Freedom fighter David Kitson (1919-2010)

On ANC, SACP and treason

David Kitson in 1993

David Kitson participated in starting up the armed wing of the ANC (African National Congress): Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation). He was imprisoned for 20 years.

In 1993, a year before the general elections in South Africa, Azania Vrij spoke with him about his doubts as to the future of South Africa. Below again the publication of the interview in which he is critical of the ANC and SACP (South African Communist Party). He also talks about his conflicts with the London ANC representation. The then ANC representatives Francis Meli and Solly Smith later turned out to be spies  of the South African regime.

Next is a shortened version of a related background article about David Kitson and his wife Norma. It contains the story of their cooperation with the City of London Anti-Apartheid Movement, the opposition they met with from the national British Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) and their suspension by the ANC.

David Kitson died in Johannesburg in 2010.

From Azania Vrij, October 1993, volume 19. No 3



David Kitson is 74 years old, married to Norma Cranko1, father of Steven and Amandla, member of the ANC, communist and for decades active in the struggle for the liberation of South Africa. He spent 20 years in the dungeons of Apartheid for his role as a member of the High Command of Umkhonto we Sizwe. He now lives in Harare (Zimbabwe) from where he closely follows the developments, organizes cadre-workshops for the socialist ideals he has never abandoned. In September he was in Amsterdam visiting his son Steven. Azania Vrij spoke with him.


Expectations are still high, but the balance of political power is poor. Violence keeps resistance divided, is there any real progress?

David: ‘Since way back then something has changed. One of the transformations is that the liberation organizations can operate legally in the country. Another transformation is that even though the regime does not talk with all, but still 25 organizations. Soon black people can vote and participate in representative bodies, that is a transformation… But the largest group in South Africa, the working class, does not play a leading role in the bodies that are to initiate further change. Therefore the negotiations aim at maintaining the capitalist system. De Klerk will resist fundamental change wherever possible.’

Liberalization of the Left

But apart from that resistance David thinks many other problems must be overcome:

‘The social-democratization of the communist organizations, the liberalization of the left, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the absence of decisive Umkhonto successes and the ANC’s willingness to compromise are interrelated. The demand of the Organization of African Unity for an agreement in South Africa has made the ANC important later on. By now it is a major factor in the negotiations. A special type of leaders steps forward. Also within the SACP there are people, such as Joe Slovo, who are willing to sacrifice all for the negotiations. In exchange for governmental responsibilities the ANC and SACP leadership promise to help South Africa out of the economic crisis.’

Crisis in the SACP

But is that not remarkable for a communist party?

Definitely, but so serious is the crisis in the SACP. Leading members have distanced themselves from the communist ideals. They are no longer communists. For opportunistic reasons they are willing to lift the international sanctions. They pose an obstacle to the class struggle. They are advocates of a peace agreement which frustrates constructive solutions and thereby leading to an increase of violence among themselves. Fortunately they are not all like that. E.g. in Pietermaritzburg SACP leader Harry Gwala has been actively taking part in creating a militant department since his release in 1988. This department is now armed to the teeth and is in control of the entire area. Thát is the reason why people over there leave each other alone. Also Peter Mokoba, ANCYL leader (African National Congress Youth League), calls for war, very much against the will of the ANC leadership and who criticizes him for that.’

South African spies in the ANC

‘Another example is Winnie Mandela. Lately her following has grown rapidly even though the ANC leadership, with the support from the press, has systematically tried to damage her reputation. Also she has made her mistakes, but she is a woman with a fighting spirit who judges and acts independently….When in the 1980s the ANC leadership in exile wanted to give up on my wife and me because I refused to criticize the actions of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group, she was our only support. She saw those actions were good. Afterwards she was proved right, for at the time the ANC leadership’s position was defined by agents of the Apartheid regime.’

