On the morning of Tuesday 25 May 1993 – thirty years since the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was launched in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – the homes and offices of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania were raided and more than eighty leaders were detained under Section 29 of the Internal Security Act. Party documents and computers on a countrywide basis were confiscated by the security police. Alias
The swoop on the PAC leadership at national level, in the provinces and regions, and in the local branches, brought the negotiation process held at the World Trade Centre in Kempton Park to a halt, and almost ruined the new political dispensation for South Africa. The PAC had been singled out by the top organs of the South African Police, covert intelligence agencies and the SA Defence Force, as a clear and present threat to the envisaged outcomes of a negotiated settlement.
The securocrats, as the opposing newspapers called them, unleashed a combination of kragdadige (brute) force and recruitment of saboteurs, to bring the PAC to its knees and hopefully crush it into smithereens. The security branch police named their strategy Operation Stilstand, and the military intelligence called theirs Operation Thunderstorm. The National Party cabinet led by FW De Klerk, a man said to have integrity, claimed this was a routine police operation. He also said he had not authorised the swoop on the PAC leadership. His propagandists also let out the yarn that hawks in their midst were doing things on their own. The doves, represented by Roelf Meyer and Dawid de Villiers, were incredulous, or shamming it, in the face of journalists and diplomats.
The conspiracy indications clearly pointed to the National Party and its fellow travellers needing to erode the support of the PAC by crippling its popularity ahead of the final preparations for general elections that the Negotiation Council was seriously considering. The Multi Party Negotiations Forum, or CODESA as it was popularly known, decided on a single agenda item to deliberate on for the twenty six political entities represented in the Negotiations Council. Chris Hani, secretary general of the SA Communist Party, had been brutally murdered by right-wing assassins on 10 April 1993, and the Azanian masses had now become fed up with the filibustering tactics employed by the enemies of change to delay the final outcomes of negotiations.
Right-wing political parties and bantustan authorities formed themselves into the Concerned South African Group (COSAG’), to stall the process and maintain the status quo. These were the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Conservative Party, Afrikaner Volksunie, and the Ciskei and Bophuthatswana ruling parties. They stood to lose the most.
Coming in from the cold, the PAC was warming up to the broad public as a true custodian of their best interests. It’s proximity to the masses – through its legitimate support structures internally and indirect platforms in the open public forums – always provided an alternative agency to the established authorities. From February 1990 when it was unbanned, it was growing its support base in leaps and bounds.
Polls conducted by Markinor in May 1992 and Research Survey in March 1993 found that the PAC was poised to emerge as the single most powerful electoral force – behind the African National Congress. A country-wide poll by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)suggested that the PAC was on the rise in potential voter support. Independent academic researchers confirmed in their findings that the PAC was the second most popular political party in South Africa.
The PAC leadership applied a strategy of talking and fighting. The country’s future could not be discussed without the Party’s input, and the Azanian masses could not be killed like flies while APLA stood idly by. The bullet would only be abandoned when the ballot was secured. The government of the day was frustrated by this approach. They campaigned to kick the PAC delegation out of the negotiations forum unless they signed a declaration to foreswear violence. The PAC made a distinction between reactionary violence that destabilised township communities with a clear hand of the state machinery behind it, and revolutionary defence against state sponsored violence.
When Chris Hani was brutally murdered by a right-wing assassin at his Dawn Park, Boksburg, home on 10 April 1993, the country descended into a very serious turmoil. The PAC option seemed favourable.
This turn of events had become a worst case scenario for the National Party and their Western backers, who envisaged a power sharing model to protect and preserve the last bastion of settler-colonialism in Africa.
The regional commissioner of police on the East Rand, Lieutenant General Koos Calitz, took a surveillance trip by helicopter over townships in the area around 13:45 on Monday 24 May 1993. The SAP chopper was shot at by guerrilla operatives in the Kathorus townships, and it started losing fuel rapidly with possibilities of crashing down. The skillful and experienced pilot, Captain McClay, took it out of the danger area, flying low until he safely landed at the nearby Rand Airport in Germiston.
This incident got the ire of the generals in the securocrat. One of them nearly died, and they blew their top. The Minister of Law and Order, Hernus Kriel, complained of increasing radicalism on the left. The left in the liberation movement was the PAC.
