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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

17 Dec 1990: Tholole, Joseph

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POM     Just this weekend the ANC conference, what's your evaluation of what went on and what it portends for the future in terms of negotiations?

JT     There are two things that emerged from the conference. The one was the hard-line talk which is intended for the black community and there was also the olive branch to the government so that the ANC is keeping audit options open. The hard-line is because in the black community there is very deep distrust of what De Klerk is doing. There is a belief that he is not very genuine in his attempts to turn the country into a democracy. He merely wants to co-opt certain sections of the black community but he is not yet, at least if not De Klerk himself but at least the NP as well as the white community are not ready for a true democracy. The ANC wants to reflect this and doesn't want to be seen to be weakening in its position against apartheid, against the NP's policies, etc., but at the same time they have kept the door slightly open by saying we will continue to talk to the government about talks and giving them this deadline of April 30 by which time they should have met all the pre-conditions that were set down in the Harare Declaration.

POM     When we were here in August when the violence was occurring, the ANC's response was that this was Inkatha with elements of the security forces. They have now moved apparently to the position of saying that this is a campaign orchestrated by the government itself. How would you comment on that?

JT     I think by innuendo they are still blaming Inkatha, they are saying it is the Inkatha who are being used to further this violence so that they are still including Inkatha but they are now saying the primary cause is the government. I don't think there has been any shift in what they are saying. In fact I think that is why in one of their resolutions they said that there are going to be talks between Inkatha and the ANC on the violence. They spoke of two delegations led by Mandela and another led by Buthelezi so they still see Inkatha as a very important factor in this violence.

POM     What's your evaluation of the violence that has occurred since late July, or just after the Pretoria Minute?

JT     I'm still convinced, I don't have any proof at this point but I am still convinced that there is a flying squad that moves from area to area to fan the violence. It might be that they move into a township and attack the township residents and then flee into the hostels to turn into the hostel dwellers and then the township people then attack the hostel because they believe they were attacked by hostel people and the hostel people defend themselves and fight. Once things quieten down the location changes but the same pattern holds. This time it might be the hostel that's attacked.

JT     The reason I came to this conclusion was, long before the violence started we were getting phone calls on The Sowetan, people would phone us very frantic saying that they are going to be attacked by the Zulus and please send photographer and reporters. We would send a team out there and they would find that there was nothing. The next day the same type of telephone call would come from another area and again the location was changing the same way as the current violence is changing. It was pretty obvious that somebody was setting up a climate for violence and every time the rumour was the Zulus are going to attack.

JT     Now comes the fighting in Sebokeng where it actually started, but before the fighting in Sebokeng the ANC called for a stayaway on July 2nd and the reason for this stayaway was to protest against Inkatha's violence in Natal. That thing fizzled out, it wasn't much of a stayaway. But immediately after that Inkatha had a rally in Sebokeng and after the rally the story sort of varied. The Inkatha people said as they moved out of the stadium where they had their rally they were attacked by township residents and township residents in turn say that they were attacked by the Inkatha impis returning from the rally. So the truth of that one is not very clear. That could have been a genuine fight between Inkatha and the township residents but immediately after that the violence followed the same pattern that the rumours had followed, changing its location, jumping from one point to another, but the pattern was the same everywhere. People would wake up in the middle of the night told that the Zulus are attacking and they would get up and go and attack the hostel and the hostel people would wake up in the middle of the night and they are told that the township people are going to attack them and they would do that.

JT     We had an example very recently in the East Rand. It was at Phola Park. What happened there was the squatters got a rumour during the day that they were going to be attacked by hostel dwellers and the men in the squatter camp decided to move out of the camp and go and hold a meeting somewhere in the bushes. They were very well hidden there, so they thought, they were well hidden and they could hold their meeting their very comfortably in the bushes. But they found themselves surrounded in those bushes late that night and they were butchered in those bushes. Now obviously somebody had in fact set them up and said that we are going to be attacked by the Zulus and that night he then probably went to the Zulus and told them that they are going to be attacked by the squatter people so in self defence they moved in and attacked and they were probably told that this is where you will them planning the attack against you.

