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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
Conducted by Howard Barrell,
London, February 8 1990
What I am particularly interested in, to start with, is the early 60s, the terms in which and the perspective under which armed struggle is commenced. Now, when and how precisely in terms of your understanding was the decision taken to embark on armed struggle?
Well, I can't pinpoint the exact moment when the decision was taken to embark on armed struggle. I think the notion of armed struggle grew steadily towards the end of the 50s and the early 60s. And I think the impetus came from the rank and file, who were becoming more and more impatient -- the people who had taken part in the strikes and demonstrations in the late 50s and early 60s and saw one after another smashed up by the police, laws introduced providing for various forms of detention and other restrictions. And the last straw was the fate of the 61 strike, I think it was.
On Republic Day?
On Republic Day, which was, the whole process was conducted underground by an apparatus led by Mandela at that time and, well we know what his statements were. But I think the fate of that demonstration and the feeling that, once again, the popular will had been completely stifled by repression led to the decision to be taken that the armed struggle now had to be commenced on December 16 of that year. Obviously, I think there was a longer period of psychological preparation for this decision. I don't know whether there was material preparation -- the sense that people were trained in various forms of activity, such as those that were displayed subsequently on Dec 16 -- I just don't know about that side of things at all. All I can say is that, as far as the movement was concerned, that it was probably, to the best of my recollection, in the period following the failure of that strike. Or, it may even have been in the period of the strike, depending upon the outcome of the strike. There may have been a provisional decision that, if such and such happened, then there would be no alternative. But I can't pinpoint it any more accurately than that.
In one of the books I read recently, there's a suggestion which is not referenced that the SACP decided in mid-60, one year earlier, took a decision in favour of armed struggle. Are you able to throw any light on that?
No. I mean there was a decision taken at that time, I mean, for the Party to emerge. And, at that time, I was in jail, I can't say. But it's possible the decision was taken at that time by the leadership. But I'm not aware of it. I don't know about it.
The terms of the decision taken by the ANC in 1961 are said to be something along the following lines: while the ANC itself was not prepared as an organisation to commit itself to armed struggle, it left the way open, without any risk of condemnation to those of its members who might wish to embark on armed struggle in fact to do so. Did you arrive at any such understanding?
Well, when MK was set up, it was set up as an independent organisation, in which both Party people and ANC people took part. And, as you know, the two leading figures were Nelson on the one side and Joe Slovo on the other. My understanding at that time was that the ANC had not formally committed itself to armed struggle, and neither the ANC nor the Party were responsible for MK because it was essentially an independent organisation with its own high command, its own leadership and took its own decisions. So that, neither the ANC nor the Party at that stage were directly responsible for what MK did. MK came into being with the consent of both parties but the extent to which it went in the ANC I can't be sure because, for instance, Luthuli I think had to be specially briefed. He was under restriction in Natal at the time. I think, from what I can remember, the leadership had to go down and apprise him of the decision. As we know, he was a man of peace, and I don't know that he ever would have endorsed armed struggle in so many words. But I think Luthuli was also a leader of the ANC in the traditional style of chiefly leadership in the sense that he accepted the decision that had been passed by the majority of the ANC membership and leadership. And how he sorted that out in his own mind I of course can't say. But I think that was one of the problems that confronted the ANC at that time, particularly the reaction of Chief Luthuli, as a Nobel Prize winner, etc., and as a man genuinely devoted to the ideas of peace.
When was Luthuli apprised of the decision?
I can't say.
Do you know whether it was before or after December 16 61?
I can't say that either.
In what terms did Party members become aware that the Party would have no objections to its members being involved in MK?
Well, I don't know how Party members were apprised. I don't think any of them were surprised by it. I think they all knew about it. Because many of them were involved in it. I myself was never in the apparatus of MK. But I knew people who were, and that was no problem. But I can't remember that there was a specific notice sent out, or anything of that sort, telling people that the decision had been formally taken. I can't remember.
So, how is it then -- I'm trying to understand how it is that a party like the SACP, which is probably in SA traditions the most tightly knit, the most disciplined of the organisations in the liberation struggle that members of this organisation somehow sense it is now OK that they engage in armed struggle. Was it an understanding -- surely there must have been some formal decision taken at some point?
Yes, I suppose there was. I just can't remember the details. And I think also the way things would have worked. I think people would have been approached by people that they knew as leaders of the Party and asked to join MK, and not everybody was asked. For instance, I was never asked to join MK. Some people were considered suitable for that sort of thing, others weren't. As I say it's because, if you like, of the way in which the party worked that, if such approaches were made, they were taken as acceptable and in line with Party policy and so on and so forth. I don't think anybody would have had any difficulty about that one, especially, as I say, because the idea of armed struggle had been germinating for a long time, people had discussed it -- they were ready for it when the decision was taken. There may have been a formal communication. I just can't remember.
Can you remember the terms in which those debates about an approaching necessity for armed struggle were conducted back in the 50s?
Well, the only real problem would have been the question of whether armed struggle would be effective. Because, it is one thing to adopt a policy of armed struggle out of a sense of frustration and annoyance and because you've been confined in a corner by government repression. But the debate was conducted after discussion about what armed struggle had achieved in other countries, about the possibilities of armed struggle in SA. So people felt there was a possibility of taking armed action with MK.
What factors led people to conclude that armed struggle was, in fact, feasible under SA conditions at that time?
Chiefly, I think, a sense of the support that would be received from the population. It was a political decision, from that point of view, that we felt this was something that would have massive support from the oppressed people particularly. The other problems were, rather, questions of the layout of the country, the physical strength at the disposal of the regime, and so on. But generally speaking, the feeling was that, because this was not going to be an action by a group of ultras out of touch with the mass of the population, that it was going to be action taken with the mass backing of the population, that there was a possibility that it would succeed.
And how were factors like the absence of any adjacent potential base areas dealt with? How were those factored into the discussions?
Well, obviously they were considered. But I think the feeling was generally that something could be done in spite of the problems. We had access to, as far as I can remember, certain types of material inside the country. For instance, the early activities were in the form of explosives against pylons and that sort of thing. There were sources of dynamite and so on inside the country to which the movement obtained access -- I mean I don't know the details -- but clearly they got their dynamite from somewhere and I don't think it was brought across the border. I think the idea was -- and I'm now talking off the cuff really -- because I think the idea must have been: Well, let's get started and we'll learn as we go along. Questions like getting arms from the enemy, raiding arms stores and that sort of thing, must have been in people's minds. And there was also the question of the possibility of getting the arms from outside -- I wasn't involved in discussions of this kind because, as I say, I was not part of the MK apparatus and the detailed application of policy never really came my way. So, I can't say that it was considered, well, there's this ammunition dump which can be raided or that explosives dump which can be raided or there's a source of arms from the Soviet Union. The general principles I would have known about, but the details, no.
At the time that the decision for armed struggle is taken -- assuming it is in mid-61, after this Republic Day strike -- at that point is there any political theory of revolution, an analysis of the social forces, etc in the society, which underlies this decision to embark on the armed struggle? Was there any document at this point circulated, any document formulated, either by the Party or the ANC? Theoretical framework for this decision?
Theories about revolution, of course, had been circulating ever since the Party began, and the different possibilities about revolution -- methods of revolution were always being discussed, literature was widely read about what was done in various Latin American countries and Vietnam and so on and so forth, the Soviet Union's history -- all these things were not only discussed but they were the subject of Marxist classes. And I suppose in the ranks of MK they were gone into in even more detail. The question of the necessity of revolution in the South African context, I think, is clear: that you've got an obstacle that is apparently immovable by normal democratic processes and that, therefore, you have to resort to armed struggle or to various forms, if you like, of violent activity because nothing else removes the obstacle. There is a popular will which has to be expressed, and the minority group which stands in the way must be removed. That, I think, was the general concept of the need for revolution. And I think that the experience of the subsequent years has borne that out.
OK. That's the necessity. But what sort of strategic perspective obtrudes in 60-61 when the decision is taken to embark on armed struggle? What are seen as the major social forces which are going to provide the political base for this? What is the analysis of the weaknesses of the state, and of one's own forces? Was there any strategic perspective which obtrudes at that point?
Well, I'm not quite sure what the precise point of the question is.
The point is that if we go to 1969, the Morogoro Conference, we get the Strategy and Tactics document. When the people at Rivonia are picked up we find Operation Mayibuye. In 1970, I understand the Party leadership took a view of armed struggle at that particular point. But Operation Mayibuye can't be described as a theory of revolution. When one gets to Strategy and Tactics and the Party position that I understand was taken in 1970, then we see some theoretical perspective in terms of which armed struggle is located as a particular form of revolutionary force. It's a kind of perspective, a theoretical perspective. What I'm trying to find out is if in 60-61 there was any document or any clear understanding amongst people of their overall strategic perspective, how they saw things unfolding, what they saw as their strengths against the enemy's weakness.
