Interview with Oliver Tambo in Luanda after summit meeting of Presidents of frontline states and Southern African Liberation Movements, 01 March 1977

Question: How did the Luanda summit go?

TAMBO: This has been a very important meeting for a number of reasons. The consultations of British Foreign Secretary David Owen on southern Africa are of great interest to the whole world, to the African continent and especially of course to the peoples of southern Africa. They are of as much interest to South Africans as to Zimbabweans. And it has been a matter of concern what positions the Frontline States are taking in this matter. On Zimbabwe it is more the position taken by the Zimbabwean leaders that is of importance and in the ultimate analysis it is what the people of Zimbabwe want for their country that influences the position taken by the Frontline States.

For that reason there has always been something odd about the fact that consultations over Rhodesia should be seen to require the involvement of Vorster, who certainly does not represent the majority of the people of South Africa, least of all the black people. At the same time, however it didn`t seem necessary to involve the leaders of the people he oppresses, those he treats as foreigners to his regime. I think to a great extent this irregularity was corrected in having the Luanda meeting of the Frontline States, attended by the leaders of Zimbabwe, the leaders and members of the Patriotic Front, but also by the Namibian leadership and leaders of the African National Congress. I think this balances out the picture - these are the people who are concerned about what is happening in any given part of southern Africa.

But (the Owen) consultations have started and are going on, and the final results are not yet known. Our position, of course, is basically that any settlement must reach the full demands of the people who have sacrificed their lives in the struggle and of those who continue to sacrifice their lives. These sacrifices should be fully rewarded. The settlement should not be intended to reassure those who have been withholding power and have made armed struggle a necessity.

It is also important that the summit was held in Luanda. We thought it strange that the British Foreign Secretary should think it necessary to visit all the heads of the Frontline States except the President of Angola. In the end of course he did come. But the omission had struck us as being perhaps significant.

This summit was also important because there is a very obvious attempt to treat the situation in South Africa not only as being different from that in Zimbabwe and Namibia, but even as a settled situation that calls for no radical change except "improvements" here and there in the area of human rights, fundamental human rights. This line is being pursued by the imperialists with very great vigour and the objective is to isolate the oppressed in South Africa, to perpetuate the status quo and to focus world attention on Zimbabwe and Namibia as being the final problems that await resolution. But in fact the situation in South Africa is inseparable and is not different from the situation in the other two territories.

And the meeting of the five heads of the Frontline States with the leaders in what we call the "internal frontline", comprising the liberation movements who are fighting within these three countries, emphasises the indivisibility of the struggle, the identity of the issues except for matters of emphasis. Therefore, there was the necessity to talk, in relation to all three, in terms of the intensification of the struggle. This was the mood at the meeting.

So all in all we think it has been a great achievement. It certainly underlines the fact that the Frontline States must now regard and place South Africa firmly on their agenda. But we`ve also sought to make the point that there are two frontlines, as I have indicated. And the frontline at which we are involved is not less important than the frontline that involves the independent States. The independent States don`t expect us to look to them for leadership. They expect us to give leadership. We intend that this point should be emphasised as we develop the struggle towards the attainment of our objectives.

It is also important that this eight-country meeting should be held at this time - and this in spite of the intense topicality of the Zimbabwe situation alone.

Question: It looks as though the Western strategy is to say to Vorster, "See reason over Namibia and Zimbabwe and we`ll leave you in peace"?

TAMBO: Precisely. It has always been like that and is still the Western thinking. But it is not true at all that Vorster is actually pressuring Smith. We have been fed this story, but it is not true. At the beginning it may have been that they had consultations and the most Vorster probably did was delay his opinion on what was in the best interests of the Smith regime and the South African regime. They have worked together for a long time. UDI was declared, so said Smith, on Vorster`s assurances that he would stand by him and support him - and he did. There has never been any quarrel among them. There is no reason why Vorster should want to persuade Smith to grant majority rule when there is a demand in his own country for majority rule. The arrangement is therefore precisely as you put it - if Vorster is seen to be among the States which are seized of this problem of Zimbabwe and they, all of them together with him, reach "majority rule", Vorster is entitled as one of the participants in this great achievement to expect some consideration for his role.

