I want to begin by complimenting the ANC Johannesburg Region, the Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) Military Veterans’ Association and the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation for hosting a memorial lecture in honour of fallen heroes and heroines of our liberation struggle. An event such as this one is important for several reasons. Firstly, in the past the apartheid state desperately tried to obliterate the history of the liberation movement and it ensured that a distorted version our people’s history was taught in schools and universities. Added to this sections of the media in the past demonised the banned ANC, its leaders and cadres, and its armed operations. Thirdly, not enough has been written or said about MK itself. Its recorded history – understandably shrouded in the secretive operational methods of its past – has many gaps. With it is the reality that an underground or banned organisation for obvious security reasons would not have reduced to writing all the details of its armed operations and methods of organisation. Then again leading MK comrades and leaders have not had the time to write about their past experiences as they remain preoccupied with the pressures of contemporary tasks and responsibilities such as in government. The consequence is that we have a fragmentary and incomplete understanding of our liberation history and the armed struggle.

Sometimes fragments of MKs past are narrated either in a triumphalist manner by enthused supporters or underplayed in a way that does not accurately capture the significance of the sacrifices of its soldiers and the impact of operations on the form, content and pace of the liberation struggle. Another drawback is that some comrades from within our own ranks recall the past by embellishing it with overstatements of their contributions and involvement in the liberation movement and the armed struggle. Lastly, there always lurks the danger of comrades forgetting details of events with the passage of time. The cumulative result of these factors mean that even today – 21 years we have won our freedom – we do not have a comprehensive or authoritative history of MK.

But MK’s history must be told. It must be fully recorded, critically evaluated and reflectively transmitted to succeeding generations. Our struggle against white minority domination and capitalist exploitation is also a struggle against forgetting our past. In the first instance, we who belong to the ANC and MK, must take on the responsibility of presenting our history both in a scholarly and in a popular manner. Otherwise, others will recall our past and interpret or misinterpret our history from their own ideological and political perspectives. Already, a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ is beginning to diminish the legacy of our late ANC President, Nelson Mandela. We must challenge such political vulgarity and tenaciously defend our political traditions and historical legacy.

Tonight we are doing exactly that. We take a peep into MK’s history; not in its totality but only into one of its units, namely, the Ahmed Timol Unit. We begin by citing the words of one of India’s foremost anti-colonial fighters and revolutionary leader, Subash Chandra Bose:

One individual may die for an idea; but that idea will, after his death, incarnate itself in a thousand lives. That is how the wheel of evolution moves on and the ideas and dreams of one generation are bequeathed to the next.

We want to know when, how and why did Yusuf Akhalwaya and Prakash Napier die? What were their ideas and ideals that we can still cherish and hold onto?  What were the dreams of that generation of revolutionaries? And what is their bequest to the next generation?

This evening we honour two of Lenasia’s bravest sons, namely Yusuf (b1966) and Prakash (c1967), who were killed in the line of duty on 11 December 1989. In the early hours of that fateful morning their lives were cut short tragically as a limpet mine that Prakash was carrying blew prematurely, killing both himself and his comrade in arms, Yusuf. The explosive device had detonated as they were about to attack transport infrastructure in solidarity with the railway workers’ strike. Their deaths is reminiscent of the death of Petrus Molefe on 16 December 1961, the first casualty of the armed struggle on the first day of operations.

Jameel Chand, the third member of the Ahmed Timol Unit, looked on in shock, bewilderment and disbelief. Numbed by the tragedy that unfolded before his eyes, he pulled himself together, and made a getaway as railway police and other security personnel brushed past him to investigate the cause of the deafening blast at Johannesburg’s Park Station. Within a day or so Jameel was whisked out of the country into Botswana by Shan Balton, the political head of a Lenasia-based ANC underground structure named after Ahmed Kathrada. It was composed of Jitendra “Jeets” Hargovan and Shamim Akhalwaya, and later included Kim Morgan, Roshnee Vittee, Manoj Pema, Brandon Morgan and Mohammed Adam.

