EXPOSING ELIAS MASILELA LIES: THE TRUE HISTORY OF THE ANC IN SWAZILAND
The relationship between the African National Congress (ANC) and Swaziland dates back to the formation of the SANNC in 1912. Swazi queen regent Labotsibeni and crown prince Sobhuza, who became King Sobhuza II in 1921, financed the Abantu Batho newspaper, a mouthpiece of the SANNC
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s Swazis were involved in ICU and ANC activities, particularly in the Transvaal. For instance, Richard W Msimang, who grew up in Swaziland, and Benjamin Nxumalo, a relative of King Sobhuza II, were involved with the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) later renamed the ANC. Nxumalo served as Swaziland's representative on the committee that wrote the SANNC (later ANC) constitution of 1919.
He later formed a Swaziland branch of the ANC in Sobhuza’s house in Sophiatown. From the early 1900s there were moves to incorporate Swaziland, Lesotho and Botswana (the three British Protectorates) into South Africa. When South Africa imposed apartheid and pulled out of the Commonwealth in 1961, the idea of incorporation was abandoned. Swaziland was briefly granted limited self-rule by the British government before the passing of the Swaziland Independence Act in 1968. After this, on 6 September 1968 Swaziland became an independent country with a constitutional monarchy under King Sobhuza II.
The strategic location of Swaziland in relation to South Africa, particularly Natal, and its proximity to Johannesburg and Pretoria, made Swaziland a haven for members of South African liberation movements facing violent repression in their country. Significantly, in late 1968 the South African government amended the South African Police Act to allow members of the police force to operate in other countries, and government spies and informants began operating in Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho and other countries. Thula Simpson, whose work focused on the ANC in Swaziland between 1960 and 1979, notes that South African refugees began arriving in Swaziland in significant numbers in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
This development was due to increasing repression in South Africa as the apartheid government began to pass and vigorously enforce repressive legislation. By the mid-1960s there were a number of ANC and MK activists in Swaziland. By the time Stanley Mabizela arrived in Swaziland in 1965, Joseph Nduli, Ablon ‘Bafana’ Duma and Albert Dhlomo were already based there. Their task was to develop underground structures of MK cells by recruiting South African refugees in Swaziland. They worked with people inside South Africa, particularly in Natal, to facilitate movement across the two countries for MK assignments. Recruitment was not an easy task as some of the people were not politically active, enjoying a relatively comfortable life as middle class income earners – British policy sought to incorporate refugees into Swazi society by allowing them to work and settle there. In the period around 1974 and 1975 the ANC embarked on a process to rebuild its structures in Swaziland.
In December 1974, Thabo Mbeki and Maxwell Sisulu arrived in Swaziland and were tasked with improving relations with the Swazi monarchy and recruiting refugees for the movement. At a meeting in September 1975 the ANC’s Thabo Mbeki and Oliver Tambo met with King Sobhuza II. Later, Jacob Zuma, John Nkadimeng and Martin Ramokgadi also spent time in Swaziland to establish an MK military network. Zuma was involved particularly in forging links between Natal and Swaziland, while Nkadimeng and Ramokgadi worked on links to the Transvaal. Safe-houses for MK recruits in transit were also established in various areas of Manzini. When Mozambique gained independence in 1975 the number of MK cadres passing through Swaziland to Mozambique and then to other countries increased.
Swaziland was used as transit point for MK recruits on their way to military training in other African countries, and in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In 1977 the ANC used properties in Ngwane Park in Manzini, Swaziland, to assist with the processing of refugees who wanted to join its ranks. At these recruitment centres, potential recruits were instructed to write their biographies, state the reasons why they wanted to join the ANC, and describe how they ended up in Swaziland. They were then taken to Maputo, where they were vetted by the ANC’s security apparatus. King Sobhuza II was initially sympathetic to the ANC and generally turned a blind eye to its activities, but as MK began using Swaziland as a transit point for weapons headed for South Africa, there was a change of attitude.
