This chapter comes from the book Class, Consciousness and Organisation: Indian Political Resistance in Durban, South Africa, 1979-1996 by Kumi Naidoo
As a general rule there is not much we can do to change or alter the objective conditions that militate against larger-scale radicalisation of the Indian masses. But we must guard against a view that calls for the abandonment of this sector as a crucial component of the liberation alliance. We cannot and should not “write-off” the Indian sector - that would be a fatal political blunder.
The progressive forces in the Indian sector are acutely conscious of the tasks and challenges facing us. We are concerned as others in the democratic movement about the political retreat of the Indian sector. But we remain firmly committed towards intensifying our efforts, building our forces and consolidating the active unity of the oppressed and welding the liberation alliance into a powerful instrument capable of effecting radical social transformation.
Indian opposition to apartheid restructuring peaked with the successful undermining of the tricameral elections. However, the majority of Indians then retreated from resistance politics and reversed the trend established between 1980 and 1984. As resistance shifted into a “higher phase” amongst Africans, a concomitant “lower phase” of Indian resistance emerged. This actuality placed a strain on the liberation alliance and raised again the question of the limits and possibilities of Indian resistance at a time when African leadership was emerging forcefully. The NIC maintained that most Indians possessed a basic anti-apartheid consciousness which could continue to serve as a foundation for political mobilisation. However, they conceded that Indians had not come to terms with the inevitability of African majority rule and had not embraced a revolutionary outlook. This chapter seeks to understand the retreat from resistance politics, and argues that the reverse was hardly uniform and exhibited several contradictory features. In discussing the growth of ANC activity, it is necessary to consider why many Indian activists turned away from working amongst Indians and gravitated to either ANC politics or other sectoral interventions.
The emergence of debates (and the praxis itself) around internal democracy and cabalism consumed the strategic and institutional energies of the NIC, UDF and its allied organisations. These developments fostered a fractious organisational milieu that contributed to the weakening of resistance; yet the withdrawal of many from NIC work did itself contribute to this decline in democracy and organisational efficiency. Heightening repression also prescribed the limits and possibilities of activism and encouraged the political withdrawal of many Indians. The ideological control sought by the information censorship measures under the state of emergency also contributed to the weakening of political consciousness. In this context of insecurity and political instability, powerfully evoked by the Inanda incident, we examine the ongoing symbolic presence of Gandhi and the insertion of the Indian nation-state as a component of the political discourses and practices of South African Indians. It is therefore necessary to assess the implications of the NIC’s attempts to mobilise Indian ethnicity, especially since this strategy came from an organisation that was desperately on the defensive from the very constituency it sought to organise and deliver to the national democratic struggle.
The Inanda incident
While African resistance was intensifying nationally, provoking the state to impose a partial State of Emergency in 1985, Inkatha was determined to contain protests in Natal. The assassination of UDF leader Victoria Mxenge ignited demonstrations in many African townships in Durban in the early days of August 1985. The students soon shifted the arena of their resistance from the townships into the city centre with a 4000-strong demonstration which attracted students from black and white higher education institutions and from African high schools. By Durban standards, this was combat politics at its height and signalled a departure from the tactic of operating within the boundaries of legal protest. The police, initially constrained by the presence of white lunch-time shoppers, attacked the students and arrested twenty-one of them. Over half the demonstrators and those arrested were Indians. Significantly though, unlike the high levels of Indian participation in the 1980 school boycotts in Natal, there were negligible protests following the Mxenge assassination. Only one Indian High school protested against the State of Emergency, and even this action was relatively short-lived.
Days later, in the settlement of Inanda, what started as an anti-state protest, directly linked to the Mxenge killing, developed into ethnic strife. One commentator observed that two disturbed streams merged into an uncontained torrent. The first was of local origin, the cumulative strife, deprivation and uncertainty of the unorganised poor; the second, the highly politicised revolt of the youth. What can be described as “lumpen” youth from Inanda took up and led where the students had left off.
The youth attacked what they perceived to be symbols of power, and some looted Indian and African shops. This violence spilled over into attacks against Indian homes in the area. Generally, attempts were made by Indians of all political opinions to prevent a rise in hysteria amongst Indians. When panic spread to Phoenix, leading to the formation of vigilante groups, residents realised that this would only worsen the situation if Africans were killed.
The violence in Inanda can be traced to consistent Inkatha attacks on UDF supporters. One study suggests that Inkatha meetings conducted before the violence included discussions on “How to get the Indian out of Inanda” in order to enable incorporation into KwaZulu. This study found that no animosity between Africans and Indians was evident, a view which was supported by the fact that certain Indian properties were salvaged by some African neighbours before the mobs could loot. A few rioters alleged coercion: “I was frightened and concerned about my life and was forced to go with the mob...we have lived with the Indians for many years and had no problems. It is the tsotsis (thugs) that are causing the problems.” Another woman maintained that Indians “called us every evening to watch television. We also ate together...I saw the Africans take away some of the furniture, we could not do anything”.
While many of the Indian victims experienced feelings of betrayal and loss of trust, there were others who felt differently. One resident who lost his house “honestly believe[d] that the unrest was not racial friction”. Inanda cannot be considered as a repeat of the 1949 riots. The scale and the context were clearly different. The main resemblance was the passive role played by police in the face of widespread looting, arson and stone throwing. The events were triggered by political action which was hijacked by criminal elements, but they also found some resonance with Inkatha’s earlier anti-Indian agitation. Fatima Meer suggests that the Indian residents were caught in the cross-fire of general uprisings all over the country, and proposes that an aggravating factor was that Indians left their homes before being attacked, thus leaving them free to be occupied by criminal fringe elements. Even the pro-Inkatha YS Chinsamy, commented that there was no “racial conflict, only political issues which gave vent to anger”.
