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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
Mayibuye, Peter [Joel Netshitenze]
Conducted by Howard Barrell,
Lusaka, July 11 1989
We are dealing with the 83-86 period. In your mind what were the major developments, what was the major change in ANC tactical thinking over this period -- from the formation of the UDF through until the second half of 86 when there is a series of fairly widespread localised uprisings and the state institutes a national state of emergency?
It would be difficult to talk about it in the context of the period. Maybe what we can do is to look at what the ANC did before that, immediately before that period and the kind of thinking it was issuing, and directives it was issuing to the people as the uprising was assuming a mass character.
In the first instance what would need to be noted is the fact that the period prior to 83 was characterised by an intensification on the part of the ANC of the campaign of mass organisation and organisation within the country. Having put forward the slogan, Confront the enemy on All Fronts, the ANC worked on a programme for first and foremost organisation of various sectors of the population in true democratic structures. It has the ultimate purpose that sectoral organisation should lead finally to the emergence of a broad anti-apartheid movement, which would unite all forces which were opposed to the racist regime. The ANC evolved that kind of approach, believing that if there is to be a victory over the regime, it is fundamental that the overwhelming majority of the people are not only activised on issues that affect them directly as sectors of the population but in unity on the fundamental question of political power; that all local and sectoral struggles must lead to the issue of political power. So that, the beginnings of the uprisings in the mass and revolt form was at the same time a build-up of the sectoral struggles that were taking place, but secondly also a result of the terrain which was created unwittingly by the regime itself -- the issue of the new constitution and elections into local affairs structures, and so forth.
When these uprisings took place -- coming to the question of tactical approaches of the movement in the period of 83-86 -- there were new elements in the uprisings which required on the part of the ANC a relook at some of the approaches to mass mobilisation, mass action, mass organisation and how these relate to the question of armed struggle.
In the first instance, one of the main qualitative developments in this period was the intensification of mass action to the extent that understanding the slogan of the ultimate perspective of the seizure of political power -- the people went ahead not simply to protest against local structures of government of the regime but to even destroy these structures in many instances over many parts of the country and to replace them with their own organs of rule (if you like). And perhaps, if we were to dwell on this extensively, one could say that when that happens in any struggle in the first instance it shows the level of consciousness of the people. But secondly, it also introduces the new element where in creating these organs of people's power, people start exercising democracy within their own localities and getting that novel experience of running their own lives. [Thirdly] to achieve that level of mass action and mass revolt, where you destroy the organs of the government and create your own, it becomes quite clear that you cannot use one form of struggle. Mass action, mass protest itself plays an important role, but one element that led to the emergence of these organs of people's power, as they were popularly known, was that people were combining all forms of activity -- mass protest and mass action, but also rudimentary forms of armed activity. [Fourthly] with regard to these organs in particular what also emerged was that the act itself of removing the organs of rule of government and replacing them with people's organs constituted a revolutionary challenge to the existing status quo and, therefore, would elicit repression on a very massive scale from the regime. And, therefore, as the situation was developing, another question that was emerging was how, then, do you defend these revolutionary gains.
Now, taking all these elements in their totality, they did affect ANC tactical thinking in many ways. First and foremost, the question of how mass action relates to the conduct of armed struggle and how that armed struggle itself unfolds in the context of these mass actions taking place [was central]. If, as we have indicated, the mass revolt also entailed rudimentary forms of armed activity on the part of the people, that, therefore introduced the element in movement thinking, maybe at a qualitatively new level, of creating the necessary balance between activity of an armed nature undertaken by professionally trained armed combatants and activity undertaken by organised or even unorganised combat groups, popular combat groups, formed at the initiative of the people. It was necessary to consider at a new qualitative level the role that the professionally trained cadres can play in upgrading the activities of popular combat formations. So that, if, a few years before that, one of the main emphases in sending in professionally trained cadres of the movement would have been to ensure that they undertake armed actions and ensure their survival sometimes within a situation where there was no mass action at all, and undertake the many operations that we know about from the late 70s up to 82/83 (I think that was the new emphasis the few years before that), there had now to be the new emphasis of ensuring that these trained cadres, or amongst these trained cadres, there would have to be many among them who had the task of upgrading these popular combat formations ensuring their proper structuring, ensuring that they operate in a manner that gradually becomes a serious challenge to the enemy armed forces. This would entail amongst other things ensuring that these combat formations see themselves first and foremost as political units of the democratic movement in its totality. Secondly, that they have the command structures that takes into account all the needs of combat activity like the commander, reconnaissance groups, the question of how to capture weapons and so forth. So that, at one level, there was a need to emphasise this aspect of military work: that is upgrading the popular combat formations that had been formed. That is one element in strategic and tactical thinking on the part of the movement that saw maybe a bit of a shift compared to the previous years.
Secondly, the emergence of the organs of people's power that we were talking about also raised a number of interesting questions. What are organs of people's power, first and foremost. It's a question that needed to be looked at in detail, because you would find various misconceptions amongst people, where they would see street committees, the organs of people's power as we called them, simply as an implementation of the M-Plan, which would then reduce the organs of people's power to mass organisation, simply organising any movement on a street basis. And therefore, it needed a lot of thinking because organs of people's power are a qualitatively different kind of organisation in the sense that they are almost in a rudimentary form an expression of popular democracy being exercised by the people. And, if we look at the concrete experiences in various parts of the country, you would find that these organs of people's power emerged at the period of heightened mass revolt in any particular locality where they did emerge. They were not the product of a blueprint of the thinking of revolutionaries or any far-sighted individuals. But at periods of heightened mass revolt on the part of the people, which leads to the collapse of the organs of rule of the regime, you found the street committees and area committees and all similar structures emerging. Secondly, these organs of people's power were not an expression of the thinking of any particular organisation but the exercise of their will on the part of all the people who resided in that particular street or locality. Thirdly, they attempted as much as possible to exercise democracy among the people residing there, and ensure that each household, each individual is directly or indirectly involved in the running of their own affairs. [Fourthly], they became also instruments through which people in particular localities were able to review their past actions, their weaknesses and strengths, and then plan for future actions to heighten struggle on the basis of the various issues agitating them or even on the basis of national campaigns.
And therefore, what all these developments led to was this discussion and debate about organs of people's power, their role in struggle and their character as distinct from simple mass political organisation. And it was the realisation of their significance, both as an expression of the exercise of democracy on the part of the people and also as instruments of struggle that led the movement to take them very seriously and look for ways in which these experiences could be spread from the various localities where all this was happening to assume a national character. It also necessitated on the part of the movement the process of studying experiences of other revolutions in so far as the emergence of such organs is concerned, and also to study our own experiences in our history where situations of a similar nature had emerged. We could talk about what happened in Pondoland in the late 50s and early 60s, the emergence of Indaba, and a few other experiences, for example in the northern Transvaal in Sekhukuneland, and the Western Transvaal. So that, on the basis of that study of experiences of other countries and our own experiences, it became necessary for the movement, as I was saying, to call for the spreading of this experience throughout the country and secondly to start looking at the question: if out of heightened revolt that combines both mass action and armed activity these organs of people's power emerge, where they have emerged in a situation in which the central bodies of power of the regime are still in existence, how do you ensure that they are defended? But secondly, with regard to the conduct of armed struggle itself, the other important question that it threw up was this peculiar emergence in our own situation of what is akin to liberated zones, but not liberated zones in the classical sense -- like in other situations where classical guerilla warfare was waged. In our situation, the townships themselves, because of these activities that I have outlined, become revolutionary bases where it is difficult for the enemy to move except in large formations, where the authority of the regime has completely collapsed, where its authority would be as transient as the army columns that patrolled the townships. In such situations, therefore, positive conditions emerged for the survival in operation of combat groups of MK. And the important question that arises here is that, whilst it is possible, it had been done, to intensify armed struggle in a situation where there was no mass activity at all, in a situation of heightened mass activity, many many other possibilities emerged for the survival and operation of MK combatants and for their merger with the rest of the revolutionary masses. Therefore, the question arose: How should armed struggle, as it is intensifying, relate to mass activity? Perhaps not very neatly, one could say there were two basic schools of thought: that perhaps we should be waging an armed struggle that simply relies on mass activity -- without mass activity what should be happening is for us to be consolidating our underground structures; and, on the other hand, that armed actions on their own can serve as a stimulant to mass action and at times, when mass actions are at their height, our armed activity would relate to them in an almost parallel fashion. I am saying there were those kinds of emphases, which did not necessarily emerge very neatly in the thinking of people, but also arising out of the previous experiences and approaches to the conduct of armed struggle.
But what became clear as the 83-86 situation was developing was that first and foremost armed struggle should be seen as a continuous process, a process that had even in situations where there was no mass activity and as the underground structures developed and the experience of the armed cadres and commander accumulates, and as the concept of waging armed struggle under these difficult conditions becomes more and more refined, armed struggle should necessarily continue to intensify as a continuous process. But, at the same time, armed struggle cannot simply intensify without taking into account its impact on the thinking and consciousness of the people, without thinking about how in the ultimate or the final analysis it is to merge with the activities of the people.