David Kitson shows us publications from Work In Progress of July 1993 and The Weekly Mail of 28 May 1993 substantiating his claims. The ANC declares to investigate the death of Samuel Setotane Khunyeli, a.k.a. Solly Smith, who on his return to South Africa in 1991 had confessed to have worked as a spy for the regime. David: ‘Those espionage activities cover a period of several years till 1991 when Smith was the ANC chief representative in London. After his confession he has been president for a year of the ANC department of the Northern Orange Free State.’  

Not long after he had reported to the ANC headquarters he was under threat, Smith was found dead in his own house in April 1993. The German magazine Top Secret speculates that Smith was about to expose the military intelligence. David: ‘The Boers do not accept being betrayed by their agents. The same happened to Francis Meli, board member of the ANC and SACP and editor of Sechaba2 . Soon after his return from London he too was found dead in his hotel room in October 1990.’

Meli and Smith strongly influenced ANC policy in London. Meli was chairman of the Regional Political Committee (RPC) of the ANC when David and Norma were suspended as members because David had refused to be used as an instrument to stop the successful anti-apartheid actions of the City Group. David:

First the former RPC president Yengwa had already come by. We were talking about the things we were doing. Norma and the kids told him about the efforts of the City Group and showed him the pictures, slides, pamphlets and articles about the activities. You could tell  that he personally was really impressed. But it was the RPC president in him who spoke to us. He said he was aware of the fact how miserable our situation was, but that still everything would be fine the moment I would change my mind about my refusal. As an ANC leader I would find the doors wide open anywhere, I could even get my job back, Amandla could get a scholarship to study in the GDR3. Norma would be recognized for the work she had done…provided I would concede to their demands. If I did not concede and disregarded the ANC leadership’s wishes, I would lose my job and misery would continue to rise.’

Yengwe failed in his endeavour, but he had done what leadership had told him to do. Later he had so many difficult moments that he resigned as RPC president. He has passed away now. Meli succeeded him. Together with Smith Meli persuaded the union TASS4 to revoke the scholarship for David in order to terminate his job as a lecturer at Ruskin College.

The barrel of a gun

What should actually happen to bring the revolution in South Africa back on track?

As a former leader of Umkhonto I expect true freedom in South Africa can only come out of the barrel of a gun. The present negotiations are only beneficial for some people; the vast majority is not going to gain anything at all. Many young people lose patience and only want an armed struggle.’

Is South Africa’s army with its 500,000 oppressors armed to the teeth not sovereign?

‘The South African army must not only be fought with weapons but also by political means. In that light an important initiative is the End Conscription Campaign, in which the whites are urged to refuse to do military service…But also the working class must be mobilized. Chris Hani was fully aware of that. When he was killed he was in the process of making arrangements for forming a left alliance that would have to mobilize the working class for socialism after the coming elections. There are those who believe that is a priority. Jeremy Cronin e.g. spoke out against the Reconstruction Accord because COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) would be committed too much to the reformist ANC policy after the transfer of power.’

David Kitson, City of London Anti-Apartheid Group and British Anti-Apartheid Movement

High Command Umkhonto

Immediately upon the arrest of the top leaders of the Congress Alliance5 on 11 July 1963 in Rivonia, where he was absent due to the flu, David Kitson was elected on the recommendation of the SACP to the high command of Umkhonto6, along with Isu Chiba, Wilton Mkwayi and John Matthews. He was instructed to implement the underground structure of Umkhonto. His experience as an engineer of the British army during WWII in Italy was very useful.

On 22 June 1964 they are arrested. Davis is thrown into the dungeons of Apartheid for 20 years. Also his wife Norma spends a month in prison where she was persistently harassed in order to extract information. She has to flee with her one-year-old daughter Amandla and her seven-year-old son Steven (1957-1997). Her place of exile is London.