There were different racial responses to these events. One survey showed that Africans became more radicalised, while Indians and Coloureds became more conservative. In African areas, support for Inkatha dropped and UDF support rose, whereas in Indian areas UDF support dropped from 15% to 14%. The UDF was probably hardest hit by the change in the attitudes of Indians, particularly with regard to their perceptions of violence. Only 1.8% of Africans blamed the UDF as compared to 8% of Indians. Most Indians were unable to make a distinction between Inkatha and the UDF. The political world in which these organisations existed was far too distant from their own realities, particularly since the UDF had not succeeded in weaving itself into the social fabric of Indian working-class existence. While 41.4% of Africans believed Inkatha had fanned the trouble once it began, only 2.5% of Indians blamed Inkatha. Conservative political forces gained from the events, with Rajbansi and the HoD displaying high visibility with the assistance of police protection during the disturbances. This conservative turn was reflected in the fact that 53% of Indians proclaimed support for P.W Botha. Africans saw the targets of the unrest as the government (46%) and informers (28%). Coloureds saw the targets as businesses (39%) and Indians (27%); and Indians saw themselves (45%) and businesses (26%) as the primary targets. These differing views may be attributed in part to government propaganda aimed at evoking fear and a retreat away from solidarity with Africans into the white laager. Inkatha was also constructed as a moderating and controlling force in the unrest. Some believed that these riots stemmed from a small proportion of Indians embracing tricameralism.
The history and consciousness of Indians prior to the riots allowed a racial myth to be created out of an occurrence which was not racially-orientated. The comparison of the losses inflicted are important: Africans experienced 70 deaths and the looting of 200 African businesses, whereas 4 Indians died and 44 Indian businesses were affected. However, across the class divide fear had found a home - a fear that would persist for the next decade at least. One indication of this fear (and self-interest) was the submission of a memorandum by Indian farmers calling for their incorporation into KwaZulu rather than the loss of their properties in Inanda.
Inkatha, clearly aided by the state’s ideological and coercive apparatus, attempted to win the support of Indians through calling Indian-African solidarity meetings with Rajbansi. This conservative alliance also condemned the UDF and NIC for fomenting the violence. The media gave prominent coverage to these articulations and confirmed for many the UDF’s complicity in the violence. The NIC accused the government of attempting to blame them for instigating the Phoenix-Inanda disturbances and the ensuing violence. NIC leaders rigorously asserted that they had not been involved in promoting unrest or in any activity that was unlawful. These denials were ignored by the electronic media and received limited press coverage. The HoD and Inkatha, however, contended that they consistently eschewed violence as a political weapon, unlike the implicit support the UDF offered to the ANC’s armed struggle. Thus, with the weight of the conservative media it was relatively easy to exonerate Inkatha and attribute blame to the UDF.
During the Inanda uprisings residents felt deserted by political leaders. Rajbansi’s promises of leading the affected residents to Inanda to acquire their remaining belongings was never realised. Meanwhile, the UDF and the NIC were unable to present any alternative support to the affected residents. Columnist Ameen Akhalwaya enquired why AZAPO and the UDF, “which claim to have large followings, do not hold any public meetings with residents to diffuse the situation and help organise protection?” Substantial criticism centred around the failure of the NIC to provide aid, and several letters to newspapers accused the NIC of doing nothing for the Inanda victims. However, UDW students and various youth organisations did collect food and clothing for the victims and attempted to present an alternative view of what had transpired in Inanda. Nevertheless, Rajbansi accused the students of “fanning the flames of unrest”. The UDW-SRC president responded by accusing Rajbansi and his colleagues of doing the same by supporting tricameralism. The NIC was also unable to prevent the subsequent eviction of the Inanda victims by the Durban City Council for failure to pay rents, despite a previous agreement with the Council for a period of leniency in recognition of the residents plight. It was against this background of organisational ineffectiveness that the NIC was forced into a sharp retreat.
The Inanda riots and other township violence underlined the failure of the tricameral system. A leading business figure, Chris Saunders of Tongaat Hulett, admitted he was wrong to support the tricameral parliament since it had in fact created more problems and solved none, with unrest spreading...in Natal to areas such as Lamontville, Chesterville and Inanda where peace had in the past prevailed. The first step in the process of moving to a common and shared society is to release Nelson Mandela and his colleagues, unban political organisations and create the necessary psychological conditions for meaningful dialogue with the true representatives of the people.
While the Inanda violence looms large in the consciousness of many Indians (but less so than the events of 1949) and attracted the interest of some academic observation, it is a mere footnote in the overall chapter of the violence in KwaZulu-Natal that has its beginnings in 1980. Magyar suggested that the Inanda conflagration revealed Indians to be a political minority entrapped between the deteriorating relations of the dominant white and African communities. He predicted that the outcome of “this inter-nationalist struggle will affect Indian people directly”, yet at the constitutional level, Indians still exercised virtually no initiative. Inanda showed that participation in the new parliament had not engendered greater national security for the Indian voting constituency as an ethnic minority.
The Inanda riots also exposed the serious organisational weaknesses of the NIC. Its leadership was distant from the people affected by the riots, and it had no influence or grassroots presence in the area that could calm anxieties. However, its relatively small activist base in Phoenix worked strenuously to provide relief for the residents who fled from Inanda, albeit under the banner of the local civic and child and family welfare society. The absence of the NIC leadership, with few exceptions, was an indication of the ineffectiveness of the NIC and its inability to protect and defend Indians. The class dimensions of the conflict were complex. Much of the land was owned by well-off Indians, but the vast majority who resided there were in the same position as the African tenants. Inanda was one of the few areas (and the largest) in South Africa where Africans and Indians lived side by side, albeit reflecting different class structures. However, poor Indians also lived in shacks. Adam observed that the riots confirmed the state’s success in alienating the divided segments from each other through separate institutions and different incorporations.
While it was mostly the Indian working-class (and some traders and farmers) who were affected, it would be accurate to say that the Inanda incident reverberated across the class divide. However, the middle-class remained quite secure and distant from the Inanda events because of their geographical distance. Even working-class Indians in Chatsworth were unaffected since the township was largely Indian with very few African residents living in immediate proximity. Nevertheless, rumours circulated for days of an impending attack from the neighbouring African township of Umlazi. Consequently, the impact of this event on political consciousness was devastating. It aroused memories of the 1949 riots, and bred fear, anxiety and confusion, causing many to question their opposition to apartheid. The refrain “better the devil you know than the devil you do not know” began to find currency.
The spontaneous nature of these events found the democratic movement unable to offer constructive direction. The movement learnt that “spontaneity” was capable of infinite power if it harnessed mass social discontent and the tendency towards mass action that could prevail in certain situations. Equally, spontaneity could be open to misdirection and even to manipulation by the state and forces such as Inkatha. These events showed that Indian resistance organisations lost contact with their constituencies by “running ahead”; that is, they went faster and further than people seemed to want, and advocated a course correct in itself but for which their constituency was not adequately prepared. Meanwhile, the African leadership appeared to “lag behind”; that is, they failed to go as far as the people were prepared to go. It was expected that the sound leadership of organisations would steer a middle course and endeavour to obviate both errors. Nevertheless, the absence of common objective conditions in oppressed communities greatly exacerbated the problem.