A number of raids were conducted by the Swazis, resulting in the confiscation of ANC weapons in transit. According to Simpson, serious problems arose when two groups of recruits reported to the Swazi police who in turn informed the South African government. The information provided resulted in the capture of Samson Lukhele, “a taxi operator who worked for the ANC as a courier shuttling letters, money and recruits between Natal and Swaziland”. It was the information supplied by Lukhele that led to the arrest on 18 March 1976 of Joseph Mdluli, a key figure in the ANC underground in the Durban area. That same month two other people, Joseph “Mpisi” Nduli and Cleophas Ndlovu were kidnapped by South African security forces near the Swaziland border in a trap set by the latter and Lukhele under the pretext of bringing recruits. Furthermore, Dhlomo, Mbeki and Zuma were arrested by the Swazi police and detained at Mbabane maximum security prison.
They were nearly deported to South Africa, but Stanley Mabizela, Moses Mabhida and Thomas Nkobi managed to secure their release. They were subsequently deported to Mozambique. On 17 February 1982 King Sobhuza II signed a secret agreement with South Africa. The pact bound both parties not to allow “any act which involves a threat or use of force against each other’s territory” and called for “action individually or collectively as may be deemed necessary or expedient to eliminate this evil”. After the agreement was signed, Stanley Mabizela, the ANC’s representative in Swaziland, was forced to leave the country.
The death of King Sobhuza II in August 1982 worsened the position of the ANC in Swaziland as the country terminated the historical and sentimental connections between the Swazi monarchy and the ANC. The signing of the agreement was taken as a licence by Pretoria to deal with ANC activists in Swaziland in any way they wanted. In addition, the Swaziland security establishment mounted a sustained propaganda campaign and arrested many activists, particularly in the 1980s. Elias Mabizela points out that the gunning down of Detective Sergeant Chapi Hlubi, a notorious police officer in Soweto, in January 1978, marked the beginning of an escalation of MK attacks inside South Africa.
Hlubi was fingered as one of the black policeman who opened fire on protesting students in the 1976 uprising. In commemoration of Isandlwana, 1979 was declared the ‘Year of the Spear’ by the ANC, and 1980 was declared the ‘Year of the Charter’ to mark 25 years of the Freedom Charter. Both years were geared towards building morale for increased ANC activity inside South Africa, with Swaziland playing an important role as a transit point for MK cadres moving in and out of South Africa. Cadres were infiltrated into the Transvaal via the Jeppe’s Reef and the Oshoek border posts. MK used the Golela and Pongola border posts to link up with Natal underground machinery.
In 1980, MK carried out a sabotage attack on the Sasol 1 plant. They also attacked the Voortrekker military base in 1981, the Tonga outpost in 1982, and set off bombs in Hectorspruit in 1982 and Pretoria in 1983. All these were launched by MK operatives using Swaziland either as a base or a transit point. Perhaps one of the most important areas from which MK launched operations was Ingwavuma in KwaZulu Natal, a town located less than five kilometres from the border with Swaziland. MK cadres, particularly those based in Natal, used the town as a transit point for guerrillas infiltrating into South Africa from Swaziland and Mozambique.
Once in town, they stayed underground in safe-houses to avoid detection. Among those who played an important role in using the town was Jameson Nongolozi Mngomezulu, an active ANC and MK member born in Ingwavuma. After joining MK, he was deployed in Swaziland as a base commander and became central in facilitating the movement of cadres between Swaziland and Natal. When threats to his life escalated he fled to Swaziland. Mngomezulu’s sister, Nokuhamba Nyawo, was also an important player. After being recruited to MK she gathered intelligence and provided supplies to MK operatives moving through the area. Nyawo would receive guerrillas passing through the area and help them skip the border into Swaziland.
