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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

13 Aug 1990: Moosa, Mohammed Valli

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POM     I'm talking with Mohammed Valli Moosa on the 13th of August. And if you could just identify who you are for the tape.

MM     Well, I'm the Assistant General Secretary to the United Democratic Front and I'm also the Secretary for the Interim Leadership Corps of the African National Congress and Secretary of the Political Committee of the ANC.

POM     To start, do you believe that de Klerk has in fact conceded on the issue of majority rule?

MM     Yes, I certainly believe that. I think that F.W. de Klerk has accepted that some kind of democracy is going to have to be established in South Africa, that is the direction in which things are going. As far as de Klerk himself is concerned he has come to terms with it. I think what he is concerned about now is what kind of influence can we bring to bear on the process of change? They are hoping to be able to control the process to some extent and influence the new constitution, which everybody has accepted has to be drawn in some kind of democratic way.

POM     De Klerk often says that his government is not involved in the hand-over of power but in a sharing of power. How do you make a distinction between the two?

MM     Well, you know, I think it is very difficult for de Klerk to say that they are prepared to hand over power. I don't think that any government that's in power will be prepared to say that kind of thing. Especially with the kind of adversity that it has. When he talks about sharing of power, de Klerk has not defined, the government has not defined what they mean by that. And I think that at one level de Klerk is trying to carry the white public along with him. And the way to do that is to constantly give the impression that change is not going to transform society very fundamentally, that their way of life is going to remain much the same. And for that reason, sharing of power is something that people find less scary or less threatened by.

POM     But you believe that in fact that he is involved in negotiating a hand-over of power?

MM     I think he is involved in negotiating himself out of power. When you talk about hand-over of power one gets the impression that it means handing over to some other party. I certainly don't see it as the present regime handing over power to the ANC or any particular power, but rather negotiating themselves out of power. And that power really would have to rest in some kind of democratic system.

POM     Why would somebody negotiate themselves out of power? What do you think motivates de Klerk? Why did he move so rapidly?

MM     The reason for that, I don't know if one can say that they are moving that rapidly. The point of the matter is that for a few years now, from within the ruling party and within the government, there's been a school of thought that they can no longer continue governing in their old way. And if you look at - by 1985, they declared the state of emergency, they lifted it in 1986, they re-declared it 1986 - the crisis for the regime began to deepen even more and more on all fronts. Whether one looks at education or foreign policy or the economy or ideologically, in terms of its constituents, its own constituents in the white community have begun to shrink also. And what was very clear was that they were on their way out. The question they needed to answer was, which is the best way for them to go out? By negotiating, the advantage for them is that they could participate in shaping the future. They could bring some influence to bear on the future. If they do not negotiate, the situation then is quite unpredictable. The possibility will then exist that change would come about anyway and in a manner which would simply cast them aside and not involve them in the process. And I think that they are doing, they are really doing what they have to. There is really no other option.

POM     But he has given an undertaking to the white community that he will take any proposed new constitution back to them for their approval. That's not really a promise that he can keep, is it?

MM     Sorry?

POM     That's not really a promise that he can keep. He has given his promise that he would take whatever new constitution is being proposed to the white electorate and ask for their approval.

MM     Well, he can do that. I think it's within their ability to have some kind of a white referendum and put a new constitution through the white community. But there are also obvious dangers in it for him. It's a kind of promise that I think he can keep.

POM     He can or can't?

MM     He can if he really wants to. What I would question at this stage is whether they still want to do that. They have been saying that the situation, the political situation, is extremely fluid. And I would say that at this point in time I am left with the impression that there is going to be no white referendum, that they are going to find a mechanism which everybody is happy with, and a way of testing public opinion across racial lines.

POM     How do you see the process unfolding? There is talk about a Constituent Assembly but the government is adamantly opposed to a Constituent Assembly, or at least at this point is. Do you see that becoming a sticking point?

