The province of Malanje, several hundred kilometres east of Luanda, is significant as a place of joint operations between MK and FAPLA, and where Cuban trainers and ZAPU soldiers also left their mark. For MK as for the FAPLA, Malanje in the early 1980s was the ‘Eastern Front’. The ANC’s first large base in Angola was, logically, in the south of the country at Novo Catengue, until it was bombed by the South African Air Force. This made clear the need to move from the exposed scrubland of the south to the forested north, in the provinces of Bengo, Uige and Malanje. Particularly in Malanje, the FAPLA confronted a threat from UNITA whose soldiers were active to the south and to the east. The ANC became drawn into the Angolan conflict, something that ANC leaders saw as a necessary act of solidarity with their Angolan hosts, but which caused resentment among the MK rank and file.
The ANC’s first foothold in the province, however, was safely distant from the front lines, in a farming area known as Camalundu or Camalundi. In the 1960s Angola’s Portuguese rulers had established an agricultural training centre, part of a push for modernisation as Portugal sought to hold onto its colonies. After the MPLA took control of independent Angola in November 1975, its efforts to build and defend a state were supported by Cuba, which sent not only soldiers, weapons and military advisors, but also civilian personnel to fill the gaps left by colonial functionaries. At Camalundu, Cubans offered training in nursing and agriculture. The site was named Hoji-ya-Henda, the nom de guerre of José Mendes de Carvalho, a liberation guerrilla killed in action in 1968. The Cubans’ legacy is still visible in slogans visible in peeling paint. Months after the arrival of its cadres in Angola, Havana hosted the Non-Aligned Movement's Sixth Summit, an occasion that Cuba used to put support for with liberation struggles in Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe onto the NAM’s agenda. This event was remembered on the other side of the Atlantic in a slogan, painted in Spanish on a wall at Camalundu, that means 'VI completes another step in the unity of the non-aligned'.
One building bears the name of the King Cetshwayo, the last Zulu monarch before the annexation of Zululand by Britain in 1879. On either side of his name one can still make out the emblem of a shield and crossed spears used by Umkhonto weSizwe, ‘the spear of the nation’. To remember the centenary of Cetshwayo’s battles against the British, the ANC declared 1979 ‘the year of the spear’, so it is likely that the building was named in honour of the king in that year. Another historic South African figure remembered at Camalundu is Lilian Ngoyi, one of the leaders of the 1956 Women’s March against apartheid. Some of the plaster has flaked away, but the letters ‘IAN NGOYI’ can be clearly seen – painted, perhaps, to mark her death in 1980 or the 25th anniversary of the Women’s March the following year. Behind Ngoyi’s name, the fragments of another slogan in Spanish are barely visible.
In 1978 Oliver Tambo led an ANC delegation to Vietnam, and the influence of this on the ANC’s strategic thinking is seen in the Green Book published the following year. Around the same time, ANC cadres painted a now-ghostly image of Ho Chi Minh, accompanied by an English translation of his saying, ‘nothing is more precious than independence and freedom’. On another building, the remaining letters ‘… O… C… MI…’ suggest that it was named in honour of the Vietnamese leader.
Former MK soldier Luthando Dyasop recalls starting training at Hoji ya Henda ‘on 17 December 1981, just a day after we had celebrated the formation of MK. Some of us were feeling a bit groggy after the previous night’s drinks. Anyway, we made it on that day, and the next, and so on…’ Only two months later, however, Dyasop was part of the first group of MK soldiers to be transferred to another camp at Caculama in the east of Malanje province.
Caculama had been established by ZPRA before Zimbabwean independence. In the recollection of ZPRA veteran Million Moyo: ‘There were some instructors who had come from other camps which had been bombed before in Angola … Our skills were on guerrilla warfare, advanced guerrilla and regular formations. We took about nine months to complete our training. Later on food became a problem in this camp. After training we were taken by trucks to Luanda where we boarded a plane to Zimbabwe because the country had been freed. This was in 1980.’
By early 1982, when Dyasop and his comrades in MK arrived at Caculama, ‘The place was spooky, footpaths were overgrown, there was hardly a patch not covered by grass, and the once used dwellings were full of creepers, which gave them a dark and haunted look.’
Training was suspended, Dyasop recalls, as the soldiers worked to make the site habitable. ‘We had to dig our own defence line and make our dugout dwellings.’
Today these trenches and bunkers remain, the bunkers more than a metre deep. Ronnie Kasrils, who as MK’s head of intelligence spent time there in the 1980, recalls how roofs were built some way above ground level so that the sunken floor made it possible to stand up inside. Caculama was home to up to 500 cadres at any one time. It was closed in 1989 as MK withdrew its forces from Angola.
The site at Caculama, concealed in thick forest, sharply contrasts with Camalundu, where ANC cadres occupied brick buildings amid open fields. The reason was that Caculama’s easterly location put it closer to the territory in which UNITA was active. MK fought alongside FAPLA soldiers in joint operations against UNITA: Tambo had told soldiers they ‘should bleed a little for Angola’ in recognition of the MPLA’s support for the South African liberation struggle (Dyasop p.114).
Stanley Manong was posted to Cacuso in the centre of the province, where ‘after we arrived, the authorities announced a new military structure that was geared towards fulfilling its mandate of taking the war to UNITA’ (Manong p. 198). In November 1983, two companies of 200 soldiers were sent from Cacuso to Camatete in the south of the province in response to reports of UNITA activity. Manong describes how an MK detail became separated from the Angolan officer who was accompanying them, and walked straight into a UNITA ambush.
Manong’s suspicion that the Angolan officer knew what was going on reflects a more general distrust among the MK rank and file that the South Africans were being used as cannon fodder in an internal Angolan dispute. The concentration of MK forces in Malanje had the unintended consequence of allowing discussion among them, and shared grievances boiled over. Manong writes that in December 1983, 104 MK soldiers were deployed to Cangandala near Malange city ‘as a result of a request from FAPLA for MK to take their defence positions at Cangandala whilst they (FAPLA) and the Cubans were preparing for an offensive against UNITA military bases in Musende.’ The MK soldiers began firing into the air, a protest gesture that continued regularly into the new year. In January 1984 two groups of MK soldiers stationed in Malanje made their way to Luanda to present their grievances to the leadership. The incident has come to be known as a mutiny. Violent reprisals by the ANC and Angolan security forces continue to cast a shadow over the history of the South African liberation struggle.
Photos of the sites at Camalundu and Caculama can be seen here on Twitter.
Dyasop, Luthando (2021) Out of Quatro: from exile to exoneration. Johannesburg: Kwela.
Manong, Stanley (2015) If we must die: an autobiography of a former commander of uMkhonto we Sizwe. Johannesburg: Nkululeko Publishers.
Interview with Ronnie Kasrils by Justin Pearce
Interview with Million Moyo by Nicholas Nkomo.