This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, 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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
03 Sep 1991: Mufumadi, Sydney
POM. Sydney could you tell us about the area in which you are working at in the ANC?
SM. I am a co-ordinator of a section in the ANC which deals with the current violence, because it is clear to the ANC that we have to organise ourselves in such a way that we are able to respond in an organised way to the problem of violence both in terms of trying to combat it, and also in terms of being in a position to organise relief for members of the movement who are victims of this violence.
POM. What takes would you take on an organised basis to pre-empt say violence in a township?
SM. What we have been trying to do since this section was established is to set up on the ground giving, of course, priority to areas which are really affected by the violence, set up what we call monitoring committees, so that we do then have structures on the ground which are monitoring the violence but also trying to understand the things which are exploited by people who are organising this violence in the various communities. So that not only do we intend just to respond to situations where violence has cropped up, but we want to be in a position to be pro-active, try to address those issues which we think are exploited by those who are organising violence.
. That is one issue, the question of organising monitoring committees. These monitoring committees also submit reports to headquarters so that we are able to analyse this information that is received from our structures on the ground and be able therefore to understand the patterns of this violence, the forms which it takes from one area to another.
. In addition to those monitoring sub-committees, we have been trying to address a demand which was made about 18 months ago by people in various communities that are affected by violence, where people are saying that they are looking up to the ANC to defend them. Of course, at the same time we do not feel that this should be seen as the sole responsibility of the ANC to defend communities that are victims of this violence. We think it is important for people to take the question of their own security into their own hands. But of course, the ANC does have a responsibility to assist communities in developing the capacity to defend themselves.
POM. Last year there was talk of developing self defence units.
SM. Yes. We are assisting in that process.
POM. So that process is going on?
SM. That process is going on, even in terms of the draft National Peace Accord (NPA), which I guess you are aware of, which is going to be put before the National Peace Convention (NPC). There is provision for communities to protect themselves. We call these units 'Self Defence Units', they are called here 'Self Protection Units', which means therefore that there will be an ongoing role for the ANC within some sort of multi-party self protection units which are accountable to the communities within which they are formed. This is what we have been trying to do as far as violence is concerned.
POM. I would like to come back to a couple of the things that you raised. Firstly, you talked about monitoring the violence to determine what issues are being exploited by those who would be either orchestrating the violence or encouraging it. What kind of issues have you been coming across which are potentially the most explosive?
SM. You see, firstly I must say that it is our view as the ANC, and I think quite a number of other organisations have also come around to this perspective, that this current violence is actually coming up precisely because we are in this period of transition. Those who are organising it and various levels and elements of state security have been implicated in this violence, they appear to be organising this violence in order to make sure that they continue to participate in the negotiations process, but they negotiate with an anti-apartheid movement which is weakened, which will therefore be forced to make compromises which it would otherwise not make if there was an atmosphere of free political activity in the country.
SM. So, these people are in a position to exploit what we regard as secondary contradictions within the oppressed communities, contradictions which were in the first place created by the system of apartheid in this country. One of them would be the fact that within the oppressed communities, you have what one may call settled communities, and those people who are really squatting. So that obviously there would be differences in terms of how people look at their own respective situations, between the housed and those who are squatting. And of course there are differences in perspectives and perceptions of things between those people who are permanent dwellers, so to speak, in the townships, and those who are migrant workers in the hostels. Sometimes you will have differences in the community between the elderly people and young people. The young people tend to be impatient about all sorts of things. If they are organising a boycott, they expect 100% support, you know, that sort of thing. Sometimes they would use, in order to make certain campaigns a success, they would want to use measures which are not necessarily sanctioned by their own organisation, which thing obviously will bring about some tensions which can be resolved through discussions, but as I said, the organisers of this violence feed into those sorts of contradictions. There are situations where they are able to exploit the fact that even though people are settled in urban areas in the townships, they do have allegiances, i.e. from their own places of origin in the Bantustans. They do owe allegiances to different chiefs and all sorts of things. And these are the sorts of things that the organisers of this violence would then, from time to time, try to exploit in order to foment violence.
