After fifty years of non-violent strategy, key members of the African National Congress realized they had exhausted their options for peaceful resistance and made the decision to adopt an armed struggle. Thus, in 1961, an armed wing, dubbed Umkhonto we Sizwe (meaning spear of the nation) was formed in conjunction with the South African Communist Party. The main purpose of Umkhonto we Sizwe was to serve as the voice of the people through sabotage and guerrilla warfare. Umkhonto we Sizwe sought to include all oppressed people- young and old, male and female, black and coloured. In order to spread their ideas to this broad audience and across all of southern Africa, the monthly journal Dawn was published.
Written personally by members of Umkhonto we Sizwe, Dawn outlined strategic guerrilla attacks within the Republic as well as military actions and tactics of the opposing government. Also included were editorials not only on the need for an armed struggle, but discussions of how the armed and non-violent struggles actually complemented and strengthened one another. Arguments were made for the release of political prisoners, and efforts to recruit new members were frequent, although sometimes more obvious than others.
Published from 1979 through 1988, Dawn served as a medium through which many influential characters in the fight for freedom reached Africans across the country. Upon delving into nine years of publications of Dawn, one can easily be overwhelmed by the sheer volume and power of the articles. Each volume includes editorials, military updates, short news stories, reports of struggles in other African countries, personal testimonies, and various other forms of writing concerning the struggle. In looking at Dawn from a critical perspective, I have decided to examine volumes from what I see as three key years: the first year of publication (1979), the last year of publication (1988), and the year at the height of publication, when the most volumes were produced (1983).
From each of these volumes, I have chosen articles that I feel can be compared on the same level, as propaganda material. From 1979, I have selected “When We Strike, They Shrink,” by Vusi Africa; from 1983, I have selected “Defend Our Future” by Mickey Modisane, and from 1988, “The National Executive Committee of the African National Congress Calls on All the People of South Africa.”
When looking at propaganda, there are three main aspects which need to be present: powerful, emotion evoking language or stories, a clear cut dualism between good and evil, and a strategy for action or call to arms. Throughout the articles I have chosen, in addition to Dawn as a body of works, these qualities are not only present, but are used with masterful skill to manipulate the reader to their liking. Through my analysis of these elements, I will demonstrate the strength of propaganda throughout the chosen articles, and ultimately Dawn as a journal.
The primary essential element of any effective form of propaganda is the establishment of a clear dichotomy- good/bad, right/wrong, black/white. Throughout all volumes of Dawn, in every published piece, these dualisms are evident. While the subject and its “enemy” vary between pieces and over time, there is always an underlying current of “us against them” in each article. In the works I’ve selected, the players are generally the same- Umkhonto we Sizwe and the oppressive white government.
Powerful language is used throughout all the articles to paint the white governing bodies in a very unflattering light. The use of terms like, “on the rampage” (Modisane, 1983: 1), “policies of unbridled terror” (Modisane, 1983, 2), “wrong and evildoers” (Africa, 1979: 3), and, “sham armies” (Africa, 1979, 2) portray the enemy as not only heartless, cruel and uncompromising, but also unstructured and lacking true convictions. Indeed, another common theme among all the articles is the depiction of the apartheid movement as weakening in the face of the ANC. In the ANC’s “Call to the People of South Africa,” the author writes that the Botha regime is “fighting for its survival” (2) and “desperate because its guns and its prisons have not affected [the ANC’s] will and determination to fight for freedom and justice” (ANC, 1988: 2).
Conversely, equally forceful writing is used to illustrate the noble intentions of the ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe. Depicted as proud and unflinching, members of Umkhonto we Sizwe and its supporters are spoken of being, “armed with guns and courage” (Africa, 1979: 3). The “sophistication and coordination” of Umkhonto we Sizwe are highlighted through discussions of its large number of attacks and acts of sabotage, in which their complimentary nature to the ANC’s purely beaurocratic efforts is stressed (Modisane, 1983: 3).
