The records of the African National Congress (ANC) in exile are being deposited in the Liberation Archives at the University of Fort Hare. Using these documents, it is now possible to aspire to a more subtle and realistic picture of exile as a factor in the modern history of South Africa. The article uses these records, and oral sources, to depict life at the Dakawa Development Centre, an ANC settlement in Tanzania from 1982 to 1992. The origins of the settlement are described, as are its functions. These included the preparation of students for the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College, at Mazimbu, near Morogoro; the `rehabilitation' of those who, for various reasons, had diverged from norms acceptable to the ANC authorities; the production of agricultural and light industrial goods; the training of skilled workers, and, latterly, the creation of a cultural centre. These and other aspects are seen against the background of sometimes conflicting politics at the Centre, and in relation to the stresses of exile in an often difficult and unhealthy environment. Finally, the impact of the political changes of the early 1990s on this community is described.
The African National Congress (ANC) led a shadowy existence within South Africa in the years after its banning in 1960 and the arrest of its leaders in 1963. It survived outside the country, invigorated by the arrival of a new generation of militants after the 1976 student uprising. It is important therefore to examine the ANC in exile as one formative aspect of modern South Africa. It has now become possible to do this more precisely, as the records of the exiled movement are being deposited in the Liberation Archives at the University of Fort Hare Library, and are open for study, since the ANC has forgone a period of embargo. The writer believes that this demonstrates an unusual and creditable openness, and a robust willingness to consider all aspects of the movement's past, even those that may be controversial. This article is perhaps the first published study to make extensive use of a section of these documents.
The scholarly literature on the ANC in exile is less extensive than might be expected, given the significance of the theme. Of what exists, some is written from within the movement. This can provide valuable insights, though political commitment may iron out wrinkles in the historical fabric.(1) However, a more critical historiography has also emerged, which has tended to focus on the relationship between the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the ANC, and particularly on internal conflict in camps in Angola.(2)
This paper deals with a particular ANC settlement at Dakawa, in Tanzania. While readers will appreciate its relevance to the broader context, the main aim is to attempt to recreate the texture of life at an ANC base, and to emphasize the complexities facing the ANC in exile. There were numerous problems at Dakawa, and abiding uncertainties about its role even while it expanded and developed. Nevertheless, a detailed examination may in the end lead to an understanding of the hardships, uncertainties, and human strengths and frailties that make up any community, and particularly one as inevitably stressful as Dakawa.
The origins of Dakawa
In South Africa today, the word Dakawa is synonymous with the Art and Craft Community Centre in the Eastern Cape town of Grahamstown. Few who visit the centre realize that the original Dakawa is a settlement 55 kilometres north of the provincial town of Morogoro, in Tanzania, and that the artistic dimension of the original Dakawa was only one, late, aspect of the Dakawa Development Centre, which existed between 1982 and 1992.(3) Even some who, from 1992 threw themselves energetically into the development of the centre in its new home, admit that they knew `nothing, absolutely nothing' about Dakawa in Tanzania when the project was mooted. The name was kept to maintain, symbolically, the memory and spirit of the years of exile.(4)
The story of Dakawa is part of the story of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa itself, and in many parts of the globe. The ANC was the largest liberation movement, and its fight against the regime in South Africa, after its banning in 1960, was carried on clandestinely within the country and through an international network of bases and offices. The front-line states of Southern and parts of Eastern Africa supported South African resistance movements, buffeted though they were by threats, economic and political sanctions, and sometimes armed attacks from Pretoria. Prominent amongst these allies, and particularly useful because it was distant from the front line of conflict, was Tanzania.
A crucial moment in the resistance to apartheid was the student revolt of 1976. Starting in Soweto, it spread to many educational institutions throughout the country, and led to a surge of young people from the country, which diminished thereafter, but never died away completely, and grew again during the increasingly violent conflicts of the 1980s. Bodies already established in exile such as the ANC were faced with large numbers of radicalized young people, in flight from repression and Bantu Education, eager to fight against the regime, but unorganized, untrained, and, though eager, sometimes politically naive.
The ANC tried to utilize this exodus of militant youth. Some were channelled into Mkhonto we Sizwe (MK). However, many of the new exiles were too young to enter the military, and in any case the ANC saw itself as a liberation movement, which involved more than military resistance, increasingly important though that was. It also involved the building of a strong movement which would comprehensively challenge apartheid, and create skilled and politically conscious people who would move into crucial positions in a future liberated South Africa and infuse the country with the ideals of the Freedom Charter.