This group of young people who among themselves did not know the extent of the others’ involvement in the banned ANC in the mid-1980s, constituted a new generation of ANC cadres and militants. They followed in the footsteps of earlier generations from the Indian South African community who were recruited into MK in the early 1960s. Notable among these recruits were cadres like Laloo “Isu” Chiba, Reggie Vandeyar, Indres Naidoo, Shirish Nanabhai, Uncle Kista Moonsamy, Fatima “Fati” Adam and Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim. Also, they followed in the footsteps of Ahmed Timol, an operative of the ANC and South African Communist Party (SACP), who in 1971 was brutally tortured by the security police and thrown from the 10th floor of John Vorster Square, to his death. In a sense their participation in MK represented a continuity in the traditions of struggles led by the ANC and the broader Congress movement. At the same time they represented their own generation with their own hopes and aspirations of a non-racial, free and democratic South Africa. In this they walked along the road of fellow ANC martyrs of their own generation such as Solomon Mahlangu, Ashley Kriel, Barney Molokoane, Coline Williams, Andrew Zondo, Basil February, Makhosi Nyoka, Anton Fransch, Lenny Naidu, Phila Ndwandwe, Krishna Rabilal, Jeanette and Marius Schoon and Robert Waterwich.

So who were these upstarts or arrivistes of the next generation of revolutionary militants? Prakash was a jovial, working class youth. He was a prankster and joker that belied the more serious side of his life. He left MH Technical High School without completing his schooling. He joined the Lenasia Youth League (LYL) in 1986 and later became a member of the General and Allied Workers’ Union (GAWU). As a shop steward, he spent his lunch hours at the offices of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), where he would deal with issues of membership and worker grievances. This union experience ignited his political consciousness. The turning point in his life, however, came during the State of Emergency in the mid-1980s at a mass meeting of the Lenasia Education Crisis Committee (LECC). When police in their typically brutish fashion disrupted the meeting and started firing teargas, most of the attendees left peacefully without being confrontational. Some daring youth stood firm and Prakash confronted a cop with a pocket knife in hand. Shan pulled him away. But he immediately recognised the militant potential latent within Prakash, and soon thereafter recruited him into the Ahmed Timol Unit. He was subsequently sent to Botswana and Russia to receive military training.

Yusuf in contrast was a quiet and unassuming personality. After matriculating at Nirvana High School, he registered for a BA Sports Administration degree at Wits University. He was an active member of the Call of Islam, an affiliate of the United Democratic Front, and a member of the Black Students’ Society at Wits. He was propelled into the liberation struggle by a progressive and radicalised perspective of Islam. Two books guided him politically – the Islamic scripture, the Qur’aan, and Muammar Gaddafi’s Green Book. At the time of his untimely death he was married to Farhana and had a little daughter, Raeesa.

Jameel (b.23 November1968) was a student in my History class at MH Joosub Technical Secondary School. Academically, he performed exceptionally well. He was active in the Student Representative Council at school and quickly got drawn into the activities of the LYL. Shan spotted his aptitude for radicalism and soon got him recruited into MK, while he mysteriously withdrew from the formal activities of the LYL. Jameel received military training in the Soviet Union. With the unbanning of the ANC and the peaceful transition to a democratic order, and after the approval of his amnesty application, he returned to South Africa and currently works for the Gauteng provincial government.

Already this evening we have learnt something of the history of the Ahmed Timol Unit. We have heard from Comrade Hassen Ebrahim on how it was constituted; under whose political command it operated internally through an Area Political- Military Committee; and the broad scope of its armed activities. In total, it carried out 33 armed attacks between October 1987 and December 1989 across Lenasia, Johannesburg, Randfontein, Carletonville, Laudium, Actonville, Rynsoord, Palmridge, Azaadville, Kliptown, Boksburg, Brakpan, Benoni, Mayfair, Langlaagte, Pageview and Vereeniging. When the Rivonia trialists such as Ahmed Kathrada and Walter Sisulu were released from prison in October 1989, Prakash and others became part of his security detail until Prakask’s tragic death a few weeks later.

These attacks were aimed at the homes and offices of apartheid collaborators serving in the racist Tricameral Parliament and toothless Management Committees; public transport infrastructure; private businesses where workers were on strike such as OK stores and Score Furnishers; police stations; symbols of apartheid state such as the Region Services Council Office, Carletonville City Hall, offices of Receiver of Revenue and Home Affairs, Magistrates Court; and electrical infrastructure. The choice of targets reflect an acute understanding of the political, labour and community struggles of the time. These were not random attacks aimed at carelessly attracting public and media attention. These were carefully selected targets that displayed a skilful combination of armed actions with concrete political struggles being waged by workers in militant trade unions; residents in civic organisations; commuters protesting against the poorly-run and costly Lenasia Bus Service; and activists in political formations such as the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) and the United Democratic Front (UDF). The attacks on police stations were in defence of a people engaged in active struggle against a totalitarian regime and were aimed at weakening the will and breaking the morale of the apartheid security establishment, which was becoming increasingly violent, brutal and repressive in the context of mass uprisings in black townships and a growing insurrectionary movement inside the country.

