ANC in exile's human rights record: The Cambridge Seminar

The record of the liberation movements under scrutiny in the United Kingdom


Seminar at the 20th anniversary of Mandela's release

On the eve of the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from prison, the Centre of Governance and Human Rights at Cambridge University hosted a roundtable discussion at King's College on Wednesday 10 February with leading academics on Southern Africa - Professors Stephen Ellis, Saul Dubow and Jocelyn Alexander - and with Paul Trewhela, the author of Inside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile History of the ANC and SWAPO (Jacana, 2009). The seminar was chaired by the BBC World Service's Africa Editor, Martin Plaut.

Participants set out to examine the human rights record of liberation movements in the region as a whole, with a particular focus on Inside Quatro.

Titled 'Truth be Told? Debating the Human Rights Records of Southern Africa's Exile Liberation Movements', the seminar was held in the Keynes Lecture Theatre beside a bust of the Cambridge economist John Maynard Keynes, and attracted an audience of about a hundred people. A recording of the seminar made by the university, lasting two hours, can be heard here:

Hosted by the Cambridge Centre of Governance and Human Rights (http://www.polis.cam.ac.uk/cghr) together with the Centre of African Studies (http://www.african.cam.ac.uk ) and the Centre of International Studies (http://www.polis.cam.ac.uk/cis/ ), it was attended by academics such as Dr Hugh Macmillan (Oxford), who published the Memorandum written by Chris Hani and six colleagues in 1969 concerning failures in the leadership of Umkhonto we Sizwe in the Wankie campaign, and Dr Sue Onslow (London School of Economics), editor of the newly published Cold War in Southern Africa: White Power, Black Liberation (Routledge, 2009).

Martin Plaut is the author (with Jeremy Seeking) of 'History on the Line: Reflections on the South African Revolution' (History Workshop Journal Issue 54, 2002).

Professor Stephen Ellis (African Studies Centre, Leiden, and Free University, Amsterdam), was editor of Africa Confidential in the Eighties and has written extensively on West Africa. He is co-author of the still standard study, Comrades against Apartheid: The ANC and the South African Communist Party in Exile (James Currey/Indiana University Press, 1992).

Professor Jocelyn Alexander (University of Oxford) is the author of The Unsettled Land: State-making and the Politics of Land in Zimbabwe, 1893-2003 (James Currey/ Ohio University Press/ Weaver, Harare, 2006) and also of a co-authored monograph, Violence and Memory: One Hundred Years in the ‘Dark Forests' of Matabeleland (James Currey/ Heinemann, 2000). She has conducted ongoing research into oral histories of war and violence, including questions of memory, social and political change, and the politics of veterans, with a special focus on Zimbabwe. 

Professor Saul Dubow (University of Sussex) is chair of the board of the Journal of Southern African Studies, which last year published a special issue, Liberation Struggles, Exile and International Solidarity (Routledge, Vol. 35 No.2). He is the author of The African National Congress (Sutton Pocket Histories, 2000).

Quatro, the ANC's secretive detention centre in Angola in the 1980s, was designed to incarcerate infiltrators and rehabilitate its own dissidents. However, in the eyes of some, Quatro and other such facilities in the region became sites of gross human rights violations. With his book, Inside Quatro: Exploring the Exile Histories of the ANC and SWAPO, Paul Trewhela suggests that the ANC never came fully to terms with Quatro after the end of apartheid. And he lays out a similar disquieting history of abuses by SWAPO, Namibia's liberation movement also exiled in Angola during this period.

Published in late 2009, Inside Quatro's revelations have spurred vehement responses from the highest echelons of the ANC, including Gwede Mantashe, the ANC's Secretary General. The Cambridge seminar took place at an important moment for reflection, exactly twenty years after the unbanning of the ANC and Nelson Mandela's release from prison.

It was organised by Sharath Srinivasan, director of the Centre of Governance and Human Rights at Cambridge. 

Sources: Paul Trewhela et al.

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