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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
25 Jul 1991: Moosa, Mohammed Valli
POM I am talking to Mohammed Valli Moosa on the 25th July. Once again for the record, Mohammed, if you would identify yourself.
MVM I am now a member of the National Executive Committee (NEC) and also a member of the National Working Committee (NWC).
POM I want to go back a little bit in time to talk about the specific nature of the problem. I want to do that because I want to see whether the problem as you see it is the same as the government sees it and if not how can you negotiate about a problem if both sides are really thinking about a different problem. One view most recently propagated in a new book on South Africa, written by an academic on divided societies, argues that South Africa is in fact a divided society with all the classical characteristics of a divided society. He argues that if a system of providence is to be devised it must take account of the fact that South Africa is an ethnically divided society along the lines of other ethnically divided societies in Africa or in Asia or in Europe (Northern Ireland) or Eastern Europe. Again, there is the view that South Africa's is really a racial question of the racial domination of the white minority over the black majority and that what the negotiations are about is to eliminate that dominance. How do you see it?
MVM In a few words, I think that when one talks about essential features of South African society that the South African society is still one in which we have a white minority wielding a monopoly of political and economic power and then on the other hand you have the black majority that is deprived of access to political and economic power. You have a relatively affluent white minority and you have the very deprived, socially and economically speaking, black majority. I would say that it has the essential features of the colonial society I think that is the most important feature of South African society. Sure, there are all sorts of other ethnic and tribal divisions but I think that the dominant conflict is really around the one which we have spoken about.
POM In the last two weeks The Economist made a statement which said that the violence and the tension between the Zulus and the Xhosas was similar to the violence between the Serbs and the Croats who are different ethnic groups at each other's throats. Would you reject that as a characterisation of the situation?
MVM Absolutely. I think I would reject that for a number of reasons. If one looks at the present violence which has been going on for about a year now, it has its roots in the violence which has been going on in the province of Natal for the past five years or so. Over the past year it has slowly been spread to the rest of the country. In Natal there has always been one ethnic, one tribal grouping, the Zulus. That would be one reason why one cannot explain it away in that sort of way, that it is simply a conflict between two relatively big tribes in this country. The other reason is that if it really was a conflict between those who have an affiliation to Zuluism against those who are Xhosas then at least the majority of Zulu speaking people would have been on the one side. Every opinion poll conducted in the past few months, in fact this year, by all sorts of relatively neutral groupings has indicated that Inkatha in whose name the violence is being conducted really has very little support anywhere in the country, and that includes Natal itself which is predominantly Zulu speaking.
MVM The third point to make is that we have known all along and over the past, and everybody else is beginning to believe this, that the real source of the violence lies within the state, within the security forces. That has been our analysis of the situation. What sort of person, let us assume that it is true that this is a tribal war, what sort of person would go into a train coach, open fire and just kill people in Johannesburg? And again, it is well known that Johannesburg has a fair mix of every sort of ethnic and language group. There is no way of knowing whether the person is Xhosa or Zulu or anything of that sort. There are no distinguishing physical features by which to recognise people even if you are Zulu speaking. You often have to hear the language the person speaks if you really want to be able to identify the person's real ethnic origin. What I am saying is that people who carry out such attacks would have no way of knowing what the political affiliation of the victims is and that in all of these attacks the people who have been the victims have been from a range of tribal backgrounds.
POM Another analogy that is sometimes made is the one that Eastern Europe under totalitarian communism, ethnic nationalisms, were submerged or contained but once the totalitarian state fell apart these nationalisms began to assert themselves. Some writers/academics/scholars suggest that a similar thing could happen here, that the minute you take the yoke of apartheid away the thing that bonded all the various African groups together, ethnicity is more likely to make itself felt. Would you care to comment on that analogy?
