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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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Review of the past NCC (National, Consultative Conference) - 1985 -1988


In this section of the report, we briefly review developments since Conference. The review covers only the major developments and trends. Evolvement of the strategic situation and the balance of forces:

1. The movement concluded at the advent of the new wave of revolt that apartheid had entered a period of general crisis from which it could not recover; and that the Strategic Initiative had shifted irreversibly into the hands of the people. These conclusions were borne by the decisiveness and already apparent consistency of the revolt; the far-reaching demands on all fronts of struggle; the structural nature of the economic crisis; the floundering of the regime's policies and contradictions within the ruling class. The question whether there would not be a reversal of the balance in favour of the enemy depended not merely on the objective conditions but also on the capacity of the vanguard movement (and in part the MDM) to harness the energies of the people for intensified struggle, and the movement itself to root the army among the people and escalate armed blows. Therefore the related conclusions on the general crisis and the Strategic Initiative were both an expression of confidence in the people and ourselves, and an injunction for all patriotic forces to act and act decisively.

2. The period immediately after the NCC witnessed the further deepening of the economic crisis gripping the system. In addition to the structural indicators such as under-utilising of productive capacities, chronic and worsening unemployment, the progressive falling gross domestic fixed investments, skilled manpower crisis and soon, there were immediate problems of far-reaching dimensions such as the debt crisis. It is in this milieu that Botha's Rubicon speech was made, the regime was bailed out of this crisis by international finance houses. The structural crisis is a result of specific economic factors: e.g. the artificial manner in which the car industry had expanded, dependence on mining as the main source of foreign currency earnings and so on. But at the heart of this crisis are the politico-economic factors: the revolt and international anti-apartheid actions which have their effect on business confidence; spiraling government spending in the implementation and defence of apartheid; the precarious international market; black education and shortage of skilled manpower; the revolt (including strikes) and their effects on the economy and many more. It is quite clear, considering the totality of these factors, that the economy cannot experience any meaningful recovery without the restructuring of the socio-economic system as a whole. However, there have been ebbs and flows within the structural trough; and, admittedly, the current "upswing" as reflected in relative GDP growth, is partly a result of the perception of big business regarding the ability of the regime to "stabilise" the situation. Yet even the growth figures given by the official statisticians not only include government expenditure but also fall far short of population growth. Combined with inflation, all this makes the pauperisation of the majority a stark reality.

3. By 1985, the regime had openly admitted that it could no longer rule in the old way. Its crisis centred around the reality that the mass of the people were demanding and acting resolutely to destroy the system.

3.1. The regime was merely managing a crisis unable to give any coherent lead. It is beyond dispute that Pretoria has not won back legitimacy over the period under review: it has not reversed the consciousness of the people regarding the strategic perspective. Rather what needs examination is the issue whether it has not successfully curtailed the people's capacity to act for the attainment of that perspective. We examine this in the sections below. But suffice it to state that in this period the regime was forced to abandon all attempts at winning hegemony through reform as the starting point for its continuing survival. While continuing to pursue the process of self-legitimisation, the rulers have put before everything else the prerogative of eliminating all opposition by the iron fist - in their words , to eliminate "revolutionaries", "subversive structures" and "riots" - and coerce the people into accepting their rule. This campaign entails mass detentions, restrictions on virtually all democratic activity, assassinations within the country and abroad and so on. As deliberate policy, the attempt to win the hearts and minds of the people through pretence sat "good government" and constitutional jugging are implemented concurrently with, but predicated on, the elimination of dissent. The counter-insurgency strategy of the regime cannot be dismissed as directionless crisis-management: it is well-planned, well thought-out and well co-ordinated.

3.2. At the height of the revolt, the realisation by virtually all sections off the ruling class that 'things had to change' led to the fact that the decision to declare the National State of Emergency was taken outside the cabinet and the latter informed only a few hours before the public announcement; the tug-of-war now and then on how to resolve the education crisis - all these were a manifestation of these differences of approach. It should be emphasised that these are kitchen cabals within one family and revolve around the how's, not the why's and whereto's. Whether these differences have been resolved is a matter of conjecture, but the empirical reality is that the totality of the power-structure has been harnessed to put up the public face of unanimity being the current approach. Revolutionaries cannot ignore divisions at the highest levels of the enemy structure, but they have to confront the existing reality and operate from the premise that it is mass and armed struggles first and foremost which will influence the dynamics of ruling clique policies.

