Experiencing the armed struggle : the Soweto generation and after

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This study explores the experiences of the rank-and-file soldiers of Umkhonto we Sizwe and the Azanian People's Liberation Anny. Extensive interviews by the author and other researchers reveal the voices of the soldiers themselves. The African National Congress and Pan African Congress archives at the University of the Western Cape and the University of Fort Hare supplement and verify these oral testimonies, as do some published sources. Most previously published materials about the armed struggle against apartheid have already focused on diplomacy, strategy and tactics, operations, leadership, and human rights abuses to the neglect of the soldiers' actual experiences. This study complements these with significant new oral history materials from the Soweto generation of soldiers and their successors. When dealing with MK, many authors have documented issues of the camp structure in Angola, and operations inside South Africa, so much of this detail is only addressed briefly, leaving space to explore the soldiers' experiences. In the case of APLA, very little has been written on its history, and more detail is provided on these subjects. This study therefore deals with the soldiers' politicisation and motivation for joining the armed struggle, their experiences in leaving South Africa and training in exile, the crises in exile which limited their effectiveness for a time, their return to fight in South Africa, and their difficulties in the "new" South Africa. These materials reveal that vast problems remain facing these veterans of the struggle against apartheid, and that they have the potential, if properly supported and employed, to contribute substantially to the development of present day South Africa. Conversely, if their neglect continues, they also have the potential to bring vast harm to the country. Further use of the investigative tools of oral history, especially if extended to the former soldiers' vernacular languages, is necessary to augment the history of South Africa, and these soldiers' contributions.

Includes bibliographical references (p. 354-369).