I think that perhaps in brief the conclusion that one could give here is that in our situation our armed struggle should necessarily be one that bases itself on its own intensification as an independent force, but also bases itself on the activity of the masses on the basis of which it is able to grow qualitatively -- a combination of both elements -- and not talking about armed struggle solely relying on mass activity, nor talking about mass activity simply being stimulated by armed struggle.
It is one of the issues, as I was saying, that emerged out of the uprisings and the activities of the people in the period 83- 86. But also, another review which was crystallised in 1985 at the National Consultative Conference related to the previous conception of the movement towards armed struggle as was based on the 1969 Morogoro "Strategy and Tactics". To the extent that, at the National Consultative Conference, the conclusion was reached that our previous formulations and approaches to the whole concept of armed strategies in South Africa suffered from certain emphases that did not necessarily apply to our own concrete conditions. If you read the 1969 Strategy and Tactics, it emphasises, or looks at the evolvement of armed struggle within our situation, as one based on the classical examples of all other areas where a guerilla struggle was waged -- in spite of the fact that there may be no mountains, and so on and so forth. There was the belief that armed struggle would evolve in the classical sense where people move in as trained guerillas and merge with the people and take advantage of certain weaknesses that the regime might be having in terms of movement in rural areas, and support of the people, and so on and so forth; but in the classical sense evolving as a classical guerilla struggle. The NECC in 1985 firmly asserted that that approach was incorrect; that in our situation, as I have been indicating, we need to look at the role, or evolvement of armed struggle in the context of first and foremost the building of strong underground structures within the country, having an infrastructure that will be able to absorb combatants of the people's army. Secondly, an infrastructure that will have its finger on the pulse on the activities and mood of the people, and underground that will be able to give leadership to the masses both in organisational and in mobilisational terms and ensure that, as armed struggle evolves, both on the basis of previous military action and also on the basis of the strength of the infrastructure itself, it will also link up with the mass activities of the people. But, in addition to that, another fundamental question would be that because armed struggle to a certain extent has to rely on the mass activity of the people, it would to a certain extent also suffer relatively when there are ebbs in mass activity. In inverse, a lot would be demanded of it when mass actions immediately erupt. Therefore, that needed a consideration on the part of the movement of relating the potential of the armed combat formations to act to their actual to their actual current actions. What this practically means is that, whilst we would want armed struggle to intensify massively all the time, as I was saying on the basis of previous experiences, there would be need to ensure that we have a potential that surpasses our current [level of] action: to the extent that, if there was to be a sudden burst of activity, we should be able to respond in a manner that corresponds to the demands of the situation.
So, what you are saying is that in a period of relative mass quiescence, the armed capacity of the liberation movement only ever operates below its real potential, holding back a considerable reserve of its potential in order to be able to produce this in a sort of shock attack on the regime at times of heightened mass activity. Is that what you are saying?
Yes, there would have to be that kind of approach. I think it is one of the implicit conclusions reached at the Second National Consultative Conference. And this in practice would mean, as we were saying, a strong underground infrastructure able to absorb cadres, cadres who would then be training the more developed elements of the youth and other sectors of the population, but developing them not simply quietly, without them undertaking any actions, but developing them in the process of action which action should necessarily be below the potential of the underground combat formations. So that, when there is this burst of activity, then to respond and ideally to live up to the expectations of the people. But, secondly, doing that would not necessarily imply that you have an army of thousands that is inactive; they would have to be active to a certain level but they would be able to respond to that situation, not simply because they would then collect all their weapons and form themselves into units and then simply start attacking, but they would be taking advantage of the forces that are being thrown up by the uprising itself, which forces would be needing leadership, would be needing skills of combat actions, skills of insurrection. Because, in the ultimate analysis, if we talk about a people's army we are not really talking about merely the professionally trained guerillas who would be the main actors in the final insurrection; we are talking also about a situation in which the trained guerillas become more or less the commanders, the officer corp of a broader people's army that simply needs to be harnessed, whose skills simply need to be upgraded. As I said earlier, and as I think concrete situations have shown, areas like Soweto and areas like Port Elizabeth, out of the heightened mass activity of the people popular combat groups emerge using rudimentary weapons but so fertile for organisation into real combat formations that the professionally trained guerillas simply have to harness those energies and direct them in a correct manner. I'm trying to clarify the fact that potentially it does not necessarily mean their emergence from hiding to forming themselves into units -- the combination of many, many factors.
That was very useful. I want to pick up some points. Over this period, how was this changing perspective reflected in terms of the political and military structures of the external mission and their relationship to each other?
Over the period 83 to 86. Perhaps what we should also indicate is that it might be a bit rigid to confine it to between 83 and 86.
Why, because the Revolutionary Council gets disbanded in 82-83?
83, yes. Because even the uprisings themselves were the result of growing ferment until they exploded into a new qualitative form of mass activity, and the thinking of the movement itself was evolving over time. You might find even a strange of structures before the uprisings themselves, a change of structures necessitated by a feeling, a thinking, a strategising that acknowledged that these kinds of developments are starting to emerge in our situation requiring new structuring, requiring new thinking insofar as strategy is concerned. For example, by 1979, the movement had already come to the conclusion that our armed struggle will be one in which partial or local uprisings will form an important element, basing ourselves also perhaps on the 1976 examples and so on and so forth. But the concrete realisation of that found expression in 1983-86, and perhaps it didn't emerge as people had thought because there were new qualitative elements in it. And the question of how this then affected our structures, I think the basic realisation that the conduct of armed struggle in our situation would require a strong underground therefore led to the realisation that the manner in which we structure ourselves should correspond to that thinking. You wouldn't think about waging struggle simply as having an army and its commanders and, in a parallel fashion, armed activity, separate from the actions of the people. But also, from the actions that were being undertaken, heroic as they were and having as they did a massive impact on our people and affecting the regime's infrastructure in many, many ways...
You're talking about armed propaganda?
Yes, the armed activities: there were certain weaknesses that needed correction, weaknesses relating to the period of survival of units that would be operating inside, how these units and the combatants themselves when they are inside relate to the people, how they forged the support networks and sympathy that is there all the time into a concrete organisational structure, and so on and so forth. These, therefore, necessitated rethinking not only insofar as structuring inside is concerned, but also our structures outside: the need to ensure that there are integrated structures outside that supervise...
When does that integration actually come?
Before 1983 there had been many, many attempts to integrate structures...
Under the old Revolutionary Council?
Under the old RC in the forward areas.
You're talking mainly about political and military structures?
Had these attempts been successful? Had they been uneven? Can you say to what extent this integration was achieved in the ANC External Mission?
I think the realisation that this had to happen came some time ago, as I said, and attempts were being made to restructure and perhaps not necessarily integrate -- people might say integrate, but what it amounted to was coordination.
And that would be coordination right at the top, or ...
At the top, maybe, depending on what we mean. It could be at the level of HQ even going down to forward areas. But these were more or less coordinating structures, and in the final analysis, there was still that parallel kind of approach to military command structures and political reconstruction.
Can I interrupt you, and give you the periodisation that I have. After the RC is disbanded in early 1983, one then gets a structure which does almost, in fact, entrench this pattern of parallelism. You get these new structures which amount in fact to parallelism because there is a clear military line of command and a clear political line of command. And, although this parallelism is often challenged and attempts are made at lower levels to coordinate, an integrated structure emerges only really after the Nkomati Accord is signed in March 84. After this, certainly in Mozambique, there the ANC comrades have to, by force of circumstance, ensure an integrated approach because of the difficulties that they face. And this then becomes accepted in the wake of the Nkomati Accord, that is towards the end of 84: the absolute requirement that there be an integrated approach in all forward area machineries. Is this a correct understanding?
I wouldn't say it is correct. For the reason that perhaps whilst in practice there might be some indications that there were in some areas the emergence of such integrated structures in the formula you were talking about, one major motivation, one catalyst to serious rethinking about the problem of parallelism was perhaps the actions inside the country -- the revolt. If one could take a graphic example: an MK cadre who finds himself in a situation of revolt as in 1983 or 86, or earlier on -- a situation of heightened politicisation of the mass of the people, mass organisation, political discussion, political strategising -- rather than see himself and act simply as an armed combatant would find himself confronted with the question how to relate to the people that he is supposed to give military guidance to, how to relate to the people that he is supposed to recruit who, in the first instance, would need political guidance from him or her. A flipside example: a political cadre trained with the task of organising underground structures and issuing propaganda and so on and so forth in a situation in which there is this heightened revolt in which people are using rudimentary weapons in which they want to rise above such kinds of activity, finds himself or herself confronted with the question, how to then give military skills to these people. So, in the final analysis, what emerges out of uprising, out of revolt, is the need not only to have all-round cadres but also the need to ensure that the structures that we create are able to give over-all leadership to all kinds of activity by the people. And if that has to happen [inside] necessarily it would influence our structuring outside. We had political underground units who would demand that out of the units that they have created there is a feeling that they have to rise above this kind of activity and therefore we need grenades; where military units would demand that perhaps in military parlance a commissar to assist in the political work in the area in which they were working. But, in the final analysis, what emerged was that this need for this kind of integration, in the beginning coordination amongst structures inside and amongst structures in the forward areas and even more serious coordination and joint strategising at headquarters. So I would think that the main catalyst was the mass revolt, rather than ...
