The ANC's split heritage: totalitarian and democratic

Paul Trewhela
05 January 2012

Paul Trewhela on the Shishita Report and the demonising of Mark Shope

BBC Radio Four in Britain broadcast an important discussion between Moeletsi Mbeki. Jay Naidoo and Nadine Gordimer on 30 December about restriction on media freedom in South Africa. In their discussion on the "Today" programme, Jay Naidoo raised the issue of what he called "totalitarianism" in relation to the Protection of State Information Bill (which has been passed in the National Assembly), while Moeletsi Mbeki made the point that the ANC had been an authoritarian body in exile.

This discussion had been preceded by a call for abrogation of South Africa's Constitution by a member of the government - President Zuma's ally, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, the former premier of Limpopo province, now elevated to deputy minister of Correctional Services. As stated last month in an article "Facing down the new authoritarians", by the editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, Nic Dawes, Ramatlhodi is the survivor of a "corruption investigation that paralleled Zuma's."

Jay Naidoo was general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions from 1985 to 1993. He then served as minister responsible for the Reconstruction and Development Programme in President Mandela's office and as minister of Post, Telecommunications, and Broadcasting (1996 - 1999). A former member of the national executive committee of the ANC, he is non-executive chairman of the Development Bank of Southern Africa

Moeletsi Mbeki, the younger brother of former President Thabo Mbeki, who like his brother spent three decades in exile, is deputy chairman of the South African Instute of International Relations and is author of Architects of Poverty: Why Africa's Capitalism Needs Changing, Picador Africa, 2009). 

The BBC discussion related obliquely to the totalitarian heritage of the ANC in exile, the subject of my book Inside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile History of the ANC and SWAPO in Exile (Jacana, 2009). It looked ahead by a week to the ANC's centenary celebrations this coming Sunday, 8 January. The discussion of the authoritarian heritage of the ANC was more than appropriate.

In an article on the ANC centenary in the Guardian (London) - published the same day as the BBC discussion -the former ANC MP and former chairman of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA), Andrew Feinstein, stated: ""In order to hide the corruption [of the arms deal of the late 1990s, which he had attempted to uncover], the ANC were prepared to undermine the very institutions of democracy that they had so courageously fought to establish.

"There's a strong sense that parliament has never recovered, that this was the moment at which parliament became nothing more than a rubber stamp for the ruling party. This really was the moment at which the ANC was prepared to say, 'Yes, we are prepared to sacrifice these institutions to protect ourselves, to protect the party.' It reflects a profound lack of transparency and accountability in the way the ANC operates - the corrupt core of the party. In that sense it had a devastating impact on our democracy."

Discussion of attrition of democracy in post-liberation South Africa received added sharpness last November with an important contribution to the history of the exile period, the publication by Paul Holden and Hennie van Vuuren of their study of the arms deal and its sources, The Devil in the Detail: How the Arms Deal changed Everything (Jonathan Ball, 2011).

In their first chapter, "A questionable legacy: The SADF and MK in exile, 1976-1990", the authors give the best account so far of an extraordinary, top-secret document which provides the most illuminating and concise expression of the totalitarian mindset of the ANC in exile, the so-called Shishita Report of 1981. The full title of this highly confidential ANC document was: "Report on the Subversive Activities of Police Agents in our Movement".

It gives the sharpest expression of the psychology of the anti-democratic current in the ANC, now obvious in government.

Of course, there was no lack of real "police agents in our movement" deployed by the security agencies of the National Party state from at least the time of Gerard Ludi, who attended a World Peace Conference in Moscow in mid-1962, on behalf both of the SACP and Minister of Justice John Vorster. (See Ludi's Operation Q-018, Nasionale Pers Boekhandel, 1969, replete with photographs taken in Moscow).

In the Shishita report - which helped to launch a reign of terror within Umkhonto we Sizwe in exile - this issue of actual infiltration of the ANC (up to leadership level)  was not the real issue. The real issue was a hunting out of democratic discussion.

Its focus was above all on one man, a hero of the ANC, the SACP and the South African trade union movement, who was posthumously awarded one of the new state's highest honours, the Order of the Baobab in Gold, in 2002 for "exceptional contribution to the struggle against apartheid and the development of the labour movement" : the Treason Trialist, Mark Shope (1918-1998), former general secretary of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), the forerunner of COSATU.

A farm worker as a youth, later founder of the African Laundry, Cleaning and Dying Workers' Union and one of the earliest recruits to Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK, in which he was one of the first to receive military training in the Soviet Union in the Sixties), Shope was appointed commissar in Angola together with Professor Jack Simons to the new generation of recruits which had flooded into the ANC and MK following the 1976 Soweto uprising of school students.