I have argued elsewhere that, youth organisation leaders in the African communities sometimes “lagged behind” youth in their constituencies whereas Indian and Coloured youth leaders tended to “run ahead” of their constituencies driven by their desire to emulate what they saw as the more desirable political practice that prevailed among African youth. This phenomenon was facilitated by increased contact between youth leadership in the different racial groups. The reverse occurred too, as African leaders became aware of the limitations of united action across the racial divide. This realisation tempered their own analyses and militancy, and sometimes led them to “lag behind” their constituencies. These questions also confronted the ANC as it forged ahead with the development of its internal infrastructure.
The rise of the ANC and the shift to the underground
By the late 1970s many Indian activists saw themselves as part of an informal ANC underground. Some only formally joined the ANC in the mid-1980s or later but often saw themselves as ANC rather than NIC operatives. For many, the NIC was simply a convenient front. As one activist put it: “For us, it was more important to do [ANC] work.” Many Indian middle-class activists were supportive of the ANC’s military vanguard approach and felt that there was a need for concerted armed propaganda campaigns, given the ideological hegemony of the state. Others also believed that an armed seizure of power was a real possibility. During this period the ANC argued that the build-up phase was approaching its climax and that insurrection was now properly on the agenda. Several thousand copies of such ANC statements were distributed in Natal by the underground propaganda unit led by Abba Omar a former UDW student leader.
One of the challenges facing the ANC was to articulate its political and military interventions in an appropriate manner. In late 1985, ANC operational units attempted to develop an integrated political-military underground command structure in the greater Durban area. The implementation of the plan, code-named Operation Butterfly, was overseen by Ivan Pillay and supported by a network of pamphleteers in Durban; among them were students Mo Shaik and Abba Omar. Shaik also maintained contact with exiled Ebrahim Ismail Ebrahim, who came back into the country illicitly to solicit recommendations from the underground for the 1985 Kabwe Conference. The ANC underground in Durban thus included the network around Pravin Gordhan as well as other formal political units. One of the MK machineries in Durban falling within the Swaziland operation was headed by Dr. Vijay Ramlakan. The military machinery in which Ramlakan was involved comprised more or less half African and half Indian members and covered much of Greater Durban. It was larger than the Omar-Shaik propaganda unit, which numbered only 13. Many of these underground agents were members of the NIC and distributed ANC literature employing a similar NIC pamphlet distribution network.
In the late 1970s the ANC recruited mainly those from middle-class backgrounds, with disproportionately Gujerati merchant-class roots (and mostly Muslim). There was no specific discriminatory intention behind this demographic picture, which was facilitated by Indian social structure and kinship/trust ties. While caste was largely irrelevant in popular discourses, the legacy of caste privilege now manifested itself in class terms. There were at least two earlier attempts to set up ANC political underground structures in Chatsworth in the early 1980s. Sydney Moodley of neighbouring Merebank was deployed in Chatsworth where he operated until he fled in 1981. Merebank had a rich history of ANC involvement with several local activists having fled into exile. However, Ramlakan, whose own roots were in Chatsworth, pioneered the formation of ANC MK units. The well-known Lenny Naidu unit came into existence in the latter part of 1984 and trained within the country. All its members were high profile local youth and civic activists who were frustrated with the slow progress of Indian mobilisation, who felt that Indians must also be willing to sacrifice their lives to the ANC military effort, and who were largely uninspired by the leadership and programme of the NIC. Historically all these activists were of indentured roots and contemporaneously they were from working-class backgrounds. However, these units and those providing infrastructural support were smashed by the security apparatus after operating for between six months and almost two years within the country. Lenny Naidu and four others, including the writer, fled the country in early 1987 after spending several months underground. Another unit member turned state witness, and Derek Naidoo, Jude Francis and Ramlakan would later join several African comrades in trials that led to sentences on Robben Island. Ramlakan’s trial presented an important picture of Indian involvement in the ANC at a military level. The fact that Ramlakan, a person of humble working-class roots who had qualified as a medical doctor, added further poignancy to the trial. While these events may have contributed minimally to radicalising Indians, they showed Africans that Indians too were prepared to make sacrifices.
In later years activists from Chatsworth and several other working-class areas joined the ANC underground structures as repression increased and mass mobilisation became less viable. During this period, some NIC-linked underground operatives dedicated their efforts to ANC work or moved into other sectors, mainly trade unionism. These withdrawals, which included people who fled the country, had a debilitating effect on the NIC. In 1988, when Lenny Naidu was murdered together with other African youths in a hit-squad assassination near the Swaziland border, police restrictions deprived Chatsworth activists of the opportunity to use his funeral as a means to promote the ANC. Only 200 persons were allowed to attend both the funeral service and the burial. Notwithstanding these restrictions, prominent newspaper articles about Lenny Naidu’s assassination evoked some sympathy for the activist, his family and the movement. However, fear reigned supreme and there was no outward expression of these feelings. Non-racialism briefly triumphed as there were joint services for those who had been killed in the ambush. Only a few Indians attended these joint commemorations, but nevertheless the Ramlakan trial and Lenny Naidu’s assassination both inserted the ANC into the political consciousness of Indians, evoking a multiplicity of responses.
The operational relationship between the ANC and the NIC was important. While at a formal level there was only an historical link, there was great overlap between ANC and NIC activists. Ashwin Desai observes that:
The ‘dual role’ of underground and NIC activism...created problems within the NIC. The NIC membership was a motley crew. Hindus and Muslims, capitalists and workers, young and old all found a home in the NIC. It was broad-based with a broad appeal. Often ANC operatives tried to run the NIC as if it were a Leninist party. There was to be strict party discipline and decisions were to be made along the lines of ‘democratic centralism’. It was probably this kind of mentality that led to the marginalisation of many older NIC figures and to the subsequent charges of cabalism which were levelled by them.
