Nyanda, Siphiwe 1950–

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Siphiwe Nyanda 1950

South African military official

At a Glance


General Siphiwe Nyanda made South African history in 1998 when he became the first black to head his countrys armed forces. South Africas singular and terrible past made Nyandas achievement all the more remarkable: he leads a formidable, 98,000-member military that consists of two former enemiesthe white troops and officers from the countrys apartheid era integrated with soldiers like Nyanda who had fought apartheid and the government of South Africa as inductees of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the liberation army of the African National Congress (ANC).

Nyandas career exemplifies the dedication of the men and women of the ANC, most of whom spent much of their adult lives fighting apartheid and risking torture, imprisonment, and death to do so. Born in 1950 in the Soweto area of Moroka, Nyanda was one of five children. His father was a traffic officer, and Nyanda graduated from Orlando High School in Soweto in 1969. He studied at the University of Zululand, but was expelled in 1971 for political activities. For a time, he worked as a sports reporter for The World.

Nyanda officially became part of the ANC organizationwhich was sent underground by an official ban in 1960as a recruiting officer in 1974. Two years later he was made commander of trainees, and traveled to the German Democratic Republic, the former Communist East Germany, for training as an infantry platoon commander. From there he was sent to the South African province of Transvaal, home to much of the countrys industry as well as two of its largest cities, Pretoria and Johannesburg. From 1977 to 1979 Nyanda was commissar in the ANCs Transvaal Urban Operations. He and the organization participated in acts of sabotage and violence designed to destabilize the apartheid regime, which itself was held in place only through government-dictated force and human-rights abuses from a vast police network that had been given great leeway in arresting and detaining suspected dissidents. Nyanda was elevated to commander of the Transvaal Urban Machinery in 1979, and in 1983 was named chief of staff for the larger Transvaal Command.

Nyanda served in this post for three years, and journeyed to the Soviet Union in 1985 for an abridged brigade commanders course in 1985; he also returned

At a Glance

Born May 22, 1950, in Moroka, Soweto, South Africa; son of Henry and Betsy Nyanda; married, wifes name, Shiela; children: two daughters, two sons. Education: Attended University of Zululand; took courses at Civil Service College, 1993. Politics: African National Congress.

Career: Worked as a sports reporter for The World, early 1970s; African National Congress (ANC), South Africa, underground recruiting officer, 1974-76, trainee commander, 1976, commissar of Transvaal urban operations, 1977-79, Transvaal Urban Machinery, commander, 1979-83, Transvaal Command, chief of staff, 1983-86, commander for border operations, Swaziland, 1986, chair of Politico Military committee, 1986-88, deputy head, Politico Military underground leadership, 1988-90; under arrest, July-November 1990; elected to ANC national executive committee, 1991; Umkhonto we Sizwe, South Africa, chief of staff, 1992-94; Joint Military Coordinating Committee of the Transitional Executive Council, co-chair, January-June 1994; South Africa National Defence Force, Pretoria, South Africa, chief of defence force staff, 1994-96, general officer commanding Gauteng command, January-April 1997, deputy chief, 1997-98; chief, 1998-.

Awards: Military Merit Medal; Unitas medal commemorating the establishment of the South Africa National Defence Force, 1994.

Addresses: Office The Chief of Defence, Corporate Communication, Private BagX161, Pretoria 0001, South Africa.

to East Germany for schooling in intelligence practices. In 1986 he was made commander of border operations from neighboring Swaziland, which carried out destabilizing strategies from this black kingdom, and was also named chair of the Politico-Military Committee of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), whose name in Bantu means Spear of the Nation. In 1988 he became deputy head of the Politico-Military underground leadership in South Africa via an infiltration, or the smuggling in of his person undetected by official South African authorities. For the next few years he served underground as senior commander for the ANCs Operation Vula.

