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The Formation of uMkhonto we Sizwe: People’s Army

By Tinyeko Captain Ndhlovu, Ditsong National Museum of Military History

On the 16 December 1961, Nelson Mandela and Joe Slovo became the first uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK) Commanders to organise, lead and launch sabotage campaigns against South African government targets. Various bombs such as self-manufactured explosive devices which were made from thermite, petrol, and dynamite exploded at various main national key points in our country. During the evening, the following sabotage acts occurred:

Nelson Mandela’s tour of the Army camps and headquarters of the Algeria Front de Liberation National (FLN) in near the border of Morocco on 18 March 1962

Across at the Soweto municipal offices in Dube, where the first MK cadre Petrus Molefe died from an explosive device he carried to set up. Between Pretoria and Johannesburg the underground manhole of the telephones cable was blown up by dynamite in the evening. Post Offices at Fordsburg were partially blown up. Another explosion was at the Brickmakers Kloof electrical substation in Port Elizabeth. Walter Sisulu, in the meantime, was busy broadcasting publicly on the banned ANC Radio, talking about the launching of uMkhonto we Sizwe and explaining  their manifesto, including the place and role of MK. That marks the emergence of MK military wing of the ANC and the SACP. Subsequently, MK was banned and labelled as a terrorist organisation by the South African government and the United States. During 1961-1963 the MK High Command leaders focused on three important responsibilities, which were to recruit MK activists, send them out of the South Africa for military training and to bring them back, to execute the envisioned disruptive plans through military action with the assistance of foreign militants.
     In 1962, large numbers of MK recruits were sent out of the country to be trained in guerrilla warfare and military struggle. In January 1962, Curnick Ndlovu lead the Natal Command Region and Bill Nair led Durban Sabotage committee. In May 1962 Looksmart Ngudle (who later died in security police detention in 1963) and Fred Carneson were appointed to lead the Western Cape Command. And Washington Bongco became the Boarder regional commander (later was hanged by the apartheid regime for MK activities in August 1963). Vuyisile Mini was appointed to lead the Eastern Cape command (later executed in 1964). On 11 July 1963, the South Africa Police raided the Liliesleaf Farm, in Rivonia, and all vital documentation and plans were confiscated during this Rivonia Raid. The evidence found was used against the National MK High Command during the Rivonia treason Trial with the charge sheet at the trial listing 193 acts of sabotage. In March 1962, Nelson Mandela was deployed to African countries (Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Ethiopia and Morocco) to get military training and support for the MK’s armed struggle. In August 1962, another group of MK recruit were sent to Ethiopia for the 13 weeks sabotage training programme.

Nelson Mandela’s tour of the Army camps and headquarters of the Algeria Front de Liberation National (FLN) in near the border of Morocco on 18 March 1962

In June 1963, Bram Fischer announced that the MK High Command had sent Joe Slovo and JB Marks abroad to present the new MK strategic plan for guerrilla warfare to external leadership (OR Tambo and Yusuf Dadoo). On the 20 June 1963, Slovo and Marks were in Francistown interviewed by Bulawayo Chronicles. JB Marks stated that ‘I predict the outbreak of the guerrilla warfare which will began in South Africa within the next two years, both inside and outside the country. I am aware that our opponent the NP, South African Defence Force (SADF) and SAP are fully armed. However, we (MK) also have a way to get advance modern weapons, I will not reveal where they come from, but our supplier is from East Asia.’ This was published on the article titled “Guerrilla warfare will start soon- S.A refugee”. Slovo and Marks took leave from Francistown, Botswana on a chartered Dakota plane with the company of twenty-six other ANC refugees to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The MK strategic plan of the guerrilla warfare was presented by Slovo and Marks to external leadership under OR Tambo at the Palace Hotel, Dar es Salaam at Tanzania.

Oliver Tambo went through the plan and approved it. In October 1963, the MK High Command introduced the plan that was approved by the ANC external leadership. The document plan was called ‘Operation Mayibuye’ (OM) meaning ‘Come Back Africa’. This document was the MK strategic operational plan to infiltrate its trained cadres back into the country, to bring revolution by armed invasion of the country. For the Operation Mayibuye to be successful, the High Command had three tasks to do. Firstly, it was to set up MK structures throughout the country. Secondly, was to deploy political organisers in each region immediately to operate these new MK structures. And thirdly they had to strategise political and military campaigns to commence at the same time as trained cadres returned to the country. In 1963 forwards, MK was ready to maximise the level of the armed struggle. MK already had access to modern weapons such as AK 47 automatic assault rifles and managed to send their guerrillas to military training abroad in Ethiopia, Morocco, East German Democratic Republic, Cuba, Soviet Union; China and Czechoslovakia.

This text is extracted from an article by Tinyeko Captain Ndhlovu, Ditsong National Museum of Military History. You can read the full article here.

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