MVM You see the thing is that, in the first place I think what needs to be said, I do not think it is an analogy that is relevant at all because the apartheid strategy was to artificially give people an ethnic consciousness unlike what would have been happening under various communist systems in Eastern Europe. There was here a very deliberate strategy to give you. I mean I, for example, had to attend an Indian school, the high school from which I graduated was called Lenasia Indian High School. I had to live in an Indian group area. There were certain Indians who were supposedly representing us in the corridors of power, those sorts of things. There was job reservation, there were only some sorts of jobs which Indians could do, which others could not do, which Coloureds could do and others could not do. The whole Bantustan strategy was aimed at giving people that sort of ethnic consciousness. Apartheid attempted to use ethnicity as a way of keeping people apart who had a tremendous amount in common because of the national oppression which everybody shared. I think that for that reason it is a worthwhile analogy. Of late I do not think that there has necessarily been a rise of ethnic consciousness in this country in the way that seems to be happening elsewhere in the world. I am not saying that it has not happened at all. I think that there is a degree of ethnic and tribal consciousness and I think that during the present period the government is trying very much to feed into tribal and ethnic prejudices of people.
POM Another kind of analogy would be with other countries in Africa which got their independence and then went through one problem after another until ethnic differences came to light.
MVM You see the thing that makes it difficult to draw similarities is there is the artificial manner in which the ethnic conflict has arisen in this country. There has been an injection from the so-called counter-insurgency units of the regime. They are using the experience that they have gained in setting up Renamo and the Renamo type of operations and to some extent Unita also. They are using that experience here. A lot of the people who are doing the actual fighting, especially in the instances where there has been large scale loss of lives, the people who are doing the fighting are not even South Africans, they are professional mercenaries. I think it would be foolish of me to deny that there is ethnic and tribal prejudice, I think there is. I think all sorts of minorities in the present period are concerned about their own future, are concerned about not replacing white minority domination with any other sort of domination, are concerned about the future of their languages and their culture, all sorts of things. There is a healthy suspicion of people who speak a different language and have a different culture and it is quite natural. We have got a whole number of tribal and ethnic groupings in this country. We are not having the Pedis in the Northern Transvaal mobilising themselves or whatever, it is not happening. I think that it is a very special situation and I don't think that it is correct to try to find a simplistic analysis.
POM So the answer to my two questions of whether or not South Africa is a divided society using the characteristics that are associated with capital divided societies is that SA is not a capitally divided society in that way?
POM You have a situation for the last year where the ANC exists and the government is the agent behind the violence in the townships, where you have former members of the security forces coming forward to collaborate, that the government is funding covert operations such as Inkatha. My question is, in that atmosphere how can there be negotiations between the government and the ANC?
MVM There are two ways of looking at this. On the one hand we have continued to say that in the present atmosphere negotiations are not possible. We are not saying this now because of destabilisation, we have said it even before the ANC was unbanned. We said that there is no climate for negotiations, that the regime needs to do certain things in order to create the required climate, so that I would agree that negotiations cannot take place. Some things have to change. Exiles have to be allowed to return, all political prisoners should be released, the government must desist in no uncertain terms from fuelling and instigating the violence that is going on presently. We have defined those things a little more now in that it must publicly and visibly dismantle its counter-insurgency units, those units within the army and the police force which are composed of foreigners. They have battalions made up of Namibians, Angolans and Mozambicans and that sort of thing. There should be a multi-lateral, multi-party commission of enquiry. The Ministers of Police and Defence must be dismissed. There can be no negotiations if those things don't happen. We cannot negotiate with a government which denies completely the political climate in the country because then we are negotiating from a position of weakness. We need to have a full opportunity to conduct our political work if we are to enter into negotiations, and it is a position that the world has accepted. It is really nothing new. That has not happened and therefore negotiations cannot begin at this point in time. There is another way of looking at this whole thing, one could say that de Klerk is probably involved in all of this. I believe that he is involved in the destabilisation strategy which has been unfolding. I cannot believe that he has been unaware of it. We have over and over given all sorts of information and because a lot of that was circumstantial he claimed not to know, etc.
