The exile experience: Impact on the functioning of Liberation Movements

The exile environment: An overview

The exile environment was characterised by threats, opportunities and challenges, which were the result of the interaction of a variety of factors both internal and external to the host countries. For the exile liberation movements, the Southern African environment was generally precarious, dynamic and unstable. During the period 1960 to 1990, the exile environment was characterised by a pervasive counter insurgency war causing devastations across the Southern African continent. Counter-insurgency was nonetheless mounting. It was led and fed by the Portuguese occupied territories of Angola and Mozambique until 1975, Rhodesia until 1980 and apartheid South Africa until 1994. As a result, no neighbouring state was able or willing to provide a secure rear base for guerrilla infiltration into South Africa, and none seemed likely to do so openly until 1994.

The period 1960 to 1968 was a period of the establishment of the first generation of independent states in Southern Africa. During this period, Tanzania gained independence in 1961, Kenya in 1962, Malawi and Zambia in 1964, Botswana and Lesotho in 1966 and Swaziland in 1968. These developments generated a mood of optimism among South Africans, including the winds of change speech delivered by Harold Macmillan on his visit to South Africa in 1960. In 1971 to 1976, the South African government, through its intelligence wing, Bureau of Security Service – better known as BOSS – launched an initiative aimed at the destabilisation of Zambia, the home of the African National Congress (ANC), code named “Operation Dingo”.

Between the years 1975 and 1976, South Africa was involved in the war in Angola. The following period 1977 to 1994 was dominated by a “silent war” waged by the South African government in collaboration with Rhodesian security forces against the Frontline States. The South African government planned strategies and diplomatic initiatives such as the Nkomati Accord between the latter and Mozambique. These developments further shifted the liberation movements to focus their military and political strategies further away from the target which was South Africa. As a result, the period was characterised by increased mass mobilisation against apartheid inside the South African borders. Uprisings which occurred from 16 June 1976 and again on March 1985 were important landmarks showing the changes of strategy and attempts to revive the liberation struggle within the borders of South Africa. At the same time, space for the operation of liberation movements such as South Western African People’s Organisation (SWAPO), the ANC and the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) was opened outside South Africa, following the independence of Zimbabwe in 1980. This period was one of despair as well as hope for the people of Southern Africa.  

The Frontline States and the OAU in the Southern African liberation struggle:

The Organisation of African Unity and the Frontline States were two organisations which were critical players in the African continent. The OAU was founded in 1963 and was the umbrella organisation for all independent African states.

The emergence of the Frontline States (FLS):

The FLS can be defined as a grouping of independent Southern African states such as Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe and Botswana, sharing a common vision about the political and economic developments in Southern Africa and common policies towards South Africa, based on their adherence to the Lusaka Manifesto of 1969 and the Dar-es-Salaam Declaration of 1975. The FLS began as an informal consultation forum between the Tanzania President, Julius Nyerere and Zambian President, Kenneth Kuanda in the mid 1960s. Negotiations between the two heads of state were precipitated by their concern about the “institutional paralysis that characterised the formulation of African positions on Southern Africa by the OAU.

The informal consultation between Nyerere and Kuanda was gradually developed and broadened to involve Zaire, Kenya, Uganda and Botswana, following the independence of the latter in 1966. The consultation forum that took place afterwards, resulted in the formulation of the Lusaka Manifesto in 1969. The consultation forum evolved into a larger close-knit group after 1975 when Mozambique and Angola we included following their independence.

Towards the end of the 1970s, the activities of the FLS went beyond the promotions of regional conflict resolution and began to encompass issues of regional economic developments. The FLS facilitated political liberation through diplomatic initiatives and political support for the liberation movements. Ideological differences, particularly among Lesotho, Swaziland and Malawi on the one hand and the FLS was put aside and emphasis was placed on those issues, which united them as Southern African states. They recognised the importance of liberating their economies from excessive dependence on the Republic of South Africa.

