For the Sake of Our Lives: Guidelines for the creation of people's self- defence units

For the Sake of Our Lives: Guidelines for the creation of people's self- defence units

Cronin, J. (1991). For the Sake of Our Lives: Guidelines for the creation of people's self- defence units. Paper presented at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, Seminar No. 2, 24 April.


Presenter: Jeremy Cronin

Jeremy Cronin is a senior member of the South African Communist Party.

Date: 24 April 1991

Venue: University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa


  • In the wake of the ugly violence unleashed against our people by security forces, vigilante groups and hit squads, it is imperative that our liberation movement takes responsibility for guiding and building peoples' self-defence units.

    In the past our attempts to defend ourselves have been spontaneous and sometimes poorly planned, and lacking in discipline. What we need is an organised and disciplined force, guided by political leadership, which will serve both to protect the community and ensure law and order.

  • This task is urgent and should be given top priority by the ANC and our allies.

    The sinister onslaught on our movement and on the people is an attempt by the regime to divide our people, weaken our movement and sow suspicion and confusion. Failure to find ways of protecting our people will inevitably lead to a loss of confidence in the ANC and the liberation movement. There is also the danger of widespread demoralisation among the masses if no solution is found.

    One of the aims of the reactionary forces is precisely to intimidate the masses and eliminate leading activists.

  • A political solution to this problem must be sought. Initiatives such as the talks with Inkatha are extremely important. Campaigns at local and trade union levels to improve understanding between township communities and hostel dwellers are imperative.

    Political pressure on the regime, side by side with well-documented exposures of the role of the security forces, and mass protests throughout the country, are means through which we can force the government to curb the killers.

    But side by side with these political endeavours, we must build organisational structures that can protect the lives and homes of the people. The building of strong ANC and SACP branches, trade unions, civic associations, youth and women's organisations and street committees are the foundation of our people's unity and power.

    No matter how strongly we develop these democratic structures, however, in the current climate of violent assault we need to establish specialised, broadly-based people's self-defence structures.

    These should embrace all our people's political, social and cultural organisations irrespective of ideological differences and political affiliation. In other words, defence units should not be affiliated to any political party or movement but be a protective force which serves the community as a whole.

  • We need a two-pronged strategy:

    • a political offensive for peace and unity among the people based on strong political organisation; and
    • self-defence structures to protect our people.
  • Self-defence structures need, by definition, to be paramilitary. They differ from all the other forms of organisation referred to, including street committees.

    They must be tightly structured to repulse aggression and ensure law and order; they need a specific command and control system; their members must be trained and have a high degree of discipline.

  • At present, in the light of the Groote Schuur and Pretoria Minutes, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) alone cannot undertake the task of our people's defence, although this is a right we need to forcefully demand and struggle for.

    The August 6 ceasefire does not neutralise MK. It has an important role to play. MK cadres, particularly ex-prisoners and those due to return from exile, must play a leading and active role in the establishment of the defence structures.

  • As we proceed to establish defence units so we must raise the demand for the right of self-protection.

    Government Ministers, including De Klerk and Vlok allow the Inkatha bands to carry so-called "cultural" weapons. What is more they allow the AWB to organise military training camps and concede to them the right of "self-protection" as long as, in Vlok's words, their commandos "do not attack anyone".

    Our people, who are overwhelmingly the victims of aggression, must demand the right of self-protection too. It is a demand the regime will find extremely difficult to deny and by pressing energetically ahead with a programme of establishing defence units we will make it impossible for the authorities to prevent their growth.

  • Our people have the moral right to state: "We do not intend to attack anybody but we demand the right to protect our lives, our families, our homes and communities. We are forced to create defence units for the sake of our lives".

    Clearly we cannot rely on the apartheid police and army for protection. When they are not attacking the people they are encouraging, siding with and arming the ultra-right forces, warlords and vigilantes. The impression is also very strong that the sinister hit squads are recruited from their ranks. If we are to protect our lives then we must rely on our own strength, organisation and resources.

  • Our strength is in our numbers but it must be organised strength. A group of 200 armed thugs cannot possible overcome a township of 20 000 if the people are prepared, united and determined.

  • In the past there were some examples of township or shantytown inhabitants setting up loosely-formed defence units. These often degenerated into sectarian or personal power-bases and sometimes were used as a cover for criminal activities. To guard against this, defence units must have firm political direction and be rooted amongst the communities they serve.

  • Considerable experience has been acquired from township and rural resistance. This must be utilised to develop the best way of organising defence structures. We need to collect such contributions, organise group discussions and workshops, etc. to learn and generalise from the practical experiences.

    This booklet is a contribution to ongoing discussions. Theory must grow out of practice and in turn guide practice.

