About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

We Shall Overcome!

Every organisation engaged in national liberation constantly has to isolate, analyse and search for solutions crucial both to its continued existence and growth, and to the success of the struggle as a whole. Stripped to its bare essentials the national liberation struggle reduces itself to a struggle for political power - a struggle born of irreconcilable interests. No ruling class has ever relinquished power voluntarily and we dare not bury our heads in the sand in an effort to escape the problems simply because they appear intractable. Indeed, there are no insoluble problems. Some problems may appear so: more often this is so not because a problem is insoluble but rather because it has been posed incorrectly.

In a certain sense, the story of our struggle is a story of problems arising and problems being overcome. It is understandable that many of the problems should generate much controversy and emotion. However cool and detached we may strive to be in our analyses, the fact remains that we are deeply involved and interested parties and the solutions we adopt are solutions we ourselves have to implement. It requires a strong sense of revolutionary discipline for one to implement with zeal what one has vigorously opposed and disagreed with in debate. While it is not always possible to control the degree of emotion generated, it is possible and necessary to maintain a sense of proportion. Problems should be examined against the background of the nature of our struggle and in terms of their inter-actions with the general struggle if they are to be seen in their true dimensions.

Furthermore, in evolving solutions we should avoid that style of thinking that gravitates towards 'final solutions'. There are no final solutions. Solutions must always be open to modification and adjustment on the basis of experience and fresh evidence - sometimes they may even have to be discarded. It is in this spirit that an attempt is made here to isolate and examine certain problems that are important to our struggle.

The central feature of the revolution in South Africa is that it is an African revolution. In the first place, the oppression and exploitation of the African people is the pivot around which the whole system of white supremacy revolves. There are other oppressed minority national groups in South Africa, and to characterise our revolution as an African revolution is not to gloss over the oppression of the other national groups; nor is it to ignore or minimise their contribution to the unfolding revolution. To speak of the African revolution is to emphasise a fundamental aspect inherent to the structure of oppression, namely, that the liberation of the African people is a necessary condition for removing the oppression of all other national groups in South Africa. This is not the case if the liberation of any one or several of the oppressed minority national groups is characterised as the pivot. The concept of the African revolution reaches into the heart of the mechanism of the system of oppression as it obtains here and projects a vision of a free South Africa, which is assured of the complete elimination of national oppression of all groups. That such a broad expanding outlook is inherent in African nationalism is not derived from idealistic notions born out of abstract considerations, but from the concrete conditions giving rise to it. It is verifiable by an examination of African nationalism as an historical process both in South Africa and in Africa as a whole. Different organisations in the national liberation movement in South Africa have reached towards this facet of our revolution in different ways and with varying degrees of accuracy. Nowhere has it been so tersely and compellingly set forth as in the Freedom Charter, which embodies the basic policy of the revolutionary forces headed by the African National Congress.

Ours is not an isolated struggle. If it were, the prospects of victory in the near future would be gloomy - not so much because of the inherent strength of the white minority racist regime but because of the underpinning it enjoys from the most reactionary imperialist powers. This support flows out of objective relationships. But reality is many-sided and the very conditions that create a community of interests between the ruling classes in South Africa and the imperialist powers also results in the inextricable interweaving of our movement with the national liberation and other progressive movements throughout the world. Such a perspective fully justifies the conviction that the enemy cannot long forestall the victory of our revolution.

The development of capitalism stamps the character of our struggle and is central to the creation of these interconnections. Plunder and loot from the colonies played a significant role in the process of primary capital accumulation that led to the emergence of capitalism. As capitalism established itself as the dominant mode of production in several western European countries its dependence on the colonies increased. Towards the end of the nineteenth century the first phase of industrialisation of the western world was nearing completion and capitalism entered the phase of imperialism. This phase marked significant changes in the structure of capitalist economies. Inter-imperialist rivalries became a dominant feature, with embittered struggles for investment outlets, markets and sources of raw materials. Capitalism spread its tentacles to every nook and cranny of the globe, tying up the whole world in a tight system of ruthless oppression and exploitation.

However harsh and evil the consequences of this process, it was in the nature of capitalism to unleash forces that made our world one world. The insatiable appetite of this system effected this without design and without regard to the fate of peoples and nations. Autarchic economies were destroyed, nations and peoples subjugated. Imperialism and colonialism created a unified world in their own image - a world enslaved to serve the interests of the ruling classes of a handful of imperialist countries.

Wherein lies the unity of the world?

Within the imperialist states capitalism forged two nations - the exploiters and the exploited - eyeing each other across the chasm of social revolution. Across state boundaries, imperialist states, driven by the common pursuits of wealth through exploitation at home and abroad, have been and continue to be locked in rivalries that are the powerhouse of world wars. The trade routes from the colonies and former colonies to the imperialist states, along which the super-profits are drained out of these areas, are sign-posted with national and social revolutions. The epoch of imperialism ushered in by the First World War, is the epoch of wars, of national and social revolutions.

The unity of the world is not to be found in any community of interests between imperialists, nor can it reside in any hopes of harmony between oppressed and oppressors. The unity of the world is embedded in the forces striving against exploitation and oppression, against imperialism. The struggles of the oppressed and exploited, issuing in national and social revolutions, are giving birth to a new world, the world of peace and friendship between the peoples of the world, of freedom and national independence. And every blow struck against oppression and exploitation hammers out the new era. These are the forces whose community of interest rests neither on rivalry nor oppression nor exploitation, but on the realisation of humankind's humanity.

The period that marked the crisis of capitalism and manifested its inherent tendencies towards stagnation, economic and political crisis, and imperialist conflagrations, also ushered in the era of triumphant national and social revolutions. Even as the world of imperialism signalled its bankruptcy with the senseless slaughter of the First World War, the new world heralded its birth with the triumph of the October Revolution of 1917 - a revolution which, in an age of great social and national revolutions, still stands as perhaps the greatest revolution of all times. The October Revolution broke the chain with which imperialism girdled the world and gave socialism, whose core is the drive to end the exploitation of man by man, a home. A lone child in a singularly hostile world, it survives not only through the blood, sweat and tears of the Soviet people, but also because it was founded on the unity of all oppressed and exploited peoples within and outside the Soviet Union. That this unity was the essential condition for its triumph was clearly understood and stated by V.I. Lenin, the architect of the October Revolution and one of the world's greatest revolutionary strategists and tacticians.