3.2.2. Over this three-year period, Afrikanerdom has experienced a shake over the implications of which are strategically far-reaching. In the midst of what many increasingly perceive as a national crisis demanding national solutions, they have been forced to look into what such lasting solutions could be and how they can contribute to their realisation. Naturally, the first to come to this junction were the intellectuals whose capacity to justify and defend the system, to modify of and eliminate the conflict-generating elements have floundered on the rocks of simple logic and practical events. Even within the highest echelons of the Broederbond there was a continuous search for (in their thinking) some middle area of compatibility between Afrikaner and African nationalism. But most significant was the break between a sizeable portion of the doyen of the Afrikaner intelligentsia and Botha's ruling clique. Coupled with the Wynand Malan et al breakaway, Van Zyl Slabbert's resignation from parliament and the emergent organisations - this creates a new era of a public and possibly mass challenge to the NP from its hitherto conceptive ideologist - from positions that address the fundamental question of a democratic South Africa. The perception of stigma that such actions would invite is gradually being transformed into the status of a prophetic "new Voortrekker". The Dakar encounter further consolidated this tendency and it has set in motion a series of consultations involving Afrikaner sportspeople, now Afrikaner women, etc. The forces involved have not yet shed all the illusions of the past; they have not abandoned old conception that would endanger the National Democratic Revolution. But they are prepared to exchange views and to listen. Much has been written about the growth of the ultra-right and the potential it has to challenge the ruling party. Their actions do lead to the debilitation of the ruling class as a whole. Also of operational significance to the democratic movement are: the threat that these forces pose to the struggling people both as informal adjuncts of the racist machineries of repression, and as formal members of these machineries; the social forces e.g. workers who are drawn to them; and their role in precipitating what could develop into a racial conflict. An interesting factor with regard to the whole of Afrikanerdom is the disintegration of monolithic unity and the fact that the NP has to rely on the English vote for almost half of its electoral support.

3.2.3. Big business was at its most vocal against apartheid at the height of the upsurge and the 1985 economic near-collapse. Their talks with the ANC should be seen in this context. Also they had all along banked on the belief that the burgeoning trade union movement would be co-opted into the system. Some of them- if not most- did and do realise the structural nature of the socio-economic crisis and were vocal then in calling for relatively radical changes including the release of political prisoners and a negotiated settlement. Their long-term goal as reflected for e.g. in the Business Charter, support for the Convention Alliance and Indaba consist in such solutions as would leave monopoly capital intact, white privilege entrenched, and negotiations a la power-sharing. They thus consistently search for the political middle ground: though their occasional opposition to apartheid is appreciable. There are a few among them who call for universal suffrage in a united and non-racial South Africa and fewer still who are more consisIrevolt [sic] is the one between mid-1985 and mid-1986. While there were indeed many weaknesses eg. national co-ordination, armed input, etc the revolt was thriving and escalating.

4.1. The street battles and barricades spread to many other areas. Self-Defence Units and combat groups were mushrooming 'everywhere'. The destruction of racist administrative structures in the African townships had assumed a national character; and in the place of these structures people's committees invariably took control.

4.2. The revolt spread to cover the rural areas such as the Lebowa Bantustan. In this area people's committees were set up in the form of village committees; the war was being taken to the white farming areas, etc.

4.3. The weapon of the general strike was being more systematically used - with devastating effects - in the localities. In Witbank and Warmbaths, the strikes were held for over a week. On the factory-floor, the tactic of occupying the factories during the strikes was spreading. Weapons such as the rent and consumer boycotts were being more extensively used.

4.4. In line with the spread of the 'people's power movement', the educational struggle was being put in its proper context, and tactics of struggle in this field better appreciated. The suspension of the boycott - as a tactic - and greater co-operation among all sectors of the community on this issue led to co-ordinated effective actions to realise people's education.

