Popular Posts

Follow by Email

Friday, January 31, 2014

Okhela Summary Excerpts

Berend Schuitema in 1960s 


How It Happened Here

Notes on a book being written and excerpts from the manuscript.

‘When are you going to tell the truth?’
For there’s no such book, so far as I know,
As How it Happened Here,
Though there may be. There may.
‘Lunch with Pancho Villa’, Paul Muldoon
Mules, Faber, 1977

In the course of writing a book on Okhela (for there’s no such book, so
far as I know), I came across many variations on this story, and what
I have found particularly powerful is the way the assorted tellings
and many truths have shaped the lives of both the storytellers and
the subjects of the story. Okhela is an unsettling story that does not
fit easily into the dominant narrative of the South African struggle
for liberation. Amongst other things, Okhela highlights the incipient
split in the movement between the nationalists and the communists.
It highlights too, the work of Johnny Makhatini, close comrade of
Tambo, and nationalist. Makhatini was close to Inkatha, and to the
effort to bring Buthelezi back into the fold of the movement. Okhela
was central to the role which Tambo and Makhatini wanted for

SACTU. Makhatini is one of the least-written about and yet utterly
crucial ANC leaders. He operated more or less as a free agent, in
Africa, Europe and the USA.

The struggle for ownership of the narrative of that liberation is, in
2013, stronger than ever.

Excerpt 1.

In April 2013, a fragile and disconnected Nelson Mandela was filmed with
President Zuma, Baleka Mbete, and Deputy President of the ANC, Cyril
Ramaphosa, at his home in Johannesburg. The President tittered, and covered
Mandela’s hand with his own – a dead give-away break with Mandela’s usual
style of covering the visitor’s hand. He declared Mandela to be ‘up and about’,
going on to say, “We had some conversation with him, shook hands, he was
smiling," We are very happy, we think he is fine."

It seemed a heartbreaking but inevitable rejoinder to the Democratic Alliance’s
poster campaign which had been running for some weeks previously. One poster
showed Helen Suzman in a warm, friendly embrace with Nelson Mandela after
his release from gaol. Another mounted the ANC logo onto the flag of Apartheid
South Africa. Small wonder then that a failing Mandela was needed to perform
for his party. Ownership of Madiba the man, both miracle and myth, had been
decidedly and tactically restored to the ANC.

“It’s going to be a dirty election next year. A dirty election” repeats Essop Pahad,
Mbeki loyalist, former Minister in the Presidency and currently editor of The
Thinker magazine. He’s made a clucking sound and tells me that he’s got to go. I
don’t ask where, naturally enough, but he continues speaking as though I had.
“To a wedding”, he says and exhales.
My eyes move from the photo of Mandela and Zuma on the newspaper on the
desk in front of us, to the headline “SANDF unaware of any permission for Gupta
Air Force base use”.

“Oh god” I say, “That one?”

He nods and calls Zain, his assistant to let me out. We’re all three of us clumped
in the tiny tearoom slash entrance hall slash storeroom. Despite what I have read
over the years, The Thinker does not look like a Gupta – funded venture to me.
But who knows, and given the day that’s in it, I’m not about to ask. Certainly, it
is a long way from what Pahad was used to during his years in power. It looks
closer in style to the cramped offices and long corridors of the exile years of
Prague and London. […]

In the book, I try to both tell as much of the story of Okhela as I can
assemble and to understand the story of one of the central players
in the organisation, Berend Schuitema, who was, as a result of the
storytelling, caught in a fermata; in a relentless historical pause.

Excerpt 2.

Berend and I meet at a steakhouse near the business school. It is easy for him
to get to I reckon, from his sister Thea’s farm in Walkerville, 20 very odd miles
south of Johannesburg on the Old Vereeninging Road. I have become fond of the
area, but on a hot day such as this, I’m pleased not to be driving. In Walkerville I
don’t see any of the familiar brown heritage road signs, but around every corner
Berend tells me of an Anglo Boer War skirmish. There’s where General de la Rey
cut off the supply lines to General French. And there, overlooking the plains that
stretch towards Meyerton, Berend points out a small mountain called Perdberg,
up which soldiers took exhausted or ill horses to rest. Whether it was the sweet,
tasty sedges or simply the air up there, the hill had a healing effect on the horses.