So September, October, November 84 become the key period in which integration is forced?
When is that integrated approach actually formalised? Does this happen only at Kabwe in June 1985, or does it perhaps achieve formality by decision of the National Executive Committee earlier or later than that? (end of side A).
I'm saying it would be a difficult question. Because I think we should see the whole process as evolving over a long period, and it's subject to discussion even now as to whether actually integration at the ideal level has been achieved. To the extent that, if you were talking about 1984-85 up to the National Consultative Conference and even after, we see developments towards integration rather than actual integration in practice. Before the National Consultative Conference, I think already some kind of formally structured coordinating bodies had been established.
Can you indicate what they were and what level they operated at?
It would mean at the level of the forward areas in which this would be operating, where the various elements of underground activity would find leadership from structures that are representative of all these formations. That was perhaps, in my own opinion, more of a federation rather than actual integration. And, in actual formal terms they were coordinating bodies not real integration. The National Consultative Conference then took it to a higher level where at the level of the Political Military Council (PMC) here [in Lusaka], you would find Regional Political Committees [in the forward areas] which, in terms of powers first and foremost, would almost be autonomous executive bodies in the particular regions in which they were operating. In terms of authority in that particular region, they would be able to take decisions affecting each of the structures under them and give an integrated leadership to those substructures. But the other element that needs to be taken into account is that whilst at the formal level structures of that nature might be created, you also need to change the thinking of people who are operating in them. And, if you are having in those structures a person who believes in parallel action as armed cadres, parallel action insofar as building of the so-called political underground is concerned, and parallel actions in all the other areas, then the psychology remains whilst formally the structures exist. And what we intend to achieve does not immediately find expression in actual practice. Such that, even in periods where you could talk about formally integrated structures being established, again there would be lagging behind this subjective factor of the psychology of the people. As I was saying, we should see it as a very long process, a process that we cannot say has reached culmination up to now. So that, before Conference, there was a movement, more decisive, towards serious coordination, at Conference a deliberate decision towards integration at a lower level in the forward areas, but it's a continuing process.
And then, after conference, were there any other moments over this period when decision were taken which took this process of an integrated approach a discernible step further?
I think one expression of that would be the formation of the RPMCs which had all those powers and kind of authority I was talking about.
That's after Conference?
Yes, after Conference. I think it comes after Conference.
As a decision of Conference?
As a decision of Conference, yes. If it's not after Conference, it would be immediately before, but formalised now seriously by Conference itself.
In addition to that, there were, I think, many other decisions relating to structuring at headquarters that were taken. There have been steps forward, steps back and rethinking and, you know, thesis and antithesis and trying to synthesise. So, it's not an even process. But you would find a kind of restructuring that identifies the PMC as a body that not merely coordinates between various arms of the underground but one that is the leading political body, integrated. To the extent that, there was, at one stage, debate about whether you would therefore need a "political headquarters", if you like, if the PMC is this serious political decision-making body, the political leader of all aspects of struggle. And again, debate on whether you would need, if there is this political leadership body that permeates to all levels including within the country, a "military headquarters" that commands from base to individual cadre operating inside. You know all those kinds of discussions. But maybe, with regard to MHQ new questions would arise: we have camps, we have an army and outside there might be a need to have this kind of structure. But all of it is part of this uneven process towards fuller integration. As I am saying, one cannot see it as having reached its culmination.
So there is this continual difficulty between the requirements of specialisation and the requirements of an integrated approach?
There is the classical guerilla approach, which is often described with the catchall "protracted people's war". Now, what emerges over this period is what amounts, to my mind, to an insurrectionary approach. That is what we see evolving in the ANC, in its thinking. What is the relationship then between notions of people's war, on the one hand, and notions of periodic uprisings or insurrections, on the other? What relationship begins to emerge between these two concepts in ANC thinking over this period?
It entailed a lot of discussion and debate. Perhaps what I should come up with -- it is not necessarily policy as it evolves but the way I read the situation, the debates themselves: on the one hand, all along, the movement had put forward the perspective of protracted people's war as our approach to armed struggle, which people's war, as I indicated from the Green Book, it was acknowledged that it would be one in which partial and local uprisings would have a major role to play. On the other hand, we had these massive uprisings with many important qualitative elements in them: emergence of organs of people's power, emergence of popular combat groups and self-defence units, and general strikes combined with all this heightened activity which had tremendous paralysing effect on the infrastructure of the regime in its totality. You had those two seemingly contradictory processes asserting themselves in our thinking and in actual practice. Then the question would arise: what is the capacity of the revolt as it is unfolding to actually paralyse the regime decisively? To exaggerate it a bit, if you replied, it had that capacity, then you would be implying that armed struggle as protracted struggle has got a secondary effect in the unfolding of our revolution, that if you had massive revolts by the people and general strikes and injected a bit of armed action, then you would decisively paralyse the regime leading to major breakthroughs. On the other hand, there would be, to exaggerate it a bit, the thinking that these are simply one of those uprisings that come in the long march to victory and therefore, significant as they might be, they are only small watersheds, small contributions to the long struggle; they will come, they will have their ebbs and flows but what is important is that we should be building our guerilla units and intensifying armed action within the country, and they will come and go and we will be building until the moment of the final seizure of power. Those two are exaggerations. But out of that some kind of synthesis would have to emerge. As I tried to indicate earlier, it would be the kind of synthesis that says, Of course, we cannot throw overboard the concept of protracted people's war but it is the kind of protracted people's war that differs from classical guerilla wars as we have known them in other countries. It would be the kind of protracted people's war that takes into account maybe more seriously than every before the importance of the uprisings that take place from time to time with their ebbs and flows, and therefore ensure that, in our conduct of this armed struggle, we do it, we build our units, act on the basis of evolution of armed struggle as an entity on its own but also so it in such a way that we have got the capacity to give decisive leadership, to give a serious cutting edge to the mass actions when they come, to give leadership to the combat formations that emerge -- the relationship between the potential and the actual that I was talking about. And therefore that would lead again to the whole discussion about the strength of the underground and whether the infrastructure is able to absorb units of MK. And the balance, insofar as the tasks of units of MK are concerned, between action as professional units of MK and imparting the skills of war, of armed struggle to the people in general in the popular combat formations that emerge. But I think what would emerge out of all that be a synthesis of the two exaggerations I was talking about. You cannot aim for immediate decisive victories. Even if insurrection were to come -- or let me put it this way, even if there was to be a decisive mass revolt combined with general strikes -- without a serious military input it wouldn't lead to victory. But, at the same time, that serious military input we can no more think about it as one that evolves like Mao would put it over a long period, from small guerilla units to mobile units, and so on and so forth; it would have to be one that gets qualitative jerks at periods of mass revolt. Because that decisive input, as I indicated earlier, decisive military input, would not simply be dependent on what professionally trained guerilla units do but how they relate to the important formations that are formed at the initiative of the people. I should say that the additional element that has emerged -- although it might have been in the background of our thinking all along -- that has emerged out of those uprisings between 83 and 86 but perhaps more importantly more recently, would be the impact that these uprisings have on the black component of the [state] army and police of the regime, based in the bantustans or in urban areas. If you take the events in Bophutatswana, if you take a few minor examples from the situation in Venda, if you take the municipal police in places like the Vaal Triangle or Soweto, then it does emerge that another important component of the broader people's army that we are talking about would be the black troops and police.
Would you agree with the following characterisation: That, in practice over this period, the ANC in effect defined people's war as the protracted development, deployment and engagement of forces and tactics for national insurrection?
The question of the ultimate form of seizure of power, one could say had not come up for serious major debate -- I hope I'm correct -- before the 83 period. Maybe everybody had his own kind of imagination as to how that will come. Others might have thought it would be the marching army defeating the racist army, and taking over the Union Buildings and pushing them to the Cape and so on and so forth. Other people's minds might have been insurrection, with a decisive element of course of armed activity in that insurrection. I could say, for example, in relation to what we were discussing before this: If you check the Call to the Nation which was issued in April 1985, there are many interesting formulation there. On the one hand, that Call to the Nation is issuing directives on how the activities of various sectors of the population can be qualitatively developed and all of them merge to assume, if you like, an insurrectionary form: the formation and strengthening of street committees, the formation, strengthening and activation of mobile units, self- defence units and combat groups which had been formed at the initiative of the people. But it makes an interesting conclusion. I don't know how the actual formulation goes, but it's something like: A long-lasting general strike, combined with armed activity will paralyse the ... I think it towards the end.
I have it here. I'll read it: "A long-lasting national work stoppage, backed by our oppressed communities and supported by armed activity can break the backbone of the apartheid system and bring the regime to its knees."
