The Angolan massacre of 1977 is now well documented, but it still manages to stir strong emotions. Here are two different views of the events and how they were recorded and recalled, as seen by Paul Trewhela and Keith Somerville, both of whom I know and respect. Keith was responding to Paul’s critique, so I have placed Paul’s version first. In the last few days both have again taken up their pens and I am including what they have now said at the end.

Martin

 Africa and the post-imperial British media and academic class

Paul Trewhela
Source: Politicsweb
01 December 2014
Paul Trewhela examines the aversion to investigating too closely the Cold War drama in southern and central Africa

Mandela conference, and the blood of Sambizanga

It’s a curious thing, the post-imperial British media and academic class.

One of its greatest phobias has been to investigate too closely into the Cold War drama in southern and central Africa, to which it was emotionally, intellectually and often professionally transfixed. Commitment and engagement, yes! Proper investigative research, well, no … not the done thing, is it?

This strange beast will do its stuff again in London in a couple of days, at Senate House at the University of London – Bloomsbury, really – all day on Friday 5th December.

A year after his death, the subject of the day’s conference is Nelson Mandela. The great and the good among Britain’s friends of Africa will gather in memory and reflection. The formal title of the conference is “Mandela: Myth and Reality”.

Trevor Grundy reported the event on Politicsweb on 19 November, with a headline and sub-head reading: “Mandela ‘myths and realities’ to come under scrutiny at London….the late ANC President’s secret membership of the SACP among topics likely to be discussed.”

Among those expected to take part in the event are one or two who attached their own names to the Mandela name on the covers of biographies, but neglected to uncover that “secret membership of the SACP”. Biography, yes! “Secret membership of the SACP”…well, not really the done thing, actually.

The first historians to do the work of the scholar in seeking and finding substantive proof of this are – in order of publication date – the British professor teaching in Amsterdam, Stephen Ellis, in his study, External Mission: The ANC in Exile 1960-1990 (Jonathan Ball, 2012), and the Russian professor, resident in Cape Town and teaching in Moscow, Irina Filatova, with her study The Hidden Thread: Russia and South Africa in the Soviet Era (Jonathan Ball, 2013).

Stephen Ellis will read a paper at the London conference, with the title “Mandela, the Communist Party and the origins of South Africa’s armed struggle.”

This will be the defining edge of “reality” in the day’s proceedings.

The first secure piece of published proof of Mandela’s membership of the SACP, however, came from the distinguished South African journalist now resident in Israel, Benjamin Pogrund, in an essay “Generosity of spirit” in a volume of photographs by the premier political photographer of the apartheid period, Peter Magubane, Man of the People: A Photographic Tribute to Nelson Mandela, published in 2008 by Pan Macmillan and Mutloatse Arts Heritage Trust, Johannesburg.

In his essay, Pogrund reported an interview he had conducted in South Africa in the mid-1960s with a former member of the Central Committee of the SACP, the late Piet Beyleveld, who had given evidence for the prosecution in the SACP trial of 1964/65 (in which I was sentenced), and who went on to give evidence in 1966 in the trial of Bram Fischer, for which Fischer was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Pogrund reported that Beyleveld “spoke freely and described the last secret party conference he had attended, in a house in Johannesburg, early in the 1960s. He offered the information that Mandela had been there and, he believed, had even been elected to the central committee. He said the balloting was secret and the committee’s names were not supposed to be known even in party circles.” (p.22)

This confirms independent evidence published separately later by Stephen Ellis and Irina Filatova.

This volume of information on the subject of Mandela’s membership of the SACP – hidden for more than 40 years – now sets the background relating to “Myth and Reality” in his life.

The biographers who did not do the necessary research on the matter, in order of publication date following the release of Mandela from prison in 1990, are:

Martin Meredith, Nelson Mandela: A Biography, Penguin, London, 1997. Revised edition, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2010.

Anthony Sampson, Mandela: The Authorised Biography, HarperCollins, London, 1999.

Tom Lodge, Mandela: A Critical Life, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2006.

