This is the obituary of Hermanus Loots, better known by his nom de guerre, James Stewart, who exposed the atrocities in the ANC’s Quatro prison camp.

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Hermanus Loots, 1936-2016:  MK member who exposed truth about ANC’s Quatro prison

Soldier of Truth: Herman Loots, aka James Stuart

Chris Barron

Obituary, Sunday Times,
31 January 2016

HERMANUS Loots, who has died in Johannesburg at the age of  79, was a senior member of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) who was appointed by ANC president Oliver Tambo to investigate the causes of a mutiny by ANC troops in Angola in 1984 that rocked the leadership to its core.

The mutiny, at Viana camp, outside Luanda, was a fairlylame affair amounting to not much more than shots fired in the air and demands for a meeting with the leadership, but it triggered a brutal crackdown by the much-feared ANC security department, Mbokodo.

The MK High Command, including Chris Hani, Joe Modise and national commissar and former Fort Hare lecturer Andrew Masondo, were convinced it was organised by the apartheid regime and wanted those involved to be summarily executed.

In February 1984 Tambo sent Loots, known by his MK name James Stuart, to Angola to head a five-man commission of inquiry into the mutiny. After interviewing troops held in Quatro prison camp and in the state maximum security prison in Luanda, his commission refuted the claims of Mbokodo that the mutiny had been organised and led by “enemy agents.”

Instead it found that it was a spontaneous eruption of anger by MK members who were sick and tired of enduring appalling conditions in the camps while their leaders supposedly lived in relative luxury in Lusaka. They also bitterly resented being thrown into battle against the Angolan rebel army Unita instead of being allowed to fight the apartheid regime back home in South Africa.

The Stuart report unflinchingly exposed the horrendous brutality of the ANC security department towards the guerrillas. It essentially supported the argument of the mutineers and thereby saved their lives. Members of the so-called “Committee of 10” elected to present their demands had no doubt that there would have been mass executions if Loots had not had the courage and integrity, in the face of considerable pressure, to report the truth.

His report was so unpalatable to the national executive of the ANC that it was kept a closely guarded secret for nine years.

Its shocking revelations, together with supporting witness accounts of returning exiles, spurred Nelson Mandela into appointing two further investigations into human rights abuses in the camps, one in 1992 by Judge Thembile Skweyiya, and another in 1993 headed by business leader Sam Motsuenyane.

It was only in 1993 that the ANC released the Stuart report to the public along with the report of the Motsuenyane commission.

No mention of the mutiny or the Stuart report was allowed at the national conference of the ANC at Kabwe in Zambia in 1985, held while leading supporters of the mutiny were still being held in Quatro camp, where they remained  until all ANC personnel were required to leave Angola in 1988.

However such was the respect for Loots that he was elected to the ANC national executive at the Kabwe conference and remained a member until 1990.

In 1986 he participated alongside Tambo, Thabo Mbeki and other senior figures in one of the first meetings of the ANC-in-exile with eminent white South Africans.

He was an ANC MP from 1994 to 1999 and nonexecutive chairman of the ANC front company Chancellor House Holdings until not long before his death. A heavy smoker, he died of lung cancer.

Loots was born on July 19 1936 at Tamboekiesvlei on the banks of the Katrivier near Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape. He matriculated at the John Bisseker high school in East London and was studying for a civil engineering degree at the University of the Witwatersrand when he was recruited into the Luthuli detachment of MK in 1961.

From 1964 to 1973 he did slots of military training in Odessa, Kishinev and Moscow.

He was secretary in the office of Tambo and was the ANC’s chief representative in Madagascar from 1979 to 1983, where he married his wife Nosulo, known in the ANC as Josephine.

He spoke English, Afrikaans, French, Xhosa, Zulu, Sotho, Russian and Malagasy. He returned to South Africa in 1991 and served as a member of the ANC national elections commission.

He is survived by Josephine. They had no children.

— Chris Barron

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Passages from:

Gail M Gerhart (Adjunct Professor, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University, New York) and Clive L. Glaser (Professor of 20th century South African History at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg), editors, From Protest to Challenge. A documentary History of South African Politics, 1882-1990. Volume 6, Challenge and Victory, 1980-1990 (Indiana University Press, 2010).