The triumph of the October Revolution became the opening shot of the world-wide socialist and anti-colonialist revolutions. How significantly the world has changed since then! In many ways the Second World War was but a continuation of the First World War and marked a new peak in inter-imperialist rivalries. At the same time it differed radically from the First World War in that revived German imperialism, under the banner of Nazism, set out not only to re-divide the world and establish its dominance, but to reshape the world on an avowedly anti-democratic basis. This altered the character of the war and stamped the efforts of the Allied powers a defence of democracy.

Two important consequences attended the aftermath of this war. These were the emergence of the socialist camp and the growth of the national liberation movements, with the ultimate emergence of independent states in the former colonial areas. That these two consequences should be linked is not fortuitous. The two processes are inter-twined and inseparable. Both developments reinforce each other and together continue to reshape the world.

Thus by the end of the Second World War the liberation of the colonial peoples had become a practical proposition. The oppressed peoples by their own struggles placed the issue of national liberation on the agenda and in the post-Second World War world the flames of freedom spread like a veld fire leaping across continents. The age of national independent states in Asia, Africa and Latin America became a reality.

The interconnectedness of these two processes has been highlighted in the Bangdung Conference of 1956, the Afro-Asian Solidarity Council that followed, and the Tri-Continental Conference held in Havana in 1966.

In this process it is useful to see the advance of the national liberation struggle on the African continent and the emergence of independent African states in terms of a continent-wide African revolution. By doing so we do not in any way overlook the interrelations with, and the unity of, the national liberation struggles throughout the world, as well as with the advance of the socialist camp. On the contrary, on precisely this basis, we are able to give meaning to the idea of the African revolution by highlighting the particular features that are present in the African revolution.

From its inception the national liberation struggles in Africa have been marked by the recognition by all leading organisations that the liberation of the African people is a single process. This fact has been translated into practical form through the series of Pan-African conferences that originated from a meeting in 1900. It has been carried through into the phase of independent African States by the creation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). The OAU seeks to harmonise the interests of the independent states and thereby to facilitate their progress and development, and also to liberate the remaining areas of Africa that are still trapped in the maws of colonialism and white minority racist regimes.

Furthermore, despite the diversity of colonial and imperialist powers that have made our continent their hunting ground, the common history of our peoples is imprinted with a particularly traumatic experience, which colonialism seems to have earmarked for our people. The wholesale slave trade that ripped open and destroyed the fabric of African societies. Slave-owning societies have existed before in many parts of the world and are related to a particular stage in the historical evolution of human society. But the slave trade that transported millions of our people into slavery in north and south America in particular, and killed many more millions in the process, was associated with developing capitalism and was practised on a scale that has never been equalled.

Finally, while it is common practice for the colonialists and imperialists, in the process of subjugating and maintaining their rule over the colonial peoples, to denigrate the culture of our peoples, in our continent this practice was carried to its ultimate limits. In Africa, imperialism completely denied our cultural past and history and applied the theory of race superiority so as to stamp our peoples with the mark of permanent inferiority.

This, of course, happened to be convenient as a device for rationalising the most inhuman practices to which our peoples were subjected. In the period of the slave trade, those who profited from trading in human beings therefore lived with intact consciences. So, too, did those who built plantations on slave labour. (It is no accident that the Deep South of the USA remains even to this day one of the bastions of racist views.) And, even after the end of the slave trade, this pernicious racist doctrine was entrenched in south and central Africa.

Again this was no accident. Imperialism requires a social base in each dominated area to serve as its agent and to facilitate its exploitation of the people. It has never hesitated to recruit such forces from the local population. But in the case of that curve stretching from south up to central Africa and culminating in what has long been known as the 'White Highlands' of Kenya - areas which proved climatically suitable for permanent white settlement, it was not necessary to recruit these forces from the African people. That social base was available in the form of white settlers at a price that was to make these white settlers and their descendants the world's repository of racism.

The African revolution matured rapidly in the post-war period and resulted in a number of independent states. The price paid for independence has not been small and each state's road to independence is rich with experience and sacrifice. Fired by the desire for freedom, our peoples have joined the forces of progress and are engaged in translating their political independence into meaningful social and economic terms. This process continues unabated.

Even as this elemental force swept through our continent, the colonialist and white minority racist regimes in southern Africa were shaken by the struggles inside these areas. The Portuguese colonialists, backed by NATO arms, clung to power and forced the peoples of Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau into a long war for freedom. British imperialism temporised in Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland and Southern Rhodesia, and put forward elaborate schemes for a Central African Federation, in search of formulas to assure the whites of their privileged position. It ended by yielding to the liberation forces, which established Zambia and Malawi, but succumbed to the politics of skin colour and racism in Southern Rhodesia. Thereby it paved the way for the illegal racist regime of Smith that has forced Zimbabweans to an armed struggle for freedom. South Africa, long wishing to swallow Namibia, found its path checked by the people of Namibia and the progressive forces of the world, but holds on to the veto in the United Nations Security Council of the US, French and British governments. Nevertheless, the Namibian people have grasped their destiny into their own hands and have taken to arms too. And South Africa, bastion of racism in Africa, turned a deaf ear to the horror of the post-Hitler world, instituting a reign of terror in an effort to crush the liberation forces, thereby driving our people on to the inevitable path of the armed struggle.

The African revolution that swept through the continent knocked at the doors of southern Africa. The doors remained bolted. It has become the historic mission of the African revolution to batter these doors down and force entry.