4.5. The JODAC/UDF Call to Whites campaign attracted a wide spectrum of whites and led to a new surge of interest in the politics of the democratic movement. This campaign involved forces which previously had deliberately shunned each other: the "white left" and the "liberal" forces.

4.6. Organisationally, COSATU had emerged on the political scene; and the UDF -though quite severely affected by the partial State of Emergency - was gaining some experience in semi-legal organisation. Many grassroots structures such as UDF Area Committees were emerging.

5. With the declaration of the national State of Emergency in mid-1986 and its subsequent renewal and tightening, the regime setout to employ "the iron fist", with the aim of decisively regaining the initiative.

5.1. In addition to its formal machineries of repression, it started to systematically employ 'less formal contingents' recruits especially from among the unemployed and the rural populace, in the form of vigilantes, 'kitskonstables' and the municipal police. It also exploited contradictions within communities to win sections to its side for the campaign of destruction and mayhem.

5.2. The counter-strategy of the regime pursues the following basic objectives:

* to fragment struggles by isolating regions and sectors of the population;

* to dislocate the MDM and render it incapable of giving leadership;

* to muzzle the media and through its own propaganda discredit the ANC, the democratic movement and people's committees; create the impression that it is in control and generate a feeling of fear, insecurity and demoralisation;

* to gain information from detainees and through its revived network of informers; and weaken organisations by detaining its most capable leaders;

* at times to allow structures to operate while it monitors their activities to act against them 'when the moment is ripe'.

6. The period since the declaration of the Emergency has been one of great trials. The level of confrontation had been raised to new heights, and the question was whether the MDM (and the vanguard movement) had mustered the capacity to rise to the occasion. Various tendencies have manifested themselves, some perhaps contradictory. Comparatively-speaking - the press curbs notwithstanding - the scale of the revolt abated. Dislocation of democratic leadership had taken its toll, and the adaptation was erratic. But resilience on the part of the people and the youth and workers in particular was at its most staunch.

6.1. While the. SoE immediately had a dampening effect on the revolt, great strides were made in areas such as Soweto and KwaNdebele precisely in the second half of 1986. In both instances the injection of "higher" revolutionary forms had a direct bearing on the success scored. In KwaNdebele the upsurge entailed the committing of large groups of rudimentary combat forces, the involvement of traditional chiefs central to the area, the civil service and even sympathetic police. In Soweto, the general strike was used effectively, but more important, the popular actions had the support of the rudimentary combat groups and cadres of MK.

6.2. The weapon of the general strike has been continuously used. At the initial stages, eg July 14th, 1986 the Call for such action did not have much effect because of weak mechanisms of organisation and co-ordination between UDF and COSATU. The most significant strike in the period ending 1987, was on May 5/6 during the whites-only elections. The issue itself related more to the strategic perspective rather than an emotive or worker commemoration. The large turnout nationally in spite of severe repression pointed to the politicisation of the people and their resilience if given the lead; the revival of grassroots structures, and the decisive role of COSATU and workers in general, as a political force.

6.3. In the period under review there has been a phenomenal growth in the number of strikes particularly on the issue of the living wage. The numbers involved, the length of the strikes, the combination of mass action with combat activity (eg railways and commercial sectors) emphasise the growth of militancy in this sector. Also, business houses have quietly admitted that sabotage on the factory floor has dramatically increased.

6.4. A number of re'J[sic] of heightened revolt. Put in a broader sense are they organs of protracted struggle or merely of insurrection - or can the two be married.

6.4.2. The education struggle was severely hit by the SoE. Targeted by the regime, the structures of students and the community were rendered inoperational except in a few areas such as the W Cape and the "liberal" universities. This had the effect of turning the "back-to school" movement into a trap in which the regime progressively wrested away the gains that had been won. Yet a boycottist approach would not have resolved the problem, for there were virtually no structures to lead and co-ordinate it and the community was not mobilised to give support. Therefore on the education front we have had to start the painful process of creating grassroots structures from the beginning. Lately the organisational strength has been mustered to launch a few organised skirmishes.