David James Smith, Young Mandela, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 2010.

Kenneth S. Broun, Saving Nelson Mandela: The Rivonia Trial and the Fate of South Africa, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2012.

The issue here is the actual scope of influence of the SACP at the head of the ANC in the early 1960s and in subsequent decades, up to the present. To get an understanding of this very important thread in South African politics, it is crucial to turn to Angola, the country that was the main military base of the ANC and the SACP for 14 years before their return to South Africa from exile.

For this focus on Angola, the most important publishing event in 40 years, in my view, is the book by the former BBC journalist Lara Pawson, In the Name of the People: Angola’s Forgotten Massacre, published this year by IB Tauris, London. I provided a brief appreciation of this book in a review on Politicsweb, “The Angolan massacre of May 27 1977: A grim portent for South Africa” (27 August 2014).

A further article followed, headed “Michael Wolfers: Hiding the truths about Africa”, with a sub-title “…on the role played by the late British journalist in suppressing the truth about the 1977 Nitista massacre in Angola.” was published on Politicsweb on 21 October 2014.

Angola – massacre. These words now cannot be separated.

What Lara Pawson revealed, but what a generation of top-level British academics and journalists kept hidden, was that in May 1977 the Marxist-Leninist government of the MPLA in Angola carried out a massacre of mainly poor, black, Angolan township dwellers on a scale between five hundred and one thousand times bigger than carried out by the white South African regime at Sharpeville in March 1960, or by the Zuma government at Marikana in August 2012.

Pawson establishes that the MPLA leadership – still ruling Angola to this day – massacred thousands of its own supporters with deliberate intent, with mass executions, mass graves, and with Cuban tanks driving over the fragile roofs of the musseques (ikuku, or chicken-shed in Soweto parlance) in Luanda’s own Soweto township – Sambizanga.

Richard Dowden, the director of the Royal African Society, who will be taking part in the final session of Friday’s conference, might have been suggesting the same point in a review of Lara Pawson’s book on the website African Arguments, headed “New book reveals truth about Angola’s forgotten massacre” (6 June 2014). Dowden wrote: “Before the end of apartheid in South Africa, Angola was the pivot on which the liberation of Southern Africa turned.”

If Angola was the pivot, a subliminal sub-text underlying the London conference should be: “Angola: Myth and Reality”.

The problem here is that a principal organiser of the London conference is a British journalist and academic, Keith Somerville, author of a book published in London and New York in 1986, Angola: Politics, Economics and Society, Frances Pinter, London. It appeared in a series with the title (on the front cover), “Marxist Regimes”.

Throughout this book, Somerville dilates from cover to cover on Marxism-Leninism without one single word about the massacre.

The very first words in his Preface situate the “attempt by the MPLA to implement its undoubtedly Marxist policies in Angola”, and continue: “It is my view that the MPLA-Workers’ Party is sincere in its commitment to Marxism-Leninism and that its policies have reflected this. …[This] book attempts to present as clear an account as possible of the MPLA as a Marxist-Leninist party… It should be noted from the start the author’s sympathies are with the general aims and direction of the MPLA…”. (pp..xiii, xiv)

Ideological dogma pervades the book all the way to its final chapter, which states that “the MPLA has been consistent in its adherence to and development of Marxism-Leninism and has implemented a concerted policy of ridding the party of non-Marxist elements and ensuring the adoption of democratic centralism and other vital components of Marxism-Leninist organizational and party work practice. …”. (p.194)

More specifically, as Somerville states in his Preface: “In the political sphere, the rectification campaign within the party has been the most significant move towards Marxism-Leninism”. (p.xiv)

He even discusses as an “option” (which, thankfully, he rejects) that the MPLA might follow policies which “may have been applicable in Soviet Russia”, when “it was possible for Stalin to purge the countryside, at great human, social, political and economic cost….” (p.193)

“Marxism-Leninism” here connects the subject of the Mandela conference to the horror in Angola, and to Somerville’s own role as British journalist and academic.