  • In forming defence structures there are various elements and tasks we will have to tackle. Among these are:

    • Organisation
    • Structure
    • Street defence system
    • Recruitment
    • Training
    • Weapons
    • Communications
    • Intelligence
    • Observation
    • Barricades and fortifications
    • First Aid
    • Auxiliaries (support groups)
    • Work with hostile forces
    • Tactics and the operational plan


  • The creation of a defence system for a township, shantytown, rural district or other such area should first be discussed with local organisations. Involved in these consultations should be ANC and SACP branches, civic associations, local trade union structures, women and youth groups, and other formations irrespective of ideological or political affiliation.

    As broad a spectrum of groupings as possible should be involved. There should be no intention of setting the defence units up as "armies" of any political grouping or individual. This is undesirable and potentially dangerous – it is a prescription for "Lebanonising" a conflict.

    The defence units are created for the purpose of protecting the community. But this does not mean that the ANC and its allies should not initiate and guide the process.

  • Having agreed on a common approach the local organisations should next approach the community at large in order to explain the need for a local defence system and ensure their understanding and acceptance. Time and attention must be given to this important process. It is pointless to proceed unless the people are fully behind the idea.

  • Once agreement has been reached by the community, the local organisations should appoint or elect a defence committee. It is probably preferable that the committee should be appointed because popular individuals do not necessarily make the best commanders but such appointments should arise out of careful consultation.

    The committee should be composed of reliable and decisive people who have the ability to organise and command without being dictatorial. Comrades with military skills, such as MK cadres or reliable ex-policemen, could be likely candidates for key positions.

  • The committee and the entire self-defence structure serves the community and the peoples' organisations and is subservient to them. This principle must be made perfectly clear to all members of the self-defence structures and to the people.

  • Whether the committee is appointed or elected, the popular organisations should have the right to replace anyone on the committee who proves to be unsatisfactory or even to replace the entire committee if need be.

  • But when the community is under attack or in danger, all must obey the defence committee's orders. This is not the time to attempt to replace members of the committee; that must be done before the danger arises, or after it is over.


  • Township Defence Force (TDF)

    To begin with, we should concentrate on creating defence structures at the township level. This will give us a chance to test and experiment with the appropriate structures. This booklet will concentrate on a model for a Township Defence Force (TDF). (We will need to elaborate models for both urban and rural localities, for squatter camps and possibly for industrial zones. There is the need for defence structures on mine compounds. NUM have established these at some mine hostels and important lessons have been learnt. There is also the need to elaborate some form of protection on the trains, at taxi ranks and in city centres where a system of patrolling is required).

    For the purpose of this booklet we will elaborate on a structure for an urban township, taking a population size of 20 000 inhabitants as our demonstration model.

  • Township Defence Committee (TDC)

    The TDC must be headed by a commander who works with a deputy (second in command or 2iC) and about eight others. These head the various defence formations and structures.

    On the committee will be the company commanders plus those responsible for the various specialist responsibilities:
    chiefs of communications; intelligence; political instruction, ordinance/logistics (for organisation of weapons and materials). Other portfolios could be medical and engineering (construction of barricades/defence works).

    The TDC must have a permanent headquarters (HQ) – with alternative workplaces for reasons of security. Security must be provided to ensure the safety of the TDC and its HQ. For this purpose, a security section under the TDC's deputy commander should be created.

    The TDC must be linked to all subordinate structures by an efficient and reliable means of communication.

  • Company Formations

    Immediately under the defence committee are the company formations. These should be organised along paramilitary lines and are probably the most manageable units for the defence of a township of about 20 000 inhabitants.

    Because of the defensive aspect of the tasks and the paramilitary nature of the structures the company and subordinate formations will be larger than found in a regular army. Each company should consist of about 500 volunteers. Four companies totalling 2 000 volunteers would make up the full complement of the TDF.

    Each company would be under the charge of a company commander and a deputy company commander. (It will take time for the companies to reach full strength. The numbers involved will depend on the success of the recruitment drive. It might be necessary to first build one company and then proceed to develop additional ones. Alternatively companies could be started simultaneously and gradually built to full strength. The strength of platoons and sections, referred to below, will therefore depend on the success of recruitment. If there are not enough recruits then the figures suggested could be halved without interfering with the structural arrangement).

  • Platoons

    A platoon would consist of 100 volunteers, under a platoon commander and deputy. Five platoons make up a company.

  • Sections

    A section would consist of 20 volunteers, under a section leader and deputy. Five sections make up a platoon. The section is the basic unit of the defence force.

Street Defence Systems

  • There is a variety of ways in which the township could be defended. The most rational system would be to give each unit a specific area of responsibility which it would protect with the co-operation of the residents of that area. Such a system could be referred to as a "street defence system".

    Units could move out of their allotted defence sectors and take up different positions if need be. This would depend on tactical considerations. At present we will simply outline the basic defence sectors of the units.

