Inside the prison camps

2010-01-27 00:00

BOOK REVIEW

Inside Quatro: Uncovering the exile history of the ANC and Swapo

Paul Trewhela

Jacana

INSIDE Quatro is a well-written, well- researched book on the human rights abuses within the African National Congress and South West African People’s Organisation (Swapo) during the ­exile years. It is based on a series of essays that was first published in Searchlight South Africa, a publication that was banned in South Africa.

The book focuses on specific incidents, such as the mutiny in Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in Angola in 1984, the ANC’s notorious Quatro prison camp, the suspicious deaths of certain ANC cadres and the disappearance of key Swapo members.

Wars are ugly. No matter how ­righteous the cause, there is always a dark side and with victory comes sanitised versions of what went on. The ANC’s submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) claimed that errors were made and that what happened at its prison camps were the actions of an undisciplined minority.

Trewhela’s research uncovers a lot more and raises questions about the roles of leaders such as Chris Hani, Joe Modise, Jacob Zuma and Oliver Tambo. An excuse that is becoming all too familiar is, “we did not know”. Trewhela’s painstaking research raises questions on how these leaders could not have known.

Inside Quatro is well worth reading and provides much food for thought. The book offers insight into why, ­despite a sterling constitution, anti-democratic tendencies have so easily crept into post-liberation South ­Africa. It also raises awareness of the need for far more research into and writing about South Africa’s liberation ­history.

Trewhela, who worked as a journalist, was a political prisoner from 1964 to 1967 and a former member of the South African Communist ­Party. He left the party disillusioned with Stalinism. His writings have since concentrated on warning against the excesses of totalitarianism.

All the essays in the book were ­written by Trewhela except “Miscarriage of Democracy”, which was written by MK soldiers Bandile Ketelo, Amos Maxongo, Zamxolo Tshona, Ronnie Masango and Luvo Mbengo.

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