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FORMER MILITARY BASES OF POQO-APLA: THE MILITARY WING OF THE PAN AFRICANIST CONGRESS OF SOUTH AFRICA (PAC), 1960-90’S

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FORMER MILITARY BASES OF POQO-APLA: THE MILITARY WING OF THE PAN AFRICANIST CONGRESS OF SOUTH AFRICA (PAC), 1960-90’S

By: Tinyeko Captain Ndhlovu, Curator: Insignia, Memorial Plaques, Postal History, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History

Introduction

 The rag and tag Poqo Force the forerunner of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) was the underground military wing of the Pan-Africanist Congress of South Africa (PAC). It was launched after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960s. Their mandate was to fight against the government of South Africa (former Apartheid regime). Their targets were anything that symbolised the Apartheid regime such as law enforcement bases, non-African/White citizens and their homes, farms and shops and the so-called sell-outs. The PAC/Poqo-APLA forces operated underground in both South Africa and in exile between September 1961 and June 1994. The APLA forces ended its armed struggle during the 1990s. APLA and other liberation armed struggle forces were disbanded and integrated into the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in June 1994. This article focuses on the former military training camps of the PAC/Poqo-APLA during1960s – 1990s.

 

Figure 1. The Late Poqokazi Nomvo Booi (in blue dress) during training (Source Image: Mayihlome News).

 

A decision was taken at a PAC conference that was held in Maseru, Lesotho in 1961, that the Poqo cadres should receive a rudimentary military training. Consequently, PAC/Poqo military bases/training camps were established both underground in South Africa and in exile: first in Lesotho, then two years later in Tanzania, Zambia, and other regions of Africa. The PAC/Poqo recruited a largenumber of South African youth and offered them the basic military training countrywide. A few selected recruits were sent out of the country for military training. In 1962, the PAC-Poqo relocated its headquarters to exile in Maseru, Lesotho. Around 1962-1964, the Poqo cadres began to train in the mountains of Lesotho, without the knowledge or the consent of the Lesotho authorities.

 

During the first phase of the formation of Poqo, residents from Langa Flats were the first to be members of the rag and tag Poqo Task Force. Around the company of 200 Poqo cadres armed themselves with African traditional edge weapons, axes, pangas, and other self-made explosives. On the 22nd of November 1962, they embarked on the Poqo operations from Mbekweni township to the town of Paarl.

 

In Pretoria (Gauteng) near the Mamelodi mountains and at Mabopane there were also secret camps and underground PAC-Poqo structures. Mamelodi units used to camped at nights at a nearby mountain where they underwent basic training and tactics development. Nevertheless, Mamelodi Poqo units rejected the proposal to be armed with pangas, axes, or edge weapons. Instead, they embraced the ideal of gaining the explosive bombs to attack their targets. The other training camps were in Skerkspruit, Coffee Bay, Mount Frere and at various locations in the former Transkei (Eastern Cape). 

 

Figure 2. PAC leader and the Poqo Commander-In-Chief, Potlako K. Leballo, confirms that Poqo is the PAC’s military wing (Source Image: South African History Online).

 

P.K. Leballo the PAC’s leader and Commander-In-Chief of Poqo confirmed that Poqo is the military wing of the PAC in Maseru, Lesotho on 25 March 1963. Leballo also announced that the PAC-Poqo Revolutionary Council had planned to embark on a massive South African revolution on the 8th of April 1963. Two courier Poqokazi (female) cadres were caught by South African and Lesotho British authorities with the secret letters in their possession with the full marching orders on how the PAC-Poqo cells ought to partake in their anticipated national revolt in South Africa. Unfortunately, that exposed the PAC-Poqo’s underground structures/secret bases and their national revolt plan. Consequently, many cadres of the PAC-Poqo were detained and its headquarters in Lesotho was raided by the Lesotho British Police.

 

Therefore, the PAC-Poqo’s headquarters relocated from Maseru in Lesotho to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania and Lusaka in Zambia in 1964.  Military training camps were established in Dar-es-Salaam and other regions in Africa from 1964-1994. While back in South Africa, underground bases/training camps were also established countrywide.

 

Figure 3. Cadre Nomvo Booi and the APLA cadres at the Bamagamoyo Camp: ‘Zeph Mothopeng Military College’ in Tanzania (Source Image: The Mail & Guarding).

 

The exposed PAC-Poqo’s national revolt plan for the 8th of April 1963, has the following details: the Poqo Central Pretoria region strategic plan of action: Atteridgeville units received the command to attack Central Pretoria from the west. Vlakfontein units would attack from the east, Lady Selborne units would attack from the north and Eastwood units would attack from the south.

 

Post 1968s the PAC-APLA Military Training Camps

 

P.K. Leballo and T.M. Ntantala modelled Poqo to the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) following the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) model in 1968. The APLA cadres received military training at “Zeph Mothopeng Military Training Academy College” in Tanzania. Some cadres were sent abroad for advance military training and military-politico courses in various countries such as the Republic of China, Guinea Conakry, Libya, Algeria, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and many more. The PAC-APLA managed to embark on the very important missions such as Operation Vila Peri (1966-68) and Operation Curtain Raiser (late 1970s).

APLA cadres were also accommodated at Itumbi camp in Mbeya, Tanzania. A section of this camp was named ‘Shanghai’ where members of the PAC-APLA Central Committee who visited the area were hosted.