Yes. So what runs like a red thread through all the directives in this Call to the Nation is a clear appreciation, perhaps for the first time in this form, that the final moment will be an insurrectionary kind of uprising that involves both mass and armed activity. That's one thing. But it did lead to debate, with regard to that particular quotation: how decisive will be the armed component in that insurrection. The formulation there tends to give an impression that armed activity will simply be supportive of an otherwise relatively peaceful uprising. But there was this agreement on the insurrectionary perspective and perhaps a formulation and an approach because of the uprising that clearly stated it would be an uprising of this nature, an insurrectionary uprising that would be the form of seizure of power. But again, differences insofar as emphases are concerned. Because one could argue distinct from that formulation that a general strike is not simply part of a long process of an insurrectionary moment but a culmination of that process. One could argue that, for that general strike to take place, for there to be decisive mass action and for the people to rise above simply protest activity, to undertake mass actions that include serious elements of armed activity, for all that to happen, you would have before that to have conducted an armed struggle that has got quite an impact; that all these elements are related and one cannot come simply as supportive of the other. A long-lasting general strike backed by the oppressed communities wouldn't simply be supported by armed activity, but a process of intensification of all forms of action would lead to a culmination where there is decisive armed action, decisive mass action, and where it is possible then to call for a long-lasting general strike. Otherwise, insofar as the insurrectionary perspective is concerned, I think maybe for the first time in very clear terms we were giving directives of that nature, having studied what was happening on the ground. There might have been differences of emphasis, in so far as...
Now, the second Call, which comes in May 1986, the second Call to the Nation, emphasises precisely this insurrectionary approach. You would agree with that?
I would, although I'm not quite sure about the actual formulations in it. (Given copy of Second Call).
Here we are: "From Ungovernability to People's Power!"
Yes, the date is not indicated. It should be May 1986.
It has got a whole section on the intensification of armed activity and, I think, places them in, my own understanding, in a more proper context than the other formulation.
What, that whereas the 85 Call gives the impression of armed activity in merely a supportive role, the 86 Call gives a better emphasis to the role that armed struggle would play?
Yes, to the role armed struggle would play. Perhaps, without being definite about it and very accurate -- this is merely a subjective assessment of the way people were perceiving developments -- the 83, building up to the 84 and 85 uprisings assumed a revolutionary character perhaps beyond what individual revolutionaries might have thought and expected. So that there was a realisation of the potential of our people in political motion and, emerging out of that shock, would be a thinking that to an extent exaggerates the importance of that potential, because it was asserting itself at that level for the first time. But, as the uprising develops, it became quite clear that its decisive nature beyond the simple campaigns which were being undertaken from one to another against the tricameral parliament, against the local authority structures and million signature -- or whatever, all those campaigns which were being undertaken -- all the time come against this wall of the machinery of the regime. Decisive as they might have been, and shocking as they might have been in their evolution from 83 onwards, I think by 86 the decisive importance of the armed component in the overall struggle, in spite of the decisive nature of the mass revolt, had become quite clear. This emerged out of the perception of the movement and I think everybody else studying the South African situation, but also from the yearning of the people inside who in their realisation of what they come up against, in spite of their bravery and everything else, their preparedness to die, that there is this state machinery which confronts them all the time, and they were themselves demanding that they have to be armed. And, therefore, the overall realisation that the armed component has got a decisive role to play; it cannot simply be supportive. In fact, the more the mass revolt develops in a decisive manner the more should it be assuming rudimentary and more developed forms of armed activity. And I think the revolt was starting to do that.
Can I put to you my brief attempt at a summary formulation. Certainly in the way I'm using the term insurrection, I'm including a very substantial armed component. What I want to bounce off you is the following formulation: "Over the 83 to 86 period what emerges as the ANC's tactical perspective is that people's war, under South African conditions, means the protracted development, deployment and engagement for forces and tactics for armed insurrection". Would you think that this was a fair summary?
One would need to study it and think about it. I think relatively, yes.
But your criticism would probably be that it is a little too neat, that actually it does not take into account the troughs and peaks of struggle. What are your reservations about it?
Perhaps one thing would be that the idea emerged, captured the imagination of many and was discussed -- and, as you see in the 1985 Call to the Nation, was almost assuming official policy -- but insofar as its formalisation in the process is concerned, I think I would be relatively accurate if I said it's still evolving today. That's one element. The second one would be a reflection of its formalisation would also affect the manner in which we construct struggle all the time. Because once you have taken on the issue of insurrection seriously and formally as the final perspective, the manner in which you conduct struggle at all levels, the various aspects of it -- armed struggle, building of the underground and everything else, and the manner in which you structure yourself at all levels -- would then reflect that thinking. That is why I would speak about a process that is evolving and which has not yet reached culmination.
When does it reach culmination?
(laughter). I don't know.
What I would like you to discuss is the relationship, as you see it, between organs of people's power as organs of democracy and as organs of insurrection. What was the ANC's thinking on how these two roles should find expression in the structure of organs of people's power over this period?
In the structure of organs of people's power? Perhaps broader than just structure, to start off with what one should indicate is that you wouldn't say that it was the ANC which said there should be organs of people's power and therefore there were organs of people's power. In fact, in all revolutions, except in situations of classical liberated zones where the vanguard movement establishes organs of rule, organs of people's power emerge as a result of the activities and perhaps simple mass perceptions of the masses in action; and the revolutionary movement then is faced with the task of giving concrete guidance to it and directing them in the proper manner. And whatever thinking developed insofar as our guidance to these structures is concerned emerged out of the concrete experiences as they were evolving on the ground in the experiences of the street committees and are committees. And in fact these organs find themselves confronted with two basic tasks that you have identified: organs of struggle, perhaps not simply to say just organs of insurrection, [but] organs of struggle, on the one hand, and as organs of administration. Because by simply destroying the organs of government of the ruling power, you have created a situation of ungovernability but you have to move forward to ensure that there is people's order, there is people's control, there is people's democracy; there is, if you like, people's health and people's cleanliness, and parks and everything else -- as we saw developing in Mamelodi and other areas. Then the danger started to manifest itself of these organs emphasising more on the tasks of running day-to-day lives in the townships and, in fact on the other hand, not giving the necessary emphasis and attention to issues of struggle. And what would be the answer to the question of creating the correct balance in the directives which the movement was issuing and in the discussions that were taking place? I don't think one can simply say there should be one or the other, but that in the first instance, having removed the administration of the regime, they will have to ensure that the lives of the people and the general social life in these areas does not become ungovernable [for] democratic structures. There should be a way that everything is done and administered. But secondly, out of necessity, simply because we want them to be involved in struggle, out of necessity they should permanently be on the offensive. Organs of people's power emerge in a situation where the central administration is still in place. Organs of people's power emerged in the townships in a situation in which the industrial centres were not affected at all. If a worker belonged to a street committee in the townships, when he went to work, it was like moving into a new world altogether. Organs of people's power emerged as a result of a combination of all forms of struggle, mass and armed; but armed in a very rudimentary form. And they would draw the wrath of the regime immediately because of their revolutionary significance and, because of that, would then have to defend themselves. And the best form of defence, we would say, is advance. And therefore the directive of the movement was that all organs of people's power, organs of struggle, organs of insurrection should permanently be on the offensive, moving simply from being organs of people's power in the townships to creating a situation of first and foremost ungovernability and people's power in the industrial centres where the workers find themselves. So that, one interesting formulation would be that we saw one of the primary tasks of organs of people's power as being to multiply beyond the black areas to the central, the nerve centres of the apartheid system. Organs of people's power in the workplace, in the white areas generally. And I was using the phrase organs of struggle, as distinct from organs of insurrection, because another element emerged in discussion, especially during the period of downturn in mass activity where organs of people's power found themselves being destroyed one after the other by the regime. The question arose: Do we issue calls for the reestablishment of organs of people's power? Would it be correct?
What time period are we talking about now?
I would say 87. Yes, that's much later. You see, the implication there would be: If you say to people, in a situation where there is no mass revolt, form organs of people's power, form street committees, the implication is that they can exist outside heightened mass revolt and, therefore, in the context of their two basic tasks -- that of administration (which you can put aside) but that of struggle -- you would perceive these organs, not merely as organs of insurrection, but as organs of protracted struggle, and would that be realistic? It's a discussion that took place, that is still taking place. And my own personal opinion is that they are, more than anything else, organs of insurrection, organs that will emerge at periods of heightened mass activity, as a result of heightened mass activity, a combination of all forms of struggle, and organs that will survive when there is that mass offensive -- armed and political and mass. And, in periods of downturn, even if there might be some form of street organisation, street committees remaining, organising in a clandestine manner and so on, they would have assumed another character, not one of being organs of people's power but one of being simple political forms of organisation. Because an organ of people's power is one in which you have destroyed the authority of the other party and created your own.
So it may be more as organs of insurrection than as organs of protracted struggle.
