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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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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 1990: Mufamadi, Sydney

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POM     I am talking with Sydney Mufamadi. In the last year, many people have said a lot has changed, or is beginning to change, in South Africa and I would like you to address the way in which COSATU assesses those changes and the role that COSATU is playing in the transition process itself.

SM     Yes, well, I think when we address the question of the changes which have been taking place, we need to look first and foremost at the demands which organisers, hence, of the people, have been making on the ground. And also to look at the role which the international community has been playing in order to try and facilitate the process of change in South Africa. And I think the most important reference point in this regard will be the Declaration on South Africa that was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly last year, and prior to that, the Declaration that was adopted by the OAU in Harare and lost by the Non-Aligned Movement.

POM     Was it the UN statement of 1989?

SM     Yes.

POM     Not the one that they just brought out recently.

SM     No, 1989. I'm saying so because that document does say that it is desirable that a peaceful negotiated settlement be found in South Africa. But it does say, at the same time, that, given the fact that the South African government has been responding to all forms of opposition and protest.

POM     OK.

SM     By using forms of repression, like the banning of political organisations, detention without trial, imprisonment, and so on. The international community, together with our people, believe, therefore, that the South African regime has to be made to normalise the political situation first and foremost, create a climate which will allow for free political activity. So that then there can be the widest possible consultation on the way forward. On questions of negotiations, people who go to negotiate must be able to get a mandate from whoever supports them as to what is to be settled at the negotiation table. At least we'll show that the masses of our people support this process. Now, the South African government, since February 2nd this year, granted has taken certain steps in the direction of normalising this political situation: the unbanning of the ANC, PAC, the South African Communist Party; the release of some political prisoners, particularly the leadership of the liberation movement; the partial lifting of the state of emergency; and so on.

     But I think all of us are still in agreement that there are obstacles that are still in place. The fact that a state of emergency has not been lifted in Natal, to us, is still a problem. The government explains it by saying that there is violence in Natal and therefore it needs a state of emergency to end that violence. But we don't believe that the government has been partial, first and foremost, in terms of relating to the parties to the conflict. I think there has been evidence produced to the effect that the South African government, especially security forces, have been working in collusion with one side to that conflict, which, to us, is still a problem. Of course, there are instances where peaceful marches that are taking place in various parts of the country are being put down, quite as recently as yesterday. In some instances, people are not even granted permission to express peacefully their opposition, in the form of marches and so on.

     So, one may assume, therefore, that yes, to some extent the government has taken certain steps, but we feel that this process has not been profound enough to enable the parties to enter into negotiations on substantive matters relating to the future of our country.

POM     If these problems, the obstacles to negotiations, are taken care of, who do you see as sitting at that negotiation table?

SM     Well, I suppose that that is another question which we have been trying to address within our own structures. Well, from the point of view of COSATU, of course, we are in alliance with the ANC and the South African Communist Party. And we are saying that we see the ANC as a leading force, politically speaking, within this alliance. And we would have no problem with the ANC presenting what we see as the democratic movement of our country at the negotiation table. But, of course, in keeping with our perspective of the future, in which we are saying that South Africa, a non-racial democratic South Africa, must operate on the basis of a multiparty system. There may be other parties which have got substantial representation, substantial support on the ground, and now there'll always be questions of who represents who at the negotiation table, and so on. And we felt that the best way to resolve that problem is to actually have before the actual elections can take place, to have elections on the basis of one person, one vote to elect people who shall then be entrusted with the task of drawing up an alternative constitution.

POM     So, you are in favour of a Constituent Assembly?

SM     Certainly.

POM     Along the Namibian lines?

SM     Yes. Our feeling is that it will be incorrect to allow people who do not have any support on the ground to participate in the process of formulating an alternative constitution.

POM     Who - are you talking about the homeland leaders, or who?

SM     Well, I think quite a number of homeland leaders who have come to terms with the fact that the situation in South Africa is untenable and so on, have begun to identify themselves, perhaps vaguely, so far, with the democratic movement. And I think that process will also have to be allowed to run its own course.

POM     Now, if the government refused to go along with the Constituent Assembly, with an election in which everyone can participate, for an assembly to draw up a constitution, do you think this could prove to real stumbling block to have any further talks with the Government?

SM     I think that will be a serious stumbling block unless they actually proper go out of their way to prove to us that an alternative mechanism will be equally democratic.

POM     Could you think of one?

SM     We can't think of any other. And we will be surprised if the South African government will have any other democratic mechanism.

PK     Would you see under the umbrella you mentioned that COSATU and the ANC, you mentioned the South African Communist Party, COSATU, could you see other political parties developing within the family of the ANC that might contest this election, a multiparty election for Constituent Assembly, or would the ANC go forward as a political unit?

SM     Yes, I think the way we will look at it is that we see the ANC really as a home, politically speaking, of all genuine South African patriots. It may be a subjective perspective, but that's how we see the ANC. So that I think the ANC has actually demonstrated that it does have the substantial support of the majority of political organisations.