Together, Shope and Simons educated the new recruits at the ANC training camp at Nova Katengue in western Angola in the late 1970s to ask questions - to think for themselves. The consequences were fatal. Nothing was more heretical to the power-holders at the head of the ANC and SACP in exile, any less than to the regime of Bantu education in South Africa itself.

Although - like Simons - Shope was a "leader of the South African Communist Party with comrades such as JB Marks, Moses Kotane, Moses Mabida and Joe Slovo", such an approach to the idealistic young soldiers of the June 16 and Moncada detachments was demonised by powerful figures in the leadership as a form of satanism. Without a shred of evidence, Shope was accused in the Shishita Report (together with a former Robben Island veteran, Albert Dlomo) of being an "enemy agent".

Holden and van Vuuren provide lengthy citations over several pages from this seminal document, submitted to the ANC leadership in secret in 1981 and kept secret until released to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997. To this day its contents remain a secret to the overwhelming majority of former members of the ANC, the SACP and MK in exile, as they prepare to gather at Bloemfontein/Mangaung to celebrate the ANC's centenary. It is the most sordid official document in the history of the ANC, and has received almost no attention from historians.

The crucial passage in the Shishita Report states: "In the area of our investigation, it is clear that there was, in fact, a campaign promoted by enemy agents, within and outside our ranks, for discrediting the leadership of the African National Congress on the 'grounds' of 'corruption', 'in-effiiciency' [sic], 'money-making', 'too old to lead', etc." The report attributes blame principally to Mark Shope and Albert Dlomo.

The report then states: "Objectively these comrades are playing the role of enemy agents or provocateurs despite the fact that they were never formally recruited". (cited in Holden and van Vuuren, The Devil in the Detail, pp.52-53)

It is the psychology of diabolism and the witch-hunt. The category "enemy agent" is transformed verbally into a vast, abstract, shadowy evil presence whose sinister influence, like that of Satan, has the power of controlling human beings who have no idea of its presence and who have no real physical contact with it. It is the demonism of Stalin's OGPU, GPU, NKVD or KGB - a monster by whatever name - by which the Great Leader killed off his Old Bolshevik rivals under fevered accusations that they were agents of Adolf Hitler. "Objectively", comrades! Citizen A, or B, or C is an agent of the Devil... "despite the fact that they were never formally recruited"!

The most accessible account of this psychology is in the extract from Holden and van Vuuren's book, published in the Mail & Guardian on 11 November 2011 under the title "Arms deal inherited corrupt DNA", available here:

It should be studied with care.

There should be proper research into the lives of Mark and Gertrude Shope, as well as Albert Dlomo. Ntiti Gertrude Shope (born in 1925), was head of the ANC Women's Section in exile and the only woman chief representative of the ANC in exile. No ANC or SACP leader played a more humane role during the mutinies in MK in Angola in February and May 1984. She "appeared on the scene from Lusaka at that time [where she was chief representative] and was taken aback by what she saw. She ordered an end to executions and tortures, and that the prisoners should be allowed to get clothes, which was done." ("A miscarriage of democracy",Inside Quatro. p. 29) 

Later, after the end of apartheid, during the heroic efforts of Andrew Feinstein to throw light into the foul pit of the arms deal corruption scandal in the National Assembly, "Ma" Gertrude Shope, as he recalls, as a fellow ANC MP, "sat down next to me and whispered into my ear: 'You just carry on doing your job'." Tremendous encouragement to the young man, under ultimately unsustainable pressure from a corrupt, unaccountable and undemocratic political elite. (Andrew Feinstein, After the Party: A Personal and Political Journey inside the ANC, Jonathan Ball, 2007. p.73)

If there were ever to be a movement for reform within the ANC, this is one of the sources to which it would have to return.

Happily, MaShope is still with us.

Let the heritage of Mark and Gertrude Shope be remembered on Sunday.

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If you come across comments that are injurious, defamatory, profane, off-topic or inappropriate; contain personal attacks or racist, sexist, homophobic, or other slurs, please report them and they will be removed.
 responses to this article

2012 (aka 1984) - The Year of the Dragon (and other gadflies)
Dear Paul,

Yes, this Janus-faced character of the former 'Liberation Movement' is not easy to see for those who were not 'insiders' and could witness the Stalinist practises and hierarchial 'Democratic Centralism', cult-of-the-personality and, oh . .more

by SelCool on January 05 2012, 13:44
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It suits the ANC to wear a mask to cover its totalitarian nature. The time will come when people get sick and tired of the corruption, self enrichment and no service delivery. The people will move their mandate to another party. When that happens, watch . .more

by Patrick on January 05 2012, 17:23
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The ANC was never, ever democratic
Sure it did the Potemkin thing of pretending to understand and assimilate notions of individual freedom but could never really get its brain around such concepts. One is reminded of the grossly humorous and yet grotesquely surreal slave dancing of the . .more

by Plutarch on January 05 2012, 20:14
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.....has a valid point.

