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Spear of the Nation

Umkhonto weSizwe

Janet Cherry

Publication Year: 2012

Umkhonto we Sizwe, Spear of the Nation, was arguably the last of the great liberation armies of the twentieth century—but it never got to “march triumphant into Pretoria.” MK—as it was known—was the armed wing of the African National Congress, South Africa’s liberation movement, that challenged the South African apartheid government. A small group of revolutionaries committed to the seizure of power, MK discovered its principal members engaged in negotiated settlement with the enemy and was disbanded soon after.

The history of MK is one of paradox and contradiction, of successes and failures. In this short study, which draws widely on the personal experiences of—and commentary by—MK soldiers, Janet Cherry offers a new and nuanced account of the Spear of the Nation. She presents in broad outline the various stages of MK’s thirty-year history, considers the difficult strategic and moral problems the revolutionary army faced, and argues that its operations are likely to be remembered as a just war conducted with considerable restraint.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 5

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pp. 7

I should like to thank Howard Barrell, Mzolisi Dyasi, Kholi Mhlana, Madeleine Fullard and Ronnie Kasrils for their comments on the manuscript, as well as the South African...

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1. Introduction

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pp. 9-12

Hailed as heroes by many South Africans, demonised as evil terrorists by others, Umkhonto weSizwe, the Spear of the Nation, is now part of history. Though the organisation no longer exists, its former members are represented by the MK Military Veterans’ Association, which still carries...

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2. The turn to armed struggle, 1960–3

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pp. 13-34

It is hard to find anyone in South Africa today who will argue with conviction that the armed struggle for liberation from apartheid was not justified. This was not always the case, especially among whites. Even so, most South Africans...

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3. The Wankie and Sipolilo campaigns, 1967–8

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pp. 35-46

Those who left the country for military training in the early 1960s, including the young Chris Hani, who was later to become MK Chief of Staff, did not have an easy time of it. After receiving military training in various...

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4. Struggling to get home, 1969–84

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pp. 47-84

Following the Wankie and Sipolilo campaigns, the ANC held a decisive national conference at Morogoro in Tanzania in 1969 to deal with the unprecedented level of criticism and dissatisfaction within the organisation. Survivors of the Rhodesian campaigns were...

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5. Reaping the whirlwind, 1984–9

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pp. 85-112

The 1980s, the third decade of the armed struggle, opened up greater opportunities for MK and the ANC than ever before and, at the same time, greater challenges. The new decade began with exciting developments inside South...

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6. The end of armed struggle

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pp. 113-132

Underlying the desperate accounts of the battles, skirmishes and bombings, urban and rural, which we have described, is a great irony: that while MK cadres were being exhorted to ‘escalate the armed struggle’ in preparation...

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7. A sober assessment of MK

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pp. 133-144

There is a strong case to be made that MK’s armed struggle will be remembered as an example of a just war conducted with considerable restraint. The argument is all the more compelling if the South African liberation struggle...

Sources and further reading

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pp. 145-152


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pp. 153-156

E-ISBN-13: 9780821444436
E-ISBN-10: 0821444433
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821420263
Print-ISBN-10: 0821420267

Page Count: 156
Publication Year: 2012