Well, I think that, at that stage, these concepts were very rudimentary. The summation of Party thinking on the matter was incorporated in 62 programme, which is rudimentary, if you like. I mean the whole question of armed struggle there is detailed very broadly. There's no clear indication of the strategic objectives and the root and anything of that kind. And I don't think anything of that kind existed in that sort of clarity at that stage. I think we were starting on a new road and most of these concepts work themselves out over a period of time, partly on activity and confrontation with reality as the struggle unfolded and also on people devoting a great deal more time to thinking about what was involved. In the beginning I think the feeling was, Well, let's get going. I don't think it was that the theoretical clarity existed up to the point where everything had been worked out beforehand, not at all. I think that most people were very vague about it and a lot of people continued to be vague for a long time afterwards about precisely how guerilla warfare would be conducted. There were people who thought about liberated areas, and so on and so forth. There were others who thought in terms of urban guerilla warfare. And I don't know that these concepts ever achieved the sort of clarity where you could say that we know exactly where we are going and what we ought to do. There was a lot of compromise, pragmatic thinking as the whole course of armed struggle unfolded. And concepts change from time to time.
If we look back now, do you think it's wrong to expect the ANC or Party to have embarked upon some sort of theoretical exercise to accompany the development of matters on the ground?
No, I think they did so. I think they were all the time thinking about it. Documents did come out from time to time.They were often published. I don't think there were any secret documents circulating. All the possibilities of armed struggle were ventilated to the extent that they could be in our journals at one stage or another. I don't think there is anything, apart from detailed analyses of specific actions either undertaken or to be undertaken -- which of course wouldn't be published -- but the general thinking would be what you have read in, for instance the African Communist or any of the journals of the ANC. I don't think there is anything outside of that.
Now there are several publications which I understand may have come out from what was called Advance Publications at the time. There was one on Castro's Cuba. There was one on Algeria. Sort of lengthy pamphlets. Those to in particular. Do you remember putting out anything like that at the time?
I can't remember. It's quite possible. I just can't remember.
Can you remember in the international sphere which struggles at that time were influencing and feeding into ANC and SACP thinking on armed struggle and in what form?
Well, obviously Cuba. The things which influenced thinking were the successful revolutions, the Soviet Union, Vietnam. And, in reverse of course, what happened to Che Guevara.
Yes, of course, and that was a warning to people. And some countries had different experiences of armed struggle. There were some countries which had taken up armed struggle and then dropped it -- Chile is one example. But all these things were thought about. But I think the major emphasis was on the successful struggles and, of course, they were studied very closely to see what lessons could be applied to South Africa.
Do you remember any debate at all about the Greek experience after World War Two?
In the context of, I think, the Yugoslavs closing their borders to Greek insurgency? You don't remember - ?
Well, I remember these things were discussed. But I can't remember any specific debate on them.
And do you remember at that time Guevara's book on guerilla warfare circulating?
Can you remember any other books circulating at that time dealing with, perhaps, Algeria, Cuba, armed struggle, the Soviet Union, perhaps partisan warfare in the Soviet Union?
Yes, there was a lot of stuff circulating. I can't think of them on the spur of the moment. The writings of Vietnam, particularly, were studied very closely.
That would be, what, Giap, people like that?
And Le Duan, and Castro of course was always studied closely.
Which particular Castro? I mean at that time the only (book) I'm really aware of is his speech after his trial for storming the Moncada Barracks?
Well, there were things that came out from him. You know, he is always talking (laughter). But everything he said was studied intently because he's always very compulsive, isn't he? I can't think of a book of his. I can't think of anything like that. All his major speeches were very closely studied.
And how was this material coming into the country? Were you republishing stuff, or there was Press reporting, there would have been some magazines that would have come in. How was this material --?
Well, a lot of it was still coming in by post. I don't remember difficulty in getting basic material. We had stuff coming in by post fairly steadily. I think it is only in the later period that they became much more adept at keeping stuff out -- especially when we went out and started sending stuff in. I think they were more concerned about that. In the early period, we got stuff. I don't remember feeling cut off from this stuff. We got it.
And can you recall what was isolated as relevant in, to start with, the Cuban experience?
Well, the obvious thing that stood out was that 12 men conquered Cuba (laughter). And, apart from questions of strategy and tactics, the question of courage and determination, and mission which made people confident that, however small our little army might be at that time, it could achieve wonders by displaying the same sort of determination and aggression as the Cubans had done. We were confident that we enjoyed the same measure of support among the people as Castro at the beginning because Castro, you know, only became "Castro" after he won (laughter) power so to speak. At any rate that, I think, was a very powerful factor. Vietnam, of course, is a different story -- a different set of circumstances but still ...
In the 60s, the war in the South (of Vietnam) had not really started. I mean it's just beginning to start in 1960. So you are drawing experiences, then, from what happened in North Vietnam in the war against the French? That would be the literature that you were drawing on?
Mmm. (Yes) And, again, the defeat of a massive military power by popular resistance. These are the lessons that were learned: that, given this measure of popular support, an under-armed, less efficiently equipped army can defeat an imperialist army because of its morale, commitment, its dedication, etc. One always had the same feeling about SA.
Now, can we confine ourselves to the period 61-63: During that period were there any debates around the element in Guevara's book, which is nothing like as stark as comes across in the Debray book, the element in Guevara's book where the emphasis falls very much on the ability of the small armed group to actually, in some sense, ignite popular turmoil or popular uprising? Was there debate over --?
There was. A lot of debate about that.
Can you tell me the terms of it?
In the same way that the theory was that the activity of arms group of this kind could initiate activity by supportive elements all over the country, particular in the reserve areas and in the urban areas as well to some extent, but I think the idea was that if you had a number of these groups operating all over the country that the combined effect could lead to a sort of mass insurrection -- not just a popular insurrection without weapons but with weapons -- which could succeed in overthrowing the regime. Some of this, of course, was perhaps fanciful. I don't know to the extent that the subsequent activity realised this possibility, but it was discussed at the time. There were people who were putting forward this concept of the way things would work.
Were there any countervailing views put?
Yes, well, I think there were people who felt that our strength politically lay mainly in the urban areas where we had the organisational experience, the tradition, and that unless we could organise this sort of activity in the urban areas that we wouldn't make progress, we wouldn't succeed. I think there were people also who felt we wouldn't succeed in an attempt to conquer the regime militarily, that armed struggle was a component of the all-round struggle. And, as we know there were later the four pillars of the struggle adumbrated. But it was that sort of division that existed from the earliest times about the -- I mean there were people who felt that armed struggle could deliver the country to the liberation movement. And there were others who felt that it was a component. And I suppose there were people who doubted the possibilities of armed struggle altogether, but they were in a minority.
Would you be prepared to isolate one or two personalities who held the differing views which you have just outlined?
No. Although I'm pretty sure that Rowley Arenstein would have been one of them. (laughter) Apart from that I don't know. I can't think of anybody in particular.
Well, I'm going to presume that Govin Mbeki was one of those arguing very much the rural emphasis, given what he says in the last few pages of The Peasants' Revolt where he points very much to the potential for the rural areas to provide a, say, defence in depth for any kind of guerilla force and hence that's where armed struggle should be conducted.
Well, just off the record in a way,
(break in tape)
We are discussing this rural emphasis that came through and subsequently came through in Operation Mayibuye. Now, Brian, you are known to be a member of the Communist Party, and there were many other members of the CP. As communists, you are isolating the working class as the major social force in the revolutionary process. But what seems to apply in this rural emphasis is the notion that, even if the working class is the leading social force, South African conditions, the peculiarities of South African conditions, can still entail one isolating the rural areas as the major area in which to wage armed struggle. Now, amongst communists, was there any sense that this tendency towards a rural emphasis in armed struggle may have been mistaken -- I'm talking about at this time, the early 60s?
Well, you know, we had had experience of rural struggle. And some of the most effective action taken by the movement was in the rural areas. I mean Sekhukuneland, Zeerust, Pondoland, and so on. And this illustrated a feature of South Africa which we always have to bear in mind, and that is that there isn't this sharp distinction between rural and urban Africa. Because one of the effects of the migratory labour system is that practically your whole rural population at some stage or other -- not just as far as the men are concerned, but also women -- have some experience of urban life in the compounds or in other ways. There is this continual interchange between the urban communities and the rural communities. And, when these outbreaks occurred in Pondoland, Zeerust and Sekhukuneland, it was the ANC that was at the heart of things because their people were going back as soon as there was any development of this kind, and lorry loads of people from Johannesburg to Zeerust and Sekhukuneland -- they would be in the middle of it. So that the whole idea that your rural Africa is a backward area full of ignorant and illiterate characters unable to understand the need for political action doesn't apply. So there was action, and mass action led by the ANC which was an urban phenomenon, if you like, but with very strong rural links. And I think this obviously affected our ideas of guerilla warfare.
At the time?
At the time.
You say that the movement was very involved -- I understand that Joe Gqabi was involved quite substantially in Pondoland. Now, Joe was working for you at the time as I understand it -- was he not working as a journalist or a photographer --?
Can you remember --?
He operated from Johannesburg, did he not?
I think he was -- I am not quite sure where he was operating from at the time, it may have been PE. I can't be certain.
I can't be certain, no.
Can you remember other ascertainable ANC or Party people who were involved intimately in the Pondoland uprising -- in giving support to or giving guidance to the Pondoland Indaba?
MP Naicker would have been involved.
In what role would he have been involved?
