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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Political Report for Presentation to Joint NEC/ILC Meeting

Johannesburg 20-23 June 1990

Since our January 8 1990 message we have seen significant changes in the main theatres of South African political struggle.  In particular, our demands for the unbanning of the ANC and SACP and the lifting of certain other restrictions have been met.

The effects of these and subsequent changes have still to be fully evaluated.  The main question we have to ask is whether the cumulative character of these changes alter our strategic perspective.  Furthermore, whether or not this is the case, we still have to map out tasks which correspond to the changed or unchanged strategy.  It is our job, also, to evaluate how adequately these tasks have been met.  [This paper deals only with the legal mass pillar of our struggle and naturally, the exclusion of other pillars leads to a degree of imbalance in presentation.]

There is no doubt that the unbannings have created a fundamentally new situation, where, despite harassment, we are able to openly identify with our organizations and recruit members and build organisation openly etc.

These changes have also given considerable impetus to the movement towards a process of negotiations.  In particular, the all round, internal and external struggles, at the centre of which has been united mass action, led the government to meet the ANC in Cape Town, to discuss the removal of obstacles in the way of negotiations.

Such developments and the extensive contact between top government officials and senior leaders, in particular cde deputy President Mandela,  has led some people to conclude that we are already in the process of negotiations and furthermore, that that is the terrain within which we struggle.  This may be construed as being to the exclusion of other components of the legal struggle and at the expense of other pillars, apart from the international.  It is also apparent that many people scent a speedy victory via this method.

Has anything happened that should cause us to change our strategy?

Our strategic goal is the transfer of power to the people and the establishment of nonracial, democratic state.  How we act now prefigures what we want to create.  Consequently how we act must always entail direct involvement of the masses.

Our strategy for defeating apartheid and creating a nonracial democratic state, is protracted, multi-faceted and mass based.  It seeks to end apartheid by making united mass action, on every front, internal and external, its key element.

This strategy has a national character in that the scope of our organisation must stretch throughout the length and breadth of South Africa.  This national quality is also manifested in the involvement of all sections of the oppressed, democratic and anti-apartheid forces, deriving from diverse classes and sectors.

The democratic character of the struggle is manifested through the decisive involvement of the masses, united in various formations, under the overall leadership of the ANC.  In our struggle, the critical democratic component is to ensure that we draw in the masses in ever-widening circles by persuasion and developing their understanding/consciousness of the efficacy of their actions in furthering the goals for which we strive.

Our strategy depends on the involvement of the millions of ordinary people who suffer under apartheid.  In whatever form of struggle we are engaged, our prime task remains to involve the masses.  They need to understand what we are doing, what effect it will have on their conditions, now and in the future and they need to make their contribution to its realization.  Furthermore, they also need to be in a position to evaluate whether or not any specific form of action is leading us to our final goal.

There seems no reason to conclude that our strategy should be changed.  Whether or not one changes a strategy depends on its efficacy and the power of mass action on all fronts has been demonstrated.  This is the way that we will ultimately achieve victory.  It is essential that we infuse all our actions with this perspective.  It is imperative that the conduct of any negotiation process be pursued in a way that is in conformity with this perspective, involving the masses, and not depriving the people of other forms of struggle.  This is well expressed in a recent NEC resolution, stating:

'The only way we can ensure consistency between engaging in the negotiating process and still maintaining our long-term perspective is by ensuring the active role of the masses….'

How do we characterize the present situation?

The ruling bloc

The De Klerk regime has taken significant steps in relation to past policies of the Nationalist Party and significant responses in relation to our negotiations strategy, outlined in the Harare Declaration.  But there remains a fundamental flaw.  The goal of negotiations is seen as the dismantling of apartheid.  But unlike our conception, such negotiations need not lead to a nonracial democratic state.  De Klerk's moves do not form part of a coherent, overall strategy that can satisfy the masses' thirst for freedom or divert them from that quest.

The crisis  the regime is enhanced by the fact that there is an acknowledgement of the bankruptcy of apartheid, but this is not translated into concrete steps and a proclaimed desire for a negotiated settlement along democratic lines.  While this falls short of a commitment to a settlement, as anticipated in the Harare Declaration, the proclaiming of the bankruptcy of apartheid sets off confusion and resistance amongst sections of the NP constituency and far right groupings.  This as led to a continuing disintegration f the government's support base, to both the right and the left.

The civil service is in ferment with many sections of the repressive agencies being part of the right wing drift.  There is a breakdown in the cohesion of the repressive forces and this may mean that there will be indecision or inactivity in critical moments.

There has been a general breakdown of ideological cohesion, including a deep moral crisis, which preceded and coexists with political disintegration.

Such factors a these have made it necessary for the De Klerk regime to try to strengthen its bonds with collaborationist groups and/or the ANC.

