Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in South Africa

October 2020 9781849048804 528pp


South Africa’s transition to democracy took place against a backdrop of shadow war between the apartheid regime’s counterinsurgency forces and the African National Congress’ armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). This book analyses in unprecedented detail the hidden history of MK’s struggle and its contribution to South Africa’s liberation, while exposing new dimensions of clandestine apartheid-era violence. 

Drawing on interviews with former MK guerrillas, Daniel Douek traces the evolution of MK’s operations across southern Africa from the 1960s, culminating in the 1990-4 negotiations between the ANC and the white-supremacist regime. As political violence escalated, the battle waged in the shadows became nothing less than a struggle to shape South Africa’s future. Counterinsurgency forces recruited spies, deployed death squads, engaged in psychological warfare, and targeted ANC leaders, including MK chief Chris Hani.

Even once ANC elites had come to power, apartheid counterinsurgency operations continued to undermine South Africa’s new democracy by marginalising MK guerrillas within the ‘new’ security forces, leaving legacies of violence and instability still felt today.


‘As rigorous—and disturbing—an account of insurgency and counterinsurgency in South Africa as you’ll find. Highly recommended.’ — Deane-Peter Baker, Associate Professor of International and Political Studies, UNSW Canberra at the Australian Defence Force Academy

‘A provocative book raising important questions about the toxic legacies of dysfunctional states’ violent repression of insurgencies: authoritarian security elites, urban violence and persistent criminal networks. Douek reaches far beyond South Africa in his analysis and arguments for meaningful security sector reform in post-conflict societies.’ — Sue Onslow, Deputy Director & Reader in Commonwealth History, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London


Daniel L. Douek teaches Political Science at McGill University and Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. His work has appeared in the Journal of Southern African Studies and Third World Quarterly.

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