An important response was the foundation of the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College (SOMAFCO), on an abandoned sisal estate given by the Tanzanian government to the ANC at Mazimbu, near Morogoro, in 1977. Beginning with this collection of tumbledown estate houses and overgrown land the ANC, with the help of foreign donors and the support of the government, created a large educational institution named after one of the martyrs of the freedom struggle, as well as institutions such as a large farm, a hospital, primary and nursery schools, cultural and sports facilities, a furniture factory and extensive housing. The complex ultimately had a population of around 3,500 South Africans, as well as employing many Tanzanians from neighbouring communities. Education was at the heart of the Mazimbu project. However, it became clear that there were needs that could not be answered at Mazimbu, and that there were certain ancilliary functions that SOMAFCO itself required. Amongst these was the need for a place where young people newly arrived from the south might stay until they could be received at SOMAFCO in an orderly way. Here, the academic level of young people, and their security status, would be checked, they would receive basic education in subjects such as mathematics and English, and they would be given political instruction and taught about the history of South Africa and the ANC.
The opportunity to initiate this programme came in 1982, when the Tanzanian government gave an even larger, 2,800 hectare plot of land to the ANC, at Dakawa. This area was undeveloped, isolated, without electricity or access to sweet water and sources of building stone, malarial, flat, and therefore a difficult site on which to install piped water and a waterborne sewerage system. During the rainy season, the place turned into a sea of mud. The pastoral Maasai, ranging ever more widely from their grazing-grounds to the north, moved through the area with their stock, damaging the crops that ANC settlers attempted to grow. Having no natural immunity, the South Africans were badly affected by malaria, particularly in the mosquito-ridden rainy season, and indeed tropical diseases of many kinds took their toll. Isolated from Morogoro and Mazimbu, it was not possible to make frequent trips to these centres. The inhabitants of Dakawa were therefore thrown on their own resources, and, apart from the occasional video or film, and a small library, they had little with which to entertain themselves. It is therefore not surprising that there was a considerable amount of drinking, smoking of dagga, and, perhaps partly as a result, petty and sometimes more serious crime. As Spenser Hodgson, the ANC architect, says, of the physical and social conditions, `Dakawa was a very difficult area'.(5)
The first ANC personnel at Dakawa, in place on 3 March 1982, were drawn from amongst old comrades who had been out of South Africa for many years, known, affectionately, as ii-ngwenya. The experience of extended exile had, however, taken its toll, and many had taken refuge from displacement and isolation in alcohol and drug abuse. An investigation found that `[s]ome comrades smoked dagga and the Administration could not do anything much since it was itself completely soaked with the local brew ... [t]he whole Administration is not sure when they went to Dakawa and remembers rather hazily what its terms of references [sic] were or what it was supposed to do'. The first few months of the Dakawa administration were thus not a success, with poorly-housed and badly-fed youths under the control of an often unreliable and capricious leadership, `overwhelmed with the responsibility and authority'.(6) This situation rapidly became clear to the ANC leadership in Lusaka and Mazimbu. After dealing with the immediate situation, meetings were called to discuss the long-term future of Dakawa.
The First Dakawa Seminar, in July and August 1982, laid down policy adhered to for the rest of the institution's existence. It was decided, on the suggestion of Spenser Hodgson, who, with Oswald Dennis, was to play a key role in the development of the Dakawa infrastructure, that the institution should be called the Dakawa Development Centre.(7) This name represented the role envisaged for Dakawa, and distinguished it from Mazimbu, which was focused on SOMAFCO. Dakawa was to become a centre for the orientation of youth from South Africa, who in many cases would proceed to SOMAFCO, and a new community would be built free from the racialism and inequalities disfiguring South Africa. From the beginning the Centre attempted to balance the need to fight the apartheid state, with the need, in the absence of any clear idea of how long that struggle might continue, to serve and develop exiled cadres, and to arm them against the demoralization that had in many cases afflicted the ii-ngwenya. As Mendi Msimang, chairing the seminar, put it, `[it] was essential for the Movement to strike a balance between the prosecution of the armed struggle and the implementation of projects of a developmental nature'.(8) Thus the pressing requirements of newly-arrived exiles, and the need to prosecute a liberation war, had to be somehow accommodated with the imperative of building, in a foreign country, a living community that would provide a model for a new South Africa. It followed that Dakawa would have to go well beyond what might be expected of a camp for exiles, and would require development in many dimensions.
It was estimated that the population of Dakawa could rise to as many as 5,000. The foundations of the centre …