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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
Kasrils, Ronnie [First Interview]
Conducted by Howard Barrell,
Lusaka August 19 1989
Ok, we'll start off with some general questions. I'd be interested to know how, generally, you would describe the progress over this 83-86 period of the ANC's strategic and tactical understanding of the tasks before it. Now 83, if I can just jolt your memory, is the time at which the movement, or a section of the movement, prepares a document called "Preparing for People's War". There seems to be a lot of discussion in the movement about whether we have not reached a qualitatively new stage. 83 is also when the UDF is formed -- in August of 83. And the end of the period I am talking about is, of course, the end of 86, which is six months after the imposition of the national state of emergency, and about nine months after the Second Call, which is "From Ungovernability to People's Power". So I am interested, then, in your formulation of how you would see the advance in the ANC's strategic and tactical perspective over this period.
I would situate it against the backdrop, the whole historical backdrop of our years in exile -- the post 63 period and difficulty of relinking with the country from abroad, and then the big upliftment that took place in the struggle from 76 on with the Soweto Uprising. So one's got to consider this in terms of what we had experienced in the previous period of time, and how then with 83, with the mass struggle now beginning to take off in a really big way, how this would affect our strategic thinking vis a vis the armed struggle, which is the paramount, central issue for that whole period of time. And the way it had been visualised, its development and so on, somewhat abstractly for various reasons -- low level of mass struggle, exile situation. So that clearly, what was now happening was the struggle of the masses was making itself felt and this, inevitably, had an impact on our visualisation and perceptions. And I think I would be correct to say at that stage you start seeing us talking very strongly, speeches, statements, radio and the like, about people's war, people's struggle -- not for the first time, but now sensing (it was a question of our sensing) that here at last was the possibility of beginning to link up armed struggle with the mass struggle. This was the key element, then, in post-83. And the question then was how to reinforce the township eruptions, the township uprisings, the local uprisings with our combat forces. And this is now taking place at a time when we found that our underground structures, which I would say had been neglected to a certain degree -- or rather, let me say, the work related to building an underground, whilst on the agenda since the mid-70s with certain structures given the task of doing this, that this was also in actual fact so secondary, even though important people were involved in it like Mac Maharaj, for instance, who was very vitally involved (it isn't a question of saying that he wasn't conceiving of the need to build that underground). But the movement as a whole had been failing to give the necessary personnel and resources and emphasis to building that underground. I would say, you know, failing to in practice make it the priority task. So now, in the period you are asking me about, where we are seeing the need to reinforce the mass struggle with armed struggle, we are finding that because our underground had not developed to the necessary degree that this then made it difficult to capitalise fully on the situation. And many of the cadres, MK cadres who were being infiltrated at that time, 83-86, really were having to look after themselves. They would have to go into the country and resolve their problems themselves without the help of an underground. In other words, in a sense, starting from scratch: the question of contacts, reception, developing of networks to help them; that in the main these were not there; making this very difficult. And I would say for this reason we weren't adequately able to exploit the situation. Anyway, to get back to the point then, so, whilst the period made us realise how possible it was now becoming to link armed struggle to the mass struggle, the problems encountered also began to make us understand how indispensable a strong underground was. So I'd say the period 83-86 begins to force us to focus our attention on these key questions in terms of development of our forces at home.
Can you tell me what emerged over this period 83-86 as the appropriate relationship under SA conditions between the concept of people's war and the insurrectionary possibilities?
Well, the very fact that the masses, the township people, the workers, the youth were exhibiting a capacity to rise in their areas, in the townships, to challenge the authority of the state, to challenge the local city councillors and throw them out, throw out the black police, to take on the army, the SA police force, to take control of their areas, build the barricades, organise the street committees, the self-defence units, utilise barricade tactics and other street fighting tactics, was very clear proof of the fact that the township people of South Africa have a potential for insurrection, using the term now with regard to the whole question of an uprising. A national uprising is the sum of its parts, and if key townships display spontaneously the quality and ability of an uprising, then clearly one is talking about a whole social class, group, strata of people who so recognise the forms of oppression and the necessary forms of resistance that one sees in this a very profound revolutionary statement -- of people being prepared to engage in an uprising against authority. This is the key element of any uprising. Spontaneous in the main, we saw how it took off from Katlehong and the Vaal Triangle and how it spread to the Reef, and then to the other parts of the country -- Eastern Cape, Western Cape and then to the Durban area. Sometimes into small Cape towns like Fort Beaufort, how it spread later into rural areas of the Transvaal. I would say it goes back in SA history -- and we have actually seen earlier elements of this in the Pondo rebellion, in the Soweto uprising in 76 -- and therefore one is looking at, for me, an essential ingredient for the seizure of power in SA. All revolution must base itself on the role of the masses, the role of the people, the role of the working class, the youth, the advanced sections. So in 83-86, the masses are in the ascendancy and they are knocking on the door of power; it's insurrection knocking on the door. The question of people's war, which we were using in the period before this, in the late 70s, I would say is rather a term that we took up through our international experiences, Vietnam in particular, and we were very excited about the notion of how a guerilla war can become people's war, a la Vietnam. I don't think that, when we were talking about people's war pre-83-86 period, we conceived so much of the potential of uprising, of insurrection in South Africa -- that one was talking about people's war as being a natural evolvement from lower scale guerilla war, and it would evolve out of combat actions and the guerillas organising people. We did have in mind the idea of partial insurrections of the Vietnamese model. But I want to stress, Howard, in terms of my own view of the time and I would say the way I understood my colleagues thinking and our writings of that time: that it was very much a people's war that flowed out of the consequences of a lower intensity guerilla struggle of a protracted time beginning to build up the forces for armed struggle. The insurrectionary tendencies of 83-86 didn't flow out of that at all. I'm not saying in that, categorically, that it had no link with MK's combat activity -- clearly it did. MK's combat actions over its entire history, and particularly in the period 76-83 popularised the ANC and MK and the idea of armed struggle. This was a tremendous contribution. But the way the people rose up in 83-86 isn't simply the result of armed propaganda actions, blows like Sasol and Voortrekkerhoogte; it was based within the whole contradictions of the system and the people's resistance and struggle for liberation, and so on. And I wouldn't say that they were simply trying to follow an example of MK combatants hitting the police when they rose up to deal with the collaborators and councillors and then the forces of so-called Law and Order. So, this insurrectionary wave them served to remind us that the potential lay not simply in its being engendered out of a so-called classical guerilla struggle or war of the bush, to which our thinking was more attuned in the early period, but rather as an example of uprisings in history -- whether it goes back to the French revolution and the uprising that took place on July 14 1789, which was a popular uprising of the people of Paris against privilege and the ancient regime, to similar uprisings throughout history of the poor and the oppressed of the towns and the rural areas against a state authority or a local authority. What was being demonstrated was the oppressed people in SA's potential to respond to their oppression in that way through local uprisings based on their residential areas. is this answering your questioning?
Excellent. I am going to direct you more now. You once gave me a formulation which I though was excellent. You said to me that, for you, people's war in SA was the gathering of forces for national insurrection. Now, I've adapted that and come up with the following formulation: that people's war in the SA context is the protracted gathering, development and engagement of insurrectionary forces and tactics. How would you respond to your formulation and the one I have given you?
Just repeat it again.
Your formulation was
The gathering of forces, yes,
My one is that people's war in South Africa over this period is the protracted gathering, development and engagement of tactics and forces for national insurrection.
Yes, I think that is something that I find quite interesting. It follows on from the formulation that I referred to, and it situates the question of people's war in a very broad way, I think in a broad way. Because, what I have said earlier about people's war and our concept of it earlier is something which I would elaborate on now, approaching what you've said. And that is that people's war in SA is not simply a guerilla, kind of guerilla concept, which we might have seen it as -- its evolvement out of a kind of guerilla struggle -- but rather, evolvement out (and this is where I like your formulation), evolvement out of a whole historic struggle in which all forms and methods of struggle have combined over the years to help build up the forces, in terms of the consciousness of the adherents of the people, of the leaders, and as well as the popular organisations, the underground structures, the combat formations. So that the build-up of all those forces over many years and over many experiences could be very aptly described as the build-up, as the gathering of forces of people's war over a protracted period; that this total sum of experience and structures would create the insurrectionary forces which are required to seize power. So. it's very good, Howard.
I'd like to deal with the same point in a slightly different way.
I really like this formulation, you know, it's very helpful.
