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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
10 Aug 1989: Tshabalala, Henry
POM I'm talking with Henry Tshabalala. Henry you were saying?
HT I was saying from the last time that we met, that was towards the end of 1987, there has been a move, a political move by the outgoing State President, Mr PW Botha, towards real reform, real change. And in his words the State President talked about having everybody participating in the formation of a new constitution for the country. This is politically a very, very good move. With all that he, on behalf of the National Party, has got the support of the great majority of the people of the Republic of South Africa disregarding race or colour because we all want to have a say in the making of the laws in our country, it is all our country, black and white. But now there appear to be hitches as to how to get to the conscience. The operative words of the State President that day were that everybody irrespective of race, colour or creed must be represented. Now in this everybody there has been a group which call themselves the National Forum, these came from the black local authorities, they clubbed together to say they are willing to participate in this National Forum. And some of them were criticising the political leaders that are either in exile or in prison and saying those in exile and/or in prison are not the real leaders of the people. Now this concept we disagree with.
POM You disagree with that concept?
HT We disagree with that context.
POM The real leaders are in prison.
HT The real leaders, our real leaders, some are in exile, some are in prison. For us to be able to participate properly and constructively in the formation for a new dispensation we would like our leaders to be released. We would like those in exile to be allowed a free passage without fear of arrest or being banned or confined or detention. And we would like all political organisations to be unbanned. And we would like the AWB, which is a hostile white group in this country, to be given a say because they are also people of this country. We can't suppress them because they don't think like we do. And if all these people, all the organisations are unbanned and the leaders are out and they are re-elected by us whoever will be elected, that will be on a completely democratic basis. So nobodywill say they have not had the option of putting somebody to go and say something towards a new constitution for South Africa.
Now that is the hitch the State President has got. He doesn't know whether to release Mandela. Mr Mandela is just being used because he is the supreme leader of the ANC. But when we say release Mandela we mean all political leaders. If the others do get released as there is rumoured that Mr. Sisulu and the others, Kathrada, will be released before Mr. Mandela, that just suits us because Mandela is the commander that is steering the ship. If the ship is sinking let everybody get out. He'll be the last man to come out and besides those that will come out first will sort of lay down the platform, speak negotiation and non-violence, cool down the tempers because the tempers have risen to such a brutal stage that people were thinking in terms of killing one another in order to express a political feeling. Now that must be cooled down, all that must come down and we must now go for one and negotiate, there is ample room for negotiation.
PW made a very wonderful move by that but that's all he said. And then his counterpart, F W de Klerk, is asking for five years. That's nonsense. How many five year terms have they had and the country is sinking?
POM But even at best they're still talking about group rights or a situation where no one group dominates another group. They are not talking about one man one vote.
HT What is the difference, Patrick? One man one vote. And the minority groups shall have elected their leaders into the new system. That comes to one man one vote. The minority group rights will not be trampled over. And this is contained in the freedom charter. It is a pity I can't lay my hands on that document now. But even the minority group must have a say in parliament. Nobody must be oppressed because they don't constitute the number of votes or because they belong to a minority group, minority race, minority tribe.
POM Why do you think things have changed so much in the space of 18 months?
HT Because of the promises. The promises made by the State President. The way we see him, he is a sincere man. He is an honest man, he is determined. But we must also realise that he doesn't work alone. There is a group of men, or perhaps men and women, with whom he has got to go back and consult. And they say go out and tell the world this, don't go beyond this. He personally is a sincere man.
POM He, like in 1985, late in 1985, made what is the 'Crossing the Rubicon' speech where the international community was waiting on him to announce all kinds of reforms and he stood up and said nothing. What's happened since that time to bring about such a drastic change in his attitude and the attitude of the ruling party?
HT There were groups that broke out from the National Party. In 1985 very little was known about the AWB. All that was known was the Broederbond. Now the Broederbond is a very strong force within the National Party ranks. They are the policy makers behind the curtain. Now bring about a change like crossing the Rubicon, PW Botha was sincere and then that did not satisfy everybody in the National Party ranks.
There were the diehards who said, Dr. Malan said this is the policy and Dr. Verwoerd laid it down and said we are going to live parallel, at no stage must we meet. The blacks must have the same rights in their black areas and the whites must have their rights in the white areas and in urban areas the blacks must not have a say, they must just be sojourners, just come into sell their labour and go back to their homelands.