The whole exercise is to get the world to accept the Vorster regime as having fulfilled its tasks on Zimbabwe. He then hopes he can reasonably be left to introduce necessary changes at his convenience over a period and, of course, he is not going to grant - he might have to give - but he is not going to grant majority rule in anybody`s lifetime - not in anybody`s lifetime.

We`re not surprised by this of course. We except the traditional allies of the South African regime to continue to protect the status quo, to defend apartheid in spite of their speeches to condemn racism and apartheid itself. In practice we know they have gone out of their way to insure there will be no meaningful change in South Africa and no undue pressures on Vorster. By their calculation, there will be no majority rule in South Africa.

But I`m very clear in my own mind that anyone that makes that kind of statement is a racist, pure and simple. Because it is to be a racist to say that a country of 25 million which is ruled by not just a minority, but by a minority of white people, should exist, just because they are white.

Why do we talk about majority rule in Zimbabwe if we can`t speak in the same terms in South Africa? What makes it different? It is precisely the racism for which the Vorster regime is being condemned. There is no conceivable basis on which we could accept that thesis.

We do not accept that our country just belongs to white people. On the contrary, the ANC says South Africa belongs to all who live in it. We would have been excused for saying it is a black man`s country. It would have made a lot of sense. But we don`t think that kind of thinking serves the interests of the future. We deliberately say it belongs to all the people who live here. And therefore the retention of political power and the arrangement whereby the wealth of the country is owned and benefits only the white people cannot conceivably be acceptable to us.

The myth propounded by the racist regime is you have the whites as one unit - never mind that they consist of Afrikaners and English speakers, they are one. On the other side, they say, you don`t just have blacks, you have different nations. This is dishonest.

Question: If the Turnhalle (phony independence) solution for Namibia goes through, will the Western countries` hypocritical attitudes be further unmasked?

TAMBO: Yes, I think the interesting thing is that in spite of declared Western opposition to the bantustans, you still find Transkei able to enter into trade agreements as Transkei, with countries which say they don`t recognise it as an independent government. This betrays the true positions of the Western countries. If an interim government is established in Namibia it would proceed to enter into trade agreements with everybody. There would of course be resolutions of condemnation. But any proposed effective action would be resisted at the United Nations level - any call in the Security Council to take further action to prevent the installation of the Turnhalle regime would be defeated "out of court". Ultimately, therefore, the answer rests with the people who have seen the situation as calling for the sacrifice on their part. A situation where we have got to prove our point with our lives.

In South Africa the whole of last year the issue was this one. At the very least, majority rule was the demand. Those who say there will never be majority rule in South Africa omit to say that during all the time when there is no majority rule there will be bloodshed in the country. And that of course can go on as long as there is human life within the boundaries of our country. But no one should make the mistake of thinking that we in South Africa are going to accept what no one else has accepted: to be dominated forever. We started a long time ago. It is impossible to imagine we would suddenly fall back into waiting patiently as we did in 1912, in 1913.

This is not the position, there has been a great transformation and the people have discovered their power in South Africa, power to ensure that we shall have majority rule. And this is placing our demands at the lowest point. A large section of the South African population, the white population, has been living in peace. We have not. They have been thriving on an economy we carried on our shoulders and we`ve sweated. We are not going to be carrying the economy on our shoulders to ensure our perpetual domination.

So what the ANC is doing is to make the position abundantly clear that we want political power in our country to be placed in the hands of the majority of the people, and we are careful to say that majority is not just all black. We don`t talk about races, least of all tribes. We are also clear that it is a wealthy country; thus, when the people have their political power we will ensure that the wealth is distributed fairly. This is the very least we can do. But there will be no racism.