If we look at the way the ANC understood people's war in the pre- 76  period, there seemed to be several elements to the understanding. One is that people's war would be protracted; secondly that the examples which the ANC is dealing with have had people's war which has been based mainly in the countryside, and which have resulted from guerilla bands engaging the enemy, clearing
Creating liberated territory, that kind of thing
Then there is the third element, which is the requirement that all, or as many, people as possible -- all oppressed or all democratic forces -- become involved in this struggle in whatever way is appropriate in the process of a gradual transformation to their being armed with the means to actually engage the central state, OK, or the colonial power. Now there are those three basic elements which seem to form the ANC's understanding. Do you agree with me that, after 76 (should read 83], perhaps, even to some extent in the lead-up to 76, the ANC more and more, ditches, or let's say, moves away from the understanding of people's war being rurally based Does that process take place? The necessity for the rural element remains, but increasingly the ANC
I think of the rural element, that is not clear-cut, certainly not as early as 76. I would say, that post 83-84. And I'm speaking personally. Perhaps just with some of us, the view that the struggle -- particularly, we are talking here about even the armed element of the struggle -- would be exhibited to far greater degree in the urban context than in the rural context, although the rural context must not be removed or rejected up to this point in time, and I shouldn't think ever. But, of course, we are talking about emphasis. And I would clearly state to you that, from 61 on, particularly the idea of guerilla warfare developing in the countryside was a preoccupation, with sabotage activity and some elements of urban guerilla warfare in the urban areas; that, once you had the Rivonia blow and the elimination of our internal structures from the period post 63, the thinking is very much along the Castro line of building guerilla bases in the countryside. I would say that, after 76, although we saw that perhaps the main emphasis was hitting the enemy in the urban areas, there was a strong feeling that guerilla warfare could only really take off in the countryside, and there were attempts made along those lines. These did not really flower, but perhaps the reason is not because of the rural areas per se, but rather because of the absence of structures in the rural areas able to link combatants to the rural people, and that is still my very strongly held view to this day: that rural areas in SA do have the potential for guerilla struggle but that what is crucially required are the structures that will serve those combatants and link them with the local people. There are a lot of areas in SA, rural areas, which would provide such potential; and I think we will see this occurring. But what SA's terrain showed was that it was not possible for guerilla units to go into so-called virgin territory and begin to create a foco, kind of Debray idea, or the idea of Che [Guevara] in Bolivia. Where that is possible, you need very favourable rural conditions, and of course one needs a friendly neighbouring border which we don't have either of those. And because we lacked the underground structures and presence in the rural areas, it was not proved possible for our combatants who went into the countryside to fully develop. I think this is what practice showed in the whole period under review; earlier, the period earlier, and even the period from 76 on, to the mid 1980s. Does that answer your question? The rural aspect?
It was the rural element that I was mainly interested in and you have answered it. Now, in October 1987 which is, what, 10 months after my period ends, the NEC then comes out with a statement on negotiating positions of the ANC, in other words, the conditions and terms under which the ANC sees it as being sensible either to talk to various forces or to negotiate. Until then, there are various articles which are written, among them my own, which quote ANC people on the issue of negotiations. Briefly, how over this period, when the possibilities of talks with elements from the generalised enemy, or the possibility of talks with the state begin to emerge, how does the movement see the relationship, at this stage between the maintenance and development of revolutionary pressures and the issue of negotiations. I am really looking for a brief formulation of the how the movement sees this.
Up to October 87?
No, that is the first time the movement formally comes out with
So you are asking for which period?
Between 83-86 -- in other words, in about 85 when you start with the talks with Relly and those people, talks with the PFP; there are other elements from the ruling bloc, say heads of corporations with whom the ANC holds talks, but there are also talks then with progressive forces like the unions. Now, I am leaving aside progressive forces like the unions. I'm interested in how the ANC sees the interlink between, on the one hand, talking to elements from within the ruling bloc and, on the other, the maintenance of revolutionary pressures.
Well, I would say that the question of talking to elements within the ruling bloc falls very squarely into the strategy of the movement, to isolate the enemy, the most reactionary elements of that ruling bloc, in the government. And it's the movement's first consideration -- not the question of talking to them to set up a negotiating instrument or process, but as part of a strategy to isolate the enemy. Clearly within such an approach, you are going to have these elements from within the ruling bloc raising the question about are you prepared to talk. And I think this is when we begin to start evaluating that aspect and formulating a clearer and more sophisticated approach, bearing in mind that our movement has never been an extremist Maoist movement on the question of the barrel of the gun thesis. And, going right back onto the ANC's history, and the programme of the Communist Party of 62, one sees ample evidence of the fact that there was always the understanding that, at some stage in a struggle such as ours, where the enemy would not be physically eliminated on the battle field, that some form of talks would occur. So, between the time that Mandela and the other leaders were calling for a national convention, the beginning of the 60s and even addressing a letter to Verwoerd at the time, and the party coming out with its programme and formulation in 62, between that time and the famous pilgrimage to Lusaka by the first party of businessmen, I can't recall any serious discussion I ever took part in about the question of negotiations. So it is clear that 85 is a watershed in regard to that, and the ANC begins addressing this very seriously, as indeed it needs to be seriously considered.
Now, the approach from the businessmen must have come in mid-85, about July. No, it must have come before July. I think it must have come in about June of 85. And it takes place about two months later -- in about August or September. What was the nature of the debate that took place -- was there a serious debate at the level of leadership in the ANC over having received the approach and how to respond to it?
Oh, very serious, but not problematic. No division at all to this date. here was an approach. And you are talking about a tried and tested, if not a very mature movement. Notwithstanding the fact that, as I have said, for all those years this possibility -- and it was always going to be a possibility, but events now as a result of 83 and the uprisings had now accelerated this tendency and this trend in the ruling bloc -- it now suddenly had appeared in its concrete form. And there was no problem within our ranks regarding this. I think that the ANC leadership, the leadership of our whole national liberation movement, being so mature through the whole history of our struggle and the problems and the forms it's taken, that no matter what new change occurs -- and life produces some very funny changes -- that nothing really catches the leadership of this movement by surprise where there is a sudden inability to respond. I say, using the term in a good sense, it is a very cool and sober leadership. I'm speaking personally and very seriously; it's not a question of propaganda on my part. I've seen it happen. And I think this is the nature of the kind of mature leadership, of a rich, profound struggle such as hours. So, putting it on the record to you, right out on the line that there was no such problems, and there has been no such problem within our leadership ever since. It doesn't mean there are no passionate debates and interesting debates and so on. I think it's amongst perhaps our rank and file cadres who are having to operate in underground and difficult situations, and in far-flung areas of exile, younger cadres who at times find it strange or paradoxical and will raise the questions; but it has never been a difficult one to then answer. All we need to do and have to do is answer it in a very clear way and in a full way, and I have worked with young people in the camps and in the army for a long, many years, and I have never found we have had a problem with comrades refusing to understand the change of policy, the development of policy -- rather the development of policy, it's not that policy has been changed.
Could we now move onto a different matter altogether, although it is to do with the young people. Now, post-76, there is this huge outflow of people into the ANC. If one looks at the generational profile of the ANC, you've got the older leadership, there is then a relatively thin layer of two generations, sort of 40-year-olds and 30-year-olds; then you get this huge outflow of youth in 76. That tails off, as I understand it, in about late 77; then there is another big upsurge and outflow in 80-81-82; that tails off, and then you get another huge outflow in 84. And perhaps we can call these generations a,b, and c -- these three big outflows of people. Now, what I'm interested to know is, this generational profile of the ANC, post-76, how does this mass of youth and this relative lack of, or thin intervening generations: How did this affect the ANC's ability to put forward tactical perspectives? I'm interested in items like this: you don't have a crop of 30 year-olds, instead you've got 20-year-olds. How does it affect your ability to reproduce a command structure inside the country, to administer your affairs properly, to mount particular kinds of operations. What is the effect of this on the movement? How does it affect the ANC's tactical options? You don't have a large middle stratum: you've got this top stratum and then you've got this new stratum.
Well, I don't quite frankly see it as such a problem. It's a problem if the older comrades are unable to communicate and get onto the same wavelength as the younger generation; then it becomes a problem. But it's not a problem I've encountered, Howard. I think you have met people like Chris Hani, Joe Slovo, Mac Maharaj. Do you find them having any problem in communicating with, say, the 20-year olds?
