Greg Alexander Mashaba writes this moving piece of his personal experiences of betrayal by both the enemy outside and within the ANC and how he, like other comrades, took a decision to forgive and move on with their lives. It was prompted by a response one of the readers who accused him of hating former President Thabo Mbeki…
The ability to forgive those who do us wrong is one with which very few are endowed. It is indeed a rare virtue which has eluded human-kind since time immemorial. Betrayal of one by those particularly close to us renders the task of granting forgiveness seemingly forever out of reach. Yet in both sacred scripture and our history books we read of countless episodes where those who had been wronged readily embraced the wrong-doer. The example given in sacred scripture is that of the prodigal son. For lovers of English literature, a classical example of forgiveness and mercy is given in William Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice. In the case of our own history the common example given is that of the founding father of our democratic nation, Nelson Mandela.
A few years back, myself and one of my comrades and colleagues reflected on this ever elusive virtue. The name of this particular comrade is Pat Nkulu Twala. He was a brave commander of MK , having served as deputy commander to “Che Ogara “ ( ie January Masilela) in Botswana and later as MK commander in Uganda. Cde Pat reflected on how we found ourselves in democratic South Africa embracing those who had betrayed us as apartheid informers and those who had sought to assassinate us in our sleep as death squad operatives. “You know chief “, he said “..we even play golf with them ..” I have seen people readily forgive their former enemies, but the story of Cde Pat is one that will forever stand out. Back in the mid 1980s he lost the mother of his two daughters in a brutal raid by SADF commandos in Botswana. Five women comrades were killed in that raid. Having sprayed their residence with heavy gunfire, the racist commandos proceeded to lob hand-grenades into the house. All those inside were burnt beyond recognition. Upon coming back to South Africa following the unbanning of the liberation movement, Cde Pat narrowly escaped death when an SAP officer fired a shot, without provocation, at him with an R5 rifle. While he still mourns the loss of his wife, Cde Pat took the decision to forgive the perpetrators of this dastardly act and to move on with his life. He correctly told me that he refused to be kept prisoner by remaining bitter. He frequently travels to Botswana to visit his two daughters.
I too, together with my family, took a decision even before the unbanning of our organisation to forgive those who had sold us out to the enemy, and had thereby put our family in danger of falling at the bullets fired and the hand grenade lobbed by the apartheid assassin. Although we have as a family documented our own story of involvement in the liberation movement, we have been dissuaded from doing so in public specifically because we were betrayed in great measure by people who were, and still remain close to us. We meet them often, we host them in our residences, we attend the funerals of their relatives and they in turn attend those of ours. However the fact that they betrayed us and put us in great danger is forever at the back of heads, even as we dine with them.
I was prompted to pull out excepts from the pages of my family history following my labelling by Cde Xola Dastile as one who is saddled with “continued hatred“ for our former president , Cde Thabo Mbeki. I felt that the only way I could reinforce my argument that I never expressed hatred for Cde Mbeki would be to demonstrate how I, together with my parents, brothers and sisters were prepared to forgive those who betrayed us, and continue to do so even in the face of their repeated provocation of us when they continue to slander our leaders and hurl insults at our organisation and government . My decision to write this piece is one which was taken after careful consideration of many factors, including the protection of the children and relatives of those who betrayed us.
In 1981 my family moved into the residence which had for many years been occupied by the then leader of the ANC in Swaziland, Stanley Mabizela. This particular residence had for many years served as the focal point of ANC activity in that country. Indeed a lot of senior ANC leaders used to meet there for meetings. I had also been formally recruited into, and inducted into ANC political theory from within the confines of that residence. The difficulty which confronted the organisation at that time was that right next door, was a house which was occupied by Jacob Moreki, the most notorious apartheid era agent to have operated in Swaziland. He was apparently given responsibility for recruitment and handling of a vast network of informers based in Swaziland. Although we would exchange pleasantries with him before leaving on assignment, we always invariably found him tailing our vehicle in his infamous Nissan Laurel .
