The hedgehog's view of the ANC

Jeremy Gordin reviews "People’s War: New Light on the Struggle for South Africa" by Anthea Jeffery

“My name is Sherlock Holmes. It is my business to know what other people do not know.” - “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle,” Arthur Conan Doyle.


The new (2019) version of Anthea Jeffery’s People’s War: New Light on the Struggle for South Africa comes in at 383 pages versus the 675 pages of the original (2009) version. Additionally, Jeffery has added a new chapter in which she extends, beyond April 1994 until now, her over-arching thesis about the ANC’s people’s war/National Democratic Revolution (NDR) and its implementation.

The cut seems a good idea. The lengthy, detailed 2009 version made it difficult to see the forest for the trees – even for “gluttons for punishment,” as Mac Maharaj wryly described himself in a dismissive review of the 2009 edition [1]. But there’s another good reason for a re-release.

The first edition of People’s War was not greatly acclaimed – not, at any rate, by those sometimes quaintly described as being on the left of the political spectrum. Besides Maharaj, Pallo Jordan denigrated the first edition, suggesting the book’s sub-title should have been: “A Rehash of the former National Party’s Take on the Struggle for South Africa” [2]. William Gumede, now an associate professor at Wits’ Graduate School of Business Administration, also had serious misgivings about the book. Others too attacked the book, including Drew Forrest, then News Editor of the M&G, who was almost incandescent with indignation.

But it’s 10 years’ later: a not-so-happy decade has slipped by in the beloved country. The views of Maharaj and Jordan are – how shall I put it? – “discredited” [3]; and these days I see and talk to Forrest on Saturday mornings while he is selling seeds and suchlike at the Parkview shopping centre. In short, times have changed – and something else seems to have shifted too: the previous overwhelming reverence for the ANC and its version(s) of struggle history.

Familiarity has bred contempt. Having seen and lived through the wreckage left in the wake of a quarter century of ANC government, the honeymoon – or treaclemoon, as Byron once called it – seems over.

Many people are saying: “Wait a minute. Maybe all this stuff about the ANC as the breakers of our shackles of oppression ain’t quite what we thought. Maybe the ANC version of the Struggle and more importantly the ANC’s means and aims aren’t what we’ve been told (by the ANC) they are.” Surely even President Cyril Ramaphosa, to take one example, would not deny this change of attitude, although he wouldn’t admit it publicly.

A good time then for Ms Jeffery to make a reprise performance.


Jeffery’s thesis is straightforward. The late Patrick Laurence wrote in 2009: “While researching the transition of South Africa from a racial oligarchy dominated by whites to a non-racial constitutional democracy in which the ANC seems to be unassailably in control of the commanding heights, [Jeffery] came to the conclusion that the people’s war was central to the explanation but at the same time a generally under-rated and unexplored factor”. 

Laurence continued: “As Jeffery explains, a people’s war consists of two cardinal doctrinal stratagems: first, the belief that the struggle for power must be advanced in tandem on the military and political terrains ...; second, the conviction that ‘the enemy’ has many faces, including, obviously, the incumbent oppressor [e.g., the National Party] but including rival political formations seeking to win the support of the populace to secure a platform for themselves in the post-liberation order [e.g., Inkatha]”.

Jeffery argues that by 1976, the ANC was in deep trouble. Its voice “had been silenced for 16 years,” Inkatha was “growing rapidly in strength,” and the Black Consciousness (BC) movement, more so than the ANC, was instrumental in sparking the Soweto revolt of June 1976 (p. 3). How was the ANC to become the lead liberator and take power?

As Jeffery tells it, in October 1978 an ANC delegation visited a newly unified Vietnam and learned not only how to “humble a powerful military adversary, but also to weaken or destroy political rivals” (4).