You said it would be wrong to see the emergence of these organs of people's power as having been something dictated by the ANC; they are something that emerged within the situation. There were other important developments which occurred of a similar nature. There was the rent strike which, I suppose we can say, started right at the beginning of the uprising in September 1984 because the uprisings on the Vaal Triangle were sparked off in an initial sense by, in fact, the need to pay increased rents. And then we get the consumer boycotts, which become quite a powerful weapon at particular stages although inconclusive. And we get general strike activity. To what extent was the ANC External Mission, can you say, involved in generating the ideas that were feeding into the process which gave rise to these ideas in an immediate sense on the ground of struggle inside the country over this period?
Or shouldn't we just say ANC?
Perhaps the correct way would be start with the ANC underground inside the country. Would you say that they had a meaningful role in the development of these forms of struggle over this period?
I think maybe what we can say is that in a very decisive way the ANC as the vanguard -- put aside strength of actual organisation -- put forward many, many revolutionary ideas on how to develop one form of action to a higher and even higher level. This might take the form of discussions with people who come from inside who might not necessarily be members of the ANC. It would take the form of discussion by underground units inside and the manner in which they move out to try to influence mass democratic structures or whatever political formations exist. So that, in that broad sense, of ideas of the movement influencing the thinking and perceptions of the people and the way they strategise to other forms of action, the movement played a decisive role. But, as to whether concretely, in the form of organisation, it was itself giving direction, direct influence on what was happening, I think that there would be a qualitative difference. We cannot claim that directly, as organised structures, we led the emergence of these forms of struggle.
(ends side B)
Ok, we're back in business.
In many instances, in fact, I would say that some of these things emerged out of popular sentiment, popular thinking, where sometimes it might not even be leaders of civic associations who come up with the proposal that we should boycott increased rents. But, even in meetings from the floor: that we should not pay rent -- it captures the imagination of people. It's just a question of what it entails to be a vanguard, to be a leading organisation
That was my next question. Conceptually, what does it imply?
I think conceptually what it implies first and foremost would be spreading the ideas of revolutionary struggle and the perspective of seizure of power amongst the people in whatever form, ensuring that it reaches the people and guides them in their actions. I mean the various forms that one talked about: it might be consultations with individuals, it might not necessarily be ANC underground structures, propaganda and armed struggle, and so on and so forth. Spreading that perception among the people. Secondly, it would have to be as a result of direct intervention by organised structures of the vanguard movement in various forms of activity and organisations of the people: one, strong underground structures that are able on a regular basis to be issuing propaganda and then giving guidance to the concrete actions of the people; two, strong underground units that are able to give guidance to various layers of mass democratic organisations, to put forward movement policy without having to declare its movement policy, to put forward forms and perspectives of struggle without having to necessarily declare that it is the ANC saying so; and thirdly, it should entail, of course, intensification of armed struggle and good underground structures that are able to do that in our situation. I think a vanguard movement should be able to do that. But, over and above all this, I think it would be the capacity, having combined all the factors in playing a leadership role, to be able to have the people at the command of the vanguard organisation.
You're talking about command and control?
Yes. To the extent that, if you were to decide on a one-hour strike on a particular day, or to decide on a specific kind of activity, ideally you would be able to declare it and be able to have the people under the command of that vanguard movement.
Which presumably depends on earlier political victories in which you've been winning people to your side?
Yes. It depends on that. You cannot do it quietly and hope that at some stage you will be able to show that; it has to evolve on the basis of people's experience.
So how does this idea of command and control relate, then, to autonomous or semi-autonomous spontaneous activity of the masses? What is the relationship? How do we properly understand this relationship?
I was saying that, ideally at the ultimate moment, you are able to have the people under your command. Because, at the moment of insurrection, that would be what is in fact demanded: to be able to guide, to give particular strategic instructions and guidance to the whole uprising so that it achieves its desired aim. But this does not at all mean the vanguard movement therefore plans uprisings and parades in such a way that it could call for an uprising over rent at a certain period or over any other issue. Mass activity on the part of the people, while it has to be given guidance and while it arises out of political education, especially the most decisive ones, are relativity independent of what revolutionaries and vanguard movements do. In our situation, which is relatively volatile all the time, a simple incident far removed from the actual theatre of conflict might lead to such an uprising that would then demand decisive action on the part of the vanguard movement although the vanguard movement has not called for it. I think perhaps the most accurate description and characterisation of the relevant independence of uprisings [from] what movements do would be the definition of a revolutionary situation...
By Lenin, yes. That it is a combination of objective factors -- a crisis of the ruling class and the conditions of the people have become so unbearable economically and otherwise that then they engage in independent historical mass action. And all those three elements we classify as objective conditions which do not depend on what vanguard movements do. A good vanguard movement would be one that helps to influence movement towards such uprisings, showing people the sense of crisis in the ruling class and their own difficult situation and the need to act against it. Its a movement which would be able to keep its [finger on the] pulse of the mood of the people, to be able at times even to forecast at moments where such uprisings can take place. It would be a movement which, when those mass uprisings take place, could immediately assume direct leadership.
Can I read you a formulation of the same thing which I came up with, which is in another paper I did. It says: "I regard as axiomatic the generalisation that neither a group of professional revolutionaries nor a vanguard revolutionary organisation of itself actually makes a revolution. Rather, provided the analysis of relevant conditions has evinced the existence of a revolutionary situation, these vanguard elements oversee, guide and direct the development and engagement of appropriately identified forces. It is these social forces which make a revolution. A vanguard will and must attempt to bring them into as close a relationship with itself as possible strata and other organisations from its actual or potential constituency. This is necessary to improve its oversight, guidance and direction of them. But the vanguard finds itself continually having to deal with the reality that the major forces and energies in the revolutionary process enjoy variable degrees of autonomy from it and are always likely to. The nature of this relationship, when successful, has been described in the context of the Vietnam War as one where 'once the masses began to act, they could be led but not stopped which meant that during crucial periods the Communist Party followed them in order to be in the vanguard. When the masses again became passive, the Party returned to goading and educating them'. Would this, do you think, be approximate to the ANC understanding of its vanguard role?
Yes, I think it is.
That quote is taken from an excellent book on the Vietnam War by a chap called Kolko. Have you seen it. I gave a copy to Ronnie.
OK, I'll check with him.
It's called Vietnam: Anatomy of a War. It's excellent...Ok, you mentioned that in the ANC's developing view on how organs of people's power could or should be developed inside the country that it was necessary to look at other experiences. And you mentioned Pondoland and Sekhukuneland as two South African instances. From other revolutionary contexts what examples were specifically looked at to inform the ANC perspective over this period?
Perhaps talking within the confinement of people one was discussing this with: There was the particular example of organs of people's power in a different context in the Soviet Union, that's obvious -- their emergence in 1905 out of a simple uprising or general strike of workers, where they created their own councils or soviets. And out of that particular experience, perhaps the genius of Lenin is shown in the fact that he was able to isolate this as one manifestation of a developed consciousness on the part of the working people and to isolate to the extent that he was saying it's so decisive, it's so important that we should exaggerate it, propagate it all the time for everybody to come to realise that the masses have moved beyond simply not accepting the existing system but are now creating their own organs of rule and organs of government. As it is, I wouldn't have other concrete examples of such developments. One wouldn't have details about what emerged out of, say, uprisings in the various cities in Nicaragua as the struggle was unfolding. But it was more in the form of how then organisations were linking up with each other, more based on the direct input of armed activity and the retreat of the guerillas that were operating. I wouldn't have other examples.
Now, over this 83 to 86 period, there are a number of events which occur inside the country which strike me at the time as being seminal, of enormous importance and portent. If you look at the period, can you isolate moments which were of a kind that they led to a significant clarification of the ANC's thinking or which convinced the ANC that this particular development had opened up a new set of possibilities previously largely unforeseen. Can you think of moments of that type over this period?
I will have to think about this. Actual examples over the period? I think if there are any examples, none of them would be really national in character -- this is my own subjective reading of the situation. If you take, for example, the evolution, the process towards the emergence of what one can call organs of people's power in a place like Cradock and the extent to which the democratic movement was able to exercise that kind of command and control on the people with their participation, democratic participation, that was one graphic example of the potential of the people with good organisation. We talk about the situation in Uitenhage and how it developed with the massive and almost total consumer boycott of the people to the extent where I think it was the first area where the regime was so paralysed that, or the business was so paralysed that it was I think the first area where negotiations started taking place. In relation to the issue of armed struggle, certain moments, perhaps later in the day, in Soweto and Alexandra, especially in Alexandra, where from the mass activities that were taking place, organisation of street committees, organs of people's power, general strikes and so on and so forth, there had emerged a situation in which the attempts at massive military intervention on the part of the regime was disorganised by the activities of the youth and other sections of the population, especially in Alexandra.
Just explain that. How this happened in Alex, how attempts of the regime were disorganised?