Inevitably, the contradictions in ‘exile politics’ manifested themselves in the NIC since different cells reported to different ANC leaders: Mac Maharaj was based in Lusaka, Ismail Ebrahim and later Ivan Pillay operated out of Swaziland, and the Pahad brothers worked from London. Desai suggests that the absence of co-ordination amongst these three groupings was probably a result of geography as well as the power dynamics of exile politics. Different cells battled around the strategic orientation of the NIC, with each grouping believing “they were the authentic voice of the exiled ANC”. The combination of these conflicts and a range of other criticisms from the rank-and-file NIC activists around issues of strategy and internal democracy took a heavy toll on the organisation. Activists in the early 1980s spoke quietly about the existence of a cabal, because they did not want to expose divisions in the organisation publically. As problems intensified the word cabal became one of the best-known within the national resistance lexicon.
Cabalism and the decay of resistance politics
Several conflicts characterised NIC and UDF politics, including the relationship with the tricameral parliament, the question of whether there should be a reconsideration of the boycott position, the issue of appropriate responses to the detentions of leaders, the moves for unity between AZAPO and UDF, and the attempts to increase worker participation in the UDF. At a local level, these tensions manifested themselves differently. For example, some Chatsworth activists adopted an antagonistic position towards the potential of “control by the town grouping” led by Pravin Gordhan; and there were concerns about the absence of working-class leadership and the fact that youth and women were not sufficiently recognised as independent sectors of struggle. (See Table 7.1) It was in the youth sector that criticism reached its peak; these processes have been analysed in my earlier work.
Conflicts such as these confused and alienated several new activists who were being told that while unity was the greatest weapon, in reality disunity prevailed. The full scope of this disunity of the Indian left is worth examining. First, there was the division between ANC-aligned Indians and non-ANC aligned Indians. Secondly, the non-ANC aligned Indians were divided into PAC, AZAPO and APDUSA/NUM. Thirdly, there were those Indians who held an independent worker position. This group, dismissed as anti-ANC by the hegemonic grouping within the NIC, began to gain ANC acceptance after the formation of COSATU in 1985. Fourthly, the divisions within the ANC/NIC supporters were intense and related to organisational strategy, personality clashes, methods of accountability, internal democracy and ideological positions.
The ideological splits within the Indian left, often had more to do with semantics than substance, much like the splits which plagued the white left, particularly in Johannesburg during the mid-1980s. The main conflict was disagreement over the choice between a one-or two-phased struggle. Those who subscribed to the view that the struggle in South Africa was one continuous struggle for socialism were opposed by those who believed that the first phase should concentrate on the struggle for national liberation, while still supporting socialism. These antagonisms were not neatly compartmentalised. They had several overlaps and the political allegiances of many activists were disparate, diffuse and multiple. For example, many saw themselves as NIC and ANC activists from 1980, but by 1983 they also became supporters of the emerging trade union movement which was viewed as not being in opposition to other left organisations. There were several debates within various informal circles about what it meant to be anti-AZAPO. This was accentuated in 1982 with the release of prominent BC activists from Robben Island. However, it can be argued that none of these left political debates affected the life of the majority of Indians, and that they were self-indulgent preoccupations of disconnected activists. It was the conflicts within the NIC that had the greatest relevance for Indians.
In October 1987, a unique workshop of Chatsworth activists examined a range of criticisms pertaining to the NIC. These deliberations are valuable as an indication of the contradictions between activists working and living amongst Chatsworth’s working-class (though some activists were becoming middle-class) and the leadership of the NIC, who resided mainly in middle-class suburbia. The organisation was criticised for failing to transform itself into a mass-based organisation despite having had several opportunities since the 1980s. It lacked day-to-day grassroots contact and “functioned in alienation of the people”. It was based primarily on the participation of student activists or middle-class elements and professionals. The area committees (ACs) were weak, ineffectual and almost non-functional, while the absence of proper branches made it difficult for ordinary people to participate.
Activists argued that if proper branches existed through which people in Chatsworth and Phoenix could feel part of the organisation and to whom the organisation would be accountable, then activists would be in a better position to defend the organisation and themselves during the state of emergency. The organisation enjoyed an element of protection which would derive from its mass character. Being essentially an activist organisation, it had become easy for the state to isolate and neutralise its influence among the people. Furthermore, representation within the Executive and Organising Committee (OC) was not based on elections by the areas. Individuals were chosen or co-opted onto these structures willy-nilly and this was considered to be undemocratic and no longer tolerable. It was noted that the Activists Forum (AF) and the Area Committees were used for consultations with activists. However, the AF was criticised since no prior knowledge existed of the issues to be discussed at these meetings. Consequently, no real discussions took place in ACs and this led to individual viewpoints being put forward without proper democratic discussion in the areas. In any event, the ACs expressed views that were routinely disregarded by the Executive.
The political practice of the organisation was also criticised, and it was alleged that the NIC lacked a proper programme and was too issue-orientated. Cliqueism and infighting were seen as hampering progress. In particular, an observation was made that the organisation’s practice was dominated by a “Chemist Grouping” (Pravin Gordhan was a chemist), and a few people who met regularly at his pharmacy were believed to unduly influence the organisation. Certain activists, because of personal loyalties, built centralised control around this group. They had privileged access to information and resources, and this tended to elevate their position in the various areas without necessarily cultivating the popular support of the local activists.
The workshop also expressed grave concerns about the decision-making process of the organisation. Activists argued that the AF and ACs were used for rubber stamping decisions that had already been taken by the Executive and Organising Committee. Branches were requested to implement activities without first investigating the feasibility of such proposals. Appointments of certain persons to the OC and Executive were made without consultation. Those who participated in the Executive and the OC did so on an individual basis and did not carry the mandate of their areas. There were also concerns about the accountability of these personnel who seemed to serve permanently on both the Executive and the OC. There was no process of recalling people from these structures, nor were there adequate forums for criticising these individuals when necessary. There was no mechanism through which the NIC was accountable to the (Indian) “community”, and in general people were unable to question the functioning of the organisation. The Executive and the OC were also not accountable to activists.
The workshop also applied itself to the relationship to other sectors and found that the NIC seemed to be “dominating the comrades from the African sector”. Activists felt that some African comrades were “becoming Indianised”. There was little contact between the NIC and African comrades with the resulting alienation of Indian activists. The UDF had little or no support among Indian people, and in Chatsworth it was seen as an African organisation. This was in part a result of the kind of consciousness that some Indian activists held. It was also felt that there was a lack of contact between the activists and the leadership, resulting in poor co-ordination of work at local level. There existed no established way in which the “centre” dealt with the “periphery”, and because of the preferential treatment that certain activists enjoyed, their loyalty was to certain leadership figures rather than to the organisation as a whole. Many activists felt that they were “mere pamphlet fodder” since they did not learn much else besides how to distribute pamphlets. Those activists who were theoretically advanced did not adequately share their knowledge with others.