Nyanda was detected and arrested in July of 1990 and spent several months in jail. Released shortly before the apartheid laws were officially repealed, he stood for election within the ANC, and in July of 1991 won a spot on its National Executive Committee. By this point the ban on the ANC had been lifted, and its leader, Nelson Mandela, released from 26 years in prison. In 1992, Nyanda was made chief of staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe and began to oversee the integration of statutory and nonstatutory forces as South Africa, now in a transitional phase, set in motion a series of historic measures designed to finally integrate its black and nonwhite peoples, who made up three-quarters of its population of 41 million, as full citizens with equal rights.

In early 1994 Nyanda was named co-chair of the Joint Military Coordinating Committee of the Transitional Executive Council. Mandela won an overwhelming majority of votes in the countrys first multiracial elections held in the spring of that year, and created the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) as part of the transitional government. The SANDF was an integrated force, combining the white soldiers and officers of the former military with 30,000 onetime Umkhonto we Sizwe fighters, as well as divisions of South Africas homeland armies. Nyanda was named chief of the Defence Force staff in June of 1994.

In 1997 he was elevated to the rank of general officer for the Gauteng Command, and in April of that same year was made deputy chief. His boss was General Georg Meiring, head of the SANDF and a white career military officer who headed the armed forces in the last days of apartheid. Mandela had kept Meiring on in the top post after Meiring assured him of his loyalty to the new multiracial government; the decision also, according to Stephan Laufer in the Zaire publication Business Day,, was widely interpreted as an attempt to ensure the loyalties of old white officers.

But in February of 1998 Meiring handed Mandela a report, which had not come through the usual channels, that asserted that military intelligence sources had uncovered an alleged plot for a coup from left-wing elements inside the SANDF. Nyanda was named as a possible conspirator, as were other former Umkhonto we Sizwe officers and Mandelas former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. It was sent to an official judicial committee for review, who declared it fraudulent a few months later after investigating the process by which the plot had been detected. Instead it was deemed an attempt to discredit former Umkhonto we Sizwe leaders like Nyanda, and Mandela declared he had never been convinced of its veracity in the first place.

As a result, Meiring resigned and Nyanda was named to replace him. It had to come, especially after the mistrust created by the Meiring debacle, a military analyst told Buchizya Mseteka in the Seattle Times. I dont think anyone has been taken by surprise by this announcement. In Business Day, Laufer described Nyanda among the most highly regarded Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) soldiers to have made the transition into the statutory forces, and further noted that Nyandas MK colleagues speak of him as a very brave man who showed his leadership qualities early on while working underground.

Nyanda himself said in a press statement that he was humbled by the trust and confidence demonstrated in me by the government.I am conscious of the heavy responsibility it places on my shoulders. I can only be able to achieve the accomplishment of my tasks with the support of the entire membership of the SANDF. Nyanda, who is married and has four children, became the chief of the South Africas entirety of army, air force, navy, and intelligence services personnel in a ceremony held in Pretoria on May 29, 1998. It was a festive, pomp-filled occasion, presided over by Mandela and complete with a parade, 17-gun salute and a fly-by from military aircraft in Nyandas honor. Mandela presented him with a symbolic sword and saluted him.

In his inaugural speech, Nyanda spoke of the long and at times emotionally difficult process of reconciliation for South Africa, and asserted that the countrys defense forces stood as positive example for the nation at large. Certainly it has not yet reached the promised land, but it is on its way and close by, Nyanda said of the process. I believe the time has come to forgive and forget, he added. He spoke of the affirmative action program in place to achieve racial parity among the officer class, and vowed that racism in any form would be intolerable. Despite the recent sorry past, all the nationalities of our country bring with them into the SANDF a rich array of military cultures, remarked Nyanda. These traditions should blend in the melting pot of a new defence culture. The absence of any one of these traditions would make the Defence Force poorer, he concluded.



Business Day (Zaire), April 30, 1998.

SALUT, July 1998.

Seattle Times, May 29, 1998.


Additional information for this profile was obtained at http://www.mil.za andhttp://www.woza.co.za.

Carol Brennan