The murder of Tennyson Makiwane

Paul Trewhela on the SACP, ANC, and the expulsion of the 'Gang of Eight'

Did anyone in a senior position in the ANC give the order in 1980 to kill Tennyson Makiwane?

Tennyson Xola (TX) Makiwane was a member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC in exile, as well as of its Revolutionary Council. He had been appointed Deputy Director of External Affairs in London in 1972, in the new External Mission of the ANC. It seems unlikely that the decision to kill such a senior former leader of the ANC would ever have been taken without instructions from senior leaders of the ANC, the SACP and Umkhonto weSizwe. But what was the chain of command? Who gave the order? And what was the nature of the discussions that preceded the decision? It does not seem reasonable to think that a junior underling would have dared to kill this man, without absolute certainty that it had been ordered up at the top, by Makiwane's peers.

These fratricidal thoughts come to mind, stimulated by the multiple tones of violence issuing from the language of the leaders of the ANC Youth League, the SACP and Cosatu over the past year, culminating in the sudden fall last week of the Caesar of ANC government of the past 14 years, Thabo Mbeki. How are the mighty fallen! And to whom might Makiwane have said, 29 years ago: "Et tu, Brute?" - "And you too, my assassin!"

By 1960, the year of the massacre at Sharpeville, which more than anything converted the ANC from Mahatma Gandhi to Karl Marx - from the philosophy of passive resistance, Satyagraha, to the practice of violent insurrection - there was hardly a more glorious prince of the ANC than Makiwane. How else is one to describe the co-founder and first Director of the Anti-Apartheid Movement in London; a leader of the Alexandra bus boycott in the Fifties; the co-accused of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and 153 others in the Treason Trial of the 1950s; the Chief Representative of the ANC in London in 1960, at the moment of transition of the ANC along the Calvary from Gandhi to Marx?

Every single major leader of the ANC from Nelson Mandela to Ruth First knew Makiwane, as a friend and comrade. In London at the time of the formation of the AAM - probably the most influential pressure group in Britain in the post-war period - he was the friend and intimate of such living luminaries of the Great and the Good as the former Labour cabinet minister Tony Wedgwood Benn and such deceased ones as Father Trevor Huddleston, Canon John Collins (the Dean of St Paul's Cathedral) and the Reverend Michael Scott. Yet he was gunned down in the Transkei in June 1980, as if in an assassins' trade-off with the salaried murderers of the apartheid state, who killed his friend and fellow Treason Trialist, Ruth First, in Maputo , two years later. In what remains the best book overall on the SACP and the ANC in exile, Dr Stephen Ellis and "Tsepo Sechaba" (real name, Oyama Mabandla) point out that it was "probably" First who had recruited Makiwane as a member of the SACP. (Comrades against Apartheid. The ANC and the South African Communist Party in Exile, James Currey, London/Indian University Press, 1992. p.35)

Makiwane knew the Party from the inside. We do know what principally motivated him in that tragic journey. It led from his expulsion from Fort Hare University College after a student strike headed by ANC activists, to the bus boycott in Alex and the Treason Trial in Johannesburg, to London and the AAM, to Morogoro in Tanzania, and finally to that bloody end back in South Africa, in the land of his forefathers. Its principal logistic was Makiwane's advocacy both of the ANC and opposition to its take-over by the SACP.

The sudden downfall last week of Thabo Mbeki and his grouping in the ANC - representing a former senior leadership of the SACP including Mbeki himself, his chief aide de camp Essop Pahad and his security chief Ronnie Kasrils - was brought about by an alliance headed principally by the more junior but current leadership of the CP led by Blade Nzimande (secretary general) and Gwede Mantashe (chairman of the CP and secretary general of the ANC), and can only focus attention more sharply than ever on the history of the relationship between the ANC and the CP: the ultimate source, in 1980, of Makiwane's murder.

Over the past fifty years, the relation of the ANC to the SACP - a tightly organised political body both separate from the ANC and yet present within it - has always been complex, and again and again has led to splits. In the past the matter has been determined primarily by political philosophy, but it has also been racial. In that time, the complexity of this relationship involved as a central issue the nature of the relation of the ANC to influence within the organisation, to membership and ultimately to executive positions within the organisation of whites and Indians. This racial issue now appears to be no longer present, leaving the question of the relation of the ANC to the SACP today substantially free of the issue of race. It is now possible to see this political relationship in a more pure form, governed by both similar and different political philosophies, objectives and methods.