POM Is that your personal belief or the belief of the NWC?
MVM I think that the leadership of the ANC has lost confidence in de Klerk. Certainly in general we would regard him as being part of this double agenda which the regime is pursuing. The question would be, how can you negotiate with a man like that? Negotiations take place between adversaries otherwise there is no point in negotiating. If and when we do negotiate with this government it would not necessarily mean that we trust them. We have never trusted them and I don't think we are ever going to trust them but that does not mean negotiations cannot take place. How can we trust them? From our side we need to mobilise the strength we have to bring them to the point where they would have no choice but to adhere to agreements arrived at. That is the point at which we think negotiations can make sense so that they can take place in a genuine way and then move ahead speedily.
POM So that the much quoted remark of Mr Mandela last year that de Klerk is a man of integrity, no longer holds water?
POM There was also mentioned late last year the importance of both de Klerk and Mandela to the process, that they have this kind of special relationship and much was made of the fact that if something happened to either of them, God knows what would have happened. Do you think that has changed in the last year?
MVM I don't know, it is difficult to say. I think what one needs to bear in mind is that Mandela wields a tremendous amount of authority, just personal authority. I think that that helps the process very much. I also think that will still be there. I don't know to what extent de Klerk will be able to continue to wield this sort of authority but he was able to take the high ground, he unbanned the ANC and he released some political prisoners. Those sorts of things say that he is breaking with the past, etc., but now he is in trouble. In the public mind they don't see him as that sort of person. He is really, genuinely, sticking with the past.
POM By public do you mean the black public?
MVM I think generally, not only the black public. I think a substantial number of whites would regard him as a dishonest person. What I am saying is it diminishes him personally and the weight which he carries. Within the government he is going to be forced to get some heads to roll. What that would mean for his own ability to continue to give the impression of leading a united leadership on the government side is something that we have to wait to see. I am not certain as to whether de Klerk would be able to do that. For one thing when people talk about personal chemistry I think that is what really helped de Klerk.
POM One scenario that has been suggested to us is that if the pressure be moved on to Pik Botha he would be the fall guy, that he even indicated that he might want to retire from politics because of the accident to his wife. If he were to resign that would take the pressure off de Klerk. It would seem to be a drastic step to take just to appease people. Do you think that is a likely scenario?
MVM I would not rule it out.
POM What about the fallout of Inkathagate? Where do you think it leaves Buthelezi personally and Inkatha generally?
MVM I think it has caused irreparable damage to the image of Inkatha. I think what we must remember is that to start off with, before all of this happened, Inkatha had a very poor image in the black community. I think that all of the violence, however much they denied it, and however much the security forces and the government denied it, for most ordinary people they saw Inkatha as being responsible for the violence and I think that this is really the final nail in their coffin. It is not possible to imagine that they could rise to being a significant political factor in any sort of election.
POM In European and US periodicals after the meeting between Mandela and Buthelezi the headlines were that the three major players are now getting together. Buthelezi pushed himself up to be among the very important players in this process. Does this diminish him in that capacity too?
MVM I think it does.
POM Is the era of apartheid over?
MVM No it is not.
POM When would you regard it as being over?
MVM I don't have the vote. The majority of South Africans are disenfranchised. I don't think I have to say more on that.
POM So for the US and European commentators who regarded the repeal of the Population Registration Act as the last act of legal apartheid ...?
MVM I think that is a very narrow way of looking at things. That amounts to saying that if I can live where I like and attend which university I want to go to and all sorts of things, that there is no apartheid even though I am not allowed to vote. It does not make any sense.