  • Each section is responsible for the defence of a single street – from one intersection to the next.

  • Five sections (one platoon) defend a block of five streets.

  • Five platoons (one company) defend a block of 25 streets.

  • Four companies should cover the entire township. If this is too few, additional companies can be established.

  • During the period before full strength has been achieved one section could be responsible for defending two or more streets.

  • The residents of the respective streets fall under the protection of the appropriate sections. They will be organised on a voluntary basis in an auxiliary or support capacity for the defence of their street and homes and to render assistance to the section. This support should be organised with the assistance of the street committees where these exist or through the popular organisations.

    Every inhabitant, young and old, has a role to play and should be organised. (For the tasks of these auxiliary forces see section 12).


  • Joining the defence force must be on a voluntary basis. A lively and active recruitment drive must be launched to popularise the need for joining up.

    As the first units are formed and begin to train and drill in uniform much excitement and enthusiasm will be generated and the groundswell to join will increase.

    Membership should be open to able-bodied adults, both men and women. The community must set a minimum age limit – probably 18 or 16. Youths under the age limit and others of all ages can be deployed in the auxiliary forces.

  • Volunteers must be carefully selected. Criminals and other unreliable elements must be excluded until they reform and prove their reliability.

  • Would-be recruits must be screened and checked by the street committees and popular organisations to prevent infiltration by impimpis. If no street committees exist, a system of neighbourhood checking must be instituted. Comrades trained with the ANC's security organ should help set up this screening system.

  • Recruits must accept the requirements of discipline and readiness to obey orders. They must be prepared to undergo physical and other training. They must be ready to give their time and service and understand the need for punctuality. Above all, they must understand that they are serving the community.

    The wearing of uniforms, drilling in formation and political education will build the required discipline and morale.

  • Those who display the best qualities are appointed to leadership positions.


  • There will need to be a basic training programme for all volunteers and a specialised training programme for commanders and those dealing with specialised tasks such as communications, intelligence, etc.

    Instructors will need to be appointed and in most cases given some training guides and assistance. Commanders and deputies from section, platoon and company levels will need to be given some initial training slightly in advance of their units so they in turn can act as instructors.

  • Physical Fitness

    Volunteers need to be physically fit. Light physical training is best conducted at the section level.

    Time will be a constraint, however, especially for those going off to work early and returning home late. Where possible the section should exercise as a unit. Ten minutes light exercise followed by a twenty minute-daily jog is sufficient.

    If the section can only exercise together on the weekend then individuals should be encouraged to exercise on their own on a daily basis. The joint weekend run can be increased to 30 minutes and is strongly recommended. As well as developing strength and stamina the joint run (or toyi-toyi) will develop a collective spirit.

    A longer run is not recommended because time on the weekends will be needed for other training and activity.

  • Unarmed Self-Defence

    The joining of martial arts classes like karate should be encouraged. Those with such skills should be utilised to teach the basic exercises to the others ("each one teach one").

  • Drilling time on weekends should be allotted to marching and drilling in formations from section to platoon and finally to company level.

    Units will have to be trained to speedily assemble ("fall in") and to rapidly move in formation from one point to another. They must become used to rapid "on the double" movement.

    Drilling is the basis of organised and disciplined manoeuvreability. It is also the way of conditioning the volunteers to respond to commands as a formation. The units must be trained to immediately respond to various signals and alarms. The use of whistles should be developed to convey certain commands.

    For example, three blasts of a whistle could be the order for a section to assemble at a particular point in their street. There needs to be a signal that commands the sections to assemble in their platoon formations and another which brings the entire company together at a particular assembly point.

    There needs to be commands which order sections to take up defence positions in their streets and others which speedily bring the platoons and even companies to specific points of impending attacks.

    There needs to be signals for advance and retreat and of course an alarm which mobilises the entire township into a state of battle readiness.

    All these signals and manoeuvres must be practised until perfection is achieved.

  • Political Instruction

    At least one evening class should be conducted every week. Initial lectures should deal with the reasons for self-defence and the role of the TDF. The syllabus should deal with the national liberation struggle, the current political situation, strategy and tactics, etc.

  • Weaponry
    • Firearms

      A political campaign will have to be waged for the arming of the self-defence units. All avenues need to be explored, including the setting up of licensed security organisations. Licensed weapons can be obtained.

      Funds will have to be collected on a voluntary basis from the community. Once even a few firearms have been obtained firearms training can begin. This should be handled by MK cadres and sympathetic township police.

      For initial training purposes airguns should be used. Air rifles and pistols (the pellet gun type) can be bought for about R200 each. The advantage is that no licence is required and they are an excellent, cheap and safe way for teaching people how to aim and shoot correctly. A suitable practice range needs to be organised.

    • Rudimentary weapons

      While everything must be done to adequately arm the defence units we should not scorn the use of rudimentary weapons. From early times people have used clubs and stones, catapults and spears for hunting and self-defence. The martial arts illustrate how formidable simple weapons can be.