6.4.3. The rent boycott has been one of the most persevering forms of resistance. Objectively, it rests on the reality of the pauperisation of the people, and the inability of the regime to break it all at once in all areas. Yet, with the weakening of structures, the boycott itself tends to peter out. National co-ordination has not been achieved, and the local/concrete approach has been employed.

6.5. Major developments in mass democratic organisation after the declaration of the SoE are, on the positive side, the phenomenal growth of COSATU and its streamlining as well as political development; and the formation of SAYCO. With the latter, the galvanising role it has played within the UDF especially by force of example - in a situation where demoralisation within the MDM leadership tended to set in - cannot be over-estimated. Yet this also has to be measured against the actual organisational strength – as distinct from popular appeal and propaganda statements - and the level of political consciousness across the board. It should be said though that since its formation, it has contributed a great deal in giving direction to the militancy of the youth and in correction the negative tendencies attendant on such lack of direction. Without recounting known facts, the following trends within the MDM need to be noted:

6.5.1. The onslaught of the enemy brought the issue of co-ordination among democratic structures and the need to broaden the base, to the forefront. From the Campaign for National United Action (UDF,COSATU,SACC and NECC) at the advent of the SoE, the democratic movement last year put on the agenda the need to move towards united action by all anti-apartheid forces. In actual practice, the women's sector, white democratic structures, teachers and others started this process within their own sectors.

6.5.2. Some level of adaptation to the conditions of severe repression had been achieved by the end of last year. Most significant was the conscious effort, at last, to plan campaigns and other actions and plan together (UDF and affiliates and COSATU) and to ensure the necessary division of labour.

6.5.3. The MDM in this period was also wrought by serious subjective problems. Some of them were posed by the new conditions; others were merely accentuated by these conditions. Most of them are interrelated:

* Democracy, collective leadership and accountability: In a paper prepared by the UDF NEC this problem (as manifested in the existence of caucuses) is situated in its historical context: the role of the Indian Congresses and white university progressive groups towards and in the formation of the UDF. Also skills and resources were centralised within these groupings. Consequently, these alignments found their way into the UDF. Suffice it to add that the 2 basic centres (Cabal and CRIC) emerged also in the historical context of movement underground reconstruction, in the process of which the individuals in the units concerned saw themselves as the custodian of ANC positions, the elite to guide the herd. This was often used to advance personal/group opinion and interests. In addition, the constituencies they emerged from are elitist - mainly the intellectuals and other middle strata - a fact which tended to warp their perceptions. (The same could broadly be said about the Indian Congresses in general. So that the problem with them would not so much be their ethnic composition as to their mass base. Effectively the working class is not involved and they derive their mandates from intellectuals, students and shopkeepers). Further on the factions :personality differences, the deliberate intervention of the state and the difficulties of operating under the SoE have compounded the problem. * Related to the above are some ideological problems within the 2Katory[sic] approach to struggle); question of the united front; and tactical questions such as whether or not to take part in the "Indian referendum". These struggles and allegations were muddled up by the enmity among groupings and marred by the fashion of labeling opponents. Within COSATU the ideological battles play themselves out even more intensively but essentially around the same issues.

* While the youth played an important role in galvanising the MDM and the revolt, discipline has n3lot been their best attribute. In many instances they (naturally) moved ahead of other forces, but committed the fundamental error of wanting to coerce the rest of the people to this level of militancy.

* The conditions of severe repression threw up countless questions: now the UDF should relate to "illegal" actions eg in relation to combat groups, and at the same time protect its legality; when individuals go underground there was the tendency among some leaders to "go down" with the organisation, to undermine democratic procedures and to further fan cliqueism; relationship between national leadership and regional autonomy; the tendency among some to see the wave of repression as a passing phenomenon and on the other hand the tendency to dismiss all "legal" work as having become irrelevant; proposals that the UDF be transformed into a political organisation as distinct from a front, etc.etc.

* The tendency to undermine work in the rural area.

* UDF/COSATU relations: how should alliances be formed: should the latter affiliate; is COSATU within its mandate to seek to form alliances with the UDF affiliates on the grounds that they are 'socialist-orientated' and to dismiss the front as a potential 'strategic ally'; previously weak mechanisms of consultation before decisions are taken. These and many other questions relate to the central issue of the input of the vanguard movement into the development of the MDM. We address attempted solutions to some of the problems in a later section.