POM How generally would you assess the performance of the ANC in the last year? I ask that for a couple of reasons, one is that from a distance it appears to follow a zigzag course. Even legal commentary in the US would be inclined to say that de Klerk always seems to have the initiative, that there was a call that all political prisoners had to be released by the 30th April, that deadline passed and nothing happened and then you had the press statements on Malan and Vlok and it seemed to be withdrawn and what was generally regarded as being a very conciliatory interview that Mr Mandela gave about ten weeks ago. The other reason is something that came up at your own conference that the party had had trouble attracting Coloureds and Indians and even African members within the rural communities, that it was really being perceived of as an African urban party more than anything else.
MVM It has to be a long answer but I will try to be brief. If you are really asking for an assessment perhaps you should make it yourself after my answer.
Firstly, on the question of who always has the initiative. Perhaps what would be useful is to make a separation between tactical and strategic initiatives for the sake of trying to give a better explanation. I think that it is true that there were moments when de Klerk did appear to have the tactical initiative but I think what is more important is whether or not de Klerk has been able to resist the agenda which has been set by the ANC for the political process in this country. That is the important thing. The ANC has said that negotiations should take place, that before they take place certain things need to happen. All of that is still on the agenda. De Klerk is still faced with the problem of having to release prisoners. It has disappeared. He has not been able to say, we are not going to release political prisoners, let us go on to the next step, to redefine the agenda or redefine the process. Something with exiles. Then if one looks at the violence issue, de Klerk tried as his major response to the violence, he tried to convene his own peace conference. We said that the government cannot convene a peace conference because they are a part of the violence, in fact they are the main instigators, that we need to have a neutral body of people to convene the peace conference. That business and church leaders should be the convenors.
The government's peace conference achieved really very little and now everybody is looking forward to the peace conference which will be convened by the church and business leaders. The government and Inkatha, everybody has agreed, although Inkatha very reluctantly, to participate in the process that is leading up towards that peace conference. We have also been able to set the agenda for that conference. We said we don't want to have a weekend meeting in which leaders of different political groupings get together and talk about how bad the violence is and how should they stop it but what we need is a binding code of conduct for political parties. We need to emerge out of that peace conference with a binding code of conduct for the security forces and clear mechanisms to monitor the conduct of the security forces. And that work is going on now. There are working groups that are preparing those sorts of codes which will be put to the peace conference when it does take place.
We had refused to attend de Klerk's peace conference and thereby seized the initiative. We have also said that an all-party congress can take place only when obstacles are removed but that, as part of the agenda, there should be an interim government, a Constituent Assembly, etc. And no matter how much de Klerk tries to create the impression that they have seized the initiative they are really falling into that agenda. There is no other agenda that they have been able to impose upon the political process. So, I would say that at the strategic level the ANC and its allies have maintained the strategic initiative. As an organisation that is emerging from 30 years of illegality, setting up a legal organisation was a major adjustment for the organisation. In the process of setting it up there were a number of difficulties. But on the plus side of it is that we have recruited about ? of a million registered members in the country, set up between 800-900 elected branches. We have a massive political machinery. We have branches both in the urban and rural areas.
The self-criticism that we made at the conference, that we are weaker in the rural areas than we are in the urban areas, that sort of self-criticism is important for us to know where to direct our priorities. I don't think people should be shocked by the fact that we have made much more progress in the urban areas than we have in the rural areas. I think anywhere in the world that would have been the situation, there is nothing unnatural about that.
As far as the Coloured and Indian communities are concerned we do have branches probably in every area where there is a Coloured and Indian community. I am not certain, I can't think offhand of an area. I think that if an election has to take place, talking about the Indian community from which I come, I have no doubt that the majority of the people would vote for the ANC. But it is true that we have not been able to consolidate as strong an organisation in these communities as we have been able to do in the African areas. One reason for that is because the government has singled out these communities in the hope that they would be able to gain some ground there. They have set up some branches of the NP in Coloured and Indian areas. They have been able to play on the fears that any minority grouping would have. That may be one of the reasons apart from possibly other reasons, but I don't think it is a desperate situation.
