From the Outside Looking In
Underground from Exile
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
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?