Thus was born the ANC’s Green Book, which the IRR’s John Kane-Berman, who wrote the preface to both editions of People’s War, has recently described as follows: “... The Green Book: Lessons from Vietnam ... was published in August 1979. It was merciless, as well as comprehensive. It included not only the use of terror, but also wooing Afrikaner and other white opinion leaders, weakening the black consciousness movement and Inkatha, setting up front organisations, tactical downplaying of the ultimate socialist objective, unscrupulous and cynical manipulation of the entire constitutional negotiating process, and capturing the largest trade union federation”. [4] 

Jeffery writes: “The formula for people’s war, as developed and applied in Vietnam, has many different ingredients. The parallels between these ingredients and events that unfolded in South Africa from 1980 to 1994 are remarkable. Though many differences are evident, these are essentially distinctions in degree rather than in substance” (4).

Based on the North Vietnamese blueprint, the people’s war was escalated by the ANC, so much so that that even after “political liberalisation” (February 1990), the death toll soared to “some 15 000” between January 1990 and April 1994. Who was responsible? Jeffery argues that the political violence was the result of the ANC’s people’s war and that a propaganda campaign, launched as part of the people’s war, blamed the escalating violence on the NP government “and its supposed Inkatha surrogate”.

The “third-force” theory of violence was spread by the ANC. “The third-force claim that [FW] de Klerk and [Mangosuthu] Buthelezi were using violence to derail the transition was thus a neat subversion of the truth – for if any organisation was intent on marrying violence and negotiations for its own political advantage it was the ANC” (6). Jeffery also notes inter alia that later the Truth Commission (TRC) “largely overlooked” the ANC’s people’s war and that the important Goldstone commission report of December 1992 was superficial and one-sided, putting most of the blame for the KwaZulu/Natal violence on Inkatha. [5]

Jeffery further contends that the implementation of the people’s war is the key to understanding how the ANC gained its “hegemonic grip over the new South Africa ... [and to understanding] a host of adverse social phenomena that continue to plague the country,” and, thirdly, to comprehending the “abuses of power and pervasive corruption that the Zondo Commission ... is [now] beginning to cover” (12-13).

Importantly, Jeffery argues that the key purpose of the people’s war was always to give the ANC the power it needed to achieve the NDR so that, having achieved state power (a key step in implementing the NDR), it could then advance what was always the core aim of the NDR: to take SA to socialism and then communism.

As required by this strategy, says Jeffery, NDR interventions have (post-1994) been introduced slowly and successively and have also been “accompanied by propaganda aimed, as in the people’s war years, at throwing dust in people’s eyes and concealing the ANC’s true objectives. [I]f people had more knowledge of the ANC’s people’s war – the first part of a two-stage revolution – it would be easier for them to understand the NDR, which is its second stage” (13) [my emphasis].

If I understand Jeffery correctly, she is saying that the 1994 “transition” was not really the “miracle” of a rainbow nation’s toenadering, of which we South Africans are so proud, but – if one reads events accurately and joins the dots – the result of the people’s war. This was aimed at taking control of state power by hook or by crook, stage one of the NDR, while stage two is to implement socialism and then communism, presumably also by hook or by crook. In other words, there exists a conscious strategy operated by the ANC to work towards socialism and then communism; “the ANC” is always focusing on this strategy and pulling and pushing the requisite levers.

Jeffery’s argument, then, is that just about “everything” that has come about in SA is largely attributable to the ANC’s implementation of its people’s war, a necessary precursor to its NDR, and that what is happening in SA now is all about, or at least is a continuation of, the implementation of the NDR, a conscious strategy aimed at achieving socialism and then communism.

Should we buy into this thesis?


Before trying to answer my question – and before looking at chapter nine, the (new) post-1994 chapter – we should however consider the main part of the book: Jeffery’s analysis of the people’s war from 1960-April 1994. I divide this consideration into two parts. The first is a review of (what I’d call) Jeffery’s underpinning ideology; and the second her actual analysis.


At the start of his not unsympathetic review of the first edition of People’s War, referred to above, Laurence emphasized that Jeffery “is almost certainly an Archilochusian fox by temperament”.

This was a reference to the 7th century BCE Greek poet, Archilochus, who contrasted the knowledge of the fox with that of the hedgehog: “a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing”. This difference in knowledge and therefore of approach was made famous by Isaiah Berlin in a 1953 essay, The Hedgehog and the Fox, mainly about Leo Tolstoy, but in which Berlin pondered which great thinkers had explained the course of history in terms of one central causal force (the hedgehogs) and those who had interpreted history as the product of, and interaction between, many smaller causal forces (the foxes).