The evacuation of the ANC by its Africanist wing in 1958, leading to the formation of the Pan Africanist Congress in opposition to the ANC in 1959, was the direct outcome of the Africanists' opposition to the increasing influence of the SACP within the ANC. The opposition to this influence of the SACP was expressed both on racial and on directly political grounds. These political grounds focused on the argument by the Africanists that it was inappropriate for there to be "dual membership" within the ANC of members of a separate and tightly organised political party loyal to a world superpower, Soviet Russia, advocating a political ideology distinct from that on which the ANC had been founded in 1912, and meeting separately in caucus prior to relevant ANC meetings.

At the time of the secession of the Africanists, and from its founding in 1912 continuing up till 1969, membership of the ANC was open to black Africans only. Nevertheless, the implications of dual membership of SACP members in the ANC can be seen from the formal policy position of the ANC in relation to two internally connected world events bearing directly on the SACP. These were the suppression by Soviet military force of the uprising in Hungary against Soviet domination in 1956 (two years before the secession of the Africanists from the ANC) and its suppression by military force twelve years later of the "Prague Spring" in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Then in 1969, a year after the invasion of Czechoslovakia , the ANC's national conference in exile at Morogoro in Tanzania agreed to formal admission to non-leadership positions of white and Indian members of the SACP: a policy decision of first-rate importance, in which Tennyson Makiwane marked himself out from his colleagues as an opponent. From that time until his expulsion from the ANC in exile in October 1975 as the principal leader of the so-called "Gang of Eight", Makiwane was prominent in a minority current within the ANC in open conflict with the SACP.

Like its predecessor the CPSA, the SACP never deviated in any respect from loyalty to the foreign and internal policy of the Soviet Union , whatever crimes were committed in or by the Soviet Union . The CPSA/SACP was one of the most servile parties on earth. Whatever was decreed in Moscow , so it was followed in South Africa . It was a matter of course for the SACP not only to endorse the crushing of the Hungarian revolution in 1956 but even to call for the crushing of the movement towards democracy in Czechoslovakia , in advance of the invasion by Soviet tanks.

That was not the same with the ANC.

At the time of the Soviet invasion of Hungary, the then president of the ANC, Chief Albert Luthuli, condemned the "ruthless intervention of Soviet Russia", while the final report of the ANC executive read: "We believe that every nation is entitled o settle its own affairs, including the people of Hungary. The ANC feels a sense of disappointment and regret at the bloodshed in Hungary , and sincerely hopes that peace will be restored without delay in this country" (cited in Mary Benson, The Struggle for a Birthright, Penguin, London , 1966. p.188). At this stage and for a further 13 years, there remained room within the ANC for its members to take differing approaches towards the invasion by the Soviet Union of a foreign state.

A major change had clearly taken place within the ANC by the time of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. As Dr Leopold Scholtz has pointed out in a recent article in Die Burger, posted on Politicsweb just over a week ago in English translation, even at this stage the ANC distinguished itself from the SACP by taking a month before it issued a formal statement committing itself to support for the action of the Soviet Union, a policy decision that violated the ANC's own declared standpoint on behalf of national independence and national liberation.

As Dr Scholtz wrote: "Initially, not a single word on the matter appeared in the ANC's most important journal, Sechaba. Only a month later did an official statement appear in Mayibuye under the name of Duma Nokwe, the movement's secretary general.

"But at that point Nokwe was forthright. He pointed to the ‘dangerous situation' in Czechoslovakia ‘which was deliberately engineered by right-wing counter-revolutionaries with the support of imperialism'. The Soviet invasion ‘will protect and consolidate the achievements' of the revolution and would place the two countries in a position ‘to march arm-in-arm to fulfil the objectives of international socialism'." (See here).

The change of tone in this statement by Nokwe compared with the ANC's stated position on the invasion of Hungary is very obvious, let alone its reversal of Luthuli's expression of moral abhorrence into a jargon-ridden type of Soviet-speak. It was no accident that Duma Nokwe, in whose name this decision of the exiled National Executive Committee was issued, was himself a senior member of the SACP, operating within the ANC on the basis of dual membership. According to Ellis and Sechaba, it was Nokwe seven years later who "infuriated by the conduct of the dissidents...was to take the lead in causing the NEC to vote on the expulsion of Makiwane and others" (op.cit, p.62). Nokwe's campaign could only have followed a policy decision by the Central Committee of the SACP, and would have been conducted with extensive and coordinated SACP support within the NEC.