You don't. My own experience is based on beginning to instruct in the camps in 77 in Angola. Now, I'm getting on for 40, and I'm instructing the 76 generation. So, there are young people from 17-year-olds to early 20s. Those in their early 20s are my very close friends to this day. And we are talking about a generation then -- what you are calling your first generation -- who were more imbued with the ideas of black consciousness than your second and third generations. And you know Mzala, the other comrades of this kind, who are very strong-minded and militant -- they had some degree of surprise when it was people like Jack Simons and myself coming to instruct them, and of course the other comrades like the Jacob Zumas who were meeting them in Maputo and giving them their first political instruction, etc, talking to them about the Freedom Charter and so on, they had initial problems; they found it amazing that they were being told that South Africa belonged to black and white. But it didn't take them long to understand the reality of that. And I had controversy with them, just by way of lively discussions. But no problems of generational gaps or ideology. In fact, they were incredibly responsive. But, in answer to your general question, I wanted to just tell you about a conversation that occurred. Two young intellectuals (in quotes), two young comrades who later became political instructors and had been in the universities, and after I'd been lecturing them on the history post 60, the development of MK and so on, they asked me, after a very lively class, why it was that they had never heard about these things. They were born in 1960 -- right, late 50s -- that their parents had never spoken about these things. So we are talking about a generation that was, in a sense, blank about the history of the struggle, the role of the ANC, of MK in the earlier period. And my answer and explanation to them was accepted and understood. And it was that they were born and grew up in a period of great repression when the organ [break in tape]
(end of side A)
as a result of the disappearances of people, people who'd been arrested and executed, the intimidation and so on. And, when I explained this and I said, tell me, when the Soweto Uprising began and the strike movement before it, didn't perhaps some of your uncles or grandparents start claiming that they had been in the ANC and it was like the old days and, when I spurred them on in that way, it provoked a response and provoked their memories, and they said, that's right, my cousin, my uncle, yes he started claiming that he had been in the ANC. But what struck me was the extent to which that generation had really grown up with the absence of that kind of political culture, and yet the situation had really propelled them into the most militant form of struggle and into joining the ANC in order to learn to fight with arms.
How would you classify or characterise the qualities and deficiencies of these three periods, the cadres who come out in these three periods I have spoken of?
Well, the Soweto generation, the older comrades appeared to have a better degree of education and skill than the subsequent generations -- notwithstanding Bantu Education -- they had at least gone through a period of uninterrupted schooling. So the ones, in fact, who became the new leaders and, by the way, the commanders of MK, the most capable, those who came into our different structures and departments, some who are today chief reps in various countries, others who are in key positions in the underground and MK, they tended to be those who had already got into universities, or where they were workers, had had a fairly good number of years of education and then of some training at the workplace. So they had a greater degree of skill and education, and this, of course, meant that they were leadership quality. They lacked the political knowledge and information, and they also lacked the experience of working in organisations. But they certainly made up for the lack of historical political information very quickly. Because that is something a receptive mind can learn in a very short period of time, which was the case. A few months in the camps, training or various kinds, political instruction. The next group, again who I knew pretty well, we are talking about your second category -- 1980 I would say -- we are talking of the group, now, post-Soweto, on its heels -- I can remember the detachments that I instructed in Angola in 1979, such comrades, I am thinking of somebody who has just been sentenced to eight years imprisonment in Bethal, Pumla Williams, a wonderful young female, came into our camps as a 16- year-old in about 1979-78-79. That particular generation, you see, had interrupted schooling. However, they were much more politically aware than the preceding generation on coming out of the country; they were much clearer than the ANC. They tended to now already now have some involvement in community struggle, youth struggle. Your third generation is the one that's had the greatest difficulties from the point of view of education, incredibly interrupted education, and having enormous problems as a result with just basic schooling. The Soweto generation, if for example we are talking about ability with English, was much better versed in English than, say, in this third generation where you would find maybe a very high degree of the comrades not really having a very good understanding of English. And, in terms of the basic schooling, having very big gaps in their education which, of course, then made it difficult for more more advanced levels of training and political study, of specialisation abroad and so on. But, you find in this particular generation the most outstanding cadres from the point of view of experience of the struggles at home, of working particularly in the youth congress, of having been involved in street committees, sometimes in the people's courts, in street fighting groups, in the mass democratic movement -- really excellent calibre of young people with the understanding of mass work. So, when you look through the three generations, you find that the graph rises in terms of experience of organisation but that the line declines in terms of education.
That's very interesting.
I would say that, personality wise, they are all the same. Yes, they've got humour, vitality, confidence, courage -- little bit of a problem vis a vis initiative with our young people, I mean because of lacking confidence in terms of education. I'm not saying this generally, but it's a factor which we have to pay attention to; to help them to develop that initiative. Of course, there are comrades who are delightful with regard to the way they can innovate, and they have learnt it on the streets. Those with innovation, those with initiative, tend to be those who are more street-wise than others, and it's that kind of comrade who shows the ability to actually be given responsibility, this enormous responsibility which is required if you are going to, after training, get somebody into the country and have to survive and build up the underground and the combat structures and have to outwit the enemy.
We need more streetwise people. OK, I would like now to move to deal with the development of ANC operational organisation from the formation of the RC in 1969. My understanding is that, when the RC is formed in 1969, military headquarters per se, is disbanded. I want to develop up to the discussions about parallelism and integration. But, in order to get there, I would like a reasonable understanding of the development of the organisational forms of ANC operational machineries outside the country over this period from 69 to 83 and the PMC, then the restructuring of the PMC after the Kabwe conference. I could tell you what I have heard and you can correct me. I'd prefer it, however, if you would speak on it.
Yes, let me speak. What I want to say to you is that I am not really on the scene here in Africa -- you know I was in London -- in that period 69. To get a view of the way the RC functioned, and then the changes, a guy like JS, who was on the spot, would be better, more accurate.
I have raised this issue with him; it's just that I am coming across contradictory accounts of what happened
Yes, right, so I don't want to make you think that I am the repository of accuracy in this regard. As I understand it -- and my view of it, in fact -- the RC functions as a very large, in number, leadership structure. And the comrades on that RC were leading members of the ANC as well as leaders of the SACP, like Dadoo and Slovo, and therefore were there as NEC people or leaders of the Party, but in their individual capacities, plus a very large number of comrades who in that whole period of time, had specific functions and had their own separate departments which, in those days, were quite small. Let's say, if it was ordinance, Jacob Masondo, or communications, Jackie Molefe. And we had the internal reconstruction department of John Pule, Andrew Motsabi, Mac Maharaj. You had the central headquarters of Slovo and Modise. So it was a leadership corps, with departments which carried out their functions and worked to fulfil their plans, and I wouldn't say, had very much more to do with each other, other than when they were in that RC. So, below the RC, there might have been a very large number of structures, departments, but not working very closely together according to a plan. Of course, servicing one another, communications and ordinance and so on, but tending to have specific tasks with their own machineries in forward areas -- like military machineries under the operations, political machineries under internal reconstruction; there was also of course the security organs, Mazwai Piliso was on the RC as the head, as well as being an NEC man. But I wouldn't say that, below the RC there was the well-formulated organisational structure servicing a very clearcut plan for seizure of power. Those departments had more or less evolved out of practical necessity, rather than strategic necessity in the period after 69. Then comes the 1980 period where, under the RC, recognising the need now to be better organised and to make a more planned effort at building our forces inside the country, the senior organs are created in the forward areas in order to coordinate the work of the various departments in each forward area. So, this development organisationally is in terms of coordination. It is not the merging of forces but, rather, having an organ which can plan for a specific zone inside the country and, under it, have its specialised military and specialised political organs which were separate machineries, absolutely. But a senior organ structure was meant to ensure that coordination on the ground was better. 83 sees the
Before we get on to 83, I'd like to now, it's important to understand to what extent these senior organs represented a coordinated or integrated kind of machinery. What was the line of communication. Was it from the secretary of the [RC] to the secretary of the senior organ, and then to the political or military machineries? Or was it the military people on the RC who communicated directly with the military section of the senior organ, etc, and likewise with the political section? That line of communication, of commands and directives, is obviously important.
Yes, it was from the secretary of the RC to the secretary of the senior organ.
Who would then see to its dispatch to the appropriate political or military machinery?
That's right, yes. Of course, and this may be where you are finding some contradictions, in practice, very often, this might have fallen down -- because we didn't want to create obstacles in relation to how a political leadership in Lusaka or military leadership was relating to its substructures.
So there would have been a lot of flexibility in the line of communications?
Well, there was meant to be this single line from the secretary to the secretary, but, you know, the nature of struggle over a vast area, lengthy lines of communication, very easily mean that at times there was more of a direct relationship which was never prevented or prohibited anyway. It was just that the essence of this, the principle of this, is that the RC should be relaying its commands, its instructions to the senior organ. And therefore, naturally, that would be through a secretary to a secretary. And then, of course, members of the RC, as leaders, would come to see senior organs and speak to them and give them instructions. So it wasn't only the secretary who was doing this -- that would be impossible. Leaders were needed to go to all the forward areas and have direct communication.
Now after the Soweto uprising, or at the time of the Soweto uprising, I understand that there was no military headquarters on the RC. There is a kind of military-type administration. After the Soweto uprising, I understand a thing called an operations unit is set up which, in my understanding, comprises initially at the top Modise and Slovo.
Yes, central headquarters. I think it was called the central headquarters command, something of that nature.
Which amounts to the constitution of a kind of military headquarters.
But basically for dealing with operations. This is the point. It was for operational purposes. Later on, military headquarters which emerges in 83, is now in charge of Umkhonto in the camps and training. This central headquarters of Slovo and Modise didn't deal with that. [It was] operational command.