MM     Well, again, I think the government has been and continues to be opposed to the idea of a Constituent Assembly, in the same way the government was opposed to the idea of unbanning the African National Congress. If one looks at the present government, that over the years they attempted to bring about some kind of reforms without involving the ANC, they had to accept at the end of the day that any kind of change which they negotiate or which they want to negotiate will have to be done with the ANC. And in order to do that, they will have to release ANC leaders who are serving life sentences in prison. In the same way, the government is going to have to accept the reality that a new constitution, the process of drawing up a new constitution, would have to be done in some kind of democratic way and nobody, not even the government, has put forward an alternative to the Constituent Assembly. You know, they have said that they are opposed to the idea of a Constituent Assembly, but they haven't put forward a concrete, practical, workable alternative which looks democratic at the same time, even just some kind of appearances of being democratic. Because the alternative to a Constituent Assembly is to have some kind of a round table which drafts a new constitution. We have a proliferation of political parties. And if you talk about setting up a round table, you are going to have a whole range of other political parties mushrooming. Who does one include? Who does one leave out? Who has more strength? You know, which group is bigger? I mean, it's virtually impossible to solve all those kinds of questions. And I think that at the end of the day the government would be forced to subject themselves to an elected body which negotiates a new constitution. Whether it be called a Constituent Assembly or not I think is not really the kernel of the issue, but in some kind of elected representatives of the people.

POM     But before that point is reached, do you see a point at which other political parties come to the table, where the process is broadened to include, on the white side, the Conservative Party, the Democratic Party?

MM     That's possible. That's possible, because we have said that at this point in time, real negotiations have not begun. Whatever is happening now we define as not being real negotiations. Of course, it is negotiations of sorts. But we defined it as a process of clearing the path towards negotiations. So that when actual negotiations begin, those negotiations will be about how do we establish a democratic state? How do we bring about a democratic government from where we are at? That is not what we are talking about presently. That would happen when the actual negotiations begin. Of course, we would say that we would have non-racial elections, an elected Constituent Assembly, the Constituent Assembly should draft the constitution and while the Constituent Assembly sits, an interim government is in power. That interim government organises an election on the basis of the new constitution, and then a new democratic non-racial government comes into being. That is what we would say at such negotiations. But we think that at such negotiations parties other than the ANC and the government should be involved. We think that it is not necessarily a matter between ourselves and the government, there are other parties.

POM     Would that include Buthelezi's party?

MM     Possibly.

POM     When you say "possibly", why do you put the question mark?

MM     He may not want to be part of the process.

POM     But should he be invited to be part of the process?

MM     Well, I think that it is - of course we haven't reached that stage yet, so that's speculative. I would like to believe that the ANC would want all such groupings to be part of the negotiations, including Inkatha.

POM     Three things to this question. One, how serious is the threat of the Conservative Party and the right? Do they have the capacity to derail the process and should de Klerk be looking over his shoulder at it or is it something that is natural, should be expected and is just a passing phase?

MM     Talking about the slant to the right, I think that there is a danger in the sense that the right wing is quite militarised. I mean, there are military units, not necessarily operating in a coordinated way and not very big in numbers, as I'm talking about the paramilitary section of the right wing, but nonetheless, they have the capacity because of their willingness to use violence in a very unpredictable way. It has the potential of causing disruptions. There is no question about it. We know that they have been targeting individuals on both sides, the side of the government and the side of the ANC, for assassination. And such things can cause some hiccups in the process. But I do not believe that at the end of the day they can reverse the process or derail it completely. They could impact on the process. F.W. de Klerk could be completely - it would be very unwise for him, let's say, to look over his shoulder all the time and to worry about that. It is true that they have significant mass support amongst the whites, that is, the Conservative Party and the right wing generally. But that support is not necessarily a militant support. Not all of them are prepared to engage in acts of violence.

