Related Articles

Picture: AFP

Book of the Week: Chasing Shadows: The Life and Death of Peter Roebuck


Book of the Week: Blacks Do Caravan

Hope on wheels
All involved. Ryan Gattis. Picture: SUPPLIED

Book of the Week: Kaleidoscope of fury

David Rieff. Picture: SUPPLIED

Book of the Week: Letting go of the past

In Praise of Forgetting: Historical Memory and its Ironies

Mentioned in this Article

FM Edition:

In 1989 there was a rally at the FNB stadium in Johannesburg to welcome Walter Sisulu and other ANC stalwarts back after they had spent more than two decades in prison. At the end of his address, Sisulu said, among other things: "To MK [ANC armed wing uMkhonto we Sizwe] we say: intensify the armed struggle!"

I laughed out loud, because we had been asking the ANC in Lusaka to provide our unit with money and weapons to no avail. We were left with only two semi-automatic pistols, two hand grenades and a damaged AK-47. In short, we were not in a position to intensify anything.

Aspects of the story of Cajee, a former member of MK, as told by Terry Bell in this book, reminded me of that moment. Cajee’s story is the story of how, in some respects, MK operations were a comedy of errors riddled with weak communication and tracking of missions, injudicious decision making and poor selection of tactical and strategic options.

But Cajee’s account also reminded me that at the time I was a teacher at a Catholic school in Soweto. This point is important in two respects: First, my position at the school gave me a very good cover, which enabled our unit to hide weapons practically in the open — that is, in classroom cupboards and in storerooms beneath some of the classrooms. Second, from time to time I had discussions on matters of philosophy and theology with Jesuit priests. On one such occasion we had a discussion about whether heaven and hell were places we go to when we enter our eternal slumber.

The priests assured me that heaven and hell were not geographical locations in the afterlife, but were states of being. I asked them why they had never said this to their parishioners. They argued that it would cause too much uncertainty and compromise the faith of their flock.

For those among us who deified and continue to deify the ANC and its leaders, this book is going to be as crushing as being told that Christianity and other religions are elaborate hoaxes — because ANC leaders such as former MK commander Joe Modise emerge from Cajee’s account looking like bumbling incompetents and tin-pot despots who acted with impunity at the expense of the moral content of the struggle.

For instance, Cajee tells the story of how, when he was doing his political and military training in then Czechoslovakia, Modise and Raymond Mhlaba came to visit. Modise asked Cajee to polish his boots, which "request" Cajee promptly refused, something for which he would pay years later.

The book begins with the following harrowing account: "The words echoed in my head: ‘You are guilty of high treason, and the penalty is death.’" This was in September 1966; Cajee was 24 years old and at Kongwa, an ANC camp in Tanzania.

He and others had been falsely accused, and the person who uttered these words was Modise. He and Chris Hani were part of a tribunal that had been set up to investigate a "mutiny" that had taken place at the camp.

A group of 29 combatants from Natal had driven from the camp in a truck without asking the commanders for permission. No-one could pursue them because this was the only truck available. They wanted to drive to the ANC leadership to complain about the conditions at the camp, low morale, shortage of food and medicine and their desire to be infiltrated into SA to engage in armed combat on home soil. For this they were jailed and charged with high treason.

This was but one example of injustice in the camps of an organisation that was fighting for social justice. In the end, the gap between the mythical and the real ANC forced Cajee to flee.

When it came to the disastrous Wankie battle in the then Rhodesia, Cajee was struck by the gap between the principles of guerrilla warfare he was taught in Czechoslovakia and the way these were ignored by the MK command.

This book helps us understand that some of the seeds of the ANC’s decline today were planted in conditions of struggle in exile. It is also a worthy addition to the growing number of books about the ANC that are trying to bridge the gap between the memory of events and propaganda.

Fordsburg Fighter: The Journey of an MK Volunteer
Amin Cajee, as told to Terry Bell