When we in South Africa grasp the content of our revolution in this way, we are able to recognise its inner unity with the continent-wide African revolution, as well as with the anti-colonial and progressive struggles throughout the world. To see our revolution in terms of its nature and these interconnections is of special importance in our situation. It is only in this way that we can reach towards an understanding of what is unique and particular to our situation, and what is general to the national liberation and other progressive movements. This is also the basis on which we can absorb the experiences of the struggles in other parts of the world and creatively adapt these in charting the path of the African revolution. Such an understanding also helps us to recognise who are our friends and who are our foes.

In broad outline the main features of the way in which society in South Africa is ordered may be set out as follows:

Ø. The South African economy is a developed and industrialised capitalist economy with a developing machine tool sector and harnessing sophisticated modern technology.

Ø. At the same time this economy is sharply etched with colonial features. Its industries, mines, agriculture and commerce are built and dependent on sweated black labour. Black workers, by legislative and administrative fiat, are confined largely to unskilled and manual jobs. Cheap black labour is the source of the super-profits that make South African enterprises such an attractive proposition to both local white and foreign investors. The core of this labour force consists of Africans. Africans, and to a lesser extent Coloureds, provide the agricultural labour force. Mining is totally dependent on African labour, which is largely employed on a migratory basis. In industry and commerce, while Indians and Coloureds are granted limited opportunities in skilled jobs, the general norm is that black labour and African labour in particular is confined to manual and unskilled work. Equal pay for the same work is unheard of and the wage differentials are extremely wide.

Ø. In all spheres the condition of black people is similar to that of oppressed peoples in the classical modern colonial set-up. They are politically subjugated, economically exploited, socially discriminated against and treated as inferiors.

Ø. Political power is monopolised by the whites. The whites control the economy. Socially the life of the whites is so organised that blacks are admitted into it only to wait at their tables, nanny their children, and as domestic servants.

Ø. The colonial model breaks down here in the sense that no foreign country remains as the colonising power. The whites in South Africa constitute this power. South Africa's capitalist class is drawn from its white population.

Ø. At the same time, foreign investments play a substantial role in our economy, with British and US capital investments holding the field against more recent penetration by West German, French and even Japanese investment.

Where, then, does racism fit into this model? Racism in South Africa has deep roots going right back to the early days of colonisation by Europeans. We do not propose to make any lengthy examination of this phenomenon here. It is our purpose to stress that racism on its own can never survive as a significant force in the life of a country for long, unless it is buttressed by the way in which the material conditions of life are ordered. In South Africa this objective basis for the entrenchment of racism came about via imperialism's resort to the whites as the social base through which it set out to maintain its exploitation of our country. This provided the basis for racism to develop into and hold the dominant position it now occupies. The South African ruling class has barricaded itself by erecting social, economic, political and psychological barriers between white and black. Racism is the gospel to herd the whites into a laager. Racism serves to perpetuate the privileged existence of the whites, and apartheid, which is racism in its most virulent form, is the ideology founded on and giving expression to this privileged way of life.

It is this interplay between the way in which the material conditions of life of the whites is structured and racism that has made racism such a powerful and dangerous force in the life of South Africa. By means of it the social and economic forces that would tend to bring about a closing of ranks between the blacks and sections of the white population are muzzled and distorted, and every section of the white community is nurtured with the idea that its position is threatened by the blacks. Thereby racism has become a material force in its own right and prevents any sizeable section of the whites from being drawn into the national liberation struggle.

The appeal of racism, buttressed as it is by such a privileged way of life, places those few and brave whites who ally themselves with the black man's struggle under constant and tremendous pressures to return to the laager. Racism and the maintenance of the privileges the whites enjoy have become so hopelessly intermeshed in the life and thoughts of the whites that a reactive anti-whitism as a phase in the development of the political consciousness of individual blacks is almost unavoidable. The fact that non-racialism is a leitmotiv in the programmes of almost all the forces in the struggle becomes an outstanding testimony of the maturity of their political and philosophical outlook and also points to deeper economic factors that are at play, and which rise above and beyond the constraints of racism.

If the objective conditions of the whites put blinkers on their vision and thereby confine their outlook to their short-term interest, the mainstream of thought among the blacks, and African nationalism in particular, has consistently risen above such constraints.

This caste-like division of our society into white and black renders it all the more necessary for us to be clear at all times as to how and where we draw the lines between the enemy and the people in our revolutionary struggle. The drawing of such lines, if the process is to be meaningful and of service to the revolution, cannot be allowed to be simply an outlet for bottled-up emotion. It must rest on the prevailing objective conditions and the long-term forces at work within the system, while taking into account the views and actions of the different sections of the population.

Objectively we, as the oppressed people, possess by our overwhelming majority a strategic advantage over the enemy, an advantage that guarantees the victory of our revolution. The enemy, by drawing the lines between white and black and, on this basis, attempting to make inroads and sow divisions among the blacks, hopes thereby to assure itself, first, of the undivided loyalty and support of all whites, and, second, to weaken the revolutionary forces of its strategic strength.

Monopoly of power has helped and does help the enemy to look with confidence to enjoin the support of the majority of whites. Whatever strata of the white population we look at, we can clearly mark out real and tangible benefits that accrue to it by virtue of the existing system. But to treat the matter solely on these terms is to hand to the enemy a gratuitous and unjustifiably inflated strength at the strategic level.

For any revolution to succeed, it is essential to pare away the strength of the enemy and to pin it down to the narrowest limits. Revolutions triumph not on the basis of absolute strength but on revolutionaries gaining a position of relative superiority over the enemy. Furthermore, signs of fissures and cracks in the unity of the ruling classes are one of the most reliable indicators of the stage that a struggle has reached. Every reduction of the enemy's strength has a much greater effect than absolute numbers. At this level there are two aspects to weakening the enemy that of winning sections onto the side of the revolution and that of neutralising sections of the enemy camp. To achieve both we have to take account of the fact that white supremacy benefits all sections of the whites. This means we have to look more closely at the structure of their societies and the different forces and currents of thought among them to devise appropriate tactics.

