“The ANC’s (African National Congress) violent intolerance of the Black Consciousness (BC) movement found its grimmest expression during the ‘people’s war’ it waged from 1984 to 1994. The key aim of the people’s war was to weaken the BC movement and other black rivals, so as to give the ANC the hegemony needed to implement its National Democratic Revolution (NDR),” writes Anthea Jeffery in this extract from the new edition of her book, People’s War: New Light on the Struggle for South Africa.
[When the ANC’s people’s war began in September 1984,] Azapo (Azanian People’s Organisation is a South African) was a relatively small organisation, but it nevertheless remained a significant rival to the UDF (United Democratic Front) in the BC strongholds of Port Elizabeth and Soweto.
Attacks on Azapo began in Port Elizabeth, after it had strongly criticised the three-day stayaway or ‘black weekend’ called by Pebco in March 1985. Petrol bombs were hurled into the home of Azapo leader Dr Ebenezer Maqina, while a senior Azapo official was killed in an attack on Maqina’s surgery. Azapo retaliated, petrol-bombing the home of Edgar Ngoyi, the UDF’s regional president in the eastern Cape. But despite its attempts to fight back, Azapo bore the brunt of the violence. Four of its members were killed in the first two weeks of May 1985, while another 19 were attacked. ‘Under the cloak of a general uprising, the UDF has shown its hand in pursuance of its grand hegemonic agenda,’ said Azapo president Ishmael Mkhabela.
Necklace executions were also used to sow terror among Azapo members. One of the first victims of the necklace in the Port Elizabeth area was not an apartheid ‘collaborator’, but rather a youth by the name of Pakamisa Nogwaza. He was an Azapo supporter who was caught in June 1985 by UDF supporters standing guard at Ngoyi’s home. They beat and stabbed Nogwaza before putting a petrol-soaked tyre around his neck and burning him to death.
Further attacks on Azapo so weakened the BC organisation that it virtually ceased to exist in the eastern Cape by late in 1985. Conflict between the UDF (dubbed the ‘Wararas’) and Azapo (the ‘Zim-Zims’) then shifted to Soweto, where different areas became divided into UDF or BC territory and often a single street marked the boundary between the two.
One of the first Azapo supporters to die in the Soweto conflict was Martin Tebogo Mohau, a former Robben Island prisoner. Despite his role in opposing apartheid, he was captured by the Wararas in May 1986 and executed by the necklace method. Thereafter, much of the violence focused around the Dlamini district of Soweto, where Azapo secretary-general George Wauchope lived. Wauchope had twice been detained by the police for prolonged periods (for 281 days during the Soweto revolt, for example) but his long record of resistance to apartheid seemed also to matter little to the UDF.
Anonymous phone calls warned Wauchope that his time was running out. Soon thereafter a stolen van was rammed into the front of his home and a petrol bomb was thrown at it. Some nights later, more than 20 petrol bombs were hurled into Wauchope’s house. George’s teenage son, Byron, woke to a great crashing of glass and found the house aflame. The family tried to leave the blazing structure, but the door was being held closed from the outside. Luckily, however, their screams roused the neighbourhood, the Wararas disappeared, and the door suddenly gave way, allowing the Wauchopes to escape being burnt alive.
Soon afterwards, Byron was scraping down the blackened walls of his home with a 14-year-old friend, Fana Mhlongo, when the Wararas returned to the attack. Byron himself was able to escape but Fana was captured and spirited away to a nearby house in a UDF stronghold. The Wauchopes knew where Fana was being held but had no hope of being able to rescue him. Said George: ‘If you go into their stronghold, you will surely be killed because you are outnumbered. Either you are with them, or you are not. There is no middle of the road.’ Fana was not one of them and so he was executed – shot dead with a bullet to the head. When his body was found on Soweto’s golf course ten days later, it was clear he had been tortured. His legs were covered in concentric burns from the rings of an electric stove and there were tiny cuts on his head and the soles of his feet.
By the end of 1986, 30 Azapo members had been killed, a hundred had been injured, and the homes of 30 more had been burnt down. Still the attacks went on, and in January 1987 Washington Wauchope (George’s uncle) was shot dead at close range in Soweto. Witnesses supplied the names of the killers, and it was clear, as one Azapo supporter put it, that ‘the whole township knew what was going on and who had done it’. However, people were too scared to object or to approach the police. Said Azapo activist Sibusiso Mabasa: ‘The UDF’s game is fear and that’s why they’re in the majority.’
By September 1988 Azapo was giving serious thought to whether it could survive at all. Though it believed it had a duty to blacks to stay alive, it was (as one journal described it), ‘a tired organisation run from a dirty and shabby Johannesburg office suite’, and the battle to sustain its operations seemed to have exhausted it. Part of the problem was that Azapo had little of the foreign funding that the ANC, with Soviet help, was able to secure. In addition, the violence directed against it had made people afraid to identify with it and drained it of the support it might otherwise have gained.
[Two years later, in February 1990, when state president FW de Klerk lifted the bans and restrictions on the ANC, the SACP, the UDF, the PAC, and other organisations,] Azapo and the PAC were [relatively] minor rivals to the ANC, [but] this was not enough to spare them from attack.
In the first seven months of 1990, no fewer than five Azapo and PAC activists died in unexplained car accidents. Among them was Azapo’s projects coordinator, Muntu Myeza, who had helped the UDF to stage the Conference for a Democratic Future in December 1989. Also killed in this way was Jafta Masemola, a PAC leader convicted of sabotage in 1963 and released from Robben Island in October 1989 after 26 years in prison. Said Azapo spokesman Dr Gomolemo Mokae: ‘We need to know what has suddenly gone wrong with the cars in this country that they are killing all the activists.’
There was also persistent conflict between the ANC and Azapo in Bekkersdal (Westonaria), on the west Rand. Here, two members of an Azapo affiliate were killed in February 1990, while another three were killed in April. In September 1990 a number of Azapo activists were rounded up by youths, assaulted with sjamboks, and given an ultimatum to join the ANC or leave Bekkersdal for good as the township had room for only one political organisation: the ANC.
Two months later, 25 people were killed in fighting in the township, after a mob had attacked a funeral vigil for a BC supporter. Commented the Azanian Students’ Movement (Azasm): ‘The involvement of ANC supporters in every outbreak of violence in the country has given rise to doubts about the ANC’s preaching on political tolerance.’ Early in 1991, another 15 people were killed in Bekkersdal and Azapo again blamed the ANC, saying the latter was ‘intent on taking over the town’.
In March 1990 conflict broke out between the ANC and the PAC in Munsieville (Krugersdorp), also on the West Rand. Here, the fighting began after a local ANC official had declared the township ‘a free ANC zone’. By the end of the year, attacks on the PAC commonly involved hand grenades, AK-47 rifles and other firearms, prompting roughly 70 PAC members and officials to flee the township. The ANC responded that ‘PAC supporters could return to the township provided they either joined the ANC or retired from politics’. However, PAC officials would have to stay out, for Munsieville was too small for two political groups and the ANC must be accepted as ‘the sole operational party’. The ANC also blamed the PAC for the conflict, while the latter urged the ANC to ‘accept other political views and establish a culture of political tolerance’.
The updated and abridged edition of “People’s War: New Light on the Struggle for South Africa” by Dr Anthea Jeffery, Head of Policy Research at the Institute of Race Relations (IRR), is published by Jonathan Ball Publishers and is available in all good bookstores.