As ANC, Party, an activist. I mean you know the sort of way in which we on the (news)paper, for instance, operated at the time. Because when you look at the scene in the media in SA today, there are a whole flood of what you can call liberation movement papers -- New Nation, Saamstaan, South and God knows whatnot. At that time, it was only really New Age. I mean you can call Torch one if you like, but it didn't really have any mass influence. But we did have. All things considered, our circulation was extensive. And the reason for that was that the congress movement used it as its mouthpiece. If they wanted to say anything, they said it through us. They had nowhere else to go. Every branch of the ANC considered itself a source of news for the journal and vice versa -- they sold the paper and so on. So there was this continual flow. The moment anything happened, Durban office, for instance, would run along, MP (Naicker) would run along; he would take the people from the office with him, the people who sold, sellers, and whoever else he could lay hands on, and there would be a contact straight away. I think also Ben Turok was involved in the Pondoland business, because he wrote a pamphlet about it afterwards. But the whole movement would rally in whatever way it could. It was a sort of symbiotic relationship that showed its value at times like that, and the same thing in any other areas. Ruth (First) would go rushing off with all the people she could lay her hands on -- she had contacts all over the Transvaal, etc. So, nothing happened which we didn't know about and, likewise, we were able to influence the things that happened.
Do you know if copies of your paper were getting into Pondoland?
I'm sure they were.
Now, can we go to the Arenstein position which was against armed struggle. How significant was this feeling that armed struggle was an adventure or had not been, legalistically, approved by the ANC in its entirety?
Well, I mention Arenstein not because I know anything about him but because I just assumed he would be opposed to it automatically (laughter). I mean where was he at that time?
Yes, I know, but politically? Because Arenstein has been out in the wilderness for so long now that I don't know if he was in touch with us at all.
I don't know. My understanding -- and it's only a flimsy one -- is that he only broke with the CP in about 62, 63.
Well, I can't be certain of the date. But he had been out of step for God knows how long. You know, he was out of step over the Browda issue during the war period and immediately afterwards. He had been out of step ever since. He has got his own peculiar idea of Marxism which leads him to ally himself with Buthelezi. I would think it was a very small minority that felt that armed struggle was not on.
Do you know anything about the tensions between ANC political and MK people in Natal.
Tensions -- over the developing armed struggle?
No. You should have spoken to Gwala when he was here.
I Know, I should have. I asked him. I said I wanted to speak to him. But he said he would have to get permission, and he never came back, so I presumed he either didn't ask or --
No, he never spoke to me.
I'd like to deal with the independence of MK in relation to the ANC and the Party. What were the precise reasons for this independence or autonomy? And what was its precise real extent?
I don't know that I know what the reasons were that were advanced at the time it was decided on because, as I say, I wasn't involved in a lot of the discussions at that time, specifically relating to MK. I should think the feeling was that the ANC -- well, possibly, also the Party membership as a whole -- might not be ready from the start to associate with military action, especially considering the position of somebody like Luthuli. There may have been others likewise in the ANC who wouldn't have gone along with it. But, I mean that's guess work. I don't know for a fact whether there was a reason of that kind. I'm just thinking about the possibilities. It would be easier for MK to start under its own leadership and responsible only to itself because the ANC, traditionally, moved slowly. It had to consult its branches and line up its membership and get agreement, and all this could have taken possibly a year. And that delay might have been fatal for MK at that stage. I can only think of reasons like that which may have operated. Like, for instance, the ANC's attitude to the Freedom Charter -- which you might have said when it was adopted, well, this is ANC policy but it wasn't ANC policy for some time after that.
It was a year or something.
Well, I think it was more than a year. but I'm not quite sure. I think it was the end of 56 (that the ANC formally adopted the Charter). So I think it was factors like that which made people feel, Well, let's get ahead and do it and by establishing a sort of independent MK the ANC couldn't be blamed for it and the Party couldn't be blamed for it. (laughter) Which is an over- simplification, but I think it's that sort of consideration that may have applied.
Now, at the time, you must have been a middle or a senior-ranking member of the Party. You were also running, effectively, the newspaper for the entire movement. I find it a bit surprising that you had to promote the line and defend whatever was emerging that you were apparently so in ignorance of what had been decided and what the parameters were of what had been decided.
Well, I don't know to what extent I was in ignorance because, as I say, my memory is defective and it's not as if I was running something I didn't agree with or opposed. But I mean my ignorance is to some extent due to the fact that I'm traditionally a bit sceptical of theory. And these discussions about guerilla warfare in urban areas and rural areas were, to my mind, to some extent theorising about a situation which had not yet developed to the point where you could reach any firm conclusions on what was to be done and how it was to be done. So, nothing of that sort really became embedded in my mind. So, that's the real reason for it: I had a more pragmatic approach -- let's see what happens. And I was impatient with some of this theorising because a lot of theorising had been done, to my mind, by people who lacked experience of the realities of guerilla warfare. And I would have preferred to see these theories adumbrated at some stage when they had something in their hands to work on. Now, that's been my general attitude not only about that but about politics generally: I think there was too much theorising done in the absence of real activity on the ground. And reality often teaches us some nasty lessons. I don't know that I was ignorant of what was going on but, as I say, I can't remember details of all this and to some extent I tended to shrug off theory.
Do you know the Feit book -- called Urban Revolt in SA, a study on the ANC and MK? He maintains that the reason given for the independence, the formal independence of MK was in fact to bolster possibilities for CP dominance of MK. How would you respond to that?
He maintains that this apparent autonomy given to MK was largely motivated by the CP's wanting to dominate MK and this so-called independence of MK from the ANC better allowed the CP to dominate MK.
Well, I can't see that there would be any basis for that. I don't think the CP has ever had that attitude towards the ANC and I don't think that would have been a reason for the ANC to accept the situation. No, I think it was mutually convenient to do this. And I mean the CP has never wanted to dominate either MK or the ANC. I think it wanted to be in on an equal basis and that would be that. But we have never had the attitude of domination.
Well, it does strike me that the Feit book is designed to tend towards this kind of conclusion.
Who produced the Feit book?
You mean who published it?
It's a chap called Edward Feit -- F-e-i-t -- and it's called Urban Revolt in SA, published many years ago.
That book is, isn't it, largely based on court cases and things?
Which I seem to remember reading at the time. It was a completely unreliable story because what comes out in court cases is only half truth.
He relies on Hlapane and Mtolo.
That's right. Well, he would take that line because basically he's anti-CP.
That becomes clear. From your knowledge, when precisely was the High Command set up -- immediately the decision was taken to form MK, or did it take a few months to constitute it?
I don't know.
On the formulation of Operation Mayibuye, do you have any knowledge on when precisely it was formulated? It was captured on July 11 (63).
And what are your thoughts on the status it enjoyed -- that is the status of acceptance or non-acceptance it enjoyed at the time it was captured in July 63?
Well, as far as I know, it was a document that was in process of development. I don't think it had ever been finalised or approved or adopted as movement policy. It was gestating, as it were.
One version that I have got is that it had been approved by the internal High Command and was at that stage being taken abroad to be laundered before the External Mission.
Laundered by whom?
Well, I presume by whomever was taking it, representatives of the High Command.
What do you mean by laundered?
Taken for approval.
(end of side A)
You mean to people like Dadoo and Tambo for the achievement of consensus. But the external leadership didn't have the sort of constitutional position of being able to veto anything decided by the internal leadership. The internal leadership was in place inside SA and their decisions would be final. But, in the process of producing a document of this kind, they may have wanted to find out what people outside thought about it and what they would have thought about the reaction to it once it was published.
Now, at the time that the sabotage campaign was embarked upon -- it's largely in the urban areas and certainly urban related -- Operation Mayibuye sets out a clear rural emphasis for the embarkation of guerilla warfare; at the time, shortly before you leave the country, in the 61-62 period, what was your understanding of the line at that stage of the relationship in the strategic sense between the sabotage campaign then underway and development towards some form of guerilla warfare? Were these two things seen as melding into each other, or was one stage seen as transforming itself into the next stage?
Well, I would have felt, I think, chiefly that I didn't see the connection. I didn't see how it would develop. I think the concentration on urban activity was natural in the sense that all our personnel and all our apparatus was largely urban based. We didn't have the mechanism to carry this sort of thing into the rural areas -- at least if we did it was only marginal and it would have been largely undertaken by people operating from urban areas or in connection with urban areas. You know, in my mind, the whole question of guerilla warfare in the rural areas was an imponderable. As I say, the theory is one thing but when it comes down to how this is going to work in practice I don't know that I saw the connection at the time. Maybe the people who drew up Operation Mayibuye had a clearer perspective.
Why did you find guerilla warfare in the rural areas an imponderable?
Because we haven't every had the apparatus in the rural areas. You know, it's not a question of insurrection, of sympathy; it's a question of whether you have got the personnel, the cadres that you need to carry out this sort of thing within the rural areas -- in place, organised and disciplined, and so on, for action of this kind. I wasn't sure of extent to which this had been achieved. The possibilities always existed there because, as Govan says in his book, the question of the allegiance of the people in the rural areas is not in doubt. But we had never, either as party or as ANC, penetrated the rural areas effectively in the way we had done in the urban areas -- (where) we had groups functioning, meeting regularly, taking decisions, operating democratically, and so on. I mean there may have been one or two rural areas where this happened, but in most rural areas it didn't happen. And, from that point of view, it seemed to me that guerilla warfare implied some sort of organisation, some sort of network of that kind in place if it's going to be successful. I had that doubt in my mind, anyway.
