Umkhonto we Sizwe
|Umkhonto we Sizwe|
The battle flag of the Umkhonto we Sizwe.
|Country||South Africa, Angola|
|Allegiance||African National Congress of South Africa|
|Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Joe Slovo, Joe Modise, Chris Hani, Raymond Mhlaba;|
Umkhonto we Sizwe (abbreviated as MK), translated "Spear of the Nation," was the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), co-founded by Nelson Mandela, which fought against the South African government.[dead link] MK launched its first guerrilla attacks against government installations on 16 December 1961. It was subsequently classified as a terrorist organization by the South African government and the United States, and banned.
For a time it was headquartered in Rivonia, a suburb of Johannesburg. On 11 July 1963, 19 ANC and MK leaders, including Arthur Goldreich and Walter Sisulu, were arrested at Liliesleaf Farm, Rivonia ( ). The farm was privately owned by Arthur Goldreich and bought with South African Communist Party and ANC funds, as individuals who were not deemed "White" were unable to own such a property under the Group Areas Act. This was followed by the Rivonia Trial, in which ten leaders of the ANC were tried for 221 acts of sabotage designed to "foment violent revolution". Wilton Mkwayi, chief of MK at the time, escaped during trial.
The MK carried out some bombings of civilian, industrial and infrastructural sites. The tactics were initially geared solely towards sabotage, but eventually expanded to include urban guerrilla warfare. Notable among these were the 8 January 1982 attack on the Koeberg nuclear power plant near Cape Town, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the formation of the ANC, the Church Street bombing on 20 May 1983, killing 19 civilians, and the 14 June 1986 car-bombing of Magoo's Bar in Durban, in which 3 innocent people were killed and 73 injured. The total number of civilian people killed or injured in the 30 years of MK's campaigns is not known. MK alone was not a military threat to the state, but the ANC leadership saw MK as the armed component of a strategy of "people's war" that was primarily geared towards terrorizing the masses for political support.
MK suspended operations on 1 August 1990, in preparation for the dismantling of apartheid, and it was finally integrated into the South African National Defence Force by 1994.
Motivation for formation of the MK 
According to Nelson Mandela, all of the founding members of the MK, including himself, were also members of the ANC. In his famous "I am prepared to die" speech, Mandela outlined the motivations which led to the formation of the MK:
"At the beginning of June 1961, after a long and anxious assessment of the South African situation, I, and some colleagues, came to the conclusion that as violence in this country was inevitable, it would be unrealistic and wrong for African leaders to continue preaching peace and non-violence at a time when the government met our peaceful demands with force.
This conclusion was not easily arrived at. It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle, and to form Umkhonto we Sizwe. We did so not because we desired such a course, but solely because the government had left us with no other choice. In the Manifesto of Umkhonto published on 16 December 1961, which is exhibit AD, we said:
'The time comes in the life of any nation when there remain only two choices - submit or fight. That time has now come to South Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back by all means in our power in defence of our people, our future, and our freedom.'
Firstly, we believed that as a result of Government policy, violence by the African people had become inevitable, and that unless responsible leadership was given to canalize and control the feelings of our people, there would be outbreaks of terrorism which would produce an intensity of bitterness and hostility between the various races of this country which is not produced even by war. Secondly, we felt that without violence there would be no way open to the African people to succeed in their struggle against the principle of white supremacy. All lawful modes of expressing opposition to this principle had been closed by legislation, and we were placed in a position in which we had either to accept a permanent state of inferiority, or take over the Government. We chose to defy the law. We first broke the law in a way which avoided any recourse to violence; when this form was legislated against, and then the Government resorted to a show of force to crush opposition to its policies, only then did we decide to answer with violence."
"Our men are armed and trained freedom fighters not terrorists.
We are fighting for democracy—majority rule—the right of the Africans to rule Africa.
We are fighting for a South Africa in which there will be peace and harmony and equal rights for all people.
We are not racialists, as the white oppressors are. The African National Congress has a message of freedom for all who live in our country."
Military campaign 
Units of ANC exiles had MK camps in the "frontline" states neighbouring South Africa, most prominently Angola where MK was allied to the MPLA government, and fought alongside Angolan and Cuban troops at the engagement in Cuito Cuanavale. MK fighters were also allied with ZAPU (rival to Robert Mugabe's ZANU) in then-Rhodesia, with FRELIMO in Mozambique, and with SWAPO in Namibia.
In June 1961, Mandela sent a letter to South African newspapers warning the government that a campaign of sabotage would be launched unless the government agreed to call for a national constitutional convention. Beginning on 16 December 1961, the campaign by Umkhonto we Sizwe with Mandela as its leader, launched bomb attacks on government targets and planned for possible guerrilla warfare. The first target of the campaign was an electricity sub-station. Umkhonto we Sizwe undertook other acts of sabotage in the next eighteen months. The government alleged more acts of sabotage had been carried out and at the Rivonia trial the accused would be charged with 193 acts of sabotage in total. The sabotage included attacks on government posts, machines, power facilities and crop burning.