As Jacob Zuma noted: ‘Through her efforts and those of many people from Ingwavuma, the MK secured a very strategic base and point of entry into the country, easily accessible from both Mozambique and Swaziland.’ Weapon consignments destined for MK in Natal regularly passed through the area, especially in the 1980s. Jabulani Nobleman Nxumalo was deployed to Swaziland in 1983, disguised as a reporter for the Swaziland Observer under the pseudonym of Jabulani Dlamini. He was detained by the Swazi police and forced to leave the country in 1983, but he returned to Swaziland in December of the same year under a new pseudonym, this time setting in the Shiselweni district in the south of the country. It was from here that Nxumalo crossed the border into KwaZulu-Natal, setting up an MK unit based in Ingwavuma. He served as a commissar for MK based in rural Natal, a move important for the establishment of Operation Vulindlela.
In 1984, Nxumalo was once again arrested by the Swazi police and deported to Tanzania. Increased MK military activity in the Ingwavuma area was linked to Operation Ingwavuma, a move by the ANC to establish military bases in the area and politicise the rural population to create a fertile and safe ground for MK missions. Operation Ingwavuma was conceived and implemented in 1984 by the Natal Regional Command of MK, in conjunction with its substructure known as the Northern Natal Military Command (NNMC).
A political commissar was appointed, his job being to work as deputy commander liaising with the chief of staff, chief of intelligence and chief of logistics. Among the leading figures mapping out the operation was Zwelibanzi Nyanda. The initial phase involved doing groundwork for the creation of guerrilla operational areas in Northern Natal by first politicising the local population. Other preparations included mapping out the terrain, recruiting people and establishing training bases. It was envisaged that recruits would establish mass peasant political organisations and underground units that would be assisted by MK military structures. Trained MK guerrillas were to constitute the core of the structure. The area of Ingwavuma was chosen because of its strategic importance, as it is situated on the most Northern tip of Natal which borders Swaziland and Mozambique. MK and ANC operatives in Swaziland were a vital link between the movement and the local population.
MK sought to take advantage of simmering anti-government discontent among the local population, who were unhappy that the government planned to cede the area of Ingwavuma and the KwaNgwane bantustanto Swaziland. Some of those who opposed the move became sympathetic to MK and joined the organization to undergo military training. Based on this development, MK concluded that it was possible to start a People's War at Ingwavuma. A two-man reconnaissance team sent to the area for two weeks returned with a negative report about the possibility of establishing bases. Another team, however, compiled a report that encouraged the establishment of bases. Subsequently, two units were established, one named Nozishada and the other Maqendindaba.
Both units trained several people from the local population. One MK recruit from the area was captured by the police and leaked information about the existence of MK bases in the area. South African security forces arrived to gather more information and later the KwaZulu police combed the area. One of the comrades, known as Post (possibly Linda Khuzwayo), went to the village and found that the Maqendindaba base was surrounded by SADF troops. He fired his pistol to warn four members of the unit, who escaped through a secret route, but Post was shot and killed. Others were arrested and sentenced to prison terms on Robben Island. Operation Ingwavuma thus proved to be a failure to establish an MK guerrilla force on the ground strong enough to ignite a people’s war.
The government responded to the presence of MK in Swaziland by bombing safe-houses, abducting and turning ANC activists into askaris or murdering those who refused to cooperate, and assassinations. Their activities received support from the Swaziland police, who stepped up patrols along the border with South Africa to prevent crossing by the activists. In addition to cooperation from Swaziland, South Africa used Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) operatives to carry out its work. The South African government also continued to pile pressure on the Swazi government to deal with ANC and MK, particularly after the signing of the Nkomati Accord with Mozambique – this because some MK operatives fled to Swaziland from Mozambique. Abductions, Arrests and Detentions One of the methods used by the South African government to neutralise MK operatives in Swaziland was abduction.
