Pushing a water tank was an excruciating part of the life artist Luthando Dyasop endured in the ANC’s Quatro prison in Angola. Picture: Supplied
Pushing a water tank was an excruciating part of the life artist Luthando Dyasop endured in the ANC’s Quatro prison in Angola. Picture: Supplied

Horror in exile

By Duncan Guy Time of article published Aug 21, 2021

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JOHANNESBURG artist Luthando Dyasop’s paintwork is inspired by that of Russians depicting life behind the Iron Curtain, unknown to the outside world.

“The miserable and horrible conditions that the Soviet people had to endure in the gulags during Joseph Stalin's rule of terror,” he explained to the Independent on Saturday.

“The underdog against the bully.“

Former MK soldier and artist Luthando Dyasop’s depiction of an attack by Angola’ s FAPLA army against Umkhonto we Sizwe fighters the country hosted ‒ an unlikely twist in a complex war. Picture: Supplied.

However, his painting passion has been somewhat on hold because so much of his time and energy has gone towards making his recently released book a success.

It too deals with miserable and horrible conditions in a closed society but one far closer to home: the ANC in exile and its notorious “gulag”, the Quatro detention centre in Angola.

Dyasop landed up there, shattering illusions he had of the organisation being a tidy house of democracy that he clung to when he jumped the border into Lesotho from his Eastern Cape home and trained with Umkhonto we Sizwe in Angola. There, he and his comrades were forced to offer a fighting hand in that country’s complex civil war.

“Unfortunately, accountability from the leadership, transparency and participatory democracy were non-existent,” he said.

His book Out of Quatro: From Exile to Exoneration mentions an inmate, who had also been on Robben Island, saying “it was a holiday camp compared to Quatro“.

Luthando Dyasop, author, artist and survivor of the ANC’s notorious Quatro prison camp in Angola. Picture: Supplied.

“In Quatro everyone expected beatings upon beatings,” he wrote. “It was a daily dose, keeping the prisoners anxious. As a result, inmates groaned grudgingly all day and moaned mournfully at night… day in, day out.”

Particularly gruelling was the task of pushing a water tank around.

In Angola, MK soldiers, who were longing to go home and fight apartheid, had to participate in the Angolan government’s war against Unita.

Out of Quatro: From Exile to Exoneration has just been released.

There were wheels within wheels.

“Although our morale was high, there was a worrying concern about the behaviour of our Angolan co-fighters. They started to show signs of dissatisfaction with the whole issue of our ’fighting their war’ and were averse to our willingness to ’kill Angolans’ ‒ meaning (their enemy) Unita,“ he wrote.

“They were afraid of Unita’s retaliation in their various villages and feared for their own and their families’ lives.“

The Angolan government even attacked their MK allies.

Dyasop recalled: “The ANC in exile was operating underground in a world which was defined by the Cold War's unmistakable divides: the socialist East versus the imperial West.

“Thanks to our alliance with the South African Communist Party (SACP), the Eastern Bloc was our main benefactor in anything to do with military and political training facilities which were crucial for the advancement of our armed struggle against the apartheid government.”

Most of the ANC’s host in exile countries in Africa ‒ and even the UN ‒ saw it as a government in waiting.

“This somehow led to them being oblivious to, and disinterested in any, human rights transgressions on the part of the ANC.

“Yet, there were glaring and concerning deviations from the fundamental principles of the constitution like holding an elective conference after every year.

“What was obvious was that the ANC leadership’s intentions of replacing the white regime were not to be derailed by anyone or group of members who were questioning the ANC modus operandi, its moral values and the direction it was taking.”

Dyasop said democratic centralism, which was adopted from the Soviet Union, had taken over as the policy of the ANC to the detriment of its fundamental democratic practices.

“Centralised power has nothing to do with democracy, but has all to do with top-down rule whereby the members have to abide by the decision of the leadership and close rank. The rank and file had to be loyal to the leadership and not vice-versa, and that has been the trend till today.”

He believes that had there been accountability, transparency, democratic practices in place, then possibilities of gross abuse of power and the subsequent corruption would have been curtailed.

“The present ANC, with all factions taken into consideration, is comfortable with the centralised power. It is going to be a big ask for president Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC renewal to be realised without the decentralisation of political power and the people not demanding their power back."

Dyasop believes South Africa’s political and economic situation is dire.

“The (Covid-19) pandemic is also contributing to more impoverishment of the already poor section of the population.

“The worst feature of the Cyril Ramaphosa government is that corruption has not abated nor showing any signs of being something of the past.

“We live in a country where corruption is not addressed forthrightly. Consequences for breaking the law have not yet applied to those stealing from the fiscal.

“The reason can be found in the inability of the general public to recall anyone in political office who is involved in gross mismanagement.

“They have guaranteed impunity based on their loyalty that lies in the one in power. So, instead of the one in power forcing them to face the consequences, the beleaguered cadre will be deployed somewhere else as though nothing bad had happened, or be suspended indefinitely with pay.

“With the experience from exile, it would be disingenuous of me to expect anything different.”

Dyasop called it “mere serendipity” that the book comes out this year when conditions on the ground are favourable.

“Had it been out earlier, it would have been prematurely published and l would have had a problem with its reception in the public domain.

“What makes 2021 the right time must have to do with the terrible and overt climax of corruption the ANC has reached.

“Now, whether it is Cyril Ramaphosa at the helm or not, the ANC is evidently less convincing as the political party that has the interests of the people at heart as it purports to be.”

Out of Quatro: From Exile to Exoneration (Kwela Books) by Luthando Dyasop retails for R224

The Independent on Saturday

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