Now, it’s possible Laurence was simply exercising his penchant for “intellectual” intros [6]. But, given that Laurence was a canny man, I cannot help wondering whether he genuinely believed what he wrote. Was he merely setting up ahead of time his defence against the flood of criticism sure to be directed at him – it was 2009 – by Maharaj, Jordan, Forrest, etc.? Or might he (simultaneously) have been rationalising his ostensible support for a work about which he felt a little uncomfortable?

I ponder this matter because Laurence’s qualification of the statement (“Jeffery is almost certainly an Archilochusian fox by temperament”) – the qualification being that Jeffery’s “account ... concentrates largely – though not exclusively – on one ... single ... factor” – is a masterpiece of under-statement.

Actually, Jeffery’s modus operandi reminds me of a couple of faux- exasperated rhetorical questions asked by Gore Vidal (in a completely different context): “[I]s the editor [of this book] some sort of monist? A blinkered hedgehog in wild fox country?” [7]

I’d say the answer is yes. People’s War is a one-dimensional approach to a multi-faceted continuum of events. Its arguments and conclusions qualify it as a full-on hedgehog book.

Does this matter? Yes, it does – because such an approach omits context, particularly moral context. Consider Jeffery’s description of the (ANC’s) “Lessons from Vietnam,” including “The formula for people’s war” (chapter one). Now, I think Jeffery’s version could be disputed, especially in terms of her apparent biases and those of her sources [8] – but mainly because she seems to have missed the central point that, no matter how well the Americans and their South Vietnamese proxies did on the “battlefield” (Jeffery argues they did well), they were on a hiding to nothing. This was not because of NLF (Viet Cong) propaganda [9] and other tactics but due to the number of Americans who came home in body bags.

But never mind this debate. More important is that what is missing glaringly from chapter one is any attempt on Jeffery’s part to understand, let alone appreciate, why the NLF leadership might have behaved as it did; why it developed its people’s war. Nowhere, but nowhere, does Jeffery even mention that the Vietnamese had for literally thousands of years been colonised and oppressed by non-Vietnamese. I.e., there is no context.

A response to this could be that Jeffery’s task as a political analyst was not to study the causes of the Vietnam war and to sing “kumbaya” with the Vietnamese people but to outline how the NLF ran its people’s war and what the ANC took from the NLF’s blueprint. Okay, point taken; but without context, there can be little understanding or accurate analysis.

The American writer James Baldwin once remarked: “[O]ne has not learned anything about Castro when one says, ‘He is a Communist.’  This is a way of ... not learning something about Castro, something about Cuba, something ... about the world” [11]. In other words, if you’re a hedgehog, you can’t learn much or interpret or view actions and decisions that lie outside your circumscribed purview – and yet those very “outside” elements undoubtedly impact on an accurate analysis. This observation is as valid for political analysis as it is for any epistemology.

Similarly, regarding the people’s war in South Africa, there is also no appreciation in the book of why certain people took certain decisions and behaved as they did. To be sure, Jeffery does sketch the political and social circumstances in which the majority of South Africans lived prior to 1994. But nowhere do I find any appreciation of the effects of these circumstances.

In this connection, consider, for example, the 2009 response, mentioned above, to Jeffery’s book by Gumede, who was (and is) not an ANC leader, but became a journalist, then an academic.

“Jeffery’s central thesis [wrote Gumede] ... that the ANC deliberately killed thousands of South Africans in a scorched earth strategy to capture power at all costs ... is simply not true. ... I cut my political teeth as an active participant in the school, youth and community politics of the mid-1980s, and in the student and civics politics of the early 1990s. I was also a violence monitor, for the all-party National Peace Committee in the two years up to the first all-race democratic election in April 1994.[10] ... Of course, there was counter or defensive violence by local ANC committees, but to say this was somehow orchestrated as a national campaign from Shell House [then ANC headquarters] is really untrue. ...In sum, to argue that the ANC was responsible for orchestrating each incidence of violence during ... the early 1990s is to have lived in a different country. The ANC’s appeal [sic] did not lie in stoking violence, but in whether it could avert or contain the violence. The longer the violence went on, the more the ANC stood to lose.”