What was the effect of these actions? On activists within the Congress movement and in the mass democratic movement these attacks served as an inspiration; in communities it brought the ANC and MK on the very doorstep of residents where they saw the liberation movement as the defender of the people and as an amplifier of their localised struggles; and on the collaborators I am sure that it instilled fear in their hearts but not nearly enough to prompt their resignations from apartheid structures. They remained loyal to their white masters as apartheid-era collaborators until the very end and only switched when the transition to democratic rule became inevitable during the negotiations process. In Botswana, an apartheid hit squad attacked the Chand family home and killed their wheel-chair bound son in what can only be presumed to be an act of cruel vengeance against Jameel. I say this as the Chand family were known to be sympathisers of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and not necessarily of the ANC.

What lessons do we learn from the Ahmed Timol Unit and its armed activities? There are many things we can talk about but I will focus on two issues.  The first is the ANC’s and MK’s commitment to the principle of non-racialism. Even though the Unit was composed of three cadres from the “Indian” community, they were part of a liberation army that from its inception was explicitly non-racial in membership and character. Unlike the ANC, the South African Indian Congress, the South African Coloured People’s Organisation and the South African Congress of Democrats – the four principal organisational components of the Congress Alliance that had adopted the Freedom Charter as their political programme – that limited organisational membership to particular racial groups even as they propagated a non-racial vision of a post-apartheid South, MK opened its membership to individuals from all races from the very first day of operation on 16 December 1961. On that historic day different MK Units in different parts of the country – composed of combatants from all racial groups – went into action to announce the formation and existence of Umkhonto we Sizwe and the emergence of a new strategic approach to the struggle for national liberation. Henceforth, the struggle would be fought using violent and military means but under the strict command, discipline and control of the political leadership of the ANC. Drawing from this rich history of several decades of non-racial struggle and resistance, one of the questions we must ask today is: Do our organisations continue to reflect this non-racial character of our liberation movement and army? Are our communities, our religious, business, sporting, cultural and community organisations, our schools and universities, the ANC and its allied organisations, truly reflecting this non-racial character? Are we continuously defending and propagating the positive value of non-racialism in our daily existence and are we vigorously challenging racist tendencies and practices when they become apparent in society? Do we voice our abhorrence when racists challenge us in schools, sports clubs and associations and religious institutions? Why are our structures silent when these things happen? And why is it left to government to fight the battle against racism almost alone?

 

Secondly, we do not sing songs of MK and celebrate its heroes and heroines because we glorify violence. We do not speak about armed attacks because we are violent by nature. We derive no pleasure from the deaths of our cadres, our dear and loved ones, in detention, through torture, the mysterious hit squad killings; and the betrayal of impimpis and askaris. In fact, the ANC and MK adopted violence as a strategic means of struggle precisely because we cherish life itself. We value human existence and abhor human suffering, oppression and exploitation. We opted for violence when the door to peaceful resistance was shut and we had to defend our people against the brutality and wanton violence of the apartheid state and its security establishment. At the 25th anniversary of the formation of MK, its Commander-in-Chief, Oliver Tambo, explained the significance of the armed struggle and the formation of MK as follows:

It was not by accident that we launched MK on December 16. White South Africa observes that day as the triumph of their military might over our people. The violence that they celebrate is the violence of a minority aimed at subjugating the majority of the people in our country; the violence of white over black. In reality it is a celebration of injustice and inhumanity of man against man. We chose that day to show how different we were: to show that the path that had been forced upon us was in pursuit of the establishment of justice and humanity for all the people of our country – black and white. The racists celebrate December 16 in the name of a false god – a celebration of war in pursuit of an unjust cause. We celebrate December 16, our Heroes Day, to underline our commitment that we are waging a just war in pursuit of freedom, democracy and peace. (Dawn, 1986: 6)

 

Violence in this context is a carefully considered, strategic, political choice; not a tactical matter. It is part of a combination of strategies involving mass mobilisation led by mass-based democratic organisations, the international isolation of your political opponent and the effective co-ordination by an underground political centre of various organisational formations of the struggle. This is a far cry from what we see today in our democracy.