The Zimbabwe model is VERY informative, and many of power-crats of the ANCpf today were resident in Harare prior to majority rule in SA..... resident mentoring & bonding preparing them well for the delivery SA enjoys . .more

by John Austin on January 06 2012, 04:20
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Thank you
Thank you for an informative and intelligent article. A fascinating read. With minds like this in our country Perth is even less attractive!

by Justin on January 06 2012, 06:41
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You use a lot of words here. What are you saying?

If you are defending the ANC authoritarianism, then go ahead -- you will eventually fry with the rest of them, as did the Nationalist party and Gadaffi and Moebarak. The ordinary people no longer want Die Groot Brulpadda approach. We want real . .more

by Honkey on January 06 2012, 06:42
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Smoke and Mirrors
It's unfortunate that the ANCYL in their comment try to evade the main issue contained in this article - the inherent corruption that the country has inherited from the ANC in exile. No wonder the ANC wants to limit all information on their history in . .more

by Markza on January 06 2012, 07:33
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Paul ,

"(See Ludi's Operation Q-018, Nasionale Pers Boekhandel, 1969, replete with photographs taken in Moscow)."

Gerard Ludi is still with us


But perhaps the content of his . .more

by Bibliiophile on January 06 2012, 08:01
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"War of Words: Memoir of a South African Journalist" Benjamin Pogrund
Paul ,

Perhaps this is why ?

Page 133

Jacana Media -- We publish what we like

Parameters of Book: Book
Sub-title: Memoir of a South African journalist
Author: Benjamin Pogrund
ISBN: . .more

by Bibliophile on January 06 2012, 08:15
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Too much already
The ANC is nothing more than an embarrassing part of our future history. Hopefully a brief part. It is pointless to analyse its ideologically chaotic history or it increasingly fumbling attempts at administering a modern democracy. It would be more . .more

by Sam Sly on January 06 2012, 09:48
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Democracy is the ANC's only enemy

Thank you , Paul, for demonstrating so clearly that democracy is the ANC's only enemy.

Because abusers of power by the chosen (i.e. the self-anointed cabal of corrupt thieves) cannot tolerate freedom of expression, reason, fairness, . .more

by Siegfried Hannig on January 06 2012, 11:38
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Colonial political remnants
Obviously people such as Patrick, Honkey,John Aaustin, Sam Saly & their friends are justified to be bitter about our country. In every independence the former oppressed embrace their freedom whilst the former master remain negative & bitter about the new . .more

by Eddie Sibiya on January 06 2012, 13:08
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Rev Jesse Jackson
I almost pulled a Luke Watson and looked for a Springbok Jersey (actually a SA Flag) to puke on when listening to this false prophet on ETV yesterday . How can a man of the cloth purport that corruption is OK because it happens everywhere . . .more

by Green Room on January 06 2012, 13:16
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Albert Brenner
A ruling class that sees the state solely as a means of expropriating the nations limited resources , is simply incapable of good governance and such a class will by it’s character and mission , simply abuse power . – Albert Brenner

by Green Room on January 06 2012, 13:21
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The ANC's split heritage: totalitarian and democratic
The issues raised by Paul Trewhela should be located and understood in an Historical context. In the conditions of illegality and extreme provocations on the part of apartheid machinery democracy gave way to totalitarian tendencies. This reality was not . .more

by Mzukisi Gaba Western Cape on January 06 2012, 15:32
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I think you are about as mad as a brush.
Your logic string appears to end about two letters after the first one of the first word of the last sentence of your comment.
Nevertheless I certainly do not expect you to agree with me; I just find it . .more

by Plutarch on January 06 2012, 16:32
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.....whilst I couldn't agree with you more, especially where you write "with the unbanning of the ANC & the adoption of the democratic constitution, the heritage of totalitariaism is consigned to the dustbin of history for eternity", the current . .more

by John Austin on January 06 2012, 16:40
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@Green Room -- I agree about Jesse Jackson -- there's also the matter ..

of him demonstrating supporting for another "heritage split" : The president will today ceremoniously kill a bull with an assegai! This, in my opinion, is a huge split between living with one foot in the past--the archaic and unmindful act of . .more

by Honkey on January 07 2012, 15:34
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by Honkey on January 07 2012, 15:34
Talking of not having progressed far enough along the evolutionary curve .... typical ANC - had to chuckle at Julius the other day about white domestic servants - clearly Julius cannot have discovered that domestics have priced themselves out of the . .more

by Green Room on January 08 2012, 10:55
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Colonial political remnants - by Eddie Sibiya on January 06 2012, 13:08
Mnu Sibiya , you reductionist assertion of ".....they remain negative for the rest of their lives ...... " is best explained thusly , that the giveaway of ideology is emotional hostility toward sceptics... .

Deal in reality Mnu. Sibiya , lest . .more

by Green Room on January 08 2012, 11:28
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