With Baldwin’s quote in mind, another example of Jeffery’s ideological approach is that in this book the bogeyman is obviously communism – or, to be fair to Jeffery, the “USSR”. (She is presumably smart enough to know the two are not synonymous. Or is she?) Jeffery tells us again and again that the aim of the NDR is to implement socialism and then communism – which, we are to understand, would be the Ultimate Calamity. Again, point taken. Let us accept that communism is indeed the Great Satan; and more pertinently that if, in the world of circa 2019 a communist or socialist system (of a Chávezian or North Korean – or even a Cuban? – variety) were foisted on South Africa, it’d be an unmitigated disaster.

Now, Communism is not our subject here and I have no present interest in discussing it. What bothers me, rather, is, again, Jeffery’s contextless approach to the subject. First, it is well-nigh trite to have to recall that when the ANC was friendless, at least in terms of powerful friends, assistance came from the USSR, not anywhere else. Second, surely there are reasons – other than the Devil – why there existed intelligent, deep-thinking and not malevolent people, especially in the South African context, who pursued “Marxism” seriously. This too is a trite observation; we know there were such people. A few examples will do for now: Bram Fischer, Joe Slovo and even the great reconciler, Nelson R Mandela.

Again, Jeffery could argue that I am disingenuously evading an obvious point – that, whatever might have motivated people, and however noble this motivation might have seemed (“Free the oppressed millions and create a radiant tomorrow”) – the NLF leaders or the USSR’s (or the ANC’s) later, or even then, abused the faith of the believers for their own selfish ends.

Yet again: point taken. It’s common cause that liberation movements metamorphose, usually not for the best; we have all heard the saying attributed to French revolutionary Georges Danton at his trial in 1794: “Like Saturn, the Revolution devours its own children”. Franz Kafka (of all people) is attributed with putting it even more plainly: “The Revolution evaporates and leaves behind only the slime of a new bureaucracy.” 

But to analyse a major ideology as some sort of static beast, characterising it as a kind of incarnation of Jabba the Hutt from Star Wars, filled from the get-go with evil intent and nothing else, is equally disingenuous.


And yet. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water.

If, having read the introduction and chapter one (Vietnam and the Green Book), the reader carefully studies chapters two-eight – from “The Balance of Forces in the Run-up to the People’s War” (ch. two: 1978-83) to “The April 1994 Election” (ch. eight: 1994) – s/he will encounter a carefully thought-out, trenchant and compelling analysis.

This analysis/narrative is grounded in meticulous research that uncovers and delineates a set of motivations and behaviours on the part of the ANC that are different to those we generally consider having been the case or are generally told was the case.

Having already described the book’s basic thesis, I don’t need to do it again. But, in short, everything the ANC did, says Jeffery, was per the rules of the Green Book. And she, as it were, proves her claims by working through all the events, actions, and deaths bit by bit. It’s a narrative that casts the ANC in a completely different light – not as a warm-hearted and loving liberator and champion of the people but a merciless and unscrupulous force intent on power. It’s a counter-narrative to ANC “history” of 1984 to 1994.

As mentioned, the people’s war continued with the escalation of violence from 1990 onwards (138 et seq.), including attacks on Azapo and the PAC and of course against Inkatha, and then came the “third-force” activities which, as also previously mentioned, were blamed on the NP government and Inkatha. There was also – at Codesa 1 – the refusal by the ANC to disband its armed wing, Umkhonto, and the continued growth of its “self-defence units” (171 et seq.). Then came the ANC’s strategy to push FW de Klerk out of “the exit gate” and the Boipatong massacre – blamed full-on, but incorrectly, as Jeffery demonstrates, on the (previous regime’s) police.

And so on. There is insufficient space here to continue setting out Jeffery’s painstaking analysis but proceed it does, all the way to the 1994 election, regarding which she documents the “partisan and poorly prepared” Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), pre-election intimidation, “no-go” areas, “pervasive fear,” and missing ballot papers and IFP stickers.