POM     When you said that if de Klerk, that a referendum among whites was something that could still be in the cards, but when you look at the support for the Conservative Party, is there not a very clear chance that de Klerk would lose such a referendum?

MM     I don't believe he will lose the referendum. You know that this government has never been very honest with its own electorate over the decades that it's been in power. And I think they would conduct the referendum in a manner which would ensure that they would win. I don't think that that is an issue. The Nats would say something like, 'Do you want violence or do you want sharing of power?' - something like that. Some kind of question which really, you've got to be really right wing to say no and not give the mandate. And I think that they would - I'm quite confident that they would win a referendum. They have control of the media which the right wing does not have, you know, radio, television, and the major Afrikaans newspapers, English-speaking press, which a lot of whites read, which would support de Klerk. The right wing has very little. It's unlikely I think, I don't think he's going to that he has fears in regard to a referendum.

POM     We hear a lot about white fears. What do you understand that creates white fears and can you break them down into those that might be valid and those that would be imaginary?

MM     Well, I think that, I would say that they are, by and large, imaginary to start off with, because the way apartheid works is to - I mean, it could only work because whites will be told by the apartheid state that blacks are bad. That's the only sort of way that it could work. And so that really has translated itself into white fears in a whole range of different ways. There is the concern about residential desegregation, which is a big thing amongst whites. They have this idea that blacks are quite uncivilised and would be a problem to have living in any kind of neighbourhood. In spite of the fact that in the most plushest of white suburbs, the black population even now is bigger than the white population because there are more gardeners and domestics that live within white property houses than actual bona fide white residents. But in spite of that, they would have this kind of fear. It is a fear about - I think in the case of Afrikaners, it's a questions of language and culture. They've been quite a closed community and there would be a fear that they would not be able to practice their language and culture. And this fear would stem from the fact that Afrikaans has been imposed on every other cultural grouping in this country over the years. If one looks at the 1976 uprisings, it was very sparked up because Afrikaans was being imposed in black schools as a medium of education. And they would tend to think that because of that, we may want to eradicate Afrikaans, make it vanish from the face of the earth. I think there are also other white fears are that blacks are not good at business. What most white politicians use in their campaigning is, look at the rest of Africa, and they fear it.

POM     Do you think the economy is going to play a big role in these negotiations? The structure of the economy?

MM     I think so. I think that it is quite a big white fear because they fear that the economy will crumble, that economic activity would not last any longer, that there would be a wrong emphasis. So that I think that different sections of the white population have different types of fears, really.

POM     Do you think that what the government will be trying to do above all is to protect white economic power?

MM     I don't think any democratic government can protect white economic power. I think central to our struggle was the problem of the economic imbalance, that you have one section of the population, one particular base group, that virtually owns the entire economy to the exclusion of everyone else. That will have to be broken. That question will have to be addressed.

POM     This seems to be an issue that's avoided all the time. There are soothing sounds that there won't be nationalisation, that there will be a free market system, that it would be a place that is attractive for foreign investment, all the kind of things one associates with keeping the present economic structure in place. Yet you are suggesting that there is going to have to be pretty fundamental change.

MM     Yes, it will have to be addressed, but when you say it will have to be addressed, that does not mean that the day after a democratic government comes into power, that every industry and every mine will be nationalised and members of the ANC would be placed as managers on these enterprises. I mean, it doesn't mean that, because that's sort of - that is crazy, that this is what the ANC is saying when it says that it should redress the economic imbalance. And the fact of the matter is that while this society is being transformed, business has to continue. People have to continue eating and earning, there's got to be employment, etc. So that in the immediate period after political change comes about, there isn't going to be a sudden change in the economic structure. That is something that will have to be much more gradual. But certainly it will have to be part of the programme of any democratic government. Otherwise it certainly isn't going to last because that is one of the main demands of the people. We have said that it would mean that there may have to be a certain degree of nationalisation. We don't think that complete state control and the commandist central economy is an answer to the problem. It's not necessarily going to work in the South African context. But what we are saying is that there would have to be a great degree of state intervention in the economy, so that there certainly wouldn't be unbridled capitalism.