 

Post 1976 June 16/Soweto Uprising PAC-APLA military camps

 

Another significant APLA base/camp was the Ruvu camp. The Ruvu settlement started during the era of Commander-In-Chief Potlako Kitchener Leballo in 1978. Originally the Ruvu camp was a small refugee/’transit camp’ for the PAC members who fled the suppression of the South African government following the Soweto uprisings. The PAC-APLA responded to the June 16 Soweto uprisings by creating this camp. The Ruvu settlement was envisioned by Leballo to be modelled to the ANC’s ‘June 16 Detachment’, initially based in the Nova Katengue camp in Benguella Province (Angola) in 1978 and later relocated to Fezenda located further north across the Rio Donge. The Ruvu settlement also accommodated new APLA recruits who were awaiting military training.

 

 

Figure 4. APLA Unit during training at Itumbi Military Camp in Matundzi, Chunya-Mbeya, Tanzania (Source Image: DNMMH).

 

From 1981, the Ruvu camp became the centre of the ideological debate and critique of the PAC-APLA leadership under the PAC Chairman and APLA Commander-In-Chief Vusumzi Maake (1979-1981). However, APLA cadres in this camp demanded that the leadership should derive its mandate to lead from the rank-and-file membership. They also questioned the abuse of funds and criticised the extravagant lifestyle of the PAC Chairman, Vusi Maake and the entire Central Committee. That led to the assassination of David Sibeko, a member of the trio Presidential Council of the PAC on 14 July 1979. It also resulted in Tanzanian authorities to intervene and investigate Sibeko’s murder and many APLA cadres were arrested, and training was suspended until further notice.

 

Under the leadership of APLA Commander-In-Chief John Nyathi Pokela, the Ruvu settlement grew remarkably. In 1982 the Tanzanian government granted land (440 hectares) to the PAC-APLA. The purpose was to support the PAC-APLA to fashion a settlement for self-sufficiency and other developmental activities. The camp was remodelled to be like the ANC settlements in Mazimbu and Dakawa.

 

Nevertheless, from 1982, the scope of activities at the PAC-APLA’s Ruvu camp developed beyond the facility of a reserve for activists, to the formation of a self-sufficient community where the PAC-APLA members could acquire skills which were to be profitable. Amenities in the camp included a health clinic, classrooms, mechanical workshop, and agricultural training centres.

 

The PAC/Poqo-APLA forces operated underground in both South Africa and in exile between September 1961 and June 1994. The APLA forces ended its armed struggle during the 1990s. APLA and other liberation armed struggle forces were disbanded and integrated into the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in June 1994.

 

Conclusion

 

This article does not cover all former PAC/Poqo-APLA military base camps from the1960s to the1990s. Rather it briefly discussed and revisited few of them. As alluded that the PAC-Poqo/APLA managed to establish underground secret bases, military training, and settlement camps inside South Africa and abroad in exile in Lesotho, Tanzania, Zambia, and other regions of Africa as from 1964-1994. They even managed to receive advance military training abroad at places such as the Republic of China, Guinea Conakry, Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and many more. The PAC-APLA cadres managed to embark on very important missions such as Operation Vila Peri (1966-68) and Operation Curtain Raiser (the late 1970s). Tanzania became the second home of PAC-APLA since the 1960s until the disbandment of the APLA forces in June 1994.

 

References

           

Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA). Available at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Azanian_People%27s_Liberation_Army [Accessed 20 March 2023].

Gregory Houston, Thami ka Plaatjie, Thomaza April, Nov 2015 ‘Military training and camps of the Pan Africanist Congress of South Africa, 1961-1981’. Historia, 60 (2), 2015, pp 24-50.

Hlalethwa, Zaza.  Aug 2018. ‘Nomvo ‘Poqokazi’ Booi, a mother of the struggle’, from the Mail & Guaurdian Online, [online]. Available at: https://www.google.com/amps/s/mg.co/article/2018-08-10-00-nomvo-poqokazi-booi-a-mother-of-the-struggle/%3famp [Accessed 22 March 2023]. 

SAHO, ‘PAC’s Leader Potlako Leballo confirms Poqo is the military wing of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC)’, from South African History Online, [online]. Available at: https://www.sahistory.org.za/dated-event/pacs-leader-potlako-leballo-confirms-poqo-organisations-military-wing [Accessed: 23 March 2023].

SAHO, ‘The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC)’, from South African History Online.

Kondlo, KKM, 2009. ‘In the Twilight of the Revolution’ The Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania (South Africa) 1960-1994’. (Basler Afrika Bibliographien, Basle).

Kondlo, KKM, 2005. ‘In the Twilight of the Azanian Revolution’ Leadership Diversity and Its Impact on the PAC (South Africa) 1962-1990’. (2005) Pdf. Available at: https://journals.ufs.ac.za/index.php/jch/article/download/451/431/855 [Accessed 23 March 2023].

Mbulelo Musi, & Cedric Masters, ‘The Long-standing and Enduring Friendship between the Chinese PLA and the South African Military’. Online. Available at:

https://www.iol.co.za/pretoria-news/news/politics/opinion/the-long-standing-and-enduring-friendship-between-the-chinese-pla-and-the-south-african-military-ba112abe-1de6-45db-8ce3-e37901791870 [Accessed 01 March 2023].

Mayihlome News, ‘Memorialising APLA Forces, In The Years of the Great Storm!’. Available at: http://za.china-embassy.gov.cn/eng/znjl/202208/t20220801_10731599.htm [Accessed 1 March 2023].

https://mayihlomenews.co.za/memorialising-apla-forces-in-the-years-of-the-great-storm/ [Accessed on 12 February 2023].

Display:

The First and the Last Commanders of Poqo-APLA Display at DNMMH in Adler Hall.

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