POM     One thing that we came across in the winter here was that people in the PAC or AZAPO would say, well, if you look at patterns of violence you will see that it's the ANC and PAC or ANC and AZAPO or ANC and Inkatha, that the common factor is the ANC, this reflects the ANC's intolerance of opposition.

JT     In some ways that is true. The Institute of Race Relations has done a study of all the violence since the beginning of the year and the violence has been to the ANC and Inkatha, to the ANC and AZAPO, to the ANC and the PAC, but the common factor has been the ANC. But the type of violence we are looking at, a different type of violence where you have inter-organisational rivalry with the ANC wanting to assert its dominance. You have that in the West Rand at the moment where the ANC is fighting AZAPO. In the Free State yesterday we had the ANC fighting AZAPO. In the East Rand before the present violence started around April/May you had violence between the PAC and the ANC. As I say that is another type of violence.

JT     But the current violence we are experiencing now cuts across political ideological positions because when the people in the hostels attack they do not necessarily attack ANC people or PAC people, whatever, people of all ideologies have been killed in this fighting. In the same way when the township people attack the hostels they do not single out Inkatha people, nor do they single out Zulu speaking or Xhosa speaking, whatever, they attack all the hostel residents. So this is a new phenomenon that cuts completely across ideological lines.

JT     At the same time the various organisations are trying to exploit it. Gatsha will come in and claim that the hostel people are his people and obviously because the majority are Zulu speaking they will owe some sort of allegiance to him, not as a leader of Inkatha, some of them might not be members of Inkatha, but because they are Zulu speaking. The ANC has also taken advantage of this violence coming in and appearing in peace meetings with Inkatha, these peace meetings that are mediated by the police, so that it also gets some credit by coming in as one of the wronged parties that wants to be part of the peace-making process so they also benefit.

JT     The violence as it manifests itself today cuts across ideological lines. You have two levels of violence taking place at the moment but the massive one is one between the township residents and hostel residents.

POM     A few people also said to us that while it began that way perhaps as Inkatha supporters versus ANC supporters, that as the violence has spread and reached a critical mass that it has tended to become more ethnic, it has tended to reduce itself more into Zulu versus Xhosa. Would you find that accurate?

JT     No it isn't very accurate. You see in Soweto it's very difficult to differentiate between Xhosa speaking and Sotho speaking or whatever. The hostel people used to attack all the houses near to them, they didn't care whether it was Zulu speaking, Sotho speaking. In fact very many Zulus in the townships were killed by the hostel residents. In the same way when the township people attack the hostels they do not attack Zulu speaking hostel inmates, they just attack across the line.

JT     Now Buthelezi has elevated ethnicity to this point where he wants to say that the ANC is Xhosa speaking, which is not true, so he's been harping on this amongst his people saying that the Zulus have to defend themselves as Zulus and he's always been telling them that these people are not attacking Inkatha, they are attacking the Zulu nation, they are not attacking me, they are attacking the King of the Zulus. That's been his rhetoric. But that's Gatsha also trying to exploit what's happening on the ground. The people who have died have not died because they are Zulu speaking or Xhosa speaking, there are hundreds of Sotho speaking people who have been killed, hundreds of Venda speaking people, it goes right across ethnicity. In this hostel, for instance, there is one area in the East Rand where in the hostel they are divided into Zulu speaking and Xhosa speaking. In that particular hostel it has in fact emerged as an ethnic conflict but on the whole it is not an ethnic conflict.

POM     I read one of your columns where you used Franz Fanon to describe the ... of the earth; it was very effective. As you look at what has happened since this process began last February what directions do you see it taking? Where do you see it leading to?

JT     The violence or just general?