Do you remember expressing it at all over the 61-62 period?
Well, I may have done so. I wouldn't have just sat on it. I probably did so. But I can't think of any specific fight about it.
Do you remember other people expressing similar reservations?
I think some of them may have done so. I mean there was a lot of argument going on about this sort of thing at the time. People were discussing and debating things.
Now, you mentioned earlier that, whether in the rural or in the urban areas, people in the ANC felt that the broad mass of people were certainly ready to support an embarkation on armed struggle. Was there any distinction made at the time -- or were there any debates at the time -- over a distinction between a passive willingness to support or applaud armed struggle and a mass willingness actually to involve, people to involve themselves in armed struggle?
I think there was the general assumption that if people were given the opportunity they would join in boots and all. I think that was the general assumption underlying everything, that it was the question of providing the structure and the framework, the means for people to take action. But on their willingness to take action I don't think we ever had any doubts.
Now, can I ask you to look back? Do you think that was an at all fallacious assumption?
No, I don't think so, actually. I think that what's been happening lately has proved that by and large the support of the people has been there and has grown with the ability of the movement to channel it, to harness it.
Over this -- we go back to 60-63 -- at that time, do you remember any internal criticisms or debates to the effect that too much energy and too many personnel were being channelled into MK to the detriment of over-all political mobilisation?
Yes, I've heard that, and I've heard the opposite too. (laughter)
Can you just recall to me how this issue or debate --?
Yes, well, I suppose the tendency is that at times political action was very difficult, and people tended to think they could operate through MK without all the constraints that made political activity more or less impossible at the times of severest repression. And there would be a reaction to that again: people felt that the political terrain was being neglected. I mean you know this debate has been going on in one form or another ever since.
Especially now with all the discussion about negotiations, there is quite a loud chorus of complaints from people that the armed struggle is being neglected. And so on. This argument, in one form or another, has been going on all the time. And the emphasis has depended on what actually was being done in both spheres. If you were doing very little in the political sphere, the argument would be that you are putting too much attention on the military, and vice versa.
Do you remember any unhappiness at the time about people who had been involved either in Sactu work or ANC work in the townships or Party work in the townships being channelled off into MK?
No, I don't think so. I'm not aware of it. Have you come across it?
Yes, I've heard people say that, at the time, there were --?
Well, I just, I'm not -- it's one of the people that you know quite well. I mean I don't want to say X said Y to me, but one or two people have indicated that they, at the time, felt a bit unhappy about political organisers being taken out for MK work.
Yes, it's possible.
Now, at the time, given your distance from MK, you would not have been knowledgeable about any forms of internal military training that were going on?
The history of this period is very sketchy, obviously, for mainly security reasons, the distortion that comes through in trials and a very partisan literature. Are there any substantial achievements or failures of this 60-63 period which have not come through in the available history thus far to which you would direct me?
Not that I know of.
Do you think that the story, in a sense, has almost been told?
No, not at all.
How and when is the story going to be told?
Well, I don't think the story of MK has been told at all. I think selected bits and pieces have become public, but one wants to know much more accurately what the achievement of MK has been than has been publicised up till now. You know, if you want to achieve a balanced picture, you must know how many people have been sent in, how many survived, what did they achieve. You must have a properly documented account of MK from the beginning up to the present. We haven't had that. And, until we get an account of that kind, I think it is very difficult to come to a final conclusion about MK. We know a lot of what it's done. We also know that a lot of what it's done has not been publicised. And I think it would require a complete change in the situation before we could publish everything and come to a balanced conclusion about MK operations.
Do such records exist?
I'm sure they do. I'm sure MK has got all these records. I'm sure they know what they've done, what they haven't done. But I don't know that they have all been consolidated and analysed. Certainly, as far as I am concerned, I would like to know much more about what's happened. But I appreciate that not all this information can be handed over at this stage.
Now, over the 60-63 period, what would you say was the distinctive contribution of the SACP?
Well, I don't know that one would come to any different conclusions from any contribution that it has made throughout its history. I think the SACP provided a core of cadres and of ideology on which the whole movement rested up to a point at this time. Particularly, one has to go into the relationship between the SACP and the liberation movement really from the time of 1950 onwards to see what the balance was. Because before 1950, I think you can say that most of the organisational work, the agitational work, the ideological work was undertaken by SACP. It was we who battled week in and week out, who took up every issue, who organised the meetings and the demonstrations, who sold the newspaper, etc. I think most of the day-to-day organisational and propaganda work of the movement as a whole was in the hands of the Party. The ANC did very little. It had an annual conference and one or two meetings from time to time. But it wasn't -- I mean there gaps, with some areas operating differently from others -- but on the whole, that was the picture, I would say. And, after 1950, one of the consequences of the Suppression of Communism Act was that the methods and personnel of the Party were concentrated in the sphere of the Congress movement because they provided the platform and the legal opportunities which had been denied to the Party. And that whole growth of the Congress movement in the 1950s was due to, in a way, the merging of the strengths of the Party and the SACP, the sort of methods of the Party and the ideology of the Party and the outlook (of the Party) penetrated the ANC. I mean that was the beginning of a process which has continued. And that same thing applied in 60-63. I can't think of anything specific at that time. You ask me for indications of how it happened, but I think that still was the essence of it. It's very hard to define because it has to be based on an understanding of the relationship between the Party and the ANC, which is not a hostile one, not a competitive one. But if, for instance, you were to take the Party away from the ANC right now, the ANC would be in some trouble -- even right now, even though it has developed it's own identity and independence, with activity and so on, nevertheless, the fact of the matter is that the Party contribution is significant. And, in 60-63, I think in that period of concentrated repression that followed, I think the Party contribution in keeping things going, in providing the sort of understanding of social processes and the toughness of the cadres was an essential component. But specifically, if you ask me to say what happened in that period to confirm this, I couldn't say. I only remember the way we approached things at that time, what we felt had to be done.
Are you able to give me some estimate of Party strength in 60-63?
You mean in numbers?
Can you tell me whether it would be counted in hundreds, or more than a thousand?
No. But at all times, in relation to ANC membership, it was small.
One of the charges that it laid by Feit -- or it is turned into a charge -- is that the Party was responsible for providing the funds with which Rivonia, Trevallyn and various houses were bought, from which MK and the High Command operated in Johannesburg. Are you able to confirm that at all?
I'd like to go to the Lobatse Conference in late 62. Are you aware whether or not armed struggle was discussed at any length at this Lobatse Conference? On the floor of this conference?
If you ask me now, I can't say. I don't know. I could probably check up on it. I spoke to Moses Kotane quite extensively about it when I was working on his book. I may have some notes about it, but I can't remember. Does anybody say it was?
Yes, some people say it was, some say it wasn't. Some say it wasn't because the British police in Bechuanaland at the time demanded that they be present at all meetings. So it was impossible to discuss it. Another account says it was discussed and actually gives a quote from a particular document, but again there is no satisfactory reference for it.
Well, I would be very surprised if it wasn't discussed somewhere at the time. It may not have been discussed in open conference, but it may have been somewhere else. But I can't think of everybody getting together on that occasion and, you know, missing the opportunity. But I have no personal knowledge of it and, as I say, I could probably check up on it.
Would you do that for me?
I'll try if there is anything there. I don't know if there is, but I'll see if there is anything.
Would documentation on that be available, do you think?
I shouldn't think so. On the armed struggle?
I shouldn't think so.
And the conference in general?
Well, it's been written about, hasn't it. I mean I had a bit about it in my book at the time, not much. What about all the people that were there?
I'm going to get to them.
Dingake? Was he there?
Dingake was there.
Was Govan there? Kotane was there.
Govan (Mbeki) was there. He was chairing it -- he was apparently the convenor -- in the chair anyway. Tambo, according to Bernstein, was not in the chair. It was actually Mbeki who was in the chair.
In her book?
Yes. Now, if we look back to that 60-63 period, specifically to Rivonia, what would you isolate as being the causes of the serious setbacks that were, in fact, suffered?
Well, I was discussing this only the other day. And my feeling is still it's probably a combination of factors, but the crucial factor was detention without trial and torture which broke people down. I think this is where the basic source of information came from which led to Rivonia. The people who were branded as traitors and so on later weren't originally traitors; they were people who were broken down under torture.
You're talking about both Hlapane and Mtolo?
Yes, people like that. There may have been others whom we haven't identified, who gave away Rivonia. It's also possible, of course, that carelessness on the part of people who were there -- over- confidence, etc -- (gave it away). My feeling is that it was basically detention without trial that was the main reason for Rivonia being uncovered.
You say there were other factors as well, which would be subsidiary. What would you say those other factors were?
Well, carelessness on the part of people who were involved. One's heard stories about people who were in the know gossiping about it. Everybody wants to appear to be important and tell somebody or other that the leadership is in etc. One hears stories about that, too. But we haven't been able to put our fingers on anything there either, to say that so-and-so is to blame. And, off the record
(break in tape)
So you don't see any major strategic mistake on the part of the ANC -- basic fault in strategy -- as being the cause of these setbacks? You think it's more human frailties, inability to anticipate?
