16 December 2011

UMkhonto weSizwe celebrates 50 years in December 2011

The MK, as popularly known was a military wing of the African National Congress during the struggle against apartheid. It was formed after the ANC's non-violence and passive resistance policy was seen to be no longer working. The comrades thought it was time to fight fire with fire.

The year was 1961 when Nelson Mandela and his peers in the freedom struggle founded the MK after a heated debate within the ANC and other allied liberation movement organisations.

Chief Albert Luthuli was the president at the time and, as can be expected from a Nobel Prize laureate for Peace, he was highly opposed to any form of violence for any reason. He was of the firm belief that the apartheid system and its unjust laws that aimed to sideline black people could be fought and neutralised through peaceful means.

Apart from the then non-violence stance of the ANC, the other hiccup was the fact that the ANC at the time was banned by the state and if it were to involve itself in acts of violence, would place its alliance partners in danger of being banned as well.

However, the ANC realised that perhaps the minimal success of its non-violence approach in bringing about change warranted a shift towards an armed struggle.

In the end the apartheid government, through the Sharpville Massacre in 1960, provided the final push towards influencing the ANC to take up arms. On this date, the government violently attacked people participating in a peaceful anti-pass demonstration. 69 people were killed with hundreds injured.

This heavy-handed response by the government to a peaceful demonstration and the subsequent banning of many liberation struggle movements were the final straw, which the ANC and its allies felt necessitated the establishment of the MK. It was time to rethink the strategy.

Following an ANC National Executive meeting in Durban, it was agreed, after much debate, that the MK should be formed. Even Chief Luthuli was quoted as saying, "If anyone thinks I am a pacifist, let him try to take my chickens, and he will know how wrong he is," thus marking a turning point in the struggle.

Chief Luthuli, true to his peace principles, suggested that the military wing should run as a separate and independent organ linked and under the overall control of the ANC albeit fundamentally autonomous. This was to ensure that the legality of the remaining unbanned liberation allies is not placed under threat of being banned as well. The non-violence policy of the ANC was to stand.

The MK was born on the 16th of December 1961, with one aim, ‘to hit back by all means within our power in defence of our people, our future and our freedom'. Nelson Mandela and Joe Slovo were mandated to structure the new military wing. Regional commands were set up and recruitment based on military experience, necessary technical skills or being a member of the alliance partners.

SAHA is in possession of material relating to the MK in the following collection:

AL2457 The SAHA Original Collection