      A history of township and rural resistance shows that rudimentary weapons can be effectively used. The Vietnamese peasants used rudimentary weapons extremely effectively against the mighty American invaders (for example traps of sharpened bamboo, spikes, etc).

      In countries like El Salvador and Nicaragua home-made weapons have been used on a mass scale in the struggle against dictatorship (eg. petrol bombs, home-made hand-grenades, dynamite). Our people must be encouraged to make home-made weaponry purely for defensive purposes.

      We need to face the fact that it is going to be a problem to obtain the necessary firearms. Until we do, we will simply have to make do with home-made weaponry. In a country like South Africa, however, there are plenty of sophisticated means of protection that can be legally purchased – among them gas guns and sprays. Crossbows and bow-and-arrow sets can also be bought without a licence. Factory and engineering workers have the skills and the equipment to manufacture rudimentary weapons.

      Volunteers who do not have firearms should at least be equipped with two stout sticks, clubs or iron bars and a home-made shield. With training these can be utilised in a formidable way for self-defence against assailants armed with rudimentary weapons.

      A section or platoon of determined volunteers, acting in unison, can offer stiff resistance. Would-be aggressors will think twice before advancing on a company of 500 trained volunteers beating their shields with the sticks and displaying a militant attitude. In fact in many countries this is how the police are equipped for riot control.

      Neither should we scorn the use of missiles such as stones. We have seen how stone-throwers can put even the police to flight. A platoon or section of volunteers throwing stones on command and in unison can disrupt and put to flight a hostile attacking force.

      If a few armed volunteers are reinforced by units hurling stones and other missiles, such as petrol bombs, a very strong defence can be put up. This means that training should be conducted to improve the throwing ability of the volunteers.

      The auxiliary forces, township youth etc. need to be given such training as well. In this way any hostile force can be met by a sustained hail of missiles which will make it impossible for them to advance and can actually put them to flight. The auxiliary forces can be given the task of manufacturing home-made weapons and stockpiling reserves of missiles. Work and storage places need to be organised for this purpose and the weapons safely hidden.

      The ordinance/logistics chief is responsible for the acquisition, manufacture and safe storage of all weapons and material. For this purpose he will need a small staff of assistants. They will issue instructions to all units and auxiliaries in this respect.

      We can make up for our shortage of firearms by the well-organised use of rudimentary weapons. When these are used by highly manoeuvreable battle formations and groups, following well prepared plans and employing flexible tactics, utilising a barricades system and other fortifications, and reinforced by the whole population acting as an auxiliary force, the township will be turned into a hornet's nest for the aggressor.

      As the defence units become better-equipped with modern firearms, so their defence capacity will be increased. The prior use of rudimentary weapons will have served as useful training and practice apart from their defence capacity.

  • Training Timetable

    A timetable for training might look like this:

    • Physical Fitness – 30 minutes first thing every morning plus a longer group run on weekends;
    • Politics – evening class once a week;
    • Drilling – two to three hours on the weekend;
    • Firearms – one to two hours on the weekend. Classes should not be too large and are therefore best conducted at section level (that is for 20 volunteers).


  • Speedy and reliable communications are vital. An army, police force or any serious organisation cannot manage without them. The organisation of communications will make the TDF extremely effective.

  • Communications (comms) must be controlled by the TDC. This command must have at its fingertips a system of communications which keeps it in close touch with the political organisations and leaders and enables it to issue orders as quickly as possible to all units and to the population as a whole.

    It also needs to receive instant reports on the unfolding situation. This calls for the creation of a system under the command of the committee's communications chief.

  • The comms chief needs a special comms unit of six to ten members, based near the TDC Headquarters. This unit should have a system of comms which includes the use of telephones, walkie-talkies, runners (messengers) and possibly even citizen band radios (CBs) or other forms of two-way radio. These will be used according to the situation.

    Walkie-talkies are an efficient and reliable means of communication and as many as are required should be purchased.

    Every effort should be made to set up a two-way radio system – the most powerful and efficient means of communicating, although more expensive than walkie-talkies. Vehicles and bicycles can be used by the messengers.

    The comms unit is also responsible for manning an alarm system (siren; gong; bugle) to alert the township of impending attack and announcing the "all clear".

  • The comms unit must be able to put the TDC into speedy contact with the various company commanders and through them with the platoon and section leaders. The TDC should be in contact with company commanders via radio or walkie-talkies. And company commanders should in their turn be in contact with platoon commanders by walkie-talkies. (This would mean a total of over 20 walkie-talkies). Where there are insufficient walkie-talkies to go around, platoon commanders can keep in touch with section leaders by the use of runners and the use of signals (whistles, flashing lights, etc.).