This major source (779 pages) contains the text of hundreds of documents and gives a 10-page abridged version of the Stuart Report (Chapter 4, Document 115).

In a section headed “Mutiny in Umkhonto we Sizwe”, the long introduction by the editors for chapter 4 (“Exile and underground politics, 1980-1988”) gives several reference to the essay “A Miscarriage of Democracy” by “B. Ketelo et al” in Searchlight South Africa no.5, July 1990.

It states:

“…the ANC’s department of national intelligence and security (NAT), long a weak branch of the organization’s bureaucracy, had been placed under the direction of Mzwandile Piliso, a senior confidant of Tambo. Intense paranoia took hold as NAT expanded its staff of operatives….’Suspects’ singled out by security personnel…were beaten and incarcerated in punishment cells or at a detention facility constructed by NAT north of Quibaxe at ‘Camp 32’, also referred to as Quatro.

“In late 1982, a circular from Lusaka requested that in the Angolan camps, through their commissars, compile reports giving their complaints and suggestions for improvements in the running of the ANC. The result was an outpouring of grievances…..Security department operatives were severely criticized for their authoritarian heavy-handedness. …The organization was charged with failures in its management of the armed struggle. …Pointing out that the ANC in exile had not held a conference since 1989, many cadres called for the convening of another conference at which members could assist in clearing the organization’s leadership of  dead wood. …

“These complaints and demands highlighted the political and legal limbo in which the ANC found itself as an exiled organization. It was fighting for a democratic South Africa, but as a revolutionary and quasi-military organization it was not itself run democratically. …no mechanisms existed to create accountability of the part of those at the top. Although the organization had a code of conduct, this was primarily a mechanism to discipline members, not leaders, and the protesters of 1982 appear to have made no reference to it. Legally, ANC members were not under the protection of any outside authority. Host governments did not intervene when ordinary members were brutalized or killed by NAT officials…

“In MK, which took pride in being a ‘people’s army,’ there was unavoidable tension between the demands of military discipline and the belief by cadres that their leaders should be democratically answerable to them. [[The essay then gives a lengthy quotation both in the text from an interview by Howard Barrell with Joe Slovo. The notes gives a quotation from Slovo’s article in African Communist no.95 (1983) ‘in which Slovo, eulogizing J.B.Marks, recalled the 1969 Morogoro conference’, with Slovo stating : ‘Morogoro asserted the rank and file to have a say as to who would lead them. JB understood and sympathized with this demand, as he also understood that often resistance, under the guise of security, to the democratic process was a device used by some to hold onto the reins of power.’ The essay by Gerhart and Glaser notes that this article by Slovo was ‘Cited by Ketelo et al.’ (p.159) ]]. …

“…Stories circulated about high officials in Lusaka involved in lucrative smuggling. …

“…By the second week of January 1984, there was a mutinous reaction among troops ordered to return to the front. After a period of standoff between armed mutineers and NAT operatives, the combat orders were cancelled and the rebellious troops were transported to Viana camp outside Luanda, where they hoped to explain their actions to NEC members who were in Angola at the time. The frank internal report of the Stuart Commission, an investigative body appointed by the NEC (Document 115) recounts the tense events of early February during which the mutineers, their numbers augmented by soldiers from other camps converging on Viana, were eventually disarmed. Thirty three cadres judged to be the leaders were taken into custody. The demands put by the mutineers, who elected a Committee of Ten to represent them, echoe3d the complaints of 1982: that the ANC security department be curbed, that policies regarding the deployment of cadres be reviewed and explanations offered for the failure of the armed struggle, and that the ANC call a conference to elect a new ANC.

“At he height of the crisis, no more than 900 to 1,000 soldiers appear to have been present at Viana. All reports suggest, however, that support for the protestors and their demands was high throughout the army. In mid-May a group of the mutineers who had been transferred from Viana to Pango camp rebelled again when ordered to attend compulsory ‘reorientation’ classes. Demanding the release of the 33, they took control of Pango by force. killing several guards. Six days later, a force of loyalists  commanded by Timothy Mokoena subdued them in a pitched battle in which several died on both sides. A military tribunal condemned seven of the mutineers to die by firing squad. Shortly after their execution, Ephraim Nkondo, elected chairman of the Committee of Ten at Viana in February, died in NAT’s Quatro detention centre, an alleged suicide. Over a decade later the ANC disclosed that between 1980 and 1984 at least 34 members of MK were executed as alleged spies, mutineers, or both.