Profiles of Frontline States:

Tanzania and Zambia

Tanzania received its independence in 1961 and Zambia in 1964. Zambia was economically dependent on South Africa, and this dependency was worsened by the fact that the country is land-locked without access to a port and harbour facilities. The economic difficulties of the country provoked political discontent which resulted in two failed attempts to overthrow President Kuanda, first in October 1980 and again in June 1984.

Tanzania also experienced difficulties as three years after the formation of the state of Tanzania, President Nyerere announced in October 1962 a policy for the reconstruction and development of Tanzania based on socialist principles. This however became non-successful.

Despite their economic and political differences, these two countries never relented in their commitment and support for the liberation movements in Southern Africa. Hence, both Zambia and Tanzania, until 1990, continued to provide a haven for the ANC, PAC, Black Consciousness Movement and other elements of the liberation movement.

The BLS States – Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland:

Botswana and Lesotho received their independence in 1966 and Swaziland in 1968. All the BLS States had economic links with South Africa and were heavily dependent on these links since their internal resources were underdeveloped. The countries were also dependent on South Africa for the employment of the majority of their labour forces. It was estimated that in 1984, Lesotho had 14 000, Swaziland 20 000 and Botswana 25 000 of their labour force working in South Africa. It was therefore difficult for the BLS States to condemn apartheid due to their dependence on the country. Even though they supported the liberation movements and were members of the Southern African Development Coordinating Conference (SADCC) and the FLS, they never allowed liberation movements such as the ANC and the PAC to establish military bases in their countries or to use their territory as an infiltration corridor into South Africa.

These newly independent countries did not want to compromise their newly found independence and therefore the ANC and the PAC were not allowed to maintain guerrilla camps in these countries. Despite this situation, members of liberation movements still enjoyed support on the BLS countries because these countries were fully supportive of the struggle against colonialism and racism.

Mozambique, Angola and Zimbabwe:

These countries received independence in 1975, 1976 and 1980 respectively. They obtained more than half of their imports from South Africa. Besides this, South Africa invested in the physical infrastructure in Mozambique and Angola. Zimbabwean labour force employed in South Africa in 1984 was estimated at around 7 000 and the Mozambican labour force at 60 000. Due to these economic reasons, Zimbabwe had to reconcile her rejection of apartheid South Africa. By 1987 almost 90 per cent of Zimbabwe’s external trade and fuel supplies depended on South African transportation networks.

Angola was the only one of the three countries without clear and stable economic links with South Africa because of the state of war in the country during this period. Angola provided five military training camps to the ANC. In 1984, Angola together with South Africa signed the Lusaka Accord which committed both countries to cease fire and withdraw South African troops from Angola. In 1988, another agreement was between Angola, Cuba and South Africa in New York. This paved the way for the final withdrawal of South African troops and the finalisation of talks for the independence of Namibia. This had serious implications for the presence of ANC guerrilla forces in Angola. They were then expelled from the country in 1989.

Mozambique on the other hand suffered a series of attacks from the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO – Portuguese: Resistência Nacional Moçambicana) which was sponsored by the South African government. The impact of these attacks was so profound that the country was pulverised into a condition of famine and destruction. As a result, Mozambique signed a pact called the Nkomati Accord which stipulated that the South African Defence Force (SADF) would cease support for RENAMO in exchange for Mozambique denying military bases for the ANC. This represented a major setback for the liberation movements because the ANC military operations were terminated and its cadres flown out of Mozambique as a sign of commitment by the Mozambican government to the signed peace accord. The Nkomati Accord failed because of the covert operations by the South African military intelligence which continued its support for RENAMO even after the signing of the agreement.