POM     The first wave which was greeted with elation by everybody, then the suspension of the armed struggle by the ANC and the Pretoria Minute, then the slow disintegration of the trust that appeared to be establishing between the two sides, the hardening of the rhetoric that's occurring at the moment, how would analyse the various shifts that have occurred over that period and where would you see it leading to?

JT     De Klerk, I think, has been humiliating the ANC and I think that is one of the reasons there is this anger. First he invited them to discuss ways of meeting the Harare pre-conditions but in the process he was able to extract so much out of them. He has been able to get the suspension of the armed struggle out of them and all he has promised in return was to review the security legislation. He is not saying he's going to repeal it or whatever, he just says he's going to review it. At the same time he has been using his whip very effectively. When he withdrew the indemnity against Chris Hani, against Mac Maharaj and other people, he was again trying to show who is boss of this whole game and when he felt like he had restored the indemnity on Chris Hani he arrested one of the people in the ANC's negotiating team, Mac Maharaj, and he is in fact looking for Kasrils so that he still wants to show who is boss. He's continued with detaining people under Section 29 of the Internal Security Act and I think one of the most humiliating documents was the one that Mandela released, the document that was used during one of their meetings which was supposed to be a confidential document, where he was virtually begging De Klerk to release Maharaj into his own care and he would ensure that he stands trial, and De Klerk rejected it.

JT     Throughout De Klerk has been showing who is wielding the whip. In the end they negotiated the release of political prisoners and the return of exiles and again De Klerk has said the programme for the release of political prisoners and the return of exiles will depend on the progress that is being made on discussions on the implications of the suspension of the armed struggle. From speeches, cabinet ministers have been making speeches on what they expect from the ANC on the suspension of the armed struggle, to dismantle their camps, to identify where they've got arms caches, to identify all the guerrillas who have moved into the country, in fact to completely disarm the ANC. That is what they expect when they discuss the suspension of the armed struggle.

JT     In the meantime the government has been able to erode the sanctions campaign and these are the two pillars on which our struggle has depended all along. The ANC, therefore, will go to the negotiating table with absolutely no leverage to use against the government. If De Klerk says this is my bottom line and I'm not prepared to move beyond it, there is no way they can move it once sanctions have gone and once the armed struggle is gone.

POM     Do you think this is a case of the ANC being simply out-negotiated?

JT     I have a strong suspicion that it is that. The last time they went to sign the Pretoria Minute, they announced the suspension of the armed struggle in the Pretoria Minute, and I think two or three days later they announced that they were starting a campaign to force the government to repeal Section 29 of the Terrorism Act. Now if these were good negotiators you would have expected them to say we will suspend the armed struggle if you will repeal Section 29 of the Terrorism Act.

POM     It's like they played their strongest card and got nothing back.

JT     Nothing in return. I know they are also making the noises that in fact prisoners are being released, exiles are coming back so this is what they got in turn. But the Harare Declaration was very specific, negotiations can only start once the five pre-conditions have been met and because they rushed in too soon to talks with De Klerk he was able to outmanoeuvre them to get them into this corner where they are making concessions, they are making the pre-conditions negotiation issues.

POM     Spending their time negotiating the pre-conditions rather than ...?

JT     Yes, and by the time the real substantive negotiations start they will have absolutely no leverage. I think they are aware of it. One of their resolutions I think says they should set up a negotiating team, they should set up teams of researchers. It's only now that they are thinking of setting up the negotiating structures so that all along in fact it's some sort of concession that they have in fact been making very serious mistakes.

POM     If they were to continue to make decisions in the future on the basis of the way they've made them in the past this wouldn't augur very well for what the outcome of negotiations would be?