“Restoring Legitimacy: The Kabwe Conference

“… Loyalists at Kabwe shouted down delegates from the Angolan camps who wanted to raise complaints related to the mutiny. No mention of the mutiny appeared in the public conference documents, and the Stuart Commission’s findings were never made known to ordinary members. Kabwe delegates adopted a detailed new code of conduct and set of rules and procedures for dealing with security suspects, but reform of the security department was deferred for later consideration. Removal from the NEC of national commissar Andrew Masondo, identified by the Stuart Commission as the person most directly responsible for the demoralization and abuse of cadres in the camps between 1981 and 1984, was the only acknowledgement of the grievances which had caused the crisis in Angola. …” (pp.133-137)

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From Document 120 in Gerhart and Glaser (eds.), From Protest to Challenge. A documentary History of South African Politics, 1882-1990. Volume 6, Challenge and Victory, 1980-1990 (op.cit).

“Memo from Moscow Camp detachment of Umkhonto we Sizwe, Angola , early 1985

“PREPARATION OF THE NATIONAL CONSULTATIVE CONFERENCE

“… Our movement is today faced with many petty problems which, because of wrong solutions, have ended up uncontrollable. …This has as a result created crisis and a series of complaints against the Security Department.

“The Picture is further clarified by the points here-under, noted [verbatim] from the meeting

a) Age limit in the Security Department: Some operatives are too young and socially inexperienced to handle this task. Comrades suggest inclusion of older comrades to guide and assist them.
b) Its structures should be clearly outlined, i.e.e Centralisation of Security, of Military Intelligence, and of personnel interdependently.
c) The Security Department works independently as a supreme body, is very negligent and also relaxed. It also has too much power.
d) The department is so isolated from the people thus rendering its work inefficient.
e) It should receive a sophisticated type of training so that its work can be geared towards home especially Military Intelligence. To infiltrate into the country so as to ensure survival of the fighters.
f) The manner in which they have conducted their work has resulted in humiliation of comrades.
9) Proper criterion should be made in selecting operatives since most do not adhere to conspiracy norms, thus endangering the interests of the movement. Security Chiefs use classified information to woo female comrades.

“There is also a problem as regards the general state of life here in Angola. Comrades have developed fear and other wrong concepts about our mission here in Angola.

Issues raised…
a)The rights of MK Soldiers should be outlined, moreso since they carry the brunt of this revolution. …
k) Viana-Camp is marked for being notorious i.e. harsh punishments and beatings with serious end-results some of these comrades work. …
n) Who issued orders that comrades smoking dagga [marijuana] should be killed. At times agents participate ion killing comrades e.g. (i) Beki (ii) Justice was condemning comrades in Maputo. …
t) False allegations about comrades being agents be accounted for and not recurring in future. …
v) The long stay of comrades in Angola, thereby rendering them useless, should be accounted for especially since Comrade Mzwai Piliso said it should be so (that certain comrades would not rot in the camps) only later to be confirmed by the boers [Afrikaners].

“This region also has a peculiar problem emanating from its military nature. Comrades problems of the front have thus been transferred to Angola.
i) Control and check should be applied to resolve the problem of embezzlement of funds by front commanders. …
iv) The movement has been failing to infiltrate comrades to appreciable levels; at a current time, using the same routes and personnel with the result that ambushes, arrests and even deaths have occurred.
v) Regionalism is so rife at some fronts that it hampers development. E.g. the Mozambican front was composed of people from the Dube area. [of Soweto] (friends at home) i.e. …even the Army Commander (Joe Modise) himself. …
vi) The Army Commander has failed in his work. He should infact account and if possible, be given another responsibility. Failure is mostly visible in the Botswana front.
vii) Front commanders should not use the idea of calibre when selecting front operatives with ill intentions.
viii) Comrades should not be sent to the front for personal whims  of the comrades commanders, e.g. Comrade Lefu was sent into the country to fetch the Army Commander’s clothes, he was later paralised and died in Tanzania. …

“AMANDLA!!! MATLA!!! [POWER]”   (pp.559-61)

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