Although Moreki was always collecting intelligence on us, we treated him with respect for the simple reason that he was an adult and a school teacher. In that way, he stood in a position of seniority to us, at least from a religious and cultural point of view. Even Stanley Mabizela’s own children, Andile, Vuyo and Phola had been brought up in such way a way that they had to publicly show him all the respect which a child owed to an adult. Such was our up-bringing: we had to show respect to the very same person who constantly sought to have us wiped off the face of the earth with deadly explosives and gunfire.
On 4 June 1980 two of our residences in Manzini were blown up in powerful bomb blasts which occurred almost simultaneously. Two people including a seven year old child were killed . This was in apparent retaliation for the MK attack on the SASOL fascility in Secunda. Stanley Mabizela, “General” ( real name Joe Nxumalo ) and myself gathered enough evidence which placed Moreki at the scene of the blast. Vital information placing Moreki at the scene of the blasts was given to us by a brave Swazi national, Mbhuzini Dlamini , who at that time was a high school student at Salesian High School in Manzini. We were also able to link Moreki’s heinous act to Dirk Coetzee ( although we did not know his name at that time) whom we had placed under surveillance after we had seen him going to Moreki’s house before and after the attack. Moreki was subsequently arrested, according to sources, on the direct orders of King Sobhuza 11 who was apparently incensed at the fact that a minor was among the fatalities. He was subsequently deported to South Africa. We heard a few years later from sources inside the country that Moreki had been stoned to death by students and members of the community somewhere in Natal.
The period following the death of King Sobhuza 11 was referred to by Nelson Mandela on his first visit to Swaziland following his realease in 1990 as “the darkest “ in the history of the relationship between the ANC and the mountain kingdom. Political power vested in the hands of a powerful clique of conservative and ultra-traditionalists. The fact that the kingdom had also entered into a secret pact (the “Pretoria Accord “) with apartheid South Africa wherein the two countries pledged to cooperate with one another in the “fight against communism and terrorism “ made the position of the ANC in that country very difficult. Right-wing propaganda was used to drive a wedge between Swazis and progressive South Africans. ANC members in particular and South Africans in general were regarded with much hostility and suspicion by conservative Swazi nationals. It was also during this period that the Swazi authorities embarked on a drive to force a lot of ANC cadres out of the country. Apartheid death squads operated with apparent impunity inside Swaziland.
Perhaps one of the most tragic incidents during this period and one which left a very deep scar on my emotional and psychological make-up was the deadly gun battle between three of our cadres and a combined force of Swaziland Police Mobile Unit (“PMU” ) and apartheid forces in the Manzini suburb of Ngwane Park. The PMU and their apartheid allies laid siege to one of our residences and pounded it with heavy gunfire for over 18 hours. Although one of our cadres, a brave female soldier, managed to break out of the siege and fled the scene, killing one senior Swazi officer in the process, the other two cadres were killed. The gunfire was so intense that both cadres had their heads blown off. I have to narrate this particular incident because it was used by a section of the Swazi community to humiliate us . I still recall hearing two Swazis remarking “..bebatsi bentani !” (“..what were they expecting!”). This particular incident left a lingering feeling of resentment against Swazis. It was only through the gentle persuasion of my mother and my brother Juba over many years that I finally chose to forgive them. They both correctly argued that we knew of more Swazi nationals who actively supported the ANC and MK than those who were hostile to the presence of our organisation in their country.
In 1985 I received a short note which informed me that I had been expelled from the University of Swaziland on the instructions of the government on “grounds of national security and peace in the country “ . This came barely two months before completion of my law degree. Although I received offers of assistance to complete my studies elsewhere, the ANC leadership took the decision that I should finalise my studies in Britain .
There were a lot of logistical arrangements which I had to make before my departure to Britain. One of my tasks was to hand-over arms and munitions which had been in my possession. A lot of our senior cadres and combatants had already been forced out of Swaziland and thus units operating there were stretched to the limit. We were also experiencing a high level of infiltration by enemy agents.