7. As noted at the National Consultative Conference, armed struggle is the most decisive ingredient of the popular revolt, the crucial co-efficient of people's power. The declaration of 1986 as the Year of MK sought to further highlight this fact, an75d to rectify the glaring reality that the revolt was crying out for more armed activity. In this section we outline the facts and figures. These will be balances out against our plans and problems in implementation in the subsequent sections.

7.1. The number of armed operations has registered an upward trend: 1984….45, 1985…..150, 1986…..240, 1987…..250. It can be seen from the graphic trend that armed actions do relate to the intensity of popular revolt. 7.2. Besides the figures, the changes in qualitative indices reflect the following:

7.2.1.More and more of the cadres involved are trained inside the country or are legally bases inside. Hand grenade squads constitute the majority of those units set up and activated inside the country. Also, the number of cadres being sent in has dramatically increased.

7.2.2. A characteristic feature of the action is that they are increasingly directed against military and police personnel. In 1987 122 of such actions were carried out with estimated enemy casualties as follows: 71 killed and 157 wounded.

7.2.3. Landmine warfare also became a feature of the armed struggle, with telling effects on soldier-farmer morale. In more instances the mines hit at SADF, SAAF, Bantustan soldiers and the soldier-farmer. Yet in others black travellers and farm workers were hit.

7.2.4. Actions in support of mass struggles also occupied unimportant place. Most notable were the support for commercial strikes and the merger with the revolt of railway workers last year.

7.2.5. Also significant has been the deliberate revolutionary violence of the people; sabotage on the factory-floor; burning of sheds and other farmers' properties; digging of trenches and wholesale usage of rudimentary forms.

7.3. At the same time, there have been many negative trends:

7.3.1. A significant percentage of what we term armed actions have been "surprise battles" forced on cadres either at the moment of infiltration or in their "basis" within the country. In 1987 41 of all the actions were enemy initiated by the now level of discipline, consciousness and commitment noticed in the recent period among many cadres. It should be noted though that many of the cadres have acquitted themselves well wherever they may be.

7.3.4. Also, the enemy network does find its way into the movement underground. Our internal structures are as yet not strong enough to undertake the vetting process conclusively; and this is worsened by the fact that we depend for our recruits on people who come to the ANC at their own initiative. The enemy uses various methods against units of MK. In some instances units have been allowed to operate while being watched, in others they are instantly destroyed, yet in others weapons in DLB's are booby-trapped....Each case needs to be - and is being - dealt with concretely. The trends emerging are being studied.

7.4 It should also be noted that the social composition of the army continues to weigh heavily towards students and even the déclassé elements. We s?N[sic] the problem areas identified during the implementation of previous programmes. We also consult as much as possible with the MDM leadership. The general approach is to continually activate as many of our people as possible to confront the enemy on all fronts and to escalate our armed blows. As stated above, these two aspects of struggle are interrelated and should in fact merge in the process. At the same time, the movement's role at all levels should be such that it is accepted by the masses, the MDM and all anti-apartheid forces as the leader and the umbrella of the forces opposed to the regime. It must so act as to emerge, in fact, as the alternative power in South Africa.

2. The central factor in this process is the creation and upgrading of our underground structures within the country. The NCC identified the creation of leadership structures and the systematic expansion of our network as being among the major tasks to be urgently attended to.

2.1. The underground presence of the movement can broadly be assessed as follows:

2.1.1. Quantitatively it amounts to a few hundred operatives most of whom are organised into units . There have been ebbs and flows in the quantitative strength owing to arrests (in some cases simply for legal activities under the SoE) or exposure and forced departure. The bulk of what is termed the underground are "political" units and operatives. The rest are cadres and support networks of MK and Security and Intelligence. There has not been much integration in the sense of leadership structures to supervise most of the work inside the country. There are thousands of other activists who are independently carrying out movement work eg reproduction and distribution of propaganda, sympathisers who assist cadres now and then, stray individuals who were once in contact with a movement member, etc. and many more who act - in their belief - in accordance with everything the movement says. All these are not movement members per se, and do not act under its supervision per its direct instructions and being accountable to it.

