If We Must Die – Book Review

The book If We Must Die reads like a short history of the ANC military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe in Angola and Botswana during the period January 1977 - June 1985. The author, Comrade Stanley Manong (also known as – aka – Mbangazwe Nkululeko), was born in Victoria West and  grew to be a Cape Province (today’s Western and Eastern Cape provinces) ANC underground activists through force of circumstances; the same circumstances that eventually forced him to leave the country in 1976.

Mbangazwe trained in four of the first MK camps in Angola: Engineering, Benguela, Novo Catengue and Funda. After deployment at the frontline state of Botswana as MK Chief of Operations, he was recalled back to Angola where he stayed in Iran and Quibaxe Camps. The book details his political-military training, functions and the operations he oversaw in Botswana as the Chief of Operations. The book’s title chapter, If We Must Die, includes the first known shootout confrontation between an MK contingent under the command of Barney Molokoane and the South African police inside the country at the village of Moshaneng in the Western Transvaal – today’s Northwest Province. On his return to Angola he witnessed the simmering of disgruntlement that finally led to the 1983 rebellion of MK combatants in the Eastern Front (MK’s military campaigns against UNITA in eastern provinces of Angola) and the Viana and Pango Mutinies early in 1984. In 1985 he attended the ANC Kabwe Conference, the first since the 1969 Morogoro Conference.

Given that scope, range of activities and the list of cadres who feature in the book If We Must Die will enjoy a mass appeal within former MK ranks, those who worked in the underground ANC cells in Western and Eastern Cape provinces and Johannesburg area - which had grown into a hubbub of political ferment following June 16, 1976 Soweto Students Uprisings. After his return from Kabwe, Mbangazwe went on to upgrade his qualifications as a Civil Engineer and, on his return to South Africa, set up his own company – Manong and Associates. Chapter 21, Why Do You Want to Eat Alone, gives a sharp critical analysis of the rationale behind Black Economic Empowerment. Likewise together with the chapters after chapter The Road to Kabwe, it serves as a mini who’s who in business and the International support pillar of the struggle against Apartheid.

Throughout the narrative Mbangazwe’s positions himself as a soldier and cadre who is grounded on solid principles he imbibed from the political lessons learned from ANC stalwarts like the passionate trade unionist Mark Shope and the acclaimed unorthodox academic, Jack Simons. Mbangazwe quotes extensively and widely to support his ideas and motivations; in turn, he is passionate enough to tell the world that the seasoned and elderly Mark Shope was not above shedding a tear in front of his soldiers at the memory of Jews killed by Adolf Hitler’s henchmen; and unorthodox enough to reveal that once Jack Simons asked his class to give Pik Botha (then South Africa’s Foreign Minister) a big hand for voicing an anti-imperialist sentiment directed at the United States Administration. In the other classes Jack Simons dynamically added sex as the fourth life’s essential after Frederick Engels’ three basic necessities – food, shelter and clothing.

For former MK cadres the book reads like a refresher of their political courses, with the added benefit of learning how some of their colleagues succeeded or failed in applying the teachings they received in their various areas of deployment: camps, frontline states, operational area and at international platforms. On the theoretical plain, we often talk of the Armed Propaganda phase in armed struggle and the lessons learned from the Vietnamese struggle against American aggression that were imparted to the MK high command by General Giap. The book details the objective conditions, namely the Moshaneng and Comrade Ali Makhobokana’s unit exposures, that led to a reassessment of objective conditions and subsequent shift from rural to urban guerrilla tactics subsumed under a three-year strategy document titled Armed Propaganda.

The public get’s to meet The First Cradock Four, Ghandi Hlekani, Jamani Goniwe, Ben Ngalo and Lennox Melani – all heroes of the Wankie-Sipolio ANC-ZAPU guerrilla campaign - before Matthew Goniwe, Fort Calata, Sparrow Mkhonto and Sicelo Mhlawuli hit the headlines as Cradock Four. If We Must Die comes across as a one-to-one chat with the author and is full of examples to stress his points. At the end the reader gets to know Mbangazwe’s storyline, snippets of underground work before and after June 16 1976, class struggle theories plus the effects of some uncommitted, inattentive and inexperienced leaders. Today’s shortcomings are simpler. They are born out of greed to Eat Alone, drive expensive cars, walk the red-carpet and a blinding wish to be admired on these accounts. For details on book visit www.ifwemustdie.co.za