It was within the context of this situation that I handed a PKM LMG ( “light machine gun “ ) to a young Swazi national who had in the past helped us to store arms in his house. I had advised him to temporarily put it in the terrain in the agricultural section of Salesian High School, also in Manzini. Despite assurances from him that he had successfully put the LMG in the terrain, I was shocked when he walked into my residence one Sunday morning in the company of his superior, an Irish man who had come to work in Swaziland as a volunteer teacher. The name of the Irish man was James. He was very upset that I had left a deadly weapon in his facility where it could have been found by innocent pupils. Much to my horror, the young Swazi sympathiser had left the LMG outside the tool shed, next to a pile of spades and forks. Up to this day, I never received a satisfactory answer as to why he had been so careless. James agreed to put the LMG in a man-hole at the edge of the agricultural facility from where it would be transferred into the terrain for collection later by one the comrades who were going to remain in Swaziland.
The tragedy of this particular incident is that the comrade who remained behind never managed to retrieve the LMG from our sympathiser despite repeated requests from myself and my comrade for him to cooperate. Up to this day, we do not know what happened to that deadly piece of weaponry. To further compound the situation, another cache of arms stored on a farm in the eastern part of Swaziland disappeared in a similar fashion. The effect of both incidents was that my comrade was detained by our security personell over, amongst other charges, failing to safe-guard weapons entrusted to him. This led to a lot of tension and bad blood between myself and my comrade which lingered for a few years even after the unbanning of our organisation . The enemy was however the “sympathiser “ who had for reasons only known to himself, had failed, if not outright refused to hand over arms which had been entrusted to him in good faith. I do see this “sympathiser” from time to time and hugs are always given. However the sense of deep betrayal still lingers on. Even though I have long taken the decision to forgive, this is one incident which I can never forget.
I had initially intended to keep this article as short as possible. However I feel compelled to narrate one final incident . The circumstances of this latter incident are such that I am left with no alternative but to raise it in here , for the first time in writing. The primary reason for my decision to publicly talk about this incident is the fact that the person responsible for our betrayal seems to remain unrepentant in his hatred for the ANC and all that it stands for.
I found myself back in Swaziland in late 1988. Following the ascent to the throne by King Mswati 111, the situation in the kingdom had somewhat improved. Present in Swaziland was a an old friend who had returned after apparently receiving military training in Angola. Although we did not operate in the same structures, we naturally maintained close ties for we had grown up together. In the process of our interaction I found out that my comrade was involved in an intimate relationship with a lady who was in turn cohabiting in Soweto with a special branch officer. I felt that I had a duty to warn my comrade of the risk which was not placing only him in great danger but also exposed the organisation as a whole to the threat of infiltration.
Although my comrade showed apparent appreciation for the tip-off, much to my horror, he persisted in pursuing the relationship. I was reliably informed that he would sleep at his girl friends residence during his “underground“ trips to Soweto. In the light of that revelation I took a decision to keep my distance and to be extra-vigilant. I was therefore a bit unsettled when this comrade approached me a few weeks later and told me that he had been instructed by his commander to apprehend his girlfriend so that she could be interrogated by our intelligence unit. He also asked me to help him carry out this operation. Although I refrained from getting physically involved, I gave him advise on how to best carry out his operation. I gave him two scenarios where he could safely secure custody of the lady without drawing attention of passers by. This would ideally happen inside Swaziland for she was due to visit Swaziland for a family gathering.
Instead of coming through to Swaziland on the expected date, the suspect failed to turn up. On exactly the same day, Thembi Mkhonta, a very beautiful young Swazi lady to whom I was engaged to be married got death threats from people calling from South Africa. They told her and her grandmother with whom she was staying that they were going to “sort” her out for being engaged to a terrorist who was planning to kidnap one of their own. This put a lot of strain on my relationship with my fiancée and her family. Although they supported the liberation struggle, my actions had quite clearly put them in a difficult and dangerous situation. I never got to tie the knot with my young fiancée . She eventually got married to a Swazi national and is today employed in the human resources department of Swazi Bank in Mbabane, Swaziland.
Quite clearly my “comrade” had sold us out. Despite his propensity to cast aspersions on our leaders and institutions, a factor which has often reinforced my conviction that this comrade was in fact an enemy agent, I took the decision to forgive him and to move on with my life. Like Cde Pat, I refuse to be held prisoner by events which took place close to thirty years ago .
Greg Alexander Mashaba Is A Writer And Social Commentator and Contributor to UnCensored