The First & The Last Chief Commanders of Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA), Military Wing of The Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), 1960-90s.

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The First & The Last Chief Commanders of Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA), Military Wing of The Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC), 1960-90s.

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

APLA formerly known as Poqo was the underground military wing of the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania, launched after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. It operated underground in both South Africa and in exile between September 1961 and June 1994. The APLA forces ended its armed struggle at the orders and declaration of its Last Commander-In-Chief (CIC), Clarence Mlamli Makwetu. As a result, APLA forces together with other liberation armed struggle forces were disbanded and integrated into the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in June 1994. This article focuses mainly on the first and last Chief Commanders of the Poqo-APLA and its top structures (politico-military leadership), in 1960-the 90s.


Commanders-In-Chief ([CIC] Political leaders) of Poqo-APLA, 1960-94.

CIC of Poqo-APLA: Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe (1960-78)
CIC of Poqo: Zachauis Bohloko Molete (1960-62)
CIC of Poqo-APLA: Potlako Kitchener Leballo (1962-79)
CIC of APLA: Vusmzi Linda Make (1979-82)
CIC of APLA: Johnson Nyathi Pokela (1982-85)
CIC of APLA: Zaphania Mothopeng Appointed as an Honorary President of PAC/Commander-In-Chi
of APLA while serving a jail term at Robben Island (1986-90)
CIC of APLA: John Phillip Mlambo (1985-the 90s)
The Last CIC of APLA: Clarence Mlamli Makwetu (1990- June 1994/1996)


Z B Molete was appointed Acting President of the PAC by the Founder President, Robert M Sobukwe from August 1960 until August 1962. Under the leadership of Molete the movement went underground (into exile) and established the forerunner underground military wing of the PAC, Poqo in September 1961. The PAC-Poqo relocated its headquarters (exile) to Maseru, Lesotho,1962-64. ZB Molete stepped down from Acting Presidency of the PAC/CIC of Poqo, with an endorsed letter by Robert Sobukwe appointing PK Leballo to be the Acting President of the PAC/CIC of Poqo from August 1962. In the same year the Presidential Council of the PAC was established and PK Leballo was endorsed as the Chairperson of Council with Templeton Mzukis Ntantala (First Commander of Poqo-APLA) as his Deputy Chairperson.


Commander-In-Chief (CIC) of Poqo-APLA: Potlako Kitchener Leballo (1962-79)


Figure 1. Potlako Kitchener Leballo, the longest serving Commander-In-Chief of Poqo-APLA in exile, 1962-79 (Image Source: DNMHM).


PK Leballo became the longest-serving CIC of Poqo-APLA, from August 1962 until 1 May 1978. The PAC-Poqo headquarters relocated to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Lusaka, Zambia in 1964. In 1968, PK Leballo (CIC, Poqo) and TM Ntantala (Chief Commander, Poqo) modelled Poqo to the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) following the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) model.


CIC of APLA: Vusmzi Linda Make (1979-82)
VL Make became the CIC of APLA during difficult times when the PAC-APLA was in dismay. TM Ntantala and his supporters were ousted from the PAC-APLA during the Arusha Conference (1987) in Tanzania by PK Leballo and his supporters. The APLA High Command was phased out and replaced by the APLA Task Force. Leballo was also ousted from the APLA leadership. VL Make stepped down from the CIC duties and JN Pokela took over the CIC role, from 1982-85.


CIC of APLA: Johnson Nyathi Pokela (1982-85)
Under the leadership of the CIC JN Pokela and Commander of APLA and Defence Secretary, Sabelo Phama the PAC-APLA’s dignity and unity was restored through the home going campaign for APLA operatives. The Central Committee established the Military Commission commanded by the CIC JN Pokela and Commander Sabelo Phama. The Military Commission was to be the central politico-military establishment that devised and commanded the PAC-APLA forces to launch war against the Apartheid regime. The Military Commission re-established the APLA High Command with the Commissariats given portfolios. They were accountable and responsible for their duties. The roles of the commissariats were to military strategize and setting up the underground PAC-APLA cells, recruiting new APLA operatives, infiltrating the institutions of interests and smuggling in stash of weapons.


Figure 2. The 1980s PAC APLA Military Commission (Image Source: DNMMH).