Organised by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS) based at the University of London, the programme for the Mandela conference describes Somerville as “currently Lecturer in Humanitarian Communications, Centre for Journalism, University of Kent.

His profile on the site of the School of Politics and International Relations at the University states:

“Keith Somerville is a visiting Specialist Associate Lecturer. He is a writer and lecturer on African affairs, journalism and the global media. His expertise is in finding and developing stories, writing, interview techniques, broadcast and online news reporting and production, media law and ethics, and international journalism.

“A career journalist with the BBC World Service and BBC News for three decades, Keith has an established track record as a trainer and training designer for the BBC, initially with BBC World Service training and latterly with the recently-established BBC College of Journalism. He was executive producer for the BBC’s international award-winning Legal Online course; co-author and role-play developer for the BBC’s post-Hutton Sources, Scoops and Stories course; he was in charge of and the scenario writer for the BBC’s interactive journalism teaching tool, The Journalism Tutor. His knowledge of journalism theory and practice is based on nearly three decades of reporting, writing, presenting and editing World Service news programmes. He also has extensive online production experience and has written for specialist publications on African affairs.

“The major world events he has covered include running the World Service team in South Africa for the first post-apartheid elections in 1994; presenting live coverage of the attempted coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev; overseeing the first 10 hours of World Service coverage of the death of Princess Diana; running of live World Service radio coverage on 9/11; and producing and presenting radio documentaries from South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Tanzania, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Guyana, Barbados, Jamaica and the wilds of deepest Cardiff and Norfolk.”

And yet….

Together with Martin Plaut, his South African-born co-organiser of the Mandela conference and co-author (with Paul Holden) of the study, Who Rules South Africa? (Jonathan Ball, 2012), Somerville is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies. Plaut is the former Africa editor of the BBC World Service.

It is a weird and wonderful fact in the world of the BBC and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, that non-reporting of a massacre of between 20,000 and 30,000 people becomes in the course of time a matter of “Humanitarian Communications”.

Repeated again and again in his book, Somerville’s phrase “rectification campaign” (which he describes as the MPLA’s “most significant move towards Marxism-Leninism”), together with his phrase about “ridding the party of non-Marxist elements”, have at their heart the mass murders of 27 May 1977 and afterwards. The name of Nito Alves – the leading critic of the policies of the MPLA regime before the massacre – appears in more than 30 of the 200-odd pages of his book, but there is no word that Alves was executed.

[Keith Somerville’s reply to these points can be found here – Editor]

As I explained in a paper, “Three episodes of moral choice in South Africa in the past 50 years”, delivered at a conference on Leadership Ethics at Rhodes University, Grahamstown, in October 2012, one of Nelson Mandela’s supreme moral achievements was that following a one-to-one private discussion in London in 1991 with a young survivor of Quatro prison camp, he championed the public disclosure of the ANC’s and the SACP’s human rights abuses against their own members in Angola and elsewhere, all the way through to publication of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1998, even against the opposition of his Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki.

Yet the history of the ANC and the MPLA cannot easily be disentangled. Stephen Ellis reports that the ANC set up its first bases in Angola “early in 1976”, and that in March 1977 “what for a couple of years would be its most important camp” was opened at Nova Catengue, in the west of Angola, south of Luanda. (Ellis, p.118)

This means that the military wing of the ANC and the SACP, Umkhonto we Sizwe, was already based in Angola at the time of the massacre. Major questions follow from this. Lara Pawson’s chapter, “A death camp”, makes it clear that the MPLA had already established its own concentration camp at Calunda as the model for what the ANC later set up as its own prison camp in Angola for dissenters, Quatro, and for the pits in the ground that Swapo dug for its imprisoned Namibian members at Lubango, in southern Angola.

A monstrous pall of repression was placed over the whole of southern Africa with the massacre of 27 May 1977, comparable in horror and deliberate intent with the Gukurahundi massacre carried out by the regime of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe in the early 1980s. Journalists and academics such as Keith Somerville kept this hidden. There has been nothing in Angola to compare with the work of the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace in revealing the details of the massacre in Zimbabwe. This is an urgent international necessity.