I don’t see his rusty car with the duct-taped doors when I arrive at the
restaurant, and as he’s not here yet, I look for a seat inside. If I don’t, Berend will
choose a seat in the sun and I’ll sweat and pucker and turn pink. He is back in
town after a Christmas break to see his wife Jean in East London, from whom he
is temporarily on leave.

I see him arrive, and for a pleasurable moment, I watch as he stalks the outside
tables looking for me. A French Solidarite comrade once tried to make him
change his gait before an underground visit to South Africa, afraid that what
she called his tiger-like walk would betray him. In his usual shorts, sandals and
t-shirt, heads raise and dip as he passes the tables of suits, in a Johannesburg
business lunchtime Mexican wave.

Before long Berend is back in 1974. Usually he time-travels to the 1970’s before I
even have my pen out or question asked. I consider what makes today’s meeting
with him unusual, but it is only as we say goodbye do I discover that he has been
living for the past few weeks, on and off, in Zamdela township, the site of the
current and persistent anti government protests.

Zamdela township is just outside the huge oil from coal refineries of Sasolburg
in the Free State, built in the 1950’s and 1960’s as fears of diminishing oil stocks
and supply grew under the threat of sanctions.

The proposal to merge the Matsimaholo municipality in which Zamdela
and Sasolburg are situated, with the adjacent Ngwathe municipality, which
is perceived to be corrupt, inflamed the township community. Rumours of
gerrymandering and corruption follow Ace Magashule, the premier of Free State.

Driving around Zamdela one day with Berend, I saw the slogan painted on a bus
stop: “Fuck you Ace/We’re not part of Parys”.

These protests can be deadly, and indeed there have been deaths over the past
weeks. Berend has been working with community leaders in trying to establish
names, times, dates of death. After the massacre of 34 people at the Marikana
platinum mine eight months ago, the police seem to have pulled their horns in.
But the slightest thing could set them off again. Eventually it dawns on me that
the 74 year old Berend is back at the barricades. He’s happy. […]
What was Okhela? It was a revolutionary group which existed from
1972 through to the mid 1980’s. Involved in direct actions from
inception until the late 1970’s, it continued to exist as an information
gathering and agit-prop group until the mid-1980’s.

Okhela was a product of the Paris-based Breytenbach’s late 1960’s
idea for Revolutionary Action Groups (RAGS) which grew into
something called the Atlas Platform. This new group combined
a belief in direct action with a muscular approach to discovering
cultural identity as a means of mobilizing white and Afrikaner South
Africans. Breytenbach wrote the original Okhela Manifesto, much of
which comes from a manuscript entitled Travesties written in Paris
in those years. Of course it is crucial to keep Paris 1968 in mind
when thinking about the origins of Okhela, but it is important too, to

consider the effect that the Prague Spring of 1968 had on its limits.
Okhela spoke of something that they called “White Consciousness”,
which was not necessarily only Afrikaans-centred, but which
reflected their inspiration by and affection for, Black Consciousness.
Race was a key debate at the 1969 ANC Morogoro Conference. The
conference agreement which opened the way for white membership
of the ANC, deepened the rift between the nationalists and the

From Okhela’s Four Levels in Problem Solving, December 1st 1978:
“[Okhela] is an ideology which grew essentially in isolation from the
liberation movement, even though the original impulse to form Okhela
came from within ANC. The ideas have been developed in terms of the
needs of the white masses. This is a departure from the tradition of the
anti-apartheid movement which rejects the “legitimacy” of anti-imperialist
activity in the white masses, and who see the white role in the nationalist
movement as a limited one determined by class. … In the framework of the
unsolved nasionale vraagstuk, the republican tradition must be worked
out in the volksfront to work towards a volksrepubliek representing all
the people and nationalities. In the Maluti tradition the language struggle
and the republican movement have always been closely associated. The
language struggle in the Maluti Samizdat fulfills a uniting and formative
role in a process of cultural revolution as an essential dimension in
working out the identity crisis….Steve Biko is a peoples’ hero and a key
element in the ideological formation of the volksfront.”