Black Consciousness movement

Perhaps at this point we should deal with the question of black consciousness as the situation tends to be projected in South Africa. In some sense, in the racist context, it is perfectly natural to be conscious of being black. You are reminded of this everywhere you go. Everything reminds you, where you live, where you work, the right to be there to work. You are there to be ruled. The whites are made to be conscious of being white. There is black consciousness as much as there is white consciousness.

That doesn`t make black consciousness a movement, however, except that people recognise their separateness. When the people decide to fight for their rights as blacks, as the most deprived, people are reacting to a situation created for them. But they are not going to stay in that situation all the time, because they are fighting for human rights basically. They are not fighting white people as white people. They are fighting a white system, but not just because it is white, although it is presented in that form. But, basically, the struggle is for justice, for human rights. And because it is a struggle for justice, it is capable of being supported by all human beings who support just causes irrespective of what race they belong to. It should be possible even in South African situation for many whites to participate and to join and to sacrifice in a struggle to ensure the majority rights.

Now at that point, what is called black consciousness begins to change and increasingly assumes the form of what we have been talking about all the time in the ANC - the struggle for a nonracial South Africa.

In a way we started from the point of black consciousness too, we formed the ANC from just Africans - because the British had delivered themselves of a constitution which cut us out of power. They transferred power to the white settlers and we had to organise ourselves to defend our rights. But we have not stayed there, we have developed to the position where we expect all the people in South Africa to form part of the movement for the transformation of the social, political and economic situation. Black consciousness, looked at from this point of view, is thus a phase in the struggle. It is not outside the struggle for human rights - on the contrary - it grows into the mainstream which has been set by the African National Congress.

There is no question in our struggle of black on one side and white on the other. We`ve passed that stage, the world has passed that stage. There are communities where there is no separation. The world is not a black versus white world. And we have never been fighting for a South Africa in which the white people will be driven into the sea. If you are being objective then you must accept that what you are doing is to mobilise and unite all people for justice.

But of course there are attempts to create a movement rival to ANC and to keep this movement different. There is talk about a black consciousness movement which is not the same as the ANC and which has got somehow ultimate objectives different from those of the ANC. If there were such a group it would have no future. But, in fact, many of the leading young people who have been associated with what has been called the black consciousness movement are themselves growing. They are learning politically, they are in the ANC and they have broadened their vision of the issues in South Africa. And their understanding is very clear - they are no less determined to win, not just gradual changes in South Africa, but radical immediate changes, under the banners of the ANC.

We think it is necessary to unite our people - the African people, the workers, are the worst victims of that system. But we also consider it vital to be clear about our objectives so that potential friends and supporters should not resist these demands, because they are in the interests of everybody. There should not be so much black consciousness as a consciousness of the rights of man, about the existence of a regime that oppresses and also those who are opposed to racism, to white exclusiveness. We seek to unite all those who think in South Africa that we should live as fellow citizens and not as at present, with white citizens and black "foreigners".

What you do now have are organisations which have been described as embracing black consciousness. For example, you have the South African Students Organisation (SASO), Black People`s Convention and the Black Allied Workers Union - these three are wings of the black consciousness movement. You have other wings. We have had what we called Congress Alliance - a basis for coordinating activities of different organisations created in opposition to the South African regime at the time. Now you have what is called the black consciousness movement, but what you have in the final analysis is a group of organisations which, it is hoped by some, will be the counterpart, the alternative to the ANC.

ANC and PAC were banned. So they began to react to the system and to operate politically when they had started out as civil rights organisations. SASO has begun following the same road. They started out as a body for student affairs and once they became engaged in serious political activities they began getting arrested and persecuted. So they came closer and closer to ANC. They are legal, but their leaders are hunted down and get arrested like everyone else. And so they get to a point where they can`t get any further and do what they have to do on their own. So they join the ANC. Members of ANC in South Africa obviously can`t admit that they are. When it comes to the serious question of organising and fighting, as opposed to making speeches, then they want to prepare to defend themselves and we have had many join our ranks and cease to be different after all. All these organisations that get formed: if they are innocent they are allowed to operate without their members being picked up. But if their members are seriously involved in the struggle and want to fight for their rights, the organisation is declared illegal and its members are arrested.

