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Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Shadows of the Past



Writing a foreword for the first major biography on Oliver Tambo, the
predecessor to Nelson Mandela as President of the ANC, the State President,
Thabo Mbeki, comments that the author, Luli Callinicos, "timely and
well-researched begins the process of reducing the yawning deficit caused by
the unintended consignment of the memory of Oliver Tambo to the dark shadows
of a forgotten history." Whether this pays homage to the skill and
dedication in which Luli devoted to enlightening the public of South Africa
about our "forgotten hero", OR Tambo in many ways is a matter for
conjecture. One cannot escape the perception that the many people who were
in the ambit of Tambo as leader of the ANC would share this view. Better
less is said than more and what Luli Callinicos writes merely lifts the veil
rather than uncovers the deep malaise of the ANC during the entire exile
period.

This in itself is an ungenerous comment to kick in from the sidelines
by one whose mission should be to elucidate the man, Oliver Tambo, in order
to cast light on one of the really thorny matters languishing in the "dark
shadows of a forgotten past". For about this matter, more generally speaking
the role of whites in the struggle against Apartheid South Africa, more
specifically about a group in which Tambo had vested great hopes, very
little has been said to the date of appearance of Luli Calinicos' book. I am
referring to the so-called "white wing" of the ANC which was exposed by the
arrest of Breyten Breytenbach in the South African winter of 1975.
Officially, from the ANC perspective, there never was such a "white wing" of
the ANC. All connection with the group Okhela was vehemently denied from the
outset of Breytenbach's spectacular show trial in 1975, and even five years
later any manifestation of any activist even remotely connected to Okhela
was in for a dossing under the black veil of denial.

In 1981 there was an embarrassing intervention in the press in newly
independent Zimbabwe. Louise Stack and myself had thought to escape the fury
of spy allegations in South Africa after my release from detention in
January 1980 and found willing hosts with ZANU-PF, then getting into the
saddle as government of the day. At about the same time the ANC was putting
out feelers to make amends with ZANU, given their firm and longstanding
alliance with ZAPU, which had come to be sidelined prior to and after the
first democratic elections in then still Rebel Rhodesia and after elections
free and independent Zimbabwe.

I was kept much in the background while in Zimbabwe, but Louise was
hosted freely and, amongst other meetings she regularly held with ZANU
Ministers and Officials, was one at which Thabo Mbeki was present. This
meeting was one of the first sensitive kick starts to the ANC'
reconciliation with ZANU and many of the narratives that came our way from
Emerson Mnungagwa, the first Minister of State in the Prime Ministers Office
charged with state security, were gleeful reports on how the ANC was coming
cap in hand for favors with the new ZANU government. One such story related
to Mnungagwa's having to fly to Luanda to meet an ANC delegation. For
whatever reason, he returned not having met with the ANC at all.

These were trying times for the ANC indeed. ZAPU had belonged to the
Southern Africa movements aligned more to Moscow than Peking. ZANU, as well
as the South African PAC, were in the Peking camp. It was during the brief
sojourn of 18 months in Zimbabwe that the North Korean trained 5th Brigade
was sent in to Bulawayo for a massacre of ZAPU. This could not have gone
unnoticed with the ANC as it then had to sit cap in hand and deal with the
butchers of their former ally.

So there was much tension in the air. Salisbury at the time was a wasp
nest of spies. Wherever one looked spies were all around and visible by
their manners as journalists of a special type who would not hesitate to
come onto us with the most forthright questions. Reports were coming onto
the desk of Mnungagwa daily, each time a different and more dramatic tale
that while I was a government guest in Salisbury (Salisbury took a longish
time to rename "Harare") I was spotted counting railway trucks crossing the
Zimbabwe- Botswana frontier. Another report had it that overnight I was seen
in Pretoria while I was supposed to be under the watchful eye of my
Zimbabwean hosts.

Things got out of hand when it was reported to Mnungagwa that there was
a plot in ZAPU to assassinate me - I was then given an exit permit from
Zimbabwe and left for Europe. After a few months I was terribly homesick,
probably mentally ill and found myself roaming streets not knowing where I
was. I seemed to have lost my mind and sometimes lost hours in a day not
knowing what I did, where I was. I made a desperate appeal through Louise to
be allowed back to Zimbabwe - the request was positive and after much
difficulties in using an exit permit in a reverse direction I entered the
liberated territory once more.

But things had gotten worse and more treacherous during my absence.
Real world politics was kicking in. Somehow the ANC was embedding itself
given the fact that it "has history on its side" (a phrase attributable to
Ben Turok). While the PAC and ZANU were ideological bedfellows, the PAC was
no serious option for playing the cards at the tables of liberation
movements akin the ANC. So after a few weeks Louise and I were detained,
thrown into maximum security prisons, and after three weeks released. And
then the lousy spies did the salting of raw wounds in newspaper articles
which once more added to the devastations of January 1980, when I was
branded a spy not only in the South African press, frontlines of the Sunday
Times, but international press as well.

But here is salt for the wounds - verbatim an article that appeared in
the Herald, Salisbury 1st of May 1981"

Heading: ANC Rejects man's claim to be "agent" - by Mike Overmeyer

The African National Congress of South Africa

(Next input - transcribe the article)

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On the level this verdict of our State President Thabo Mbeki does not
come across as either genuine or convincing. For even if it were true that
there are the "dark shadows of a forgotten history" then, given the gravity
of the matter in relation to the heavy and bold statements made on the scale
and nature of the struggle against Apartheid, the statement he makes can
only be bait for unraveling this verdict leaving nothing intact of the
narrative of exile during the entire period until Tambo fell in the shadow
of Nelson Mandela and there was no need any more to feel sucked in by the
dark facts of the past.