The ANC and Zulu-speakers in exile (Part 2)

Paul Trewhela asks whether old grievances are feeding into current tensions within ANC

Reproduction of a document from 20 years ago:

"A Purge of Zulu-speakers in ANC Camps in Tanzania?"

Justice for Southern Africa, London.

Press Release [by Paul Trewhela], 22 August 1991

[Published, Searchlight South Africa No.8, January 1992, pp.29-32]

A purge appears to be taking place in the ANC refugee camps at Mazimbu and Dakawa, south of Dar Es Salaam, organised by the ANC security department ‘Mbokodo' with the assistance of the Tanzanian government. This involves the arrest and detention without trial, in June, of ten Zulu-speaking members of the ANC at the Ruth First prison at Plot 18 in Dakawa.

Following representations by the pressure group Justice for Southern Africa to the British Foreign Office, the Tanzanian High Commission, the ANC chief representative in Tanzaniaand the ANC leadership in South Africa, five of the ten were released in the office of the Prime Minister in Dar Es Salaam on 1 August. One of them, Bekezela Lungisani Mabaso, had reportedly been beaten while in detention with a steel rod by a member of the ANC security department, assisted by Tanzanian security guards (letter from Tanzania, 12 August 1991).

A letter of protest has been sent by Mr Mabaso and another of the prisoners, Mr Bongani Ntshangase, to Nelson Mandela. In the letter they state:

We, Zulu-speaking members of the ANC, have all along been called funny names like S'qhaze, Drum 10, Manpower and worst of all Inkatha bandits. When the young lions came back from the [Umkhonto we Sizwe military training] camps [at Iringa in Tanzania], they got furious because they had left the country because of Inkatha.

In a further letter (dated 15 August), the two men state that Zulu-speaking members of the ANC were especially angry at being called Inkatha bandits ‘because they had left South Africa as a result of Inkatha harassing and killing innocent people'.

Dismissals at Somafco

The purge has extended to one of the best-known ANC educators abroad, the Zulu-speaker Mr Zakahle Zindela, known to hundreds of ANC exiles (now both inside and outsideSouth Africa) as ‘Uncle Slim'. Mr Zindela was dismissed from his job as deputy principal at the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (Somafco) at Mazimbu - the main ANC secondary school in exile - together with the head of the department of English, Mr Mandla Khuzwayo, also a Zulu-speaker. In a letter to Mr Mandela, Mr Ntshangase and Mr Mabaso state that the dismissals of Messers Zindela and Khuzwayo took place ‘because they are allegedly Zulu instigators' and in order for the ‘authorities to justify their false allegations against Zulus'.

Mr Zindela, a founder of Somafco in 1979, negotiated an agreement with Unicef [the United Nations Children's Fund] in 1990, by which it undertook to pay the salaries of teachers at Somafco. News off his dismissal and the alleged charges against him shocked ANC members in Britain who had known him in Tanzania. In his letter to Mr Mandela, Mr Ntshangase, a former teacher in South Africa and a teacher at Somafco, accused four ANC officials in Tanzania as well as the ‘ANC security of East Africa' of being responsible for ‘degrading malpractices' against him.

One of the four he accused of malpractice is Mr Don Ngakane, the principal of Somafco, who worked there as a teacher under Mr Zindela from 1980 to 1987. Mr Ngakane was promoted to principal over the head of Mr Zindela in 1989 when the previous head of Somafco, Mr Andrew Masondo - accused of serious human rights abuses by ANC members in exile - was appointed ANC chief representative in Uganda in 1989. ANC members state that Ngakane is close to Masondo and the security apparatus.

Disturbing Questions

Disturbing questions are raised by the arrest of the ten Zulu-speaking members of the ANC and the dismissals of Mr Zindela and Mr Khuzwayo. Somafco is funded by semi-official agencies responsible to the governments of countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Germany. Teachers' salaries are funded by Unesco.

To what extent were the dismissals of Mr Zindela (as well as those of Mr Khuzwayo and Mr Ntshangase) made on the basis of non-educational criteria? What implications could such an act have for political manipulation of teachers in South Africa in the future? In a letter dated 14 August, Mrs Linda Ntshangase states that her husband's salary cheques for May and June (paid by Unesco) had been seized by the ANC authorities at Mazimbu. Her husband and other ex-detainees are now destitute. What kind of responsibility is exercised by semi-governmental donor agencies for ensuring that funds going to ANC educational projects at Dakawa and Mazimbu are not abused?

The Role of the Tanzanian Government

First reports of the arrests indicated that ten Zulu-speakers had been arrested on 10 June by the Tanzanian Field Force Unit (FFU), a para-military unit, following the non-fatal stabbing of an ANC member at Dakawa. In a letter to the British Foreign Office of 7 July, a representative of the campaign Justice for Southern Africa stated that the ten men had been reportedly been arrested and locked up by the FFU and beaten up. The men had later been released by the Tanzanian military authorities into the hands of the ANC security department.

Mr Mabaso was then allegedly beaten by Tanzanian security guards, as well as by ANC security officials, while held in the ANC prison at Dakawa. According to Mrs Ntshangase, her husband and a colleague were released at the Prime Minister's office at Dar Es Salaam on 1 August. In the presence of a member of the ANC security department (‘Comrade George'), her husband was told by an official of the Tanzanian government (‘Comrade Alex') that he was ‘no more a member of the ANC and from now he will be a normal refugee'. When Mrs Ntshangase asked for an official explanation letter, she was told by Comrade Alex that it was at the Home Affairs ministry.

Mrs Ntshangase writes that she and her husband were then told by this Tanzanian official that she had ‘provoked the Tanzanian government because I've exposed secrets and I'm helping an enemy by so doing'. She continues:

The Prime Minister's Office is a mouthpiece. Presently they [her husband and his friends] have nowhere to stay and no money for food after being detained without trial for 51 days, being tortured by the FFU and the ANC.