Now that group is still there. Especially in the Orange Free State and some parts of the Transvaal. They are still there. They have now come up as the Conservative Party. They believe that the white man is the boss in this country and the black man is a serf, is a slave, and they have actually said that if they can win these coming elections they will do away with the ID cards that PW Botha has now introduced. Everybody carries the same ID cards. They will go back to the reference book which contains in it the influx control. Now with that break it wasn't going to be possible for PW Botha to cross the Rubicon. And the outside world was looking very carefully to see that now in 1985 and 1986 there is going to be this change and all of a sudden there was a blockade. PW has got a lot to face within the National Party.
Now there is the AWB who believe in violence. They carry guns right in the city. No policeman can arrest them because they are a force to reckon with. And there's the Conservatives which are now gradually bringing back petty apartheid, whites only, blacks only, where these things had been done away with. Now all these things contribute to the slapping of the face for a year of reform.
POM But then the State President reaches a point where he raises the possibility of bringing about a new constitution. The National Party is running on a platform that they'll end all discriminatory laws. We talked to one candidate yesterday who said that they would do away with Group Areas Act. I mean its just - what I'm asking is, what has happened since the last time we talked that the National Party is suddenly making these, at least apparently, conciliatory moves?
HT It is because ...
POM Moved down to start the process of giving more power to blacks.
HT What actually stops them is that then from the business owners who are not only Nats, all business people pay their dues to the government of the day. Abolishing apartheid is going to take a long time. It is not an overnight issue. And if you look at the end result of apartheid being abolished then you can see the farmers in the platteland, the Orange Free State, the people who live on black people for their labour, they would lose all this. And they will then tell against the government for taking away their labourers because with these labourers they are able to make more money. They're saving a lot of money because they are underpaid.
The same with the industrialists in the cities. Some talk about paying the rate for the job and yet they don't. That is the catchword. If you come and work there you will get the rate for the job, but if you go there, there is still discrimination. You find a white man who doesn't have academic qualifications, does not even have work experience, being made a foreman of the others because of his colour. This is the industrialist who propagates the rate for the job. And then you find an educated coloured or Indian, an educated black man having to work under an uneducated white man.
Now these things contribute to the slowing down of what has been contained in the words of the State President. But we shouldn't forget that the State President has to say these things, to make these wild promises, let me call them wild promises, to dampen down the spirits, to bring down the economy from overseas and say I'm promising to do this but if you can bring back this and that, if we can continue our trade, if you can sell me arms I'll sell you aluminium. Let us continue to live as normal business people. Now all these words he also says in order to bring back all these things for the economy of South Africa not to sink. And we don't sincerely believe that apartheid can be abolished overnight. It's a long process but there must be action towards it.
POM What kind of timetable do you think is a reasonable timetable towards a point of where you would have a state government that would be dominated by blacks?
HT A timetable?
POM Yes what stages do you think the country must go through and when do you think those stages are going to happen?
HT First, we think let all political leaders be released. Let organisations be unbanned. Let those in exile be returned. Then we can feel. Let the prisons be emptied. Then we can we feel that everybody is going to participate towards the talking table.
POM When do you think that might take time by, how long will it be? Will this be next year, the year after, five years from now?
HT We take it from the National Party promises that if they win they are going to continue. Trust us. Let them make a move to us and immediately after an announcement is made that the majority seats have been won by the National Party and let the leader of the party announce unbanning of organisations, release of political prisoners, exiles returned and then a stage must be set that by such a time elect your people, let us go and meet somewhere. And I don't think South Africa is a nice framing to meet. Outside South Africa, let these delegates go and meet outside South Africa where the atmosphere will be quiet and they might have visitors like people from the OAU, people from the Bush government, people from Maggie Thatcher's government. I see the Soviet Union is now also coming in. Let them be allowed to be observers because this is a major issue that is going to take place. We won't be able to solve the whole thing on our own. But we need observers. We need advisors. Because now it is a system that is going to get out of one hand, the white hand, into a multiracial hand.
POM Do you think that it will be acceptable to the black community if the state, let's say the ruling party, continues to both design the agenda and to set a timetable?
