How MK members "gagged their own mouths"

Paul Trewhela reviews Teboho Tommy Molotsi's book "The 'Unfinished' Revolution: Memoirs of an MK Combatant", Harona, 2017.

If there is one book that shows why South Africa is in the mess it's in today, it's The 'Unfinished'  Revolution: Memoirs of an MK Combatant, the autobiography of Teboho Tommy Molotsi, published by Harona in 2017.

No other book until now by a survivor of Quatro prison camp conveys so vividly the horrors of that experience, and suggests why South Africa fell so easily into the hands of the Guptas and state capture.

Molotsi (MK name Thami Khaya) was a former detective sergeant in the apartheid police before he resigned in disgust at his role, a prisoner on Robben Island and later prisoner in the worst hell-hole of all, the ANC's Quatro prison in northern Angola, after joining Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in exile.

His autobiography conveys like nothing one else the powerlessness of black people in MK in exile. All power was in the hands of a tiny number of top commanders, exercised on their behalf by unaccountable security officials with power of life or death over anyone with an independent opinion.

It shows how the absence of civil society for black people under apartheid - exclusion from political decision-making, serf-like conditions in the mines, prohibition on free movement of labour, subjection to an unaccountable police regime, segregation from the ordinary means of self-advancement in a developed capitalist economy - resulted in a reign of terror by black on black within the ANC, which replicated the worst of apartheid.

Molotsi dedicates his book to the members of the Committee of Ten who were freely elected to represent the MK troops at Viana camp near Luanda in February 1984, and were brutally crushed for standing up for the troops who elected them.

Again and again the book gives details of repression as an everyday normality exercised by Mbhokodo ("the grindstone", MK's secret police) against Mkatashinga (meaning those MK troops who called for MK to be sent back to fight in South Africa rather than fight in the civil war in Angola, and protested at repression and corruption), resulting in that word coming to refer to any ANC member who expressed a critical opinion, causing that person to be termed mdlwembe (enemy agent, provocateur, traitor) - with ferocious consequences.

As Molotsi writes, "The effect and psychosis of the horrific experience some had seen in exile will remain for many years if not permanently in the minds of many. The 'fear' was not only 'psychic' but wisely manipulated to last for a long period or permanently with the strong belief that victims or their next-of-kin would gradually fade away from the minds of the many." (p.186)

Molotsi here approaches the political philosophy of Steve Biko, who emphasised again and again that the real problem for black people under apartheid was not so much the armed power of the state but its hold on black peoples' minds.

As Molotsi writes, "Mbhokodo had preference and choice of the best above everybody. Members of the administration were not susceptible to doing chores. They neither fetched their own drinking water, clean their rooms, polish their boots nor wash their clothes. Ordinary soldiers were tasked with these tasks.

"Everyone knew that members of Mbhokodo were above everyone in all ANC establshments. Should you die while being detained by them, it would be reported that you had either deserted or shot while trying to escape and no one knows how, as no one would ever account for the death."

He argues that this is why no one has "given answers to parents" about those who went missing in the camps.

"This is because even ordinary members who knew something chose to remain mum forever, since they understood the repercussion." (pp.185-86)

What happened in exile was that ANC members "gagged their own mouths." (p.2)

He shows how a condition of "elitism" developed within ANC in exile, leading to an "umbrella of mafia-type of leaders" who began "living and behaving as the owners of the revolution and were treated as an upper class in their secluded environment called

tulo (or the place of those in the high echelon)". It was this "type of unsurpassed arrogance of 'Stalinism' that led to mutinies within the ANC because of discontentment within the rank-and-file."

The book is important for several reasons, above all because it is the first to show the connection between this "mafia-type" rule in exile and the climate of "'mysterious' fear", in which ANC members would "refrain from airing their own views even on issues they strongly believed in because of the fear of being dubbed enemy agents or counter-revolutionists." (pp.2,4)

His analysis of this "fear to tell" (p.9), combined with the enormous temptation to self-enrichment under ANC government since 1994, provides the first analysis linking South Africa's current political, economic and social crisis to the radical malaise of unaccountability in the ANC in exile.

While Molotsi cites a reference to Chris Hani's "treacherous role" in "suppressing the mutiny" (p.232), he is open-hearted and generous in his tributes to those who stood up against the current of eltism and fear, none more so than Gertrude Shope, "one of the outstanding ANC women leaders" and member of its National Executive Committee, who stopped the ANC's executions of its own members at Pango camp in northern Angola in May 1984. He describes her as "an Angel of God in the form of Mama Gertrude Shope". (p.238)

Happily, Mama Shope is still with us.

Having served for 14 years in the SANDF, Molotsi has serious criticism to make of SANDF today. He is very clear how the regime of political discrimination in MK in exile has continued under ANC government up to today. He writes how, during integration of MK into the SANDF, there was a "serious mix-matching of positions of responsibility and ranking", in which frequently "best cadres and individuals who performed exceptionally in camps were side-lined and given very junior ranks and undeserving ones were 'thrown' with high ranks...".

Senior commanders "would deliberately oppose the allotting of a rank to an individual comrade", leading to "frustrations throughout their entire individual careers." Others were "fortunate to receive very senior ranks ... as a result of being political appointees."

As Molotsi explains, this "favouritism and nepotism" from exile have "negatively affected the whole organisation and the country," depriving the SANDF of "quality service" and leading to "material as well as financial losses due to bad management." (p.266)

He refers specifically to two members of MK in Angola - one who was saved from execution by Gertrude Shope and another imprisoned at Quatro - who "have received harsh treatment from authorities with the SANDF for the whole period" of their service, "as a result of their past actions." (p.238)

There are criticisms to make of the book. There is a question whether so much space in the early chapters should have been given to the early history of South Africa, the index is very faulty and all sources are not adequately referenced.

But no other book by an MK veteran points so directly to how the ANC command system in exile, with its lack of accountability of leaders to members, led to the mass robbing of the state under Jacob Zuma, former director of counter-intelligence in Mbhokodo. The open highway to massive corruption, the Guptas and Bosasa begins here.

This is the issue of the "unfinished" revolution in the book's title. Molotsi makes a very strong case.