PK     I think it's probably a simplistic question. If you were to see a ballot for these Constituent Assembly elections, the ANC will be on the ballot.

SM     Yes.

PK     Would the South African Communist Party be on the ballot?

SM     No, no, I think ...

PK     That's what I think.

SM     Yes, the SACP does not intend to look after all its members by members of the ANC.

PK     That answers my question.

SM     We, as a trade union federation, do not have an interest at all in terms of ...

PK     Being a Labour Party of South Africans.

SM     Yes, yes. No, we are a trade union federation. But because we believe that the ANC has got policies which, to a very great extent, coincide with ours, we think that is a political organisation that we can actually avail our resources, you know, to support. And I think it's not a particularity of our situation, within the Trade Union Congress and so on, that we would support the Labour Party in the elections.

POM     If the government refused to budge on the question of a Constituent Assembly, it has already indicated it's not for a Constituent Assembly, would one of the major leverages of the ANC be the power of the unions to call strikes in order to put pressure on the government?

SM     Yes, look, we think that this will all be obstacles that we've identified, that are standing in the way of this process. We don't think that the whole question of obstacles should be confined to the negotiation table, because we think that the masses of our people must make an input in this process. For instance, our people have started campaigning, even if it's indirectly, around these issues that are going to be on the negotiating table. The question of representativeness and so on. I think if you look at the campaigns which have been taking place in the Bantustans, where people were calling for the resignation of those Bantustan leaders, they are actually saying that, "You are not our leaders, you are serving in government-created institutions, you are appointed by the other side, therefore, you can't be our leaders". Now, I'm saying that there are other questions that have to do with this process, like the question of the interim government that we envisage as a government which will therefore have the support of both sides, and therefore it will have the requisite legitimacy to preside over this process. We think that for our people to demand that Bantustan leaders should resign is not sufficient. We may, unless de Klerk concedes that he cannot unilaterally preside over this process, we may have to come up with a campaign in which the masses of our people call for his resignation and for the establishment of an interim government. So, I'm saying, therefore, that in a situation of relative ... political activity, the energies of our people are going to be unleashed for them to say exactly what is it that they want, how do they want this process to go forward, and so on.

POM     Do members of COSATU, do members of the trade unions, working people, do they trust de Klerk? What's the sentiment you get from your members? Does COSATU trust him or do you think he's still trying to find another way to preserve white privilege and power, or do they really believe he's sincere?

SM     Well, I think de Klerk, in our view, de Klerk has come to realise that things cannot go on in the same old way. But I think it remains a matter of final analysis as to whether he has abandoned completely the illusion of perpetuating the system of white domination. He is still talking, for instance, about group rights, the minorities to be protected, all those sorts of things. But the way he puts it, it's suggestive of the fact that whites would see him as an embodiment of their aspirations. And we are saying that that has to be tested, hence we are talking about the need for a Constituent Assembly. We don't want to take it for granted that all whites want to be represented by him and whatever he says on their behalf must be entrenched in the constitution of a democratic South Africa.

POM     So, in an odd way, you might be agreeing with the Conservative Party. The Conservative Party says that before they would participate in any kind of Constituent Assembly there would have to be elections because they don't think that de Klerk represents the bulk of the white people. That would be their goal.

SM     Yes, well, we think that the days of whites-only elections are gone, never to return. The difference between us and the Conservative Party is that the Conservative Party is saying that whites alone have to decide whether this process must go ahead or not. And we are saying that all the people of South Africa must decide.

POM     So when de Klerk has given this promise, or when he gave it during his campaign the last time, that any new constitutional dispensation would be submitted to the white electorate for their approval, do you read that that's out of the question, as far as you're concerned?

SM     Well, we think that white fears cannot be the sole determinant of the direction which this country has to move in. They can't be. However, I think we are saying as a movement that there are legitimate fears which whites are entertaining which have to be taken into account.

POM     Which are?

SM     I think one starts asking all sorts of questions.

POM     What are the legitimate ones, do you think?

SM     Yes, are you going to nationalise my house? Are you going to nationalise my car? All those sorts of things. Are you going to abolish Afrikaans as a language to be used by certain groups within South Africa? And we think those are questions that have to be addressed. The equality of languages and so on, their cultural heritage, which we see as part of the cultural heritage of this country, has to be preserved. These sorts of things.

POM     If they would ask, "Are you going to nationalise the gold mines? Are you going to find a way to break up Anglo American, which amounts to a monopoly?' do you think those are legitimate questions, too?

SM     Well, they are legitimate. But then, I think, they have also come around to accept that we also have a legitimate argument when we say that the majority of the working people, in this regard black working people, have been disempowered. And these decades of economic and cultural disempowerment have to be redressed. And then we are talking also about the need for economic redistribution.

POM     Economic redistribution?

SM     Yes. As to what will be the viable mechanism to do that, we see it as a subject of debate. But then we see the way things have been presented, it's as if all whites, as a group, all whites, have got an equal stake in the present set-up, which is not necessarily the case. That's why you find even the poorer white working class type of people fearing the question of, say, nationalisation, redistribution of wealth, as if they have got an equal stake with Gavin Relly at Anglo American, which is not the case. And we think that an atmosphere has to be created where even those people can know our positions on these crucial issues that relate to the future of our country.