First of all, though, there should be shame in the universities and media agencies in Britain for their own moral failure – even, complicity – over so many decades, a history of disgrace now overshadowing the Mandela conference in London.

Honour to Stephen Ellis, to Irina Filatova and to Lara Pawson!

An attempted character assassination gone wrong

Keith Somerville
01 December 2014

Source: Politicsweb

Keith Somerville responds to Paul Trewhela’s attack on his writings on Angola and the Alves coup and massacre

 

Angola, the Alves Coup and Massacre – a Rejoinder to Paul Trewhela

It is never a good way to start one’s week reading an attempted character assassination, especially when yours is the character someone is trying to assassinate. That is my situation today having read Paul Trewhela’s very personal attack on me in a piece that starts off discussing the upcoming Mandela conference that I have co-organized with Martin Plaut at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies on the legacy of Nelson Mandela. Paul has been invited to attend the event and we are looking forward to his observations on the array of papers being presented.

But it is easier to weather sniping and attacks on one’s integrity when they are inaccurate, highly selective and in that selectivity totally ignore aspects of one’s work that would be inconvenient for the focus of the criticism. That is the case with the rather bitter, strange attack he has embarked upon – I say strange as I have never met Paul or done other than exchange a few e-mails with him.

The focus was on the links between South Africa and Angola in the context of Mandela’s membership of the South African Communist Party. Paul seems to think it a problem that I am organising the conference having written a book 28 years ago on Angola’s attempts to develop a Marxist-Leninist system.

I’m not quite sure I see the problem, but Paul’s view is that I write the book from a Marxist perspective and without mentioning the Alves massacre of May 1977. It is true that I do not report that appalling and very widespread killing of real or imagined supporters of the former Angolan Interior Minister Nito Alves. But I do mention the events surrounding them, the violence of the coup attempt, its repression and the purging of Alves supporters from the MPLA.

Why did I not cover the massacre? That is quite simple. Because it was hidden – not by me as Trewhela states, though certainly by other journalists closely connected with the MPLA government and uncritically sympathetic towards it. When I was approached to write the book in 1984, I tried to get a visa to carry out research in Angola.

I was told someone in the party, government or popular organisations in Angola would have to invite me for me to get a visa. I approached pro-Angolan groups like MAGIC (Mozambioque, Angola, Guine Information Centre) and also the official Angolan news agency, ANGOP, both of which had offices in London.

No invitation was forthcoming and so no visa. This made research difficult, especially as other than reports from the MPLA itself, from South Africa (then fighting the Angolan government), from UNITA, from American government information and journalistic reportage there were no other sources if you couldn’t get to Angola.

Even Angolan journalists at the BBC World Service, couldn’t help much with firm information about the coup, the massacres and executions. These were hidden by the Angolan government. Those British journalists who were close to the government and able to visit the country saw it as vital to maintain solidarity given the destabilization of frontline states by South Africa and clearly felt honest reporting would undermine that MPLA government.

I was sympathetic to the MPLA but critical – a level of criticism that Paul has chosen not to select in the very carefully chosen and truncated passages from my book that he quotes. He misses out the context I provide and the criticism – criticism that ensured that it wasn’t until 1995 that I was able to get a visa to visit Angola through the Red Cross.

If he has read the whole book, he has chosen to ignore my conclusions that MPLA policies would “create a small urban elite remote from the overwhelming mass of the peasantry and operating in a vacuum” or that it was deploying “a misplaced insistence on dogmatic Marxist-Leninist principles that are not applicable to Angola” and pointing out that the Angolans were trying to make a Soviet model fit Angola despite the evident contradictions in that. Not exactly the words of a true believer.

But returning to my supposed hiding of the Alves massacres. Trewhela cites a review by Richard Dowden of Lara Pawson’s excellent book digging into the real story and the extent of killing and repression – a book only published last year and detailing the massive obstacles to finding out anything concrete about the massacres.