POM. I take it that, just to recap, when the violence began last August, first of all the ANC pointed a finger at Inkatha, and then it moved on to talking about a third force, and the last year, or by the end of the year Mr. Mandela himself was saying that the government itself was directly implicated in the violence, and that is a view that the ANC have adhered to all along. Is it your belief that this violence takes place with the implicit sanction of the government? That it is not a rogue element that is operating on its own, that the fact that nothing has been done to expose that rogue element, does that mean that in your view this government is itself complicit in the violence?
SM. You see, I would not be in a position to say that they sit in a Cabinet meeting and agree that they must go out and organise the violence. But we feel that this government has not shown the type of concern which we would expect from a government ruling in a country where there is so much violence. It has, in a sense, become just a matter of statistics, everyday you read in the newspapers that five people were killed in Rustenburg, the next day ten people were killed in Natal and so on. But if you look at the number of people who are dying in this violence, you would expect, especially in situations of massacres, you would expect the head of state to send messages of condolences to the bereaved families. We don't know whether this is not happening because the majority of these victims are black or because the matter is just of no concern to the government.
. At one stage, somewhere in the Eastern Transvaal, in what we suspect was just ordinary crime, a white family was attacked and I think about four members of that family were killed. The state offered a reward, I cannot remember the amount, but it was quite a large amount of money, to people who would come forward with evidence which would lead to the arrest and prosecution of the attackers. No such rewards have ever been issued for people who would come forward with information leading to the arrest of people who are terrorising our people in the oppressed communities, that is one thing. But, we are saying that in this period of transition, where an impression has been created that organisations that are operating in the oppressed communities do not have the capacity to guarantee the security of people in those communities, in the final analysis, it is the government that stands to benefit from a situation where there is general apprehension in the oppressed communities. The attention of organisations is diverted from the real issues that have to be resolved in order to resolve the conflict in the country to address this problem of violence, which in a sense means that this violence has become a diversion to us. So I am saying objectively speaking, the government stands to benefit. I am told that for every 1000 victims of this violence, there have only been about five successful prosecutions. We don't believe that this government does not have the ability to track down and prosecute these people who are terrorising communities, especially if you come to think about the many political prisoners we had in this country. Which means that where they felt that their own position of power was threatened, they were willing to act. We feel that there is a sign of unwillingness and reluctance to act decisively to bring this violence to an end.
POM. So, am I correct in saying that the government is the beneficiary of the violence, that the violence has served a political purpose in undermining the ANC in the townships, in having you deal with issues relating to violence when your minds should be elsewhere, getting ready for negotiations and that the lack of government action is kind of sanctioning, letting the situation go on because it benefits, so even though it is not openly discussed at a cabinet meeting, the fact that there is general consensus that they should not do very much about it, is kind of an approval?
SM. Yes, we are saying that although we are not in a position, we were not at some point in a position to say this is exactly what senior Cabinet members have done to encourage the people who are carrying out this violence. We were still in a position to say that, by omission, they are encouraging people to continue with this violence. But I think the recent exposures about the funding of Inkatha from public funds, what they call secret funds, but they are public funds in the final analysis, and the confessions that were made by people like ... [Ndemeni(?)], who was saying that he was part of the special unit of the SADF, which was responsible not only for supplying Inkatha with arms and training some of Inkatha's people, but which was also responsible for actually carrying out some of the killings, particularly the train massacres. We are saying that the state cannot be blameless as far as this thing is concerned because those are state organs which are obviously involved in this violence.
POM. Yesterday, when we talked to Frank Chikane and to Roelf Meyer, both of whom served on the Peace Commission ...
SM. I work with them.
