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Spear of the Nation

Umkhonto weSizwe: South Africa’s Liberation Army, 1960s–1990s (Ohio Short Histories of Africa)

Janet Cherry


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Umkhonto weSizwe, Spear of the Nation, was arguably the last of the great liberation armies of the twentieth century—but it never got to “march triumphant into Pretoria.” MK—as it was known—was the armed wing of the African National Congress, South Africa’s liberation movement, that challenged the South African apartheid government. A small group of revolutionaries committed to the seizure of power, MK discovered its principal members engaged in negotiated settlement with the enemy and was disbanded soon after.

The history of MK is one of paradox and contradiction, of successes and failures. In this short study, which draws widely on the personal experiences of—and commentary by—MK soldiers, Janet Cherry offers a new and nuanced account of the Spear of the Nation. She presents in broad outline the various stages of MK’s thirty-year history, considers the difficult strategic and moral problems the revolutionary army faced, and argues that its operations are likely to be remembered as a just war conducted with considerable restraint.

Praise For Spear of the Nation: Umkhonto weSizwe: South Africa’s Liberation Army, 1960s–1990s (Ohio Short Histories of Africa)

“Cherry … examines the ideological, moral, and strategic debates within the ANC and MK that led to its successes, failures, and remarkable restraint in comparison with those of other liberation armies…. Drawing on interviews with former MK members and testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Cherry analyzes the MK within the broader context of proxies in the war between communism and capitalism as it played out in Vietnam, Africa, and South America.”—Booklist

Ohio University Press, 9780821420263, 156pp.

Publication Date: August 6, 2012

About the Author

Janet Cherry is a human rights activist, researcher, and academic who teaches at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. She has written and published on the history of the liberation struggle for the South African Democratic Education Trust.