Question: At the end of August, the regime conducted its "elections" to the "Coloured" and Indian parliaments. As expected, the whole exercise turned out to be farce, rejected by the majority of these communities and by the rest of the oppressed and democratic forces. How do you assess this victory?
TAMBO: First of all this has been a very great victory. But to see its proper dimensions, it is necessary to go back to the starting point of these so-called elections. Botha`s attempt to tamper with the constitution which we reject, was an attempt on his part to get out of a crisis generated by the growing power of the oppressed masses and the democratic forces of our country. It became necessary for Botha to do something about the advancing forces of liberation; to divert them, to halt them, to delay them. He conceived of the idea of dividing these forces; recruiting from among them to strengthen the white minority numerically, to strengthen its repressive armed forces and to perpetuate the status quo.
Did he succeed? He failed dismally. The President`s Council was rejected. He addressed his white supporters - the white minority of our population - and persuaded them through a referendum to accept this strategy in their own interests, in the interests of continued white domination in our country.
The majority of the whites went along with him. He undertook to run a corresponding referendum among the supposed beneficiaries of this new amendment to the constitution. Our people, the oppressed, made it abundantly clear to Botha that that referendum would return a resounding, definite No to the new constitution. He could see that. Therefore he evaded the referendum. He did not want to know the truth, and he opted instead for election. But the answer was the same. The people refused to participate in those elections by an overwhelming majority. They were therefore refusing to be divided; they were refusing to be recruited as an army against their own future, against a free South Africa. They were rejecting yet again the concept of white minority rule. If some 60 percent or more of the white favoured the new amendment, the blacks - and I include all the blacks - must have rejected it by something like 90 percent - 90 percent allowing for a few who did vote. Allowing for the Allan Hendrickses and so on. So the elections were a battlefield in which the enemy was soundly defeated.
What is the result? The result is that the idea of manoeuvring out of the crisis having failed, the Botha regime is faced with a worsening crisis. Nothing that he has attempted to get out of this crisis has happened. On the contrary, his position is worse, and our position is so much stronger. Therefore my assessment of the victory is that it is an all-round victory touching every aspect of our struggle, touching every aspect of our South African life. It is therefore the basis for further advances - the solid, indissoluble base. To consolidate such a base, is a great victory!
Question: How do you view the role of the mass democratic movement in bringing about this victory - in particular, the role of the vanguard, the ANC?
TAMBO: The vanguard movement is on alert all the time, watching and following the manoeuvre of the enemy. And the vanguard movement lost no time in alerting our people on what was happening, with the President`s Council and all those schemes. We called for action to resist all this. We called for mobilisation of our entire forces. We called for united action.
We called for Unity in Action, 1982 and 1983. It was necessary that we should meet this new offensive by the enemy as a united democratic force. Nothing else would help. I think our people responded remarkably to this call. The emergence of the UDF was exactly what we were talking about during the Year of Unity in Action, 1982. It was what we envisaged in our call in 1983 for United Action. We had called for confrontation with the enemy on all fronts, by all our people in their various organisational formations. The response to this call was the emergence of the UDF. Early this year, facing the prospect of "elections" in August, we called on our people to boycott those polling booths, to stand firmly united as an opposition to the oppressive system of apartheid. We called on the youth, the women, the workers, our young armed cadres to rise and face this bold attempt by the enemy to dig in. And there was a response, a remarkable response to this. We called on the white minority of progressives who were disappointed by this demonstration of unity against the majority of the people of South Africa as indicated in the Yes vote to the referendum.
And there were enough among the white section of our population who associated themselves with our call, and who have been and are activists in the UDF. All what has happened is in complete accord with what the vanguard movement has wanted to see.
Question: Despite the overwhelming rejection of this new constitution by the people, the regime is going ahead to implement it. What therefore are the challenges facing the entire democratic front?
TAMBO: Now we need to understand, the regime is acting helplessly. They have no choice, they are acting in desperation. They have nothing else to do. They are not really going ahead. They are simply being controlled by events, because if they started with the notion that this was a step in the right direction - a step forward as they called it - it should have been accepted by our Indian and "Coloured" compatriots with the same enthusiasm with which it was accepted by the white minority. Why were they going to make a referendum among the "Coloureds" and Indians? Because they had thought at first that this was supposed to be good for the "Coloured" and Indians. The understanding was obvious that if these communities did not want the new amendment, then the regime would proceed. This was a natural thing to do.
Why are they proceeding? Because they have no alternative, which makes the so-called tricameral parliament a total farce. What then are the challenges of the progressive movement, of the democratic movement, in that situation? If the enemy has failed, we must pursue him. We have been proved to have the capacity to say No; we have been proved to be united in our action. We must pursue the enemy. We must make this farce unworkable. We must reduce it, by our actions, to an absurdity. We must go beyond saying No.