Now that is set up, do you remember precisely when? Middle of 76?
Yes, I think it must have been around then.
Now, this operations headquarters continue to operate as such through the armed propaganda campaign up until
Is that what is was called?
Well, that is what it is being called
Now? I don't know if it was called that then. Yes, carry on.
What was it called then?
I think the idea was simply to carry out armed actions against the enemy, and some of these, one could neatly state, were
Yes, armed propaganda.
What, for you, is the difference between armed propaganda and armed sabotage?
Well, that's rhetorical, armed sabotage -- well, mind you, it's not rhetorical. [It's] called sabotage when you don't use weapons, when you throw in a tool in machinery or switch a lever off that's going to foul the works -- that's an act of cold sabotage. No, well, an armed propaganda action should be considered as in contrast to, say, an armed action as such, which would be an action aimed at eliminating the enemy in battle, in an ambush or through a raid -- combat action of that kind. Whereas an armed propaganda action could simply be blowing up a structure which is doing nothing more than exciting people -- let's say blowing up a statue, carrying out an action which is basically inspiring the people because it's a blow against a symbol of the regime: non-human. Because, of course, if you are assassinating a wicked element, that, of course, is an elimination because of a need of the struggle as such, as opposed to an action which is basically to arouse and inspire people, pure and simple. So your sabotage is a different thing, because sabotage is something that takes place against the enemy's resources, communications, economy and so on.
Do, let's go now please to the beginning of 1983 when the RC is replaced by the PMC, in its first form. Why is the RC disbanded then?
Well, I think that the movement now sees the need to have a more developed structure, not simply at the top. Now, you'll remember I said that the RC and its departments had been developed and evolved over 10 years of practical need, and I felt that those departments weren't really working to such a formulated plan, programme. Now, in 83, the movement is finding the need to conceptualise the idea of people's war, of seizure of power in much more concrete way than in the past, the need to link up with the mass struggle, and the need to have structures capable of fulfilling such tasks, more elaborate tasks, the need to relate in a more elaborate way the major structures of the movement dealing with the internal situation. That is the internal underground structures, in other words the political, the military, the security and intelligence. So, with the creation of the PMC, there's the development of such structures and the working out of the common approach and strategy and plan under a PMC whose purpose is to direct the tasks of those structures in a more effective way than is the case under the RC -- in order to meet, as I, said the growing needs of our movement. [break in tape]
I would also say that the comrades who were fashioning this PMC, elaborating on how it should be structured, had in mind an understanding of what we call "military combat work", the need for a revolutionary movement to have a central leadership with direct command and control over all its forces and departments. And the PMC expresses that desire, although, the way I see it, it didn't fully do the job.
Before we get there, to what extent in the formation of the RC [should read, the PMC] was the following a factor: that various frontline states said they wanted to know precisely who the command structure was of MK, so that they could deal with people on a direct military to military basis?
Well, the PMC would have been formed anyway. What you are talking about here is not the formation of a leadership structure as a sub-department of the PMC, but rather the fact that it is now given the full blown title of Military Headquarters with commander and his chief of staff and other staff figures. The development of the struggle in the region. The emergence of Zimbabwe as a liberated country, for example, led to these states requesting that an ANC military leadership should meet their own military people. So, for the ANC, therefore, that then was a response, that we should give such titles and define our military leadership at that high level -- of being a full-blown military headquarters. This is not to say that we would not have had a more developed military command under the PMC at that time. But I think perhaps the expectations that I have referred to certainly led to the need to have such a more advanced military headquarters.
If we look at the structure of the PMC when it is first created in 1983, there's a military headquarters and a political headquarters, and they are communicating into the forward areas with political structures and military structures which are separate. What is the reason for this clear parallelism at that point?
Well, one can see that there was a need for the leadership of these structures to have direct contact with their forces on the ground, particularly the military. So we are talking here about a question which has faced many liberation movements and revolutionary organisations, and that is whether the military command has direct communication with its sub organs. That actually sounds natural -- it's quite a strong argument. Because if you are waging an armed struggle, what is absolutely necessary is immediate command and control of your forces. So it is not so easy to dismiss the notion that a military headquarters should have that kind of link. And I think on the force of that argument, this contact was decided on. Of course, what is central to the argument is what stage one has reached. Because one might argue that this was premature, that the armed struggle had not developed to the degree to which we needed a military headquarters of a full-blown kind.
What stage would have had to be reached for that?
At the more open stage of armed struggle, meaning at a more advanced stage of armed struggle. It's quite a complex area, but I believe this is the nub of the problem: that, and it goes back to your own formulation of the protracted build-up of forces for people's war. I've already stated to you that, clearly, there is absolutely no argument against this: at a certain stage, a military command must have its own immediate, direct command and control of its forces. No military struggle can be waged without that. But, relevant to our argument here and the problem under review, is the fact that what's a priority in our type of struggle is a solid underground to lead that struggle inside the country, that that underground is the key to the real advance of people's war and possibility of insurrection. And that means that that underground must be building the forces for struggle, for people's war, for insurrection on the ground at home.
Can we just stop there a moment?
(end of side B)
OK, we are still dealing with the issue of this parallelism.
So, that underground must be your instrument for building the forces for people's war and insurrection on the ground. As those forces begin to grow and are capable of promoting that multi- faceted struggle and that armed struggle, at that stage of more open armed struggle, and I'll tell you what I mean by that in a minute, so then you begin to have the need for a more direct control of such forces through a military leadership, which would then be based inside the country anyway. Because you can't command such forces from outside in the real sense. Of course, you can always give direction and leadership, but full command can't take place that way. But, at the open stage of armed struggle, when that armed struggle has combat forces, rural and urban, which are waging a more or less continuous war -- that's an open stage -- we haven't reached that. That's why our stage of armed struggle is always regarded as more low intensity -- it's not a continuous armed struggle. And therefore one could say, or I would argue, that it was premature to conceive of a military headquarters in contrast to say a military committee -- but a full-blown military headquarters with its separate line of communication to ITS combat forces on the ground. And that's my answer to the argument that the direct line was needed and therefore the parallel lines which were created.
Ok, so the point that then arises is: after this formation of the PMC in 1983, you have this parallelism, separate military and separate political committees in the forward areas. The priority is to build the underground, according to many, many people in the ANC. But these separate political and military structures in the forward areas don't seem to lend themselves to the construction of the necessary underground. Can you deal with the issue.
Well, the need to develop the armed struggle and see this visibly has meant that the major resources and talents and cadres would go to the military structures. And I would say that by far the tremendous amount of resources, by comparison, would therefore have been allocated to that aspect of the struggle with the building of the underground taking second place -- even though we were paying lip service to the fact of building the underground as the most necessary thing, our priority, our principle need. I don't think, to this day, this has been the case; and we are not allocating the necessary resources. There has been an improvement over the last year or so. And an underground is developing. But we still have the problem of looking at the armed struggle and building the underground as though they are two different things. Now, it comes back to the question of the concept of people's war and insurrection, the concept of the armed struggle and the mass struggle in our situation. Take the question of a military headquarters which you have addressed questions to. I want to elaborate on that because I think that herein lies the crux of the problem. This is by no means saying that we shouldn't have a military leadership -- we have to, it is vital to the development of our combat forces, the preparation of our armed forces and so on. But, I referred earlier to the concept of a classical guerilla war or a bush war which practice has shown us is not the kind of armed struggle that can develop in South Africa; that the situation and the insurrectionary period 83-86 that ours has more the potential for the uprising. Now, a full-blown military hq, to justify its existence, must have combat forces under its command and control waging a war from day-to-day, waging continuous war. Where you have jungle war, a bush war, a classical guerilla war taking place, as happened in Vietnam, Mozambique, Angola, Algeria and so on, so you have the need for a full-blown military command or hq existing for years, before the collapse of the colonial power or the seizure of power -- you have that for years. Because of the ongoing armed struggle, the continuous armed struggle. So that is the one category which requires the full-blown military hq. The other is very different, and that's where you have an underground struggle with certain combat elements, but by no means taking place on a daily basis -- maybe sometimes just from week to week, some three or four actions in a country. But an underground struggle building up over a protracted period, building up an d gathering its forces for an uprising of an insurrectionary type -- in other words, a mass uprising with a very important element of the armed factor, combat forces, with sections of the masses having recourse to weapons and so on. It's at the time of such an uprising when the underground, when the revolutionary movement considers that the time has come to launch an uprising that the combat forces of the underground must be put under the direct command and control of the insurrectionary committee, in other words the military command. And it is that time when you suddenly have the emergence of a military headquarters or centre which is now directing that uprising. Because the uprising is not directed simply by the national underground committee of the movement. It requires a specialist organ, which has been developing and has been responsible for seeing that the combat forces of the movement are being developed, trained, supplied with weapons, etc. But it is only at the moment, in the period when it has become possible to make the call for the uprising that the underground can hand those combat -- or rather that those combat forces come under the direct command now of that supreme military organ of the movement or the party. Now, if you look at our situation, you find that we are neither of those -- we are neither flesh nor fowl in relation to this. We've had a military headquarters emerge, perhaps prematurely, which has considered that the nature of its existence is to command and control the forces under it. But those very forces will only emerge in SA if they are created and built by the underground structures inside the country. And this, I believe, practice is showing us and will show us: that that's the way to develop the combat forces. That those combat elements, cadres that do go into the country from outside, if they don't come under the underground -- and our underground has been weak and not strong enough to absorb them all -- have had to develop from scratch, create their own structures. And, if they are only going to create structures which can assist them to carry out combat activity, they become isolated from the mass struggle, and simply as combat organs trying to survive in an environment and terrain unsuited to classical guerilla warfare, encounter enormous problems of actually managing to carry out the activity of survival and of linkage with the masses. So, to survive, they actually have to come under the command of the underground. And that underground is being built and is under the direction of a political instrument outside the country, and not under the military hq.