The South African offensive in Southern Africa:

During the period 1960 to 1990, South Africa was at the centre of the conflict in Southern Africa. In the period 1977 to 1990, the country was characterised by a “carrot and stick” approach in dealing with independent neighbouring Southern African states. After 1976, following the independence of Mozambique, South Africa felt exposed to the perceived communist onslaught from the north. Therefore South Africa formulated strategies which would remove the ANC from its borders. It involved attempts to diminish the hostility of the neighbours by offering economic support, while seeking to destabilise the regimes by means of economic and military pressure.

The cross-border raids by the South African government towards ANC and PAC camps in exile had a negative effect on most states in Southern Africa. The South African regime also exacted a heavy political toll within those states by revealing them as defenceless in the face of foreign military attack and as unable to protect their own citizens.

Super powers and the conflict in Southern Africa:

From the early 1960s, the superpowers played an important role in the liberation struggle in Southern Africa. Before the PAC was banned in April 1960, two of its leaders, Nana Mahomo and Peter Molotsi were sent to the United States of America (USA) to influence and mobilise political opinion to support the movement and raise funds in order to establish the PAC external mission, the same which was done by the ANC when OR Tambo was sent abroad to establish the ANC’s external diplomatic mission and raise funds for the organisation. The superpowers were individually involved in various ways in the liberation of Southern Africa as some gave financial support, trained cadres as well as sponsored the liberation movements with arms. These superpowers renounced violence as a strategy towards a solution.

The experience of liberation movements:

The problems and difficulties confronting all liberation movements in Southern Africa involved; maintaining and sustaining organisational coherence and unity, keeping of sound relations with the government of the host country, maintaining good relations with all sources of funding and remaining politically effective in terms of programs and activities inside the country to be liberated as well as outside of it. It became difficult for the South African liberation movements (PAC and ANC) to infiltrate the country because of the Southern African countries economic dependency on South Africa. It became difficult for the ANC and PAC to reside in these countries, therefore moving them further away from their target – apartheid South Africa. The ANC experienced serious problems during the exile period. Unlike the PAC, whose legal existence was short-lived inside South Africa; the ANC [before it was banned] had developed internal systems which made it possible to withstand the challenges of exile. In anticipation of being banned, the ANC sent Tambo to London to lay foundations for some networks before the ANC went into exile in 1960.

The exiled ANC established its headquarters in Morogoro, Tanzania. ANC guerrilla camps were spread in Tanzania in Kongwa, Mbeya, Bagamoyo, and Morogoro. The first ANC guerrillas to be deployed were in 1967 during the Wankie campaign which was however not successful as a number of Zimbabwean African People’s Union (ZAPU) and ANC guerrillas as well as Rhodesian soldiers were killed. In 1968, some members of the Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) complained that the failure of the Wankie campaign was due to miscalculations by the leadership. These cadres also accused their leaders of extravagant living and ethnic favouritism. These and other complaints led to the summoning of the Morogoro Conference. This conference revived confidence in the leadership of the organisation and helped restore a degree of unity. This however did not put an end to its internal conflicts.

There were also concerns raised about the role of white communists in the ANC. This group felt that white South African Communist Party (SACP) members wanted to control the organisation as an attitude of white supremacy over blacks. Throughout these bitter conflicts, the ANC was able to retain a degree of continuity and bedrock political unity – to such a degree that it was the envy of a number of liberation movements elsewhere.

The reconstitution of the PAC as the Liberation Movement in Diaspora (1960-1963):

This section focuses on how the first group of PAC exiles established themselves in Maseru before the launch of a formal PAC structure in 1962. It also explains the conditions under which the exiles lived in and the impact these conditions had on the development of the organisation. The banning of the PAC in 1960 and the imprisonment of its leader Robert Sobukwe had an adverse effect on the growth of the organisation which was only 11 months old. Sobukwe was sentenced to three years in prison and his colleagues in the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the PAC were given two years, while other members of the organisation were given 18 months. The only leaders who were not arrested included Nanha Mahomo and Peter Molotsi, who had left the country in March 1960 on the instruction that he should mobilise the international community, including the rest of Africa against apartheid as well as generate resources that would help establish the PAC in exile. In 1960, Sobukwe had appointed ZB Molete as acting President of the PAC; therefore this helped to provide a limited degree of leadership inside South Africa whilst the PAC was in exile. In 1962, the PAC built headquarters in Maseru. The headquarters were however relocated to Dar-es-Salaam in 1964 but Maseru continued to function as a PAC mission.