  • There must also be various observation posts (Ops) strategically placed to give advance warning of the movement of hostile forces. Some of these Ops might even be located outside the township's boundaries. The Ops must be linked to the TDC using either walkie-talkies or telephone. Messengers using motor cars or bicycles can provide back-up.

  • The use of walkie-talkie, telephones, and radio requires that code terms be used for all communications.


  • Intelligence is the collecting of information about hostile forces so we have advance warning of any attack being planned. To know the enemy's plans is to be forewarned and therefore forearmed. There is no better method of learning the enemy's plans than having your own agent working in his midst.

  • The intelligence chief needs a small staff of four to six comrades. They must continuously collect information about how hostile forces work.

  • This intelligence unit is particularly concerned to recruit individuals who are associated in some way with the hostile forces. These could be disaffected members of such groups who are prepared to assist the people. Or they could be potentially sympathetic service staff working as typists, waiters, cleaners, and night-watchmen at establishments run by hostile forces.

  • Such individuals are called agents. They are only recruited after they have been studied and considered reliable. Their identities must be kept secret. Special ways of communicating with them must be developed so that they do not become exposed. They must be given special guidance about how to obtain useful information and how to speedily report to whoever is handling them. It is important to obtain copies of written documents if possible, but useful information is often picked up through overhearing loose talk or by observation.

  • Let us suppose that there is a hostel which is used to plan and launch attacks on the township. Enquiries must be made about the individuals living there. Reliable people must be found and developed as agents. They should then work in such a way as to gain the trust of those planning attacks.

  • It is also possible to select a comrade who is given the task of joining the hostile forces or allowing himself or herself to be recruited by them. Such an individual works under cover to penetrate the opposing force and win their confidence.

  • In this manner the Intelligence Chief is able to develop a network of agents connected with all hostile forces and centres. These informants will not know the identities of others working in this way. It is important to have a variety of sources so that their information can be cross-checked. In this way we can check what is reliable and what might be false or deliberately misleading.


  • In order to be ready for any attack it is necessary to keep the hostile force under observation. Whereas intelligence is obtaining information from within the hostile force, observation is keeping a watch for any threatening behaviour before an attack is launched. In this way early warning of any intended attack can be gained, giving time for the defence forces to be put on full alert.

  • For this purpose observation should be kept of all hostile establishments and places where a force might assemble for an attack.

  • Observation should also be maintained on all routes along which an attacking force would be expected to move.

  • Such places are called Observation Posts (Ops). One or two people can man these posts. Those manning the OP should be hidden from view or have a natural reason for being in the position. They must have a reliable means of communication with the TDC or their units.

  • An OP could simply be a house, shop or petrol station opposite or near an establishment where hostile forces live, work or assemble. The occupant, owner or assistant/attendant keeps watch and reports any suspicious movement.

  • It is necessary to have Ops near the entrances to the township. These could be houses which command a good view. Manning the OP should be the responsibility of the section or platoon in that area. Volunteers from the auxiliary forces can be given the task.

  • High ground should be used where possible. An OP could be set up on a hill giving a commanding view of the terrain.

  • A system of neighbourhood or street watch must be worked out to sound the alert if any suspicious movements are detected. Such movements might be the appearance of suspicious strangers, vehicles, behaviour, etc. A report must be made to the local section or platoon command which has the responsibility to immediately investigate and take action.

  • In Zimbabwe the guerrillas found that young boys whom they called "Mujibas" were extremely useful for observing and reporting on the enemy's movements.

Barricades and fortification

  • A careful study must be made of the area to be defended and the surrounding terrain. Wooded areas, koppies, streams, dongas and ditches must be studied to see how they can be incorporated into the fortifications.

    This is a job for the expert eye of MK comrades. They will have to decide how best to improve the defence of the township by the building of barricades and fortifications. People with engineering and construction experience can also give valuable advice.

  • Of course barricades will not be a permanent feature. But a plan must be worked out in advance so that barricades and other fortifications can be speedily put up at strategic points when the moment arrives.

  • Barricades will be put up on the main routes into the township and particularly along the most likely routes of attack. They must be more formidably built than communities have done in the past. This means that materials to build strong barricades must be brought into the township and safely stored well in advance of impending danger.

    Scrap iron, wrecked vehicles, timber, old furniture as well as rocks and tyres are the ingredients for barricades. But the barricades can be strengthened by digging up the road and building a deep trench in front of it.

    Steel cables could be strung across the road in front of the barricade. Ditches can be dug alongside the road in front of the barricade. Coils of razor wire or barbed wire can be extremely useful. These should be bought and stored and can be speedily erected along routes and passages at the first sign of danger.

    The barricade becomes a strong point and is manned by defence units. An entire platoon might be deployed to defend a strategic barricade with auxiliary forces in reserve. On the flanks of the barricades in specially fortified houses are sections ready to hold the position.