There is little about Okhela in South African literature, but seminal
amongst the material that does exist is Breytenbach’s, True
Confessions of an Albino Terrorist. In this 1984 publication, he
explains the prelude to his 1975 underground mission to South
Africa, his capture, trial and gaoling.

After being in South Africa in disguise for a few weeks, Breytenbach
was arrested, then tried and sentenced to 9 years in gaol.
Breytenbach pleaded for leniency, even apologizing to Prime
Minister BJ Vorster for his 1972 poem, ‘Letter from Foreign Parts to
Butcher’, which is subtitled For Balthazar.

At the same time as denouncing himself by calling the poem “crass”
and “insulting”, Breytenbach made an offer directly to General
Geldenhuys to spy for the police both on his former comrades in
Okhela and on the ANC and SACP. This followed a period of 120 days
in solitary confinement. The senior policeman Byleveld argued in
mitigation of sentence. Yutar, the prosecutor, allowed that Breyten
was a tool of Schuitema and the ANC. So when Justice Cilliers handed
down a nine-year sentence, the prosecution was just as shocked as
the defence. And it did not end there for Breytenbach. They had it in
for him.

Excerpt 3.

Breyten Breytenbach was sentenced to 9 years in gaol in November 1975. Two
years later he was back in court on charges of planning an escape and trying to
recruit a warder, Gerhardus Gronewald, into Okhela. Groenewald, unknown to
Breytenbach, was wearing a wire, and recorded their many conversations.
(Noise) (Someone whistling)
G How is it going still, Breytie?
B No, it’s going on...
G Sorry?
B Going to heart’s content still
G What’s that?
B Heart’s…
G Heart’s
B Content…
G Content
It reads like Hamm and Clov, Vladimir and Estragon, Nagg and Nell. Watt and
G Here’s the candle
B Thanks
G Oh, sorry
B Never mind, it’s all right
G Is it all you need
B It’s perfect….. Would you like to see how it works?
B See, you take a piece of paper
G Uh, an ordinary sheet of paper
B An ordinary sheet of paper, yes. Then you rub candle wax all over it on this
side, then you write your letter on the other side of the sheet, you
know... an ordinary letter that doesn’t say anything, and then you turn
that letter around and you put it on the other side of the sheet that

you have now rubbed with the candle. Then you write your words with
a pen on the reverse side of the sheet that you have rubbed the candle
wax onto and, but you just mark it, you know, so that it makes lines.
That oiliness comes off on the reverse side of the other sheet of paper,
see. Now the other guy gets that side en then he takes anything black,
such as coal, if you know……….then he blows [the coal dust] off over
that and that [dust] remains there where the oiliness is
G Aha
B That’s how it works
G You analyse it then with coal dust, ash
B Any, you, you know or, or wood that’s black ….old, you strew it over... you
G Candle wax
B And just there where the candle wax where you pressed down through that
sheet of paper, you know, there the black sticks
G No, I understand now
B Ash sticks there reasonably well, you know
G Right, I see
B That’s why, it’s an easy method
G Yes
B ............ You know, you can use stuff that when you heat it, it becomes visible
G Yes
B You know, like for example any ..... juice for example even orange ….. when
it dries if you write with it on paper it is invisible. But when you hold it
over a hot stove plate or a flame then it becomes brown. So even if one
sits in jail, you know, they can never prevent you from writing […]
G Jaaa…
B ............. The world is full of tricks, old chap
G Yes
B One simply has order to keep going
G Listen here, would you like something from the mess? Toasted something
or so?
B You can’t anymore.............. I no longer have money......
G No, no, that’s okay
B That will be lovely.....