In the ten years between the secession of the Africanists in 1958 and Nokwe's statement of 1968 lay the massacre at Sharpeville and the banning of both the ANC and the PAC in 1960, followed not long afterwards by the crucial turn first of the SACP and then of the ANC to a policy of violent methods of resistance to the apartheid state. This culminated in their joint setting-up of Umkhonto weSizwe, which announced itself with symbolic acts of bombing of installations in December 1961.

Like the SACP but unlike the ANC up to that time, Umkhonto was formed with no racial criterion for membership. That alone permitted within Umkhonto a much higher level of SACP influence and membership participation than it had previously been able to exercise within the ANC. Every single leader of Umkhonto weSizwe sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial of 1963/64 was (or until very recently had been) a member of the SACP, despite the disclaimers of the defence, which was also directed by the SACP in the person of Advocate Bram Fischer QC, the chairman of the CP, himself later sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in Umkhonto.

The Central Committee of the SACP had agreed with Mandela to allow his membership to lapse, for tactical reasons, following his secret return to South Africa from his illegal journey abroad in 1962. Two of his fellow-accused (Raymond Mhlaba and Andrew Mlangeni) had returned to South Africa not long before their arrest at Lilliesleaf Farm at Rivonia in June 1963, following talks on military strategy in South Africa in Nanjing ( Nanking ) in China with Chairman Mao Zedong himself. None of this emerged in the Rivonia Trial, even though one of the state witnesses against the accused - Abel Patrick Mthembu, later assassinated by the ANC - had been present in Nanjing in that discussion with Mao. He appears not have revealed this to the security police during his interrogation.

Exile, and the formation of Umkhonto as a military organisation, brought the ANC into an extreme form of dependence on the Soviet Union for funds, weapons, military training, political cadre training and international political support. It permitted the methods of political organisation and ideology of Soviet Russia to soak deep into the fibre and fabric of the ANC. Relations with China were cut off by the SACP and the ANC as the split between the Soviet and the Chinese Communist parties worsened sharply, in the years immediately following the discussion by Mhlaba, Mlangeni, Mthembu and three others with Mao in Nanjing. All the way through to the unbanning of the ANC and the release of Mandela early in 1990, the ANC - especially in exile - became increasingly Sovietised.

Internal opposition to this process of Sovietisation was crushed. Makiwane was its highest ranking victim. Not nearly enough study has been made of the expulsion by the ANC of the so-called "Gang of Eight" in 1975, of whom Makiwane was the most prominent. Its context was the growing influence within South Africa at that time of the Black Consciousness Movement within South Africa itself, significantly independent of the SACP and the ANC, both of which - along with the PAC - had been incapacitated within South Africa by police repression in the early Sixties, before and after the Rivonia Trial.

Fear of the possibility of a political connection being made between an anti-SACP grouping within the ANC in exile and the growing Black Consciousness Movement within South Africa, still a year ahead of the students' uprising in Soweto in June 1976, no doubt precipitated the SACP's campaign for the expulsion of its principal rivals within the ANC. This was also a period of a huge sharpening of the Cold War in southern Africa , with mass entry of Cuban troops and Soviet military advisers into Angola in opposition to the invasion by the military of the apartheid regime, leading to further Sovietisation of the ANC.

The "Gang of Eight" was damned publicly by the SACP and the ANC as if it were principally a racist grouping. It was "The Enemy Hidden under the Same Colour", as the SACP Central Committee declared in the heading of its official statement on the matter. (The African Communist, number 65, 1976, p.20) The eight, all black Africans, were portrayed as being essentially the same in spirit as the PAC secessionists of 1958. Yet this was to obscure a major reality. By the time of his expulsion, Makiwane had worked for more than two decades in close political collaboration with whites and Indians, in a strong spirit of non-racial alliance, in South Africa and in exile. Of his seven remaining colleagues, one Pascal Ngakane, was Chief Luthuli's son-in-law and had been "an important figure in the underground ANC  in Natal in the early 1960s" (Tom Lodge, Black Politics in South Africa since 1945, Ravan Press, Johannesburg, 1983. p.303).