John Phillip Mlambo (1985-90s)
Pokela died due to illness in 1985. JP Mlambo took over from where JN Pokela left from 1985-90s. JP Mlambo and CM Makwetu were the last CICs who experienced the unbanning of the PAC and other political parties during 1990s. Mlambo served as the Deputy President of the PAC and continued with the role of the CIC of APLA, while the President of PAC, Clarence Mlamli Makwetu, took over the PAC affairs (political). Mlambo and Makwetu were the Senior members of the Military Commission and the APLA High Command.



Commander-In-Chief and Deputy President of the PAC: Johnson Phillip Mlambo
Commander: Joe Mkhwanazi
Commander: Thobile Gola


Command-In-Chief, JP Mlambo (Deputy Pres) and President of PAC: CM Makwetu
APLA Commander and PAC Defence Secretary: Victor Gqweta nom de guerre Sabelo Phama.
Chief of Staff: Barney Normal Hlatswayo nom de guerre Barney Mzolo.
Chief Information Officer: Johnny Mayozi.
Director of Operations: Happy Mphahlele nom de guerre Skhulu
Director of Logistics and Finance: Mjoba Sello Kungwane nom de guerre Myombo
Director of Military Intelligence: Mbulelo Raymond Fithla
Director of Communication and Signals: Keith Nkomo
Director of Ordinance and Supplies: Bizza Ntsiki Mbete,
Director of Training and Manpower: Willy Nkonyeni nom de guerre Siyaya/Willy Brown
Director of Intelligence and Political Commissariat: Daniel Mahato Mofokeng nom de guerre Romero Daniels
Director of Ideological Training and Culture: Rufus Zonyane
Director of Research, Information and Publicity: Zambi Zweli
Director of Mass Work: Zambi Zweni
Former High Command members: Justice Majas Nkonyane, Vuma Ntikica, Andile Ndabeni, Polite Xuma, David Castro Phillips, Gasson Ndlovu, Edwin Makoti and Enoch Zulu.


Zaphania Mothopeng nom de guerre ‘the Lion of Azania’ (1986-90)
Mothopeng was appointed as an Honorary Commander-In-Chief of APLA while serving a jail term at Robben Island. Zeph Mothopeng was released from Robben Island unconditionally in 1988 and assumed his duties as the President of the PAC and CIC of APLA until 1990 when he passed away. Commander-In-Chief ‘Zeph’ Mothopeng was also honoured by the PAC-APLA namesake, Zeph Mothopeng Military Training Academy in Bagamoyo, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Post-1994, he was posthumously honoured with the namesake when they renamed Pela Street to Zephania Mothopeng Street in Soweto, Gauteng in 22 October 2016.


Figure 2. Last CIC of APLA, Clarence Mlamli Makwetu.


The Last Commander-In-Chief: Clarence Mlamli Makwetu (1990-94/96)
Makwetu became the last CIC of APLA in 1990 until its closure in June 1994, although Makwetu’s term was until 1996. He played a vital role during the last phase of APLA. Part of his role was to bring unity among the APLA members, as there were divisions. Some APLA cadres were supporting the ideal to join and integrate into the new South African Defence National Defence (SANDF). While others wanted to continue with the armed liberation struggle. However, under the leadership of the last CIC, Makwetu, on the verge and dawn of the democratic era, APLA was disbanded and integrated into the SANDF with around 6 000 APLA cadres who managed to join the SANDF.



Poqo-APLA Task Force/High Command Commanders 1960s-70s
TM Ntantala; MPL Gqobose; Zeph Mothopeng; JN Pokela, and Gasson Ndlovu.


Figure 3. TM Ntantala: First Chief Commander of Poqo-APLA and High Commander, 1960-78 (Image Source: DNMHM).


Templeton Mzukisi Ntantala: First Chief Commander of Poqo-APLA and Head of APLA High Command (1960-78).
The first Chief Commander, Deputy Chairman of the Presidential Council of the PAC, and founder member of Poqo-APLA (1961-1968), Revolutionary Command/Council (1968-71), APLA High Command (1968-78). He was the first Commander to be deployed by the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) and Poqo for specialized guerrilla military training by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. He laid the strong foundations of its military ideology.


General Gerald Kondlo: First Field Commander of APLA and leader of Operation Vila Peri (Killed in Action during the 1967-68 Operation Vila Peri).

Figure 4. The Great 12 APLA Commanders who were military trained in Cherchell, Algeria. The team headed by Commander Gerald Kondlo in the 1967-68 Operation Vila Peri (Image Source: DNMNM).