G Is it. But right-o, I just quickly want to go and see what the mess’s story is

While Breyten was in gaol, Berend campaigned relentlessly for his
release, culminating in a desperate surrender to the police at Beit
Bridge, offering himself in exchange for Breyten. All that resulted
from that was 100 days in solitary in Pretoria and a charge, later
dropped, of setting off a bomb at the President’s Council Chambers
which killed one person.

Berend Schuitema’s politicization began in the mid-1960’s with
Beyers Naude at the Christian Institute in Johannesburg. There, he
made use of the library to expand his thinking, and it was where he
had long discussions with Naude. His political growth continued
when he went to Holland to study, and it was there that he began the
Dutch anti apartheid movement.

From his attic office in the Anne Frank House on the Prinzengracht,
Berend ran a dynamic anti apartheid organization. One of the first
such organisations in Europe, by 1974 they had had an impressive
run of putting sanctions on the political agenda. The Anne Frank
Institute was run by Piet van Andel, and was a venue for political
ventilation amongst Amsterdam students in the 1960’s and 70’s.
Naude, Berend’s mentor in those early years, was a friend of the

Institute and of van Andel.

After a run-in with an early-career Eschel Rhoodie, who was at
the South African embassy in The Hague, and who threatened
to confiscate his passport, Berend organized, and had set up the
organistion within days of a meeting with Rhoodie.

In 1975, Schuitema, together with Breytenbach, embarked on an
underground mission to South Africa. Former members of Solidarite
are clear that Breyten was only meant to go as far as the forward
area of Swaziland. On hearing the news of Breytenbach’s arrest,
Schuitema fled north and escaped via Zimbabwe. Many asked how it
was possible that he had not been arrested too.

In True Confessions, Breytenbach says:

“ Many of my friends are convinced that it was he, Schuitema, ‘Jan’ as we
called him, who had shopped me. Even while I was still in prison I learned
of an inquiry launched by people close to me, and envoy sent to Europe to
investigate returned with the verdict that Schuitema was the man.”
Caught up in a deluge of disinformation, Breytenbach lists damningsounding
evidence against Berend:

“Spy? Tragic fool? Tool? What is true is that the man is a broken pawn in
this sordid game. But dangerous – because he must end by either trying to
destroy me (which could have been his mission all along) or, in a paroxysm
of frustration and self-hate because of the tangle of contradictions, by

blowing himself up….I leave the judgment to you….”
The Okhela story is further complicated by Berend, the unreliable
narrator/traitor and Breyten, the silent poet/hero.
But first I met Berend, the unreliable narrator.

Excerpt 4.

“Broerman, Ons skiet! Will give you a call this coming week, “call collect”, asseblief,
my baas.” Berend Schuitema’s handwritten note on a copy of his London Notes,
15 September 1978. London Notes is one of tens of thousands of pages of memos,
notes, letters, manifestos, programmes and reports, most of them written by
Berend during the years of the Okhela organization which were 1972 until 1980.
If you count Breyten Breytenbach’s earlier iteration of the organization, Atlas,
and a slightly earlier one still, Revolutionary Action Groups (RAGS), the late
1960’s is a more accurate beginning date. During that time fifteen, maybe twenty
people, worked were with the organisation.

