Stability Watch

South Africa drifting into a new armed struggle?

The face of veterans?

South Africa is at serious risk of dropping into the almost classical post-liberation trap of internal conflict as the ANC, the so-called liberation party, is falling apart.

As factionalism is pulling the party apart, the building conflict – as happened in many other decolonised countries – is no longer about liberating the population, but about who gain control over the resources of the state.

As the resistance against the Zuma-faction’s capture of the state, and the corruption that goes hand in hand with it, has been building to a crescendo, factions within the former armed wing of the party, uMkhonto weSizwe (MK), has recently also come increasingly to the fore.

There are also signs that a faction of the party, masquerading as MK is well advanced in organising itself in a new “combat force.”

A group claiming to be former MK soldiers, led by MK Veterans Association’s KwaZulu-Natal chairperson and provincial public safety ministry head, Themba Mavundla, has even threatened to take up arms should a Parliamentary vote of no confidence in Zuma be successful.

Mavundla also took a group of alleged MK veterans or “combat ready” former guerrillas to Johannesburg to “defend” ANC headquarters, Luthuli House, despite an announcement that it would not be targeted by a protest march on 7 April.

His threats were echoed by the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), which in a statement warned “those that will be marching for the removal of the president of the ANC that they will not leave Luthuli House in good condition.”

It is also important to note the war-like language employed in their statements, amongst other referring to the protesters as “the enemy.”

It is also important that the war-talk and threats were not reserved for the protesters, opposition parties or civil organisations. Mavundla also in the same breath, slammed the ANC’s own alliance partners – trade union federation Cosatu, and the South African Communist Party – for their calls for Zuma to step down.

Interestingly enough, where Police action were needed on the day of the protest marches, four people being hit by rubber bullets and another suffering serious injuriwa during an attack in Johannesburg and a clash in Pietermaritzburg, involved MKVA- and ANCYL members.

In Johannesburg, they were dressed in battledress or fatigues.

There were also reports of government and ANC, officials who have openly spoken out against president Zuma experiencing assassination attempts and receiving threatening messages.

Also read: MK veterans a threat to democracy

Really the MK?

Questions on whether Mavundla’s group and/or the ANCYL in this instance truly represented MK or the ANC, almost immediately came into serious doubt when the ANC in a statement said it “condemn in the harshest possible terms reports of people seeking to take up arms in the name of the ANC."

Likewise, members of the formal recognised MK veterans organisation – the uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association (MKVA) – questioned the actions of the “the men in camouflage” – noted that: “We also recently saw a group dressed in fatigues, similar to those worn by our comrades who served in Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), who said they were defending Luthuli House against an undefined enemy. (Our emphasis)

“The majority whose age exposes them as too young to have ever served in MK; who are these people who believe that anyone can dress up as though they fought against apartheid in our military wing?”

However, those seen in action, were marching in formation, suggesting that they are receiving some training from somewhere.

Important point

The MKVA in their statement added the very important point that South Africa is a constitutional democracy, and private armies are not needed. “It is an insult to our fallen heroes and those who served without thought of material benefits.”

Another point they made, that should not be missed, was that these ”men in fatigues’” enemy was “unidentified.” It is against this background that their statement should be judged when calling it an insult to our fallen heroes and those who served without thought of material benefits.” (Our emphasis)

In calling for an ANC consultative conference it also stated that “the military does not belong in politics. Time (for the ANC) to make a true transition – is it a political party or an “movement.”

Exposing to what extent the ANC’s fracturing has also penetrated the ranks of MK, in direct contrast to the words and actions of Mavundla, who wants to defend President Zuma at all cost, MKVA’s national council last week stated while the party is still  the party that can best serve the country in order to achieve a “democratic and non-racial South Africa,” it could “not do so in its current form and with its current leadership.”


Against this background one should, at least question the wisdom – if not the motives – of presidential aspirant Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma describing protesters against her ex-husband’s leadership as “rubbish,” playing up to the “white monopoly capital” populist sloganeering and warring “revolt by the ANYYL,” or does she have inside information on that front.

Cool heads and truly unselfish leadership is now dearly needed in the country if South Africa is to avoid the danger of becoming another violent, failed post-colonial state.

by Piet Coetzer

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