There were many instances, from accounts of people who were in the area at the time or who were participants, of the kinds of activities where people would dig trenches, where they trapped them, where many patrols would get themselves trapped, deliberately a campaign on the part of organised groups of youth to so disorganise the forces which were patrolling that they were able to deliberately capture weapons from them. One was talking about an example where they would send a very young boy to stand next to the road as the hippos were patrolling; it was terribly hot and they would open the doors at the back; and he would throw an avocado pear into the hippo and they would all jump out with their weapons, some of them throw their weapons away and run; some of them would get killed, but weapons would be captured. I think it was also the same kind of experience in some areas of the Eastern Cape: Cradock, I think, [had] the trenches experience. And in fact they would involve the whole community at night to dig trenches and sometimes lure the enemy forces to move in that direction. Those are experiences that relate to armed struggle. And there are many others which relate to organs of people's power which I don't think it is necessary to go into detail on because I think it constitutes a study on its own. If you check each particular area where the street committees emerged, or rather each particular township where street committees emerged, there were many variations on how the street committees as organs of people's power, area committees or whatever, related to mass organisations. You take many areas of the Eastern Cape: at the level of an area committee, there would be representation of the people as elected from the street committees, but also direct representation of UDF structures; so there was almost a merger as government, if you like, between UDF structures and the street committees as organs of people's authority. Maybe arising out of the Eastern Cape's own particular experience, where the UDF or mass organisations generally, one could say, in a revolutionary sense were much more mature than in other areas of the country -- because, say, of the history of the ANC in that area, there's almost a uniformity of views. But then you would have other areas, like Mamelodi, where street committees emerged in the context of a long process where people were trying to form a civic association. The demonstrations came and immediately after that there was that major uprising, the shootings of the people and the major uprising afterwards, so that the civic association emerges in a situation of uprising as street committees and organs of people's power are being formed, and you find almost a merger in conception between a civic association and street committees. In other areas -- I'm not quite sure about the details relating to Soweto, where the civic association had always been there, street committees emerge and area committees, and the question arises how they relate. And at township level they form some kind of joint structure civic association, all-township representative of street committees. Which raises another question -- I don't know whether relevant to the discussion here -- of how do political organisations or mass organisations generally relate to organs of people's power? Because the misconception of organs of people's power sometimes arose out of thinking that these organs of people's power, street committees, are in fact their mass organisations. And you would find sometimes, even amongst us, among activists inside formulations like we should ensure that street committees become like part of the underground. Rather than the underground so asserting itself in these popular democratic processes that its cadres and, you know, farsighted individuals find themselves elected to give clear leadership to the street committees. You see, I think it's another question of detail.
So, you see a clear conceptual difference between the underground, a street committee and something like a civic? A clear and necessary conceptual and organisational distinction between them?
With regard to a civic, the question that would arise is, in a situation of people's power, would you have a civic? So, it's a bit different. But in relation to mass organisations and the underground, there has to be a very clear distinction. The relationship is like one between a party and a government, where the party, the political organisation asserts itself decisively in giving people guidance and winning their confidence that it finds itself playing a decisive role in the street committee. It's difficult, you know, to think about particular moments. One would have to do research.
On November 5 and 6 of 1984, there was that two-day general strike in the PWV area of the Transvaal in which there was for the first time, unity in action between elements of the Fosatu unions, the youth in Cosas and other structures, and the UDF -- all organised in the Transvaal Regional Stayaway Committee. Di that strike you and the ANC outside as being a moment of any particular importance, one which showed up any particular possibilities?
Yes, it should have, in fact it did. The other formulation we were talking about was influenced partly by that. Because the question of unity of serious organisations, I don't think that's much of a problem. A decisive moment where everybody is affected I think there is that tendency always for people to act together: the Cosatu-Nactu cooperation over the Labour Relations Act is one example. I don't think that's much of a problem. Even today, you find more cooperation among all kinds of elements within Cosatu, the UDF and everywhere else, because there are common interests, a common threat, common everything. But what I wanted to say with regard to the strikes themselves, if you check the development of actions in various localities, what would happen is that there would be one kind of activity around an issue -- education for example, Cosas and students, rent boycotts all these developed and perhaps people would even call for a consumer boycott -- then there would be an incident which really provokes people to want higher forms of action. So that, in each instance, as the revolt was developing local struggles, various forms of these struggles, when people had reached a climax then they would call for a general strike. I think that it is something that needs to be studied. It partly influenced movement thinking, as I was saying that formulation about the long-lasting general strike and so on and so forth; that perhaps that is the answer to all the problems and linked with all other forms of activity it can plague the regime. But, secondly, it should influence in the direction of saying that a general strike therefore becomes necessary even out of those, if you like, spontaneous experiences of the people, it's necessarily a culmination of various forms of activity. That is a decisive general strike at a moment of decisive uprisings.
What precisely was meant by the concept "mass revolutionary base"? If we go back to some of those formulations in 85 and 86, there is talk of "mass revolutionary bases", then I think there is also reference to "mass political bases": the language is continually changing. What kind of thinking is developing about the notion of "mass revolutionary bases"? What kind of change does this concept undergo during this period? What is the potential, the role of a "mass revolutionary base"?
You see what I'm not quite clear about is whether there would be a change in the concept itself, or if people were simply using phrases interchangeably as "political bases", "mass revolutionary bases", but I think as early as 79 with the Green Book there was that understanding that unlike all other areas where armed struggle would depend so much on the terrain and movement of classical guerilla units in our own it would depend on, as finally phrased at the National Consultative Conference, will "depend on the people in political motion" as our main base from which we can operate. And the programme which the movement evolved from 78 onwards, as I was saying, was organisation and mobilisation of sectors and culmination into an anti-apartheid force united in their activity and so on and so forth as different sectors. Because there was that basic understanding that for armed struggle to intensify in earnest, not simply as armed propaganda, there would have to be mass action on the part of the people. And evolving out of that thinking was the masses would be the revolutionary base, the revolutionary bases of the combat units of MK, of the people's army. And the actual understanding of what "mass revolutionary bases" are and the role that they would play in struggle can be seen, I think, from the assessment of some of the events in retrospect by the movement, and also the attempt at the height of the uprisings to give direction to what people were doing. Perhaps where one could go to get a clear, straightforward definition would be one of the January 8 statements -- I'm not sure if it was 1986 or 87 -- what in fact is a mass revolutionary base. The definition there would go: a mass revolutionary base is one, an area where there is heightened activity by the people around their basic demands; an area, two, where people are decisively challenging the structures of the regime and moving towards a situation where they are creating their own -- ungovernability and further; and area, three -- and this is more subjective -- where there is a strong underground structure of the movement; and area, four, where mass activity of the people also leads to a situation where they start engaging in forms of combat activity; and lastly, an area where MK is able to give that decisive input. So, it is a combination of all those factors. And perhaps, objectively, we could subtract the ones that relate to the vanguard, because a mass revolutionary base can emerge without the vanguard being able to take advantage of it. So, basically, where there is heightened mass activity, where the people are challenging the authority of the regime, and where their mass activity is developing to assume even (if you like) insurrectionary forms. And, therefore, an area which is most conducive to the operation of MK, an area most conducive to the rapid expansion of the underground.
You're talking about using these bases -- as I understand it in the ANC formulations -- to actually increasingly "arm the people". Now arming the people is obviously not just a question of giving them arms -- we'll return to that because that is obviously a crucial element -- but it's also a question of political organisation, political direction, the isolation of strategic and tactical perspectives which people have access to. But the business of actually arming the people -- and bringing about this new relationship between professional guerillas in MK formal structures and these popular combat units which are emerging, that depends, this armed component presumably depends on being able, to some extent, to protect the territorial integrity of these mass revolutionary bases. What was the ANC's view of these bases on the issue of their ability to defend themselves territorially, to retain their political character and the integrity of their space?
I would not say there is anywhere, both in terms of discussion or actual formulations in statements issued by the movement where there is more than just the definition I have given you, a clear concept of how do they defend themselves. I can only give my opinion. I think one of the basic questions that emerged as these organs of people's power .... I indicated earlier that our conception of how organs of people's power and mass revolutionary bases can exist at all during periods of uprisings, their ability to defend themselves, which defence should assume more than anything else an offensive character, and I think immediately when that period emerged of decisive actions in various townships and emergence of these organs, and to an extent what one could call a mass revolutionary base, there was a realisation on the part of the movement and I think activists generally inside the country that, in our peculiar situation, we have to take into account one basic element: that victory means the defeat of the colonial regime as situated away from the coloniser and also the defeat of the colonial power itself. So that, in a very crude sense, you could say that the emergence of revolutionary bases in the townships, destruction of the local affairs councils, city councils as they called them, or town councils, entailed more or less the defeat of the colonial outposts as distinct from defeating the actual colonial power, the metropolis. That is why I don't know when exactly, but it should have been around 85, towards the end of 85, beginning of 86 where the slogan emerged "Take the War to the White Areas".
That's what I want to pick up.
Because I think people felt that even if we were able to defend that mass revolutionary base, the organs of people's power in the townships, it would entail a very, very small aspect of our actual advance to the seizure of power. The decisive element is the metropolis itself.
