My ANC: ‘I’m angry but I will die ANC’

2012-01-07 11:23

Thandi,* who did not want to be identified in this interview, was a soldier in the ANC underground. Now she is a lance corporal in the SANDF. She spoke to Lucas Ledwaba

Thandi was barely out of her teens when she went into exile to join the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK).

Her father was an underground ANC operative who secretly facilitated the escape from South Africa of young activists.

As a result, the family’s Soweto home became a target of constant raids by the notorious SA Police Special Branch, who tortured Thandi’s father and other members of the family.

“I could not stand the torture any longer. I decided it was time I also joined MK because I just couldn’t stand the life we were living. I was very angry,” says Thandi, now a lance corporal in the SA National Defence Force.

It was 1984.

South Africa’s streets were burning as police and army units launched attacks on bands of militant youths, calling for an end to apartheid.

The borders were equally frantic, with soldiers struggling to stop waves of trained, armed guerrillas from infiltrating the country.

Thandi and several comrades managed to slip into Mozambique, then a hotbed of full-scale war between the renegade apartheid-sponsored Renamo and the socialist government led by Frelimo.

After a brief stay in Mozambique, where the ANC was outlawed following the signing of the Nkomati Accord, Thandi and her comrades crossed into neighbouring Swaziland where apartheid agents were also picking off MK operatives.

But Thandi survived and flew to Angola, where she underwent military training.

“We had the option to go to school in Tanzania. But I wanted to experience war. I wanted to train, come back into the country and fight the apartheid regime. I had a lot of anger and I wanted the Boers to feel that pain we were suffering in the township,” she says.

Thandi never got the chance: on their way to a mission in South Africa in 1987, her comrades were ambushed and killed by apartheid agents in Zambia.

 She went back to the MK camp in Malanje, Angola, where she says there was unity and comradeship among the cadres.

“In exile there was solidarity because there was no money.

 But today money talks,” she says, explaining that much of that spirit of the 80s has given way to the lure of wealth and position.

Thandi returned in 1992 following the unbanning of the ANC two years earlier.

Instead of the peace she was hoping for on her return, she, like many ex-combatants, found life was as tough as nails.

“I tried to commit suicide in 1996. I was earning just R800 as a private in the army. I had so many debts, my parents died, my sister died, I had a child to take care of. I was really frustrated. I was a freedom fighter but I had nothing.”

As a result she became aggressive, once pistol-whipping her sister during an argument. She decided to undergo counselling and is now on anti-depressants.

Her children, aged 18, 12 and six, have had to be taken for counselling because of her aggressive behaviour and mood swings.

“My children thought I was going crazy. But this is what many of our comrades from exile are going through. You come back here and find you have nothing, no money to educate children, no house of your own, nothing.

“Women comrades face even more challenges because some came back here with children and no one to look after them. Some have children by different fathers because they cannot sustain relationships.

“I am lucky because at least I have a home I call my own [in Soweto], but others are forced to fight for space and food with extended families at the homes of grandparents because they have nowhere else to go.”

She blames the ANC for ignoring the plight of ex-combatants, saying those in positions of authority have failed to live up to their mandate of looking after the interests of the movement’s foot soldiers.

“People are just worried about themselves. We have comrades dying in poverty all the time. Some are committing suicide because they are bitter. But they won’t speak out because they love the ANC,” she says.

In spite of everything, Thandi says she will never desert the ANC.

“I have convinced almost everyone in my street to join the ANC. When they ask me about the corruption that is going on now, I say this shall pass. I will die ANC.

“When I look back on my life, I have no regrets because I joined MK to liberate my country. I did what I did for a good cause.”

» Thandi is her nom de guerre. She doesn’t want to be identified saying: “Most of us are worried about what will happen to our families if we speak out.”

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