The ANC’s split heritage: totalitarian and democratic
Paul Trewhela on the Shishita Report and the demonising of Mark Shope
BBC Radio Four in Britain broadcast an important discussion between Moeletsi Mbeki. Jay Naidoo and Nadine Gordimer on 30 December about restriction on media freedom in South Africa. In their discussion on the “Today” programme, Jay Naidoo raised the issue of what he called “totalitarianism” in relation to the Protection of State Information Bill (which has been passed in the National Assembly), while Moeletsi Mbeki made the point that the ANC had been an authoritarian body in exile.
This discussion had been preceded by a call for abrogation of South Africa’s Constitution by a member of the government - President Zuma’s ally, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, the former premier of Limpopo province, now elevated to deputy minister of Correctional Services. As stated last month in an article ”Facing down the new authoritarians”, by the editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, Nic Dawes, Ramatlhodi is the survivor of a “corruption investigation that paralleled Zuma’s.”
Jay Naidoo was general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions from 1985 to 1993. He then served as minister responsible for the Reconstruction and Development Programme in President Mandela’s office and as minister of Post, Telecommunications, and Broadcasting (1996 - 1999). A former member of the national executive committee of the ANC, he is non-executive chairman of the Development Bank of Southern Africa
Moeletsi Mbeki, the younger brother of former President Thabo Mbeki, who like his brother spent three decades in exile, is deputy chairman of the South African Instute of International Relations and is author of Architects of Poverty: Why Africa’s Capitalism Needs Changing, Picador Africa, 2009).
The BBC discussion related obliquely to the totalitarian heritage of the ANC in exile, the subject of my book Inside Quatro: Uncovering the Exile History of the ANC and SWAPO in Exile (Jacana, 2009). It looked ahead by a week to the ANC’s centenary celebrations this coming Sunday, 8 January. The discussion of the authoritarian heritage of the ANC was more than appropriate.
In an article on the ANC centenary in the Guardian (London) – published the same day as the BBC discussion -the former ANC MP and former chairman of the parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA), Andrew Feinstein, stated: “”In order to hide the corruption [of the arms deal of the late 1990s, which he had attempted to uncover], the ANC were prepared to undermine the very institutions of democracy that they had so courageously fought to establish.
“There’s a strong sense that parliament has never recovered, that this was the moment at which parliament became nothing more than a rubber stamp for the ruling party. This really was the moment at which the ANC was prepared to say, ‘Yes, we are prepared to sacrifice these institutions to protect ourselves, to protect the party.’ It reflects a profound lack of transparency and accountability in the way the ANC operates – the corrupt core of the party. In that sense it had a devastating impact on our democracy.”
Discussion of attrition of democracy in post-liberation South Africa received added sharpness last November with an important contribution to the history of the exile period, the publication by Paul Holden and Hennie van Vuuren of their study of the arms deal and its sources, The Devil in the Detail: How the Arms Deal changed Everything (Jonathan Ball, 2011).
In their first chapter, “A questionable legacy: The SADF and MK in exile, 1976-1990″, the authors give the best account so far of an extraordinary, top-secret document which provides the most illuminating and concise expression of the totalitarian mindset of the ANC in exile, the so-called Shishita Report of 1981. The full title of this highly confidential ANC document was: “Report on the Subversive Activities of Police Agents in our Movement”.
It gives the sharpest expression of the psychology of the anti-democratic current in the ANC, now obvious in government.
Of course, there was no lack of real “police agents in our movement” deployed by the security agencies of the National Party state from at least the time of Gerard Ludi, who attended a World Peace Conference in Moscow in mid-1962, on behalf both of the SACP and Minister of Justice John Vorster. (See Ludi’s Operation Q-018, Nasionale Pers Boekhandel, 1969, replete with photographs taken in Moscow).
In the Shishita report – which helped to launch a reign of terror within Umkhonto we Sizwe in exile – this issue of actual infiltration of the ANC (up to leadership level) was not the real issue. The real issue was a hunting out of democratic discussion.
Its focus was above all on one man, a hero of the ANC, the SACP and the South African trade union movement, who was posthumously awarded one of the new state’s highest honours, the Order of the Baobab in Gold, in 2002 for “exceptional contribution to the struggle against apartheid and the development of the labour movement” : the Treason Trialist, Mark Shope (1918-1998), former general secretary of the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), the forerunner of COSATU.