Can I pick up something at this stage? At the beginning of 83, I've heard from other people, that the ANC could say, with reasonable credibility, that the distribution of underground units inside the country in touch in some way with outside covered almost the entire country; that, almost in all centres of any meaning, there was the presence of an underground unit of some kind or another. Does that accord with your understanding?
Well, we've got to talk about an underground really capable of giving leadership.
Yes, that I understand, and this is the point I'm getting to. My understanding of the structure of the underground in 83 would be that it was a variety of what we could call largely isolated ANC units reporting to and linked to the outside. There was very little lateral, no perhaps one should say coordination of the underground inside the country, of itself.
I think what you are trying to say is, when you talk about little of the lateral connection is that, because they were small units, isolated from each other, with a myriad of links to outside, there wasn't a cohesive underground inside the country capable of giving proper leadership to the masses and it wasn't an underground which was consolidated; it wasn't one single underground. It was simply a number of disparate units with their individual lines of communication to outside. That's not an underground capable of commanding the respect of the masses, of having the authority and ability to lead the masses. It did a commendable job. Our underground presence inside the country goes back now -- it's been very difficult to build -- it goes back many years now. There's a lot of evidence of their successes, of giving certain leadership, in being involved in developing mass organs, of issuing propaganda, of being involved in combat operations. But what is lacking at that stage is a more cohesive underground where you could talk about, say, a city underground committee, or a regional underground committee. This is where you begin to give proper leadership on the ground. Now we didn't have that. That was the weakness.
That's what I thought. Can we move on now the difficulties that start arising with the formation of these separate political and military lines of command, and move to a seminar which, I understand takes place, of political people working in the political area -- just before Nkomati, I am told (perhaps you could correct me on the date if I am wrong) -- and of the military section just after Nkomati, both of which come out in favour of a more integrated approach. Can you just deal with the feeling which is emerging at this stage?
Yes, sure. They were both before Nkomati. I attended both. Oh, no, I didn't attend both but they were both before Nkomati -- certainly the military one was in January.
Oh, really, because the political one was, I am told, definitely before Nkomati.
The military one was in January in Luanda.
Yes, late January 84. Well, the thinking that emerged in both had developed over quite a number of years from the cadres on the ground, those who had been involved in forward area structures and those at home. It was that what was needed was have now come to be called integrated structures. By that, we are not talking about one form of structure, just simply military and political together. We are still talking about the need for specialisation: to have combat forces, to have intelligence and security organs, to have organs building the underground, dealing with mass work, with propaganda, and so on. But, by integration, we are talking about one leadership core, or structure, responsible for all the units and speicalised organs under it, through one line of command and control, through one communication line. That integrated leadership is one which is capable of giving instructions for the all-round waging of the struggle and the development of the specialisations required: combat, political, intelligence, security, work within the enemy forces, mass work and so on, propaganda. Having forces under it which can actually carry out those tasks. And that integrated leadership would also need a certain specialisation. For instance, it would need a subcommittee dealing with combat work; it would need a suborgan dealing with the development of the political underground, of intelligence, of security. But none of these would be in direct command and control and communication with the suborgans. Those would all fall under the centralised leadership organ of the ANC. Whether this was the case in a forward area, or the case in terms of a city area committee or a city committee, underground committee of the ANC. So, although it might not have been described fully that way, it's been described since, and comrades argued for this kind of structure -- those who were in favour of integration. What was clear and came over very strongly at that time was an end to the parallel lines, not an end to the specialisation. But that the subunits should come under the control of one body
So would these different commissions then, in this envisaged structure, not have executive control
No, only the central integrated organ. They would be subcommittees of that organ. Which is why, at the highest level, you would have a military commission or committee, and not a military headquarters. That military headquarters would emerge under conditions I have already described.
What, then, would be the line of communication? Would it be from the secretary of the top organ to the appropriate
Sure, [to the] secretary of a lower committee. Now this again accords with the kind of underground struggle being waged in South Africa -- underground, of course, and mass struggle. But we are concentrating here on how the underground struggle should function and be structured, and how it should handle the development of its combat capacity, which would be handled through such a structure.
Now, is this the kind of argument that was coming forward from these military cadres and political cadres, who had been on the ground, at these seminars?
Yes, the essence was the argument against the parallelism, and the need for this central organ. It's only in more recent years that the structure the way I have described it has been formulated.
The one you gave me a few moments ago -- so that is a latter development?
I would say 1986 period.
What changes then come about to correct this parallelism? What decisions are taken, and when, and how are they supposed to correct this parallelism?
Well, as you've mentioned, the Kabwe conference, there was a proposal made by a commission dealing with the internal struggle, the internal structures.
Before you go on, can I please check: weren't the RPMCs actually formed before Kabwe?
No, the RPMCs were formed under the PMC in 1983. That's when the RPMCs
The RPMCs were formed then?
Under the PMC in 1983.
But I thought there were then separate military committees and separate political committees in 1983.
No, no. let's just spell it out for you. Remember, we had the senior organs which were the first development towards recognising the need for greater integration, certainly in terms of leadership. And that was in 1980. And under the senior organs, we had separate political and military committees. Then in 1983, under the PMC, the senior organs were dissolved. And what was created were the regional PMCs under the PMC.
Then how does the parallelism apply?
Let's just [break in tape]
OK, so I can't remember exactly. Perhaps some time during 84, late 84 probably the RPMCs were then set up. It was, of course, a rather difficult period. In Swaziland, we organised a coordinating committee between the structures between those dealing with Natal and those dealing with the Transvaal -- brought the military and political of both together, of the Transvaal and then under Natal. So Natal and Transvaal were having a closer working relationship vis a vis military and political. And then we organised a coordination between the two. Well, that was a very specific situation. I can't remember exactly but, by early 85 RPMCs had come to be formed. We'll have to check. It's possible the decision was taken earlier. By the time we reached the Kabwe conference, the structure, the commission that I referred to, came up with a very strong recommendation for an integrated approach under the PMC
Can we just stop there. I am trying to understand this properly. Under the 83 decisions, there is a military headquarters, there's a political headquarters. Now I had understood you to agree earlier there were military committees and political committees in the forward areas -- that I can understand as parallelism. But you are now saying this also encompassed the decision for those political committees and military committees in the forward areas to combine into RPMCs. What is the nature then of the parallelism which continues, that is institutionalised in this new PMC structure? I'm not following you. Why is this parallelism?
I need to be clear myself -- in terms of my memory of this. I'll just put it this way -- because the military and the political continued to be able to relate to their structures separately of the secretary of the PMC.
Now I begin to understand.
And that's the problem, even though in an institutionalised sense you have a decision to create RPMCs under the PMC -- as long as the members of the various hq commands relate on behalf of their own hq and give instructions to structures of those RPMCs that are dealing with military matters or political, then you are still perpetuating two parallel lines of communication.
So there is a very weak centre then to the RPMCs.
That would mean that the centre remains weak. The centre of a movement from a structural point of view is only strong and only has real authority when there's this single line of communication, because that's the key to the control and the command.
[break in tape]
Right, so the implementation of the RPMC structures lags a bit. There are enormous difficulties with Nkomati, pressure on the ANC in the Frontline States. You've outlined the argument for this integrated approach. Do the two seminars in 84 lead to some revision before the Kabwe conference of the lines of communication and command, the structure of the RPMCs in terms of their executive functions? Is there any restructuring then -- before Kabwe?
Not in essence. It is being refined all the time, improved, to improve lines of communication, to improve the coordination of work.
But there is no end called to parallel lines of directive and command?
No. No, that comes at Kabwe.