He was aware that on the same Royal African Society website, I wrote a review of the book praising it and pointing out why writers like me had been unable, rather than unwilling, to uncover the truth about the purges and killings (see here). And here it is best to quote what I wrote about the difficulties in researching these events:

“Any willingness to probe internal activities of the movement and ask awkward questions was held back by the wish to express solidarity with those fighting apartheid. Consequently, too much of what the Angolan government and the MPLA said was taken at face value. It was also the reason why challenges to the MPLA leadership from within the movement were viewed with suspicion and even hostility by many Angola watchers. This partly explains the reaction Lara Pawson got from a number of British journalists and writers on Angola like Michael Wolfers, Victoria Britain and Basil Davidson, when she was trying to find out what they knew and thought about the movement led by Nito Alves and Zé Van Dunem that sought to challenge the hegemony of Agostinho Neto, Lucio Lara and Iko Carreira…”

In the review, I go on to point out that, “I, too, was sympathetic to the MPLA, but critically so. It made me no friends among some Angola-philes when my writings on the MPLA’s commitment to Marxism-Leninism questioned whether its unimaginative, mechanistic and a-historical interpretation was really appropriate to Angolan realities. This meant that when I tried to get to Angola to do research I was rebuffed…when I tried to find out more about what the Alves ‘coup’ was about I didn’t get very far ..”

This review was published alongside Dowden’s but was curiously overlooked in the clumsy hatchet job on my work. I make no pretence about my sympathies but nor do I about my thwarted attempts to dig beneath the surface and criticize on the basis of fact rather than supposition, something Paul failed to do in his very narrow and ill-informed approach to my writings.

I’m still grappling what point Trewhela was trying to make when after reproducing parts of my CV from my Kent University page, he says: “It is a weird and wonderful fact in the world of the BBC and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, that non-reporting of a massacre of between 20,000 and 30,000 people becomes in the course of time a matter of “Humanitarian Communications”.”

There is clumsy innuendo there but to what effect? I was unable to find out more about the Angolan massacres in 1986, I did not hide anything as he suggests because to hide something you have to have it or know about it. And that is relevant how, when it comes to my current work and teaching? I leave it to readers to judge.

Keith Somerville is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London, teaches at the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent, and is the author of a number of books on Angola, the Soviet Union and Southern Africa and conflict in Africa. His latest book Africa’s Long Road Since Independence is being published by Hurst and Co in May 2015.
I’m still grappling what point Trewhela was trying to make when after reproducing parts of my CV from my Kent University page, he says: “It is a weird and wonderful fact in the world of the BBC and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, that non-reporting of a massacre of between 20,000 and 30,000 people becomes in the course of time a matter of “Humanitarian Communications”.”

There is clumsy innuendo there but to what effect? I was unable to find out more about the Angolan massacres in 1986, I did not hide anything as he suggests because to hide something you have to have it or know about it. And that is relevant how, when it comes to my current work and teaching? I leave it to readers to judge.

* Keith Somerville is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at the University of London, teaches at the Centre for Journalism at the University of Kent, and is the author of a number of books on Angola, the Soviet Union and Southern Africa and conflict in Africa. His latest book Africa’s Long Road Since Independence is being published by Hurst and Co in May 2015.

*****

Paul Trewhela: Reply to Keith Somerville about Angolan massacre

Paul Trewhela

Not published by Politicsweb,
2 December 2014

I welcome the opportunity to reply to Keith Somerville’s rejection of my critique of the totalitarian ethic of his book, Angola: Politics, Economics and Society, published in London in the series “Marxist Regimes” in 1986.
http://www.politicsweb.co.za/politicsweb/view/politicsweb/en/page71619?oid=843086&sn=Detail&pid=71616

I’m afraid his self-defence upholds my criticism.