Start of the City Group

In 1982 also Steven is arrested during a visit to his father in prison on charges of subversion. In London his mother Norma wants to launch a campaign for his release straightaway. Mike Terry, leader of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, did not want to participate in ‘something so personal’. TASS, the union David had been an active member of during his stay in England in the 1950s, would put the request on the agenda of the board meeting in 3 weeks. Francis Meli, board member of the ANC and SACP and editor of Sechaba, argued it would be wrong to start a picket for a white person, while so many black leaders are being detained. Still Norma could count on the support of some friends from those organizations and she formed the City Group7. Their campaign was highly successful. Within six days Steven was released. But the sacrifice was huge. Norma’s sister Joan Alison Weinberg paid for her contribution with her life in South Africa. For nearly 20 years she had put many political prisoners into contact with the outside world. The day Steven arrived in London she was molested in her apartment and brutally killed. Her body was dumped in the bathtub. The police have never been inclined to investigate the murder.

Shocked by this tragedy, but also hardened in the firm belief that the struggle against apartheid and racism must continue, action and non-sectarianism became a code of conduct for the group which in January 1982 decided to get organized in the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group (City Group). Due to its activities and confrontational approach to campaigning the group won mass support in a short space of time.

Confrontation with the AAM

In 1984 the police refuse to grant the City Group permission for an action. The City Group decided to continue the action, even after the AAM had spoken out against it. Shortly after the AAM stated in consultation with the police not to support activities that were not permitted. According to the AAM the City Group was engaged in illegal activities. The police gathered from this statement they could operate freely concerning the City Group. The City Group only gained in terms of publicity and popularity.

The AAM and SACP leadership in London have from the very outset perceived the City Group, which they had no control over, as a threat to their respectable presence. This situation full of conflicts escalates to such an extent that in February 1985 the City Group is expelled from the AAM in a totally undemocratic way. The formal reason was that the City Group had not limited its activities to the City in accordance with the request of the AAM leadership. One should be aware that in the City near the South African embassy there are only banks and offices. Ordinary people do not live there.

Suspended by the ANC

Some months before, in June 1984, David Kitson had been released after 20 years’ imprisonment and arrived in England. His release was brought forward by some months particularly because of the 86 days of non-stop actions by the City Group in front of the South African embassy in London. He will get his share of problems when he tries to bridge the differences of opinion and in doing so facing the ANC-London and AAM leadership. On 21 November that year he and his wife Norma are suspended by the ANC. The formal reason was they had agreed to be on the list of candidates for the national AAM board. This is bizarre since particularly all ANC members were encouraged to be active within the AAM. Not until years later was this suspension lifted at the highest level in the organization. At that time the Kitsons already lived in Zimbabwe.

Non-stop picket

With its choice for a non-stop picket to obtain the release of Mandela and all other political prisoners the City Group managed to gain massive support. Its action commanded respect. More than 1500 activists joined the City Group, among them many from the lower social classes, numerous trade union groups and even some MPs. Night and day they stood there for nearly 4 years in all kinds of weather, 24 hours a day at the entrance of the South African embassy on Trafalgar Square in London. Armed with banners, pamphlets, signature-collecting sheets, megaphones and sandwich boards they defied the insults of visa applicants, the repressive actions of the English police and the threats of racists. They were making history.


© Marjan Boelsma, January 17, 2020 

English translation: HippoLingo

© Picture: Azania Komitee

Reproduction of articles or parts of articles is authorized, provided the source is acknowledged and that passages and quotations are not placed in a different context 


[1] Norma Kitson (1933-2002) wrote the autobiographical Where sixpence lives, 1986, Chatto & Windus. Published in Dutch as Natuurlijk was ik bang, een blanke vrouw vecht tegen Apartheid, 1987, Sijthoff, Amsterdam

[2] Official organ of the ANC printed in the GDR

[3] Former East Germany

[4] TASS (Technical, Administrative and Supervisory Section)

[5] Congress Alliance included: ANC, South African Indian Congress (SAIC), South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), Coloured People’s Congress (CPC) and South African Congress of Democrats (COD)

[6] The armed wing of ANC was founded in December 1961. In the same year also the armed wing of PAC, POQO (later APLA, Azanian People’s Liberation Army), was founded. After the Sharpeville massacre and next the uprising the ANC and PAC were banned and went underground

[7] See also the website Non-Stop Against Apartheid