In 1968, PK Leballo (Commander-In-Chief, Poqo) and TM Ntantala (Chief Commander, Poqo) modelled Poqo to the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) following the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) model. During that period (1967-68), General Gerald Kondlo was appointed to be the first Field Commander of APLA, and head of the PAC-APLA mission ‘Operation Vila Peri’ with the mandate to infiltrate South Africa via Mozambique. General Kondlo and his troops fought many battles along their way towards South Africa in Mozambique, where a few APLA cadres perished during that Opt including its commander General Kondlo. Commanders Zeblon Mokoena and Enoch Zulu were among the 12 members of Operation Vila Peri (Operation Vila Peri Veterans).

Figure 5. Commander of APLA and Defence Secretary: Sabelo Phama, 1981-94 (Image Source: Azanian Combat).


Victor Gqweta nom de guerre Sabelo Phama, Commander of APLA and Defence Secretary: The then Last APLA Chief Commander

Victor Gqweta nom de guerre Sabelo Phama was famously known for pronouncing “The Year of the Storm: 1993”. Sabelo Phama joined the ranks of APLA during his youth in the 1970s. In 1978 Phama was the Chief of Staff of APLA. In 1981 he was promoted to the high rank of PAC-APLA and became the Secretary Defence of PAC and Chief Commander of APLA. He served in the Central Committee, High Command and Military Commission. He was also known as the Last Chief APLA Commander until his mysterious death in February 1994. Commander Dan Mahato Mofokeng (now Major General [Retired]) nom de guerre Romero Daniels was the last Commander of APLA (who was serving in the SANDF) to deliver the tribute speech to Sabelo Pharma. From that time onwards, the SANDF officials were forbidden to deliver speeches or participated in any political gatherings.

Post ‘Operation Vila Peri’ (1967-68), APLA adopted its new strategy: “People’s War”, and launched Operation Crusade to create underground internal bases in South Africa in 1978. APLA’s Operation Curtain Raisers mandate was to infiltrate APLA operatives. Leading senior APLA Cadres of this operation include APLA Chief of Political Commissar Daniel Mahato Mofokeng (now [Retired] SANDF Major General) who used Romero Daniels as his nom de guerre and the then Chief of staff of APLA, Sabelo Phama, infiltrated the South Africa.


Figure 6. Last Chief Commander of APLA, Daniel Mahato Mofokeng (Image Source: DNMHM)


Commander Daniel Mahato Mofokeng nom de guerre Romero Daniels : The Last APLA Chief Commander
Major General (Ret) Dan Mahato Mofokeng was the last APLA Chief Commander (former Chief Intelligence and Political Commissariat, APLA) to bid farewell as a political figure, while serving the SANDF. Mofokeng played a huge role in assisting APLA cadres to integrate into the new SANDF. Mofokeng raised within the SANDF ranks from Brigadier General (1994-1998) to Major General (1998-2016). He retired (with pension) in 2016 as the Chief of the SANDF. His APLA and SANDF Service Dress Uniforms were personally donated by him to the DITSONG: National Museum of Military History (DNMMH) and is currently displayed in the Poqo-APLA exhibition at the Museum.