It was also noted that individuals who raised criticisms of the organisation were ostracised and labelled as being reactionary, members of the Marxist Workers Tendency, BC, petty bourgeois, individualists, CIA agents, ultra-leftists and so on. This reality prevented activists from voicing even the most valid of criticisms. It was suggested that since the OC itself was being criticised for being undemocratic, it was therefore ill-equipped to deal with the proposals and recommendations that activists were making. There were also criticisms that the organisation catered mainly for middle-class people such as doctors and lawyers. The criteria used for the appointment of individuals onto the Executive were questioned since, following the 1984 elections, a system of co-option had been used. Neither the ACs nor the AF were consulted on these measures. It was felt that within the Chatsworth AC there also existed cliques and this caused divisions which were often related to a power struggle between the “town” and “township” groups. There was rivalry and disagreement over strategy and organising. After the tricameral elections, some township activists aligned themselves with the chemist/town grouping.
Specific criticisms were made against Shoots Naidoo, a member of the Executive from Chatsworth. The questions centred around activists’ security during the emergency. A high code of discipline was expected from the leadership, and they were asked to clear out their homes of any sensitive material. Activists questioned how security police had got hold of CHAC files which had been in Naidoo’s custody. Those in detention around June/July 1986 were shown these files, which included the names of several activists, and this resulted in the detainees being undermined when they attempted to conceal information. Furthermore, no one was appraised of the confiscation of these documents. Naidoo denied that any minutes were taken, but detainees maintained that the minutes were written on graph paper used only by him. The issue was left unresolved with a face-saving suggestion that it would be addressed when further details emerged.
The workshop recommended that the NIC needed a completely new structure. It was suggested that the OC and the Executive needed to be re-elected and made accountable to activists and the community. Branches must be formed to enable ordinary people to participate in the affairs of the organisation. The AF was to be used primarily for education and consultation. It was also considered to be important for the NIC to organise in other sectors, for example among high school students. In the wake of allegations of NIC ineffectiveness and disorganisation, internal elections were planned for December 1987 to stem the growing dissent within NIC ranks. The thrust for the conference came from younger activists who had been actively involved since the 1980 school boycotts and especially after the 1984 tricameral election boycotts. There was disagreement, though, about whether the NIC revival could rely on the new activists, since many of them were students and lacked stability and the necessary “economic base” to maintain an effective political organisation.
The chemist/town grouping acquired the name “cabal” because of their immense control of and influence over the organisation. A joke at one factory suggested that NIC policy under Dr Monty Naicker was “just what the doctor ordered”, but under George Sewpersad, a lawyer, NIC policy was “just what the chemist (in reference to Pravin Gordhan) ordered!” There were claims that some senior NIC executives were being marginalised and that this threatened to split the organisation. These executives claimed that they were excluded from activities, seldom notified of meetings, and were not consulted on key issues. On the eve of the conference, these officials resigned because the meeting was to be held clandestinely. They claimed, furthermore, that the election of office bearers had been predetermined by the “cabal”. Farouk Meer refuted this, stating that branches had made nominations for officials, and that this should not be considered undemocratic. He threatened legal action if the accusations continued. The conference then degenerated into an exercise in bad public relations.
The secrecy of the conference was aimed at accommodating “underground” activists. Delegates were picked up and taken to the venue, and while there, they were restricted to the hall and not allowed to make phone calls. The way the Conference Organising Committee operated invited several criticisms: it was claimed that they “went along their task in secrecy and the effects will only be felt when the rulers of the cabal tear down the entire membership in their grand design to keep the country under their feet”. The priority given to the participation of a few, albeit influential, activists on the run from the Security Branch in preference over the benefits of a much needed public AGM was a miscalculation which would hinder the NIC’s resuscitation, especially since the NIC recognised that they had not always functioned democratically. Certain individuals banding together have exercised undue influence on its activities. The leadership has been disunited. Personality conflicts have been rife. The lack of internal democracy has contributed to its paralysis.
Overall, there was clearly a need for greater unity, a broadening of the NIC-support base, and the need to review strategy in the light of changed conditions after the Inanda riots and racial incidents on the beach-front, as well as the state of emergency.
The fracas surrounding the NIC conference and the cabal, dominated the local press in the first half of 1988, while the second half of the year was dominated by the LAC elections held in October. There was considerable displeasure at the ousting of M.J Naidoo, and a letter from a worker delegate to the NIC conference stated that the NIC:
is no longer entitled to be one of the custodians of the Freedom Charter. This viewpoint is being expressed in my factory...My fellow workers are saying that what the state failed to do with M.J. Naidoo, a top congress leader, the NIC cabal has succeeded in doing by isolating him from the NIC.
Questions were also raised about the central role of Hassan Mall and Hassim Seedat (who was elected treasurer), since some viewed them as collaborators for their role in HoD-controlled institutions. Although communal or sectional thinking hardly found a space in the NIC vocabulary during this period, questions around MJ Naidoo’s ousting were inevitably in the minds of many working-class Indians. Naidoo, a south Indian Tamil-speaking Hindu of indentured roots, was marginalised and believed that preferential treatment was given to Seedat and Mall, who were of north Indian, Muslim and merchant class roots.
The NIC’s stature continued to plummet with popular assertions that the government had not banned the NIC because the cabal had already stripped it of all its vitality. One letter-writer asked why the NIC had stopped public meetings in Phoenix and Chatsworth, and why they had said nothing about the recent bannings, rent increases or the rising unemployment. Another letter alleged that the NIC, as a result of the cabal allegations, had lost all credibility:
From the time of the conference and to date they have lost credibility and remain a poor runner, trailing behind community organisations trying to regain that lost credibility.
A further embarrassment was inflicted on the NIC by one of its high-profile supporters who opted to contest the LAC elections partly because of the snub he had received from the NIC. In any event, there was speculation about whether the NIC would participate in the LAC election itself. For the state and its allies, it was essential that the coming LAC elections were successful. This became clear when they passed legislation allowing special votes to be cast in the last two weeks leading up to the election. Organisations were also prevented by emergency regulations from calling for boycotts.
