For most of its 30 or so years in exile to 1990, the ANC’s choice of strategy did not match the quality of its will to confront the apartheid state. ANC exiles spent the first two decades imprisoned within an unhelpful set of assumptions about what means of struggle were sufficient to achieve the outcomes they sought. Over this period, they conducted clandestine operations as if armed struggle was not merely a necessary condition to achieve fundamental change in South Africa but as if it alone was sufficient to do so. This entailed disregarding a cornerstone of insurgent strategy. Insurgents who resort to armed struggle usually stress the need to redress the asymmetry between their own initial military weakness and theenemy state’s strength.
For two decades, ANC exiles substantially disregarded mobilisation by political means as a way of achieving some kind of symmetry with the enemy. In the process, not only did they forego the possibility of a political base able to sustain guerrilla operations inside South Africa; they also disregarded legal and semi-legal space inside the country for building popular political organisations of various types. These failings curtailed the pressure they could apply against the apartheid state.
As a result of the particular strategy that was followed, the years in exile of members of the different liberation movements proved to be a longer and more difficult learning experience than they might otherwise have been. They were sustained through the fifteen-odd years to 1976 and beyond largely by a mix of fortitude and the broad foreign support they developed. The ANC, through its overlapping relationship with the SA Communist Party, received military training and equipment from the Soviet Union and its allies. The Organisation of African Unity and its Liberation Committee mobilised what diplomatic and material support they could from young, poor and often badly led member states.
Anti-apartheid movements in Western countries, drawing support from liberal and communist alike, became sources of pressure on their governments and on businesses with South African interests. Later, generous funding reached the ANC from some Western governments, notably Sweden’s.