This means that we must be alive to the contradictions among the white population group. Consider, for example, the National Party and its image as the authentic voice of a united Afrikanerdom. Significant changes are taking place among the Afrikaners. They have gained entry and become an integral part of South Africa's capitalist class. This came about through the opportunities that opened up for them, particularly from the beginning of the Second World War. In addition, the National Party made use of political power since it became the ruling party in 1948 to speed up this process and force the entry of sections of the Afrikaners into a class that was once much the preserve of the English-speaking section. As a result, the Afrikaner community has become fully stratified and the National Party has begun to show signs of difficulty in projecting a convincing image to the Afrikaner that it represents all Afrikanerdom. It must continue to appear to serve all strata among the Afrikaner while in reality control of the National Party belongs to that section of Afrikanerdom that has become increasingly integrated in the capitalist class, either as fully fledged members or as bureaucrats and technocrats serving that class's interests.

The difficulties have not become unmanageable, but ripples are visible on the surface. Among the Afrikaners there has emerged a small group of intellectuals who are raising in their literature matters of a nature that are extremely disturbing to our rulers. There has grown a school of thought that actively espouses 'commitment' in literature, and the powers of the state and Afrikanerdom in general have reacted angrily. We need only refer, for instance, to the fact that Jan Rabie's The Agitator, Andre Brink's The Saboteur were refused publication. Brink's latest book was banned after publication. It is noteworthy that, in the field of literature, Afrikaner writers appear to be rapidly showing themselves more forthright and outspoken on questions of oppression and racial discrimination than their English-speaking counterparts, who have delved somewhat delicately into such questions over a longer period.

Furthermore, white students and other intellectuals have begun increasingly to question the foundations of apartheid. Perhaps this is partly due to the fact that as students they are in a phase of life when their consciousness of the economic and other benefits they derive from the system as whites is less constricting on their thoughts and actions and that in later life they eventually succumb to the corrupting influence of the system. But this is not an invariable law. The activities of these students are important - many will carry into their lives the lessons of these experiences. They show, as students, an awareness of the gap between themselves and their counterparts in other parts of the world, and are doing something about it. Recently even Afrikaner students at the Afrikaans universities have been showing signs of some independent thinking. They are pulling away from the Afrikaanse Studentebond (ASB), while at the English-speaking universities, the tendency towards a radical outlook and activities is becoming more pronounced.

At a general political level there are also signs of incipient, often very hesitant new alignments among which we have the setting up of the Progressive Reform Party. South African whites show themselves extremely sensitive to every triumph in the anti-colonial struggle and their concern arising from the triumph of Frelimo in Mozambique and MPLA in Angola has a touch of hysteria. The laager is increasingly proving to be a source of nail-biting insecurity.

All these are important signs. Small and insignificant as they may appear, our task is to look beneath them and find ways to exploit these fissures, widen them and whittle away the enemy's strength. This is supported by the experiences of other countries. There we are often able to see how developments in the colonies and the metropolitan countries interact to the advantage of the anti-colonial and the progressive forces in both countries. We have an example close to us in the recent triumph of the revolutionary forces in the Portuguese colonies in Africa and the democratic forces in Portugal. The experiences of the Portuguese soldiers in defending colonialism in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau were an important part in their awakening and their overthrow of the Caetano regime. In its turn the April coup in Portugal and its subsequent development considerably speeded up the victory of the liberation forces in the three colonies. Similarly the struggle and triumph of the Vietnamese against the leading imperialist power showed a close interaction between the Vietnamese struggle and the anti-war forces in the United States. Vietnam won its freedom. Inside the United States the effect of the defeat are still at work in that society.

The enemy rallies the whites on the basis that their survival is at stake. This is false. What is at stake is their privileged position. The clearest way of reaching into the whites (and all other national groups too) is for the liberation forces to explicitly state their position with regard to the whites. We recognise all people as belonging to our country and the Freedom Charter states this in no uncertain terms. This approach will help divide the enemy camp for it exposes the falsity of its propaganda.

We can rally all sections of our people and make inroads into the white community by raising the banner of 'Destroy Apartheid' for this is the crucial and immediate task of our revolution. Along this path we will be able to work with the widest and most diverse forces among all population groups and link up with the anti-apartheid forces inside and outside government institutions. Those who fear that such a wide platform is purely negative misconceive the situation. They are correct in demanding that as the vanguard of the revolution we must place before the people positive goals, a clear vision of not only what we are against, but also what we are for. We hold that this is essential and that this is precisely what the Freedom Charter does.

With regard the black people we wish to give attention to the divisive forces at work because these are the factors that prevent us from realising and giving effect to the potential strategic superiority that belongs to our revolution. Our emphasis will be to show the basis on which these divisive forces exist and to pinpoint the need for our constant and conscious effort to overcome them. In other words, we focus attention on the fact that such divisive tendencies are the direct product of the enemy manoeuvres.

At first sight, racism and the system of national oppression of all blacks objectively place all blacks into one camp. Whatever their class position, all blacks are denied the power to determine how our country is governed and are denied equality of opportunities. Nonetheless, while this is valid for the overall picture, the enemy has been unceasing in its efforts to drum racism into the thoughts and style of life of the blacks. We must face the fact that the enemy has made inroads. A vast array of measures that differentiate one black group from another is built into the apartheid system. While these measures were in existence long before the Nats came to power in 1948, the accession to power by the Nats heralded a steady increase in such measures. The basis of the differential treatment is the division of the black population into three groups: African, Coloured and Indian. In present-day South Africa differential wage scales apply to these three groups and jobs are reserved for one group or another. Coloureds and Indians may belong to recognised trade unions. African trade unions are not recognised by the law. Africans, Coloureds and Indians have to live in separate residential areas and go to separate schools and universities. These and many other measures provide an objective basis for the enemy to inject the poison of racism into our people. The manoeuvre is patent: let the different black groups see each other as threatening each other's position, isolate the different segments of the black people, drive them apart, detract their sights from the common enemy.