Now we do not know what to do. We are absolutely dissatisfied about this decision since they [the ANC and the Tanzanian government] have refused to take this case to the Tanzanian courts and get a fair trial.

From the time that her husband and others were arrested, Mrs Ntshangase consistently called on the Tanzanian government to place the case under its own judicial authority. AsJustice for Southern Africa stated in its letter to the British Foreign Office of 7 July, Mrs Ntshangase ‘called for the matter to go before the Tanzanian courts in the normal way'. This request has not been met. Five of the original ten Zulu-speakers who were arrested in June are still held by unknown people at an unknown place - almost certainly by the ANC security department - in an arbitrary fashion, with the apparent connivance of the Tanzanian Prime Minister's Office.

The ANC and its Constitution

A further disturbing element in this matter concerns apparent violation by the ANC authorities in Tanzania of the organisation's own constitution. In his letter to Mr Mandela, Mr Ntshangase states:

Presently I am staying with Tanzanians because I have been expelled from the ANC, together with Lungisani Mabaso. We were expelled by the Chief Rep [Manala Manzini, since moved to Britain for study] and his deputy [Henry Chiliza]. The Chief Rep refused to show me or give us the expulsion letters. I am therefore dissatisfied because the ANC security had detained and tortured us for two months without trial. According to the ANC code of conduct, I ought to have been charged and tried for what I had allegedly done.

According to the code of conduct, I was expecting the tribunal to have tried us and recommended to the Secretary General for our expulsion. The SG should have suspended us pending the seating of the National Conference which has the powers to expel a member from the movement. It is therefore my sincere belief that the President [Mr Mandela] and the NEC will make an impartial investigation to our case and see to it that justice is done in the ANC.

Manzini and Chiliza are among the four ANC officials accused by Mr Ntshangase of having been responsible for ‘degrading malpractices' against him. The third is the principal of Somafco, Mr Ngakane. The fourth, Mr Moffat Monakgotha, is described by ANC members as an official of the ANC security department (Mbokodo) working in the office of the director of Somafco.

Apart from the anomaly of the ANC having apparently violated its own constitution while preparing to negotiate a new constitution for South Africa, the inter-connection between education and political police in the school system of the ANC in exile must be brought to an end, along with its prisons for political critics.

Up till the time of the letter by Mr Ntshangase and Mr Mabaso of 15 August [1991], it seems likely that five Zulu-speakers continue to be detained by the ANC without trial. The recent statement by the ANC that the release of all its prisoners was complete (Financial Times, 19 August) appears less than candid.


A note of reflectionOctober 2011: Following his letter (co-authored with Lungisani Mabaso) to Nelson Mandela in mid-August 1991, Bongani Ntshangase had less than one year to live before he was murdered in Natal on 21 May 1992. Between these two events, he and his courageous wife Linda fled to Kenya to escape the malice of the ANC security department, iMbokodo, as well as that of the Tanzanian state, and from there they were repatriated to South Africa. One would be forgiven for thinking that in all likelihood, a state of menace followed this brave and articulate teacher from Tanzania to Natal.

Bongani's barely known history establishes two facts.

First, the dictatorial propensity in the ANC in exile, and the ethereal nature of its constitution when it came to any safeguards against abuses by officialdom.

 Second, tribalist currents were real in exile. The anti-tribalist ideals of the founding fathers of the ANC in 1912 came under heavy strain. There were periods, as at Kongwa camp inTanzania in the mid-Sixties and at Dakawa and Mazimbu camps in Tanzania in the early Nineties, when tribal prejudice did break through, despite the ANC's founding principle. In general, the dominant current was understood in the camps to express the arrogance and sense of entitlement of a mainly isiXhosa-speaking elite - Andrew Masondo, mentioned above, as one of the most tyrannical offenders - directed most specifically against isiZulu-speakers. The contemptuous language, bordering on racism, listed by Bongani Ntshangase and Lungisani Mabaso in their letter to Nelson Mandela, cited above, was clearly tolerated by ANC authorities in Tanzania at that time. The victims, not the perpetrators, were made to suffer.

True, unlike the nationalist liberation movements in Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola, it is to the huge credit of the ANC that it did succeed in preserving supra-tribal unity throughout the three decades of exile, and it did not fracture into predominantly tribal components. Thank goodness, South Africa has had no equivalent in the history of the ANC to the crime inflicted by ZANU under Robert Mugabe (with its predominantly Shona historic constituency) in its Gukurahundi massacre of 1983-85 against the amaNdebele, who had generally given political and military support to the ANC's comrade-in-arms, ZAPU. In that orgy of tribalist killing, "at least 30,000 people died countrywide" through "a form of state-organised violence against civilians" (Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, Gukurahundi in Zimbabwe: A Report on the Disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands 1980-1988, Hurst and Company, London, 2007. Preface to 1997 edition, p.xix).

But the danger was there, and the danger remains. "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance".

It is not hard to see an element of retribution (and redress) against the perceived overweening arrogance of a mainly isiXhosa-speaking political elite in the trouncing delivered to former President Thabo Mbeki and his apparatus at the Polokwane elective conference of the ANC in December 2007.

Now there is danger that the boot is on the other foot. The founding principle of the ANC is again being tested, ahead of the organisation's centenary in January next year. The sufferings of Bongani Ntshangase, Lungisani Mabaso and their teacher colleagues Zakahle Zindela and Mandla Khuzwayo should be recalled - with shame and anger - as a warning. It was well said: "Whoever gives his little finger to the devil of chauvinism, is lost".

The first article in this two part series can be found here.

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