Training and Deployment at Novo Catengue and the Diaries of Jack Simons, 1977–1979

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This article examines training and deployment of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) cadres in the late 1970s at Novo Catengue, the largest African National Congress (ANC) military training camp in Angola. This camp occupies an important space in the polarised literature on the liberation struggle. Sympathetic struggle histories identify Novo Catengue as a model camp, which demonstrated the ANC's ability to incorporate, train, and deploy a new generation of cadres, while critical histories of the struggle portray Novo Catengue as an example of the expansion of SACP control over the ANC. A unique set of diaries kept by Jack Simons, head of political education at Novo Catengue, allow for an alternative reading of the history of this camp, one that transcends the competing narratives of the armed struggle through a detailed documentation of everyday life. When read for details about training and deployment, a much more complex picture of relations within the camp emerges. Arguments over the training programme reflected continuing uncertainties about the purpose of MK and the strategic direction of the armed struggle; indiscriminate recruitment left a sizeable residual population of cadres who were unsuitable for deployment or further training; and disputes over the training programme sublimated contests between Cuban staff, ANC leaders and the male rank-and-file over sexual access to female cadres. Given the centrality of Novo Catengue in diametrically opposed histories of the armed struggle, this alternative vision of everyday life there allows us to question many of the assumptions based on earlier interpretations of its significance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1325-1342
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Southern African Studies
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2014, © 2014 The Editorial Board of the Journal of Southern African Studies.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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