JT     No it doesn't. What would happen is there is a settlement that would be reached that the black population would reject and we are back in a situation like Zimbabwe/Rhodesia, that sort of situation. As I say, there are people within the ANC who are aware of it and that's also part of the reason for this double talk, very militant and very appeasing at the same time. This decision to start a campaign, mobilise a mass action campaign, is an attempt to recoup whatever losses they have had up to this point and again try and make a Constituent Assembly a very important issue. But that again is very encouraging for black politics because the PAC and AZAPO have already agreed that they want to discuss the creation of a Constituent Assembly so that in fact there is some convergence of ideas on what the future should be like.

POM     But this seems to be one of the principle issues on which the government has said we will not agree to a Constituent Assembly, it concedes what we want to negotiate, i.e. majority rule, or people would fight it on platforms and that wouldn't give them any room to manoeuvre once they became part of a Constituent Assembly. Do you see the government bending on this and how do you see this playing out now that the leverage, so to speak, that the ANC has or the liberation movement as a whole has, has been weakened?

JT     They are now looking at mass mobilisation as their method of forcing the government to accept a Constituent Assembly and the chances are that it will succeed. There is no way that capital is going to flow back into the country while there is still this uncertainty, while there is this activity on the ground. Even De Klerk's successes will be merely hollow if this campaign of mass mobilisation does succeed. In the end I am sure he will concede to some form of Constituent Assembly, I don't know what they will be prepared to consider. I see very encouraging signs on that because there is now some unanimity in black politics on that one. If black organisations could say let's forget what mistakes were committed by the ANC, let us look at the future, let us see how we can get together on the CA and campaign for it then there is hope for black politics. I think the ANC is aware of it and I think it's part of their whole campaign to try and regain ground and get the initiative back.

POM     What role does the PAC play in all of this? Some people have suggested to us that the PAC has become or could become a magnet to draw the disaffected youth who believe the ANC shouldn't have given in on the armed struggle or to see what's going on in the townships now that they're being attacked. Where do you see the PAC fitting in?

JT     I don't know how public are the ANC's two languages. One language is designed for the black community to see the ANC as very radical, as carrying the fight to the NP. If that image is in fact accepted by the community then the PAC might not be able to draw as many people out of the ANC as it hoped to get. But at the same time the ANC has kept this door open, for example, to continue talking to the government and I don't know if the black public will see this as an attempt by the ANC to continue talking to the government while pulling wool over the black community; as I say I am not sure how they will react. One thing certain is that the PAC's more radical position is very popular because there is suspicion about what De Klerk is doing and the ANC is trying to make sure that it keeps that constituency.

POM     What do you think De Klerk is after? Do you think he has conceded on the issue of majority rule?

JT     The NP I think, mostly the NP, De Klerk is a prisoner of his own constituency. He as a person might be keen on democratising this country but the majority of whites are still not prepared for a one person one vote government. They still hope there will be some checks and balances where they will be able to wield a lot of influence. If you remember, government has made lots of suggestions on how they see the future and from all the suggestions they have made it is obvious that they want to give the impression of a normal democracy, one person one vote but somewhere along the line they want a white veto. They are still trying to work out a mechanism for this veto but still give the illusion of a normal democracy and that's why they've been playing with all these models. In the end the most likely line of action is going to be to adopt the Indaba suggestions, the KwaZulu-Natal Indaba suggestions, where the Lower House is elected on one person one vote, universal franchise, but the Upper House will be a place where decisions will be by consensus and elections to this body will be on racial lines or group lines, whatever, but this is where they want to build in the mechanism for veto.

POM     Would that be acceptable to the black community?

JT     It is not going to be acceptable. As I say, that is going to cause very serious problems if the ANC does accept it because obviously the things that white South Africans want to veto are the things that affect blacks most, vast differences, poverty as against the wealth that's in this country, the education system, all the crucial areas, these are the areas where whites want to protect themselves and these are the areas that need to be dismantled if we are to have a normal prosperous country but whites want to make sure that nobody touches their privileges, they can co-opt a few people to come into their system but essentially that system shouldn't be tampered with.