POM     Take the average family in a township. What difference can that family expect in its quality of life through the democratic government, tomorrow morning? Or what difference can they expect even in four or five years?

MM     Well, the thing is that a change in living conditions and the living standards of the people is not going to come about overnight. But there certainly there are certain areas of life in which change can come about very quickly. Let's take for example the case of education. We have a situation now where there are over ten different education departments for the different racial and ethnic groupings. We would move speedily to nationalise all of that, have a single education department, open up schools to all. We have a situation here in Johannesburg, in Mayfair West, for example, where there is a primary school that has an enrolment that is equal to about 50% of its capacity. So that white schools actually have a much bigger capacity than what they are providing for right now. So by deracialising and desegregating the whole education system there would be visible change in a fairly short space of time. One looks at the question of housing. There is overcrowding, etc. That is going to take much more longer, I think, to attend to that kind of problem.

POM     But my question is that if you look at the enormous backlog in housing, the lack of electricity, water, and basic services in most of the townships and if you look at the huge imbalances in expenditures between blacks and whites, the question is, where are the resources to fix these things going to come from? I mean, the economy is not growing. It needs a 5% growth rate just to keep her per capita income constant. The per capita income is, in fact, going down. I don't see what kind of an economic programme is going to be able to address these problems on so many fronts?

MM     I think that it is for that reason that it would be wrong to expect a major upliftment of living standards of people overnight.

POM     Well, what are people expecting?

MM     I think people would expect, people would have a very high expectation. The difference, of course, would be that people would be involved much more in decision-making. The whole area of governing at the local government level and at other levels would involve people much more, so that I think that although there are these great expectations, that the realism would have to begin to set in. And of course it's very difficult to predict when the economy is going to begin to grow. I mean, that would be pure speculation but clearly productivity will have to increase and the economy will have to grow fast to begin to address some of these things.

POM     Let me just give you a scenario and you react to it. You have, say, the PAC out there and they are already saying "ANC sell-out". You have many young people who do not quite follow what's going on and regard the ending of the armed struggle with some suspicion. Let's say you have an ANC-dominated government, that in four or five or six years there is no tangible change, the backlog is almost as bad as it is. In fact, because of the increase in the population problems may even appear to be getting worse. Is there not tremendous room for large-scale disaffection, and a movement towards an organisation such as the PAC which would be out there saying, 'We told you so. This was just a sell-out'?

MM     Well, I think that if that happens - clearly, such dangers do exit. I think we cannot rule it out completely but there are a number of factors we have to take into account. Firstly, if there's a democratic government, there is going to be much more systematic education being done on those people about what to expect, what the reality really is, how decisions are made etc., etc. We would be able to break this perception that people have presently that the wealth of the country has been appropriated by a few and that is why everybody else has been rich. And that naturally creates a volatile situation. On the one hand there's that. On the other hand, there are possibilities, I think, of improving the situation in a very real way. I am not as pessimistic, I don't have the kind of pessimistic scenario which you have in your head. I'm not saying that it is not a possibility at all. But, take, for example, the whole area of defence expenditure. That's an area that certainly can be looked at in a post-apartheid situation. There wouldn't be the same defence needs as exist in this point in time. If one looks at, just in cities, the way cities are run, that there is much more expenditure being incurred on upkeep of white suburbs, etc., at the expenses of black suburbs. So I think that some kind of democratisation is definitely going to lead to change this administering in facilities and amenities in black residential areas, etc. So that I am not of the view that things are going to remain the same or even become worse if one looks at five years or ten years down the road. There are possibilities of the size of the economy growing with the expansion of trade with neighbouring countries, the southern African region and other economic units, greater trade opportunities even elsewhere in the world which have not existed because of sanctions.