Her post-1994-election summary reads inter alia as follows: “[Post-election] it seemed unthinkable to recall or acknowledge the 15 000 people who had died ... as a result of the ANC’s determination to persist with its people’s war. ... Almost all ... had been black. ... [All] had been treated as expendable weapons in the people’s war. In this ... period, ... they had died not to bring apartheid to a speedier end, but rather to give the ANC the hegemony it had now secured” (278).

Using here her own words, from a reply written to Forrest in December 2009, Jeffery tells us that: the ANC persisted with its people’s war after negotiations began because it considered the talks merely “an additional terrain of struggle”; the ANC had little compunction about attacking black civilians because the people’s war formula regards all civilians as expendable; the ANC had a motive to unleash violence because it wanted to create enough unrest to spark insurrection or weaken its opponents; and the ANC was the only organisation to draw benefit from the 15 000 political killings of the early 1990s, because it used these to stigmatise De Klerk and the IFP, stampede negotiators, and to put pressure on the first all-race election.

There are (again) “problems” with a fair amount of what Jeffery writes or, rather, her approach. For example, having in 1998 co-written, with Eugene de Kock, A Long Night’s Damage: Working for the Apartheid State, I do know something about Vlakplaas. Jeffery’s underwhelming “description” of the place – the reasons for its existence, what its operatives did, and its significance, with, en passant, the line, “... askaris were also available [sic] ... [for the] elimination of ANC activists (64)” – does make one think Jeffery was living in another country.

But this objection, in the light of the overall analysis, is a quibble. More important is that it seems to me that Jeffery’s reading of the rampant violence and particularly the violence perpetrated by covert units of the military and police (the so-called ‘third force’) after 1990 – which is the core of her first eight chapters – is off-target, at least until 1992, after which the ANC do seem to have started gaining the ascendancy. 

I don’t say this venomously or hyper-critically; but because, in my view, there was so much confusion about who was doing what to whom, and who was trying to “play” whom, that Jeffery’s “understanding” is too (if I’m still allowed to use the phrase) black and white.

Anyone who has, for instance, read the relevant chapters of Anthony Turton’s 2010 Shaking Hands with Billy, as well other sources, will know that the security forces of the apartheid regime were themselves split, with one part sometimes secretly working against the other, and vice-versa; and the same seems to have applied to elements of the ANC and IFP. Thus, Force X (without telling its “brother” force, X1) might perpetrate a false flag attack, with the view of causing Force Y to retaliate by attacking Force Z. Later on, Force Z would attack Force Y, but seek to publicly lay the blame on Force X, and so on. In short, we have yet to read an all-encompassing, clear-eyed and “fair” rendition of both the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary activities of that period (if such is possible).

Above all, as simplistic and “unpolitical” as it might sound, Robert Burns’ lines, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft agley; The best laid schemes of mice and men/Go often askew,” [11] sound in my ears. Which is to say: the theory’s good, it looks as though one can join the dots (for Jeffery has revealed the dots), but in real life people’s actions seldom operate according to blueprint.

Nonetheless, Jeffery’s study is a compelling counter-narrative that pokes holes in the curtain pulled tightly by the ANC and others over our recent past – punctures those Struggle myths – and is certainly worthy of our attention.


We come to chapter nine – “The Second Stage of the Revolution” – in which Jeffery tells us, she says, of how the NDR has been “implemented to date,” though, in fairness to her, Jeffery states that this is but a “brief [sic] synopsis” that she promises (threatens?) will be supplemented in a forthcoming book.

Having achieved hegemony, state power, the ANC could go ahead and transform SA “from a predominantly capitalist economy to a socialist and then communist one” (282), as neatly laid out in inter alia the SACP’s 1989 The Path to Power. This document states, however, that although “victory in the NDR is ... the most direct route to socialism and ultimately communism,” the realisation of these goals will at all times be dependent on “the balance of forces”.

To put it another way, no need to rush to socialism – if necessary, one can fiddle around in the Capitalism playground. And at every one of its five-yearly conferences, the ANC has adopted a Strategy and Tactics document setting out what needs to be done to advance the NDR. So, for example, the 1997 Mafikeng document stressed the need to take control of all the “levers of power” – civil service, police, army, intelligence services, the judiciary, the media, the public broadcaster, all of which would require a “cadre deployment policy”.