2.1.2. The underground is able to reach out practically all democratic organisations. It was instrumental in their formation. The emphasis outlined earlier (in the 1987 Theses on our Strategic Line) - on mass mobilisation towards the creation of mass revolutionary bases meant that the movement concentrate more on the formation of mass mobilisation units and to a very limited extent propaganda units. The main task of the mass mobilisation units was to see to the emergence and strengthening of democratic organisations and the activation of the people through them. While a lot of ground was covered and many leaders of the MDM are a product of the underground, there was no proper planning of the development of the units and the individuals themselves. Consequently, the most capable cadres so recruited and developed tended to see work in mass organisations as the be-all and end-all of movement work. Also, most of them found themselves hoisted to leadership positions; with the result that they could effectively do no other work. To an extend, we ourselves developed this lopsidedness at least in our subconscious mind. The process of re-adaptation has been a difficult one.

2.1.3. The fact that we have to "construct" the internal organisation from outside - in so far as flurry of intense debate within this class. At various levels of the ruling class divisions became quite obvious . The sharpest expression of these contradictions during this period can be characterised as follows:

3.2.1.Within the cabinet and other power structures proponents of "reform" as the main starting point wrestled against those calling for effective repression first. Reported divisions around Rubicon Itent[sic] in their opposition to apartheid. However, the majority have recovered from the 1985/86 shock and prefer to cash in on repression. With the sanctions movement gathering momentum, all have joined the regime to find ways of evading the net. With the labour movement radicalised, most have joined the regime to find ways of bashing it. In brief, the 'politics of consensus' gradually came back to the scene. Simply, the extent of reversals were certainly suffered in this period:

6.4.1. In virtually all areas, people's committees were rendered inoperative. This was partly a result of the objective conditions created by repression. But they might have survived better if the phenomenon itself was sufficiently grasped by the actors; if guidance was forthcoming from the underground and the MDM; if big business' (vocal) opposition to apartheid is directly proportional to the magnitude and decisiveness of the crisis and inversely proportional to the (actual/apparent) capacity of the regime to stabilise the situation.

4. The processed taking place within the economy and the dynamics within the ruling class have a bearing on, and are themselves influenced by, the popular revolt. A distinct period in the mass & the organs had been developed to have the minimal military clout to harass the enemy across the country etc. Attempts at reviving these structures have not borne much fruit. This does pose the question whether the organs of people's power (primarily as organs of a new legality and of struggle) can be a permanent phenomenon (and in certain instances operate clandestinely) or they can only emerge and thrive at moments democratic movement eg. understanding of Colonialism of a Special Type and the class/national question; the issue of movement towards people's power and the alleged emphasis by Cabal forces on negotiations (it is consistently alleged that those who control resources and belong to the Cabal deliberately undermine militant campaigns and ignore militant areas because of their overemphasis on legality and their conciliation.

7.3.2. The rate of casualties is rather high. In 1987 43 fell in action and 102 were captured by the enemy. Measured against the number sent in and the armed action count, the figure is too high. At the same time, many of those captured by the enemy easily turn against the movement and are employed in a wide variety of devastating roles against us.

7.3.3. The rate of casualties and turncoats is partly explained and should also report that the regime and its allies have intensified bandit activity in Angola, and indications are that they also have express purpose of destabilising our training and other bases. We have suffered a number of casualties in the recent period; but our cadres are holding out bravely in defence of an important link in the chain of armed struggle: the rear and training bases. Movement Programmes and progress in their implementation: Programmes of Action of the movement are drawn on an annual basis, and adjusted when the need arises. In charting the way forward for a given period, we base our approach on the strategic perspectives set out at the NCC; the actual state of affairs at the given time; and overall leadership and all-round training are concerned - has had its effects on the process. In the main, we rely on the opinions of contacts we have; most of them in experienced and lacking in confidence. Inversely these operatives rely on detailed guidance from outside even on the most common chores.

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.