POM     Do you think there'll be an inflow of foreign investment when there is a new government?

MM     I certainly think there will be a need for foreign investment.

POM     Do you not think that the conspicuous role the South African Communist Party appears to be playing in affairs is a dampener to foreign investment coming in?

MM     I don't think so. I don't think, you see, I think that at the level of propaganda, people like to put emphasis on the 'red scare'. But capitalists also tend to be very realistic people. And I think they are going to study the situation realistically and look at firstly, whether the Communist Party would ever be controlling the government completely, whether it would be in power with majority rule. That is the one question they would ask themselves. Secondly, even if that is the case, is there going to be an attempt to set up the kind of bold stand command economy in this country? And if they are looking honestly, there is no possibility of that happening at all. So that I think that the existence of the Communist Party or even the permanence of the Communist Party certainly is not going to scare away foreign investors. Foreign investors are interested in returns.

POM     Tell me, what is the difference between a member of the ANC and a member of the SACP?

MM     What do you mean?

POM     Say, if I'm a member of the SACP and the ANC and you're a member of the ANC, what distinguishes us in terms of our ideology?

MM     Well, you see, the thing is that if any person who is a member of the ANC subscribes to the policies and positions and principles of the ANC fully and without reservation, whether that person is a member of the Communist Party or the Democratic Party or any other group or party, religious order, or whatever attitudes, so that, in practice, there would be no difference. A person who is a member of the Communist Party is a member of the party which stands for socialism which believes that there should be a society - the only way that poverty will eventually be eradicated is if society gradually moves toward socialism. So that I think that the ANC is not really a socialist organisation in that sense.

POM     But you're saying that for all practical purposes, at present, there's no difference between the two.

MM     Exactly. Both have the same strategies, the same approaches. I don't know if you can think of a single campaign of the South African Communist Party which is not a campaign of the ANC. The ANC's demanding the release of detainees or, you know, a Constituent Assembly or the occupation of unoccupied lands in Namibia is supported by the ANC and the Communist Party. I don't know of members of the Communist Party who do anything that's distinct from what members of the ANC do.

POM     When you look at the course that the ANC is charting, what are the main obstacles or stumbling blocks or flashpoints of danger that face Mandela within his own community as he tries to manage this whole process through to fruition?

MM     For me, it's difficult to see things in the way in which you phrase the question. It's not Mandela managing the process. It's the ANC.

POM     Let me rephrase it. I've now rephrased it.

MM     Look, you know, one of the great challenges which the African National Congress faces at this point in time is to establish itself as democratic mass organisation. If it is to be able to, figuratively, constantly feel the pulse of the people so to say, it has to have proper democratic structures in every locality and in every neighbourhood. The African National Congress is emerging from 30 years of illegal life and it has operated as an illegal organisation all of these years, engaged in largely clandestine activities and that places limits on the internal democracy in the organisation. It places limits on its membership etc., etc., because a certain level of discipline, etc., may be involved. If it is to succeed in carrying the majority of people along with it, it needs to have a democratic infrastructure. It needs to have a membership that democratically participates in decision-making, a membership on the ground that would understand the policies of the organisation and be able to project them. Ordinary members should be able to act as ambassadors of the organisation. I think that that is a task which we are involved in presently. A lot of the energy of the ANC right now is being taken up in building the organisation itself, because it just isn't there. You know, we didn't have branches in Soweto and everything else. We have had underground units doing various things, that's different from a visible branch which ordinary people who like the ANC could join and participate in its decision-making. So that we need to break out, very decisively break out, of the old mould way of working as an illegal organisation and become a democratic, mass-based organisation.

POM     How much time to you have to do that?