    Tucked away in adjoining streets are masses of auxiliaries ready to hurl missiles over the houses at the advancing aggressors. If the attackers are about to overcome the barricade it is set alight and an orderly retreat takes place to the next line of defence.

  • Certain houses and buildings in strategic positions along likely routes of attack must be fortified. The best way of doing this is by using sand bags. These can be prepared well in advance.

    When there is an impending attack the sandbags are put into position at doors and windows and used to reinforce the walls. Sandbags have a great capacity to absorb shock waves from bomb blasts and to protect defenders from bullets. They also prevent fire from spreading and can be cut open and used to extinguish fire.

    Trenches should be dug outside these houses and if possible dug-outs in which defenders can take shelter and use as a means of escape. Strong netting or wire mesh should be hung over the windows of such places. These give protection against hand-grenades or other missiles thrown by the attackers.

  • Places used as command centres for the TDC and comms must be fortified; so should schools and halls used for first aid purposes or to shelter young children and the aged.

  • Barricades and fortified positions must be designed so they conform to a plan for sectoral and area defence. The defenders must know which areas to hold at all costs and which points can be abandoned at crucial moments.

  • The auxiliary forces must be utilised to help in the collection and storage of materials and for the speedy erection of the barricades and fortifications. Some fortifications may be permanent fixtures at key points and in strategic houses.

First Aid

  • Medical and first aid units must be set up. These should be headed by a doctor. Efforts should be made to encourage doctors and nurses to join on a strictly voluntary basis. If there are not enough medical personnel in the township then efforts must be made to get assistance from comrades in nearby towns.

    The TDC should investigate whether first aid organisations such as St John's Ambulance and the Red Cross run local classes. If they do, members of the auxiliary forces should attend.

  • First aid stations must be established in the township. Public places such as clinics, schools and township halls can be used. Medical equipment and supplies must be collected and stored as well as supplies of fresh water.

  • Classes in first aid should be conducted so that as many people as possible learn the rudiments of dealing with casualties. Auxiliary forces have an important role to play in this area of work.

    Stretcher bearers must be organised to evacuate the wounded to places of safety. Vehicles must be on hand to rush the seriously injured to hospital.

  • Methods and antidotes for dealing with problems such as teargas, burns, bleeding and shock must be popularised. Our artists should produce posters popularising these methods.


  • These are the ordinary township residents, young and old, who are mobilised to give voluntary support to the defence units. They should be organised at the street level mainly in support of sections and platoons. But the various other structures of the defence formation will use auxiliary support as well.

  • There have been numerous references to tasks that auxiliaries can perform. These include:

    • Building barricades and fortifications
    • Manufacturing home-made weapons
    • Acting as observers, look-outs, runners and messengers
    • Helping with first aid, stretcher-bearing, etc.
    • Collecting information and performing neighbourhood-watch duties
    • Fire-fighting
    • As reinforcement and support in street fighting
    • As decoy groups against hostile forces
    • Collecting and storing water
  • Ways will have to be found as to how best to structure the auxiliaries. They must be properly organised into units of their own which fall under the command and control of a particular section of the defence force. Discipline must prevail and auxiliaries must be given the necessary training.

    Everyone in the township has some role to play and the mobilisation of auxiliaries is the way to turn the township into a powerful base for people's self-defence. In fact this is the way to turn the self-defence structures into a real peoples' militia.

Work with Hostile Forces

  • The possibility of influencing hostile elements should never be discounted. No effort must be spared in educating, influencing and winning over misguided individuals to the peoples' side.

  • Very often members of vigilante groups have been forced against their will to participate in attacks against the people. Others have taken up arms out of ignorance and fear and because they have been manipulated by unscrupulous leaders.

    Sometimes they have joined in the attacks because they genuinely fear that township people wish to kill them.

  • An organised and continuous effort must be made to speak to such individuals. They must be shown that they are not despised and that we wish to help them. They are often the most exploited members of society and live in dreadful conditions in the hostels. Cut off from township life, from their families in distant rural areas, they live a lonely and often miserable existence.

    Like all other oppressed sectors, they are victims of the apartheid system. Winning them over is possible and far better than fighting it out with them in the streets. By neutralising them we will be taking one of the most potent weapons from the enemy's arsenal.

  • In the same way we must concentrate on winning over to our side black soldiers and police. By patient effort and education they too can be influenced.

    Many of them live amongst the people and are sympathetic to the suffering, particularly when they see how this stems from the behaviour of the white security forces. Most black policemen and soldiers see their jobs as simply a way of earning a living. They suffer from racial discrimination and abuse. They must be shown that they need not fear the people if they do not abuse their positions.

    During the violent onslaught unleashed on the Reef townships in September 1990, many black policemen came to identify with the people. This was because they saw how blatantly the white police sided with the aggressors and because their own families were victims of the attacks.

