HomeOpinionZipra’s secret support for Umkhonto weSizwe

Zipra’s secret support for Umkhonto weSizwe

Excerpt from Dr Dumiso Dabengwa’s address to the Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) Lilliesleaf Conference, March 2019.

Whilst history does record the long standing co-operation between Zapu/Zipra and ANC/MK in the 1960s and 1970s, very little has been said or recorded about how Zapu/Zipra continued its support for MK after Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980.

Today I would like to reveal some details of this crucially important period of our common history.

Following the emergence of the (Robert) Mugabe-led Zanu government in April 1980, the situation facing the ANC and MK in Zimbabwe was very difficult. Zanu were openly hostile towards the ANC at that time and they were assisted in their efforts to block ANC/MK presence in Zimbabwe by former Rhodesians and the many South African agents operating in the Zimbabwe security services.

Efforts at political dialogue with Zanu by ANC leaders were rebuffed by the new Zimbabwean government in the early years of independence in Zimbabwe and attempts by the ANC to establish a presence in Zimbabwe were rejected for some time. Then prime minister Mugabe publicly stated his opposition to MK establishing any presence in Zimbabwe.

In fact, MK guerillas were already inside Zimbabwe concealed within our Zipra forces. When this was discovered by apartheid agents and made known to Zanu we were instructed by the Zimbabwean government to remove these MK guerillas.

We discussed this with MK commanders and agreed that we should comply with this instruction and informed the Zanu leadership of this decision.

What has remained a closely guarded secret for many years was that we did not remove all the MK guerillas. We made a show to Zanu of removing some of them, but others were hidden and provided with assistance by Zipra to establish themselves in our own towns and villages.

So the first MK presence was established secretly in Zimbabwe with support from Zipra.

Weapons were also secretly cached by Zipra for use by MK. Some of these weapons were later “discovered” by the Zanu government with the direct involvement of apartheid agents and used to mount a treason trial against myself and other senior Zipra commanders, and to provide a pretext for the suppression of Zapu and Zipra and the unleashing of “Gukurahundi”.

During this period, and whilst we of Zapu and Zipra were under direct threat and facing a wave of terror unleashed against us by the Zanu government, we continued to provide support and assistance to MK and to underground ANC operatives in Zimbabwe.

Those members of the ANC and MK, who operated from Zimbabwe during this period, know that it was trusted Zapu and Zipra members who arranged their safe houses, safe passage and provided weapons and other facilities to support the armed struggle inside South Africa. It was not Zanu.

Of course, at the time the ANC was trying to build bridges with Zanu and the role of Zapu and Zipra in supporting MK operations had to be kept secret. As a result, this history has never been told, but today I would like to appeal to our comrades from the ANC and MK to acknowledge this history.

As an illustration of how important this support was in enabling the ANC/MK to intensify the armed struggle I am going today to reveal some of the details of one operation which has remained a closely guarded secret known only to a handful of comrades for over 30 years.

In the early days after independence one of our senior National Security Organisation/Zipra officers (Jeremy Brickhill) became aware of the presence of a young South African who was in Zimbabwe attempting to make contact with the ANC. At the time there was no official or senior ANC presence in Zimbabwe.

Our officer acting on his own initiative established a safe contact with the young South African and discovered that the person in question had access to the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station in South Africa and had a set of the secret Koeberg plans in his possession. The officer made a report to me and requested permission to engage the young South African to establish whether he was genuine. I gave him authority to proceed.

After some time he reported back that, although the South African in question was an unusual type of recruit — he called him a “hippy” — he believed him to be genuine and he had confirmed that he did have a set of documents which appeared to provide details of the Koeberg nuclear plant.

At this time there was still no senior ANC or MK presence in Zimbabwe to whom we could refer the young South African. Our officer was concerned that the young South African was very impatient and could easily reveal himself to enemy agents. He needed to be managed until we could make safe contact with a senior MK commander. Our officer therefore requested permission to undertake a recruitment operation and to begin preparatory training for the South African under NSO/Zipra auspices in order to contain the situation until we could establish reliable contact with ANC/MK. I agreed to this plan.

We also sent a message to a senior MK commander requesting the urgent presence of a senior MK officer. Unfortunately, it was many months before an appropriate ANC/MK senior person could finally enter Zimbabwe.

During that time the young South African, and his partner, completed recruitment, processing, orientation and preliminary training under our auspices.

Finally, the South African comrade in question was introduced, by us, to a senior ANC/MK officer and “Operation Mac”, as it was called, was launched.

On December 17 1982, MK detonated four limpet mines in the Koeberg nuclear power plant. The operation was carried out by the young South African I have been talking about and his partner.

Our NSO/Zipra officer who had recruited and trained the South African comrades remained as a backstop for the operation throughout and organised the safe exfiltration of one of the members of the unit after the successful operation.

Until today this operation has been claimed, quite correctly, as an MK operation. But I think history should record that it was actually a joint operation by MK and Zipra.

This operation is only one of many examples of the revolutionary solidarity that was sustained between Zapu/Zipra and ANC/MK after 1980 and indeed which continued until 1994 when South African democracy was finally achieved.

This revolutionary bond between comrades-in-arms, sustained during a period of great difficulty, should be acknowledged and celebrated today as part of our common history of struggle.

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