The security branch in Port Natal played a critical role in the abduction, detention and murder of political activists and MK operatives who worked between Swaziland and Natal. Abductions began in the 1960s, but increased in the 1970s and 80s. Simpson notes that ‘the first refugee abducted from Swaziland was Rosemary Ann Wentzel – a Liberal Party member involved in underground work for the African Resistance Movement (ARM) … on 11 August 1964’. Joseph Nduli and Cleophas Ndlovu, two MK operatives who carried out ANC underground work in the Greater Durban area, were kidnapped by South African security forces near the Swaziland border in mid-March 1976. Together with Ndlovu, Nduli recruited and facilitated the movement of MK recruits into Swaziland on their way to military training. The pair were taken to Island Rock near Sodwana, where they were interrogated. Ndlovu was assaulted, blindfolded, cuffed and had a rope put round his neck while tied to a tree. The pair were later tried alongside Harry Gwala and nine others in Pietermaritzburg from August 1976 to July 1977.
The surgeon, Mr R Denyssen le Roux, filed an affidavit which noted scars on Nduli's forehead, the back of his head, neck, forearms and legs, pointing to signs of torture. In February 1981 Dhayiah Joe Pillay, a South African refugee working as a teacher at St Joseph’s mission near Manzini, was kidnapped. One of his captors dropped a passport, leading to the arrest of some of Pillay’s kidnappers, who turned out to be members of RENAMO. The South African government intervened and asked the prosecutor not to oppose bail. This resulted in the release of Pillay’s captors and their disappearance. Pillay was released on 10 March 1981. In December 1982 several ANC activists in Swaziland were rounded up and expelled to Mozambique. In April 1984, Gaboutwelwe Christopher Mosiane, Vikelisizwe Colin Khumalo, Michael Dauwanga Matikinca, Ernest Nonjawangu and Glorius ‘Glory’ Lefoshie Sedibe (commonly known as the ‘Bhunye Four’) were abducted from Swaziland. On 15 December 1986 South African security forces kidnapped Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim, Mandla Maseko and Simon Dladla in Swaziland and brought them to stand trial in South Africa.
They were all tried and convicted; Ebrahim received a 20-year sentence, while Maseko and Dladla were sentenced to 23 and 12 years respectively. On 4 June 1980 Patrick Makau, a member of MK; seven-year-old Patrick Nkosi, the son of an active ANC member; and Mawick Nkosi were killed in two separate bomb blasts in houses in Manzini. The attack came in response to an MK attack on the Sasol oil refinery in Secunda. The operation was ordered by Colonel JJ Viktor and Dirk Coetzee and the head of the Security Branch in Ermelo. On 8 December 1981 two ANC men were ambushed close to the border and killed in their vehicle. On 4 June 1982 Petrus Nzima Nyawose, the deputy ANC Representative in Swaziland, and his wife Jabu were killed in a car bomb planted by members of the security branch.
In December 1983, a flat was raided in Manzini where ANC member Zwelakhe Nyanda and a Swazi national were killed. In December 1981 members of the Special Task Force, a branch of the South African Police and Security Branch, killed two MK members in Swaziland to avenge the attack on the Voortrekkerhoogte Military Base on 12 August 1981. After investigating and interrogating a person known only as Molefe, the detainee implicated Mnisi, a member of MK who under interrogation revealed information about MK operations inside the country, and its base in Swaziland. Mnisi was turned into an askari and ordered to lure MK operative George to meet him at the Swaziland border, where would be arrested. Mnisi and other members of the police proceeded to the Oshoek border post on the Swaziland border.
Members of the task-force crossed the border and took up positions near the agreed meeting. George’s vehicle stopped some distance from the meeting point, throwing the operation into jeopardy But when George’s car moved within range, members of Special Task Force fired, killing George and his MK comrade Brown. In 1983 Brigadier Schoon ordered the elimination of Zwelibanzi Nyanda, a commander of MK units operating in Swaziland. Accompanied by Captain Eugene de Kock, among other security policemen, Jan Hattingh Cronje crossed into Swaziland and stayed at a hotel in Mbabane, where they prepared for the operation.