POM     As the negotiation process will unfold, what will the trade union movement be most concerned about? What would they see as items on its agenda that must be protected and advanced at all costs?

SM     Well, I'm not in a position to say that because I think I will actually be pre-empting some of the processes that are in motion at the moment. We are presently having as one of our campaigns the campaign that will result in the formulation of what we call a "Workers' Charter".

POM     A which?

SM     A "Workers' Charter" which will ultimately be adopted at a conference that we are planning to organise. And then we would expect a democratically elected government to be responsive to whatever demands which we'll have put forward which will be contained in that Workers' Charter. So that process is taking place. But I think you will agree, I mean, if you look at the history of South Africa, that life for us has not been a bed of roses.

POM     That's an understatement.

SM     Yes.

PK     Next year we'll see what he says when we come back! Get some fertiliser.

SM     And some of our meetings have been banned ... Things that I think they would want entrenched in the constitution, the right for trade unions to organise and conduct their business freely, with very, very little government intervention, if any.

POM     There are probably such things as a minimum wage, minimum conditions which the worker should enjoy at the workplace and things like that.

SM     Yes, but they may not necessarily be entrenched in the constitution.

POM     Oh, sorry. Yes.

SM     That's where the questions of the Bill of Rights and so on, I think, come in.

POM     Yes. Yes. What would you like to see entrenched in the constitution which would refer to the trade union movement and to the rights of workers?

SM     Basically the right of workers to organise freely and I think that will be sufficient.

POM     Sufficient.

SM     Umm. Then perhaps in court it will be a matter of interpretation.

POM     So, lots of lawyers involved.

SM     Yes.

POM     A big profession. You know, in talking with other people, people in the National Party and some government people, they talk in terms of, you know, that the great fear of whites are economic fears, the fears about the quality of their life, the fears about becoming a third world country, not the first world country which they think they are, they belong to. And they talk in terms of having guarantees built into the constitution that would refer to the economy that probably would spell out pretty specifically articles on nationalisation, for example. Would you find this that it's really not on, as far as you're concerned, is it? You could not.

SM     I don't know, if you look at their present constitution, I don't think it does make reference to things like those.

POM     But they're saying, their new one would have to, because they would be afraid.

SM     Right.

POM     They would be afraid that - their insecurity relates to economic issues. Their insecurity relates to the fact that they think everything's going to be nationalised and you're going to have a socialist government, and there's going to be no foreign investment, and that business will wither away and that their standard of living will decline.

SM     I think that is a matter for a newly-elected, democratically-elected government to look at. I think if you look at what the ANC has been saying, the ANC is saying that, on the question of redistribution of wealth, it's non-negotiable. But of course, they will have to take into account the need for economic growth to improve on the present economic growth rate, and so on. And to attract foreign investment. But that is really a question of modalities rather than a constitutional question.

PK     What about the provisions, for example, in the Namibian constitution, that say there should be land redistribution but there should be adequate or fair compensation, without deciding what "fair" is in the constitution, because that's a matter for the government to decide. But would you see something like land redistribution being in this constitution?

SM     Well, I, personally, have never really thought that there is a need to talk about issues like those, because I think that if you have a Bill of Rights, which at least makes provision for in the constitution, by way of general principles then you need to spell out in detail everything about what is to be distributed, what is not to be distributed, and so on.

PK     So you see the constitution as a Bill of Rights with some general principles, as opposed to a comprehensive, specific document about policies and government.

SM     Yes. Yes. But I think from their side, they want to tie the hands of a new government and of course, one understands their apprehensions and so on. But they also have to understand the anxieties of the people who have been fighting for this freedom, that's freedom without meaning to those people. And the government must have a substantial degree of flexibility in terms of moving forward in this regard.

POM     So, any attempt by the government to insist that something be written into a constitution that would preserve a free market system, say, would be resisted by the trade union movement.

SM     No, I think it will also depend on the extent to which this outgoing government will have representation in the constituent assembly.

POM     Let's say tomorrow morning there was an ANC government. What difference do you think that would make in the life of a family living in Crossroads or in a squatter camp or in any other of the townships over the next 4 to 5 years? I mean, will they still be living with lack of housing, with lack of water, with lack of electricity?

SM     I think that will depend very much on the resources which the new government will have at its disposal. I think this explains why we are resisting attempts by the present government to privatise what we see as public assets, because we think that, in fact, the present government is trying to widen, to create a distance between an alternative government and those assets, in which case there will not be any improvement in the living conditions of our people. But one is not therefore suggesting that overnight, with those resources at its disposal, the new government will be able to resolve all the problems. I think that's why the ANC is making all efforts to keep its lines of communication open, between itself and even big capital in this country. So that this whole question of social responsibility on the part of big capital can actually be social responsibility that is based on trying to address the needs of the people on the ground. [But I'm saying that it will really depend on the extent to which ... votes with capital co-operate in this regard.]

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.