Whether between white and black or black and black, one of the ways in which the system indoctrinates the people and attempts to sugar-coat the pill of racism is to premise its differential treatment on the heterogeneity of the different population groups. The questions that it evades are the questions that must be asked if we are to find our way out of this jungle: Who created this system? In whose interest was it created? Whom does the system benefit? The heterogeneity of the cultures of our people is our wealth, which ought to cross-fertilise and broaden the humanity of our people. Instead it is abused at the altar of white supremacy.

The enemy has also set out on a consciously designed path of dividing the African people along tribal and ethnic lines. Again, it bases its appeal on drawing fine distinctions of culture and tradition and tribal lineage and to hold out the promise of each ethnic group's destiny outside the framework of the whole. This is one side of its many-pronged design that lies behind the Bantustan policy. The aim is clear: divide the African people to deal with them piecemeal.

Finally, in its arsenal of divide and rule, we have the timeworn and world-wide technique of anti-communism. On a world scale, in our own lifetime, we have been witnessing how the reactionary forces of the world drummed up a crusade against the socialist countries through the Cold War. The real aim of the Cold War was not only to destroy the socialist countries but also to halt the progress of the anti-colonial revolutions and to keep those countries that had gained political independence within the imperialist fold.

It is no longer open to doubt that the imperialists have long used the cloak of anti-communism to impede the struggles of the colonial and former colonial peoples. Many have been deceived by its appeal, but the passage of time continues to unearth incontrovertible proof. In the midst of the Watergate scandal and its aftermath is there anyone who can point with confidence to any struggle of the oppressed and exploited and say: Here the CIA kept out; here the CIA refrained from its notorious activities? The murder of Patrice Lumumba. The fascist coup in Chile. Numerous attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro. There is no need to catalogue the instances. The hand of the CIA is visible.

In our own struggle the gospel of anti-communism is preached and used by both the racist rulers of South Africa and foreign imperialist powers. To give but one example of the latter: in the early 1950s, and even before the Nat regime dared to openly dub the ANC and its allies as communist organisations, the foreign office of a well-known imperialist power had drawn up a list of 'communists' active in our organisation and treated our organisations as such. As for the white racist regime of South Africa, anti-communism has been a long-standing technique to divide our people and movements. To them every effort of the black people to liberate themselves is nothing but the work of 'communist agitators' and 'terrorists'. Its standard weapon for attacking, persecuting, banning, torturing and imprisoning freedom fighters is the Suppression of Communism Act.

Those who may be tempted to say that the racist regime in our country has so overplayed its anti-communist propaganda as to make it palpably unbelievable may have a point, but it would be dangerous to underestimate the extent to which the enemy indoctrination has penetrated our people's movements. We cannot ignore that much of the disunity among the organisations has been around the question of communism and communist participation in the struggle. John Vorster has already set out to present the presence of Cuban troops and of Soviet assistance given to the MPLA government of Angola as proof that communism is the threat to all Africa. Of course, what Vorster is doing is to try to deflect attention from the activities of his own racist regime and to breach African unity, which has solidly opposed the Vorster regime. The presence of the two states, Mozambique and Angola, on our borders, whose ruling parties openly declare themselves Marxist, and the way in which South Africa has set out to whip up anti-communist hysteria around developments in Angola, may well turn out to be the opening phase of a new high peak in the racist's internally directed anti-communist crusade.

The power of anti-communism lies in the way in which even well-meaning people succumb to it. Thus the late George Padmore, knowledgeable as he was, in his book Pan Africanism or Communism, instead of setting out the African revolution in terms of Pan Africanism versus imperialism and colonialism, posed the issue in terms of Pan Africanism against communism.

The majority of the black people are wage earners in one form or another, and it remains true even for present-day South Africa that workers and peasants constitute practically the whole of the black population. The black working class is at the forefront of our struggle. We, in the national liberation movement, can neither ignore this nor close our eyes to the fact that Marxism explains the nature of exploitation in a way that enables the worker to give meaning to his condition. The ANC and its allies in the Congress movement have consistently supported and assisted the organisation of black workers. The task of the national liberation movement is to unite all our people, irrespective of their class positions. National liberation is our goal, the unity of all classes and strata the condition for its attainment.

This is not something peculiar to the South African situation. Other countries waging national liberation struggles have faced similar problems. Achmed Sukarno made one of the clearest statements on this matter in the early years of the Indonesian struggle for freedom. In an article published in 1926 and entitled 'Nationalism, Islam and Marxism' he examined the diversity of elements to be found in the Indonesian struggle. After isolating Nationalism, Islam and Marxism as the predominant elements he asks: 'Can these three spirits work together in the colonial situation to become one Great Spirit, the spirit of unity? The spirit of unity which can carry us to greatness?' He was convinced that this was possible and concluded that 'the ship that will carry us to free Indonesia is the ship of unity'. The achievement of Indonesian independence shortly after the Second World War was a product of that unity. While Islam is hardly a significant force in our struggle, African Nationalism and Marxism are.

We would seriously endanger the success of our revolution if we were to allow anti-communism to destroy the basis of the strength of our liberation struggle. The experience of the ANC confirms the value of the co-operation of these forces and shows this as the firm basis for our strength and resilience.

Racism, tribalism and anti-communism are the three most dangerous impediments in the path of realising our strategic superiority over the enemy. They are part of the divisive armoury deployed against our struggle by the enemy. We have to wage a constant struggle to remove all trace of these divisive ideas among our people. In one form or another they divide our organisations and create disunity within organisations. Precisely because there is some objective basis for their existence, we cannot hope to eliminate them overnight. Thus racism can only be overcome with the triumph of the revolution. At the same time the very existence of such differential treatment shows that we must not allow our attention to be deflected from the source of our oppression and our common enemy. We must recognise and handle the problems arising within our ranks within the framework of contradictions among the people. That is to say, our struggle to overcome them must be founded on educating and persuading our people. Men and women are drawn into the struggle not as ready-made freedom fighters. They come into the struggle covered with the scars and mire of an oppressive society. Within our organisations and in the course of active struggle and constant political education, it is our duty to wash off the mire, heal the scars and make them steeled fighters for freedom. We live in a society permeated with racism, where tribalism and anti-communism are drummed into our people in a thousand ways. Even inside our organisations and sometimes, regrettably, in individuals holding high positions, vestiges of such thinking survive and bedevil our work. Such ideas are incompatible with our goal and we must never relax our efforts to rid our organisations of them.