With the exception of the unequivocal support of Buthelezi (something denied to previous NP regimes, but also of diminished value, now and in the long-term) and Mangope, whose survival is in doubt, the possibility and viability of cementing relationships with collaborationist groups and structures is doubtful.

One of the most dramatic features of this period has been the dissolution of bonds of loyalty between the apartheid regime and most of its puppets.  This phenomenon – their defection – has manifested itself in a number of ways and over a very short period.  The introduction of backs into state repressive agencies opened the door to disloyalty.  Taken together with the lack of cohesion amongst white members of these forces, the situation is very volatile and has included:

Ø     pro-ANC coups in the Transkei and Ciskei

Ø     The failure to maintain a hold over all Bantustan leaders apart from Buthelezi, Mangope and possibly the new Venda leadership, in the face of overtures from the ANC

Ø     The virtually complete collapse of the Black Local Authorities system

Ø     The defection of sizeable portions of the repressive components of the apartheid state in the Ciskei and Transkei coups and the unsuccessful Bophuthatswana coup

Ø     The revolt of black police and prison warders in many parts of the country.

As was the case with the Botha regime, political difficulties continue to make ties with big capital imperative for the De Klerk's regime survival.  Not only does the drive towards privatization aim at robbing a majority-ruled government of resources to redress inequalities.  In its efforts to secure unqualified support from big capital for its political agenda, the government also allows this further concentration of the control by monopoly capital over South Africa's resources.

This process is manifested at the ideological level through an attempt to shift the debate away from apartheid to a polarization between free enterprise which the National Party [and Buthelezi and Mangope] are depicted as representing, and socialism which is depicted as the orientation of the ANC.

But Big Capital has not been prepared to give unqualified support.  It is faced with uncertainty.  They used to say that politics was not their problem and they were only concerned with the economy.  They sought thereby to distance themselves from the taint of apartheid.  But the uncertain future of apartheid has made them look at the question of preserving their stake afresh.  While De Klerk perceives privatization as a way of bringing capital closer, this is small bait for them.  That is why they need to engage the ANC as well.  That is how capital acknowledges the centrality of the ANC in South Africa's future.  We need to understand the complexities of capital's position, which this brief allusion does not pretend to address, in order to adequately engage them.

In losing legitimacy from its traditional bases, the apartheid regime is seeking to legitimize itself within the black and international community.  It speaks the language of liberation, nonracialism, unity and democracy, which concedes the hegemony of our ideological message.  At the same time, the regime seeks to insert a meaning to these concepts, which is fundamentally different from that which we give to them.

Flowing from the disintegration of its social base and its inability to sew something new together, the regime has been forced to retreat in confusion and this also accounts for its attempts to engage the ANC.

The character of the engagement is not clear.  Its most significant features may be an attempt to co-opt the ANC and legitimize itself (the government) thereby.  This would also entail the ANC accepting shared responsibilities for many of apartheid's continuing crimes.

The hope to co-opt is not the preferred course for the regime [and it may not be clearly perceived as having been chosen by all sections of the government].  Co-option has been a necessary path through the disintegration of its hegemony over the white ruling bloc and the continuing collapse of most collaborationist groupings and structures.

White politics is very volatile at the moment.  De Klerk's own position is not secure and some form of coup is a possibility.  Nothing is irreversible at the moment.  Such a coup, if it were to succeed would be a severe blow for us.  But that does not mean we must support De Klerk.  Our main weapon for attack or defence is the organized masses and that is the force that we will rely on for any eventuality.  We need to keep on the alert for the possibility that De Klerk is sidelined and not ourselves be demobilized.

It is the forces ranged behind the ANC which have been the prime factor causing this disintegration and search for a new mode of governing.  It has been one result of our fundamental strategy, ever-broadening our ranks and narrowing that of the enemy  forces.

The fundamental flaw of the government initiatives has been the failure to appreciate how fundamental a need there is to redress inequalities.  Even at the level of big business there is no forum where this need is denied, even though there is disagreement with us, over how it should be met.  These inequalities cannot be denied if there is to be any form of resolution of the conflict, the disparities being the result of conquest and continuing apartheid domination.

Apartheid is institutionalized violence.  It has created an explosive situation, which is the fundamental cause of all violence in South Africa.

The major problems, despite regional differences, all converge on one point.  That is the need to address the question of state power and the inequality built into the system.

The De Klerk regime's attempts to engage the ANC operate primarily at a tactical level, seeking to confine all ANC politics to the politics of negotiations.  There appears to be little sign of a new strategic approach.

The forces for democracy

On the side of the people, and the ANC in particular, our strategy remains correct, resting as it does on the people's strength, the united action of the masses.  This strategy means that we engage in every terrain of struggle including negotiations.