POM. I raised with them the question of the ANC has a very definite belief that the government is implicated, orchestrating or otherwise, encouraging by not discouraging the violence. You have the ANC believing that Inkatha is in many respects acting as the agent of the state. You have Inkatha believing that the ANC is out to wipe out all the Zulus, or whatever. The question I was asking was how there can be so many different perspectives as to what the nature of the problem is? How was it discussed. How did you get to a point of being able to come up with sets of recommendations that you all could agree on. And both of them said that it was never discussed. There was no discussion of the government's role in the violence, that what they set out to do was to secretly develop a set of procedures that would control the violence in the future. When you all sat down together, how did you operate? Did you say, I want to tell you what my opinion is, my opinion is that the government over is responsible?
SM. I can only speak for the ANC in this matter rather than for Roelf Meyer, I don't know what is going on in his head as we are sitting in those meetings.
POM. Was the issue raised, how did you go about doing this business to get to a point where you agree on a set of procedures?
SM. I can only say that from the ANC's side, we feel that we are facing a basic dilemma which cannot be solved through a neat formula. The dilemma that we face here is that we are convinced that the regime has got everything to do with this violence. We are convinced that Inkatha has made itself - has availed itself to be used, but Inkatha does also have interests which are to some extent independent from those of the regime because we are talking presently in terms of this process of transition. Obviously we are talking about the future and it is in the interests of the government that Inkatha be used as a counterbalance to the ANC, that Inkatha be seen by people internally and abroad, as one of the key players. But of course we are not convinced that Inkatha does have the amount of conscious and voluntary following which makes it a key player in this situation. I think even independently from what the ANC will say, there are many surveys which have been published which actually indicate that they are not.
POM. They probably have 2% support in Natal.
SM. Yes, and you can't in any language be said to be a key player when you have got only 2% support. But I am saying that at the same time, Inkatha is a key belligerent, they have the capacity to cause serious problems. I am saying that, in that sort of situation, by talking to Inkatha people might feel, and there is that feeling amongst our own members, that in fact we are walking into the other side's designs because we seem to be acknowledging that Inkatha is really a factor, politically speaking, and by also talking to the government about this violence, it looks like we are saying that the government is standing somewhere above the conflict, despite the fact that they are so much implicated.
. But what we are saying is that because we feel that this violence does impinge negatively on the climate of free political activity, which is itself indispensable if we are to move forward, we need a climate of free political activity. We feel that we cannot bypass the government, we cannot bypass Inkatha, but if you look at this draft Peace Accord we did not just go for moral and verbal commitments to say that we will do everything in our power to see that this violence is brought to an end. We have proposed mechanisms for trying to effectively reduce the capacity of those who are carrying out this violence. We have also tried to make sure that the outcome of this process should be multilateral binding agreements as opposed to a situation where you have an agreement between the ANC and Inkatha, which we have by the way, which was signed on 9th January in Durban. When one party does not honour that agreement, then the debate is just between those two parties, the rest of the patriotic forces in the countries are just observers.
. So we think that whilst we cannot say that definitely that these measures, these mechanisms of implementing this accord will necessarily bring the violence completely to an end, we think that at least after September 14th it will become clear that everybody has a responsibility to see to it that those who will want to continue with the violence are isolated, and they made to pay the political price of being involved in this violence.
POM. So you would have a situation of more than one person pointing the accusing finger at another party. Either the government and the ANC pointing the finger at Inkatha and Inkatha and the ANC pointing a finger at the government? So the allegation that one side is not performing up to the procedures would be backed up by more than one party?
SM. Yes, because if in fact you are going to have all political organisations and various other organisations, homeland leaders, etc., so of course it means that you will have multi-party structures which will be formed in terms of the provisions of this accord at local, regional and national level. Those structures will also be in a position to make the security forces of this country more accountable to the community than they have been up to now. Of course, they will place the communities in a position whereby they are sufficiently empowered to monitor the activities also of the security forces because we think that they have also been contributing, playing a role which is not helpful to the process of transition. But they will also be in a position to monitor, as communities, the activities of people who are suspected of being involved in the violence.