One of the promising aspects in this connection is the emergence of Black Consciousness, which has been championed by the South African Students Organisation (SASO) and the Black People's Convention (BPC). That these organisations, the majority of whose members are African, have reached out and made Black Consciousness an idea which draws in all black people - Africans, Coloureds and Indians - is a measure of self-confidence and increasing maturity of the awakening forces in our country. That most of their activists are students, products of the education in racially and tribally organised government schools and universities, shows how repugnant apartheid is to our people and how all the power of the enemy cannot overcome the long-term objective forces that have been and are shaping our people as one people, and our country as one country.

It would be appropriate to address a few remarks here to the specific question of the unity of the organisations in our struggle. The problems of unity of our people, unity of our organisations and unity within our organisations are inter-related. One of the essential standpoints of this article is that we are servants of our revolution, of our people, and whatever organisation we may belong to, we must accept that much of the disunity evident among the masses arises from the disunity of our organisations. Our task should be to enlighten the masses, not to confuse. Any organisation or member of an organisation who goes to the masses to vilify other organisations in the liberation struggle or uses arguments founded on racism, tribalism or anti-communism to gain the support of the masses, serves no other purpose than to confuse and sow disunity among the people, and thereby makes the task of unity between the organisations even more difficult to achieve. These, fortunately, are errors that the ANC has assiduously avoided. As far back as 1950 the ANC sought to bring about the unity of the organisations in the struggle and its record in pursuing this objective is second to none. The achievement of unity between the organisations would be a triumphant milestone on our road to freedom. However we must be realistic in our expectations. Such unity cannot come about by the efforts of one organisation alone. It can only be the product of reciprocal action. The time is long past for speaking of the desirability of unity. We need to translate our desires into concrete terms. Our desires should be reflected in our actions. Our priorities should mark our realism. Our principal target must be: Destroy Apartheid!

We have a proud history of struggle behind us. Our people waged a long and bitter campaign of resistance from the earliest days of colonisation. Resistance was crushed by force of superior arms and organisation. The white man's conquest was made easier because our people had not reached the stage where the different tribes could be mobilised into one single mighty force, though there is evidence that already there were emerging individual leaders who were beginning to see the necessity for this. Resistance was crushed, but memories of those historic exploits remain to inspire us in our present struggles. In the present century too, we have accumulated a proud record. The path has never been easy. Moments in which we have been in a position to carry the fight to the enemy stand out as brief, brilliant flashes and beckon us to greater exploits.

We are living in one of the most difficult and challenging periods. Those short lived days when, despite the enemy having driven our organisations into the underground, freedom fighters emerged in the dark night to unleash bombs that reverberated across the country are now part of history. Since then our struggle has been one of regrouping, re-organising, and preparation, while the enemy has set out to execute a many-pronged offensive aimed at destroying not only our small tactical strength, but also our strategic superiority.

Someone who has been in prison throughout this difficult period cannot hope to make an adequate examination of the problems that have arisen. There are, however, two problems that lend themselves to some comment.

The Armed Struggle

The first of these problems relates to the decision to wage an armed struggle for the liberation of our people. In particular, two possible divergent views are isolated here, which, it is submitted, do not grasp the significance of the armed struggle in a balanced perspective. One rests on treating the armed struggle as a form of struggle that is exclusive of other forms of struggle. The other, which is the reverse side of the same coin, ignores the reality of the armed struggle, and exhorts us to seek the realisation of our goals solely through forms of struggle that would exclude the armed struggle. To see the path of our struggle in either of these exclusive terms is erroneous and harmful.

The armed struggle is not a form of struggle, which, merely by decision in its favour, or by its commencement, automatically becomes the dominant form of struggle. There exist at all times a multiplicity of forms of struggle that a movement exploits as part of its arsenal of weapons. Any form of struggle, including the armed struggle, can only emerge to dominance over time and as a result of consistent effort. Nonetheless, even if a given form of struggle emerges as a dominant one, this does not mean that other forms do not co-exist. What it does mean in such a situation is that the other forms come to occupy a subsidiary place and are essentially reinforcing the dominant one.

Several organisations in South Africa have committed themselves to the armed struggle. The leading organisation in this respect is the ANC and it is clear that its decisions and activities are dedicated towards raising the armed struggle to a position of dominance. It is also clear that the armed struggle has become a reality. Armed guerrillas of our liberation forces have for some years been actively engaging the forces of the enemy. This has happened in Zimbabwe, where forces of the Vorster regime were present to assist the illegal Smith regime,1 along the Caprivi strip and in Namibia. Our guerrilla forces are striving to overcome major difficulties in carrying the armed struggle right on to South African soil. There is every indication that this will become possible in the near future. Furthermore, the enemy recognises that the greatest threat to its continued rule emanates from our trained cadres who spearhead the armed struggle. All the efforts of the enemy are directed towards forestalling the growth of the armed struggle. In my view the armed struggle is destined to mature and steadily reach a position occupying centre stage in our struggle.

Within South Africa one of the most unreal aspects of political activity among blacks is that such activity totally ignores the reality of the armed struggle. This comment stands despite awareness of the rigid censorship imposed by the Vorster regime and the obvious slant that press reports must carry to depict all clashes as either being fairy tales or having gone against the guerrilla forces.

