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Umkhonto we Sizwe, Fighting for a divided people

ISBN 9 781919 854168
The saying goes that the story of the hunt always glorifies the hunter.
So too, the story of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC) – it has always been told from the rose-tinted bias of the hunter.
Thula Bopela and Daluxolo Luthuli, who joined MK as virtual children – the latter was 15 – tell the tale with no urge to vanish the truth.
It is that vein of truth – the emphasis is theirs – which makes this book such a serious departure from the norm of propaganda.
The two cadres obviously had a story to tell, especially Thula, but ended up going off at a tangent to tell their life stories.
It could have worked better as strictly the story of MK. Other books will beat it especially on this score.
Thula Simpson’s new book Umkhonto we Sizwe, The ANC’s Armed Struggle (Penguin, 2016) fares better on this battle of confine-ness on the strength of this focus alone.
Bopela and Luthuli, perhaps true to the title, write about ‘fighting for a divided people’.
The truths in their book are jarring, especially about the conduct of one-time MK commander-in-chief, the late Joe Modise.
They write about his narrow-mindedness, especially the tribal streak in his character when it was incumbent upon him to unite the cadres irrespective of their Nguni or Sotho roots.
The man who was supposed to lead by example in the battle ground never saw any battle action, preferring instead to wine and dine the high and mighty in hotel rooms while his charges were leaderless on the ground.
They make a striking comparison of the leadership of Samora Machel who led from the front at Kongwa camp in Tanzania, which housed fighters of the liberation movements of Frelimo (Mozambique), Zipra (Zimbabwe) and South Africa’s MK.
Modise was neither a Che Guevara nor Fidel Castro who fired bullets and won freedom. They blatantly label him a coward.
The book is peripheral and it is no fault of the authors. MK saw no serious battleground action apart from the Wankie and Sipolilo skirmishes of the Luthuli Detachment that fought the Rhodesians.
If you were looking for a book that goes into the meat of MK action, you will find that this isn’t that book. And this is no indictment on the authors.
But it has its strengths elsewhere, like in telling it as it is and showing how young lives were destroyed by a system of rule that was meant to make blacks lesser humans.
There are no holy cows in this book. They call a spade a spade. The insolence in the camps is best detailed here. They do not sanistise the truth.
This is what works for the book.
Opponents of apartheid and general human rights abuse are born. They are not made.
Bopela and Luthuli were born to fight the apartheid regime, the same way as Mandela and Martin Luther King were fated to fight injustice.
A child of 15, as Luthuli was when he skipped the country to join MK, should have been playing marbles with his peers; not fighting a war with men.
But such was the cruelty of the heresy of apartheid that it ruined lives, young and old.
A free South Africa was birthed on the sacrifices of men – and women – like the authors of this book.
And that is something to write [home] about.
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