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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.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

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Host     Tonight we want your questions on the South African Communist Party - 331 0702. The lines are open and they're also packed. The Communist Party of South Africa was launched in 1921, it was banned in 1950. In 1953 it was re-launched underground and known by its present name. On July the 29th, Sunday week at Soccer City, a rally launching the party again as a legal political organisation will be held. Our guest in the studio tonight is the General Secretary of the SA Communist Party, Mr. Joe Slovo and he's accompanied by Mr. Raymond Mhlaba, a member of the Central Committee.

     Mr. Slovo and his party are topics that have repeatedly come up for discussion during the past shows. Many people have claimed the ANC is led by the South African Communist Party, that they are mere pawns. Many have said that a one-party state will be certain product if the ANC come to power in South Africa. Nationalisation, that's a topic that's certainly aroused emotions on this show. Many people have slammed all policies that they term as "socialist" and, of course, the armed struggle and the use of sanctions very often come up. Well, tonight you've got the chance to put your questions, problems, fears, support, opposition, whatever, to the men themselves. Please give us your usual honesty and bear in mind that the Communist Party and Mr. Slovo readily made themselves available to come onto the show and to face your questions. So, it's Mr. Joe Slovo, Mr. Raymond Mhlaba, and the South African Communist Party in the spotlight tonight. 331 0702, the lines are open, please enjoy the show. While you're dialling, now, I'd formally like to welcome Mr. Slovo and Mhlaba to the show. Welcome, gentlemen. Thank you both for your time.

JS     Thank you, John.

RM     Thank you.

J     I'd get the ball rolling firstly by asking probably my only question, which is to ask you briefly about the rally that's to be held on July the 29th. What's it all about and who are you looking for to attend? Mr. Slovo.

JS     Well, firstly, July the 29th is a very significant date in our calendar because it is the 69th anniversary of the foundation of the Party in 1921. And we're hoping to get a cross-section of the population to come, black and white, to listen, a) to our programme and policy, and b) to introduce to the public the interim leadership of the legal Party. Our Party, as you have mentioned, has been illegal for 40 years. Up to now, we've been ravaged, vilified, attacked, slandered, without any right to reply. For 40 years this has been the position, and the launch on July the 29th at the FNB Stadium is our first shot in the direction of recreating our Party as a legal organisation, which it was until it was banned in 1950.

J     All right, well, there you are. We certainly hope to give you a right to reply to some of the criticisms that have come in on this programme and, of course, we're also going to get other political parties and leaders to do the same. Enough of that. We've introduced our guest. Let's get to the phones straightaway. Let's talk to Mike first. Mike, good evening.

M     Good evening, John.

J     Please go for it.

M     Thanks. Mr. Slovo, I'd first like to say that I bet you noted the correspondence in the Business Day recently, I'm sure you have.

JS     Yes, I have. I've taken part in it.

M     Yes, indeed. And, you know, I must say, I don't think that the average South African citizen, you know, is really affected by ideology. You know, they just want to know that life is going to continue as much as possible the way it was before. OK, with certain aspirations, you know, we all have that. What I'd like to say, and this is a positive call, I hope you realise that, is that I admire the dedication that you've had towards our country for the last three decades. And the point I'd like to make, actually, is that the significance, for there is a great deal of significance today on the announcements in Zimbabwe that the state of emergency will be lifted. On a recent visit there on business, I was, it was reeled to me by a number of people, you know, both the conservative and otherwise, that Mr. Mugabe's priority on reaching power was to ensure reconciliation. That was his primary objective. And that, you know, this has been achieved. And I think, you know, their announcement says it all. So that my question is really in eager anticipation of a very free South Africa. My only concern is the right-wing, the white right-wing. And, could I ask what your Party would feel were the priorities in terms of trying to reconcile these people? [That the people, you know, that their ??? ???]

JS     Well, Mike, I think it's not going to be easy in the light of such a long period where people's minds have been moulded in a racist tradition. And it's understandable that there's a significant section of the white community which refuses to come to terms with creating in South Africa what we consider to be a civilized society. I don't believe that they are beyond the pale. I believe that many of them are allowing themselves to be used or behaving in a completely emotional way and are the victims of propaganda which has surrounded their thinking from the moment they've been able to articulate and participate as adults in society. But I don't think that we must be fatalistic about even the right-wing. I think if you look at the rest of Africa, which has a very long colonial past, with whites being on top in most of the continent, there's not a single place in independent Africa where the whites who remained and who continued to make a contribution can complain of in any way being ill-treated, being dominated.

M     Yes, this is certainly my experience in Zimbabwe.

JS     Sure.

M     And happily I'm going there on a week's leave at the end of the month.

J     Mike, I'm going to move on. Thank you very much, indeed, for kicking off with that call. I'd like to talk to Abalon, too. Abalon, good evening.

A     Good evening, John. I've asked to speak to Mr. Slovo.

J     Please do.

A     I would like to know if you are still chief of uMkhonto we Sizwe.

JS     No, I'm not. I was Chief of Staff of uMkhonto we Sizwe up to about 3 years ago. And when I was elected to be General Secretary of the Party, I gave up that position because it was impossible to hold two positions.