A farm worker as a youth, later founder of the African Laundry, Cleaning and Dying Workers’ Union and one of the earliest recruits to Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK, in which he was one of the first to receive military training in the Soviet Union in the Sixties), Shope was appointed commissar in Angola together with Professor Jack Simons to the new generation of recruits which had flooded into the ANC and MK following the 1976 Soweto uprising of school students.
Together, Shope and Simons educated the new recruits at the ANC training camp at Nova Katengue in western Angola in the late 1970s to ask questions - to think for themselves. The consequences were fatal. Nothing was more heretical to the power-holders at the head of the ANC and SACP in exile, any less than to the regime of Bantu education in South Africa itself.
Although - like Simons - Shope was a “leader of the South African Communist Party with comrades such as JB Marks, Moses Kotane, Moses Mabida and Joe Slovo”, such an approach to the idealistic young soldiers of the June 16 and Moncada detachments was demonised by powerful figures in the leadership as a form of satanism. Without a shred of evidence, Shope was accused in the Shishita Report (together with a former Robben Island veteran, Albert Dlomo) of being an “enemy agent”.
Holden and van Vuuren provide lengthy citations over several pages from this seminal document, submitted to the ANC leadership in secret in 1981 and kept secret until released to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997. To this day its contents remain a secret to the overwhelming majority of former members of the ANC, the SACP and MK in exile, as they prepare to gather at Bloemfontein/Mangaung to celebrate the ANC’s centenary. It is the most sordid official document in the history of the ANC, and has received almost no attention from historians.
The crucial passage in the Shishita Report states: “In the area of our investigation, it is clear that there was, in fact, a campaign promoted by enemy agents, within and outside our ranks, for discrediting the leadership of the African National Congress on the ‘grounds’ of ‘corruption’, ‘in-effiiciency’ [sic], ‘money-making’, ‘too old to lead’, etc.” The report attributes blame principally to Mark Shope and Albert Dlomo.
The report then states: “Objectively these comrades are playing the role of enemy agents or provocateurs despite the fact that they were never formally recruited“. (cited in Holden and van Vuuren, The Devil in the Detail, pp.52-53)
It is the psychology of diabolism and the witch-hunt. The category “enemy agent” is transformed verbally into a vast, abstract, shadowy evil presence whose sinister influence, like that of Satan, has the power of controlling human beings who have no idea of its presence and who have no real physical contact with it. It is the demonism of Stalin’s OGPU, GPU, NKVD or KGB – a monster by whatever name – by which the Great Leader killed off his Old Bolshevik rivals under fevered accusations that they were agents of Adolf Hitler. “Objectively”, comrades! Citizen A, or B, or C is an agent of the Devil… “despite the fact that they were never formally recruited“!
The most accessible account of this psychology is in the extract from Holden and van Vuuren’s book, published in the Mail & Guardian on 11 November 2011 under the title “Arms deal inherited corrupt DNA”, available here:
It should be studied with care.
There should be proper research into the lives of Mark and Gertrude Shope, as well as Albert Dlomo. Ntiti Gertrude Shope (born in 1925), was head of the ANC Women’s Section in exile and the only woman chief representative of the ANC in exile. No ANC or SACP leader played a more humane role during the mutinies in MK in Angola in February and May 1984. She “appeared on the scene from Lusaka at that time [where she was chief representative] and was taken aback by what she saw. She ordered an end to executions and tortures, and that the prisoners should be allowed to get clothes, which was done.” (“A miscarriage of democracy”,Inside Quatro. p. 29)
Later, after the end of apartheid, during the heroic efforts of Andrew Feinstein to throw light into the foul pit of the arms deal corruption scandal in the National Assembly, “Ma” Gertrude Shope, as he recalls, as a fellow ANC MP, “sat down next to me and whispered into my ear: ‘You just carry on doing your job’.” Tremendous encouragement to the young man, under ultimately unsustainable pressure from a corrupt, unaccountable and undemocratic political elite. (Andrew Feinstein, After the Party: A Personal and Political Journey inside the ANC, Jonathan Ball, 2007. p.73)
If there were ever to be a movement for reform within the ANC, this is one of the sources to which it would have to return.
Happily, MaShope is still with us.
Let the heritage of Mark and Gertrude Shope be remembered on Sunday.