External Mission: The ANC in Exile 1960-1990


By Stephen Ellis, Published in 2013



Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in February 1990 was one of the most memorable moments of recent decades. It came a few days after the unbanning of the African National Congress following thirty years during which the ANC had fought against the apartheid state. The ANC, founded a century ago and outlawed in 1960, transferred its headquarters abroad and opened what it termed an External Mission. Voted into office in 1994, the ANC today regards its armed struggle as the central plank of its legitimacy. External Mission is the first study of the ANC’s exile period based on a full range of sources in southern Africa and Europe, including not only the archives of the ANC itself but also of the Stasi, the East German ministry that trained the ANC’s own security personnel. It reveals that the decision to create a guerrilla army known as Umkhonto we Sizwe, which later became the ANC’s armed wing, was made not by the ANC but by its allies in the South African Communist Party, after negotiations with Chinese leader Mao Zedong. Many of the strategic decisions made and many of the political issues that arose during the course of the armed struggle had a lasting effect on South Africa, shaping its society even to the present day.

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