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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

19 Jul 1985: Ndlovu, Curnick

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CN     My name is Curnick Ndlovu. I am presently the Executive National Chairperson of the UDF. Now of course I have been involved in the struggle initially as a worker, I used to work in the early fifties for the Railways & Harbours in Natal, Durban. Then I got involved as a trade unionist. Now of course the conditions in SA - at the time of course when I was firstly employed I was casual dock labour. I used to get 8 in those days a month, it was a difficult situation.

POM     Eight rands is it a month?

CN     It was pounds at that time, in the fifties it was pounds. Then I subsequently became the secretary of the SA Railways & Harbours Workers Union which was an affiliate of the SA Congress of Trade Unions. During the sixties when there was the Sharpeville shootings the people's organisations were banned, the ANC was banned. I had also joined the ANC as a youth leader. When it was banned in 1960 some of our people left the country and others, of course, went underground. I moved to the office and I became the secretary of the SA Congress of Trade Unions where some of our people were banned.

     We were living in very crucial times in that the government saw us as a true opponent and, of course, we were engaged in the extra-parliamentary forms of struggle and our unions were not recognised by law. So we were engaged in the struggle for recognition of our trade unions and of course better working conditions. Also to try and struggle for a minimum wage because the conditions as we were seeing were really bad.

     Now finally of course I moved out to be in the region of the ANC in Natal and also the National Executive member of the SA Congress of Trade Unions. As people were banned we would find other people going in and I was subsequently banned too in 1963 for five years. I was confined to my area, that is township in KwaMashu and also town. I was confined to that township and town. I could not move to other townships in the surrounding area and, of course, there's the question of reporting. The banning order, among others, had a condition where I could not enter certain buildings or certain organisations. About 26 organisations were counted. I could not enter those buildings, I could not enter in fact even the building where the Congress of Trade Unions was in fact. What it meant is that when I was banned I was actually forced according to the conditions of the banning order to resign from the Congress of Trade Unions.

     Basically then when the organisation, the ANC, was banned and outlawed we were faced with the decision of either continuing the struggle for liberation or disbanding our organisation but it was decided that the organisation should not come out with a new name but rather should go underground and operate which meant, therefore, that we had to change the forms or the methods of struggle and so found that the ANC now had to take up the arms against SA. That's why we find many of our people abroad. So we had to go to sympathetic countries and take our people to go and train there.

     In 1961 there were the first stages of our military wing, there was the military wing of the ANC, popularly known as uMkhonto weSizwe, or The Spear of the Nation. Now I was engaged, in fact I was in the regional command of the saboteurs squad in Natal and as a result of our activities I and other people were arrested. We were 19 in our trial. 18 were convicted from sentences moving from 20 years, 16, 15, 14, 12, 10, 8 and 5. So those were the sentences for the different people as they were convicted.

POM     People were convicted for?

CN     For sabotage.

POM     For 20 years?

CN     For 20 years. I was on Robben Island. I got there, in 1963 I was detained under Section 90 in fact this was detention for three months without trial. Of course this Section 90 was subsequently taken up to 180 days. In fact we were 90 days, we were kept for 90 days in prison without, but what the government was doing after the expiry of the 90 days they used to continue again and give you a further 90 days. In fact it was 90 day Detention Act, that is how it was known.

     Well in July 1963 I was detained and then I was sent on trial in September.

POM     Were you interrogated while you were in detention?

CN     Yes I was interrogated.

POM     Physically brutalised or - ?

CN     I think they regarded me as a person who was very much more involved because of the evidence that they got and they didn't really torture me. All they did there was  just to convict me through the witnesses that they had. In 1964 on February 28th, that was the date when we were sentenced and we were moved to Robben Island from 1964 up to 1984, which is 20 years on the Island.

     So when I came out I found that well of course when I was in prison I used to read that there was a move to launch a front which was to fight against the government's so-called dispensation, the new constitution, which sought to co-opt the Indian and coloured communities into what we call the tricameral parliament. It was launched in 1983 so when I came out I immediately joined the front and I was taken up as an organiser on a part-time basis to launch the anti-election campaign.

     What we were doing basically, we were going out into the streets, in the townships, into the factories, door to door, teaching our people about the fact that the constitution wasn't really anything but it was meant to further divide and fragment our country and in fact it was fraught with hostility because the coloured and the Indian community are regarded as part of the people who are oppressed, that is now the black community in the country. But what the government was trying to do was trying to co-opt these people in order to weaken the struggle of the oppressed people so that even those people who were going to parliament did not in fact first discuss the implications of the constitution so that the National Party caucus had decided on it and on the basis of its decision decided to bring these people into this parliament. We were going to educate our people particularly on the fact that the constitution, by excluding the African people who are the majority, 70% of our population, wasn't really going to solve any problem. Rather it was going to escalate the hostility amongst our own people.

     Finally of course the elections were held and about 85% of our people rejected what is now the constitution, that is both coloured and the Indian communities, so that those people who went there had no credibility at all, they had been rejected by our own people.

     After the first conference of the UDF I was elected the National Chairperson of the UDF. Of course the problem with me is that in 1967 when I was in prison the government sent a letter saying that I should show the reasons why my name could not be placed on the list that is now of those people who are said to be the Communist Party members. When I did not respond to that, then I got the subsequent one which informed me that I should know that from then onwards I was listed, which means that now I am a person who cannot be quoted in SA. I have been able to address the meetings but in terms of this order they cannot quote me.

     Presently of course we are engaged in a number of problems, the state has actually come out strongly to identify the UDF as an organisation which is involved in confrontation politics and it has gone out not only to terrorise and intimidate our people but 16 of our people, most of the leadership of the UDF, were detained and subsequently charged for high treason. They are presently appearing in a number of cases.