Under these circumstances one of the easiest mistakes would be for voices to emerge advocating that the liberation organisations should devote their entire energy towards the armed struggle, and desist from other forms of political activity which, along these lines, are regarded as diverting our energy and resources. Such a view misconceives the nature of our struggle and the relationship between other forms of struggle and the armed struggle. It amounts to ignoring the cardinal fact that the armed struggle, as we understand it, must develop into a people's war if it is to succeed, and as such depends for its success on the support of the masses, not only in providing guerrilla recruits but in a thousand other ways. The masses at this stage can only be drawn in by activising them through their day-to-day struggles against the Vorster regime in a variety of forms that may be conveniently described as non-violent. Further, such a view leaves the movement bereft of any guidance to the masses in areas where no armed action is taking place. When the masses, for example, ask what they must do about a given Bantustan government in their area, is it seriously suggested that the answer that this would be solved by the coming armed struggle can be treated as adequate, however much it may be backed by lengthy exposition of our struggle and its future course?

The responsibilities of our organisations should be clear. Thus for example, the claim that the ANC is 'the sword and the shield of the people' can only remain valid as long as this is evident not only from afar, but is felt by the masses in all spheres of their lives, where they are confronted with practical problems of both an immediate and long-term nature.

As for the opposite view, little needs to be said here beyond what has already been said to expose its policy. The importance of activising the masses - and this remains the most effective way to their politicisation - must take into account that the enemy has created a situation where the road to change by any means that excludes the armed struggle cannot lead us to our goal. The limitations of non-violent forms of struggle that, among other things, brought about the realisation of the need to prepare for and give effect to the armed struggle remain as valid today as they were then.

We face a powerful enemy and a long war for freedom and we would do well to draw lessons from the heroic struggle of the Vietnamese people. They have faced the power of France and the power of the almighty US and triumphed. One of the lessons of the Vietnamese struggle was that their victory was as much a political and organisational one achieved by building and maintaining a mass movement. One of the ways in which they succeeded in building up this political machinery was by setting up a structure of interlocking, self-help organisations throughout South Vietnam. Without efficient political machinery in the country our armed struggle will always be walking on one leg.

The Bantustans

Much of the confusion surrounding the relationship and interaction of the armed struggle and other forms of struggle becomes evident when another problem, namely, that arising from the Bantustans, is considered. The above should help us to find correct answers. From several points of view the enemy's thrust along the lines of its Bantustan policy gives rise to some of the most pressing problems facing us.

Faced with the growing power of the liberation movement, the rising threat of the armed struggle, and the hostility of world opinion to its policy, the enemy set out on a long-term manoeuvre that finds expression in its Bantustan policy. The beginnings of this manoeuvre lie in its attempts to substitute the policy of what it calls separate development for apartheid. Fundamentally this is no shift in policy and the objective is the same - the preservation of white supremacy. What it does reflect is a measure of growing subtlety and sophistication on the part of the Nat regime's methods. Instead of crudities like 'Keep the Kaffir in his place' there is the glib talk of each group's 'national identity'. And in selling their policy the method of the carrot and the stick has been prominent. On the one hand they bludgeon the popular organisations, imprison their leaders, torture and murder some, ban and banish others, and ban the organisations. Having terrorised and intimidated the people they appoint those among the blacks who are prepared to play ball and dangle the carrot of 'homelands', 'independence' and talk of consultations with 'national leaders'. The dishonesty of this manoeuvre is self-evident: the basis must always be that you can decide for yourselves, but only what we, the Nats, have decreed. They, who destroyed the culture of the African people, pose here as preservers of our culture and lecture us on the need for the preservation of our culture and traditions. Dedicated to fashioning their lives and living on the backs of the black people, they pose as our benefactors guiding us to 'independence'. And if anyone should see in all this a gross insult to the intelligence of the African peoples, why, such a person can be nothing else but a 'communist', a 'terrorist' and an 'agitator'.

But the Nats have never had it all their own way. The introduction of the Bantu Authorities Act met with the overwhelming opposition of the African people, including the chiefs. Those who voluntarily accepted the scheme were few and far between. Within the atmosphere of terror and intimidation, the racist regime forced Bantu Authorities on our people. It owes its successes in this respect to its relentless determination to force its policies on our peoples, the resources it commands by virtue of its control of the state, the weaknesses of our own organisations, and the presence of elements among our people who voluntarily agreed to play the game according to the rules laid down by the Nats and who, under the tutelage of the racist regime, have been elevated to the status of 'nationals leaders'.

In pursuing its objectives the Nat regime trimmed its policy to meet the developing situation, sharpened its propaganda offensive, but always kept a firm grip on its aims. In particular, it has long been evident that at the highest level the Nats had allowed for the possible development of the Bantustans to so-called political independence. That such a move was possible within the framework of its policy would have been evident to anyone who closely attended to the significance of the colonial model, as it has been adapted to explain the basic set up in our country. Faced with the reality of the armed struggle, the resistance of our people and the hostility of the world, it has had to accommodate the idea of independence.

Today there can be no doubt that 'independence' for the Bantustans is coming and this adds a new dimension to the problems that confront our movement. Within the 'politics of the Bantustans' it is hardly possible to conceive of any successful legal opposition that would make anti-independence its platform.

This must be acknowledged, although we understand the depth of the feelings we have against the machinations of the racist regime. With 'independence' for Bantustans the Nats will have gone a long way in dividing our people along ethnic lines. Furthermore, the Nats have sown seeds that may well become a time bomb that will explode in our midst long after they and white minority rule have been vanquished They have determined that if they are to fall South Africa should nevertheless be plagued with tribalism and regionalism.

Further, in a limited way, by 'independence' the Nats will have effected a de facto partition and dismemberment of our country. They would be only too pleased if such a partition could be accepted as a complete solution and that thereby the whole question of blacks in so-called 'white' South Africa could be willed away. But this is a pious hope out of joint with reality.

Our anger is all the more exacerbated because we realise that all the objective and long-term forces that shaped the development of our country and fashion its future show that the only path to the unity of its people, to a harmonious and peaceful way of life free of the poison of racism and tribalism lies in one South Africa, one nation, with one person one vote. What strains and difficult, painful moments 'independent' Bantustans will set in motion until we reach that goal are matters that lie ahead in the future. We shall only experience their full impact when the revolution has triumphed over apartheid. Nonetheless our vision of the future enshrined in the Freedom Charter remains unshaken and we shall carve our future out of the reality that will be inherited by the revolution.