A     So, are you suggesting, then, that you are no longer the mastermind behind the escalation of violence throughout the country today?

JS     I don't believe I was ever the mastermind of anything in the movement. I think it's one of the sicknesses of our society that when a white is involved with blacks, it's assumed that he must be the mastermind of everything. I was just part of the organisation, hopefully making the kind of contribution which has brought us to this dawn of transformation in our country today. But as for being the mastermind and all these other slanders that have been said about me, I welcome this opportunity of saying that it is just not so. I've played my part.

A     Well, it's very interesting that in an interview with Chris Gibbons on the 8th of May, when he asked you if you were responsible for the Pretoria bomb blast, you actually laughed about it. And you said that you were not going to discuss it before the Indemnity Bill was through, any events that would attach penalties and you both, you and Mr. Gibbons, laughed about it. And you said you'd rather not discuss it at this point.

JS     Well, I think every leader of the ANC and of the Communist Party has been through 40 years of illegality, committing endless number of crimes, understandably, because we were forced underground. And in general, we don't talk about what acts we were involved in, especially at the moment in time when the whole question of our future legality is still in a certain sense tenuous.

A     Well, of course it is. And certainly, I'm sure you will agree with me, that law-abiding citizens, in any country in the world, have nothing to fear from the people who govern the country.

JS     Yes, but if those citizens who want to be law-abiding are not given any way forward except by breaking the law, then it's part of the culture, not just of this country, part of the culture of the whole Western world, that the people that have got no other way forward have got the moral right to use other means in order to advance their political objectives. And I think this is the history, not just of this country, and it is partly the history of this country, not only in relation to the ANC. It's the history of the Afrikaners in this country. When they found no way of going forward early in the century, they were involved in violent activities, and I think they should be the last people to judge us on this. I think those people who feel we should not have taken that road should tell us, what was the road to achieving a democratic, non-racist South Africa without the vote?

J     Abalon, I'm going to move on. Thank you. We've got a lot of calls coming in. It's Dean, good evening.

D     Yes, John. I'd just like to ask Mr. Slovo one question. Now, we hear so much about the ANC's objectives with nationalisation, which is a form of communism. How will communism work in South Africa when it has failed all over the world?

JS     Well, first of all, I don't believe that nationalisation is a form of communism. You've had an enormous degree of nationalisation in South Africa. I think it's almost a fact that 40% of all capital stock in South Africa is, or was until the recent privatisation drive, owned and controlled by the government. I think what has failed in many of these countries is the kind of nationalisation which we, as a party, in any case, don't accept. We discussed the concept at our last congress. We do not believe that the transfer of ownership from a board of directors to a board of bureaucrats will solve our economic problem. We think the concept of nationalisation is used as a cliché, it is oversimplified, it is distorted. Which does not mean to say that I don't believe that certain sectors of the economy will have to be taken to public control and ownership for the purpose of beginning the process of redistributing wealth.

D     Yes, well, Mr. Slovo, what is the difference between the Communist Party and the ANC, if any?

JS     Well, there is a difference and there's a similarity. Let me first deal with the similarity. There are no basic differences between us on the immediate perspectives, on the objectives of the immediate struggle and the kind of post-apartheid society we want to see. But there are differences, which are non-hostile, non-antagonistic, such as that the Party stands ultimately for a socialist society in South Africa.

D     Well, thanks so much.

J     Dean, thank you very much, indeed, for the call. Let's go to Danny on 4. Danny, good evening.

D     Hi, good evening, John.

J     Good evening.

D     I'd like to first of all welcome Comrade Slovo back to South Africa. It's a bit of a delayed welcome. But I'd to just say that to some of us whites he's actually a hero and not a villain as the media loves to portray him. My question to the Communist Party as a whole, then, maybe Raymond Mhlaba can help answer with one, is consistent with the Workers' Charter and-- hello, are you still there?

J     Yes, you're on the line. You're on the air, Danny.

D     As you know, the issue around the Workers' Charter, you know, it's a very topical and current issue in the union movement. And I'd like to ask the SACP, perhaps if they could clarify their opinion around the Workers' Charter. Because in the past, the ANC has never come, has never encouraged, and correct me if I'm wrong, has never come out very strongly in support of the Workers' Charter. And suggests this is one of the areas around which the SACP and the ANC differ.

J     Gentlemen? Mr. Mhlaba?

RM     Well, insofar as I know, we have always encouraged the Workers' Charter as much as we've encouraged Women's Charter. I don't know if there is any difference between the workers and the ANC on this matter. I've been in jail for the last 26 years. I've been trying to follow up events outside jail and insofar as I know, with the exception of the fact that there are called a group of workers who call themselves Charterists ...

D     Yes.

RM     - who tended to act, to define the task of the workers, or the working class, and also to exclude them from certain activities. For instance, the question of whether or not the workers should be involved in politics. That division, of course, insofar as we are concerned, you can't draw a line. In fact, almost everything is politics. If you are going to tell me that they are not involved in politics, that, of course, would be wrong.

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.