HT No. Let us do it hand in hand and if a timetable has to be set we expect the political leaders, the exiled leaders, to participate there together with the leaders from the ruling party. Because the Conservatives have the right to elect people to go in there because they are South Africans, the AWB, the madcaps, we call them madcaps, the white wolves, let them come and solve the problem. Whoever says his policy is right, the people of South Africa must decide. There'll be that free option. No racialism. If I want to join the white wolves and I think their policy is right, that will be correct. That is just the type of atmosphere that must be set. The government, the ruling party must not prepare the timetable. They must not do things on their own for us because this is exactly where the trouble started, them doing things for us, thinking for us. Let us work together, think together, talk together and build together.
POM Is there, at least in the black community, a belief that the government can be believed when it talks about reforms or is there a belief that the government is saying these things hoping to dampen the way they are perceived abroad as a pariah government?
HT There is a belief that the government is passing time by making these promises. But given the chance let's see. We know they are not telling the truth. Let them be proved as liars. Like if they win now in September, I don't think they'll make bold steps towards real reform. But they have been proved as untruthful all the time. They make promises and they don't act accordingly. Then they change again and make other promises.
POM How long can this making promises go on? How much time do they have before once again perhaps lying?
HT Their time is finished, their time is finished because if they fail now - we can foresee a clash between the Conservative Party and the AWB on the one side and the ruling party on the other side. We can foresee that bloodshed because the Nats will say we promised genuine reform and the Conservatives and the AWB will say nonsense. Bang, there will be a fight, there will be a rebellion. It is coming if the Nats win.
POM So you see violence between white and white?
HT That's right. And there's going to be a split within the SADF and the police. Because these people belong to groups. They may be government service but they've got inside feelings about where they really think their bread is buttered.
POM So you believe that if the Nats are re-elected and really make no move towards genuine reform, that's one possibility that they're looking at, that if they do start making a move toward genuine reform then there is going to be opposition, white opposition on the right and this is going to lead to what would amount to a civil war in the white community?
HT Yes, that is what we think is going to happen.
POM So, they in a sense will destroy themselves.
HT They have wasted a lot of time by making promises and not fulfilling them.
POM Someone said to us that on the one hand you have a government that now realises that reform imposed from above can't work and on the other hand you have the ANC who knows there is not going to be a revolutionary war of liberation. Do you think both of those statements are valid observations?
HT It depends on what basis or assessment the conclusions are reached from. But talking about the ANC I think it has been realised that with all violent efforts against South Africa, South Africa has been forced to reach a stage of negotiation and a possible release of Mr. Mandela. This is the pressure.
POM So you would say that the armed struggle has been a significant factor ...
HT That's right.
POM - in moving the government in the direction of negotiations?
HT Yes, the armed struggle has significantly failed and now that there is talk from Lusaka to wait and see. I don't think there's going to be a withdrawal of the armed struggle. No way.
POM Would the armed struggle continue if in fact Mr. Mandela was released and the other leadership people were released?
HT The armed struggle will not continue. It will not continue when that happens because really the armed struggle partly is for the release of those people so that they must have a say in the making of the laws in this country. And if they have a say in the making of the laws because they shall have been in that position they wouldn't be in a similar position to say, hark boys, wait a minute, not now. Now come this side, from out of the army, for South Africa. You have been fighting to come in, now you are in be an army to guard against the enemy that intrudes into South Africa.
POM If you had to look at the next five years with your own knowledge and experience, what do you think is going to happen?
HT Next five years, first thing there is going to be a lot of unemployment. I say this from experience, one, the boycott of rentals. People have lost homes because the local authorities have thrown them out. The local authorities don't have a means of revenue. They depend on Pretoria to give them bridging finances and Pretoria is continuing not to have money. There is going to be unemployment, homelessness, lawlessness because I won't tolerate it if the municipal policeman wants to throw me out of my house because I'm not working. Where does he expect me to get the money? And the sanctions are just a contribution to unemployment. They are not the main, major contributory factor in unemployment of blacks in this country. Unemployment has been rife all the time. It's only now that it's being talked about that people think sanctions, boycotts against South Africa are going to make me unemployed. That is not the true picture. But unemployment is going to continue. And with unemployment comes starvation, lawlessness, revolution after that. Because the stomach knows no law. It might be a similar thing like the French revolution, Marie Antoinette, when people ask for bread and she said give them cake. It might be something similar to that. But it is definitely going to be, there is going to be a blood bath.
