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on 16 July 2014
If like me you grew up taking an interest in the anti-apartheid struggle from a distance, then you will have realised that quite a lot of action took place in London (where the Anti-Apartheid movement had its HQ) and in Angola, where the ANC's military wing, the MK, had its training camps. But of course the ANC's actual political and military leaderships were in Lusaka, in Zambia, and the story of their uncomfortable 30-year exile has never been properly told before.
Enter Hugh Macmillan, a professional historian and long-time resident of Lusaka, who has been able to consult files and interview participants, and generally to write a serious and detailed history of the ANC's Lusaka years, in all their confusion and uncertainty. The picture that emerges, fairly, I think, is of an exile movement far from home, cut off from communication and even news about its own country, perennially short of money, menaced with attacks and assassinations, and having to constantly worry about whether and for how long the Zambians would continue to tolerate them. (One of the unexpected pleasures of the book is a full and rounded portrait of Kenneth Kaunda, drawing in part of official Zambian documents and the recollections of his colleagues.)
It is a serious history though, and not light reading. Moreover, the understandable focus on documentary material means that critical reports on the organisation internal workings (which the ANC was the only liberation movement to ever commission) play perhaps a larger role in the story than is really merited. And whilst there is a lot of administrative detail, I would have been interested to know much more about the daily workings of the organisation, especially its military side. How do you actually go about planning a sabotage campaign, infiltrating people, choosing targets etc? That will have to wait for another book.
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