In defeating attempts at co-option, it is a mistake, which we correctly reject, to say we will avoid co-option by refusing to engage the enemy.  Refusal to talk to a government cannot be a strategy or a principle and it does not protect us from the dangers of co-option.

Insofar as our strategies have brought the government to meet us at the table, whatever their goals may be, we use the same situation to achieve our objectives, that is, to push forward towards attaining power.

This can only be successful if we draw the masses more and more into this process.  The masses need to be articulating the demands that we will make at the negotiating table, in particular the demand for an interim government and constituent assembly now.

In general we need to ensure that the process of change introduced by De Klerk is irreversible by building the ANC in the legal space as an organized and organizing force to defeat any attempt to reverse this process.  Indeed this force should be the basis for a surge towards power.  We need to consider more closely how the ANC and its allies occupy the legal space that has put us into a better position to move forward.

In this situation it is clear that the masses are not demobilized.  Our long sought combination of urban and rural struggle has materialized.  The rural uprising is unprecedented in its scale and the number of areas affected.  The Bantustan scheme is in tatters and struggles on the land, generally, are adopting a variety of forms, raising issues concerning broader questions of political power.

In the urban areas, also, the level of action is vast an don a scale not seen before.  The number of strikes recorded in the main industrial areas is unprecedented.  This co-exists with struggles over education, (involving the whole community, particularly prominent being parents in the most recent struggles), housing and almost every facet of community life.  This entails a politicization of people from all walks of life, operating in a very broad unified force.

At the centre of these struggles are the people themselves.  Even where military councils take power, this remains an expression of popular power.

But it is the activist section of the people who are in fact demobilized and confused.  It is urgent that we get rid of this confusion.  Mass activity has not been tied together into a combined thrust against apartheid power, because the people who ought to be doing this, the activists are not fully grasping the character and demands of the present situation.  It is urgent that we give attention to this layer of people.  Rallies are not addressing the needs of these people, who should be involved in the formulation of appropriate local and national slogans and demands.  Without urgent attention here, we will be losing the organizational base of activists, our shock troops.

Our weaknesses

Within this situation some of our weaknesses can be discerned:

Ø     While there is an uprising of the masses, the national liberation movement is perceived as locked in the process of negotiations.  The masses have not been present in the process of leading towards negotiations.  Consequently the Groote Schuur Minute has created great confusion and an increasing gulf between the people and our leadership.

Ø     The leadership is often perceived by the people as always telling them what not to do.  This disciplining has been necessary up to a point because our struggle is only viable if it can rely on disciplined forces.  The calls for discipline need to be contextualized as part of the process of marshalling these actions of the masses towards the main targets.  In this process the role of the activist layer, alluded to earlier, is crucial.

We are not competing with the regime in order to control the people.  The government, by engaging with us wants to transform us into parties to the containment and control of the masses.

While we frustrate government attempts to engage us in a way that makes us partners in control, we must use this engagement to create space most favourable to channeling the grievances and anger of the people.  We must use this space to ensure that every localized struggle is properly understood in itself, but also linked to the overall struggle for state power and removing the inequalities of apartheid oppression and exploitation.

Ø     It is essential that we have the masses with us in every step that we take.  Where we speak to Bantustan leaders or others whom we wish to detach from Pretoria, we need also to address their and our relationship with the people.  The people need to understand and agree with our detaching such figures from the regime.  But the Bantustan leaders need also to know that their link with us needs to be coupled with a substantial attempt to democratize and meet the needs of the people, who are at this point, under their administration.  We need to ensure that the way we unite all democratic and anti-apartheid forces does not alienate some of these forces.

Ø     We also need to understand that the building of the ANC cannot be in a manner that entails the elimination of other sectors of the overall democratic and anti-apartheid movement.  The broad democratic movement, the masses who have been the main agents for change, are organized in many structures, some of these non-political.  All of these forces, with their distinct identities, should continue to be the main, broad, unified power that, under the leadership of the ANC, prosecutes the struggle.

Ø     Our inadequacies relate, in the main, to:

-     an absence of overall strategizing,

-     an ad hoc approach to tactical issues

-     a failure to create a coherent strategizing grouping to consider the day-to-day developments in the struggle and how best to use these to our advantage or reduce adverse factors as much as possible.

-     We need a regular, authoritative forum for political monitoring in order to give direction.  There needs to be a political centre from which such decisions are taken.

-     We need to take immediate steps to reduce the bureaucratized, commandist way in which the organisation has been set up and ensure that the process of establishment of the legal ANC is politicized, so that members understand, clearly, what their rights and duties are, the character of the ANC and its mode of organizing at a mass level.

-     The achievement of many of these goals requires the urgent, prioritizing of the roles of both DIP and DPE with a view to finding short- and long-term ways of ensuring that the masses, under ANC leadership, make the decisive contribution, that can lead to a great breakthrough.

The way forward

In summarizing what has been said the way forward includes the following:

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.