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By unknown | Oct 07, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

I really enjoyed reading this book. It took me on a trip down memory lane.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It took me on a trip down memory lane.

I must confess that after going through Suttner's The ANC Underground South Africa I shudder to think that I could have landed in jail for a very long time had I been caught.

Though as a 19-year-old schoolboy I was unaware of the hierarchical chain I operated in, I was in safe hands under those ex-Robben Islanders - Malcomess Mgabela, Alfred Metele, Ben "Ta Ben" Tengimfene and trade unionist Thozamile Gqweta.

Suttner, a former underground operative himself, records the underground activities of the ANC and SACP from the time of their banning to 1976 and beyond. Correctly so, he refutes early lite- rature that spoke about the existence of a "lull", a "vacuum", "silence" or "absence" of black politics after these organisations were banned or following the Rivonia Trial.

The Communist Party of SA was banned in 1950, but had reconstituted underground as the SACP by 1953.

After its banning in 1960 the ANC did not disappear but operated vigorously underground, albeit under difficult and dangerous circumstances.

The ANC, argues Suttner, was operating clandestinely after 1964 and after many other leaders had gone into exile.

That 831 activists were arrested for its underground activities between 1964 and 1976 compared with more than 1000 during its legal period, is testimony that the notion of "silence" or "lull" was mythical.

Working side by side the ANC and the SACP formed small units and cells deliberately to avoid state detection. Their modus operandi involved avoiding keeping records of their work and communicating in codes that often fooled the police.

The ANC's hegemony spread everywhere between 1964 and 1976 and even further to the UDF period. It was in the trade unions, residents associations, stokvels, in symbols, leaflets, graffiti and in the word-of-mouth among township residents, villagers and in prison.

Radio Freedom broadcasts and the smuggling of banned ANC publications helped to spread the movement's message.

The story of how villagers under a local chief, Dinokana, in Western Transvaal (now North West) set up underground structures and each voluntarily donated one of his or her sons to be trained as an MK soldier to fight for liberation is amazing. According to Suttner, the ANC inspired some of the 1976 activities in Soweto, and the likes of Albertina Sisulu and Joe Gqabi influenced some Black Consciousness direction indirectly as told by journo-activist Nat Serache.

While the ANC and MK activities initially emphasised masculinity, the roles of women in the struggle and underground are highly acknowledged in this book.

Many MK female operatives like Dipuo Mvelase adored Chris Hani for having protected women's rights and caring about their wellbeing at military camps.

Having interviewed many former MK operatives and activists, Suttner's work covers almost the entire country during the period under review.

He relates how Moses Kotane personally helped to strengthen the relationship between the SACP and ANC.

After reading this book, which you must, it would be interesting to compare Kotane's SACP and that of Blade Nzimande on the party's relationship with the ANC.


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