The influence of the cabal extended further than the NIC. Archie Gumede suggested that in the UDF some activists were using coercive tactics, alleging that democratic decisions could not be taken until Mandela was released. It was suggested that the cabal’s technique of achieving consensus was based on the idea of “coercion now, internal democracy later”. Some believed that just as M.J. Naidoo was “liquidated”, so too action against Gumede would be set in motion because of his exposure of coercion by activists. The Inkatha-aligned, Ilanga newspaper sought to portray the UDF as anti-Zulu and Indian-controlled, and claimed that it had evidence of a cabal within the NIC that controlled the UDF and the MDM. Sewpersadh’s refutations sounded less than convincing: “There is no foundation to the allegation that the NIC or a cabal controls the MDM. This is a gross travesty of truth.”
A magnanimous analysis of the cabal phenomenon would proceed as follows. There was a shift in political space from the bannings of BC organisations in 1977 through to 1985 and a tightening up of legal space again until 1989. First of all, those in the leadership were unable to make these shifts as creatively and astutely as was necessary. Secondly, the imperatives of executing important, urgent tasks called for the best skills that were readily available. Often these belonged to middle-class activists who were known and trusted by the dominant grouping within the NIC leadership. No conscious attempt was made to exclude activists from Indian working-class areas or indeed African leadership more generally.
A less generous analysis might suggest that there was a propensity to control both the underground and legal resistance in Durban (and the province) and the resources that came with that control. While the possibility of severe state repression was omnipresent, the anticipated change in political fortunes also meant that those seeking a long-term political career might risk repression in order to position themselves strategically for the longer term. While we might speculate that perhaps a combination of both sets of reasons enabled the emergence of the cabal, it is important to assert that those who came to be associated with the cabal were deeply committed both to the NIC and the ANC, and had served the movement for several years. However, what they failed to recognise was that the struggles of the 1980s had also generated a large number of activists, including those from working-class neighbourhoods, who shared an equal if not greater commitment to the Congress movement. Most importantly they were unable to make space for the effective incorporation of these newer activists into the NIC. A greater weakness was the failure of this leadership to encourage Indians actively to engage in the various non-racial sectoral organisations and to link civic organisation to the broader political struggles of the moment.(See Table 7.2)
We should pause here to comment on the apparent preponderance, disproportionate presence and hence influence of Indians in prominent positions in various leftist organisations, even though the vast majority of Indians did not share these attitudes. One reason is that of non-racialism itself. Indian activists saw themselves as black and as South African, and believed that they should participate in the struggle not as Indians but as blacks. So, for example, when Jayendra Naidoo moved from participating in civic work in Indian areas to working in trade unions, which meant working primarily with African workers, he saw no contradiction. The high visibility of Indians in leadership (not withstanding their small numbers) must also be attributed to their greater access to education compared with that of Africans. (See Table 7.3)
Women and resistance
The NIC conference also failed to promote leadership by women. The conference convenors were criticised for using constitutional reasons to disallow the appointment of an additional woman to the executive, especially since an “instant” amendment to the constitution was allowed to enable Coovadia to become the fourth vice-president without necessitating a vote. A letter by a NIC woman activist attacked the NIC’s male chauvinist approach and asserted that under its bachelor president George Sewpersad, and dominated by the cabal [they have] given women only a token representation on its executive where Ela Ramgobin sits. On behalf of the youthful NIC women activists I want publicly to record our feminine protest. Gandhi and Monty Naicker gave women the respect due to them, but not the cabal which is totally male. [They] ignore the Valliamahs of today and reject Gandhi as irrelevant in an age of violence.
While the criticism of the NIC’s failure to respond specifically to issues affecting Indian women, particularly working-class women, was valid, the observation that Gandhi was considered irrelevant was fallacious, as we shall see later. Furthermore, it is hardly accurate to say that Monty Naicker and Gandhi were expressly committed to leadership by women. The constant referral to history to justify contemporary positions, irrespective of factual inaccuracies, enjoyed much currency in NIC politics. AZAPO, meanwhile, fared relatively better in the promotion of women leaders. Even though its support base was small amongst Indians, the fact that it was committed to developing an accountable branch structure saw several women assume leadership positions. Where NIC branch structures existed, women were again represented disproportionately. It was amongst youth organisations that the most concerted efforts were made to promote women leaders. For example, by 1986 the leadership of a Chatsworth youth organisation, Helping Hands, included more women than men, and later saw the Presidency being held mainly by young women. More importantly, it was youth and civic organisations rather than the NIC that incorporated gender issues into their programme of work.
At the UDF launch in 1983, the Natal Organisation of Women (NOW) argued that women’s triple oppression marginalised women in South Africa. NOW called on all women to bring their organisations into the UDF and fight together with the men against oppression, exploitation and sexual discrimination. They also argued that it was only through organisation that women could find ways to challenge and change their oppression. These positions were eventually embraced as UDF policy. A key project was thus to “develop women’s leadership in the UDF” since, even though women were active in the rank and file of most organisations, there was a marked absence of women leaders. Women tended to defer to men and men often did not listen to women’s views. Women lacked “both the confidence and skills to articulate their positions in large forums”. The UDF Women’s Congress resolved to work within the UDF to ensure that all activities and campaigns of the Front were organised to facilitate the maximum participation of women, to eradicate sexism from their ranks, and to promote a vision of a non-sexist future amongst progressive organisations.
Three prominent Indian activists were in NOW’s leadership, but they did not succeed in developing branches in Indian areas. This was partly as a result of the unsupportive NIC Executive who had a strained relationship with NOW, even though both organisations sat on the UDF Natal Regional Executive. Forging solidarity with women across the racial divide was also a difficult process. In many ways it was easiest for Indian and Coloured women to make common cause, since their structural locations were broadly similar. The primary interaction of many Indian women with African women was as domestic workers. So when Congress supported a stayaway it urged Indian women to give domestic workers a paid public holiday. While the progressives failed to engage Indian women, the Durban City Council sponsored the development of welfarist, social club-type women’s organisations in Chatsworth and Phoenix. These developed into an extensive network of organisations, with 17 being affiliated to the United Women’s Association in Phoenix alone. A similar umbrella body in Chatsworth aligned itself with a progressive initiative called the Chatsworth Co-ordinating Council for Health, Housing and Welfare (see table 7.4). These organisations maintained a relatively apolitical and neutral position. However, subjective factors and human agency favoured the orientation of these organisations since the leader of the women’s body in Chatsworth had a son who was a Congress activist. CHAC set up a women’s committee which, amongst other activities, attempted to work closely with these organisations and thus subject them to a progressive influence. However, these women’s organisations did not affiliate to the UDF, nor did they overtly support any UDF campaigns.