POM     So would you look on what the government has put forth there in terms of proposals or ideas as really new means of co-opting the black community into a shared government, so to speak?

JT     Yes that's what they are doing. In fact the ANC was more specific at their meeting yesterday.

POM     Did the ANC make available a copy of Mandela's speech, the last one?

JT     I've got Tambo's speech, but I am sure they should have copies.

JT     The apartheid regime has in recent months demonstrated that it is not committed to objectives of a democratic SA. The regime has its own agenda, that of retaining white domination in a new form.

JT     That's what the ANC was saying at its conference. So there is this very strong suspicion again simply because De Klerk is a prisoner of his own constituency. There are very few whites who will concede a normal one person one vote system in a unitary SA.

POM     What do you see as the major problems the ANC faces now? I'm saying the ANC as the major actor on the black stage. What obstacles, what dangers does it face as it moves into 1991 and deals with both issues of pre-conditions to negotiations and the beginning of negotiations themselves? Will the process have to be slower than you might have thought last February?

JT     Black liberation movements can succeed in the process, will be better off if the process is slowed down. If the process is speeded up at this point and De Klerk manages to work out an acceptable deal he will emerge as the hero and he will be the person who will in effect continue to rule this country. In fact you might have noticed that when he went into Soweto some time back he was welcomed as a hero. In the townships with the violence that's going on every time the police come in, the army comes in, some semblance of peace is restored and, again, it is the government that is seen to be doing that. So in fact De Klerk is getting credit. Even the little peace pacts that have been worked out in various areas have been mediated by the police. Again this is taking away from the liberation movements. If the violence continues they are likely to lose whatever support they might have had.

POM     Who loses support?

JT     The black liberation movements. Again, let's face it, they are still in a position where they are still trying to build organisations. They don't have mass membership, they don't have the type of support that would carry them through elections. If the violence continues they will in fact face very serious problems, their credibility will be completely destroyed so that they will have to tackle the violence between themselves, the violence that comes from the state, etc., these things they will have to tackle and find solutions to. And they will have to slow down the process to the point where they establish their credibility in the black community otherwise the NP is still going to emerge as the victor.

POM     Two very quick last questions. How would you evaluate the performance of Mandela since his release and the performance of De Klerk?

JT     I'd hate to be in his shoes. A myth was created around his name and he's got to live up to that image that's been created. As far as the international community is concerned they've had only very fleeting glimpses of the man when he just goes through and addresses a meeting. Now inside the country he faces very real, hard politics and so far he has managed to manoeuvre fairly well. If the process continues he might be seen to be a god with clay feet or he might in fact live up to the reputation that he has had. But up to now he's been a statesman, he thinks on his feet, he's the compleat gentleman.

POM     And De Klerk?

JT     De Klerk is the only person who has the agenda and who knows where he's getting to and he knows how he's getting there. We are all fumbling around him. He's been very smart. The NP, white SA has never had a leader like him. Unfortunately the black liberation movements have not been able to match him up to this point and it's only now that they are waking up to the fact that they need to take back the initiative from him. But he's very smart.

POM     As you move into 1991 are you more optimistic than you might have been a couple of months ago?

JT     Unfortunately I see more bumps, I see more bloodshed before we get out of it. The NP are faced with a very simple problem: how do they get the negotiating forum going, who do they invite to the negotiating forum and what criteria do they use to invite these people to the negotiating forum. Once they decide to pick and choose who comes to negotiate, as they have already hinted that they will be calling anybody who has a constituency and they have in fact been enticing a lot of homeland leaders, black local government leaders. If they go along on that route they will find that it gets bloodier as time goes on but if they agree to a Constituent Assembly then the level of debate will change drastically from the violence that you see on the floor to the negotiating table, how do we structure the CA, who will supervise the elections, etc., etc.? So it will change the nature of the whole debate.

POM     OK. Thanks very much.

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