Kabwe, then, meets. There's an internal commission and there's a strategy and tactics commission. The internal commission presumably deals with this in a great deal more detail than the strategy and tactics commission.
Yes, the structures.
What are the decisions of Kabwe on this area, on this issue of parallelism and the issue of line of command?
It's spelt out in the Kabwe report. Have you seen those documents?
I've only seen the ones that were published.
Well, if you look carefully there, maybe by the time we meet again, we'll refer to it. If you've got them here it would help. Can we just have a look? Basically, I think what you'll see is that there's the recommendation that there should be integration and that there should be this one communication link.
I don't think that comes in OR's speech or
Oh, well, I don't know what documents you are talking about.
The only ones I have seen are the ones that have been published in the booklet.
I'm talking about the documents which refer to the findings of the commissions.
I haven't seen those.
Oh, well, then you need to.
Yes, they are public documents.
That is so?
How do I get to see them?
I'll come back with them.
I'd very much appreciate that.
So, let's keep that question open. Anyway, I remember very clearly that a result of Kabwe was the PMC would now have the one line of communication to the RPMCs
Secretary to secretary?
Yes. And that's the recommendation of the internal commission.
And that is accepted and endorsed by conference?
Why, then, after conference is the military headquarters recreated?
This conference did not dissolve military headquarters, no. There is a need for the maintenance of military headquarters, notwithstanding the points I made earlier: for historical reasons now, for the reason that we are having these military-diplomatic links in terms of that protocol, for the reason that we have got bases externally, training programmes externally. I would say that that means we should have a military command structure dealing with those tasks. But, in terms of the internal combat forces and how these can best develop out of an underground structure, that my argument from the other examples I have given is that that is best done through the internal underground leadership, rather than from a military headquarters abroad.
So Kabwe doesn't dissolve the military headquarters. It sees the need -- it is not even challenged -- the need to have the military in command of the MK camps abroad, training the army, etc, but that, in terms of the links of the forces at home and of the forward areas, that this should simply be through the one line of communication, emanating out of the PMC secretary?
Now, is that sustained? Is that one line of communication sustained in practice and in theory, by decision, from Kabwe conference through to the end of 1986?
Well, I think we still have our difficulties in the implementation.
I'd like now to leave that, and will you remember to bring those documents?
On what basis am I allowed to see them?
They are public documents.
So, it's not a problem?
So, if I quoted from them, its OK?
Would I be allowed to photocopy them?
You'll make a copy, yes. Sure.
And could I return them? Right I would like us now to move on. If I could just trace the trajectory of the uprising. September 84 is when the uprisings start in the Vaal. And clearly the stimulus, in an original sense, is the rents. There is a general political atmosphere. The ANC clearly has called for, through the voice of Thabo Mbeki, a national uprising -- and I have the BBC voice report for that, and I monitored it; I had just left the country when it happened. But the ANC clearly had not been expecting this enormous explosion that then moves from the Vaal to the East Rand down to the Eastern Cape, areas of Natal; and then, when we get to August 1985 only, the Western Cape. There is a breakdown of the local state. Clearly, the ANC's continual calls over the period for apartheid to be made ungovernable and unworkable, which start in January of 84, have had some effect and are influencing the uprising. Now, we get to April 85, April 25 I think it is, the date on which "The Call", the First Call, and it is clearly a call for deployment of insurrectionary forces and tactics and a more sustained and coordinated basis than before. The liberation movement comes out with clear directives to people on what they should do and what form these difference insurrectionary forms should take. I saw you shortly before that first call had come out and you saw it as a vital new kind of departure. What I am interested to know is: what was the immediate process of debate and meetings which resulted in that call? What kind of shift was taking place? How, in the three or four weeks before this call was produced were the leadership meeting and what were the kind of dynamics of that process?
Well, it was a very exciting, hectic period: constant meetings at highest level; the NEC was meeting; the PMC was meeting; the various headquarters were meeting. And we had sensed the mood of the people. We were doing everything possible to reinforce the struggle. I think in that period the biggest number of trained cadres was infiltrated, carrying out some very important activities. The underground was functioning very actively in terms of propaganda, in terms of agitation amongst the people. And, in Lusaka, the leadership were keeping abreast of these developments, and were extremely well in tune with what was taking place, and were sensing the incredible potential of the power of the insurrectionary forces. And came to realise that people were looking to Lusaka the way the Iranian masses tuned in to the weekly broadcasts of the Ayatollah Khomeini before 79. And the feeling was that we could make a key announcement to the people which would give them a lead from the ANC in terms of going for as widespread an uprising as possible. Now, of course, as you said correctly -- I agree with that the eruption in the Vaal Triangle had taken place over the rents issue and a whole complex of issues and grievances -- and there was a great deal of spontaneity in terms of the mass upsurge everywhere. But, by this time as well, there's a very strong input in terms of leadership from the ground, whether through certain of the underground units or through activists who were ex-prisoners, ex Robben Islanders, ex-political prisoners, activists in the mass democratic movement connected with the movement's leadership. We had perceived that the people were, in fact, responsive to our statements. The previous one which you have mentioned of Thabo's had shown it quite remarkably and I can remember the arguments, the exhortations that the time was right for a major Call. And it was in that period -- in this climate, rather -- that this call was drafted. I don't think it would be such a secret to say that Slovo was pretty much involved in pushing that idea.
Pushing which particular idea?
The idea for a call, for the drafting of a call. But, of course, this was unanimous. This was the feeling. And it was really historic, I would say, because it worked. And I have said that there were elements of spontaneity. But, in any struggle, who is to say that the masses are simply responded to buttons being pressed by a vanguard. At the same time, that spontaneity was increasingly being given leadership by activists on the ground and by the ANC leadership in Lusaka and the forward areas. So I think it was a tremendous shift and development. There's the perception, an understanding in our leadership now of the tremendous strength of the township resistance and the whole wording of that call shows that now we are clearly perceiving the insurrectionary element that has come to the fore. And, of course, such a realisation is a landmark because it is going to play a tremendous role in our strategic thinking and in our theory. At that particular point in time, it's a call that captures the mood and, in a strategic sense, shift us forward.
Let me just get a measure of that shift. From where to where?
Well, against the backdrop of talk about guerilla struggle leading to talk about people's war, the January 84 statements beginning to now call for an uprising, by 85 now the formulation of an insurrectionary appeal. So I see that shift, and the development towards it being clarified, but coming out most clearly with this 25th April call. Is that a sufficient answer?
Sure. If we can just move on from there. And it connects to an issue which you raised just now about a vanguard not merely pushing buttons. It's a general question. But what would you say was the extent and what were the limits of the vanguard role played by the ANC over this 83-86 period?
Well, in terms of the extent, at the most advanced, we are talking about this January call of 84 and the historic 25th April call . Within that is the activity that I have mentioned about combat operations, infiltration, of units and propaganda, the campaigning at the mass level of our underground forces. So that we were doing everything that we could at that time. But it is limited by our lack of adequate structures on the ground, by the lack of an underground which is able to really give leadership, regionally, locally, at city level. So this is where it's limited. We don't have the forces and means [break in tape]. We don't have the underground capable of linking the combat units with the mass struggle. We are not merging the armed struggle with the mass struggle. We are not at its most visible able to put arms into the hands of substantial numbers of our street fighters who largely are waging that uprising with petrol bombs and stones. So, those limits are clear. It really showed the strengths and the opportunities, it showed the potential of insurrection and uprisings. It showed our weakness at that time. And it really reminded us of the need to have a strong underground that was capable of leading the people, of organising them into fighting units, in other words of merging our armed struggle with the mass struggle, reinforcing the strike wave, taking advantage of the presence of the local self-defence units and the street-fighting groups. A period in which, if we had been better organised and had been stronger on the ground, we would have been able to create and develop a popular militia of the people in those conditions. Now that was the missing element which prevented the 83-86 uprising really maturing, really realising its full potential -- which could have been the case, is the case, still is the case in such a situation: of being able to organise a popular militia of the people. Because at a time like that a very active revolutionary challenge, active revolutionary situation, the possibilities of building up the combat forces and even a popular militia of the people increase a thousand fold. So, if we were stronger on the ground, we would have been able to do that. You see, we had quite a number of weapons available, grenades -- these were used to a certain degree. We would, of course, to develop such a popular militia, need more weaponry. But I don't think that's our problem -- for the time being anyway. This was the opportunity. And we've got to learn that for the next round: the creation of such a popular militia, which is the means through which an underground would be able to arm the people -- through such a vehicle.
Now I want to ask you some factual questions which are very important for my purposes. But they do deal with a very delicate area. And that is that I need some indication of the growth and strength of MK and the rate of deployment inside the country at various stages. In what way you can help me is entirely up to your judgment. My questions are broken down into the following categories. At the beginning of 83 is there a ball-park figure, by which I mean a general figure, vague but generally accurate, of either MK's strength or the total strength of people who have passed through or have passed through MK facilities; secondly, of that what proportion, or number (or what indication can you give me of the number) deployed inside the country; and my other questions relate to the same two categories but for the periods September 84 (when the uprisings start), April 25th 1985, and then May 1986 which is when the second call is made ("From Ungovernability to People's Power"). Is there any way that you can help me on this?
