Tuesday, August 20, 2019

General Siphiwe Nyanda, the First Black Chief of the South African National Defense Forces, and Tanzania

The President of South African, Cyril Ramaphosa, is in Tanzania this week for a SADC meeting. South African liberation movement had close links with Tanzania/Tanganyika going back to the period before independence. The close links and collaboration was very important during period of the struggle for South Africa. It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to talk about the armed struggle against apartheid government without talking about Tanzania. The story of the struggle for South Africa is intertwined with Tanzania in so many ways. The story of General Nyanda provides one example.

Nyanda left South Africa for Botswana in 1973. He wanted to link up with members of ANC there but failed. He left Botswana in 1974 for Mozambique. Again, he tried to connect with ANC; he was unsuccessful. Eventually Nyanda was able to link up with the ANC underground in Swaziland where he was put to work. He was ordered to go to Mozambique early 1976 with an underground unit and await orders for their next mission.

Nyanda was sent to Tanzania in 1976. He was asked to lead a group of recruits going for training in East Germany (GDR). The group he led included, Johannes M. Rasegatla and others. Some members of the unit met and spoke to President of ANC, Oliver Tambo, in Tanzania before leaving for GDR. The group was made up of members who were carefully selected to travel abroad for training. Nyanda and his group left Tanzania in 1976. The men trained in East Germany for ten months before returning. They were then sent to Angola. Nyanda went back to South Africa secretly in 1977 and worked to build an underground movement.

One of his jobs was to recruit people for operations inside South Africa and to send some out for training. He organized operations carried out against police stations and other targets inside South Africa. In one operation, Nyanda and Resegatla were involved in recruiting a group, training them, and planning and carrying out an attack. The men were recruited and trained. Five AK-47s were smuggled from outside the country for the operation against a police station at Moroka.

The attack on Moroka Police station took place in May 1979. Solly Shoke (the current Chief of South African Defense Forces) led the operation. The Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) men-Nicky Sangele, Marcus Motaung, and Thelle Mogoerane- attacked the station at 9pm. The three men entered the station from the front and killed a guard at the gate. Others remained on guard outside. The men threw hand grenades inside the building, fired their AK-47s, and started a fire. Three policemen were killed in the attack. The attack was one of the first MK operation in which AK-47s were used. It was also one of the first raids ever conducted inside South Africa on an established police station.

The attack on the Moroka police station and other targets would have been difficult had some of the men not been able to travel to Tanzania in the 1960s and 70s, and from there to other places for training. Tanzania served as a transit area, provided travel documents, and had military bases for the liberation movements. The facilities provided by Tanzania were crucial for the struggle against apartheid.

Nyanda rose in rank quickly within a period of ten years and became a field commander. He continued to rise in rank during the 1980s as he coordinated MK operations against the apartheid government of South Africa.

General Nyanda became the Chief of the South African National Defense Force from 1998 to 2005.

Azaria Mbughuni
August 15, 2019