Presently, violence linked to some instances of community, labour and student protests is spontaneous and unco-ordinated. It is destructive of public infrastructure and damages sorely needed community facilities to the absolute disadvantage of our people. More disturbing is a recent tendency within a small faction in the student movement that sees violence as an existential expression of their rage and anger against their persistent experience of white cultural domination and sense of exclusion. For this tendency violence is seen as the right of the “wretched of the earth” to express their discontent with some aspect or other of the present socio-political order. Then there some disparate groups in poor communities who use violence to seek political attention; fight factional battles against opponents either within the ANC or forces in opposition to it. I don’t understand why our democracy should tolerate such wilful destruction of public facilities such as classrooms, clinics, libraries, robots, street lights and traffic signs, lecture theatres, municipal buildings and train coaches because a few people have a sense of grievance over some matter. These acts are more akin to acts of criminality rather than expressions of social grievances, which can and should be expressed peacefully. In sharp contrast the successes of the Ahmed Timol Unit, their discipline and their strong political mentorship meant that their targets were precise and politically-aligned with mass-based community, labour and political struggles.

Let me conclude by saying that too often have the stories of rank and file cadres of MK such as Prakash and Yusuf remain untold. We remember Prakash and Yusuf with love and affection. We do not mourn the fact that they and so many others lost their lives. On the contrary we honour their short-lived existence; pay tribute to their commitment and celebrate the fact that their sacrifices in some measure contributed to our freedom. To them and their families we owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude. So I end by recalling the words of John Douglas:

 

Not unto us, but unto the noble army of the heroic dead be the praise, the glory, and the laurels of the divine liberty that purifies the earth, the sea and the air. Greater love knoweth no man than the love of the soldier who lays down his life for the unborn generations of mankind.

Tonight, we truly miss them!

I want to begin by complimenting the ANC Johannesburg Region, the Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) Military Veterans’ Association and the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation for hosting a memorial lecture in honour of fallen heroes and heroines of our liberation struggle. An event such as this one is important for several reasons. Firstly, in the past the apartheid state desperately tried to obliterate the history of the liberation movement and it ensured that a distorted version our people’s history was taught in schools and universities. Added to this sections of the media in the past demonised the banned ANC, its leaders and cadres, and its armed operations. Thirdly, not enough has been written or said about MK itself. Its recorded history – understandably shrouded in the secretive operational methods of its past – has many gaps. With it is the reality that an underground or banned organisation for obvious security reasons would not have reduced to writing all the details of its armed operations and methods of organisation. Then again leading MK comrades and leaders have not had the time to write about their past experiences as they remain preoccupied with the pressures of contemporary tasks and responsibilities such as in government. The consequence is that we have a fragmentary and incomplete understanding of our liberation history and the armed struggle.

Sometimes fragments of MKs past are narrated either in a triumphalist manner by enthused supporters or underplayed in a way that does not accurately capture the significance of the sacrifices of its soldiers and the impact of operations on the form, content and pace of the liberation struggle. Another drawback is that some comrades from within our own ranks recall the past by embellishing it with overstatements of their contributions and involvement in the liberation movement and the armed struggle. Lastly, there always lurks the danger of comrades forgetting details of events with the passage of time. The cumulative result of these factors mean that even today – 21 years we have won our freedom – we do not have a comprehensive or authoritative history of MK.

But MK’s history must be told. It must be fully recorded, critically evaluated and reflectively transmitted to succeeding generations. Our struggle against white minority domination and capitalist exploitation is also a struggle against forgetting our past. In the first instance, we who belong to the ANC and MK, must take on the responsibility of presenting our history both in a scholarly and in a popular manner. Otherwise, others will recall our past and interpret or misinterpret our history from their own ideological and political perspectives. Already, a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ is beginning to diminish the legacy of our late ANC President, Nelson Mandela. We must challenge such political vulgarity and tenaciously defend our political traditions and historical legacy.

Tonight we are doing exactly that. We take a peep into MK’s history; not in its totality but only into one of its units, namely, the Ahmed Timol Unit. We begin by citing the words of one of India’s foremost anti-colonial fighters and revolutionary leader, Subash Chandra Bose:

One individual may die for an idea; but that idea will, after his death, incarnate itself in a thousand lives. That is how the wheel of evolution moves on and the ideas and dreams of one generation are bequeathed to the next.