Not really. It's a very sensitive areas. I think you should try it out on Chris. Have you spoken to him?
No, I was hoping to have a meeting with him the other day, but
It's pretty difficult for me to comment on that
Can you tell me of MK actions, then, which the state attempted to cover up?
There were incidents in the Eastern Cape, Transkei, Willowvale -- a battle that took place over something like 48 hours. The Weekly Mail sometime last year carried a story -- it was a front page story -- of what emerged. It was after the Holomisa coup. So the story then was ventilated and it was an account of a small group of guerillas, I think, that had been confronted by the Transkei forces a battle raged over 48 hours, and then there was a tremendous battle which involved just one guerilla. And units of the SADF and the Transkei Defence Force in which this comrade escaped. There were a lot of casualties that were inflicted on the enemy. That was very dramatic. And the Weekly Mail showed how these incidents were being suppressed.
Can you give a guestimate proportion of how many of these incidents over this 83-86 period were, or might have been suppressed, by the state?
Oh, I think scores and scores in the various townships. The units of MK who did get into the country, they came into combat with SADF forces and police in the townships, shot at them, injuries were inflicted, casualties were inflicted against the police, weapons were taken, and actions of that kind were really suppressed. There was the example of a combatant who was called Clement. His real name was Roland Mpanza, who was killed while on active service in Vosloosrus, together with a woman combatant, nicknamed by the people Zoya, after a Soviet partisan. And it emerged that, over a period of two weeks, he and his group had carried out something like a dozen actions in the East Rand townships including ambushes of the black police and killing of councillors. And the figure that was given in the Ebrahim trial was something like 13 casualties, dead and wounded, of councillors and police.
And do you remember the period within which this guy was operating?
Yes, this was 1986, I think. He was finally killed with Zoya sometime in the first quarter of 1986.
Now, if you were to try to put a proportion to the number of incidents suppressed over those reported, what are we looking at?
I would think that, in terms of actions against the authorities, against the army and police, one's got to multiply that by maybe three, four times in terms of incidents. We've had reports from our units of many actions in which they fired on the enemy police and military, which very seldom was reported on, very seldom. It was only reported on when there were Press present. And, from the reports coming in at that stage, I would say it was at least four times the figure.
Of just this one category?
Of attacks on the military and police personnel.
So they were only reporting about a quarter, then, of those attacks which were directed specifically at the security forces?
Yes. Sure. I would say it would be about a quarter.
So we are looking at another 75 to every 25 reported?
Easily. Sure. That's in relation to the actual attacks on personnel.
And you would consider that to be a reliable figure?
I was in charge of military intelligence at the time, and receiving reports during this period, interviewing comrades who had withdrawn from inside. And interviewing people, some of my subordinates being responsible for interviewing people from home. And we had a very high level of incidents over and above. I would say they were reporting about a quarter. There've been incidents like when Barney Molokoane was killed on the Swazi border after an attack on Sasol, where he and two other comrades were killed near Piet Retief when they were retreating; there were reports from the area of a tremendous battle in which local people said numerous enemy were carted away by ambulances. We've had that kind of report from Umlazi, where there was an attack in the same period on a house where our combatants were hiding, and again local people talked about numerous casualties. You know, perhaps civilians on the ground when there is a fire fight, local people tend to exaggerate -- there's a lot of noise -- the ambulances, helicopters, and people are being rushed away. But nothwithstanding the possible exaggeration, we knew that at such an event there had been a number of casualties inflicted on the police and the military. The same applies to sieges which have taken place at Chiawelo in Soweto and other houses of this nature, where local people have said that a number of police were injured and killed, and they had seen dead bodies. Now this kind of report, we've received from many different places in the country, which would really indicate something I have said in relation to three or four times the number of casualties inflicted on the enemy as well as the number of incidents.
How do you account for, then, the enemy's apparently being able to disguise these clashes?
Well, you know I'm talking here about maybe three or four times the number, and saying perhaps killed, certainly injured. I think that the enemy, in keeping with its ability to treat its wounded and injured, it's a very modern state. It's a very quick rescue, evacuation of patients, of the injured. They are able to save lives. They can do it quickly. So I think there have been a lot of injuries of this nature in these firefights. But we are saying that in that period four to five times -- I said three to four, now my memory is being jolted by the incidents I am talking about -- it could be four or five times the number of casualties, and maybe three to four times the number of incidents. I'm pretty confident about this, Howard. Certainly in the period 85-86, because it was then that we began to infiltrate a lot more combatants into the country. We had an operation called Operation Zikomo[spelling?], which got going after the Kabwe Conference. It's a local word meaning thank you. The Kabwe Conference had been hosted on Zambian soil, and I was with MHQ at the time. We went into a very intensive campaign of infiltration of combatants, who were going to be shock forces in those townships, to reinforce the uprisings. Roland Mapala (I think that's his correct name), he was infiltrated under Operation Zikoma.
That is z-i-k-o-m-a?
Yes, in 85, and carried out a tremendous number of operations. But, under operation Zikoma, we were able to infiltrate several hundred combatants, post Kabwe to early 1986.
Several hundred. Now, another delicate question: What measure can I have of the survival rate of MK cadres over this period?
Well, I would say that the survival is better than the enemy make out. Vlok and his predecessors have given their figures. The numbers caught and killed tend to accord with our figures. I off- hand -- do you know what the number is in 83-86?
I think it would be useful for you to check. It should be on record.
Where would it be on record?
Well, simply in terms of what the enemy has claimed through prisoners and trials. I think perhaps we are talking about a figure of about 80 killed -- of actual trained cadres
combatants, and perhaps something like 150 captured, sentenced. So I think we are talking about casualties of about 200 on our side. There are a number of turned guerillas, or traitors, and they have built up quite a number in the period of time -- I think particularly post 86, of absolute traitors and renegades. Of course, some of them were already agents when they infiltrated our ranks, and you must bear that in mind. We're possibly talking now about a force under their control of 50-60.
I'm saying post-86 that it has now been built up into that number. And I would say our casualties have probably been in that region. I think there are a lot of cadres who have survived, and are acting inside the country. I would say that there are hundreds of trained cadres that have survived and operate; that quite a high number had to withdraw and retreat and are still with us; perhaps a couple of hundred as well.
But, over this period 83-86 there were at various times more than 100 guerillas operating inside the country?
Easily? Several hundred?
Now, I was once given a figure by someone I consider to be a reliable person, that in 1986 there were more than 500 MK guerillas operating inside the country?
Sure, yes. Quite a good estimate.
Because somebody else cast doubt on that, as much too high.
I would say it is quite a good estimate, reasonable. You know, I am not commenting now about how effective, in terms of how well supplied, lines of communication, supply and so on.
So some of these units might find themselves in a state of relative ineffectiveness?
Yes, resting, surviving. I think there are a lot -- because of the weakness of the underground, we haven't resolved that problem.
What, having to sleep?
Yes. I think there are a lot that are on ice.
We've dealt with the call in April 1985 -- the first call -- we move on about three months to July 20 1985 when Botha declares his first partial state of emergency -- covering 36 magisterial districts. Two days later, over Radio Freedom, Tambo gives an address to the nation, responding to the declaration of the partial state of emergency. In this address, Tambo raises several points. But the main argument is as follows: that these uprisings are being conducted on a sporadic basis, one township after the other; this is enabling the enemy to concentrate his forces on, and encircle, one township after another; he offers two broad counters to this enemy strategy of encirclement and containment and concentration of forces. He says that, on one hand, we must have insurrection in all these areas at the same time, and the second thing is that the struggle must be taken into the white areas. In other words, as I understand it, into the enemy citadel. We have a problem here, as far as I can make out. That one of the key design aspects of South African black townships, their segregation, is precisely to make possible this encirclement and control of the ground by the enemy. Now, Ron Reid-Daly wrote an essay recently in a book where he makes the point that, in urban guerilla warfare, it is possible for state security forces to control the ground. Was there any clear strategic and tactical thinking at this time -- and I am more interested perhaps in the tactical aspect -- on how to actually prevent the enemy encircling and controlling the ground within which guerilla or combat forces might be operating in the urban context? Because this strikes me as being an extremely serious tactical problem which emerged over this period for the liberation movement.