    It is possible to democratise the township police. This is a vital aspect of turning our residential areas into secure and safe zones. We have the power to win over black soldiers and police and turn them into friends of the people.

  • Nor must we spare any effort in influencing white soldiers and police. We have seen important changes taking place in white society over recent years that makes this possible. As more and more whites are won over to the cause of democracy, equality and justice so the racist elements become weaker, isolated and increasingly exposed.

    Powerful forces are growing in our country to force the police to alter their ways. Those soldiers and police who persist with their racist brutality, however, will find that when they strike the people they strike a rock.

  • It will be the responsibility of the political and civic organisations to carry out the educational tasks of neutralising and winning over hostile forces.

    The defence units, however, must demonstrate tact and a desire for peace and also be involved in settling disputes and patiently winning over our potential adversaries.

Tactics and the Operational Plan

  • Tactics are the different methods and ruses used between opposing forces. For example, a boxer might use constant left jabs to wear his opponent down and at the right moment decide to connect with a devastating right hook. In football high crosses into the penalty area are used to give strikers the chance to get a shot at the goal.

    Just as there are various tactics in sporting games so there are tactics in war situations.

  • There are different tactics for defence as there are for attack. Since we are the defenders we must make a careful study and analysis of the tactics used by the hostile forces. Battle tactics, just as in sport, are used within the context of an overall plan or strategy. This means being well aware of an overall situation – the operational situation.

    What are the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents? Where are they located? What assistance are they being given? What methods are they using? What weapons do they have and what is the state of their morale? How do our forces compare to theirs? How can we use the terrain to our advantage? Understanding the situation enables us to decide what tactics we should employ.

    This is our operational plan and it changes from time to time just as the overall strategy for a particular football or boxing match might.

  • Since we are watching and observing every movement of our opponents and getting reports about their plans we should not be caught by a surprise attack.

  • We have noticed for example that they generally prefer to attack as one solid body and usually do so from one or at the most two directions. But we must keep a sharp watch out to see if they are assembling at other points and intend to attack from various directions.

  • They invariably get assistance so we must watch out to see what forces are assisting them and whether vehicles are accompanying them. The presence of vehicles will indicate whether they intend to enter the township by the roads or side lanes.

  • Most important is to observe the size of the attacking force and what weapons are being carried.

  • All this advance information gives the TDC a general idea of what to expect and what defence plan to implement. This is of enormous advantage and can make all the difference to the outcome of the attack.

  • While the political leadership alert journalists and issue protests to the police and the authorities, demanding that the attack be stopped, the TDC puts the defence force and entire township on alert. When the authorities see that the township means business they might be forced to intervene and stop the attackers. Everything in fact must be done to attempt to achieve this.

    The greatest victory is won when the objective – repelling an attack – is achieved without a shot fired or a blow struck. All defence units and auxiliary forces, however, take up their allotted positions and are ready to repulse the aggressors. All know exactly what to do and what is expected of them.

    Everybody can see that the time spent in training is paying off and there will be a feeling of confidence with a high morale as a result.

  • When the would-be aggressors see that the township residents are prepared to defend themselves and notice the barricades and fortifications which have appeared as if by magic, they will be apprehensive – no matter how many weapons they might have.

  • No matter how good the advance information, the TDC cannot be certain exactly when or where the attack might be launched. The attack will begin suddenly and it must be the task of those defenders at the point of attack to resolutely hold back the aggressors even if initially outnumbered.

    This is an extremely dangerous and decisive moment. It will quickly emerge where the main force is attacking and reinforcements must be rushed to that sector to help beat back the attack. This will mean that some platoons will have to leave their sectors and that fewer sections will have to guard a number of streets where there is no immediate sign of attack. They will keep vigilant in case of the sudden appearance of hostile forces in lightly guarded sectors. In such an event they will put up resistance until they are reinforced.

  • In the section on barricades and fortifications a diagram was provided to illustrate a way of defending the township. Natural and man-made objects such as woods, koppies, streams, dongas, barricades, ditches, trenches and fortified points together form a defence system designed to give the defenders maximum protection and advantage.

    Our tactics must utilise these fortifications in a skillful way so that they give the defenders advantages even over attackers with superior firepower.

    If the barricades and fortifications are strong enough the attackers will have to come right up to them. They will be exposed to what firepower we have, as well as being vulnerable to blows from our clubs and bars and weapons such as gas guns. And they will be exposed to the devastating hail of missiles and fire-bombs that must descend on them from every side. Only very bold individuals indeed will endeavour to surmount the obstacles under such conditions.

    If the attacking force proves too powerful then at a given signal the defenders will retreat, but in an orderly way, to the next line of defence.