The impact of NOW was largely limited to urban areas, and it was by no means a mass women’s movement. Its presence in Indian areas was even weaker. While NOW was not simply interested in ushering women into the struggle, it was also committed to dealing with gender issues, though some of its allies did not always make this explicit. For example, UDF President, Albertina Sisulu, speaking at a NOW conference stated: “You can be in the kitchen and in the struggle because your children are there and you have to be with them”. In any event, working-class women exhibited a willingness to offer resistance around issues that directly affected their lives. Thus, when Cato Manor residents discovered that rentals for their new homes would consume between 40% and 50% of their salaries, it was mainly women who protested at the House of Delegates offices. It was only in 1988 that feeble calls emanated from within NIC ranks for women to organise as a sector. The ANC Youth League also called for youth to consolidate the presence of working youth by strengthening links with the other sectors of the mass democratic movement including with womens’ organisations. Indian women in the main, while eschewing political involvement, were visible in the leadership and in the programmes of religious, cultural and sporting organisations. It is worth noting however, that several Indian women occupied important positions both within the underground and in the legal resistance. For example, Veena Naidoo of Chatsworth fled to work with Umkhonto we Sizwe in exile, while Pregaluxmi Govender, played a leading role in the trade union movement and later became the national manager of the Women’s National Coalition. Three other Chatsworth women also played a key role in strengthening the South African Clothing and Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) during this period. Here again we see the visibility of Indians in resistance, but their limited mass support base from amongst Indians. However, SACTWU did succeed in unionising many Indian women and there was a discernible rise in their political consciousness.
India, Gandhi and “Indian Culture”
Kay Moonsamy, a senior ANC figure in exile, correctly argued that when the majority of Indians joined resistance organisations, they did not do so as Indians but as South Africans since they considered themselves “part and parcel of the South African society”. The majority of Indians did not look towards India but “of course there is a special affinity because our forefathers hailed from India”. The plundering of the Gandhi settlement during the Inanda riots undermined this logic to some extent. The settlement was pioneered by Gandhi but neglected by Africans and Indians alike. The rioters, however, returned a priceless lamp taken from the settlement when its historical significance was explained. Only a small fraction of the Indian middle-class were affected by the devastation, as these words testify:
The settlement, had it been vital to the functioning of the community around it, would not have been touched...Yet the sorry truth is that the settlement was a forgotten shrine attended only by a faithful handful.
In the aftermath of Inanda some middle-class opinion called for the sensitive rebuilding of the project to entrench itself in the life of both Indians and Africans and dedicate itself to the upliftment of the area as a whole. The Inanda incident was seen in India as anti-Indian, and was partly responsible for prompting India to take a greater interest in the affairs of South African Indians.
Historical reflection continues to play an important part in contemporary discourse. One letter writer, stressing unity between Indians and Africans, reminds readers that when Indira Gandhi visited South Africa before becoming President, she berated wealthy Indians for not doing anything to help either the Indian or African nationalist movement. Mahatma Gandhi’s refusal to include African liberation in the resolutions at the All-Indian Congress because it was not a specifically Indian matter, was also recalled.
What Gandhi had not realised was that freedom for South African Indians would be empty and would taste like ash in their mouths unless there was freedom for all. We cannot distinguish between degrees of repression, especially when the degree is dependent on one’s race.
The debate on whether or not Gandhi was racist, and on his continued relevance, attracted several letters. The NIC, meanwhile, continued to emphasise “Indianness”. For example, when the USA consulate was occupied by UDF detainees, the NIC pronounced: “your act is in keeping with the Gandhian tradition of non-violent resistance to tyranny”.
The NIC secured an agreement to forbid the entry of collaborators with apartheid into India. A prominent NIC advertisement proclaimed the collaborators as political pariahs who would not be able to visit the land of their ancestors, and it listed by name those who served on government structures. The NIC also fancied itself as a partial cultural gatekeeper and regulator of traffic to and from India. For example, the support of the NIC was requested in an application to the Governments of India and Nepal to permit a missionary to take up the position of head priest of the Arya Pratinidhi Sabha. Sewpersadh, wrote back confirming NIC support. However, many organisations were able to secure religious and cultural linkages without NIC support.
The NIC strategy caused widespread alienation of the Hindu majority. Former Presidents’ Councillor, Pat Poovalingam, accused the NIC of being anti-Hindu as India was their holy shrine (whereas the Muslims went to Arab countries) and of trying to prevent Indians who did not follow the ANC line from paying homage. Krish Gokool, a Hindu leader, noted that generally Hindus tried to avoid talk of the Hindu/Muslim religious conflicts in India since that would only further antagonise the Muslims who had been quite aggressive in advancing their faith with moral as well as financial support from some Arab countries. He conceded that Muslim Indians had generally been more prosperous than the Hindus. After the birth of Pakistan, many Muslim Indians began to identify with Pakistan as well as India. HoD personalities criticised the Indian government for severing relations with South African Indians, since the lack of contact had alienated the younger generation of Hindus from their cultural moorings and was thus largely responsible for their easy conversion in large numbers to Christianity and Islam. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, by contrast, had been supporting and funding the Muslim Indians in their proselytising campaign, while the Christians had official South African government support. The cultural boycott’s application to India, strongly advocated by the ANC, thus met with substantial disfavour among those Indians who desired cultural links. One observer remarked that this “cultural alienation was unfortunate and cruel”.
Many Indians were clearly not at ease about their future in South Africa. After the Inanda riots, the state consciously contributed to frightening Indians into submission and fear. Prime Minister PW Botha remarked that Indians would be the first to pay the price if things went wrong in South Africa, playing on this fear to coerce people into supporting his policies. The ANC was beginning to accept that some attention must be given to the consciousness prevalent amongst the majority of Indians. Winnie Mandela observed that Even the most progressive members in the Indian and Coloured communities pose questions such as ‘Can we really trust these blacks?’ We need to assure them that there will never be another 1949 in the history of South Africa.
It was in this context that the Indian government sponsored in October 1988 a delegation of 52 Indians to meet the ANC in Zambia as part of a plan to allay Indian fears. While the widely different backgrounds of delegates were commended (they were not only from the leadership of the NIC and TIC), there were criticisms that by sending only Indians the NIC entrenched their position as an ethnic organisation. Mr Sitram Singh, representing the Indian government declared that “India treats the struggle in South Africa as an extension of its own freedom struggle”.