The fact there is no reference in Mr Somerville’s book to the massacre of between 20,000 and 30,000 people carried out by the MPLA government in Luanda in May 1977 places his book alongside those written by four other British academics and journalists whom Lara Pawson had the courage to hold to account in her remarkable book of conscience, In the Name of the People: Angola’s Forgotten Massacre (IB Tauris, London, 2014).
http://www.politicsweb.co.za/politicsweb/view/politicsweb/en/page71619?oid=841563&sn=Marketingweb+detail

These four were, firstly, Basil Davidson MC, a very brave Special Operations Executive soldier in World War Two, and afterwards the author of many books on Africa, including In the Eye of the Storm: Angola’s People (Doubleday, New York, 1973) written before the downfall of the Portuguese colonial regime, as well as his essay in Southern Africa: The New Politics of Revolution (Penguin, London, 1976) published alongside essays by Joe Slovo and Anthony R Wilkinson, following the takeover in Luanda by MPLA but before the MPLA’s massacre of thousands of people in the impoverished black township of Sambizanga on 27 May 1977.

Secondly, there are Michael Wolfers and Jane Bergerol, the authors of Angola in the Front Line, published by Zed Books in London in 1983. Wolfers – who wrote several books with a focus on Africa – worked for The Times in London as its Africa correspondent, before working for the MPLA-run state radio in Luanda at the time of the massacre of 27 May 1977. Jane Bergerol reported for The Financial Times in London, as well as The Observer. As with Somerville’s book published three years later, there is no reference in Angola in the Front Line to more than 95 per cent of the killings of that time, which were carried out by the MPLA and the Cuban military.

The fourth author, Victoria Brittain, is a former associate foreign editor of The Guardian newspaper(London) and the author of several books on Africa. Lara Pawson notes that Victoria Brittain’s book, Death of Dignity: Angola’s Civil War, published by Pluto Press, London, in 1998, “does not once mention the uprising, despite her narrative relying almost entirely on MPLA narratives, largely from the elite.” (p.5)

There is a pattern here.

Lara Pawson does not discuss Keith Somerville’s book in her study of the massacre, but develops a telling moral criticism of the four writers above. She writes how shocked she was to learn bit by bit about the massacre of 27 May 1977 (known in Angola as vinte e sete, Portuguese for “27”) and the continuing oppressive weight of “Angola’s culture of fear.”

Pawson states: “I admit to feeling betrayed, however misplaced that feeling might be, by those writers and journalists I had always admired on the political left.” Responding to an Angolan woman whom she is interviewing in London, she continues: “Either they didn’t write about the vinte e sete at all, or if they did, like Basil Davidson, they only told the story from the official MPLA point of view. They don’t say a word about all those deaths. Thousands of them!…Why should the MPLA be accorded secrets that others are not?”  (p.42)

This is my criticism of Keith Somerville, to which he does not reply. His book is an outspokenly Marxist-Leninist text written in strong support of the Marxist-Leninist programme of the MPLA, published in 1986, nine years after the massacre. As Lara Pawson says of Davidson, he “only told the story from the official MPLA point of view.” Like the books by Wolfers, Bergerol and Brittain and Davidson, Angola in the Front Line does not “say a word about those deaths,” even though there were tens of thousands of deaths.

Criticisms of the MPLA regime in the book are minor – even, minuscule – compared with the fact of a huge massacre by the government, which is not mentioned.

If the author later felt bad about the inadequacies of his book, then he had 28 years in which to make amends. He states in his critique of my article that “it wasn’t until 1995 that I was able to get a visa to visit Angola through the Red Cross.” When finally he did get let in, while working for the BBC, a new, more critical and better informed account was still not written by him. Instead, he left it to Lara Pawson, published almost 20 years later.

Nobody in Britain is compelled to write a book, or write a book about a country he does not live in, does not know well, and has never been to before he writes the book. If the writer could not do a proper job in Angola because he could not get enough information, or even get let into the country, then he should not have written his book. At the very least, he should have told his readers upfront that he could not get properly to the truth because of obstruction by the regime, just as Lara Pawson does.