POM. Back to the question of - I am not clear in my own mind of how you operated when you all sat together. As I said both Chikane and Meyer were there. The question of who was behind this violence was never dealt with. The question of who is responsible for the violence never came up?
SM. No, you see, maybe let me put it this way. Firstly you see, the ANC, I think the ANC managed to mobilise international opinion around its own perspectives of how the negotiations process should unfold in SA. You have the Harare Declaration, which has since become the UN Declaration, endorsed by the commonwealth nations and by the Non-Aligned Movement. In there, there are things in that declaration which the regime is expected to do unilaterally in order to level the field, so to speak. Those are things which have come to be known as 'obstacles to the process of negotiations' which the other side has to remove. But I think, as time went on, whilst there was an appearance of willingness on the part of the regime to remove the obstacles which had been identified, the violence became the single most, or the biggest impediment to this process of negotiations, and when the ANC issued an open letter to de Klerk in which the ANC was saying that we are not prepared to proceed with constitutional talks, talks-about-talks, unless this violence comes to an end, a lot of people thought that the ANC was being unreasonable, that the ANC was shifting the goal posts, and that sort of thing. But I think the influential opinion makers, not just internally but internationally, began to realise that you cannot have a peaceful process of transition in a situation where there is violence. The two cannot stand in harmony alongside each other. Therefore when de Klerk went abroad shortly after receiving this ultimatum from the ANC, he came back into the country to organise what he called a conference on violence and intimidation, such a negative characterisation, but he was motivated by a desire to want to be seen to be addressing this concern that was expressed by the ANC. Secondly, to be seen to be bringing together people who are fighting themselves, so that then he can be the referee in that situation. That conference was boycotted by many of the important players in the political scene in SA. He was forced ultimately to come to a conference convened by a non-partisan body, convened jointly by church leaders and business leaders, to come there as just one of the players. We knew that if he had his way, he would not have even come to that peace conference, convened by a non-partisan body because firstly, it means that he is conceding that he cannot be a player and a referee at the same time.
. So, it meant that because we were also interested in seeing this process succeeding, in seeing the conference convened by a non-partisan body, bringing together everybody in the country to emerge with something that can possibly take us to a solution of the problem, and we thought that that course of finding a solution to the problem could better be served by not using that as a forum for accusations and counter-accusations because that would be the recipe for a breakdown of that conference. We wanted to be able to say we have the problem of violence and how do we solve it as opposed to saying who is the cause of this violence, because the government would also be coming with volumes and volumes of accusations, and we would also be coming up with accusations, but that does not take you anywhere. So I am trying to explain.
POM. Yes, what I am getting at in a very roundabout way is that, does the way that you and the other people at this conference, the way that you went about your business, provide a model which could be followed in negotiations, where you don't spend a lot of time on who is to blame for what but you define the objectives you want to achieve and try to find the best way of achieving those objectives?
SM. Yes, we think firstly if you go into negotiations you should be going there not to tell the other side how bad you think they are, but you are going there precisely because you are motivated by the desire to emerge with a solution.
POM. Do you think it is important that even though parties don't go to negotiations to engage in accusations and counter-accusations that they should have a clear understanding of what the problem is that they are there to negotiate?
SM. Yes they should. You were saying, for instance, that the ANC believes that they are going to win, Inkatha believes that the ANC wants to kill all Zulus. We don't believe that they believe that. We don't think that they believe that. Inkatha would know that the ANC does have Zulu speaking people within its own ranks, there is no question about that. Inkatha would know that even before the unbanning of the ANC we had a problem of violence in Natal and Natal is quite a homogenous province, perhaps 99.9% of African people are Zulu speaking in the Natal region. It is predominantly Zulu speaking, why did we have violence, even prior to the unbanning of the ANC. So, I am saying that even Inkatha would know very well that the truth that they would want, if they are to mobilise people behind their programme of destabilising communities, they will want other people that they have got something to protect by fighting against ANC supporters.