According to a 2002 ANC document, there was a need for the elimination of existing property rights, which we know today as the EWC issue, and which intent was part of then deputy-president Ramaphosa’s sentiments in 2012 at the Mangaung conference when he opined that “the priority is now to pursue economic freedom”.

These words were echoed by former president Jacob Zuma in 2014 during his SONA address; and in 2017 the ANC at Nasrec decided that “the expropriation of land without compensation should be among the key mechanisms ... to give effect to land reform and redistribution”. EWC, above all, is viewed by Jeffery as a massive danger – because if the definition of “property” is not limited to land, which it is not, it could pave the way for “the nationalisation of mines, banks and monopoly industry” (298).

Jeffery then runs through a list of other ANC interventions aimed at hastening the NDR. These range from the systematic weakening of parliament, cadre deployment, the introduction of onerous BEE requirements, the adoption of unduly rigid labour laws, the erosion of university autonomy, the building of dependency among 17 million beneficiaries of social grants, the refusal to privatise increasingly inefficient, costly and often corrupt state-owned enterprises, and others.

Jeffery’s scenario turns even more devastating when she ponders why the ANC would want even now to pursue the NDR, which is so economically and socially destructive – and its communist end goal so outdated and illogical. (So, happily, we have moved away from the bogeyman, especially given the dissolution of the USSR at the end of 1991.)

Jeffery says for the ANC there is a compelling logic to the NDR strategy: “If the economy were thriving and millions of well-skilled South Africans could easily find well-paying private sector jobs outside of state control, the ANC would soon lose its grip on power. A rapidly expanding black middle class, with little need to reply on state provision, would readily turn to rival political parties ...” (300).

This is different terrain to the first eight chapters; and here it’s very difficult not to buy Jeffery’s thesis. But I would argue, however, that the ANC is presently a ghost of its former self and has been seriously ravaged by greed or, in some cases, just “normal” acquisition.

Consider those ANC Elders who took up verbal arms against Zuma, consider Ramaphosa himself: with a few exceptions (though I’m hard-pressed to think of any), these people are apparently as moneyed as Croesus allegedly was. If one were a Marxist, one could say they have all been co-opted by Capitalism. And then there are those who play the system like Ace Magashule has – see Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s Gangster State.

As a result, all the NDR prattle seems like the refrain of a mostly-forgotten song – more honoured in the breach than the observance. It almost seems the wheels have fallen off the NDR as they have off the ANC. Bizarrely, the only folk mouthing classic NDR talk these days are Julius Malema and his merry people – whose motivations I trust about as far as I could throw Floyd Shivambu.

Consider too this perhaps facile but I hope instructive example: if the prime overriding strategy of the NDR has been (and is) to work towards socialism and communism, what are we to make of respected journalist but also unofficial presidential spokesperson, Peter Bruce, who all his life has worked for and run publications which have trumpeted the glories of the free market? Or of overt Ramaphosa-supporter Colin Coleman, CEO of Goldman Sachs for Sub-Saharan Africa? Or, for that matter, of non-executive chairman and “senior adviser” to Rothschild & Co, Trevor Manuel? Are they communist “sleepers” a la a John le Carré novel or simply examples of VI Lenin’s “useful idiots”?

Or am I simply naïve? Anthea Jeffery would think so – and it seems, in the final chapter of her new edition, with good reason.


[1] In the Sunday Times and headlined, “History 101, anyone? A new book chronicles the struggle in a laughable manner”: . Jeffery responded a week later, in an article headlined “The truth will out, Mac Maharaj branding critics as enemies an old trick,” in which she repeated the book’s thesis.  Just by the way, the sub-title of Jeffery’s book (in both editions) echoes, perhaps unwittingly but perhaps not, the sub-title of Padraig O’Malley’s 2007 Shades of Difference: Mac Maharaj and the Struggle for South Africa, which Maharaj pretty much co-wrote.

[2] Focus 55. Pp. 50-52. Jeffery responded to both Jordan and Gumede (see below) in the same issue of the Helen Suzman Foundation’s magazine, Focus.