Farouk Meer claimed that the specific purpose of the Lusaka visit was to get Indians to be more sympathetic to the ANC. We wanted them to be introduced to the ANC and make them realise that these are not ogres. These are human beings. They’ve certain values and these values were in keeping with the ideas that pervade the Indian community with Gandhian philosophy and there was compatibility. There were certain sectors that became very vocal after the visit to the ANC. The Aryan Benevolent Home became very supportive of the NIC/ANC brand of politics. Prior to that they were veering closer towards the system politics or remaining completely neutral.
Meanwhile the PAC’s Zeph Mothopeng maintained that they believed in non-racial democratic rule of the African people in Azania...there are no Indian people here, but only people of Eastern origin provided they have become Africans.
While the PAC had limited support amongst Indians, it is worth noting in retrospect that their position appears to have held greater conceptual clarity than was previously thought to be the case. The references to India, Indian tradition and culture, and Gandhi combined to construct feelings of fear and foreigness in terms of both external perceptions and self-perceptions. The reconstruction of Africanness will be dealt with in greater detail in the next chapter.
The NIC-TIC-COSATU delegation to India in 1989 signalled the complete re-insertion of India into the political discourses of South African Indians. Although the delegation was cast as a MDM delegation, its primary composition was Indian. The Indian Congresses, concerned by perceptions of Indian ethnocentrism, told the Indian government that affirmative action was necessary with regard to Black education and requested India to provide bursaries for African students to enable them to study in India.” They also suggested that the selection of students should be entrusted to the UDF affiliates working in close consultation with the ANC. There was also some sensitivity with regard to Pakistan’s exclusion from the itinerary, especially since the delegation was given red-carpet treatment in India and had a high-profile meeting with Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi.
Overall the NIC mobilised ethnicity inappropriately and failed to speak on contemporary concerns, especially those of the Indian working-class. While some middle-class Indians may have warmed to the historical claims concerning Gandhi, these certainly did not bring the majority of Indians closer to the ANC, even though the strong relationship between the ANC and the Indian government was highlighted. At a time when the ANC was intensifying its armed struggle, it appeared incongruous to many that the NIC could support the ANC but still used Gandhi as a rallying symbol. This constituted a confused message to their intended constituency. The casting of India as protector was again inappropriate and did little for people with fears about their contemporary location in South Africa. India was a distant place with great poverty and a cultural context that South African Indians did not understand.
It is worth noting the generational conflict with regard to how Indian culture was understood amongst the ANC-aligned Indian left. When, in 1987, the UDW SRC delegation (comprised exclusively of Indians) met an ANC delegation in Zimbabwe, they stressed that they were responding to the reality that within the current political climate the ANC is playing a major role - even the government recognises the importance of the ANC by singling out the ANC for special attack in the newspapers, radio and TV.
They stressed however, that contrary to press reports, they did not go as an Indian delegation seeking assurances for Indians:
We went with no prescription and sought no assurances. However, it is true that during the course of discussions questions pertaining to Indians did arise, as did questions pertaining to Afrikaners and Africans. It is true that during discussions we looked at these communities separately because it is the reality that the level of participation in the various communities is different and we had to look at the reasons for the different levels of participation. This is a part of the South African reality.
The students charged that presumably the ethnic base of certain newspapers in need of boosting circulation prompted “such a slanted fashion” of reporting.
The UDW students also complained that while ten people were tried for terrorism, the Indian newspapers focused on one prominent Indian, Dr. Ramlackan, who had stated that he was a South African patriot before he was an Indian. The students maintained that: “When we entered the sphere of struggle we entered not as Indians playing a supportive role, but as patriots playing an integral role in the struggle for a free and democratic South Africa”. This generational conflict also exacerbated tensions between many youth and student activists and the NIC leadership during this period.
The events analysed in this chapter occurred during a period of closing political space and increasing repression. Therefore, criticisms of the NIC’s organisational inefficiency and lack of internal democracy need to be seen against that background. On the other hand, the NIC itself did not pose a direct threat to the state during this period, and the government turned its attention to the significantly more militant opposition of various predominantly African resistance formations. Nevertheless, the state of emergency saw several Indian activists withdraw from political involvement altogether. Some went underground, some fled into exile, and others were urged to turn their attention towards ANC work.
This period saw the ascending role of the electronic and print media in shaping political consciousness. The alternative resistance propaganda paled into insignificance in the light of a powerful and hostile media further constrained by various forms of media censorship under the state of emergency. Therefore, notwithstanding attempts by the resistance to fight back, there was little chance that the resistance could undermine the state’s ideological thrust. Of course, this was not helped by the organisational paralysis of the NIC. In effect the NIC, after being the victor in the 1984 tricameral elections, entered a period of unending decline as resistance amongst Africans was on the ascendancy.
By the late 1980s committed Indian activists took their political energies into the ANC, as well as various sectoral organisations and in doing so they unwittingly put a huge distance between themselves and the Indian constituency. For most there was no serious return towards developing an Indian political base. So the irony is that while Indians occupied disproportionately high profiles in the resistance movement nationally, this was not matched in popular Indian consciousness. Basically, the strengthening of African resistance spawned new symbols, images and slogans which the NIC was not able to influence and link to Indian working-class experience. This thus confirmed the alienation of the vast majority.
The insertion of India, Gandhi and Indianness was in fact a recognition that Indians were not responding to the call for unity with Africans and more effective participation in the struggle. As we have seen, the manner in which this strategy was executed fuelled feelings of foreignness, fostered greater internal divisions and did nothing to alleviate the problem of fear and insecurity. Following Inanda, it might have been possible to promote the commonality between Indians and Africans through greater contact and improved understanding between the different communities. Instead, fear was dealt with by referral to a reconstructed, glorified and exaggerated history, and the attempted link between Gandhism and the ANC. This was clearly difficult given the intensifying militancy that characterised the ANC during this period.
The internal conflicts within the NIC and the UDF in Natal had broader implications nationally. Cabal became a word that prevailed in political debates throughout the country. However, these debates rarely went beyond acrimonious accusations and counter-accusations, and they failed to provide a new way of dealing with organisational conflict and decision-making in a context of repression. These tensions would render the NIC a weak and ineffectual organisation incapable of influencing the politics of Durban, Natal or the country in the coming decade. It is to the 1990s and the politics of transition away from apartheid that we now turn.