There is a tested path the ANC has followed. Over the first 50 years, the last 10 years were a very violent decade in which the ANC was compelled to advocate publicly the policy of nonviolence. But either we restrained our people or there would have been bloodshed and we would not have been prepared for it. We can say that at that stage we did more than most organisations in resisting the things that drove us to violence.

Ultimately we couldn`t resist in this nonviolent way any longer. No one else can found an organisation in South Africa unless they follow the path we have taken. And there is no better definition of the objectives in South Africa than the programme of the ANC. As you become more and more serious about what you are saying and what you are doing, you can identify the objectives and your methods of struggle the way we are doing. And that is why from the early days of what is called black consciousness you have the young people moving into this stream of the ANC. And that is why we are taking such a hammering, because I think it is an objective truth that we do constitute a threat to the regime. We have to be worth our name. We are responding to history - the world has a history and South Africa is part of it. It is those who seek to reverse the flow of history who will fail.

Question: How much are the black trade unions, although without rights, able to play a role in the struggle?

TAMBO: In spite of the drastic action taken against trade union leaders, the organisation of trade unions, although they are not recognised - side by side with labour organised into recognised unions - has made our workers very class conscious. They are very politically conscious and they understand their despicable lot - the slave wages they continue to earn is due to the factor that they can`t influence the centres of political power.

The South African regime is feeling its growing isolation. They are beginning to feel greatly outnumbered and can see this as a threat, so they are beginning to recruit from the underprivileged, offering them privileges and political acceptance in terms of the tribal institutions, now elevated to the level of so-called independent States. This is part of the aim of cushioning themselves off from the general offensive. This has also happened in the economy - here they are encouraging black businessmen in the black areas and in the bantustans through trying to create the puppet regimes. Militarily they have started training blacks to form part of their defence forces to be used again as a shock absorber. Militarily, economically and politically they are creating a "defence line of blacks".

Their motives should be seen for what they are. They refer to these blacks in the army, to the few businessmen emerging in the bantustans, as part of the South Africa that is fighting communism. The issue is not between whites and blacks. The blacks like Matanzima have their "independence" and they have their bottle stores. And the issue is the fight against "terrorists" who are inspired by communists, and behind them is a big Power that is called Russia. But of course they can`t change the reality.

Question: What is the strategy now of ANC, regarding armed struggle?

TAMBO: There is more reason for it now than ever before. There have been many objective factors which have slowed down our progress, but there are a lot of improvements and we are pursuing this objective very very vigorously. There is no alternative, the history of this part of the world demonstrates that. All the new talk about abolition of petty apartheid is the product of the struggle of the oppressed in this part of the world including in our country. The history of half a century of ANC trying with resolutions, explaining and complaining - that could have gone for another half a century.

All the evidence, all the facts point to armed struggle as not being just a choice but an absolute necessity.

But we haven`t started on anything like the scale in South Africa which we will have to in order to change the system. But there is no stagnation, there is progress all the time. Any attempts to eliminate the armed struggle in southern Africa cannot succeed because the attempts are in themselves to prevent change.

You behave in a certain way because you are committed. Armed struggle involves violence and defiance of death. Therefore, the Soweto action shows that the stage has been reached when people are choosing this method of struggle, which is in the South African context only the beginnings, the really humble beginnings, let alone the brutal slaughter by panic-stricken police that we have seen. That is only the beginning in terms of the scale in which the conflict is bound to develop. The very violence with which the Soweto and other uprisings were met, itself ensures that conflict on a bigger scale is bound to happen.

ES Reddy