say, to reject comrades of other races whom we know are ready to fight with us, suffer, and if need be. die.
NO CRY OF DESPAIR!
The slogan POQO – ‘pure’ is a panicky cry of blind leaders who thrust themselves away from others and for comfort in the dark, shout out they are alone. We have no need to worship isolation – the people are with us. We distrust despair, for it does not make good soldiers. Despair sent the men of Paarl, armed with nothing but their bravery, unorganised, untrained, and badly led, to meet the bullets of Verwoerd’s police. Despair is dangerous. There is also no reason for it. We know we will win. The only question is how soon – and that depends on how we use our forces.
ABOVE ALL – SECURITY
Freedom fighters must keep their mouths shut. There is no room for those who give statements to the police. Young recruits who have a few drinks and start boasting are a danger. Arrested men who turn state witness betray the struggle. No abortive adventures. No police penetration of the freedom force!
Find a way –
But not the Leballo way
Umkhonto We Sizwe
– Army of the Liberation Movement –
UMKHONTO IS FOR ACTIVISTS
We have struck against the White state more than 70 times (boldly yet methodically). We are trained and practised. We shall be more so.
UMKHONTO IS ORGANISED
Our organisation is nation-wide. We can strike anywhere.
UMKHONTO TRAIN S THE YOUTH
We are ceaselessly, thoroughly, training an Army of Liberation.
UMKHONTO HAS POWERFUL ALLIES
The African states and the democratic world are four-square behind us. We have allies among other races in South Africa.
UMKHONTO HAS A PLANNED STRATEGY
Umkhonto can analyse the revolutionary situation. It knows how to use soldiers where they are most effective.
UMKHONTO HAS LEADERSHIP
Our leaders are brave, intelligent men. They work together
UMKHONTO HAS NO NEED TO BOAST
The people are with us. We are for the people. Our words are deeds.
Three POQO men are due to hang. Hundreds are in jail, many for life. Who knows how many will be rounded up after the Leballo fiasco?
THESE ARE THE CASUALTIES IN THE FREEDOM STRUGGLE. WE QUARREL NOT WITH BRAVE MEN BUT WITH BAD LEADERSHIP. WE ATTACK PAC – LEBALLO POLICY NOT OUT OF PETTY RIVALRY BUT BECAUSE IT TAKES US BACK, NOT FORWARD ALONG THE FREEDOM ROAD.
Genuine freedom-fighters must find a way to fight together, in UNITY, in unbreakable strength.
There is room in the freedom struggle for all brave men – and women
WE ARE PREPARED TO TALK UNITY TO WORK FOR UNITY; TO FIGHT UNITED WITH THE CORRECT POLICY AND THE CORRECT FIGHTING STRATEGY
WITH YOUR SUPPORT WE WILL WIN
Be Careful – But Let Others See this
Issued by: African National Congress