A second, Thami Mhlambiso (exile name, Thami Bonga), had been a vice-president of the non-racial (and later banned) National Union of South African Students when a student at the University College of Fort Hare in the early Sixties, where I met with him and other students secretly at night on the rugby field. Mhlambiso had the closest of personal friendships with young white members of the Liberal Party, at least one of whom (Hugh Lewin) became a political prisoner. A third member of this so-called "Gang", OK (Milton) Setlhapelo, had brought a detachment of young black African members of the ANC Youth League in Soweto into a sabotage organisation, the African Resistance Movement/National Council of Liberation, composed mainly of young white members of the Liberal Party and a small grouping of white trotskyists, and had later been expelled from Cuba because of his critical comments.

 The principal issue for Makiwane and his co-thinkers was the dominance of the SACP. As Ellis and Sechaba state, referring to Makiwane's argument at Morogoro in 1969 and subsequently, "Virtually all non-African members of Umkhonto we Sizwe were Party members. The admission of whites, coloureds and Indians to the NEC would therefore automatically tend to increase the proportion of communists. ...Party members could surface in key positions in any one of a number of roles, for example as members of the ANC, as Party members, as army officers, or as SACTU [predecessor of Cosatu] officials. And yet every Party member knew that Party rules and discipline meant that a comrade was always a communist first, and that in the event of a clash of interests, the interests of the Party would always have priority over that of the ANC as a whole".(p.147) The common issue defining the "Gang of Eight" was not principally one of race but of opposition to the ever-increasing domination of the ANC in exile by the SACP, as if by a cuckoo in the nest. A statement issued by Makiwane in Dar es Salaam , Tanzania , in October 1975 was headed: "Against Manipulation of the South African Revolution".

The circumstances of Makiwane's life and activities following his return to South Africa remain unclear. Ellis and Sechaba state that he "found a job with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, which posted him to Swaziland as its representative. The ANC used its influence to block the appointment....Makiwane was fired by the FAO. Destitute, he moved to Lesotho, and there was contacted by an official of the homeland [ie, Bantustan ] government of the Transkei who persuaded him to come home.

"Later, ANC sympathisers arrested and interrogated by the Transkei Security Police reported to the organisation that the police seemed to be in possession of information which could only have come from Makiwane. It appeared to some in the ANC that he was not only a dissident but also a police informer. A unit from Umkhonto we Sizwe, acting on its own initiative and certainly without the knowledge of Makiwane's old colleague, Oliver Tambo, hunted Makiwane down in Transkei and murdered him there in 1980. Tambo was furious and condemned the murder, but took no disciplinary action. In public, he denied ANC involvement."

There is no adequate clarity here, let alone in the further allegation by Ellis and Sechaba that "ANC intelligence chiefs today maintain that Makiwane was recruited as a South African spy as early as 1964" (p.65). This is extremely unlikely; but it is extremely likely to have been normal Soviet-type disinformation. Tambo's biographer, Luli Callinicos, gives no guidance on this subject since she makes no reference to Makiwane's murder, though she quotes an ANC colleague as stating that Tambo had been "very, very fond of TX" (Oliver Tambo: Beyond the Engeli Mountains, David Philip, Claremont, 2004. p.351).

An application for amnesty for the murder of Makiwane was made to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission by a certain David Simelane, a member of the ANC. The TRC report (Vol.2 Chap.4) states:

"49. Mr Tennyson Makiwane [EC0258/96STK] was one of the "Gang of Eight" who had sought to launch a "reformed" ANC and was expelled from the ANC in 1975. Makiwane joined [Chief Kaizer] Matanzima's Transkei government in February 1979. He acted as a "consultant and roving Transkei ambassador" and was believed by ANC members to be revealing confidential information. He was shot dead in Umtata in July 1980. Mr David Simelane [AM5305/97], a member of the ANC, applied for amnesty for this killing, as well as for the killing of other police officers and askaris." (See here).

The route leading to the expulsion of the "Gang of Eight" from the ANC in 1975, and the route leading subsequently to Makiwane's assassination in Umtata, remain very unclear. We do not know who gave the assassin Simelane his order to kill Makiwane. This much is clear, however. The principle of "dual membership" of SACP members within the ANC was by no means uncontested. The validity of this doctrine remains in question, especially now that the two principal reasons for its acceptance - the apartheid state in South Africa, as principal enemy of the ANC, and the Soviet state, as principal donor and benefactor - have long ago passed into history.

A great deal of historical research still needs to be done. Makiwane lies restless in his grave. Now more than ever, the question posed by his life and death is unresolved: why does Party A not stand for election among the people under its own name, instead of under the name of Party B?

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