Interview with Joe Slovo, General Secretary of the SACP

The struggle for the elimination of apartheid and liberation of the South African people has taken a dramatic turn in the past few years. Joe Slovo, general secretary of the SACP, outlawed by the racists since 1950, granted the following interview on the current situation in the country to our correspondent Heinz Jakubowski in Lusaka:

Question: How does the SACP leadership assess the development of the struggle against the apartheid system in South Africa? Can we justifiably speak of a revolutionary situation?

Joe Slovo:  We believe the currently one cannot speak of a revolutionary situation, just as there is no concrete possibilities of an immediate and comprehensive assumption of power by the people.

However, at the same time, there is no doubt that many conditions for revolutionary changes have developed further. Outsiders may currently get the impression of a deadlock in South Africa. It is true that at present neither of the two sides - the Botha government or the people - is in the position to achieve a decisive breakthrough. However, the potential for changes, even for sudden changes, does exist and continues to develop.

"Reform" Strategy Has Failed

Contrary to its own assertions, the crisis of South Africa's ruling class is not decreasing. Its strategy of reforms with the aid of black collaborators has failed. Apartheid in the sense of a "final solution" - to use a Nazi term - has faltered. The regime itself has had to admit this. It knows that classical apartheid can by no means be maintained any longer. Pretoria's international isolation has increased further. Long-term economic prospects are bleak. And the suppression of our people over the past 2-3 years, which is unparalleled in history, has also not succeeded in forcing the people to their knees.

Thus the regime has not succeeded in breaking the people's militant spirit, and what is even more important, the regime has not succeeded in smashing those organisations that have taken root among the people since the events of 1984. The trade unions have never been stronger than they are today. Ins spite of the oppression and the state and the state of emergency, a nationwide youth organisation, which will be a very important factor in the future development, has formed. Also the churches have become involved. Increasing numbers of them are expressing clear support for one kind or another of liberation from apartheid. The regime has not succeeded in destroying the people's committees which have sprung up among the people.

The most important of recent events is the general strike held on 6 May of this year. It has overshadowed all the other political events, even the "elections" of the whites. It was this strike in particular that was in the limelight on that day and not the "elections".

The regime has proven unable to stop the tenants boycott. In addition to that, all measures aimed at preventing the actions of the armed wing of the liberation organisations "Spear of the Nation" have failed. Today it is clear to everyone that the authority and the prestige of the liberation alliance led by the African National Congress (ANC) have never been greater than they are today. In spite of the state of emergency and the government issuing emergency decrees, the people's militant spirit is very, very high.

For a Broad Coalition Under the ANC Leadership

In conclusion: We are still facing a strong enemy and it will not be easy to defeat him. For this reason we must give up our illusions and prepare ourselves for along and difficult struggle. At the same time, however, we must be ready for the possibility of a rapid change because we cannot rule out the possibility of a nationwide uprising.

Question: Has progress been made with regard to the alliance between all antiapartheid forces in South Africa, as advocated by the ANC and SACP?

Joe Slovo: Our policy is aimed at broadening the unity front resistance against apartheid to the extent possible under our conditions. Such a front naturally includes different forces. Therefore, it would be incorrect to say that the only one revolutionary camp exist between these two camps can can be called "forces of change." They include people who do not share our views on all issues but oppose the racist regime, thus contributing objectively to its weakening.

We must find a place for all these forces of change in the antiapartheid camp. Therefore, we can say that in addition to the decisive organisations in the revolutionary camp, such as the ANC, our party, the United Democratic Front UDF, the Trade Union Federation COSATU, and the revolutionary women's and youth organisations, the number of the other antiapartheid organisations is growing as well. The meeting between the ANC and white South Africans in Darkar at the beginning of July this year again testified to this. Also the IDASA, the "Institute for the Democratic Alternative in South Africa" is an example of the growing organised resistance against apartheid among whites. This finds expression in increasing actions in church circles as well as in the founding of JODAC, a white antiapartheid organisation in Johannesburg, in the groups of white conscientious objectors, in the unrest among white academicians and students, and in the whit opposition party, the Progressive Federal Party, PEP.