Okhela means ‘spark’ in Zulu, and is a nod towards Lenin’s Iskra newspaper.
By the end of 1975 and with Breytenbach sentenced to nine years in gaol, the
organisation had had its day, and the broader liberation movement wanted
nothing more to do with it. Schuitema however had other plans. Using the Boer
War General Christiaan de Wet’s Three Years War as his handbook, he planned
a people’s militia organized into commandos. The John Harris Commando, The
Breytenbach Commando and the Henri Curiel Commando. Three Years War was
one of the books from which Nelson Mandela took excerpts for a notebook that
became evidence against him at the Rivonia Trial. Despite being a textbook in
citizen organized resistance, the book is a ripping yarn, told to the sounds of
horses’ hooves, Krupp guns and the regular whimper of an English surrender.
“Will you give us your word of honour," he asked me when he caught sight of
the gun, "not to stir from your position till we have got ten miles away? That
is the only condition on which we will abandon our positions." I again allowed
him to finish, although his demand filled me with the utmost astonishment. I

asked myself what sort of men this English officer imagined the Boer Generals
to be. "I demand unconditional surrender," I then said. "I give you ten minutes
from the moment you dismount on arriving at your camp; when those ten
minutes have passed I fire." He slung round, and galloped back to his camp,
the stones flying from his horse's hoofs.

When his friend, the pinned-down General Cronje crumbles, de Wet writes; “The
surrender of General Cronje only made me all the more determined to continue
the struggle, notwithstanding the fact that many of the burghers appeared to have
quite lost heart.” Not that Schuitema’s comrade Breytenbach had surrendered
of course, but his capture, sentence and repentance, was a blow which Berend,
unlike de Wet, would barely survive. […]

For Berend, being called a spy stuck, and despite living for years as a
stateless person, having been on the run, continuing the Okhela work,
campaigning for Breytenbach’s release, gaol, fit-up, hunger strike and
surrender, Berend Schuitema was a spy. Breytenbach said so, The
Sunday Times said so, Breytenbach’s friends said so, the liberation
movement said so, the security police said so; at one point even
Berend was quoted as having said so. I asked Craig Williamson, once
a very successful spy for the apartheid regime, and someone who was
close to Okhela before being unmasked, if he knew anything about
Berend’s alleged treachery. He was categorical. ‘The whole thing was
a stratcom/comop’, spook-speak for stich up.
Williamson says that the police in fact used Okhela to distract the
movement. “Misinformation/disinformation and sowing of suspicion

was part of the overall comop/stratcom tactic to encourage as much
fracturing of the "liberation movement" in its broadest sense. The
more the liberation movement was looking at itself and its own
members the less effective they would be and also attention could be
attracted away from actual agents.”

Named and shamed during the apartheid years, Berend found
liberation no kinder. His family here and in Holland were under
tremendous strain.

Excerpt 5.

I’m back in Walkerville again. I get a shock when I first meet Berend’s younger
brother Etsko. It is as if I’m looking at photos of Berend from the 1970’s. Etsko
has the same straight Dutch hair, and the same blue, blue eyes. Both have the
charged eyes of an unusual sheepdog. Berend’s eyes are unmistakably electric
even in the black and white clippings which I regularly pore over.
Etsko is a Sunni Muslim, and has been for over thirty years. He converted at a
time when there were, he says, very few white Muslims in South Africa.

“Ja. There was me here in Joburg, and also a white guy who’d shot a Swapo
guy, and was going through the dead guy’s pockets and found a Koran. He
became Muslim there and then. On the spot. And maybe a few others around the

We pass a small mosque with a green tin roof. It is one of a scattering of
outbuildings on his plot. Indian mynah birds scuffle with one another. Berend,
Etsko and I walk through an arcade of low trees and bush towards the study.
His wife and his sons all carry Muslim names. I ask if his sons are all making a
living here in South Africa. Etsko’s answer breaks the rhythm of our walk.
“It is difficult for them, and they battle to find work. But they’d rather be second
class citizens of South Africa than first class citizens of another country.”

In Etsko’s study his father’s medals are framed together with one from the
Transvaal Scottish which belongs to him. It is difficult to know if it is meant
ironically, since Etsko started out as a conscientious objector. So although it
seems as though it should be in inverted commas, Etsko appears proud of their
combined military history.

