BY PAUL TREWHELA
Until the beginning of the end of apartheid 20 years ago most journalists and politicians were disinclined to probe too deeply into the private psychologies of the leaders of the world’s favourite liberation movement, the African National Congress (ANC). Compared with Nelson Mandela, St Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa still get a pretty bad press in Britain.
Even now – some 16 years after mankind’s bestknown secular saint came to power – to criticise the way the ANC was run in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties is seen by historians “committed to the cause” as an act of shameful blasphemy.
So a fresh perspective from Paul Trewhela, a former Marxist-Trotsykite author, journalist and political commentator who noone could accuse of being lukewarm about apartheid, is very welcome.
His new book, Inside Quatro, is a long-awaited labour of love which uncovers the history in exile of the ANC and its sister movement in Namibia, SWAPO.
From a first-hand account of life in the ANC–KGB run Quatro rehabilitation/ training/prison camp in northern Uganda to the Machiavellian tactics used by Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda and South Africa’s John Vorster that led to the infamous “détente” exercise between black and white Africa in 1974 and 1975, Paul Trewhela analyses problems of the liberation struggles with an insider’s knowledge and a journalist’s skill. This is a book that should be read by religious leaders in Britain, America and EU countries, as well as by those struggling to make sense of southern Africa in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Born in 1941 in Johannesburg, Paul Trewhela worked as a member of the Communist Party in underground journalism with Ruth First, wife of the Lithuanian-born Jew Joe Slovo, head of MK which was the military arm of the ANC. He edited the MK magazine, Freedom Fighter, and was imprisoned between 1964 and 1967.
In exile in Britain, he worked with the late Baruch Hirson on a newspaper called Searchlight South Africa which raised the temperature not only among the architects of apartheid and homeland policies but also among many of the ANC leadership. Stories in that banned magazine told of youthful anger in ANC camps against the lifestyles of their leaders based in Lusaka, London and Moscow and a series of revolts followed.
The ANC’s Soviet Union-trained disciplinarians reacted. After one revolt and the ensuing clampdown, the ANC president Oliver Tambo visited all training camps in Angola in 1981. Before he entered, the entire camp would be disarmed and only the top security personnel were allowed to carry guns.
After young men and women who had led the revolt against white rule during the Soweto Uprising in 1976 had been beaten, tortured and raped one of the masterminds of the KGB torture machine, Mzwandile Piliso, declared that if there were further protests there would be further terrible retribution.
Apart from chapter two, in which five highly articulate victims of ANC-KGB terror tactics at Quatro tell their story, a story that shocked and angered Nelson Mandela when he heard it after his release from 27 years imprisonment, all articles were written by Paul Trewhela.
Today’s ANC leadership does not enjoy being reminded of the mutinies that took place within its lower ranks in the late Seventies through to the mid-Eighties.
The distinguished Africanist Professor Stephen Ellis described it as “the most shameful episode in the history of the ANC”. The deadly impact of Stalinism and KGB “disciplinarian” tactics used against people who had genuine grievances about the ANC leadership has never before been so clearly explained.
Paul Trewhela left South Africa and the Communist Party a long time ago. His passion for the creation of an egalitarian society in South Africa remains unchanged. He has written a remarkable book that lets in light on the workings of the ANC in exile and how that movement’s devotion to Lenin and Central Democracy (best summed up as “do as you’re told or else”) shapes and controls most ANC leaders in Thabo Mbeki’s and now Jacob Zuma’s South Africa.
At the back of this book the South African historian R W Johnson says that Paul Trewhela is today as unpopular with the ANC leadership as he was with their apartheid predecessors.