In 1962 Mandela went to Algeria, Egypt and Ghana to get international backing for the group. After returning to South Africa, Mandela was described by Joe Slovo as "sent off to Africa a Communist and he came back an African nationalist."
Following the suppression of MK inside South Africa in the late 1960s the organisation's cadres undertook military actions against the Rhodesian army (in, it was hoped, a prelude to crossing into South Africa itself). In 1965 MK formally allied itself with ZIPRA and in July 1967 a joint MK/ZIPRA commando crossed into Rhodesia. The mission was a failure at both tactical and strategic levels, though the joint MK/ZIPRA detachment engaged the Rhodesian army in heavy firefights over the next year and academic sources have suggested that the cadres of the revolutionary armies acquitted themselves well enough for the Rhodesians to ask for South African assistance with the landmine problems they had on the farmers in the area.
The early 1970s were a low point for the ANC in many ways, and that included in the military fields. Attempts to rebuild MK inside South Africa resulted in many losses though some, including Chris Hani, were able to remain undetected for a long period. The Soweto Uprising of 1976 led to a large exodus of young black men and women. Anxious to strike back at the apartheid regime, they crossed the border to Rhodesia to seek military training. While Umkhonto we Sizwe were able to rebuild an army – one capable of attacking prestigious targets such as the refineries at Sasolburg – the force also suffered from appalling breakdowns of discipline and there were many accusations that many new recruits were being tortured or killed by a physical training regime that was out of control, such as forcing recruits to run 25 kilometers without resting or lifting weights as heavy as 150 kilograms.
By the mid-1980s MK was concentrating on propaganda of the deed – namely high profile attacks on prestige targets to demonstrate to the world the depth of resistance to apartheid as well as display to the majority population that resistance was possible (see below for a discussion of the controversies that followed) – and on building liberated zones inside the townships.
Landmark events in MK's military activity inside South Africa consisted of actions designed to intimidate the ruling power. In 1983, the Church Street bomb was detonated in Pretoria near the SA Air Force Headquarters, resulting in 19 civilian fatalities and 217 persons injured. During the next 10 years, a series of bombings occurred in South Africa, conducted mainly by the military wing of the African National Congress.
In the Amanzimtoti bomb on the Natal South Coast in 1985, five civilians were killed and 40 were injured when MK cadre Andrew Sibusiso Zondo detonated an explosive in a rubbish bin at a shopping centre killing five people, including three children, shortly before Christmas. In a submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the ANC stated that Zondo acted on orders after a recent SADF raid in Lesotho.[dead link]
A bomb was detonated in a bar on the Durban beach-front in 1986, killing three civilians and injuring 69. Robert McBride received the death penalty for this bombing which became known as the "Magoo's Bar bombing". Although the subsequent Truth and Reconciliation Committee called the bombing a "gross violation of human rights",[dead link] McBride received amnesty and became a senior police officer.
In 1987, an explosion outside a Johannesburg court killed three people and injured 10; a court in Newcastle had been attacked in a similar way the previous year, injuring 24. In 1987, a bomb exploded at a military command centre in Johannesburg, killing one person and injuring 68 personnel.
The bombing campaign continued with attacks on a series of soft targets, including a bank in Roodepoort in 1988, in which four civilians were killed and 18 injured. Also in 1988, in a bomb detonation outside a magistrate's court killed three. At the Ellis Park rugby stadium in Johannesburg, a car bomb, killed two and injured 37 civilians. A multitude of bombs in "Wimpy Bar" fast food outlets and supermarkets occurred during the late 1980s, killing and wounding many people. Wimpy were specifically targeted because of their perceived rigid enforcements of many Apartheid-era laws, including excluding people of colour from their restaurants. Several other bombings occurred, with smaller numbers of casualties.
Landmine campaign 
From 1985 to 1987, there also was a campaign to mine rural roads used by farmers in what was then the Northern Transvaal. In submissions to the TRC, the ANC described the strategy and how they abandoned it due to the high rate of civilian casualties—especially amongst black labourers. The ANC estimated 30 landmine explosions resulting in 123 deaths, while the government submitted a figure of 157 explosions resulting in 125 deaths.[dead link]
The TRC found that it could not condone the use of landmines because of the indiscriminate nature of the weapon which inevitably resulted in gross violations of human rights, but gave the ANC credit for abandoning the strategy.[dead link]
Torture and executions 
In popular culture 
- In 1984, musician Prince Far I's album Spear of a Nation: Umkhonto we Sizwe was released (posthumously) in an act of solidarity with the MK.
- In 1987, a benefit hardcore compilation album Viva Umkhonto! was released on the Dutch label Konkurrel. It featured Scream, Challenger Crew, Morzelpronk, Social Unrest, The Ex, Depraved, Victims Family, B.G.K., Rhythm Pigs, Everything Falls Apart, Kafka Prosess, S.C.A.*, and 76% Uncertain.
- Zimbabwean-born African-American author and filmmaker M.K. Asante, Jr. embraced the initials MK after Umkhonto we Sizwe.
- University of California Irvine (UCI) professor Frank B. Wilderson III wrote about his experience working with MK in the 1990s in his 2008 memoir Incognegro.