Berend and Etsko reminisce about their father telling them about sitting on a hill
opposite Montecassino in the winter of 1944, watching the bombing light up the
night sky. He says that Berend’s influence on his life has been profound.
“He’s an iconic figure. I remember running after him when he left home for
overseas, calling him a fucken bastard and crying and pleading with him not to
go. He had hero status to me as a child. My politics was of course influenced by
the stature Berend had in my life.”

Subsequently he became skeptical of what he calls ‘the heavy handed socialism’
that he felt Berend espoused and at Wits university became a member of the
Mystical Anarchists Circle.

Etsko says that being 20 years younger than Berend, and so much younger than
the other siblings, meant that he escaped much of the family dysfunction. So
when much later on in the conversation I ask Etsko what he remembers of the
farm Rhinefield in Klerksdorp , he looks over at Berend.

“I was born at 53 Elands Street in Klerksdorp, wasn’t I?” and he nudges the
question towards Berend.

“Nou ja, so the farm that a friend of my father rented to him was not the farm
on which Etsko grew up.” They frown together in the act of remembering. “Well
I suppose we were lucky that it wasn’t Paraguay.” Both brothers giggle a sad

“Ja, after we left the Freddies minecamp, my father wanted us to go to Paraguay.
He’d heard about farms on offer there. But instead this friend rented him the
Rhinefield farm.” Berend looks over at Etsko and they both share a relieved look,
fifty years later. Berend then brings up the subject of Odiel.

“Ja, you see, Etsko went to a dual medium school, so he was taught not just in
Afrikaans as we were, but in English too. It was a completely different thing then.
We, us, we were actually taught not to drink from a vessel from which a Black

person had drunk. That’s the kind of people our teachers were. We had teachers
like…what was his name?”

“You mean Phantom,” says Etsko.

“Ja, Phantom.”

I have heard about Phantom before. And I know that talking about Phantom
leads to the story of Odiel, their brother. I know the story of Odiel. It is

The mynahs have moved to the back of the house, and they’ve begun to sound
like domestic parrots. My own assorted sadnesses have crept up on me, and they
mix cheerfully with Berend and Etsko’s combined grief. As ever, I’m working in
the troubled future. I have a tense all of my own; Future Alarmed.

“Parrot?” I ask, but ever so slightly shouting, and nod towards a closed door.
Etsko tilts his head.

“No, it’s just the mynahs,” says Berend softly.
“Phantom laid into Odiel. He really laid into him. And then my father sent him to
the air force. He was what, Etsko, 15?”
Etsko nods. We are all quiet for a moment. I know that I can’t bear to see, to hear
the brothers discuss Odiel.

I glance a bit too brightly at Etsko.

“They wanted to give me his name. Can you believe it? As it is, I got it as my
second name. Etsko Odiel.”

The autumn air from the open study door warms us. I roll up all the sins of
interviewing into one, and ask quickly about their other brother, Jerry.

“Jerry’s a crackpot” says Etsko. “Did you know,” and he looks over at Berend,
“that Jerry told me that you wanted to kill me?”

“When?” asks Berend. “I never wanted to kill you. Was this when we lived in 267
Crown Ridge North?”

They both look at me and tell me of political disputes they had. Sometimes
bordering on fisticuffs. At that time Etsko was learning Zulu stick fighting, and so
sometimes he warned Berend with the stick. But no, they both agree. No-one’s
life was at risk.

“Ja. Jerry’s a crackpot” says Etsko. […]

The Anne Frank House was staffed by several women who were
Holocaust survivors. They readily opted to work for the AABN (Dutch
Anti Apartheid Movement). They had a particularly important job.
Berend and his colleagues spent their nights going through the
rubbish bins of multinational companies in Amsterdam, Rotterdam
and The Hague. In the early years they targeted the tobacco
companies who were breaking sanctions against Rhodesia. But
not just tobacco companies, eventually oil companies, spare parts,
and arms manufacturers all came under the spotlight. When the
nighttime activists returned to the Anne Frank House in the morning,
they brought bags and bags of torn up pieces of paper from the trash
bins of these companies. Their elderly colleagues then spent months
putting the documents back together again. With the information
gleaned from the litter, it was not long before tobacco sales from
Rhodesia were crippled.

