SACP's Slovo Views Mandela, ANC Leadership

From the "Focus on Africa" program
BBC Interview 8th February 1990

South Africa's law and order minister, Adriaan Volk, has said today that the release of the ANC leader Nelson Mandela is being delayed by threats on his life, particularly from white, right wing extremists.

But, Mr Volk did not rule out ANC members themselves being allowed to protect Mr. Mandela.

However, his release will pose its own problems for the ANC, which is in a state of fluidity. Along with leaders already released, such as Walter Sisulu, Mandela has no official position in the ANC at the moment, and he comes at a time when the ANC President, Oliver R. Tambo, has been seriously ill.

Well, top ANC executive Joe Slovo, and the leader of the South African Communist Party, is in London. Robin White asked him if all these changes haven't left the ANC in a bit of a mess:

Slovo - Well, I wouldn't consider it is in a bit of a mess, nor that the situation is confused. It is absolutely clear, and a statement has been made by the Sisulu-released group, by Mandela himself, by all the leadership of the ANC is vested in the National Executive Committee. Of course, with the released leaders on the scene, there is closer and closer consultation and co-ordination between the National Executive and themselves.

White - Presumably, you will want to get some kind of job for Mr. Mandela when he comes out and Mr. Sisulu, who is already out. You will have to renegotiate your leadership.

Slovo - Well, obviously, the future will have to be looked at in relation to all these factors you mentioned. We are headed for a national conference, which is due to take place this year. Well, I am sure it will take place sometime this year. That conference will sort out the whole question of who inherits the leadership in the normal democratic process.

White - When will that meeting take place?

Slovo - It should be this year. The timing will have to be considered in the light of the interesting situation created by the release and the impending release of Mandela himself.

White - Isn't it a matter of some emergency to meet and sort this out now so that everybody knows where you stand and who your leaders are?

Slovo - We have, in fact started the process of meeting. A group of us met with Sisulu-released leaders in Sweden recently. There is a national executive committee of the ANC coming up next week. The leaders who have gone home after the discussions were held in Sweden will themselves consult other participants in the struggle, and I am sure that out of all this will emerge a more organised strategy for the future.

White - Has Mr. Tambo agreed to step down as the ANC president?

Slovo - The issue does not arise. Mr. Tambo is the president of the ANC. His condition is improving by the month and that it just a question which has not in any way been considered.

White - Wouldn't it make sense just to give it now to Mr. Mandela?

Slovo - It is pretty obvious that Mandela will be very important and primary leading figure in the future. But, as I have said, it is not for us to decide to give it to him now, as if a sort of knighthood that is in our gift to give.

White - Do you think there is going to be trouble in South Africa when Nelson Mandela is released? Do you think there is going to be violence in the streets?

Slovo - Not necessarily. I believe it depends a great deal on how the police react. If the police react in the way they reacted recently to peaceful demonstrations in relation to the cricket tour, to children going in for peaceful protest on questions of education, then perhaps there could be retaliatory violence. But, the blame will be not with the ANC but will be with the government and its forces.

White - You must surely concerned for Mandela's safety from the right wingers in South Africa.

Slovo - Certainly. I think we, more than anyone else, are concerned with the safety of Mandela, but it is not as if the lunatic right wing has just emerged or that it has a fixed agenda. It has been around for years, and it has not only threatened violence but is has actually murdered quite a few of the opposition activists. And, again, it is not as if the issue of Mandela's release has just suddenly arisen. I t has been on the cards for more than a year. I would say it is a telling commentary on the government's degree or absence of control over its forces of so-called law and order that it has so little confidence in its ability to protect one major figure.

White - The government, I think is considering the possibility of allowing the ANC to protect Mandela when he is released. Do you think that would be a good idea? Or do you think that the South African Police . Words indistinct

Slovo - Well, I believe we will protect Mandela whether the government allows us or not, and we are sure that the masses of people around him, wherever he lives, will see it that Mandela is protected, perhaps even more safely from them than from the security forces.

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