Parallel with the notion that the apartheid government is constantly losing power and influence, the ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe are always gaining strength. Modisane writes, “It is precisely the overwhelming support the African National Congress and it allies enjoy from the masses of our people that is driving our rulers into a frenzy” (1983: 2). Reading Dawn alone, one would think the apartheid government was constantly in fear of the ANC, and perpetually on the brink of disaster. Modisane writes, “The African National Congress is a nightmare which haunts and tortures the racist regime” (1983, 2). In reality, at the time Modisane’s article was published, the armed struggle was just beginning to gain notice from the government and the white population of South Africa. It was, however, by no means haunting nor torturing the racist regime.
Nevertheless, claims of the ANC inciting panic in the government are common throughout all articles in Dawn. Vusi Africa writes, “As the struggle for our birthrights gains momentum, and our telling blows leave visible sears on the face of ugly apartheid, panic unfolds in the Boer fascist lager” (1979: 1). By creating the sense that the government is constantly operating in fear of the ANC, Dawn subtly assures readers that there is very little risk involved in supporting their cause. As is evident above, references to birthrights and reclamation of the “usurped motherland” (Modisane, 1983: 1) are frequent, and persuade the audience to believe that supporting the ANC almost a civic duty.
This persuasion is illustrated in Vusi Africa’s “When we Strike, They Shrink,” in which he writes:
We belong to South Africa, the whole of it, not bits and pieces of semi-desert land. [Those who don’t support the ANC] figure that half a loaf is better than no bread. And we do no want half loaves when we know the whole loaf is ours (1979:2).
This idea that the soil itself belongs to South Africans, and they should not settle for anything less than the land they have a God-given birth right to serves to empower the reader by reiterating what is being taken from them. It would be very difficult for a person at the time to read powerful words like these and not feel an urge to fight for what is historically theirs. Whether or not they acted on these urges was less certain, thus the need for a call to arms at the end of each essay.
The concluding arguments in all of the propaganda in Dawn are by far the most emotionally charged and powerful writing throughout the entire journal. At the end of “The Executive Committee of the ANC’s Call on All the People of South Africa,” the author writes, “No man or woman of conscience can stand aside and watch as power hungry men prepare to turn our country into a wasteland” (ANC, 1988, 2). This is soon followed by the declaration:
Let all who truly value freedom, young and old, black and white, believer and non-believer, men and women, workers and professionals, rural and urban residents, unite in a union against the common enemy of all the people of our country- the Botha regime (ANC, 1988:3).
By encompassing all classes, races, religions, and backgrounds in this plea for support, the ANC is essentially leaving no excuse for the reader not to support them. Indeed, the only human being who could resist this petition is one “without a conscience,” which is not a commonly sought after virtue.
Though they span the entire course if its publication, the articles from Dawn which I examined didn’t vary considerably from one another in their basic arguments, structure, and motives. All three followed the form outlined above, stressing the strength of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the weakness of the opponent, and the need for support from all oppressed South Africans. While this repetitive nature may seem like a flaw to some, I feel it reflects the consistency and strength of the ideals of the ANC and its armed branch. Through the years, despite successes and failures, strides and setbacks, Umkhonto we Sizwe never retreated from its original ideology.
All things considered, Umkhonto we Sizwe’s Dawn is an excellent example of propaganda. Careful consideration of its audience is evident in the language used both to set up the opposition between the white apartheid regime and “the masses” and in discussing the motives and actions of each. By focusing on the power struggles between the two extremes, the authors portray the ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe as very strong and ideologically sound through the poor depiction of the government. This indirect form of political rallying is very effective in this situation, and is intended to inspire the reader to take action. If this indirect method doesn’t fully persuade, then the emotionally charged pleas at the end of each piece will. By using key words that pull the heart strings, like freedom, pride, birthright, and conscience, the reader is compelled to support the ANC’s cause, and may even feel guilty or ashamed if they do not.
I would argue that the propaganda in Dawn was most important and influential aspect. Its ability to reach a large sector of the previously hard to access population and inform them on a monthly basis was invaluable in the fight for freedom as well as the turn to arms. Not only did its authors use the forum to educate and inform the audience of Umkhonto we Sizwe’s actions and motives, but also to validate them in a way that was very much needed. At the same time, it served as a recruitment tool for those not closely associated with the struggle and a morale booster for its supporters. Without the publication of Dawn and its propaganda, the Umkhonto we Sizwe and the armed struggle as we knew it would have been drastically different, and, I would argue, dramatically less effective.