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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 666

Paragraph Numbers 376 to 387

Volume 2

Chapter 7

Subsection 30


African National Congress
The late 1980s: Operation Vula and negotiations

376 In the year following the June 1986 national state of emergency, the government sought to re-assert its control over the highly militant and volatile conditions in townships around the country.

377 At this time, ANC was reassessing its own strengths and capacities. At the Arusha Conference in December 1987, the lack of a strong internal underground was identified as a crucial weakness. Flowing from this evaluation, Operation Vula was implemented with the intention of moving senior ANC leaders into the country so that strategic direction could be given from within South Africa. It was also at this time - around 1988-1989 - that the first indications of the possibilities of negotiation became apparent.

378 Realising the improbability of seizing state power through an armed insurrection, the ANC began considering the possibility of a negotiated settlement. At the same time, the organisation felt the need to continue building a strong internal underground network – including an internal military capacity. Under the banner of Operation Vula, the ANC continued with its clandestine activities while engaged in the process of negotiations. Vula was seen by some ANC leaders as an ‘insurance policy’: if the negotiation process failed, the ANC would still have some capacity to mount armed resistance.

379 Operation Vula was initiated by a 1986 National Executive Committee (NEC) resolution, and run under the auspices of the ‘President’s project’ chaired by ANC president Oliver Tambo. Others involved included Mr Joe Slovo (principal planner), Mr Mac Maharaj (recruiter and in-country commander), MK Deputy Commander Siphiwe Nyanda, Mr Ivan Pillay (administrator and project co-ordinator), Mr Ronnie Kasrils and Mr Alfred Nzo. Beyond this leadership, knowledge of Vula was restricted within the ANC to a small core of MK leaders, operatives and selected foreigners.

380 Operation Vula aimed to infiltrate into South Africa senior and middle levels of the ANC leadership in exile. The aim was to create an underground network that could co-ordinate actions against the former government and penetrate the South African security establishment for the purposes of collecting information.

381 Part of Vula’s task was to bring large quantities of weapons into South Africa, and to conceal them in ‘dead letter boxes’ so that they would be available if it became necessary. In the early 1990s, many such weapons were used by MK and SDU members in conflicts around the country. Indeed, the availability of weapons contributed significantly to the extent and nature of human rights violations in the 1990s.

382 In July 1988, four Vula operatives, including Maharaj and Nyanda, were smuggled into the country and established an underground ‘Overall Leadership Committee’ in Durban under Mr Jabu Sithole and a political mobilisation and ‘Military Operations Committee’. Maharaj was responsible for decision-making and liaison with the Vula Committee in Lusaka and the Mass Democratic Movement. Nyanda was involved in the day-to-day activities of the operation. Foreign operatives rented safe-houses and assisted with logistics. A similar operation was set up in Johannesburg. The Vula network continued to expand and Kasrils entered South Africa at the end of 1989. Mr Mo Shaik was appointed the head of the Vula internal intelligence structure.

383 On the weekend of 6 July 1990, Durban Security Branch members arrested Mr Charles Ndaba and Mr Mbuso Shabalala. Captain HJP ‘Hentie’ Botha [AM4117/96] of the Security Branch intelligence unit, claims that this was a fiasco. His version of events is that he had recruited Ndaba as an informer in 1988. Ndaba then returned and became part of Vula in 1990. He thus knew of Operation Vula to the extent that Ndaba did. Ndaba and Shabalala were eventually killed by members of the Durban Security Branch after Ndaba signalled his intention to “take his chances with the ANC”. Other members of Vula were subsequently arrested and later indemnified from prosecution8.

384 According to the police documents, Vula operatives rented or bought fourteen safe-houses in the country, nine in Durban and five in Johannesburg. The Security Branch discovered, from information found on disks in the Vula safe-houses, that weapons were to be brought into the country from 23 September 1989 to 23/24 June 1990. They allege that Nyanda acknowledged receipt of weapons in September 1989.

385 Nyanda confirmed that material was removed before the Security Branch could discover it. According to Ronnie Kasrils, he and Maharaj removed the weapons from places that they thought the police knew about. Kasrils said that these weapons formed part of a consignment that Mr Aboobaker Ismail handed it to the SADF as part of the ANC agreement with the then government. He acknowledged that he did not know if all the weapons were accounted for and that some of them may have gone missing.

386 In a submission to the Commission, Major General Stadler and retired police officers stated that Operation Vula aimed to bring about an “insurrection by means of a People’s Army … the classical Maoist third stage of the revolution”. They claimed that Vula was mainly an initiative of SACP members.9 According to Henri van der Westhuizen, formerly of the Directorate of Covert Collections (DCC), Vula reflected the tensions between the SACP-aligned Hani camp and the Modise camp in the ANC; Vula was a product of the Hani camp, spearheaded by ANC members who were also members of the SACP.

387 While it is not possible for the Commission to ascertain whether a ‘Hani faction’ linked to the SACP leadership was still intent on insurrection, Operation Vula was not linked to any specific human rights violations apart from those perpetrated by members of the security forces against Vula operatives.

8 (Interview with Security Branch members, 28-29/07/97).
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