We want to know when, how and why did Yusuf Akhalwaya and Prakash Napier die? What were their ideas and ideals that we can still cherish and hold onto?  What were the dreams of that generation of revolutionaries? And what is their bequest to the next generation?

This evening we honour two of Lenasia’s bravest sons, namely Yusuf (b1966) and Prakash (c1967), who were killed in the line of duty on 11 December 1989. In the early hours of that fateful morning their lives were cut short tragically as a limpet mine that Prakash was carrying blew prematurely, killing both himself and his comrade in arms, Yusuf. The explosive device had detonated as they were about to attack transport infrastructure in solidarity with the railway workers’ strike. Their deaths is reminiscent of the death of Petrus Molefe on 16 December 1961, the first casualty of the armed struggle on the first day of operations.

Jameel Chand, the third member of the Ahmed Timol Unit, looked on in shock, bewilderment and disbelief. Numbed by the tragedy that unfolded before his eyes, he pulled himself together, and made a getaway as railway police and other security personnel brushed past him to investigate the cause of the deafening blast at Johannesburg’s Park Station. Within a day or so Jameel was whisked out of the country into Botswana by Shan Balton, the political head of a Lenasia-based ANC underground structure named after Ahmed Kathrada. It was composed of Jitendra “Jeets” Hargovan and Shamim Akhalwaya, and later included Kim Morgan, Roshnee Vittee, Manoj Pema, Brandon Morgan and Mohammed Adam.

This group of young people who among themselves did not know the extent of the others’ involvement in the banned ANC in the mid-1980s, constituted a new generation of ANC cadres and militants. They followed in the footsteps of earlier generations from the Indian South African community who were recruited into MK in the early 1960s. Notable among these recruits were cadres like Laloo “Isu” Chiba, Reggie Vandeyar, Indres Naidoo, Shirish Nanabhai, Uncle Kista Moonsamy, Fatima “Fati” Adam and Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim. Also, they followed in the footsteps of Ahmed Timol, an operative of the ANC and South African Communist Party (SACP), who in 1971 was brutally tortured by the security police and thrown from the 10th floor of John Vorster Square, to his death. In a sense their participation in MK represented a continuity in the traditions of struggles led by the ANC and the broader Congress movement. At the same time they represented their own generation with their own hopes and aspirations of a non-racial, free and democratic South Africa. In this they walked along the road of fellow ANC martyrs of their own generation such as Solomon Mahlangu, Ashley Kriel, Barney Molokoane, Coline Williams, Andrew Zondo, Basil February, Makhosi Nyoka, Anton Fransch, Lenny Naidu, Phila Ndwandwe, Krishna Rabilal, Jeanette and Marius Schoon and Robert Waterwich.

So who were these upstarts or arrivistes of the next generation of revolutionary militants? Prakash was a jovial, working class youth. He was a prankster and joker that belied the more serious side of his life. He left MH Technical High School without completing his schooling. He joined the Lenasia Youth League (LYL) in 1986 and later became a member of the General and Allied Workers’ Union (GAWU). As a shop steward, he spent his lunch hours at the offices of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), where he would deal with issues of membership and worker grievances. This union experience ignited his political consciousness. The turning point in his life, however, came during the State of Emergency in the mid-1980s at a mass meeting of the Lenasia Education Crisis Committee (LECC). When police in their typically brutish fashion disrupted the meeting and started firing teargas, most of the attendees left peacefully without being confrontational. Some daring youth stood firm and Prakash confronted a cop with a pocket knife in hand. Shan pulled him away. But he immediately recognised the militant potential latent within Prakash, and soon thereafter recruited him into the Ahmed Timol Unit. He was subsequently sent to Botswana and Russia to receive military training.

Yusuf in contrast was a quiet and unassuming personality. After matriculating at Nirvana High School, he registered for a BA Sports Administration degree at Wits University. He was an active member of the Call of Islam, an affiliate of the United Democratic Front, and a member of the Black Students’ Society at Wits. He was propelled into the liberation struggle by a progressive and radicalised perspective of Islam. Two books guided him politically – the Islamic scripture, the Qur’aan, and Muammar Gaddafi’s Green Book. At the time of his untimely death he was married to Farhana and had a little daughter, Raeesa.