Question: What have you learned about the role of the workers in the antiapartheid struggle from events such as the most recent miner's strike in South Africa?

Joe Slovo: The miners' strike in September of this year was of fundamental significance for our country. This will become increasingly more clear as time passes. First of all, it must be noted that this strike was led by a trade union, which, as one of the first South African workers organisations, has adopted the Freedom Charter of Kliptown as its political guideline.

Workers Class—Key Force in the Liberation Struggle

Just as the most recent work stoppages by transportation and textile workers, the miners' strike has demonstrated the high fighting morale of the workers class in South Africa. There is no doubt that it is the key social force in our liberation struggle. Of all forces in question, the black workers class has the least interest in maintaining apartheid. This is why both we communists and the ANC stress the dominant role of the workers class in our liberation struggle.

The significance of the strike of the National Union of Mineworkers is demonstrated by the following fact: With this action, the trade union did not attack just any segment of the apartheid system, but its core, the mining capital. All this happened at a time of economic recession and, as a consequence, of unemployment, which increased risks, for the workers. There were no strike funds to guarantee material security. Since the majority of the miners are migrant workers—a fact which makes unified consciousness difficult—thousands voluntarily took the risk of being sent back to the gloomy bantustans.

If one takes into consideration that the entrepreneurs and the government applied brutal violence in dealing with the striking miners, one recognises the fighting spirit of the over 300,000 miners who fought 3 weeks firmly and resolutely for their rights.

Particularly through the high quality of its organisation this mightiest and longest strike in South Africa's history has prepared the ground for the coming struggles of our country's working people to be raised to a higher level. Therefore as Communists we are encouraged to help the workers class assume its leading role in our liberation struggle.

Question: It would be interesting to hear a few words on the relationship between civil resistance and armed struggle against the apartheid system.

Joe Slovo: With this question—as with many other questions—we had to find a way that corresponds to our national conditions. Reality shows that, contrary to other countries in southern Africa, we have no basis for a classical guerilla struggle. We have never had a hinterland, and we do not expect to. On the other hand, one factor helps us that no other liberation struggle in this region could count on—our liberation front is characterized by relatively highly developed class forces, tested in political struggles.

There is also another factor we have to take into account. We are facing a highly organized and malicious enemy who has his home and his roots in South Africa. He has at his disposal a mighty military machine and an enormous apparatus for reprisal. This combination of factors continues to make us place our main emphasis on the political struggle. Therefore, our fight must primarily be a political mass struggle with revolutionary goals. This is the main type of struggle. Despite the fact that we have never considered ourselves to be advocates of violence, the inappropriateness of exclusively non-violent measures in eliminating racial oppression, which has become evident over decades of practical experience, has left us no alternative if we want to achieve serious changes. Therefore, in the past 20 years, our armed actions have played an important role in mobilising these mass forces. Above all they did away with the paralysing impotence that inevitably prevailed as a result of the centuries of the white minority's predominance.

The Whites Are Searching for a Way Out

Through the heroic armed actions of the "Spear of the Nation," the blacks have gained the important experience that such a brutal and violent enemy can and must be challenged with violence.

We believe that armed struggle, together with civil disobedience and resistance, will continue to play a key role in our strategy. This struggle also gains significance because one of the scenarios of the future includes the possibility of a nationwide uprising. This does not mean that we think we can challenge the army of the enemy with our own military Units. However, the combination of civil resistance, of large-scale mass activities and strikes, with a certain degree of revolutionary violence, could provoke a crisis in the enemy's camp that would ultimately lead to essential changes.

Question: How do you assess the polarisation within the white minority?

Joe Slovo: We are of the opinion that an important and irreversible process is taking place among the white population. Just as with the blacks, the whites, too, are currently overcoming a psychological barrier. The century-old belief in the continued existence and survival of their hegemony is wavering. As a result, ways out of the crisis are being intensively searched for at all levels— ways, which, however, aim at maintaining the whites' control over the country. The ineffectiveness of this search has initiated an important splitting and differentiating process within the formerly monolithic white camp. It has been demonstrated that no system, not even the most inhuman, can continue to exist without an ideology. However, the ideology of apartheid, which has are hardly able to collect rents because the population refuses to pay them. The unsettled sums which Pretoria claims amount to more than $500 million. The attempt to create new structures of civil administration in the form of the Three-Chamber Parliament installed in 1984 has proven ineffective.