POM You believe that?
HT There is going to be.
POM Within the next five years?
HT Within the next five years.
POM So you are assuming that the government will not really implement meaningful reform?
HT That's right.
POM You're assuming that they will not release, they might release Mandela but they won't release the rest of the leadership?
HT They might release the rest of the leadership and hold him back because he is the man that holds the key. The Walter Sisulus, Elias Motsoaledi and all the others, Kathrada, they will come out, or let me say they may be released to sort of set the platform and cool down tempers for the big shot to come. But if he is still there, no key to us in the negotiating table. That conference won't take off.
POM Is it your expectation that he will be released?
HT I wish, I wish him to be released so that the solutions can ...
POM Do you think that is going to happen?
HT I don't think it is going to happen, not in this year. We may see Walter Sisulu in this year but not Nelson Mandela. He holds the key. And I don't think it would be right for him to accept release and leave his colleagues behind. I think he would be right to say, Release all my colleagues, let them go, I'll be the last man to leave the ship. This is what we expect him to do.
POM You mentioned sanctions a moment ago. Have sanctions been a significant thing?
POM Do you think they have had an impact first of all in terms of contributing to the slowdown in the development of the economy and secondly as a symbol, a symbol of what the outside world thinks of the white South African state?
HT As assisting in developing South Africa, the sanctions have not helped in developing South Africa economically. They have helped to break down the economic power. Because amongst the companies leaving South Africa, and some leave under the guise of saying they have sold over to somebody in South Africa who is multiracial, blacks have got shares in the company. This is one of the guises they have used. So that if things become better, they will be able to come back again in another name and as far as having an impact on the white population I think sanctions have had an impact on white South Africa because white South Africa is now feeling the economic pinch which they didn't feel before. It was only I, the black man, who used to feel the pinch of being unemployed. Now say if Shell decides to move out, it's not just Shell company in that area that is moving out. Look at the Managing Director and the other directors, look at the money side. Shell is not South African controlled. There might be an office controlling the other branches in South Africa. But the head of office is overseas. Whatever they make as profit they need approval from the head office overseas in order to distribute the funds. And if the head office overseas does not give that green light there is no chance of the local branches distributing the profits the way they like. Now the investment is from overseas. If they go, all goes away and everybody suffers. I'd be suffering yesterday, he's going to suffer as from today and they feel the pinch. And it goes a little deeper than that, that the dues, the moneys, the taxes that are due to the government will cease. Government is not going to get those taxes from that company any more because it shall cease to exist. Now government loses on it. And of course there are the other elements who leave with the rands and cents. They leave South Africa with the rands and that might not be a lot of money. But it is money that is leaving South Africa. That value in gold ceases to exist within the borders of South Africa and South Africa cannot reprint those gone notes because to reprint them they've got to have them back and destroy them and print new notes in the same values. So sanctions are having an effect. Its not a pleasant effect I must confess. It's a very bitter effect. It does cause suffering. But there is an effect. That is why people like Maggie Thatcher don't like sanctions.
POM Because they have a bad effect?
HT They have a bad effect on the inhabitants of the country.
POM Do you think that they are necessary to keep the pressure on the government?
HT They are necessary to keep the pressure on the government one; two, they are necessary to pull the people together. Because if all the people are suffering then they will stand together as a force.
POM So in a way you are suggesting that because whites will increasingly endure the economic hardships of sanctions that that will make them begin to realise the condition of which the blacks have lived in for years?
HT That's right. Binding them together. Blacks and whites together.
POM Let me ask you, what do you think have been the major developments in black politics since the beginning of the emergency?
HT It's difficult to assess that, Patrick, because one of the conditions of the state of the emergency is to suppress communication, to suppress assembly, to suppress expressions of policy. People cannot come together and discuss openly what we are discussing now because of a certain section, a preventative section of the state of emergency. But people need to meet and to talk, decide about tomorrow. Now with the state of emergency that has not been possible. In fact people and organisations have been forced to go underground.
POM Yet you've had the emergence of the mass democratic movement. Where did that kind of come out of?