The next morning at exactly 02:00, more than 200 homes of members of the PAC were raided in a countrywide swoop by the police and military intelligence officials. They also raided the National African Council of Trade Unions (NACTU) offices in Potchefstroom and Durban, and detained its Secretary General, Cunningham Ngcukana, and some leaders of affiliate unions, including Sithembele Khala of the Media Workers Association of South Africa (MWASA) and Elias Maila of the Food and Beverage Workers Union (FBWU).
The PAC announced that almost 60% of its national executive council members were detained under Section 29 of the Internal Security Act. Those arrested included national organiser, Maxwell Nemadzivhanani; secretary for political affairs, Jaki Seroke; secretary for environmental affairs, Dr Solly Skosana; secretary for finance, Thomson Gazo; secretary for religious affairs, Mike Sello Matsobane; publicity director, Waters Toboti; and, chief of staff in the president’s office, Enoch Zulu. The head of the PAC’s task force, Abel Sgubhu Dube, was also detained.
Kriel told a parliamentary session that day that 73 PAC and Azanian Peoples Liberation Army (APLA) cadres were detained, including seven top structure members. The commissioner of police, Lt General Johan Van Der Merwe said they would lay criminal charges against some of the detainees. They however faced a backlash from their critics who saw the significant impact the raid had on the ongoing negotiations.
The securocrats had also gone on to detain their negotiating counterparts – Nemadzivhanani and Seroke – in one on one government-to-party talks on the cessation of hostilities between APLA and the security forces. Seroke was also a PAC delegate at the Negotiations Council.
The police detained a wheel-chair bound paraplegic. One of the detainees was taken while on heavy influenza medication. Another was eight and half month pregnant. A few youngsters were below sixteen years of age. Even though press reports said a detainee died during the PAC raid, it was not supported with clear evidence.
SAP spokesperson, Col Johan Mostert said the detainees faced charges of murder, unlawful possession of explosives, and possession of unlicensed firearms.
It was not possible to give a credible reason for the attack on a legitimate political organisation that was engaging the government, in concert with other parties, to resolve the national question in South Africa. Civil society movements who looked askance at the PAC’s stance on armed struggle began to question the sincerity of their own pacifist approach. The townships in the East Rand had become the killing fields, and Natal and Kwa Zulu townships and villages were a bloodbath and no-go area for contending political organisations. The National Party leadership was itself talking and conducting low intensity warfare against the African people.
Sabelo Phama, PAC secretary for defence and APLA commander, stated that “APLA would not be taking the detention of PAC leaders and cadres lightly … and warn the settler regime that any assault, torture and death in detention of any of them will result in very serious consequences.”
The field commissar of APLA, Vuma Ntikinca, said “APLA couldn’t guarantee the safety of those who stood by the side of the settler regime.”
Influential newspaper columnist, Allister Sparks, described the swoop on the PAC as “a fishing expedition in the hope of catching something that would justify the raid on criminal grounds”.
Cyril Ramaphosa, chief negotiator of the African National Congress, suspended the negotiation sessions and called for a Negotiation Council meeting on Thursday 27 May to focus on Kriel’s supposed misbehaviour.
Nelson Mandela stated at a press conference, after meeting with the secretary general of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyauko, that “we’ve been negotiating since ’86 and we’ve had countless problems (such as this) since then. The democratic process will be strong enough to overcome the problem.”
The securocrat generals and their political leadership, as represented by National Party cabinet member Hernus Kriel, were under heavy fire for their unintended consequence of placing the negotiations for a political settlement in danger. They back-pedalled and to save face declared their intention to charge some members of the detained PAC leadership with contravention of the Firearms Act. After the night-long session of the 26 party Negotiation Council at the World Trade Centre, it was resolved that:
• Mofihli Likotsi, Toboti and Dr Skosana would be released immediately
• Seroke will be charged with possessing an unlicensed firearm.
• Further investigations would be made on Zulu, Nemadzivhanani and Dube.
• Sixty two PAC members would be released without charges.
• Nineteen members would be charged with offences like murder and unlawful possession of ammunition.
• The rest would be released after questioning.
• A PAC delegation – represented by Gora Ibrahim, Bennie Alexander, Willie Seriti and Patricia de Lille – would engage the National Party and government to sort out outstanding matters between themselves.
The “sufficient consensus” principle, adopted to gain critical mass and popular approval to sustain the negotiations, was used to placate the PAC and persuade it to return and participate in the Negotiation Council where an interim constitution had already been agreed upon.