     We also have another similar trial in the Vaal Triangle where the National Publicity Secretary of the UDF, Terror Lekota, and also Popo Molefe who is the National Secretary of the Front, are amongst the 20 other people so that 22 people are appearing there and 16 in Pietermaritzburg both are treason trials. We have had attacks from the state where some of our community leaders who are also leading figures of the Front, like in the Eastern Cape for instance, the President there and the Vice-President  were detained and of course the Vice President was subsequently released, the President of the Eastern Cape, who is presently in prison, is charged with murder.

     Now what has happened is that due to the fact that the government has been imposing puppet structures and certain people who are not leaders of the people, like the community councillors and also the Bantu local authorities, now what the government is doing is instead of recognising the political leaders who are authentic leaders of our people, they are creating those structures and bringing up these puppet leaders to be in charge and the people have become very angry in fact and dealt severely with these collaborators.  So many of them have been killed and many of them have been forced to resign. Many of the people's houses and business complexes have been burnt down and even the police have been attacked in the townships.  The government has come out now to - we believe in fact because some of our people have just simply disappeared, and tonight we are leaving for a place known as Cradock in the Eastern Cape to go and bury four of our leaders of the UDF who were found, whose bodies were found stabbed and burnt and they just disappeared when they were from a meeting of the UDF in the Eastern Cape region.

     What I am trying to show here is that the state is actually harassing now and removing the leadership of the Front. This is the situation that we find.

POM     Why, and I ask this of everyone I meet, why given the total level of oppression that exists here, why has there not been more political violence in response to it? In other countries even in my own country, in Ireland, there's a much no matter by what definition one would use there's a much lower level of oppression, there's a lot of political violence and there has been a lot of political violence in other countries. Why do you think there has not been as much here?

CN     I would say it's because of the state repression here. One admits that the SA government has got an army which is quite strong and the other thing is that our people cannot possess firearms. Now it is for this reason, of course, that the ANC, after its banning in 1960 decided to embark on an armed struggle, but you find that even there it was not easy for our people to come into the country because of the terrain because we still had the Portuguese territories, that is Mozambique and we had what is now known as Zimbabwe, still under the British people, Ian Smith was there. So what happened is that those people who tried to come in using these borders were actually arrested by both the Portuguese government which was working in conjunction with SA and also the Smith government. So it is only after the attainment of independence by these countries, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and to a greater extent Zambia, that people started coming down. But now I think the government realised that the violence was really escalating in the country, it went out on a destabilisation project in pre-empting, for instance, the inflow of these people, to attack them in these countries, like in Basutoland (Lesotho) for instance. Many of our people were killed by the SADF which crossed the borders and went there. A similar thing happened when they went to Mozambique, in Matolla they killed our people and they have been doing the same thing in Swaziland.  So you basically find that all the countries surrounding SA which could be used by our people as bases have been destabilised and the SA government has also gone out to get the names of certain people who are there and instructed or forced those countries to remove those people. So that what we have found now, we have found that because of this Nkomati Accord that the SA government has signed. Now the government came together with the Mozambique government and they agreed on the basis of this that the SA government is not going to assist the rebel movement against the Mozambique government and that he was forcing the Mozambique government also to refuse the entry to the SA refugees, the ANC members, because the SA government was saying that the people who were striking, the so-called terrorists of the ANC, striking in SA because they were using that country as a springboard into this country. So that is why now in terms of this agreement it was felt, it was agreed, that the Mozambique government is not going to give the ANC people there bases and the SA government which was destabilising that country by training rebels against the Mozambique government also undertook that it was not going to continue to support those people.

     So basically what you find out of this, therefore, is that all the activities of this violence that was taking place, our people were moved further north instead of being south because of the fact that the SA government is having the economic stranglehold of these countries. So I would say that because of this you find a problem of a violent form escalating in the country.

     But if you could have read and seen on the TV what is happening in the country today, SA is in a state of a civil war. We find a situation where our people have actually come out very strongly against government. They are actually using force and the SADF is presently occupying or controlling all our lives in the areas like in the Eastern Cape and also in the Vaal Triangle, Eastern Transvaal.

POM     Do you think in the next couple of years that the government will make significant changes or do you think it's adopting just a tougher line, it's going to dig in?

CN     The government is really adopting a tougher line whilst also bluffing by saying that it is prepared to now recognise the leadership of the African people and even open up what it calls an African forum where it will have discussions with the leadership. It has tried, of course, to invite the African leadership here in the country, the so-called moderate people, to come into a forum where both government members and our so-called leaders will come. And besides that it even extended that offer to people like Nelson Mandela where it said that Nelson Mandela can come out of prison on condition that he denounces the use of violence as a method for a change in the country.

     Now of course this is surprising because at the time when this offer was being made instead of now recognising the people who were outside here, the leadership of the UDF, whilst offering Mandela to come out it arrested these leaders. So you can see there that now the government is not really sincere in any form of reform that it's talking about.

POM     If things, as you're saying, are not going to get better they're going to get worse?

CN     By removing the effective leadership in the country, like these people of the UDF who are presently facing various treason trials, and many of our activists are actually detained all over the country, it is not going to solve the problem. I mean the solution of the country does not lie there. What is likely to happen is that violence is going to continue and we believe sincerely that until such time that the leadership, the authentic leaders of our people are released, firstly those who are in prison, people like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and others, and the unbanning of the ANC and the return of our people who are in exile, and the government, of course, finally to dismantle all the pillars of apartheid and to bring about a situation to make it possible for these people to sit down and draw up a new constitution which is going to embrace all the people of SA irrespective of the various racial groups here, there can never be any solution.

POM     OK, thank you very much.

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