HT That's a mystery to me. That's a mystery. The Mass Democratic Movement, I'm not against it from what I read in the newspapers is happening. It's a dynamic move in a country which has been governed by a state of emergency. Especially in the urban areas because a state of emergency doesn't exist in the whole of South Africa. Certain areas are affected. But I will tell you this, Chief Buthelezi's Inkatha can hold a rally at any time. They're not breaking any part of the state of emergency. But the UDF cannot. I wouldn't like to get permission from the Chief Magistrate to hold a meeting because that is my democratic right to hold a meeting. But Gatsha has been so successful in holding assemblies with thousands of followers attending. This is magnificent.
POM Do you think the government in part allows that to create division between different elements of the black community?
HT Yes, I think so.
POM I remember the last time we talked we talked a bit about the comrades and the power that they have exerted in the community, particularly in 1985 and 1986. What's the situation today? Do they still exercise the same kind of power or have they returned to more traditional forms of leadership?
HT There has been a return to normality because of the actions that have been taken by the police. The police weren't out in full force to crush the comrade system. Now within the members of state they had their own informers who were giving them information. And the comrades as far as quite a lot of us are concerned they were a disciplinary group. Although they weren't sub-status too extreme but they were seeing to it that there is discipline in the community. And the police don't like it. They want to exercise that power.
POM One thing you've mentioned that has escaped in my memory I think, the pervasiveness of informers, that the government or the state never appears to have any difficulty in penetrating organisations and groups, neighbour informing on neighbour so to speak.
HT I don't really know the actual ways in which they work but it's difficult from the start to say this man is an informer. You've got to be with him for quite some time and you get questioned alone by the police when you've been walking with the man and he doesn't get questioned. Then you draw a conclusion. Or maybe you've been with him somewhere else and you see him giving evidence against somebody.
POM But why do you think the government has no trouble recruiting informers?
HT Starvation, worklessness, people need money and if the police offer so much money people go for it. This is natural. It's not right for people to become informers on us but in one stage when you look at starvation you don't blame them for being informers because you find they haven't been working for quite some time and they've got families to look after.
POM This morning you referred to the Regional Director, or the Director of an organisation called NICRO.
Pat You know that, down in the Midrand.
HT In the area.
POM You know he was painting a somewhat different picture of just Soweto in the next three or four years. He talked about there had been a boom in housing construction, that many people were building additions to their homes and that that this big demand for new housing that will continue in the next four or five years will continue to be met.
HT I do not disagree with that, I agree completely.
POM But on the other hand you're saying there would be more unemployment and more?
HT That's right. Now, the building societies, the financial institutions are all out in giving loans for home improvements or building homes. And what is not clear at the moment to quite a number of people is the interest rates, the effect of the interest rates. You get a loan for R20,000 and it's worked out that you will pay it off at so much a month in 20 years. We've experienced it, that is not true. We took a loan from the SA Perm for 17 grand, with all the costs involved it came up to 22 grand and our instalment was to be R265 a month. This is now is for the outbuildings, the additions. In December 1987 we decided that instead of giving R265 a month we'd give them in January - no our first instalment was due for February, before the 15th of February - but now we'll give them R3000. And we told ourselves that in this R3000 you can divide R265 so many times so we shall have paid so many months ahead. This is what we told ourselves. Then we were told in a letter that we now have to start paying in January by the 15th and the instalment had increased to R275 a month. This still didn't bother us because we had R3000 so we paid the R3000 before the 15th January and the balance was R19,154 rand and a few, if not 43 cents 34 cents. So for February we thought let's give them R2154 and those cents then we know we are facing R17,000 rand, no cents on the side. Unfortunately in February I couldn't make it to pay by the 15th, I was bottled up at work, so on the 16th I took a taxi and I went straight to the offices. When the bank opened I was the first man to enter. I gave them R2154 and the cents. And I got the receipt. I expected the receipt to show me R17,000. The receipt showed me R17,950. I was sick. I sought an explanation for the difference and I was told to read the small print in the agreement that I signed, which I never read when I signed the agreement. Failing to pay by that date you are being charged an interest of the full amount of the loan taken. Now with this booming of houses this is going to happen because people who worked for - like teachers, nurses ...