POM Just two quick questions on the Constituent Assembly and the interim government. Is the ANC as insistent now on a Constituent Assembly as it was a year ago, last December. Would it go for a Constituent Assembly that would be elected on a proportional representation basis?
POM So when the NP, as some members made the case to us, that in a general election you are prepared to give sanction to a proportional representation system but that you want a Constituent Assembly to be elected on a winner takes all majority vote, is that a correct analysis of your position?
MVM Yes. What we are saying is that this would be our model both for the CA and for the elections of a future National Assembly, that there should be a system of proportional representation. For the CA it is particularly important because we want to ensure that every party that has some degree of support has a presence in the CA and is able to air its views.
POM Has there been any discussion with regard to the proportional representation system that would take proportional representation to a transferable vote which people ...?
MVM I don't think that we are hard and fast but the present thinking is that the ANC would have 160 seats in the CA, the list of 160 in order of preference. In that proportionality the top members would get into the CA.
POM Do you believe that the NP now accepts the inevitability of black majority rule? That would be rule by an ANC government which would be a non-racial government in terms of its set-up. It would have representation from groupings but would be predominantly black. Or do you think they are still holding out for something else?
MVM I think the government has to come to terms with the reality that there is going to be government majority rule in this country, that any future parliament would have more blacks than anybody else. I think they are doing everything to fight the possibility of that being an ANC government. I think they are holding out in the hope that it will not be an ANC government, that there should be some sort of alliance government set up by themselves.
POM One other scenario I would like to put to you is what the government wants with the new constitution which is drawn up during an interim government in which there would be joint sharing of power, again with the majority being perhaps members of the ANC which after a number of years just slowly becomes majority rule.
MVM The way we see the interim government is as a body which will simply manage the country during the period until elections for the CA take place. We want that period to be as short as possible, only as long as it takes to perform tasks such as the drawing up of a new constitution, etc.
POM You reject the notion of there being a sharing of power in the manner in which the government envisages.
MVM We certainly reject the notion.
POM That would be representation in the Executive.
MVM What the government is actually talking about is that they grant certain Cabinet portfolios to the ANC and whoever else and that is what they would see as the government that would oversee transition but which would essentially still be this government. It would be this government bringing in a few other people from the ANC. We say that this government must be replaced by an interim government that would be a multi-party government. Two different concepts.
POM So distinguishing an interim government from what I might call an immediate post-transition government. Sometimes you get the impression that they really talking about a post-transition government that would be like a coalition in which all the major parties would take part.
MVM Nothing excludes the possibility of a government of national unity afterwards. If the ANC wins the majority nothing stops the ANC from forming a government of national unity and that could happen, but that is really for afterwards. It would be decided by the one who gets the most votes.
POM Do you think they have moved a bit in the last year from, first of all, their insistence on group rights and then their insistence on protection for minorities.
MVM To me it is not clear that they have moved significantly from this stand. I think that there are still some very contradictory statements made. They have not been able to say up to now, in clear terms, that the NP's constitutional proposals are one, two, three. There is not a single document one can find in which they have spelt any of this out. They can continue to speak about group protection and group rights in different ways.
POM This time last year quite a bit of attention was being given to the concern of the party in the light of the by-election results in Umlazi and concern about the AWB and other right wing militant movements. Where would you place the concern of the party as regards the right wing movements at this point? Are they increasingly becoming irrelevant or will they be more of a force to contend with?
MVM I think they are becoming more and more irrelevant.
POM What has kept the negotiating process on track so to speak? Things have broken down. People still talk about divisions between government officials and members of the ANC. What keeps them still on track?
MVM I think an absolute determination on the part of the ANC that the negotiations must take place. One looks at our conference positions in both the resolution on strategy and tactics and the resolution on negotiations shows in no uncertain terms that it is the duty of the liberation movement more than anybody else to ensure that a peaceful political settlement takes place in this country. It is our responsibility to make it possible for the negotiation option to become a reality.