Well, in what way would you say that wrong policies were responsible?
Well, if one were to argue perhaps that the embarkation on the sabotage campaign was to place drama over achievement and really to embark on a kind of romantic daredevilry -- one could make up an argument for that. That actually, in its conception, the ANC's resort to armed struggle was faulty.
I mean these are very broad historical judgments. But I am attempting to come to
Well, it's difficult to say, isn't it. It's like the people who say that if Stalin had adopted democratic methods in the 1930s and 40s, he would have won the war much more quickly. (laughter). You know, we only know what has happened.
One of the absurdities of academe is to try to sort out (this kind of thing) (laughter)
Well, I don't think one can. I think one can say that the mere fact that the ANC subsequently adopted this slogan about the four pillars of the struggle was a way of putting the armed struggle into proper perspective. And I think to the extent that people may have thought that armed struggle was the solution to all our practical problems in the process of achieving liberation, well Rivonia knocked that on the head -- for the time being at any rate. It indicated that the whole process was going to be a little more difficult than they bargained for. As I say, if people did have that conception that what Rivonia was all about, what the armed struggle was all about, then there did have to be a corrective. But that would have come whether or not the leadership was captured at Rivonia. I think the Rivonia setback was more important politically than from the point of view of the organisation of MK. Because your top leadership was whipped off, with the exception of those people who were outside. And Rivonia was not a centre for MK. It was a centre for organising the underground resistance on behalf of the ANC and the party. It was a political as well as a military thing. It was not just an MK business. So, I think it is wrong to think of it in terms of the consequence of the adoption of armed struggle. Because, even if there had been no armed struggle, you would still have had an underground leadership operating there, trying to do what it could do. If it hadn't have had any armed struggle, it would still have been caught after somebody had been (captured/tortured). You can, I suppose, argue that the adoption of armed struggle led to the adoption of detention without trial. But, on the other hand, everything that had happened since the Nats came to power, showed that whatever the movement did was responded to by one form or other of repression, starting with the banning of the CP, and the ANC and the PAC -- not through armed struggle because these bans were imposed just because of street demonstrations. So, the adoption of a further programme of action of any kind by the movement, illegal activity by the movement, would have resulted in detention without trial if it had been in any way effective. Any form of mass activity at that stage would have had the same response. I don't think that you can put all the blame on the adoption of armed struggle, though obviously it was changing the rules to some extent, changing the parameters to some extent.
You've just said that Rivonia was the headquarters of both political and military structures. Then how was the Rivonia High Command relating to the ANC National Executive Committee?
You mean how was it effected? I don't know.
But Rivonia was definitely a headquarters for both political and military matters?
I can't even say that. But I mean you had your top leaders who were caught there. I mean I am making an assumption if you like. But I mean I don't know where for instance Walter (Sisulu) made his broadcast from.
Well apparently it wasn't from Rivonia itself. It was from a house in Parktown, with a detachable radio mast.
Have you any idea that there was another centre that the ANC executive operated from?
Well, I understand they were about to move. In fact, the meeting at Rivonia on July 11 was the last meeting due for that particular farm. And that it was held there because one of the people who was due to go to the meeting hadn't been informed about an alternative venue.
Yes. I've heard about that, too. So, you are assuming they were going to move somewhere else?
Well, that's what I'm getting
And, who was there? Do you know?
Well, where were they going to?
I don't have the other place, but my assumption is probably Trevallyn or some other property -- I understand another quite substantial property.
Well, I don't know about that.
Were you (crossed out???) on that?
That they were about to move?
Oh, no, I believe that they were about to move. I understood, too, that this was the last meeting that they were going to hold there. You know, you mustn't forget I was sitting in Cape Town. And all these details I only got to know about -- well, some of them I got to know about later. I didn't know about them at the time. Incidentally, have you heard that Issie and Anne Hayman have died?
Did you know them?
I think I met Issie Hayman once. But I didn't know them.
I just heard yesterday.
How did they die?
Well he had cancer, I think, and the message we got about her was rather obscure. It sounded as though she had just given up the ghost after he went. But I just heard yesterday. Anyway, if you didn't know them it doesn't
Do you think there is any sense in which one can say that ANC strategy and thinking was implicitly kind of Debrayan over this 60-63 period -- in other words, the big bang theory which will detonate an uprising -- in practice?
I don't know. I'm sure there were people who had that approach. I don't know that you could say that the whole organisation had that approach. I should think it's highly unlikely. I should think that the ANC approach was more pragmatic. But I am sure there were Debray supporters in the ANC.
What is interesting is one formulation in Operation Mayibuye where it says -- and I think I have it in almost the original words -- armed action can spark off a general uprising.
It can (laughter). But whether it will or not depends on all sorts of factors which are --. You know the ANC particularly wasn't ever so ideologically coherent that you could say, Well, this is what the ANC thought about this, that and the other. I think there were currents running around in the ANC of all kinds. And this was one of them.
Do you think there is any sense in that over this period you can say that the ANC, the SACP or Sactu ignored or passed over possibilities for working class and related kind of mass organisation? In other words, through their, say, over-deployment in armed struggle? If we look back know, do you think we can criticise them for this?
Well, I don't think through any decision that one was more important than the other, but you can say that some of the best people -- I mean, you have made the point already that you didn't want to give names -- but some of the best people who might otherwise have given their attention to other forms of struggle were involved in MK activity, and therefore couldn't devote as much attention to, say, street demonstrations or strikes, or whatever, which they would otherwise have done. But I don't think that there was ever any conscious decision leading to the conclusion that, as a movement, the Party or the ANC decided that MK activity was more important than anything else and everything had to be concentrated on it. I think for a short time people may have thought it was necessary to get it off the ground and moving. And they may have concentrated attention on it for that reason. But I don't think, as far as the Party was concerned, we ever lost sight of the perspective that political activity was paramount and that armed struggle was subsidiary to political action.
Is it true that, over this period, the Party at branch level operated on a segregated basis in order to allow Party cells or whatever to work more effectively, to continue their political work amongst their own, say, racial sectors of the community?
Well, again, I don't know that there would have been a decision like that. It may have worked out like that. But obviously it's most convenient. But I can't see the Party passing a resolution saying that branches must be segregated for that reason. I think, you know, you decide on logistical grounds that the branch in Alexandra should be self-contained and so on and so forth, and you shouldn't have outsiders coming in. I used to be a member of the Alexandra branch in 1940 when I joined the Party. And, well, you know, somebody like myself going in at that stage didn't attract much attention. But going in later -- well, when we did go in later, I remember we used to go to visit Moses Kotane frequently at his home and, after Sharpeville, the next time we tried to go in, we were told as soon as we entered the township to get out for your own safety. And the whole atmosphere had changed; the whole situation had changed; the whole ballgame had changed. So, from that point of view, I think it's logical to say that, if a white goes in to take part in MK (Party??) activities in current conditions he is going to expose everybody. But segregation is a nasty word we don't like (laughter).
I'm sure. Now, if we look back on this period, is there any criticism or self-criticism of the Party or ANC which you would make? Over the 60-63 period? Some avoidable failure?
That needs thinking about, doesn't it. Just 60-63?
I think the chief criticism I would make is that we didn't credit our enemy with the possibility of improving his method of work. We didn't think he had the capacity to launch the initiatives that he did. We weren't ready for the action that was taken against us. This is something I suppose you can say at various times in our history. But the blow that was struck at Rivonia and the sort of blows that were struck after detention without trial was introduced we weren't ready for, we didn't expect them, we weren't prepared for them. We didn't have any defence when the time came. We were hit very hard. And it took a lot of painful experiences before we learned the lesson. And I suppose this is something that happens all the time. One has to credit one's enemy with also having a perspective and also studying methods of counter-insurgency and so forth. We thought we were way ahead of them when we weren't.
And that was an error for which --?
For which we paid, dearly. Well, that's my opinion. We were too complacent because things had gone so well for us for such a long time: growing support and organisation.
And do you think there is any sense in which the ANC and SACP fundamentally misread conditions in 60-63 in this decision to embark on armed struggle and the methods which were used to do so?
No, I don't think so. I can't think that the decision to embark on armed struggle was wrong, all things considered. As to the methods that they used: Well, I think certain methods were dictated by the fact that this was being undertaken for the first time, the toppling of pylons and that sort of activity was something that did bring the whole business to the attention of the public very strikingly. I mean it's much later that you come to things like Sasol and so on. Armed struggle in these forms has given people a perspective of struggle which they needed and it has given them a confidence also in their ability to undertake this struggle. And I think you can see now from the pictures that you get of demonstrations in the streets, with people running around with AKs -- ideologically, in their minds, they are ready for this form of struggle. But the weapons, they haven't got the weapons. If you could put weapons in their hands, they would use them. they have shown that. They do use them. And they are willing to die. There is no fear on their side, even without weapons, with only sticks and stones they challenge the authorities. From that point of view, the material is there, the people are there. They have shown over and over again that they are ready to do things, and I think their readiness to do things has been prompted by the start that MK made with this activity, showing them that there is another road, that they don't just have to sit back and take it all the time. I think we have to face the real problem of getting weapons into their hands, which is still a problem.