Now, can I pick up on this, because this really is, for me, the central point which emerges out of this period. I want to go back a bit. If we go back to 69 Morogoro "Strategy and Tactics", one of the points that comes out there very clearly is that one of the strategic weaknesses of the enemy is his lack of personnel; therefore one of the guiding points in ANC tactical formulations has to be an attempt all the time to attenuate the enemy's armed forces, to ensure the maximum dispersal of the enemy's armed forces. It's a sound principal, I think, in the South African situation. We then go to the period, to July 20 1985. The uprisings have been going for about five to six months, no about nine or 10 months, and on July 20 1985, the regime imposes a partial state of emergency in 36 magisterial districts. On July 22, there's this Address to the Nation by OR Tambo on Radio Freedom, which is subsequently I think also distributed in pamphlet form inside the country, and in the course of that pamphlet, Tambo says a number of things. The central message comes in several elements. The first element is that we have to ensure that the uprising is spread across as many townships as possible at any one time to avoid the enemy's capacity to concentrate his forces; secondly, what combat formations have emerged in the townships must have both a defensive and offensive role inside the townships as well as outside the townships. And in OR's speech over Radio Freedom, he's the first guy, I think, to talk about taking the struggle into the white areas. And you subsequently put out that pamphlet, which I've got, later in the year. Now there are several ways, obviously, that we can conceptualise the spatial character of apartheid or the quasi- colonial state in South Africa. But there is a sense in which, perhaps at times, we may overlook the obvious. And the obvious seems to me is that a crucial element of the segregation of the races in this colonial state is in fact the design of areas for black occupation, such that in a security sense they are very easily controlled and, most important of all, encircled. Now, in the South African context, the ability of one of these mass revolutionary bases of the oppressed to project itself can take so many forms. The mere fact of workers' having to leave that township or whatever every day to go and service the metropolis constitutes a projection of that base -- to the extent that armed units or popular combat formations are situated in those townships, too, can project themselves. What happens over this whole period -- and one of the key reasons apart from a lack of an [effective] underground and also the lack of military armaments and military organisation -- one of the other reasons for the failure, the foiling of this offensive over this period is precisely the enemy's capacity to encircle these townships. I've put this argument to you. Is there the same kind of argument that develops in the ANC over this period? And what precise form does it take? How does the ANC see people, these mass revolutionary bases breaking out of this ready encirclement which they suffer from given apartheid geography?
In other words, how do you take the struggle to the white areas?
Yes. How do you take the struggle to the white areas? My point is really this: Taking the struggle to the white areas is a great rhetorical slogan, but does it really begin to address the issue of counter-encirclement?
(end of side C)
You see a point I am making is that the slogan "Take the Struggle into the White Areas" as a slogan seemed to be understood as "Be harsh to honkey" which, certainly, is part of it -- there's no reason why the whites should have been allowed to be comfortable at that time, and they constituted the bulk of enemy forces -- but the point is this business of breaking out of the encirclement. How was it envisaged? What was the kind of thinking?
Perhaps what we might need to do -- not now exactly -- is to look at the leaflet we are talking about, "Taking the War to the White Areas", to define what that entails. (Given leaflet). Just to go over some of the main formulations in that leaflet in defining what taking the war to the white areas means, I think in the first instance one of the main strengths of the oppressed people in general in the relationship, if you like, between the colonial areas and the metropolis, is that for its existence, for its survival, for its perpetuation, the metropolis depends to a large measure on the black people. And this relates in particular to the strategic position of the working class within the entire system. And, insofar as the regime was concerned, it was a deliberate strategy, a deliberate tactic on its part, to confine the struggles to the black areas. And, in fact, in choosing some of the localities in which their old [?sport] reform strategy would operate, they selected in the main areas which are close to white areas -- Alexandra and some areas in the Eastern Cape. There were other considerations, but that geographic proximity of these areas to white areas was also taken into consideration. Because they see the danger that these areas present to the white areas -- perhaps because of their reading that taking the war to the white areas would mean, you know, a horde of people attacking white areas, which is not the conception of the movement. But, as I was saying, one of our strongest points is that the existence of the metropolis depends on the colonised people, in particular the workers. And some of the perceptions that then developed in the movement -- and here we are not talking about the movement saying this should happen, but in discussion, in strategising and so on and so forth -- was the question of the effectiveness of the weapon of the withdrawal of labour as a culmination of some of the uprisings, or the highest point when people have exhausted all other forms. How effective is it if it constitutes merely the withdrawal of labour? And answers to this would not just emerge out of discussion within the movement or the thinking of individuals, but I think also in mass perceptions, even among workers, within the working class. That kind of thinking and strategising about offensives that could be undertaken by workers as workers had already started to filter through and get implemented. As I was saying, mass perceptions, not the planning of any individuals reflected graphically in the sleep-in workers' movement -- the Siyalalala movement as they called it ...
What was it called?
Siyalalala -- "We sleep here" -- the slogan. It had almost assumed a national character over the period 84,85,86 -- because of its effectiveness, simply with regard to the workers' struggles which they were waging. But there was emerging also this conception: How effectively we could take the war to the white areas, but to the nerve centres of the system, if you like, not white areas. And what would they do? They go on strike, they don't leave the factory, they occupy it, and they would say it would be difficult for the bosses to evict them, for the regime to exert any force on them because the machines would be in danger. It generates solidarity amongst workers in the industries surrounding that area who would then engage in all forms of solidarity including bringing food to the workers who are there. It introduces a qualitatively higher level of discipline amongst workers: they continue cleaning the machines, keeping the factory safe, those [machines] that need to be run so that they don't get damaged are run. And in the end, dramatised in one of the democratic papers issued inside it was a situation of the workers in and the bosses out. And, within it, it had the potential for insurrectionary action at a level, I think, never seen before in our struggle, and signified the development of consciousness among workers with the potential to contribute decisively to insurrection. Other revolutions -- if you take the Russian revolution for example -- I think, according to the limited information that I might have, that it is only in the period after the February revolution, when the bosses knew that something big was coming (OK, something big had also happened, a situation of dual power) the workers, unlike before, were the ones that had to protect the factories from the bosses who wanted to sabotage them.
The same happened in Vietnam in the final offensive.
Vietnam in the final offensive, yes. So you are finding a situation in these revolutions where at that last, the very decisive moment, it's when this new qualitative change emerges. And in ours, simply in day to day struggles, there have been occupations somewhere, but these ones were linked to the actual mass revolt. We can talk about France, and so on and so forth, but his was linked to the actual mass revolt. And linked to a mass revolt where the workers belong somewhere else, not in the suburbs around the town but in the townships. But I think this is one important element of our situation -- that level of consciousness where the workers are becoming in action the owners, controlling in action. I think that is the most decisive action of what taking the war to the white areas means: the role of workers in the nerve centres of the system and exerting their force, not simply by withdrawing their labour but ensuring that their activities are undertaken decisively in those areas where they are working. I mean ours is different from other [countries]. I mean the suburbs would be close to these industrial centres; but ours is a bit different. Then there would be many other elements about taking the war to the white areas: armed actions. Let's put it this way: in the past the major ones, most of the actions, quantitatively were, for example, against police stations in the townships, not really bringing the war to the commanders, bringing the war to the actual senior officers, the core of the army and the police force. Thirdly, there is the other important element of the role of white democrats, white anti-apartheid forces in the over-all struggle -- they themselves engaging in action in the areas where they stay and spreading the message of democracy, and so on. It is a combination of all these elements that constitutes what, in clinical terms, one would say "taking the war to the nerve centres of the regime", not "white areas" per se.
Can we please draw out one or two aspects of this pamphlet? The ANC makes this direct call. It says, well, it's a little bit unclear; its says what taking the struggle to the white areas means and one of things it says (and I'll just read it to you in sequence) is : "...forming underground units and combat groups in our places of work and taking such actions as sabotage in the factories, mines and farms and suburbs; disrupt the enemy's oil, energy, transport, communications and other vital systems;" and then "systematic attacks against the army and police and so- called Area Defence Units in the white areas; well-planned raids on the armouries and arms dumps of the army, police, farmers and so on to secure arms for our units". And then it says: "In this work (italicised now), white democrats and all anti-apartheid whites have a special role to play." And then it says: "We have to participate in large numbers in mass action," etc, "spreading the voice of democracy and so intensifying campaigns against conscription, the tricameral system", etc. "We must refuse in the army and police to shoot our fellow countrymen, turn our weapons against ...Throw in our lot with ... by filling the ranks of the ANC and Umkhonto we Sizwe and the underground". Now, it seems to me -- the implication is there, although it's not the way this thing is laid out -- that one of the things the ANC is calling upon whites to do in this 1985 pamphlet is, in fact, to participate in armed activity and to facilitate armed activity in the white areas. Is that a correct understanding?
To participate in armed activity in the white areas? To facilitate armed activity in the white areas? Is this part of the call, the message to whites in this pamphlet?