At the time of Breytenbach’s visit to South Africa for the Cape
Town Summer School of December 1972 with his wife Yolande,
who had previously been denied entry to South Africa, he was
already planning to adapt his Atlas Platform to a model that would
motivate South African activists at home and in Europe to use direct
action against the state. From this thinking emerged the Okhela


In Paris, Breytenbach had for some time been in contact with Henri
Curiel, a Jewish Egyptian and founder of the Egyptian Communist
Party. First gaoled, then forced from Egypt by Nasser, Curiel, in exile
in Paris, became the major courier and financier for the Algerian
liberation army, the FLN. After the FLN victory in 1962, Curiel was
reluctant to disband the very effective network which comprised
very many who had been in the maquis, the French Resistance.
Instead, Curiel expanded his network into an organization called
Solidarite. Sometimes called The Curiel Apparatus, it operated
primarily in Africa and South America. Okhela members were trained
in the shadow arts; tailing, forgery, dead-letter drops, disguise and
resisting interrogation. Often, Berend, Breyten and others, were
taken, blindfolded, to a large country estate outside Paris where their
training took place.

Curiel was murdered in 1978 in a still unsolved murder. One of
Giscard d’Estaing’s generals admitted to Curiel’s niece, Sylvie
Braibant, that d’Estaing wanted Curiel ‘removed’.

Curiel was one of the most significant financiers of The Black
Panthers, early Basque Separatists, Sandinistas, the Japanese Red
Army, the Indonesian Moluccan Separatists, and practically every

communist party in South America.

And perhaps the best, most tricky, ineffable story of Solidarite’s
undercover missions to South Africa, was when Marie Jose Fanon,
visited. The wife of the FLN’s chief theorist Franz Fanon was close to
Curiel, and agreed to a mission to test the network here.

The ANC has, in general, fudged their involvement in Okhela.
However, Luli Callinicos gives a clear introduction to the genesis
of Okhela in her biography of Oliver Tambo. But the ANC denial of
involvement after Breytenbach’s arrest has persisted with many, and
is at least one of the reasons why the Okhela story is uncomfortable
and ill fitting in the complex narratives of liberation. In James
Ngculu’s, The Honour to Serve, a book on the author’s time in MK, he
tells this story;

At that time there was a group in Europe, led by Breyten
Breytenbach and Barend Schuitema, that organized itself
as ‘Okhela’ (Spark), and which emerged as one of the many
attempts to undermine the ANC. The group was based mainly
in France and the Netherlands. But when Duma tried to explain
to the camp about this Okhela we did not understand a thing.
Duma told us that this was a group made up largely of white
Afrikaners whose stated intention was to create a white

resistance movement as a way of shifting ANC dependence
on the support of communist countries and weakening the
communist influence on the ANC. He explained the dangers
of attempts to split the ANC from without as well as from
within the movement. However, the way he explained this
was very complicated for most of the new recruits, who were
still not familiar with the workings of the ANC. According to
Breytenbach, Okhela was intended to help ‘Tambo and Makatini
to break away from the Communist Party…

And that’s one of the big perceptions that persist. Some say that
because of the opposition that the initiative had from the SACP,
Tambo did not give it the all clear, and that the operation with
Breytenbach went ahead without Tambo’s permission.
In was not as though the ANC was not pleased with some of
the actions that had been undertaken. In France, a van carrying
documents relating to the sales of Mirage fighters was hijacked and
the papers taken and sent on to the ANC. In Bonn, a German activist
broke into the SA Embassy and stole crucial information regarding
nuclear matters in SA.

After Breytenbach’s arrest however, the ANC was looking to clear up
the debacle and solve other problems they had on the ground.

However, within these complex narratives, Okhela was a disruption
and embarrassment that the ANC could not afford. It became a story
to be belittled and buried.


No comments:

Post a Comment