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    From the Outside Looking In Building an Underground from Exile

    From the Outside Looking In

    Building an Underground from Exile

    Barry Gilder

    ​Sometimes, 30 years later, I still dream of Gaborone post office boxes. Serried rows of them. Military green, or a deep blue, or blood red. Spread out before me with beckoning keyholes. Or sometimes, in my dreams, just a few of them, rusted and scratched, built low down into rough rocks that I have to kneel on the hard ground to get to. And, in my hand, a huge bunch of keys, like a jailor’s. And in my dream, moving from box to box, desperate and anxious, I just cannot get any of the keys dangling from the huge chain to fit any of the boxes. I can’t remember the box numbers I’m supposed to service. And panic rises.

    From 1985 to 1989 I served as head of the regional intelligence directorate of the African National Congress’ (ANC) underground machinery in Botswana and as a member of the Regional Political Military Committee (RPMC), which was responsible for initiating, leading and coordinating the ANC’s military, underground, political and intelligence work inside those parts of apartheid South Africa designated to the Botswana regional underground leadership – largely the western half of the country, with shared responsibility with other regional underground structures for the urban conglomeration around Johannesburg and Pretoria.

    During this period, the ANC’s highest decision-making body was its National Executive Committee, headquartered in Lusaka, Zambia, responsible for the overall leadership and coordination of the ANC’s political, diplomatic, military, underground, administrative and welfare work of its vast exiled structures. Responsibility for directing the political, armed and underground struggles inside South Africa was delegated to the Political Military Committee (PMC), also headquartered in Lusaka. The PMC oversaw its regional equivalents in what we called the forward areas, the countries bordering South Africa – Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and – perhaps surprisingly – the UK, due to the large number of South Africans who travelled backwards and forwards to the old colonial capital.

    The move of the ANC leadership and it’s myriad support structures into exile was unavoidable, with the banning of the movement in 1960, the turn to armed struggle in 1961, the intense repression that followed and the arrest and incarceration of many of its key leaders in the mid-60s.

    So…what’s the story with the post office boxes dream?

    ​To read more download PDF of paper: From the Outside Looking In.pdfFrom the Outside Looking In.pdf

    [1] This paper is prepared for the panel entitled ‘The Role of Underground Structures and Operatives in Political Resistance’ at the European Conference on African Studies (ECAS), Paris, 8th to 10th July 2015.

    [2] Barry Gilder is Manager Publications at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA) and also coordinates a project at the Institute to facilitate the collection and communication of narratives of the armed and underground struggles against apartheid. He is author of Songs and Secrets: South Africa from Liberation to Governance’, (Jacana 2012, Hurst 2012). He is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand.

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