Brian, can we move on to 65-69?
How much more have you got to do.
Can we go on to one o'clock.
That's great. I've got lots more (laughter) for a week.
Well, you are not getting much information.
I'm getting very useful perspectives. And that's what I need, because I tend to, well, one can tend to come to quite superficial judgments. We go to 65-69. Ok, you are in exile. You have been in exile now for about 18 months to two years. After Bram Fischer's arrest, which is November 11 65, that really is, it strikes me, the end of any sustainable organisation inside the country by the ANC or SACP. That seems to be the generally accepted view. Would you go along with that?
Well, I don't know about presence. Certainly as far as leadership is concerned, that's true. I don't know about presence. There may have been elements active because we know we have had elements active, both the ANC and the SACP inside the country. I can't say that they weren't active. I know that there have been people who have been politically active all the time. The extent that they were organisationally involved in the Party or the ANC, I'm not sure. But certainly as far as the leadership was concerned.
I'm interested now in the external presence, the people outside. Between about 65 and 67 -- 67 being when Wankie starts to happen -- how, generally, did the ANC and SACP external presence see their way forward? If at all. What was morale like? What kind of objectives were people putting before their organisations?
Well, both ANC and SACP had an apparatus for renewing the struggle in South Africa, renewing activity or continuing activity, however you like to put it. Getting people recruited for various forms of activity, military and political, getting them back into the country, and training them before they got back, maintaining contact with them and so on. This sort of programme was undertaken, I think, from a very early time after Rivonia. And I think that sort of programme also involved, I think, solidarity work in Britain, in America, in Europe, and so on -- on the scale which you have seen demonstrated in the subsequent years. But the idea was to get things going again, to get people in place, to get propaganda out, to get units forming, and to try to re-establish the leadership inside the country as soon as possible. That was the perspective, at any rate.
Now, my understanding is that the Party had a very small kind of operational group based mainly in London at this time. And that the ANC had a high command, headed by Joe Modise and Zola Zyembe, based mainly in Africa, Tanzania. But that between 65 and, say 67 and Wankie, there is, in fact, very little done in returning people to the country. Does that accord with your understanding?
Well, I don't know the details of that because the whole question of returning people, I wasn't on the apparatus that dealt with that. But I know that people were busy trying to work on that. I don't know how many people they sent back. You'd have to get that kind of information from others. I suppose you know who all was involved in that.
More or less.
So I only found out about people who were sent back at that time either when they came out again or when they were captured. (laughter) But the others, I didn't know that so-and-so was being sent back because, of course, the whole idea was that the fewer the people who knew about this sort of thing the better. But certainly our perspective was -- this was what people were busy with. They were supposed to be concentrating on returning people and returning themselves -- the whole process of political action and military action in South Africa.
(end of side B)
In this 65-67 period, what, in terms of your understanding, was the size of the ANC and SACP complement abroad? How many people were you say there were in exile?
I haven't a clue. I've never thought about it. The only thing I can say is illustrated by the sort of spheres in which we operated. When we came over the natural sphere of operation was the Anti-Apartheid Movement. And practically all of us were busy in the Anti-Apartheid Movement in one way or the other. Then slowly the ANC presence here increased to the point where they extended their office staff and started functioning in different ways in Britain with units, and so on and so forth. And eventually, the amount of work that was done in the Congress movement made joint operation in AA and ANC very difficult from the point of view of time alone. For instance, I used to be on the national committee of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, I used to be on the committee of Anti-Apartheid News. I eventually found out that if I was to carry out my obligations to the ANC and the Party I didn't have the time. So I got off all that. Many people did the same. So the ANC presence has increased steadily over the years. But if you ask me how many, I don't know. I think at the moment they have got between 200 and 300 people on the books here -- ANC. Party people, of course, are a much smaller presence. But there has always been an organised Party presence here, even before I came out there was an organised Party presence here, and that has grown. But nothing compared to the ANC, because ANC numbers are swollen all the time. There are large numbers of students coming out now, and so on. Many of them are not even incorporated into the ANC presence here because they come for study for a year or so and then go back again. And one of the problems that is being discussed at the moment is how to maintain contact with these people and not let them backslide. Because they tend to get involved in their studies and
ie people in Oxford? (laughter)
Well, all over the place. They are up and down the country. It's difficult to maintain contact with them.
Now, at that time, what was morale like. You had suffered a really, really serious defeat, the leadership was in jail and exile. Was there a certain element of despair?
I'm not conscious of it, to tell you the truth. I've heard about this so-called slump in morale, the so-called stagnation years, and so on. As far as we were concerned, we worked as hard as ever. Naturally one is upset when things happen. But I don't think one can talk about demoralisation or defeatism or anything of that kind. I think one just kept battling away however we could, in whatever way we could. My impression of this period is that people were very positive in their approach. OK, so we had setbacks, so you have to get busy trying to repair them. In my circle of acquaintances, certainly, I'm not aware of any demoralisation, despondency, or anything of that kind. OK, we had objective difficulties but --
And at the time when you cam out, were there any recriminations and self-criticisms over what had gone before?
Not really. I mean people are always ready to criticise but I don't think there was anything that was so coherent that you could say (of it): this is a body of opinion, that the ANC or the Party should have done this, that or the other.
Now, my understanding is that, over this time, there was quite a lot of resistance to a Party presence, certainly a white Party presence in camps situated in Africa, and that this was largely explicable in terms of Pan-Africanist kind of tendencies within some of the newly independent African states. Presumably over this period, 65 through to 67-68, Party branches continued to operate within the ANC or within ANC camps in Africa, although important members of the Party leadership found it difficult often to visit or to maintain residence in those areas.
Well, first of all about whites, I don't know about that. I mean there were very few whites around in the camps at that stage, but I don't know whether that was due to hostility towards them. I think those who were there managed to do a job without that kind of hostility manifesting itself. As far as the general contact between the various sections of the Party and the camps were concerned, I think there have always been Party people working in these camps. Most of the Party membership would have been amongst people operating in the camps. So, I'm not aware of any tensions of that kind, except to the extent that all the people in the camps felt very much from time to time isolated and neglected. You know the sort of rebellions that there have been in the camps. I mean this was a manifestation which affected Party as well as non-Party people. But I think on the whole the Party people visited the camps more frequently than the non-Party people. And that may not have been whites. Most of the people in the camps were black.
What rebellions were there over this period?
Well, of course, the one that occurred in Angola.
That was in the Seventies -- 74 (Should be 84-85:check)
I don't know, but the tendency would have been developing. Because I think this has been a tendency throughout that, as the diplomatic work of the ANC increased, the top leadership of the ANC tended to float around from capital to capital and not to visit the camps as often as they should have done.
There was a defection over this period from the camps led, I think, by a former CPC chap, who was also, I think, a CP guy. Dammit, I can't quite remember his name. A chap from Cape Town who had also been involved in --
Barney Desai. Right. Was that at all a traumatic experience? Did it cause any shudders and tremors in the ANC?
I suppose there was disappointment about it. I don't think there was any surprise. You know there have been these defections not just from the Party but from the ANC when the Africanist group -- the Gang of Eight, and so on. When that sort of thing happens, you naturally upset by it. But, as far as Barney is concerned, he was always a very flamboyant character. I don't think anybody was surprised. I mean he's now wholeheartedly with the PAC in Harare. Have you seen him at all?
I've seen him around, yes.
Have you spoken to him?
The PAC hate me. Some of them used to speak to me, but --
Well, Barney is a very personable fellow. He wouldn't adopt that attitude. He's a very pleasant chap, and you can always talk to him.
Well, I was warned away.
By whom? By our people?
I can't remember how.
He's very hail-fellow-well-met, Barney. And he's quite an impressive personality. He was a good demagogue on a platform. But I have never had any problems with him, although we had political arguments. If you meet him now he'll be very pleasant, friendly. Unless he's changed -- you know, I understood he was very ill. But it might be worth speaking to a fellow like that, asking him for his side, why he did it.
Yes. My understanding is that, when the Wankie Campaign started, the first that the Party leadership knew about it was in fact from the newspapers. Is that correct?
Well, as far as I'm concerned, it would probably be correct. We weren't told in advance that such-and-such is going to happen on such-and-such a day.
So you weren't aware that such a campaign was being planned?
No. Except that the general perspective we would have been aware of -- that something of this kind was on the agenda. But specifically that campaign was going to start at that time in this way, no.
Did that represent any departure from the norm of communications between ANC and Party leadership?
I don't think so.
The Party wouldn't have expected --?
Well, you know, I think the Party was involved in the Wankie campaign, Party people. Well, Party people were involved, I know that.
But I understand this came as something of a surprise.
To the Party?
To the Party leadership, yes.
I don't know. I can't comment on that. I would be surprised if the Party knew nothing. Again, it depends on what you call Party people.
I am referring to the Party leadership.
The leadership sitting in London?
Well, at that stage I understand most of the leadership was in London, although Mabhida at that stage was political commissar of MK.
Anyway, I think that would have to be checked out with others who knew more about what was going on.