- Dave Matthews Band song "#36" is dedicated to Chris Hani, the assassinated chief of staff of the MK and the leader of the South African Communist Party, and includes the refrain, "Hani, Hani, won't you dance with me?"
Notable members 
- Anton Fransch
- Joe Nzingo Gqabi (1929–1981)
- Chris Hani
- Jack Hodgson
- "Rashid" Aboobaker Ismail
- Ronnie Kasrils
- Mac Maharaj
- Tootsie Mamela
- Thabo Mbeki
- Govan Mbeki
- Robert McBride
- Joe Modise
- Dipuo Mvelase
- Siphiwe Nyanda
- Dipak Teps Patel
- Michael Pillay[dead link]
- Solly Shoke
- Joe Slovo
- Marion Sparg
- Jacob Zuma
Death toll 
Police statistics indicate that, in the period 1976 to 1986, approximately 230 people were killed by terrorists. Of these, about 10% were members of various security forces and two hundred were civilians. Of the civilians, 60 were white and 140 black.[dead link] One study estimated that 150 cases of armed action took place between 1976 and 1982, "overwhelmingly concentrated on economic targets and less on the administrative machinery of apartheid, the police and SADF installations and personnel". Note that during this time, the ANC took little action to assert policy with regard to the avoidance of civilian targets, which had in some cases become confused with the need to intensify the struggle "at all costs", stating (8 January 1987) that MK: "must continue to distinguish itself from the apartheid forces by the bravery of its combatants, its dedication to the cause of liberation and its effort for civilians, both black and white."
See also 
- History of South Africa
- Military history of South Africa
- Guerrilla warfare
- Freedom fighter
- Day of Reconciliation
- "Manifesto of Umkhonto we Sizwe". African National Congress. 16 December 1961. Archived from the original on 2006-12-17. Retrieved 2006-12-30.
- [dead link]
- [dead link] Statement of Nelson Mandela at Rivonia trial
- "Paul Brians". Public.wsu.edu. Retrieved 2013-04-29.
- Douglas O. Linder (2010). The Nelson Mandela (Rivonia) Trial: An Account.
- "On This Day: Nelson Mandela Sentenced to Life in Prison". Findingdulcinea.com. Retrieved 2013-04-29.
- "Umkhonto we Sizwe - timeline". Anc.org.za. Retrieved 2013-04-29.
- South African history: The good guys were often bad
- "The Liberation Movements from 1960 to 1990" (PDF). Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report (Truth and Reconciliation Commission (South Africa)) 2: 330.
- "The Liberation Movements from 1960 to 1990" (PDF). Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report (Truth and Reconciliation Commission (South Africa)) 2: 333. "THE CONSEQUENCE IN THESE CASES, SUCH AS THE MAGOO'S BAR AND THE DURBAN ESPLANADE BOMBINGS, WERE GROSS VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THAT THEY RESULTED IN INJURIES TO AND THE DEATHS OF CIVILIANS."
- "The Liberation Movements from 1960 to 1990" (PDF). Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report (Truth and Reconciliation Commission (South Africa)) 2: 333.
- "The Liberation Movements from 1960 to 1990" (PDF). Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report (Truth and Reconciliation Commission (South Africa)) 2: 334.
- "The Liberation Movements from 1960 to 1990" (PDF). Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report (Truth and Reconciliation Commission (South Africa)) 2: 366. "THE COMMISSION FINDS THAT 'SUSPECTED AGENTS' WERE ROUTINELY SUBJECTED TO SEVERE TORTURE AND OTHER FORMS OF SEVERE ILL-TREATMENT AND THAT THERE WERE CASES WHERE SUCH INDIVIDUALS WERE CHARGED AND CONVICTED BY TRIBUNALS WITHOUT PROPER ATTENTION TO DUE PROCESS BEING AFFORDED THEM, SENTENCED TO DEATH AND EXECUTED."
- Wilderson, III, Frank B. (2008). Incognegro - A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid. South End Press. p. 500. ISBN 978-0-89608-783-5.
- "Joe Nzingo Gqabi". South African History Online. Retrieved 2012-10-05.
- Laganparsad, Monica. "Recollections". Sunday Times.
- "The Liberation Movements from 1960 to 1990" (PDF). Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report (Truth and Reconciliation Commission (South Africa)) 2: 327.
- African National Congress: Statement to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission August 1996; see also Interview with Oliver Tambo, Noticias, 5 August 1983
Further reading 
- Vladimir Shubin (Institute for African Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences), "Unsung Heroes: The Soviet Military and the Liberation of Southern Africa", Cold War History, Vol. 7, No. 2, May 2007
- Vladimir Shubin, Moscow and ANC: Three Decades of Co-operation and Beyond
- Rocky Williams, see articles in the Journal of Security Sector Management and others
- Collection of Umkhonto we Sizwe documents – from anc.org, timeline and manifesto.
- The other armies: A brief historical overview of Umkhonto We Sizwe (MK), 1961–1994 – The South African Military History Society (Military History Journal, Vol 11 No 5)
- The Question of Violence in Contemporary African Political Thought – PDF document by Kwasi Wiredu