Instead, Mr Somerville chose to write a Marxist-Leninist book about a Marxist-Leninist regime, without ever having been there. He continually uses the MPLA’s phrase “Alves coup” about the opposition movement led by Nito Alves, which was slaughtered, but he never adequately investigated this so-called “coup”, preferring to smear it uncritically as “racist and bourgeois”. (p.175)

By comparison, Michael Wolfers – who had been in Luanda at the time of the massacre – at least had the decency to tell Lara Pawson many years later: “The demonstrators would call for Alves and [José] Van Dunem to be reintegrated into the government and for changes in the government and MPLA leadership. …They didn’t want much. … They wanted the nitistas in the big jobs. But basically, it was to be a reshuffle.” (p.55)

A reshuffle….

These nuances are a journalist’s job.

Instead, Somerville writes now: “I’m not quite sure I see the problem, but Paul’s view is that I write the book from a Marxist perspective and without mentioning the Alves massacre of May 1977. It is true that I do not report that appalling and very widespread killing of real or imagined supporters of the former Angolan Interior Minister Nito Alves. But I do mention the events surrounding them, the violence of the coup attempt, its repression and the purging of Alves supporters from the MPLA.”

Except, what does “purging” mean? It is not explained. Is it mass killings, or demotion to a job in the ranks? Somerville never inquired and his readers were left in the dark.

He complains that I do not refer in my article to his review on 24 May this year of Lara Pawson’s book, on the website African Arguments.
http://africanarguments.org/2014/05/20/review-factions-fear-and-fighters-the-story-of-angolas-forgotten-massacre-by-keith-somerville/

In fact, I copied out Keith Somerville’s review and sent it out to more than 100 people on 19 August this year, including to Keith himself. That was the book he should have written himself.

I rest my case.

A journalist’s job is to inquire.

*****

Comment by John Austin, 2 December 2014 (included in Paul’s reply)

http://www.politicsweb.co.za/politicsweb/view/politicsweb/en/page71619?oid=841563&sn=Marketingweb+detail
Somerville explains that….

“This meant that when I tried to get to Angola to do research I was rebuffed by Angolan diplomats and by people at Angop in London and it was made clear that even criticism by sympathisers was not welcome. So when I tried to find out more about what the Alves ‘coup’ was about I didn’t get very far and my written accounts were limited in their scope and depth.” I did not “hide” the Alves coup and its consequences, I was blocked from visiting Angola and digging further.”

BUT, it now seems you were content not to protest nor write much about these impediments & stumbling blocks put in your path at the time. Understandably so, for you open with the declaration: “Politically, I was, and remain on the left and in the 1980s I was very active in the anti-Apartheid Movement, being a member of the editorial board and a monthly contributor to the movement’s newspaper. ,I, too, was sympathetic to the MPLA,…”

It seems the essential difference between your kind of academic & literary supporter of the regional struggles & that of the like of TREWHELA, is one of integrity.

It seems from the account above that you allowed yours to be bent for political/struggle expediency – whilst TREWHELA chooses not to.

It is fortunate indeed for the sake of historical record that there are ELLISES, TREWHELAS, FILATOVAS and PAWSONS still alive and able to pen factually & honestly as they do.

Incidentally, the murderous internal blood-letting coups in camps in exile is no preserve of the ANGOLAN or the SOUTH AFRICAN cadres….. ZANU had their own method of ensuring MUGABE was supreme leader of the struggle in ZANLA’s bases in Mozambique. What reminded me of it was PAUL TREWHELA’s comment in the above article: “Lara Pawson’s chapter, “A death camp”, makes it clear that the MPLA had already established its own concentration camp at Calunda as the model for what the ANC later set up as its own prison camp in Angola for dissenters, Quatro, and for the pits in the ground that Swapo dug for its imprisoned Namibian members at Lubango, in southern Angola.”

These “DEATH CAMPS” were not only copied by MKHONTO in Angola, the model was used for ZANLA’s “DEATH CAMPS” in Mozambique too. During our two years Detention –without-Trial in Chikurubi, the majority of the other detainees were former cadres of ZIPRA (and a few from ZANLA – including the CUBAN returnee Teacher Trainee cadres, because all were HIV+).