Well, in fact, what was shown, Howard, was that the enemy could not really successfully put down the uprisings in townships, even though geographically speaking it's very easy, it would appear to be very easy to do what Reid-Daly says is possible. In fact, what developed in SA was a negation of what he is claiming. And this, without the advanced level of underground and mass structures that would have made it even more difficult for the enemy to deal with township residents. Because in fact, notwithstanding the way the army was able to surround those townships, we saw that where the will and strength of the township people was strong, that the enemy had lost control, and this sometimes lasted for weeks on end, if not months. This was the situation in which the informer system had broken down, the impimpi were driven away after examples of necklacing, the local authorities had been thrown out, as well as the black police who were camping in the white areas or in the white police stations. And, if we examine those East Rand or the Eastern Cape townships, small townships of 10,000 people, like Fort Beaufort, for weeks on end, in fact it ran into months, the people controlled their lives in those townships. Now, what does this make of Reid-Daly's claim? And yet these are townships where a people's militia, as I have said, would actually be possible, hadn't really emerged. There was make-shift self-defence, there were the street committees and people's courts -- rudimentary organs of people's power. But can you imagine in a situation where you have more disciplined structures, more sophisticated structures, more sophisticated and less rudimentary, with the weaponry and the combat forces, what revolutionary bastions such townships would be. They would have greater strength and capability. And yet, with the absence of such advanced structures and forces and means, they actually persisted for a tremendous period of time, and in scores of similar townships.
Is that the subjective factor then?
That is the strength of the subjective factor, of the will. But more than that of the actual forces, the means of the struggle, which we have lacked: the weaponry, the developed people's militia to deal with the military and police when they try to reconquer the space. And these were periods of time when convoys of the enemy had to come in. The state authority was only present for the few seconds or minutes that they were riding down a particular street. That is the true face of insurrection and the possibilities. Now, our people have demonstrated that Reid-Daly's claim is a hollow one. OK, what does that mean in terms of your question?
What I was interested to hear you speak on was the way in which a coordinating, commanding internal underground might be able to relieve pressure on various areas.
Right, so Tambo's speech in July talks about the need to move away from this sporadic outburst and control of the people, the sporadic takeover; that, if this is happening in a more coordinated way, so much stronger would be the forces of insurrection and so much weaker the forces of reaction. And that is why he makes this appeal. Also, the ability to take the struggle into the white areas means to relieve the pressure on the townships as the revolutionary bastions or fortresses -- every township must become a fortress of the revolution, of the insurrection, which was the kind of statement we were making at that time. Diversionary activities into the cities, into the industrial zones of the cities, into the white suburbs, would stretch the enemy's resources, force the enemy to go on the defensive, divert the energy and action of the enemy against the townships, forcing the enemy to defend his own territory and his own strategic area. Hence president Tambo's call at that stage. We can see how it is the third major statement in terms of the insurrectionary approach which we mentioned earlier, and therefore, again, a key stage helping us to develop the insurrectionary strategy.
And all the time, the method of this advance is problem solving?
Yes. Sure. Problem-solving, practically dealing with the difficulties, practically finding solutions in order to move forward.
Now I would like to deal with an issue which you touched on now, which is that the township was envisaged as a potential mass revolutionary base. As we know, under our special conditions in SA, the township is really a dormitory to provide labour for the white metropolis. It's situated outside, and sometimes occasionally adjoining the industrial area, or the white suburb, or wherever it is that black labour is required. Now, this provides and unusual means, if one compares it to other revolutionary situations in the modern period, it provides an unusual way in which the base, the mass revolutionary base can actually project itself into the enemy citadel. At the time, this 83-86 period, there was what was known as the Siyalalala Movement -- it emerged around Pick 'n Pay and other labour disputes, where the workers actually went and slept in, they occupied the industrial premises. Now, was there any analysis, at the time that this was going on, by the ANC of the potential this represented for the projection of the mass revolutionary base into the white areas?
Yes. Sure. I think that this is reflected in our approach -- take the struggle into the white areas -- and this was precisely a way of dealing with the township, the dormitory-nature of it, the way the enemy was able to isolate the struggle, confine it to the areas where black people were living, so that the workers, through this, as you have pointed out, were able to carry out activity in the strategic industrial zones. And we were beginning to see this. And that's why we were talking about taking the struggle into the white areas. I think this is also something that has been spelt out more cogently in recent times.
I don't want to deal with more recent times.
Let me comment here about the approach: that I can remember certain discussions and making the point of how the Bolsheviks learnt from 1905, the Moscow Uprising, was one in which there was a lot of activity and workers detachments formed, but more out of the residential areas and not factory-based -- although of course in the working class districts of Moscow, factories were cheek- by-jowl with the houses of the workers. But Lenin and the Bolsheviks pointed out, and learnt the lesson of 1905, that what was required for discipline and greater efficacy was to organise factory-based combat forces. Those that had emerged out of the streets tended at times to be led by anarchistic elements -- elements that were refusing to follow a disciplined approach. And, of course, those working class houses were easily bombed by Czarist forces, whereas the factories wouldn't be. So the result was 1905 was for the Bolsheviks to turn more towards the organisation of the workers in the factories -- that's not simply the Bolshevik party and its underground but the combat forces. It's out of the factories, then, that the combat forces of the Bolsheviks grew, of course side by side with the major Bolshevik armed forces which were those within the Czarist army. So, for us, a lesson of 83-86 is clearly to develop our underground and our combat forces within the factories, within the industrial zones, and no simply confine it to the townships. But, because our townships and the factories aren't cheek-by-jowl, we've got to pay equal attention to developing our forces in both terrains, in both arenas.
This thinking that you have told me now about both arenas, is this something that developed after 86?
No, we had begun to talk and discuss this pre-86. And I think if you read, even my early interview, I talk about the need for factory-based combat forces. And we also were beginning to see this as a way in which we could recruit workers -- because of the problem we had had up until this period, particularly in relation to MK, had largely recruited from amongst the youth and students.
I'd like now to deal with rudimentary organs of people's power. And I would like to check up on the ANC's conceptualisation of them. Were they seen as products of insurrection, as instruments of insurrection, as instruments of people's war, as progenitors of kind of South African variants of soviets? What was the conceptualisation? First of all, if we could deal with the point: were they seen as products of insurrection or instruments of insurrection, or both at the same time?
Yes, I would say both. I mean first of all we could perceive that the people themselves, as was the case with the formation of the soviets during the Czarist period, the people themselves during the period 83-86 were creating their own rudimentary organs of people's power. They were creating street committees. They were creating people's courts. They were beginning to create self- defence units. Of course, on perceiving this, we would of course, give them a lead in our propaganda, would give instruction, would tell them: this is what to do; this is the way forward. [We were] seeing it at one and the same time as a product and as a necessary instrument to advance the insurrectionary movement.
Now how does this relate, then, to the conception of people's war under South African special circumstances. To what extent, then, can we say, conceptually, that these OPPS are also instruments of people's war?
Well, of course, in the period before this insurrectionary phase, when we talked about people's war, I think if you reach all the speeches of Chris [Hani], JM [Joe Modise] and others, when we describe what the people should be doing, I don't think that you'll actually find a reference to creating such organs. Of course, we were talking there about helping the guerillas: take up weapons, help attack the enemy and so on; join MK. But the people showed us after 83 that in fact they could create revolutionary organs, and we perceived that these should be related and could be related to the advancement of people's war and armed struggle, of insurrection. And we began to describe how. And clearly the way in which this can be done is through the creation and development of combat units based on the street committees, combat units of an offensive and defensive nature which are really a development from the self-defence units, in other words the development and creation of the people's popular militia. We haven't used that term, but it is a term I like, which needs to be projected more. You see a popular militia is precisely what's been thrown up in countries of this nature, and in Nicaragua, El Salvador, countries where an armed struggle has developed in the countryside and mountains, etc, but at the same time has been able to provoke, or has been able to unleash an insurrectionary movement in the towns and the cities. And there, on the ground, has emerged a self-defence militia of the people, in other words a popular militia -- under the control of the underground.
As I understood the ANC's conceptualisation of these opps, it was that they would not be ANC organisations. They would have a relationship to the underground and the vast bulk of their members might reflect pro-ANC perspectives, but these
No, these are popular organs like the UDF, by the trade unions, thrown up by the people in struggle, and enabling the people to run their lives, defend themselves in their areas of work or residence, rural or urban.
Where these opps first emerge over this period is in late 84 in Cradock with Cradora and Matthew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkhonto and those people. This is perhaps a delicate question. Goniwe had been a political prisoner. He is now dead. Was he a member of the ANC or SACP underground at the time that he was murdered?
I'm sure he was.
Can you say that with certainty?
Well, I don't know if he was a member of the SACP. I'm talking about the ANC. I'm sure that he considered himself to be carrying out ANC activity in the area. And, in fact, of the Communist Party. I think one of the most outstanding and incredible revolutionaries who have been thrown up in South Africa -- and a revolutionary who really read the mood of the people and their potential, and understood the insurrectionary possibilities and began to build those organs which could advance the insurrection.
[End of interview]