MM     Very little time. And we haven't given ourselves much time. We are trying to do it in a great rush. We're having our national conference in December, a conference which is made up of delegates, elected delegates. Each and every delegate there will come with a mandate from a branch, will be elected delegates. It will be one of the most democratic conferences that the ANC has had since 1960. In order to have a successful conference, we need to set up all of our structures in time, all of our branches. So we are really giving ourselves until December this year. We are of the view that we must push the negotiating process as fast as it can possibly go. It is not in our interest to hold it back, to delay the process. We make the claim that we represent the interests of the majority and we are firmly of the view that the majority want a resolution to this conflict as soon as possible. Whether the ANC has its structures in place or not should not be a reason to delay a possibly non-racial election for a Constituent Assembly, for example. You know, people may say if the government says, tomorrow, okay, let's have a non-racial election for a Constituent Assembly, we as the ANC would be obligated to agree to that, that we are saying that it should happen as soon as possible. So that we are really in a race to set up our organisational structures. We don't have the luxury of really spending years to set up an organisational machinery. And of course, we have to match the organisational machinery of the National Party, and they have had decades to set up their bureaucracy and all of that.

PK     You wouldn't, then, agree with those who are participating in the ANC, within the organisation who say this process of building the organisation is an end in itself, this phase that we are in? That we're really not looking to negotiate and share power with an interim government or the National Party government, we're really looking to build the organisation?

MM     I don't know if I understand your question.

PK     Some would say that the process that is currently being engaged in over the next two to three years is for the purpose of building a strong ANC organisation on the ground, and that when it's all over, there is not going to be an agreement between, say, the government and the ANC and the liberation forces, but what we will have is a strong ANC organisation. That the end is the organisation in itself, not a new democratic South Africa, because that is not possible to achieve with the people that are currently involved.

MM     You know, I don't know. You see, the reason why we are building and strengthening our organisation is so that we can eventually get rid of apartheid. We think that it requires strength on our part. We have already been able to display tremendous strength and that is why the process is where it is at this point in time. We would need even greater strength to take it much further. And that is why we are setting up more organisational structures. When any kind of election takes place, we should win those elections. We don't build an organisation for the sake of building an organisation. The aim of the organisation is to democratise this country.

POM     About the armed struggle that's been suspended, some people are advocating intensifying confrontation in non-violent ways between the state and the MDM. Do you think that effort should now be intensified and it should be always as intense as possible throughout this whole process?

MM     We think that the government needs to be placed under greater and greater pressure.

POM     So boycotts, strikes?

MM     Yes, I mean, not for the sake of it, but certainly as part of our strategic approach, that must continue. But firstly, we believe very strongly that ordinary people have the right and should always have the right to protest, to demonstrate freely. So that protests and demonstrations aren't something that will come to an end once democracy is established. That is a right and a tradition which we want to encourage. We certainly are not preaching that once there is an ANC government in power, which we think will be the case at some point in the near future, that there should no longer be strikes or demonstrations or protest action or whatever. Dissent is actually very important. But in the present period, we think that it is specifically for the purposes of forcing the government to move along: implement the Pretoria Minute and bring about change at a faster pace. We need that kind of pressure from the crowd. We need that mass pressure. We that exertion of people's power.

POM     At what point does this process become irreversible? At what point can the government no longer control it? At what point does it move to a plane?

MM     You ask an interesting question. You know, I just read the SACC resolution of irreversibility, have you seen it?

POM     No.

MM     They've adopted a resolution. They defined "irreversibility".

POM     They have defined it?

MM     They have defined it. I haven't had a chance to study it very closely but I think I tend to agree. We would say that the process is really irreversible once a new constitution has been drafted and adopted by a Constituent Assembly or some similar body, and an interim government is in place, first, to implement that constitution. In other words, to organise.

POM     This would be a non-elected interim government?

MM     Yes.

POM     So it would be the present government plus, or members of the present government plus members of?

MM     Whoever else. I don't know what the formula eventually would be, subject to intense negotiations and wheeling and dealing. I would say that it's irreversible.

POM     OK, I'll leave it there. Thank you very much for the time. You'll get a copy of the transcript.

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.