At night, they raided the house where Nyanda and lived with another MK member, Keith MacFadden. Both were killed, while the informer who had disclosed their address was allowed to escape. In June 1985 South African policemen and a member of Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) crossed into Swaziland and kidnapped Jameson Nongolozi Mngomezulu and two other people. He was taken to Moolman, just outside Piet Retief in KwaZulu-Natal, before being moved to Leeuwspoor, a farm close to Jozini which was the headquarters of the northern Natal security police. After being severely tortured he lapsed into a coma and died. The security police then destroyed his body by blowing it up at a missile range near Sodwana Bay. A year later, in June 1986, Jabulani Sydney Msibi, an MK operative who also served as the bodyguard of ANC president Oliver Tambo, was kidnapped in Swaziland on instructions from the Security Branch. He was brought to South Africa and taken to Daisy Farm, where he was assaulted and tortured. When efforts by the security branch failed to turn him into an askari, he was killed.
On 14 August 1986, two MK operatives, Jeremiah Timola and Mmbengeni Kone, were killed by members of the Eastern Transvaal Security Branch while they were on their way to South Africa. The following year, in June 1988, Nontsikelelo ‘Ntsiki’ Cotoza, a young member of MK, was killed in an ambush on the Swaziland border. Ms Phila Portia Ndwandwe, an acting commander of MK who operated from Swaziland, was also killed in 1988. She facilitated the infiltration of ANC cadres into Natal before she was abducted by members of the Durban Security Branch. After capture, she refused to cooperate with the police and they did not have enough evidence to prosecute her. Instead of releasing her, the police executed her and buried her on the Elandskop farm outside Pietermaritzburg in October 1988. In July 1988, Emmanuel Mthokizisi Mbova Mzimela, an MK member was abducted in Swaziland by the members of the security branch in Durban. When he refused to cooperate with the police by becoming their askari, he was executed and buried on a farm in the Elandskop area. In May 1987, Theophilus ‘Viva’ Dlodlo, an MK operative, was killed after he was ambushed while in his car in Swaziland. At the time of his death he had been married for five months and had a just had a son.
On 9 July 1987 Job Tabane (alias Cassius Maake), who was the youngest member of the ANC National Executive Committee, and Sello Motau were killed in Swaziland after Motau picked up Tabane from the airport in Mbabane and their vehicle was forced off the road between Matsapa and Mbabane. After his release from prison, Nelson Mandela visited Swaziland in November 1990 and met with some exiles still in the country. With the collapse of apartheid, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up to examine human rights violations that occurred under the apartheid. During this process the ANC submitted a list of 52 MK operatives killed by the apartheid security forces in Swaziland. However, the amnesty committee only received applications for 14 of the targeted killings. The number of MK operatives killed on the Swaziland-South Africa borders is higher compared to other countries that shared a border with South Africa.
This underlines the strategic importance of Swaziland to MK in the struggle against apartheid. Names of those killed in Swaziland or abducted from Swaziland and killed in SA
• Jameson Nongolozi Mngomezulu
• Victor M Mgadi
• Mmbengeni Kone
• Zwelibanzi Nyanda
• Titus Dladla
• Thuluso A Matima
• MK George
• MK Brown
• Patrick Makau
• Mzwandile Radebe
• Oupa Funani
• Emmanuel Mthokizisi Mbova Mzimela
• Nontsikelelo “Ntsiki” Cotoza
• Portia Ndwandwe
• Theophilus ‘Viva’ Dlodlo
• Job Tabane ( alias Cassius Make)
• Sello Motau • Keith MacFadden
• Petrus Nzima Nyawose
* The above is not a complete list, but it lists those covered in the narrative.
NB: This article was wholly sourced from Richard Levin