  • A retreat to a secondary position could be designed to allow the attackers into a trap, for example, into a square near the entrance of the township. But the square is a "no-go" area surrounded by barricades. The attackers will find themselves trapped in an open square with the defenders secure behind barricades and fortifications.

    A withering firepower can be laid into the square and literally thousands of stones and missiles will descend onto the heads of the luckless attackers.

    At the point when their courage has deserted them – as it must – the signal for a counter-attack is given and the defence units show that they too can go on to the attack. A powerful charge into the aggressors will take place and in a few moments can send them scattering for their lives.

  • The above is a simplified description of a tactical situation. But battles are actually simple affairs. What counts is the preparation, the discipline, the boldness, the tactics, the correct use of the weaponry and the terrain.

    Space does not allow us to go on and on dealing with different tactical situations. We are simply giving a general idea. There are many trained comrades with tactical knowledge who will know how to plan defence and counter-attack.

    What is required is dedicated training in various tactics and manoeuvres. Included must be a plan for the evacuation of non-combatants from the township to places of safety should the situation become extremely bad.

  • Experience during township uprisings shows that comrades have worked out various ways of dealing with attacks by hostile vehicles. Such vehicles can be slowed down by barricades, ditches and other obstacles like nails embedded in blocks of wood and strewn across the road.

    Drivers do not like entering narrow lanes where their vision is obscured and vehicles are vulnerable. When the attackers have vehicles, the defenders should take cover and try to lure the vehicles into disadvantageous situations.

    Units should take cover behind obstacles and behind houses. A hail of missiles from behind cover will discourage these vehicles from hanging around. We have seen freedom fighters all over the world dealing with even armoured vehicles in this way.

  • Should the hostile force form a fire-line it means they are probably preparing to open fire. Everyone must take cover. It is no good standing in the open and throwing stones. If it is not possible to sufficiently answer the attackers' fire with our own fire-power we will have to keep a comfortable distance.

    Attempts can be made to outflank the fire-line or to attack it from behind. This will only be possible if we are able to gain a good vantage point, such as high ground, from which to train our own firepower and missiles on to them.

    A small, determined, highly mobile unit could possibly do this. In such circumstances the attackers are likely to panic and fall back in disarray. Certainly their attempts to fire volleys of bullets into the people will be disrupted.

  • This brings us to the point of the terrain. We must make a thorough study of the township or area we are defending and its surrounds. This will determine where we should take up our positions; where it is best to have a defensive line; where it is possible to launch a counter-blow.

    We must make use of whatever cover is provided and of course make use of artificial obstacles, such as barricades and trenches, where natural ones do not exist. We must make use of thick bush and the high ground such as koppies.

    The hostile force will always try and take advantage of the high ground. We must aim to deprive them of this.

  • Sometimes the hostile force will launch a night attack. This means that a round-the-clock watch must be maintained by sentries and patrols. Training and manoeuvres must be conducted at night as well as by day so that all units and auxiliaries become used to time conditions.

    Bonfires should be prepared in certain areas through which the aggressors must pass so as to illuminate them while the defenders remain hidden in the dark.

  • Imagination and creativity must be applied in developing and inventing different tactics. Tactics must be flexible and must never be repeated over and over. The hostile elements must never be sure exactly how we are going to respond to their attacks.

    We must not establish a repetitive pattern of behaviour but always aim to catch them by surprise by some new tactic. This is a key element of victory. Generally the battle will be won or lost by the vigour and bravery of every individual engagement.

    A well-trained and disciplined force, defending the lives and homes of the fighters' own community in a just struggle, has the decisive advantage. As Fidel Castro has said of the victorious Cuban and Angolan troops who defeated the racist SADF in 1976 and again at Cuito Canavale: "No soldier is born courageous. Courage is derived from the justness of the cause that is served."


Once defence units grow in the key townships they can be spread throughout the country. Only experience will show what should be the most suitable structure, size, etc. Defence units will differ from area to area and between urban and rural communities.

The above outline should not be regarded as a blueprint but rather as a guide. Comrades with practical experience will provide ideas far in advance of this pamphlet. We must let the creative energy and talent of our people come to the fore.

Building on the experience gained in the townships we will have to devise methods of protecting our people on the trains, at taxi ranks and in the city centres. Some form of security patrolling will need to be devised for this. Such a system will have to be extended to the so-called white and grey areas where our activists are vulnerable and need protection.

As defence units and patrol systems take root and prove their ability to protect our people so the need to link the structures will grow. Ultimately we may envisage the emergence of regional forces and even a national people's defence force.

Such a people's militia could in time merge with Umkhonto we Sizwe to form the basis for a people's army and police force in the liberated, democratic, non-racial South Africa we are struggling for.

Amandla Ngawethu! Matla ke Arona! All Power to the People!

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CSVR is a multi-disciplinary institute that seeks to understand and prevent violence, heal its effects and build sustainable peace at the community, national and regional levels.

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