On 3 June 1993, the Negotiation Council agreed to hold general elections on 27 April 1994. The date was proposed by the ANC, and seconded and endorsed by the PAC.
The criminal charges for unlawful possession of firearms against Seroke and Nemadzivhanani, and a case of murder – allegedly committed in 1977 in the village of Ingwavuma in Kwa Zulu – against Enoch Zulu, were all dismissed by the courts.
The negative outcomes of the police raid on the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania exposed the poor planning and incompetence of the SADF military intelligence, the national intelligence service, and the front end security branch of the SAP. It was no longer possible, according to a military intelligence spokesperson, to try the PAC leadership with treason charges. The botched plan meant they had to go to Plan B – destroying the PAC from within.
Sowetan newspaper’s investigations editor, Mathatha Tsedu, reported on a German-based observer of military intelligence and spying activities editorial comment on the swoop.
Michael Opperskalki, editor of Top Secret journal, said the swoop was part of an exercise code-named Operation Thunderstorm. The operation was aimed at destabilising the PAC – and other like-minded organisations – in the interest of conserving white supremacy.
It was aimed at creating divisions within the PAC and driving a wedge among the various political tendencies in the party, while isolating the revolutionaries from the moderates and conservative elements. It was a carrot and stick grand strategy to weaken and sabotage the rise of the PAC during the transition period.
The detention of the PAC leadership was a ploy to persuade the liberation movement to suspend armed struggle, and thereby create a position that would engulf the Party in protracted arguments among its own membership that would weaken and even split it into chaotic groupings.
According to Opperskalkis, “militants within the PAC and APLA [and in the ANC, uMkhonto we Sizwe, and SA Communist Party] would be targeted for smear campaigns, detentions and eventual assassinations.”
The killing of Chris Hani was part of the operation. They used right-wing organisations to conceal the involvement of the SADF military intelligence. On the day of Hani’s assassination, an anonymous caller to Radio 702 claimed it was an APLA operation. However, a white woman eyewitness in the neighbourhood had immediately called the SAP 10111 police response unit with details of the killer and the car registrations. Janus Waluz, a Polish immigrant, was arrested with a Z88 pistol not far from the scene of crime. The APLA involvement was dismissed for the lie it really was.
Operation Thunderstorm was designed to debilitate the firm resolve of patriots of the national liberation struggle to fight to the end, and to have these patriots, out of self-preservation, being concerned with their own survival. The National Party later announced a new spokesperson for their 1994 general election campaign, in the person of “former PAC firebrand” David Chuenyane.
Control and management of the crisis slipped out of the hands of the leadership at a very crucial moment in its history, and engineered anarchy was let loose within the PAC. The vitals of the PAC were being dismembered bit by bit as preparations for the elections were going on. The PAC began haemorrhaging and experiencing internal power fights – by elements whose agent provocateur agenda stems from the 25 May 1993 dawn raid on the PAC. Sabelo Phama had said that “some people are saying they are going to parliament [no matter what]. Even if it is in the kitchen of the parliament. They say it is better than being outside.” Phama himself died in a dubious car crash on the treacherous roads of Tanzania on 9 February 1994, in circumstances almost similar to the death on the road in Mozambique on 26 December 1979 of the commander of ZANLA forces, Josiah Magama Tongogara.
On the other hand, the African National Congress dominated the liberation movement space. They were funded heavily by the Scandinavian countries to campaign effectively, and went on to hire the services of Stan Greenberg, Bill Clinton’s chief campaign strategist in the 1992 United States of America elections. Mandela and De Klerk went on a charm offensive visiting international forums and US and western governments. They jointly won the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize. The new world order as seen by the US and European military and economic powers was extending its influence on the globe.
The discourse of revolutionary Pan Africanism is today as relevant and evergreen as it was when the OAU was first established in 1963. The OAU was itself a compromise between the revolutionary Casablanca and the moderate Monrovia groups. The political legacy of Pan Africanism should be adapted to suit the modern socio-economic challenges of Africa. More so, the PAC’s resurrection must happen with the clear understanding that the weight of history rest on its shoulders.
By Jaki Seroke
The writer is a political stalwart of the PAC. He is an NEC member of SANMVA and chairs the Pan Africanist Research Institute (PARI).