Occupation Is Botha's Only Choice

Of course the regime still has the strength to apply violence, which means to occupy black settlements, but it can no longer govern in the strict sense of the word. If it were in a position to do so, it certainly would. Botha would lift the state of emergency imposed on the country because it does not bring progress to the government, either. However, Botha cannot do this because of the powerful and passionate potential of the antiapartheid movement at the grassroots. He still has the strength to act, but not to govern. Not least of all because of this fact, the decision-making process within the government is dictated to an increasing degree by the military and the police. In our opinion the possibility of a coup, deemed likely by certain circles, is not realistic because the military already exercises control over the country to a large degree. The country is governed by the National Security Council, which is controlled by the military. Also, at the local level, authorities dominated by the military have assumed the role of the village councils.

However, in spite of the cruel harassment and persecution by the regime, the newly formed people's committees continue to work. In the local communities of the black townships, they enjoy greater authority than the government's institutions. At any time, these organs can turn into real organs of the people's power.

One thing is obvious: Our policy, which is directed at making the country ungovernable, has started to bear fruit. The process that has been initiated is irreversible.

Question: Are there any concepts about the criteria of progressive and liberal antiapartheid forces in the light of the Dakar talks for a South Africa after the removal of apartheid?

Joe Slovo: The ANC has emphatically stressed that its vision of a South Africa after apartheid has already been fixed in the Freedom Charter of Kliptown. The goal is a non-racist, united, and democratic South Africa—governed according to the principle of majority rule. Only when this has become clear—as was pointed out in Dakar—will it be useful to talk about future mechanisms, such as a guarantee for individual rights, or the protection of the culture and language of South Africa's different ethnic communities. The majority of the whites who came to Dakar accepted this decisive standpoint of our liberation front. There were differences regarding the question of whether or not the application of violence is justified in achieving this goal.

This is a long-term task for our party, whose strategic goal remains socialism and which makes great efforts to spread knowledge on the leading role of the workers class in the revolutionary process among the workers class. It is not possible to transform South Africa into a socialist country overnight. Attempts in this direction which have been made in other countries have been rather detrimental to the prestige of socialism. Like every other people's movement, our South African movement must also find and then proceed on its own revolutionary path.

As a communist party—and here we do not differ from the ANC's view—we conceive of a society that, immediately following the removal of apartheid, would be characterised by a mixed economy. We envisage an economy that will still incorporate elements of free entrpreneurship, but be controlled by the people's state.

This is, of course, not a socialist society. It rather is a society that starts correcting the historic injustices and discrimination against blacks, thus creating the foundation and further conditions for a socialist South Africa.

Therefore we are of the opinion that the shortest way to socialism in South Africa is that of non-racist democracy in which the people really have a say. However, this will still be a long way.

No matter what vision one has of South Africa, the first thing that must be done is to destroy racism. Therefore, we must not tolerate attempts that take discussions about the details of a post apartheid society as an excuse to avoid or distort this basic issue.

Once this basic question has been settled, it is very important to speak about the post apartheid period. The chances for the success of such talks, however, depend primarily on how prepared the white minority is to leave Botha's trenches of racism and choose the side of the people and freedom. This is the basic question. The character of a non-racist society depends on this issue. However, if the white population clings to the laager with its last drop of blood, it will be difficult to create the society we imagine. For the near future, it is of great importance to increasingly convince the white minority that it should take an active stance against racism and apartheid.

Question: What is the most efficient support the international community can provide in this process?

Joe Slovo: The most important thing is to support the ANC and its allies. The world must be convinced that it is imperative to impose comprehensive, binding, and efficient sanctions against Pretoria. If this could be achieved, within 6 months Botha would be forced to start negotiations. We are absolutely convinced of this.

The West Is in a Dilemma

Of course we can rely on the support of the socialist countries. There is no need to prove that to your readers. However, in our opinion much depends on the West because particularly the United States, the FRG, and Great Britain play a leading role in South Africa's economic functioning.