Jameel (b.23 November1968) was a student in my History class at MH Joosub Technical Secondary School. Academically, he performed exceptionally well. He was active in the Student Representative Council at school and quickly got drawn into the activities of the LYL. Shan spotted his aptitude for radicalism and soon got him recruited into MK, while he mysteriously withdrew from the formal activities of the LYL. Jameel received military training in the Soviet Union. With the unbanning of the ANC and the peaceful transition to a democratic order, and after the approval of his amnesty application, he returned to South Africa and currently works for the Gauteng provincial government.

Already this evening we have learnt something of the history of the Ahmed Timol Unit. We have heard from Comrade Hassen Ebrahim on how it was constituted; under whose political command it operated internally through an Area Political- Military Committee; and the broad scope of its armed activities. In total, it carried out 33 armed attacks between October 1987 and December 1989 across Lenasia, Johannesburg, Randfontein, Carletonville, Laudium, Actonville, Rynsoord, Palmridge, Azaadville, Kliptown, Boksburg, Brakpan, Benoni, Mayfair, Langlaagte, Pageview and Vereeniging. When the Rivonia trialists such as Ahmed Kathrada and Walter Sisulu were released from prison in October 1989, Prakash and others became part of his security detail until Prakask’s tragic death a few weeks later.

These attacks were aimed at the homes and offices of apartheid collaborators serving in the racist Tricameral Parliament and toothless Management Committees; public transport infrastructure; private businesses where workers were on strike such as OK stores and Score Furnishers; police stations; symbols of apartheid state such as the Region Services Council Office, Carletonville City Hall, offices of Receiver of Revenue and Home Affairs, Magistrates Court; and electrical infrastructure. The choice of targets reflect an acute understanding of the political, labour and community struggles of the time. These were not random attacks aimed at carelessly attracting public and media attention. These were carefully selected targets that displayed a skilful combination of armed actions with concrete political struggles being waged by workers in militant trade unions; residents in civic organisations; commuters protesting against the poorly-run and costly Lenasia Bus Service; and activists in political formations such as the Transvaal Indian Congress (TIC) and the United Democratic Front (UDF). The attacks on police stations were in defence of a people engaged in active struggle against a totalitarian regime and were aimed at weakening the will and breaking the morale of the apartheid security establishment, which was becoming increasingly violent, brutal and repressive in the context of mass uprisings in black townships and a growing insurrectionary movement inside the country.

What was the effect of these actions? On activists within the Congress movement and in the mass democratic movement these attacks served as an inspiration; in communities it brought the ANC and MK on the very doorstep of residents where they saw the liberation movement as the defender of the people and as an amplifier of their localised struggles; and on the collaborators I am sure that it instilled fear in their hearts but not nearly enough to prompt their resignations from apartheid structures. They remained loyal to their white masters as apartheid-era collaborators until the very end and only switched when the transition to democratic rule became inevitable during the negotiations process. In Botswana, an apartheid hit squad attacked the Chand family home and killed their wheel-chair bound son in what can only be presumed to be an act of cruel vengeance against Jameel. I say this as the Chand family were known to be sympathisers of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and not necessarily of the ANC.

What lessons do we learn from the Ahmed Timol Unit and its armed activities? There are many things we can talk about but I will focus on two issues.  The first is the ANC’s and MK’s commitment to the principle of non-racialism. Even though the Unit was composed of three cadres from the “Indian” community, they were part of a liberation army that from its inception was explicitly non-racial in membership and character. Unlike the ANC, the South African Indian Congress, the South African Coloured People’s Organisation and the South African Congress of Democrats – the four principal organisational components of the Congress Alliance that had adopted the Freedom Charter as their political programme – that limited organisational membership to particular racial groups even as they propagated a non-racial vision of a post-apartheid South, MK opened its membership to individuals from all races from the very first day of operation on 16 December 1961. On that historic day different MK Units in different parts of the country – composed of combatants from all racial groups – went into action to announce the formation and existence of Umkhonto we Sizwe and the emergence of a new strategic approach to the struggle for national liberation. Henceforth, the struggle would be fought using violent and military means but under the strict command, discipline and control of the political leadership of the ANC. Drawing from this rich history of several decades of non-racial struggle and resistance, one of the questions we must ask today is: Do our organisations continue to reflect this non-racial character of our liberation movement and army? Are our communities, our religious, business, sporting, cultural and community organisations, our schools and universities, the ANC and its allied organisations, truly reflecting this non-racial character? Are we continuously defending and propagating the positive value of non-racialism in our daily existence and are we vigorously challenging racist tendencies and practices when they become apparent in society? Do we voice our abhorrence when racists challenge us in schools, sports clubs and associations and religious institutions? Why are our structures silent when these things happen? And why is it left to government to fight the battle against racism almost alone?