It was common cause amongst the black (cadre) detainees that MUGABE had about 20 young ZANLA leadership cream locked up underground in Mozambique and eventually murdered during his ascent to total control in exile. There isn’t a cadre I have come across who doesn’t believe TONGO was murdered from within ZANLA (the preferred method of ZANU/ZANLA murder then being vehicle accident).

The ZANLA cadre returnees from CUBA via ANGOLA all spoke of underground imprisonment there by other guerrillas.

I do not think anyone would accuse me of having “left” political leanings – neither have had my integrity put honestly or seriously in doubt. In all my readings of & exchanges with the like of TREWHELA, ELLIS, & others, I have not once had cause to doubt theirs either. This is still the case to date.

However, whilst writing misleading records of history with lies are one thing….. simply failing to record the TRUTH is quite another. In which category might yours fall to be classified Mr SOMERVILLE ?

Chikurubi-Truth-Commissioner

. .less

by John Austin on December 02 2014, 01:45

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Keith answers

Dear All,

in order not to bore you further with what has become a very repetitive and narrowly selective attack on me and my writing, I will keep this response short. I have to say I’m not surprised that Politicsweb declined Paul another bite at this as it is a baseless, personal attack that comes out of some personal animosity that Paul has towards me, perhaps because he was not asked to be a speaker at Friday’s conference.

As I wrote in my review praising Lara Lawson’s book I made very clear the obstacles to finding out anything about the fate of those who carried out the coup or uprising in support of Alves in 1977.  At the time I wrote the book, I was blocked from going to Angola to do research on the ground.  Remember, this was at the height of the wars of South African destabilization in southern Africa with the United States supporting UNITA, South Africa supporting UNITA and with a constant troop presence in southern Angola.  Angola was at war.

When you read any account of events written at the time, they cover the broad story that I did, though obviously coming at it from different viewpoints. But the single thing that unites them all, is that no one, I repeat no one, at the time had been able to find out more than the bare details of the purging of the party and what that meant in humanitarian terms. Accounts by US, British and other journalists and writers have the same narrative.  Why? Because it was impossible to find out more.  Those, like Basil Davidson, Victoria Brittain, Wolfers and Bergerol, who had better access either covered up or just failed to ask their friends in the MPLA about the fate of Alves and his supporters.  I attended a major conference in Cambridge in March 1994  (eight years after my book was published).  This was attended by Angolan writers and journalists, MPLA officials and Ministers, members of UNITA and of smaller Angolan parties, as well as a range of British and European diplomats connected with Angola and journalists and academics of a variety of shades of opinion.  There was very wider-ranging discussion of the conflict, human rights, political and economic developments in Angola. What wasn’t discussed was the aftermath of the Alves coup.  Why was that – because people did not know what had been happened, it had been covered up, thousands had been killed or detained and Angolans in areas under government control, as Lara Pawson made clear, were scared to even mention the subject. So were all those at the conference guilty of a lack of integrity and of hiding the massacre? No, like me that did not know and it took the work of Lara to uncover, and all credit to her for having done so.

I did not cover or cover up the massacres in my book, I did not know about them – nobody did at the time within the academic community studying Angola.  I cannot be accused of  having hidden what I did not know. But in my book I was highly critical of the MPLA’s mechanistic and inappropriate attempt to impose a form of Soviet-influenced socialism in Angola – it was not a Marxist-Leninist text it was a critique from a Marxist viewpoint of the MPLA’s attempt to develop its version of Soviet Marxism. Paul ignores this in his original character assassination and in what he repeats ad nauseam below, as he ignores my honest and open account of the development of my views and the problems of researching Angola contained in my review of Lara’s book on African arguments and my preparedness as part of the panel at Lara’s book launch to publicly discuss these issues.  I have not hidden anything and have nothing to hide.

Now let’s move on to the conference on Mandela and his legacy on Friday, where Paul is very welcome to attend and debate with the panellists we have assembled the key issues involved.

I look forward to seeing many of you there.

Keith

Keith Somerville
Centre for Journalism
University of Kent