However, these states are currently in a dilemma. On the one hand, they have realised that the policy of Botha and his hardliners cannot lead to South Africa's rescue; on the other, these forces are afraid of the power of the people's movement led by the ANC. It is this dilemma that has recently made possible some important victories by the international antiapartheid movement. We believe that the prospects for the mobilisation of the international community are very good because our struggle against racism has the unique advantage of uniting the majority of the people all over the world despite ideological barriers.

Question: What tendencies can be noticed in Botha's policy since the May 1987 election farce?

Joe Slovo: Instead of searching for a way to accommodate the internal opposition, Botha decided to smash this opposition after the election. He neither had the will nor the mandate of the white majority to act in a different manner. The "Mixed-Race National Assembly," the formation of which he suggested a few weeks ago, is presumably one of his last tricks to win well-known collaborators from certain black circles over to "power sharing," which in fact excludes real participation in the exercise of power.

This is nothing other than a hopeless attempt to reform apartheid instead of removing it. The body, which is now being offered, is a completely powerless organ, resembling a toy telephone on which one can only talk to himself. No serious leader of the black community has declared his willingness to participate in it—not even Inkatha leader Buthelezi. Botha's chances of winning this last game are therefore very remote.

Desperate Search for "Counterweight"

Question: What dangers arise for the antiapartheid alliance from collaborators or ambitious rivals?

One of the regime's most important tactics is the creation of a third force in the country. Even to Botha it has long been clear that it is the ANC that represents the oppressed masses. Therefore, it is little wonder that he now tries with all his might to present himself in a propagandist manner as a "counterweight."

Another of Pretoria's tactics is to fuel conflict among blacks, thus bringing discord to the liberation movement. To achieve this goal, he extensively exploits tribalism. Botha finds it very opportune if the impression is created that it is primarily the blacks who are fighting against blacks in South Africa. With the aid of the Inkatha Zulu organisation, so-called vigilante groups were formed who are directly or indirectly supported by the racists. In no way do we underestimate the danger arising from such elements. It is necessary to prepare our strugglers for the violent attacks of such groups. However, we also believe that this situation requires our active political work particularly among those who have been lured into these conflicts, because the long-term interests of those forces naturally coincide with ours.

As far as the role of Inkatha leader Buthelezi is concerned, it has become clear that he no longer has control over the majority of the Zulus. Despite the fact that he still has some influence over the rural Zulu population this is no longer true for the decisive group of the urban proletariat. Buthelezi has sided with the regime on most important issues, and now he is faced with the reaction to that.

We are well aware of the necessity to take into consideration the existence of cultural and language difference in South Africa. Attempts by people like Buthelezi, however, who exploit the differences to split the antiapartheid front, must be defeated. In this situation we consider it our task to win over the blacks who have been misled by reaction.

Life-Giving Alliance Between ANC and SACP

Question: What significance is to be attributed to the historic liberation alliance between SACP and ANC?

Joe Slovo: ANC President Oliver Tambo has clearly characterised the relations between the liberation movement and the SACP when he spoke of our party as a fundamental pillar of the alliance. It is clear today that the ANC and SACP represent more or less the two main branches of the struggle for national and social liberation in South Africa. These two forces cannot be separated from one another. On the contrary, they are more closely linked today than ever before in history. Because this is so, Botha and the West see their only chance in splitting this alliance through wild anticommunist propaganda and in taking away its revolutionary edge. The Western press is full of speculation about conflicts between "nationalists and communists" in the ANC.

However, this is clearly wishful thinking because we communist have no secret goals. We are not only part of a democratic alliance, but also an independent force in our capacity as the independent vanguard of the workers class. We wage a selfless struggle so that the workers class can fulfill its historic task.

As far as the immediate tasks of the national-democratic revolution are concerned, there is not the slightest difference in opinion between us and the ANC. As Oliver Tambo put it, our alliance is live-giving for South Africa. It can be broken neither by manipulation nor by conspiracy. It will overcome all challenges, and it is the guarantor for the victory of freedom.

From: Interview by Heinz Jakubowski in Lusaka. Published in Neues Deutschland, Berlin, 24-25 October 1987. Translated from the German.


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