THE BERLIN MOOT – A conference pioneering new approaches to peace: 17-18 April in Berlin

THE BERLIN MOOT: A peace conference on 17-18 April

1 Jan 2008

The ANC and South Africa’s Negotiated Transition to Democracy and Peace

Transitions Series No. 2

The decision to establish the military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK-Spear of the Nation, also known as Umkhonto), was a somewhat complex process. It was a decision that involved a major departure in the policy and practice of the organisation. Many of the leaders of the ANC and its allied organisations questioned whether they had really exhausted the limits of non-violent action. Above all, it was a decision taken in conditions where the organisations were prohibited from operating peacefully.


Mac Maharaj


Véronique Dudouet, David Bloomfield


The ANC and its allied Congresses were accustomed to open policy-making processes, but the decision to turn to violence could not follow such a path. The idea was first put to the ANC working committee in June 1961, where it was rejected. At a subsequent meeting, Mandela once more raised the matter. This time, it was accepted. The proposal was then taken up at the level of the National Executive Committee (NEC), which met clandestinely under the chairmanship of Chief Albert Luthuli, the President of the ANC. The meeting agreed to authorise Nelson Mandela to establish a military formation, MK. The following night, the NEC met with the leadership of the other Congresses, informed them of its decision, and jointly discussed the proposal. They agreed to it, but emphasised that each organisation would continue to exist and campaign as a political organisation. This would apply also in the case of the ANC, which had been declared illegal by the apartheid regime.

About this Publication Series

This case study is one of a series produced by participants in an ongoing Berghof research project on transitions from violence to peace. The project’s overall aim is to learn from the experience of those in resistance or liberation movements who have used violence in their struggle but have also engaged politically during the conflict and in any peace process. Recent experience around the world has demonstrated that reaching political settlement in protracted social conflict always eventually needs the involvement of such movements. Our aim here is to discover how, from a non-state perspective, such political development is handled, what is the relationship between political and military strategies and tactics, and to learn more about how such movements (often sweepingly and simplistically bundled under the label of non-state armed groups) contribute to the transformation of conflict and to peacemaking. We can then use that experiential knowledge (1) to offer support to other movements who might be considering such a shift of strategy, and (2) to help other actors (states and international) to understand more clearly how to engage meaningfully with such movements to bring about political progress and peaceful settlement.

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