 

Secondly, we do not sing songs of MK and celebrate its heroes and heroines because we glorify violence. We do not speak about armed attacks because we are violent by nature. We derive no pleasure from the deaths of our cadres, our dear and loved ones, in detention, through torture, the mysterious hit squad killings; and the betrayal of impimpis and askaris. In fact, the ANC and MK adopted violence as a strategic means of struggle precisely because we cherish life itself. We value human existence and abhor human suffering, oppression and exploitation. We opted for violence when the door to peaceful resistance was shut and we had to defend our people against the brutality and wanton violence of the apartheid state and its security establishment. At the 25th anniversary of the formation of MK, its Commander-in-Chief, Oliver Tambo, explained the significance of the armed struggle and the formation of MK as follows:

It was not by accident that we launched MK on December 16. White South Africa observes that day as the triumph of their military might over our people. The violence that they celebrate is the violence of a minority aimed at subjugating the majority of the people in our country; the violence of white over black. In reality it is a celebration of injustice and inhumanity of man against man. We chose that day to show how different we were: to show that the path that had been forced upon us was in pursuit of the establishment of justice and humanity for all the people of our country – black and white. The racists celebrate December 16 in the name of a false god – a celebration of war in pursuit of an unjust cause. We celebrate December 16, our Heroes Day, to underline our commitment that we are waging a just war in pursuit of freedom, democracy and peace. (Dawn, 1986: 6)

 

Violence in this context is a carefully considered, strategic, political choice; not a tactical matter. It is part of a combination of strategies involving mass mobilisation led by mass-based democratic organisations, the international isolation of your political opponent and the effective co-ordination by an underground political centre of various organisational formations of the struggle. This is a far cry from what we see today in our democracy.

Presently, violence linked to some instances of community, labour and student protests is spontaneous and unco-ordinated. It is destructive of public infrastructure and damages sorely needed community facilities to the absolute disadvantage of our people. More disturbing is a recent tendency within a small faction in the student movement that sees violence as an existential expression of their rage and anger against their persistent experience of white cultural domination and sense of exclusion. For this tendency violence is seen as the right of the “wretched of the earth” to express their discontent with some aspect or other of the present socio-political order. Then there some disparate groups in poor communities who use violence to seek political attention; fight factional battles against opponents either within the ANC or forces in opposition to it. I don’t understand why our democracy should tolerate such wilful destruction of public facilities such as classrooms, clinics, libraries, robots, street lights and traffic signs, lecture theatres, municipal buildings and train coaches because a few people have a sense of grievance over some matter. These acts are more akin to acts of criminality rather than expressions of social grievances, which can and should be expressed peacefully. In sharp contrast the successes of the Ahmed Timol Unit, their discipline and their strong political mentorship meant that their targets were precise and politically-aligned with mass-based community, labour and political struggles.

Let me conclude by saying that too often have the stories of rank and file cadres of MK such as Prakash and Yusuf remain untold. We remember Prakash and Yusuf with love and affection. We do not mourn the fact that they and so many others lost their lives. On the contrary we honour their short-lived existence; pay tribute to their commitment and celebrate the fact that their sacrifices in some measure contributed to our freedom. To them and their families we owe an immeasurable debt of gratitude. So I end by recalling the words of John Douglas:

 

Not unto us, but unto the noble army of the heroic dead be the praise, the glory, and the laurels of the divine liberty that purifies the earth, the sea and the air. Greater love knoweth no man than the love of the soldier who lays down his life for the unborn generations of mankind.

Tonight, we truly miss them!

 

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ABOUT FOUNDATION

In pursuing its core objective
of deepening non-racialism,
the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation
will:

Promote the values, rights
and principles enshrined in the
Freedom Charter and the
Constitution of the
Republic of South Africa;

Collect, record, promote and
display, through historical
artefacts and contemporary
material.

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