SM. So, I am saying that, yes, we have to have a common understanding of what the problem is and I think despite the fact that we will have accusations, denials and all sorts of things, all of us do have a common understanding of what the problem is.
POM. Let me ask you here as question that has arisen in a number of discussions with other people and that is the role, or the lack of a role that ethnicity may play in the violence.
SM. Increasingly last year in the West, or at least in the US, the violence has been portrayed as ethnic violence. It is being more and more talked of in terms of Xhosa versus Zulu and about six weeks ago, The Economist ran an editorial saying that in essence there is no difference between the violence between Xhosas and Zulus in the Transvaal and the violence between Serbs and Croatians in Yugoslavia. In other words they were both ethnically based.
POM. Do you find that a very misleading interpretation of what is going on, is there an element of truth or where does ethnicity have a role?
SM. I think I did say that to some extent, and that to a very, very limited extent those people who are organising this violence are able to exploit this ethnic feeling. But to characterise the entire problem of violence as one which is bred by ethnicity I think is to overlook the delicacy of analysis, because if you look at our own situation here, when the ANC was formed in 1912, one of its founding principles was to make sure that people do transcend those tribal barriers and forge a spirit of one nation and national consciousness. I think despite attempts by the other side to fragment our country, cement what they saw as the already existing differences, I think our people remained fairly united.
. You see, SA is a relatively advanced capitalist country with a relatively advanced, relatively developed industrial base. If you look at the strength of the trade union movement, which managed to bring these workers together, precisely because they are working in the same work places and so on, it managed to bring them together, irrespective of their tribal affiliations, one can say that people are united around the perspective of wanting to dismantle apartheid in this country.
POM. Is it possible that as you start achieving that, that this commonality of purpose will go and that ethnic differences, which were always there, will begin to make themselves more visible on the surface as groups of people compete for power?
SM. No. You see I am saying that, for instance, people look at the ANC and they see it as their movement. It is not a question of saying, if say we are voting for people in leadership organs at local, branch, regional and national levels, then people go and say I am voting for so and so because he/she is a member of my tribe. So I am saying yes, there is this commonality of purpose, but the process of building one nation does not end with the new government being elected. It is an on-going thing and in our view, as I said to you, that despite attempts by the other side to divide our people, our people resisted that and the reason is an incredible amount of unity which our people do display, in which they see themselves as one nation.
POM. I am really pressing you on ethnicity because of our experience in talking to liberal white academics who will say, yes, there is an ethnic factor but it is not talked about much because if raise it you are accused of being an apologist for apartheid, or a racist, or accused of siding with the government, so rather than getting it out in the open for what it is, it is simply not dealt with.
SM. The point that I was making is that firstly, I am still repeating that this is also playing a role, but it is a very, very small role, in the light of the other factors which are being exploited here. Because you see, we are supposed to be having ten ethnic groups in this country and you can imagine if the ethnicity problem was such a big problem you could imagine what this country would have deteriorated into, because it would have meant these ten tribes just fighting each other every day. Why is it particularly a problem with Zulu speaking people? Is it not a fact that someone whose position happens to be well entrenched within the KwaZulu Bantustan is prepared to be used for purposes of preserving his own position, he is prepared to be used in this violence and the best way therefore for him to mobilise people to go out and kill is to exploit this ethnic sentiment?
POM. Does it surprise you that white liberal academics believe that ethnicity is a far greater problem than you believe or black academics would believe?
SM. Black academics?
POM. Black academics that we have talked to don't talk of ethnicity as being a serious problem.
SM. I don't think it will again be a question of how blacks perceive it. I mean, I think the majority of black people and those people who have had something to do with the struggle for liberation in this country, even if they are white, will understand the exact causes of this problem. But I am prepared also to accept that some of these academics are genuinely believing what they are saying. These are the stereotypes who have been created by the society in which we live and of course it will take time for some of these people to get over some of these problems.