In the meantime, we have to shape our tactics on the concrete circumstances. Specifically, this means that we cannot close our eyes to the fact of 'independence' of the Bantustans, and prosecute our struggle as if 'independence' does not exist. Bleak as the foregoing picture may appear to some, there are real and genuine grounds to make us confident that 'independence' of the Bantustans will in the process generate even greater problems for the enemy, whatever the problems it generates for our movement. That this will occur is evident in the latent and manifest contradictions present in the set-up, and the full effect of these will only come into play if we base our tactics on exploiting them.

Can it be done? When the Bantustans were introduced we decided to boycott the elections and hoped to kill the enemy designs in the cradle. In this we failed. The boycott was ineffective because we were never really in a position to effect it. Perhaps one of the vital points we overlooked in opting for the boycott is that its success depends on the complete and undivided loyalty of the people. We must examine the lessons of that episode and the subsequent developments with regard to the Bantustans dispassionately and clinically, and especially with a view to discerning our own weaknesses and errors. On the basis of those lessons we shall be in a better position to formulate and devise our tactics towards 'independent' Bantustans.

The broad outlines are clear. One of the important tasks of the national liberation movement is to work ceaselessly for the unity of our people. The future of our country lies in the first place in the unity of the African people, and as much in the unity of all our people. We have to work for this everywhere, even in the Bantustans. We need to bring the people of the Bantustans into the field of unity. This means that, while we uncompromisingly expose the fraud of these 'stans' and attack those leaders of the stans who kowtow to the white racists, we should at the same time unceasingly educate and persuade the people in the Bantustans to realise that their future is intertwined with the future of all the people in our country. They must be made to realise that as long as the white racists are in power freedom would be mere words. These regions, even after 'independence', would remain colonies of white South Africa.

The readiness of the white racists to grant 'independence' to the Bantustans has become possible for the ruling class of South Africa because it can be accommodated within the basic framework of maintaining the exploitation of our people. It is also reflected in the so-called 'outward looking' policy towards the rest of Africa that the Verwoerd-Vorster regimes have made much of in recent years. The kernel of this development lies in the fact that capitalism in South Africa has reached the point of expansion where it entertains imperialist ambitions for which overt and direct political control is not vitally necessary, as the experience of the other colonial and imperialist powers have shown. What it requires are investment outlets, markets, sources of raw materials and, in the case of the Bantustans, a reservoir of cheap labour. Hence its adjustments directed towards the rest of our continent are aimed at opening them to South African imperialist penetration, under the guise of helping them. Many African states, by virtue of the extremely low level of economic development and depressed conditions of life, may find this tempting. While Africa as a whole is fighting to establish its economic independence in the face of neo-colonialism, South African imperialism hopes that it can slip through the back door and secure Africa as its preserve of economic exploitation. In the same way, by granting 'independence' to nine Bantustans occupying a mere 13 per cent of the surface of South Africa, and marked by the absence of any real possibility of economic viability, the ruling class see in their 'independence' no real disappearance of the exploitative bondage to which our black people are condemned. This shows not only that the white racists remain the controllers of the real destiny of the people in those areas, but also that South African capitalism and South African racists pose one of the greatest threats to the freedom of the whole continent. Already white South Africa puts out feelers for a wider grouping of southern Africa. The African states have a magnificent record with regard to giving support and assistance and are continuing to give to our liberation forces. They have been relentless in pursuing the goal of freeing the whole of our continent from imperialism, colonialism and white minority racist rule. In helping to bring about the success of our revolution they are helping not only the oppressed people of South Africa, but also assuring the whole of our continent of a future in which the freedom of our continent will be meaningful to its peoples. As long as the white racists rule in South Africa, all African remains in danger.

We cannot abandon our peoples in the Bantustans to the dictates of the white racists and to those who choose to kow-tow to them in the Bantustans. White South Africa, in granting 'independence' to the Bantustans, hopes to win them over against the liberation forces. Cutting ourselves off from the people in the Bantustans would amount to playing right into the hands of the enemy. We have an alternative to offer to the people in these areas. We shall be able to offer it if we accept the reality of the political 'independence' of those Bantustans and set out to utilise every means available to expose the contradictions that make their 'independence' unreal and show them that their future lies not in co-operation and friendship with the white racists but in supporting and assisting the liberation movement whose real target remains the white racist regime of South Africa. The Bantustans must never be allowed to become the buffers of white South Africa.

This is not an easy task. In devising our tactics, we shall be required to tax our ingenuity to the utmost. We shall have to display flexibility without succumbing to opportunism. But it can be done. We have the organisations, the leadership and the cadres capable of seeing the web of ramifications and relationships that make our struggle so complex and capable of prosecuting the revolution by drawing on the extensive armoury of methods and forms of struggle that belong to the arsenal of revolutionaries. Within the Bantustans there exist forces that sympathise with our goals. One of our greatest mistakes is to see in every man and woman who works within these apartheid institutions an enemy of the revolution. Many are open supporters of apartheid. Yet many others in these institutions do not accept the regime's policy. Of these, undoubtedly many will develop vested interests and lose their way. But at all times we must be able to isolate and distinguish their motives and link up with the anti-apartheid forces. Apart from those active in these institutions there are the masses in each of the Bantustans who are the storehouses of latent forces. We must activise them and draw them into the battle against apartheid.

In the course of a liberation war there are many long and dark days. The tiny nation of Vietnam, in a war that stretched over more than thirty years, faced many such bleak moments. But a people who want freedom, who are prepared to fight for it, are capable of super-human efforts. We face a powerful enemy, but never can it match the strength of the enemy the Vietnamese fought and vanquished. The hatred of our people towards apartheid is deep and enduring. The people are our strength. In their service we shall face and conquer those who live on the backs of our people. In the history of mankind it is a law of life that problems arise when the conditions are there for their solution.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.