Now, in about 68, Joe Slovo wrote a number of articles in the African Communist criticising the Debrayan approach, which was subsequently also published as a little booklet. Were these articles seen as some sort of corrective or purgative within the ANC-SACP membership? Of earlier tendencies among some members?
Well, I think it was clear there was a change in emphasis. I don't know that it was seen as something calculated to reflect a Party break with a certain line of thinking. I mean these were largely Joe's reflections about things. I don't know that they had been formalised. I don't know that the Party had discussed them all beforehand and agreed on a certain line. They arose probably out of debates that were going on at the time. Just like he has now produced a pamphlet on why socialism failed. Have you seen it?
(laughter) Well, has socialism failed?
Have you seen the pamphlet?
I was going to ask you if you had an extra copy because I was lent one but I had to give it back when I was on about page 20.
Well, this is again Joe's personal reflections. I don't disagree with most of it. But there are certain things I would quarrel with. It hasn't been submitted to the membership; it's not a party point of view.
Sure. He makes that quite clear.
Although it's been taken up as an SACP document in the media. The New Nation talks about an SACP view and so on, which causes a certain amount of problem. But, at any rate, as far as his first paragraph is concerned, he makes it quite clear it's his point of view and nobody else is responsible for it. And I think, to some extent, all these articles that have been written are the same. I don't think they were rubber stamped beforehand by the Party executive or anything like that. They were a reflection of thinking that was going on in Party circles at the time, but essentially his own point of view.
When the Wankie and Sipolilo campaigns (begin) -- and there is also a small infiltration into Mozambique by the ANC, also in 67- 68 -- by about the end of 68, these infiltrations had very largely been defeated, certainly in the short term. Was there any analysis at the time of what the strategic implications might be of this defeat? Were people thinking this whole thing was a complete cock-up? It was implemented wrongly, or we were following the wrong line of thinking?
Well, the whole thing was discussed. I don't know to what extent the conclusion were formalised, because that, again, would be something that would rest with the MK leadership. But the whole question of why things had taken that turn, why they had gone wrong, etc, was discussed very widely. I think that, to some extent, one had to learn the Debray lesson or the Guevara lesson all over again. You know, that people were operating in territory that they didn't know, or where they weren't known. And all these problems led to the defeats. But, on the other hand, it wasn't regarded as wholly a defeat. It was regarded as a blow that had been struck. And the people who took part certainly ever since then enjoyed the reputation of heroes (laughter). Not undeservedly. The certainly had a very tough time. And they acquitted themselves on the whole very well personally. But one had mixed feelings about that, I must say. But I think that was one of the lessons that should have been learned: that you can't really fight in hostile territory. Because, with the best will in the world you are not speaking their language; they don't know who you are, where you come from, and so on and so forth. And the physical problems are almost insuperable.
One of the criticisms I have heard form one of the people who was (there) is that many of the people who fought in the Wankie Campaign had received training in the Soviet Union which had been largely designed to conduct quasi-conventional mobile warfare. And that that this as a tactic of infiltration in what was intended to be a long-term guerilla infiltration and the setting up as route through to South Africa, that this was an incorrect form of training. Do you recall hearing any criticisms of that kind?
It hasn't impinged. And I think there you must talk to especially Chris (Hani). H was there. He will tell you where he was trained and what was what.
This is one of the other people who was in the campaign (that I was quoting earlier).
Was it Chris?
No, it wasn't Chris.
Oh, I see. Is that what he said.
This is what the other chap said.
Well, it may be so. I don't know.
The period between the Wankie Campaign and Morogoro. Presumably the Wankie Campaign and its results lead into Morogoro, or become a major stimulant for Morogoro. Can you give me a description of the period leading into Morogoro? What are the ways in which a conference like Morogoro becomes a clear necessity?
Well, I wasn't at Morogoro. So, to some extent, my knowledge of everything is limited. But what I understood -- you've read all the public documents?
Was that the pressure for the conference and the policies adopted there came from the MK rank and file. That the young people were very militant and demanding action and demanding the adoption of more militant policies and wanting the establishment of a more militant leadership. And that this pressure from the grassroots was one of the, if not the main factor in the calling of the Morogoro conference and in the adoption of the decisions that were taken there. And especially in establishing the relationship between the Party and the ANC on a more secure basis and opening the doors of the External mission to non-Africans. All this pressure came from the rank-and-file, from the young MK cadres, and not from the old leadership, who were more cautions. Because, when one asked what the logic of it was, this was what we were told because we had some doubts about how this would go down with the ANC. And the reply was that it was the youngsters, the young people in the ANC who were demanding it.
This is the race clause you are referring to?
Yes, in particular. Have you spoken to Rusty about this?
Is he back now?
No, he's coming back in about May, I suppose. But he's expressed the view that the Strategy and Tactics document is something that was really far in advance of the ANC thinking at the time, and I think you should pursue that further with him.
I've met him, but I haven't had a formal interview with him. Now, when the RC is set up it seems that what happens is that the chairmanship of the RC goes to the ANC president, the deputy chairmanship goes to the SACP chairman. And Mabhida -- at that stage I don't know to what extent he's known as a member of the CP -- is the first secretary of the RC. Does the chairmanship and deputy chairmanship become a kind of ex officio ANC-Party posting? I am trying to understand what element of formality is given to the ANC-SACP alliance at Morogoro.
I think it's round about that time that the first formal meeting took place between the two organisations.
The very first formal --?
I think so, at the time of Morogoro. It's documented somewhere in the African Communist. One of the articles brings that out. Where did I see this referred to. There was an article about it recently. Anyway, I think it's around the time of Morogoro, at the Morogoro conference, that the first formal meeting establishing the ANC-SACP alliance took place. And I don't know that there was ever any agreement about who should hold what post, but I think it's clear that, in view of the fact that the ANC is regarded as leading the liberation struggle and the SACP is in alliance with the ANC on that basis, the leading position would be occupied by the ANC. But I don't know that after that they decided that so-and-so must be a Party person. I think that would have been something that more or less sorted itself out. I don't think the Party would have said, We must have this, that and the other. Because I don't think the relationship was on that basis.
Is there any document covering any formality given to the ANC- SACP alliance?
Well, as I say, there's this article that I was referring to.
On the meeting?
On the meeting which is in one of the articles in the AC.
From that time?
No. Fairly recently.
I haven't picked it up.
I could probably trace the reference to the first meeting of the, the first formal meeting of the Party and the ANC at that time.
The very first meeting from 1953 through to--?
It's amazing (laughter).
Well, don't forget that, until 1960, the Party didn't exist at all publicly.
Sure. So this would be a fairly recent article in the ANC, which refers to this meeting? In the last two years.
Yes, it came up again. I can't think why. There was a reason, a special reason for it. And I remember, Joe, I think, dug it out. I try to trace that article. We've got an index to the AC now. Have you seen it?
Well I've seen the index in the back of each copy.
(conversation continues about new AC index)
How good is your recollection of that strategy and tactics document (adopted at Morogoro)?
Not very good.
Can I try to--?
Stimulate me, yes.
It says that there is a special role for the black working class, but again the major terrain of armed struggle, which is going to be guerilla warfare, should be in the rural areas. Do you remember any debate at the time, either before or after the Morogoro conference, at this apparent anomaly -- although obviously one can see how conditions can exist where rural areas can be the major --?
Well, I can't think of anything specific except, as I say, that general ideas were always being talked about--
What with migrant labour and other conditions?
Was there any debate about this continuing emphasis on the rural areas as the major terrain for armed struggle?
Well, I think the same points arise that we have already discussed. I don't think there was anything --
Was it not questioned at all energetically?
Well, as I say, these things were discussed. There were some people critical of the concept of rural guerilla warfare. I don't think there was anything specific at the time of the adoption of these documents. Arising out of the documents there would just have been a continuation of the debate. I can't remember that when the Strategy and Tactics document was published there was a strong reaction against it. You see the trouble with these concepts is that they are theoretical. They don't flow out of consideration of what is happening to people on the ground in South Africa. It's not as if you have got people engaged in rural guerilla warfare and doing this, that and the other, so that you get an idea about what can be done. It may be, it may not be -- time will tell. Your theory must be put to the test.
You made a comment earlier, in dealing with the 60-63 period, that what had happened at Rivonia should have knocked on the head notions that armed struggle was somehow the central form of struggle or, let's say, the only form of struggle that could really be used under South African conditions. But, if one goes on from 63 or 65 through to the mid or late 70s, it strikes me that, up until that time, armed struggle is repeatedly -- in practice, whatever is said in theoretical statements by the ANC -- isolated as being the major form of struggle employed by the ANC and the Party and almost all resources and good personnel are channelled into this effort. Do you agree with that?