POM. Some of them are maybe best intentioned and trying to look at things as they see them, they have really been socialised into believing that there are these ethnic differences. They find them because they believe they are there.
SM. Yes, because you can meet a celebrated academic in one of these universities, born and bred in SA, and maybe the person is even an expert on what they may call African customs, and the person has not been into a township, there is nothing wrong. He/she just sits in front of a TV and sees barbarians killing each other in the townships and there is an official interpretation of what are the underlying causes, etc., and the person believes that.
. If you listen to Gerrit Viljoen talking about the unsophisticated majority who will not even know how to vote and so on. You read accounts, not in ANC official journals, accounts of the ANC conference, how the voting took place and so on. Some people were in fact saying those were the most open, free and fair and democratic elections ever to take place in this country. So I am saying that this is the unsophisticated majority, those are the representatives of the unsophisticated majority who were elected in their respective branches to go and attend an ANC conference. I am saying that it depends on the extent to which the other side has been effective in demonising and creating wrong impressions about the actual situation.
POM. Just a couple more questions related to the violence again. Last year the violence was on the front page every day, now you have got to page 4 or 5 and you will find a little thing saying 'five killings in Soweto over the weekend'. It has slipped down the public agenda, so to speak. If the level of violence continues at its current levels, if the Peace Accord does not work, and the violence just continues going on in its old way, does this really preclude meaningful negotiations, would negotiations take place even in a situation of this level of violence?
SM. You see, I think many organisations we are in contact with outside the establishment, outside parliament, believe that this regime cannot be trusted. I think the revelations around the funding of Inkatha particularly brought out in bold letters what the government strategy is in this process of transition. I also think there is a willingness on the part of these anti-apartheid organisations to mobilise all the resources they have at their disposal to ensure that the process of negotiations moves forward as rapidly as possible so that we can begin to usher in, even it is not a democratically elected government, but a more representative government in the form of what the ANC would call an interim government, which would therefore be in a position to ensure an impartial monitoring and supervision of the process as it unfolds.
. But, this does not preclude the felt need on our part to continue to campaign for the removal of all the other outstanding obstacles, including the one of violence. We have an obligation to see to it that the violence goes down in the interests of this country. I am not in a position to say that if the other side continues to carry out violence we will just close our eyes and proceed with the process of negotiations.
POM. On the interim government, it seems the ANC is pretty adamant that the government must resign and a new all party government formed. Is this position a starting point from which they will bargain?
SM. We are going into a PF conference before going into the All-Party Congress where the government will be present. Obviously the government will not be represented in the PF Conference because we don't believe that it is as patriotic as the rest of the other forces who will be sitting with us in the PF Conference. That is where this question will be clearly decided. Of course the ANC will put forward its own views. We don't think we are asking for the impossible unless the government has got a hidden agenda. Why does it want to still remain if it acknowledges that we are moving from where we are now to a new SA? Why should it be the one that unilaterally decides how we move forward? Why shouldn't there be a formula to ensure that the other parties that are going to participate in this process as well as in the elections are made to feel that we have a situation in which they are not disadvantaged, where they feel that they are jointly determining how the security forces should go about their duties, and various other aspects of the process of transition.
POM. Will they be prepared to say, 'You can come into our government, you can assume senior posts here, and there can be two Cabinet ministers here etc., but it is still our government'? Do you want them to think of it as being 'their' government, it is not 'your' government in which other parties are participating?
SM. That is untenable. That is co-option. We want that interim government to be, as I said, more representative than the regime and it must be a sovereign authority, accountable to all the people who shall have been represented in the interim government. We don't want to have a situation where you have Mandela as Minister of Wildlife and Thabo Mbeki as Minister of Libraries in de Klerk's government, and you continue to have all these sorts of problems and there is nothing that the movement that they are representing can do about that situation.
POM. Thank you very much. It is a pleasure seeing you again.