POM Is that related in any way to a realisation that the armed struggle once given up is given up but there is a possibility of you suffocating it both psychologically and politically in terms of the international community?
MVM I don't think that it is impossible to revive the armed struggle. Obviously the international situation has changed and this would make it much more difficult for us. But if you look at the mood amongst black people in this country one thing that the ANC has been criticised for amongst the black community was its reluctance to take up the armed struggle again, its seeming reluctance on armed defence. There is a tremendous enthusiasm on the part of young blacks to join uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) to undergo training to fight. That is the sort of mood in the present climate of counter-revolutionary violence that is going on. So that in effect the ground is ripe from that point of view.
MVM The international situation has changed the position of suppliers of MK who do not want to do so any more, etc. Things have changed in the front-line states but anybody will tell you that there is no shortage of illegal arms trade going on in this country. I really could go out this afternoon and buy an AK47 on the streets. So that I don't think that one should look at it from that point of view. I think that our commitment to negotiations stems from our assessment of the overall balance of forces, but the regime really has no other option but to go along with the negotiations process. The ANC could, for example, in theory delay things for another three or five years. From the government's point of view they really cannot survive if the negotiation process breaks down irrevocably. We think such are the balance of forces that all the elements are there to make it succeed. It is a bumpy road but we will get there. I don't think that we are negotiating from a position of weakness because from a position of weakness I think we would then be more interested in breaking down negotiations at every turn. If we saw ourselves as weak, if we think that the regime has the initiative and is dictating the agenda, that we are going to be completely sidelined at the end of the day, if that was what we thought there would be no reason for us to want to pursue the negotiations vigorously.
POM After you talked about the process being irreversible and you mentioned the interim government and the CA, what you say now seems to suggest that the process is irreversible, that both sides are locked into positions from which they cannot deviate. They have to just go in one direction.
MVM Yes I think so. There are definitions and definitions about irreversibility, but in the sense that you are talking I think that is the case.
POM Just the last few quick questions. Let us look at the PAC. How did they emerge out of the last year? Are they becoming, like the CP and the right wing, increasingly irrelevant or is there still a potential for them to siphon out some of this belief in the township that the armed struggle should be resuscitated again?
MVM You see the PAC has never really fought an armed struggle and they don't fight an armed struggle even presently although they make claims to be intensifying the armed struggle. So that I don't really think its role has changed much.
POM So it is not much of a factor?
MVM It is a factor. On the political side it is a factor.
POM There is a marked difference this year between the emphasis on nationalisation and the emphasis that was on it 18 months ago. Does that signal a shift in economic policy within the ANC?
MVM I think the last 18 months have required of us to develop our economic policy in that a year ago it was much less developed than it is now. I think you will not see so many blanket and generalised statements any more.
POM There seems to be more of a movement towards market terminologies.
MVM Yes. I think that we have moved away from giving the impression that everything in sight will be nationalised. That is not the ANC's policy. I think that at the moment our policy is one which recognises that we have to have some sort of mixed economy, we are looking at what sort of a mixed economy.
POM I asked that specifically in regard to what you said last year when you said, "The only way that poverty will be eventually eradicated is if the society gradually moves towards socialism". Is that the policy of the SACP or the policy of the ANC?
MVM I think what is clear is that there would have to be major state intervention in the economy before you can redress the imbalances. But I don't think that necessarily means that all enterprises would be nationalised. One can say that certainly that would not happen. As to exactly what is nationalisable and what is not is really a question that we are looking at now.
POM But putting an emphasis on the eventual movement towards socialism.
MVM I don't think it has ever been the policy of the ANC to establish a socialist economy.
POM I have actually run out of questions. Thank you very much for your time. This is like another conversation we had with another member of the Executive Committee who said that, "If things last year were at the point they are at this year the ANC would not have given up the armed struggle". Do you think that is an accurate assessment?
MVM Yes I think so. It is quite possible that the ANC would not have given up the armed struggle.