No. First of all, not almost all personnel were channelled into armed struggle. I think the big complaint that I have heard repeatedly is that the best personnel, or a lot of the best personnel of the ANC were engaged in other activities, especially in the diplomatic sphere. That the attention which the ANC has devoted to the diplomatic sphere at the cost of the military effort -- you'll still find that argument raised right now. People feel that far more effort has gone ... Let's take just two examples: the efforts of Tambo and Mbeki have largely been spent in the diplomatic sphere. I don't want to decry what they have achieved. Nevertheless, the feeling is that people of this calibre, had they devoted similar effort to the military sphere, the military struggle would have gone far further. I don;'t accept that argument either because I think that both the arguments for and against the military struggle are sort of forms of special pleading. To some extent the emphasis on military struggle in the ANC documents is because you have to confirm in people's minds the needs for military struggle, because not everybody is persuaded of that in the ranks of the ANC and, more obviously, you are trying to impress both your enemy in SA and your friends abroad that the military struggle is important. And I think the over-emphasis is, to some extent, due to that. I don't know that there was ever a time when the ANC, or the Party, felt that military struggle was more important than any other form of struggle. There were times when the emphasis was considered necessary for these reasons, political reasons, if you like.
I'd like to handle the same issue in a slightly different way. If one looks at the attempts that are made to return a presence to SA from about 65 through to about 78, these attempts are almost entirely military attempts.
Well, those that you know about.
It's not just my impression, I don't think. It's seems to be quite a wide feeling, even among some of the military people, that up until that strategic review of 78-79, in practice, just about every attempt to return a presence to the country consists of the infiltration of a military cadre. I mean there are obvious cases that we know about which weren't military in character -- the people who were caught for pamphleteering, for instance.
And the people who were not caught, who you wouldn't know about.
Obviously not (laughter). But the people who were not caught do not seem to have been particularly prolific through until that period. So, what I am arguing is not military versus diplomatic. What I'm saying is that the ANC appears to have concentrated almost entirely on military-type infiltration at the expense of exploiting possibilities for legal or semi-legal political mobilisation which may have existed at various points in time over the, say, 65 to 74 period.
I presume this is one of the points you will make in your thesis.
Well, I'm testing out an argument on you. Because I think it is very much one of the points, at this stage, I would like to make. But I'm trying to test it out. If it's crap, I would like to know it's crap.
Well, I can't say it's crap. I think there's obviously evidence about military activity which you have to take into account. Well, it would be interesting to think about that in more detail. Because I know about constant efforts that were being made to get people back for non-military purposes. And a number of people, as you know, were sent back for non-military purposes and they did carry out activities of various kinds. The extent to which it's disproportionate -- well, it's something to be investigated. I think a lot of the young people who came out wanted to get guns in their hands and to go back and do things, that they were more interested in that than in pamphleteering, and so on and so forth. And I think in some ways they felt freer with guns than without them. When you go back and do leafletting or publication of material, in some ways it's a more conspiratorial and more hazardous activity than blasting the hell out of somebody with a gun. I don't know. Anyway, it's something that needs thought: whether in fact--. I certainly don't think that most of the activity of the ANC went into the military field. I think the concentration of the top echelons was as much, if not more, in diplomatic work. If you think of all the top leaders of the ANC -- the President, the head of the international department, the secretary general, and so on -- they were almost exclusively engaged in diplomatic work.
Now, if we go back to 61 and the formation of MK and the High Command, the formation of MK as an independent organisation, and one looks at the debates and the problems that have occurred in the ANC over the problems of parallelism versus an integrated political-military approach to the construction of a presence inside the country -- do you think there is any validity to tracing back this political-military parallelism, for example the construction by about 83 of really separate undergrounds inside the country, back to this granting of an autonomy and independence to MK in 60-61?
Possibly. I think it's as much due to the fact that the military doesn't like being bossed around by anybody else anyway. Everybody's got their own empire to look after and this whole argument about political and military rivalry is still not settled. It's still going on, isn't it.
It seems to be.
It has it's ups and downs. But recently the tendency has been to rather insist that the political retains primacy. But I think that's been chequered from the time of the--. It's not been a sort of steady line of thinking. I think it's gone backwards and forwards from 61 onwards. And the way in which it was developed may have developed this form of thinking. But, I mean a chap like Joe, for example--
Yes. He's always regarded the Party as being of more primary importance than the military in terms of what needs to be done.
The political -- you said the Party, you mean the political?
Yes, but specifically because of his position in the Party. I think if you take the two key individuals -- Joe representing the Party and Mandela representing the ANC -- my feeling would have been that both of them owed their primary allegiance not to MK but to the Party on the one hand and the ANC on the other. And I think the difference develops later with different personnel. You know, I haven't discussed any of this with Joe Modise. I can't tell you what he thinks about things. You probably know far more about it than I do. You've interviewed him?
No, not for this purpose yet. But I will be.
I don't even know what Chris thinks about a thing like this, an issue like this. But I think, you know, these people have had to battle, especially recently, to keep their end up because the political, the diplomatic activity has surged ahead so much in the last few years that the army has tended to want to hit back and recapture some of the ground (laughter).
If you were to periodise ANC strategic thinking, the twists and turns between 1961 and 86, how would you do so? Or would you see it as being basically the same outlook all through.
Well, give me some suggestions.
Well one could say -- I would say superficially -- that if one looks at the 61 to 65 period, one could argue there are elements of the Debrayan outlook over that period. It's defeated. But, despite that defeat, once in exile the ANC continues to view armed struggle as being its major political instrument for returning a presence to the country. By 69, it has attempted to reverse some of these Debrayan elements which were present in its thinking from 61-63 and implicitly adopts a kind of People's War approach. But again, in common with 61-63, concentrating very much on guerilla struggle in the rural areas -- the rural emphasis being an important second element. It goes on attempting, from 69 to 73/4, to penetrate into the rural areas for the purposes of guerilla warfare, with very, very limited success. A number of people go into the country, but the periods of their survival are two to three months, and many are withdrawn or captured. In 73-75, that's when things really change: three basic conditions. One is the Portuguese coup and the impending liberation of Angola and Mozambique. The second is the emergence in recent years of the beginnings of legal and semi-legal mass organisation especially in the trade union movement and black consciousness movement. And the third development of that time, which is crucial for the ANC is the release from prison of people like Martin Ramokgadi, Joe Gqabi, Jacob Zuma, Harry Gwala and they manage to establish some links with the people in the incipient mass movement and also elements of the external mission who are now more mobile given Angolan and Mozambican developments. (break in tape) But still, at that stage, they are told that they must pay a lot more attention to the urban areas. And the Special Operations group, which has been set up, or rather agreed to before the 76 uprising, then gets put in place and an armed propaganda campaign begins, which becomes again effectively that military activity is the most effective means of re-establishing an internal political presence. But there has now been a slight shift to urban targets. And continual failures organise or maintain a guerilla presence in the rural areas leads more and more to an urban emphasis. But, by about 78, clearly leading elements in the ANC and the Party realise that this military emphasis is mistaken and it is taking us nowhere in the long term. This is the 78-79 strategic and tactical review, which then reverses the whole thing. And then, for the first time, the ANC states explicitly and succeeds in really changing the practice hitherto and establishes firmly the primacy of political mobilisation, and states an important new departure: that henceforward mass political mobilisation by legal and semi-legal means is the major task facing the liberation movement. And that becomes a big change. So there are twists and turns which I am trying to trace. And I'm interested to know how you see these things. One can go then up to 83-84. In 83, I understand, there was a document distributed called "Preparing for People's War", or something like that. And there were people arguing, particularly in Maputo, in Swaziland and I think in some of the other forward areas arguing (the merits of) this insurrectionary (versus) protracted people's war debate. The two are obviously not mutually exclusive, but the debate starts to sharpen up in 83-84. And then you get the uprisings and the increasing, let's say, prevalence of insurrectionary-type thinking as being appropriate to the SA situation. Now that insurrectionary outlook is, to some extent, initially anticipated in 60-61. The party programme mentions insurrection I think, but without elaborating on it -- the 62 Party programme. But there have been these twists and turns. Now obviously, one cannot say that any strategy is correct in the abstract; what emphasis you give a particular tactic at any time depends on circumstances at that time. But there have been these twists and turns. And it is those twists and turns which I am --
And have you related the activity to the theories which are propagated from time to time? Because what happens may not always correspond with what people say should happen.
I know that. That's why I say--
Well, you have made a much closer study of this than I have, you see, because I mean, now that you are mentioning all these switches and moves and changes--
Well, in many instances, the theory doesn't change the practice at all. Not up until 78-79. But it only changes in about 82-83.
And that may also be due to a whole lot of factors which may be difficult to chart: you know,--
Personalities, yes, and the tendency of the military leadership to do things on its own, etc.
I don't know that we have thought about this in any depth. You have. And I wouldn't disagree with anything that you have just outlined to me. I think it would be very interesting to consider more closely where the impetus for negotiations has come from. It's become very strong over the recent period and, you know, things are being said now, things are being done now which wouldn't have been considered possible five years ago. And I think one has to think of all sorts of factors there, not only the policy of the ANC and the Party but the attitudes of the regime. But the trouble with us, you see, is that we haven't got enough people doing this sort of analytical thinking about things. We have a lot of pragmatists and people who do things on the spur of the moment. Maybe we haven't studied our past enough. I don't know that I have got anything useful to contribute in that sphere.
Well, the nice thing about academe is the arrogance of the notion that you have got (a contribution to make).
No, I think definitely you have. The point is, you know, the trouble with academics is not that they do research, but that they talk to themselves. They argue with one another, and reply to one another. The don't consider that their primary task is to --
Well, Brian I think I would like to leave it there.
(end of side C)
[End of interview]