Book review: Umkhonto we Sizwe – Fighting for a divided people

Umkhonto we Sizwe – Fighting for a divided people is something of a departure for Galago, Peter Stiff’s publishing house, which specialises in books about Southern Africa. Up to this excellent work, this meant books written by former members of the Rhodesian Security Forces about the second Chimurenga (1966-1980) and its aftermath as well as books on the South African Special Forces, the police “Koevoet” counterinsurgency force and so forth. This is the first Galago title showing the events of the Chimurenga and South Africa’s freedom struggle from the “other side”, the side of the insurgents.
Both authors were early uMkhonto we Size (MK) recruits, receiving military training in the former Soviet Union and in Tanzania. Both volunteered to join what became known as the Luthuli Detachment, who infiltrated Matebeleland from Zambia in August 1967 in support of Joshua Nkomo`s ZIPRA (Zimbabwe People`s Revolutionary Army) and both were eventually captured by the Rhodesians. Bopela was tried in Salisbury for murder and sent to death row. Luthuli was handed to the South African security police and spent 10 years on Robben Island – but along with the other foot soldiers were kept well away from Nelson Mandela and the ANC aristocracy.              
Bopela emerges as the main author and seems to have a keen ear as he recalls conversations many decades old – but solitary confinement and the shadow of the noose may well concentrate the mind. As it was, Bopela faced death from November 1967 to August 1969 when his sentence was commuted. He remained in jail until after Zimbabwe`s independence (1980). Luthuli served his entire ten years sentence before being released in 1980, about the same as Bopela.
A number of points stand out in the narrative – firstly the difference in policing in Rhodesia and South Africa in the juxtaposition of the careful investigation conducted by BSAP Detective Inspectors Dancer and Peters versus the crude torture used by “Rooi Rus” Swanepoel and his goons. Much is also made of the cowardice of ZIPRA in general and its leaders in particular – in the field and in jail. The second observation is that the tribal animosity described by Bopela and the “we don`t speak to them” attitude adopted by ZIPRA towards their ZANLA co-combatants – along with the lunatic notion that they would automatically win the Chimurenga probably made Mugabe`s genocide in Matebeleland inevitable: although not the subject of this book, the difference between ZIPRA and ZANLA was that the first played at liberation and the second ruthlessly pursued that goal. “The difference between us and them”, he says about his MK co-accused and ZIPRA “was that they had surrendered without firing a shot. They were serving ten year terms and were telling us we wouldn`t be hanged because the world would protest vigorously! If they were so sure of that, why hadn`t they opened fire on the Rhodesian Security Forces? We were listening to a pep talk given by cowards”. They speak equally scathingly of several MK and ANC leaders, principally Joe Modise, whom, it seems, had a penchant for leading from behind. A final observation is that the ANC`s approach to division – to pretend it does not exist – comes a long way.                   
The story after 1980 is that of Bopela and Luthuli`s daily struggle to survive, in Bopela`s case, his need to find a job and secure an education in Zimbabwe and The Netherlands without the assistance of the ANC, who by then saw Bopela as a troublemaker. Luthuli was ordered to mole into Inkatha, which he did, eventually becoming the head of the IFP`s Caprivi-trained hit squad. Bopela returned to South Africa in 1990 and in 1992 secured a job with Eskom, with the help of Don Mkhwanazi, now known as a friend of Jacob Zuma. Luthuli soon sought out Bopela to open a channel to Zuma to end the carnage between the UDF and IFP which Luthuli discovered was being carefully controlled by Military Intelligence to ensure that the violence continued but in a way that ensured one side would not defeat the other. The link was established and the rest is history. The food for thought out of this episode is that Zuma today wears the halo for having made that peace. But is it his to claim?                  
Umkhonto we Sizwe – Fighting for a divided people
Thula Bopela & Daluxolo Luthuli
November 2005