During the 1960s, Poqo, the forerunner military wing of the PAC was established under the leadership of ZB Molete and operated both underground in South Africa and in exile. The PAC-Poqo relocated its headquarters into exile in Maseru, Lesotho, 1962-64. The PAC/Poqo-APLA established its formal politico-military leadership structures while in exile with the mandate to oversee the affairs of the party and its military operations and activities. The first Presidential Council of the PAC was formed in Maseru, Lesotho, in 1962. PK Leballo was appointed the Chairperson of the Council and Command-In-Chief of Poqo-APLA, from August 1962 to 1 May1979. TM Ntantala was appointed Deputy Chairperson of the Council and the first Commander of Poqo-APLA and High Command (1962-78). During the mid-1960s, the Revolutionary Command was instituted with aim to enforce the ‘Road to Revolution’. As a result, Poqo was modelled to APLA following the PLA model in 1968. During that period, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and African Liberation Council (ALC) an official organ of the OAU were the organisations that regulated and accredited the PAC-APLA as the recognised Armed Struggle Liberation Movement, launched against the South African government. The OAU and ALC were also sponsoring the PAC-APLA with finances, although the PAC-APLA was promised a large budget it received a much lower budget in turn. The OUA and ALC demanded the operational plan and action of the PAC-APLA to infiltrate and overthrow the South African government by the given or agreed time or face discredit from endorsement by the organisations. Under the CIC, PK Leballo and TM Ntantala (Chief Commander of APLA), they already trained APLA cadres in various countries such as the Republic of China, Guinea Conakry, Libya, Algeria, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and many more. PAC-APLA embarked on the very important mission, under the commandership of General Gerald Kondlo, ‘Operation Vila Peri’. The mission was to infiltrate South Africa through Mozambique. Some of the APLA commanders were killed in action during this operation including its Commander Gerald Kondlo. The ‘Operation Vila Peri’ veterans include Zeblon Mokoena and Enoch Zulu. The APLA High Command (1968-78) was established by TM Ntantala with a mandate to form independent military leadership structures that would focus solely on APLA operations and activities. Two structures, the Revolutionary Command under the CIC Leballo and APLA High Command under TM Ntantala coexisted. However, conflict amongst these leaders arose, which left the PAC-APLA cadres with a dilemma. The PAC-APLA factions ended up with TM Ntantala and his supporters been ousted from the PAC-APLA and the APLA High Command been phased out and replaced with the APLA Task Force. However, Leballo was also ousted from the APLA leadership on 1 May 1979. VL Make replaced Leballo as the new CIC of APLA with a trio Presidential Council, namely VL Make, David Sibeko and Elias Ntloedibe, 1979-81. Unfortunately, young APLA cadres attacked the trio which resulted in the death of David Sibeko on 14 June 1979. The Tanzanian government intervened in the matter and Itumbi camp was closed and many cadres were arrested. The PAC-APLA under Leballo and Make hardly depended on the financial aid from the ALC and international communities. Between 1966 and1981 the PAC-APLA experienced a financial and leadership crisis. John Nyathi Pokela replaced VL Make as new CIC of APLA (1982-85). Pokela and Commander of APLA and Defence Secretary, Victor Gqweta who used Sabelo Phama as his alias (nom de guerre) made a huge transformation to the PAC-APLA politico-military leadership structures. The expelled TM Ntantala and his supporters had launched the Azanian People’s Revolutionary Party (APRP) in 1980 in Zimbabwe. Pokela ensured that Ntantala and his supporters returned to the PAC-APLA and the High Command was reinstated and the APLA Task Force phased out. Ntantala was deployed to a vital position of the PAC-APLA Chief Representative in Uganda with the endorsement of the then President Yoweni Miseveni in 1983. Pokela and Sabelo Phama introduced the Military Commission that was responsible to strategize major APLA operations and tactics and issued high directives to the APLA High Command. In turn the High Command senior members, such as the CIC, Commander of APLA and other commissariats with portfolios and roles ensured that the APLA strategies, tactics, operations and activities were assigned to various individual APLA operatives through directives and orders.

The last CIC, Clarence Mlamli Makwetu, gave the last orders and directives to the PAC-APLA forces that ended its armed liberation struggle. Consequently, APLA forces were disbanded and integrated into the SANDF in June 1994. APLA former commanders who joined the SANDF integration, were high quality soldiers and highly disciplined. They were qualified for higher positions and ranks when integrated into the SANDF, yet most were given lower ranks. However, they grew within the SANDF ranks and learned everything they already learned while in exile. Among them include the most senior members (retired) of the SANDF who advanced to the highest ranks of SANDF such as Lieutenant Generals, Justice Nkonyane and Barney Normal Hlatswayo and Major General Daniel Mahato Mofokeng (the last APLA Commander).

DNMMH is home to a diverse military history. New displays that cover the armed liberation struggle include the Kulikov, the Communication Centre of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK); the Luthuli Detachments and the First and the Last Commanders of Poqo-APLA.


Azanian Combat Issues 1993 & 1994

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

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: Accessed 25 September 2022

Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA). Available at: Accessed 20 October 2022.

Mbulelo Musi, & Cedric Masters, ‘The Long-standing and Enduring Friendship between the Chinese PLA and the South African Military’. Published Online on 1 August 2022. Available at: Accessed 01 September 2022.
Mayihlome News, ‘Memorialising APLA Forces In The Years of the Great Storm!’. Available at: Accessed 1 September 2022. Accessed in 12 October 2022.
The First and the Last Commanders of Poqo-APLA Display at DNMHM in Andler Hall.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission: The Azanian People’s Liberation Army Submission: Available at: Accessed 17 October 2022.

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