I think maybe we should put it broadly and say that, especially in the context of taking the war to the metropolis, as we put it, as the leaflet says, white democrats would have an important role to play. And I think we are talking about all-round struggle. Like in the townships, we expect -- I mean the levels would differ -- people to participate in the formation and activation of democratic organisation, so that there is mass action. We would expect people to participate in the formation and in the mobilisation of anti-apartheid forces and the formation of anti- apartheid broad structures. We would expect people to intervene in ways that would be peculiar to the white community, regarding their own constituency. There are many questions that need to be answered in the areas in which they live and operate that they have to take into account in order to win over as many people as possible and neutralise the rest. We would expect, at a more serious level, their participation in the ANC underground at all levels, be it propaganda, be it armed activity, be it whatever. In this instance it will not be then acting as supporters or in solidarity with an otherwise alien struggle but to be part of all the activity. And that would merge necessarily with the activities of workers in the so-called white areas -- be it in the factories, or be it in the residential areas as domestic workers, and so on and so forth.
So, was the ANC satisfied with the white response to its call on the white areas?
Are we satisfied with all our calls to everybody? I'm saying were we?
That's the question. If it were possible, we could have said the ultimate satisfaction we would get from all our calls would be that the uprising should have developed into a mature revolutionary situation and victory -- if we were satisfied. With regard to the white community, I think what one can say is that, maybe not necessarily as a result of what the movement said, but there have been many qualitative developments within the white community which show the confusion, disintegration of previous power blocs including even at the highest level. So there has been a response, not necessarily to our call but to a developing objective situation.
Peter, how good is your recall of the beginning of 1983? It's a period when we have been through the Anti-Republic Day campaign, Anti-SAIC campaign, and there has been a reconstitution in inchoate form of a national mass movement which has not yet become the UDF. But, at the beginning of 1983, the ANC national executive committee in its New Year Address makes a number of statements, which indicate that the ANC believes that the struggle in South Africa has reached a very particular conjuncture. This is the impression that one gets from that Address. And I can mention one or two phrases used by the NEC in that Address. It says that the struggle against apartheid has reached "unprecedented heights" which is plunging the state into "deeper and deeper levels of political and economic crisis" and it goes on further to say that the "initiative is shifting into the hands of the people". How does the ANC come to this conclusion at the beginning of 1983? What are the elements of the conjuncture which the ANC is isolating as being of unprecendented importance and distinction?
It might be difficult in terms of memory to quote particular concrete examples. But broadly speaking, 1983 -- or basing ourselves on the previous period on the basis of which I think that assessment emerged -- there had been many important developments which all indicated the development of struggle to a situation in which all sectors, whatever issues might have been agitating them, were starting consciously to link all these to the issue of political power. And I think that is fundamental to any revolution. Workers engaged in mass action and strikes -- and they can have many, many strikes but they failed to link that to the ultimate perspective that it all amounts to nought. Students can do the same: protest about not being able to form organisations of their choice and SRCs and so on and so forth. But, if they don't link it to the ultimate perspective, it can just go on and on. But, by 1983, I think it had become quite clear that there was that mass consciousness, mass perception, the understanding of the ultimate objective as the central question -- political power being the central question. I don't think it is necessary to come with many, many examples. But one demonstration of that, the evolution of this whole process, was, say, the Anti-Republic campaign -- "No to the racist republic, yes to a people's republic" -- those were simply the beginnings.
Was that a conscious attempt by the ANC -- I mean I know the ANC underground was involved in that campaign -- but was that a conscious intention of the ANC at that point, back in 1981, to put forward this perspective of national state power as the kind of key condition for the satisfaction of all these sectoral grievances which people had in order to make this qualitative leap?
I think it had always been. I mean the revolutionary movement always has to say: If you have got a problem of this nature, you cannot resolve it without resolving the other fundamental ones -- even if you do resolve it, there will be other side effects and new problems that emerge. But, in terms of formulating it into actual slogans, into actual struggles, there were certain moments that allowed for, in a very sharp way, to put forward this perspective. And I think 1981 was one of them -- the campaign against the republic. "No to the racist republic, yes to a people's republic" I think, wherever it originated from, the movement projected it as much as possible. I was saying that is one example of the issue of political power, the issue of strategic initiative. I mean this would apply to students, to all the other sectors. But there were also certain issues and moments that the regime unwittingly was creating which would allow for decisive mass action on the issue of political power by the people. 83 -- if my memory serves me well - was the year in which the battle about town councils and local affairs structures in the African townships was to be fought, and already, I think, there were campaigns starting to emerge on this question. 83 was a period where there were all kinds of local struggles. Perhaps to give you one graphic example, you take the South African Indian Council -- early in 78-79, when it was to be introduced, there was very serious debate amongst the democratic forces as to whether to participate or not and use it for progressive purposes, taking into account the consciousness and mood of the people. But by 1980-81, the issues had become so clear that it was effectively rejected by the Indian community. 1977-78, in fact 78 in particular, I think there were about three, four, five strikes during the course of the whole year -- I don't remember well, but I am trying to exaggerate it -- but, by 1983, the regime had come to accept the existence of the trade union movement, its right to exist, and so on and so forth. And there were many, many actions on the part of workers for recognition and higher wages and so on and so forth. And worker organisation was becoming much stronger and asserting its presence. 82-83, from the mass actions emerged organisations, some of them big, such as Cosas, revival of NIC and TIC into mass organisations to a certain extent, civic associations all over -- whereas the existence of a civic association, simply the Committee of Ten, which didn't even have a mass base in the late 70s [had then been] big news. So now we had civic associations all over the country -- all kinds of structures. To the extent that then, I think in the perception of everybody within the ANC, it had become quite clear that we could forge all these structures into one mass anti-apartheid movement, mass active anti-apartheid movement. Insofar as the regime is concerned, there were many problems that they had to contend with: rejection of the racist republic -- you know, people putting forward clear perspectives -- showed the collapse of a policy; the attempt to introduce the tricameral [parliament] -- the debate had already started and they were going to come with referenda was it towards the end of 83, that kind of thing. The debate around those kinds of questions had started already and it was clear that the current political strategy of the regime was going to be stillborn. And they didn't have an alternative to that. So it's in that context, where you take the crisis of the ruling class out there and the confidence and consciousness of the people and everything else to say, then, that the initiative is shifting into the hands of the people. I'm not sure if it was 84 or 85 when we said the initiative has shifted; the enemy has no possibility of regaining the strategic initiative.
I think that's about 85. In terms of the ANC's tactical periodisation, arising out of the Green Book I understand there has been a greater concentration on the development of the mass movement inside the country. The armed propaganda campaign had clearly, in the ANC's view, fed substantially into the kind of political consciousness that it wanted and reinforced the political, the development of this mass movement. But still, at that point , apart from one of two statements that there is a need to convert this armed propaganda campaign into a people's war embracing mass struggle and armed activity, there isn't any real revolutionary tactical perspective that I'm aware of being put across at a public level -- which is easily accessible to everybody. There are very few clearly revolutionary slogans that are being put across. In terms of this tactical periodisation of the struggle, what is this moment in 1983? Is it the moment for a qualitatively new advance? And, if so, what is it?
The moment in...
In 1983, beginning of 83.
The beginning of 83?
Can we, for example, say it is the close of the era of armed propaganda, that it's an attempt to convert it into people's war, or embracing periodic uprisings of a localised kind? Is there any neat description which we can give to this moment?
In terms of armed struggle?
In terms of revolutionary armed struggle? The armed mass struggle, whatever?
As you were saying, I don't remember seeing any statements dealing with that question, but I think by then it had become quite clear, as a result of the development of the mass actions within the country -- the ones that we have been describing [between] 80-83; and, secondly, arising out of the actual successes in carrying out acts of armed propaganda and the contribution that these acts made towards consolidating the confidence of the people; and also the realisation of the actual response of the people to armed actions, to the actions of armed propaganda -- increased support for whatever combatants would go into the country, and greater willingness to join and operate at various levels: it became clear that qualitatively, insofar as armed struggle is concerned, that it was necessary to introduce new elements without abandoning armed propaganda, to make armed struggle (let's say) more purposeful, more decisive in dealing with the infrastructure of the system and, to a certain extent with personnel, too. Around that period, that kind of understanding had emerged.
Now, in that January 8th speech , the National Executive Committee calls specifically for the formation of a united front. Was there, at the beginning of 1983 a genuine and real expectation within the ANC that a united front would be formed in that year? Or, put it this way, did the ANC have real reason to believe that a united front would be formed in the course of 83?
As I indicated, especially in the period of 79 onwards, there was the emergence of all this sectoral organisations, and it had become clear, by 1983, that if any step forward [was] to be taken it would have to be now in organisational form the emergence, or the consolidation of these sectoral organisations into a tangible mass movement, mass organisation that unites the various strands and addresses as part of the overall national liberation movement the issue of political power. I think it had become obvious then. You see, sometimes it is difficult to say that the ANC sat down and felt or sensed that a front would emerge and therefore called for it that January. Rather to say that there was a feeling amongst all activists out of their own experiences, which activists would have discussions with the movement wherever and under whatever conditions. So that the whole democratic movement in its totality had that sense that the time had come to organisationally move to higher levels. And perhaps by then -- one wouldn't know -- there might have been practical steps being taken towards the formation of such a front to the extent that the movement felt confident enough to call for it.
[End of interview]