[3] Maharaj, as official number one defender of Number One from 2011-15, inevitably and helplessly became something much worse than “the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable,” he became the paramount defender of the indefensible. . As for Pallo Jordan, in 2014 a Sunday Times investigation revealed that although he called himself a “Dr,” the leading “party intellectual” had never completed any tertiary degree.. Does this mean we should dismiss Maharaj’s and Jordan’s negative critiques of the 2009 edition? I don’t think we should for one reason: they emanated from two people who were among those responsible for conducting the people’s war.

[4] PoliticswebSee also: “ANC 1979: The Green Book Report of the Politico-Military Strategy Commission to the ANC National Executive Committee, August 1979” (apparently transcribed by Pallo Jordan).  

[5] It’s in commenting on the third-force issue that Jeffery zaps leading journalists (Howard Barrell, Gavin Evans, Alan Fine, John Carlin, Mondli Makhanya) and publications (The Weekly MailNew NationVrye Weekblad) of the time. It’s about this commentary that Kane-Berman has recently written: “But the spread of fake news by the media is only half the story. The other half is what they did not print, and why they did not print it. ... [Jeffery’s] book will help you understand why the media was so selective in its presentation of news.”. Media behaviour is not my subject in this piece. But it does occur to me that – given that hindsight tends to be 20/20 – it is unfair to whack the media retrospectively; they were, as we shall discuss, operating in extremely difficult and very confusing conditions.

[6] When I worked at The Star a “story” did the rounds that Laurence – who was respected but also teased for being an “over-thinking intellectual”– had once written an intro to a news story that went something like this: “The views held by Politician X seem interesting but then again they might possibly not be.” For those not in the newspapering business, a hard news “intro” is, among other things, never supposed to have any hypothetical element whatsoever.

[7] “The Hacks of Academe,” 111-20, in United States: Essays 1952-1992, Random House, 1993.

[8] For what it’s worth, I lived from 1961-65 with my parents in South Vietnam, where my father, a hospital supply “expert,” worked for the World Health Organisation and my mother taught English at a Chinese school in then Saigon. Given that I was aged from eight to 12, I was far more interested in learning to smoke and all the weapons I saw around me than in history, politics, or journalism. But the point is that my parents were aware of what was happening in the country – especially my father who travelled (often in dangerous circumstances) to the rural areas – and they later wrote a book about their experiences (unpublished) and continued discussing Vietnam for many years afterwards. I.e., the terrain and issues are not foreign to me. Just one example: Jeffery mentions that “Another theme in the [NLF’s] propaganda campaign [against South Vietnam and the Americans] was the weakness and corruption of the Saigon administration” (p.22); no doubt; but if my father was to be believed, the Saigon administration was indeed deeply corrupt, i.e., more interested in certain Swiss bank accounts than the people of South Vietnam. (Remind you of anyone?)

[9] Regarding NLF propaganda “successes,” Jeffery notes (p.21) that “Enormous media coverage was given to incidents such as the My Lai massacre in March 1968, in which US troops ... rounded up and shot [more than 350] Vietnamese villagers at close range. By contrast, few people in the US [knew about] the Dak Son massacre ... in which the Viet Cong [incinerated with flame throwers] a hundred or more men, women, and children ...” Well, hello, Anthea. This was 1967/8, long before the era of “embedded” journos or omnipresent TV cameras – there were no “Western” or for that matter any journalists running around with the VC. And the “Vietnamese villagers” appear to have been Montagnards (Degar people). This does not in any way vindicate the VC behaviour but it is common cause that the South Vietnamese government’s “strategy” of forcing the Montagnards into separate so-called “hamlets” to act as a bulwark against the VC, as well the training of Montagnards in unconventional warfare (against the VC) by and alongside American Special Forces, were deeply contentious issues – and not necessarily the choice of the Montagnards themselves (or so some told my father.)

[10] FYI, on p. xl of the 2009 edition, under “Methodology,” Jeffery noted that she had paid less heed in her research to the reports of “monitors of violence” because “many” had “links to the ANC and promoted its perspective on the violence”.

[11] “To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest With the Plough, November, 1785.”