In 1962, P.K. Leballo after serving his two year sentence for his involvement in the anti-pass campaign took over from Molete as Acting President. A significant presence of PAC membership established itself in Maseru, and sympathetic citizens of Lesotho accommodated these members. The network relatives of Leballo also helped provide temporary accommodation to members of the PAC. As the number of PAC exiles increased, Ellias Skamanie, a member of the Black Community Programmes (BCP) provided accommodation to almost all the PAC exiles. Despite Skamanie’s accommodation, some groups of newcomers in the exile community were still in need of shelter and as a result, were accommodated in temporary shelters in the back yards of houses. The more the number of PAC exiles grew in Lesotho, the more serious the problem of accommodation became. As the exile community expanded, security became a serious problem among the Lesotho-based exiles. PAC members were arrested regularly by members of the Basutoland police, either on the grounds of entering the country without a permit or on pure suspicion of pursuing a political agenda not acceptable to the government of the day.

During the first few months of the exiled PAC, their main concern was of survival, food and accommodation. The fact that these people were regarded by Basutoland authorities as illegal brought about even more problems for the organisation. The leadership was also at some point arrested for entering the country without permits. They were required for a long period to report to the nearest police station on a daily basis. Under such circumstances, political activity was difficult; however, structures were set up for the operational exile organisation.

The reconstruction of PAC leadership structures in exile:

The Presidential Council was formed in Maseru in September 1962. The formation of the Presidential Council was followed by the declaration of a general statement of policy to regulate the relations between the Presidential Council and other previously existing PAC structures inside South Africa. PAC representatives abroad were issued a set of policy instructions which emphasised the centralisation of all powers and decision-making at headquarters. The existence of a formal leadership structure assisted in the conceptualisation of a few strategic documents for the exiled PAC refugees from South Africa and a single point of reference when authority on PAC matters was sought.

Development of strategy documents:

The Presidential Council developed strategy documents and guidelines for the exiled organisation. One of the strategy documents drafted by the PAC was the “Self-reliance and the Mobilization of resources in the PAC. This document emphasised the importance of self-reliance and its application under conditions of exile in general and under conditions in Lesotho, in particular. It explained self-reliance as a three in one principle which all PAC exiles had to follow in the following manner:

It is a principle, a policy and a method of struggle. It is a principle because it is unchangeable under any circumstances, for example, during the liberation struggle it is applicable and after liberation it is a guiding principle in nation building.

According to this document, the PAC was to develop its own strategies of survival in the exile environment and not to rely completely on the support of other nations. Self-reliance was seen as a method to be used in the battle against the SA government. The document also contained sound strategic proposals but the problem was that these were never implemented nor was there any official mechanism or system to ensure their implementation, resulting in the chaos which dominated the period of Leballo’s leadership. At the same time there were efforts even though limited to implement some of these strategies of self-reliance in Lesotho.

The second policy document was called “Guidelines on PAC cells abroad”. This document resulted in a set of official procedures and later adopted as a policy by the PAC at its new headquarters in Dar-es-Salaam after 1964. According to this document, all PAC members were to organise themselves into cells consisting of not less than 10 members. The cells were administered by a three person committee consisting of a chairperson, treasurer and secretary. The PAC cells inside South Africa focused on political mobilisation and agitation, whereas the PAC cells in exile focused on liaison activities with international solidarity groups, non-governmental organisations, embassies and donor organisations. These were intended to collect contributions from PAC members who were employed in various countries.


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