We must assert our demands for the constitution that would form the basis of a united, democratic nonracial South Africa. This tricameral parliament is not based on such a constitution. We must make it totally unworkable. And the path before us is exactly that we must attack the constitution itself. Not only the amendment; we must go beyond. We have finished the amendment. It does not exist from our point of view anymore; its existence is farcical. We must now go for the basis of the constitution. We must resist the laws which emanate from a body established by this racist constitution. This means defeating this manoeuvre in a united struggle, which touches every aspect of the apartheid system. We need to go for it in a massive general offensive. Anything that smacks of the constitution of the so-called Republic of South Africa, must be attacked so that the constitution itself becomes unworkable.
Question: The new constitution also entails the centralisation of power in the hands of Botha and his clique which is dominated by the military. It entails also the militarisation of the whole country. Now, how does this intensification of the militarisation process affect our struggle and in what way do you think the white minority should respond to this?
TAMBO: The centralisation of power in what is ultimately the State Security Council undermines the very concept of parliament as understood up to now. Botha has become embedded in the military; he is its spokesman, more than that he is a spokesman of big capital. He is the spokesman of military which is virtually running the country. This means parliament by the military. So the country is becoming, even from the point of view of the white electorate, a dictatorship. For us, it has always been. For the opposition it has been all these things: it is fascist, it is racist, it is a dictatorship.
But the white community has landed itself in a powerless position. The new constitution which they said was a move in the right direction, has always been in our view, a step in the wrong direction, along a road leading to disaster, for apartheid South Africa and even - and especially - for the white community itself. They are going to be trapped in a situation in which there are two forces involved in determining the future of the country. The military and the democratic majority led by its vanguard. We are reaching that position.
What is the white community doing now? What have they done about the rejection of the amendment which they welcomed so much? They are helpless. Would they as a community agree that 80 percent rejection of the constitution by the "Coloured" and Indian communities mean nothing? Is that their concept of democracy? Are they going ahead in spite of that? They are going ahead because they are helpless. It is Botha who is determining the thing. They are simply being dragged along. But they are being dragged along ultimately to a disastrous, catastrophic situation. We should have expected that by now, the majority of those who have said YES to the amendment would have expressed their strong reservation about the new amendment in the light of reactions to it of the vast majority of the black people of our country - by black again I mean "Coloured" Indians and Africans. They are doing nothing about... It seems to us that they should not stand aloof. The election and its defeat was about their future as much as it was about the future of the black people. The struggles are being waged now in the townships. But they are not ending in the townships. Today they are onlookers, tomorrow, they will be in it.
Question: Talking about the upsurge in the townships: this heightened activity has been about protest against township councils as well as against gutter education. Now people compare this upsurge to events of the early 1960s or events of 1976-77 and 1980. But how can we say we are at a higher level of struggle compared to these periods - higher levels of struggle for the seizure of power?
TAMBO: In form, the actions of today are like the actions of 1976-77 and so on. There is action by the youth; in 1980 there was action against the system of education: the 1976 actions were triggered by an incident, and a whole revolutionary situation was uncovered when the youth and the students responded to the provocation. This time the actions are a result of planning and development of the struggle consciously. They were not spontaneous in the 1976 sense. The responses to the new constitution have been general. They have touched every strata of the South African population black and white. There have been opposing reactions to the new constitution: support by the whites, rejection by the blacks. And therefore, mobilisation began to arise around this particular issue. The Youth took it up on the theme closest to them. The students, as in 1976 were challenging the system by challenging the system of education. This time they have not been acting in isolation. They have been part of a countrywide front which, in the first instance, was not articulate - it did not take concrete form - until the formation of the UDF. But feelings of the people, their unity in concert, in aspiration, found concrete expression in the formation of the UDF. And the number of organisations involved showed that no strata, no section of society, was left out. We were all in there. It is in that context, as part of that movement, that the students take action against the education system and sustain it. It is also in that context, that there has been resistance, at a higher level, to, say, rent increases, as part of a broad national offensive. And therefore before these elections, you had these massive actions. After these so-called elections, they continued, because in the course of resisting the elections, again the entire people were mobilised and acted together.
As I say, it is a vastly new level of struggle. It is action on all fronts, stimulated by a common issue - the issue of power centralised in the constitution and aimed at defeating the enemy`s schemes. And that has had the effect of sustaining action, removing the element of spontaneity. It means there is organisation of a permanent nature that has come into play; and the results demonstrate that we are more powerful than we have been, that our struggle has risen, that we actually defeat the enemy. We can actually cause these councils with their rent increases to retreat. We can cause the government to change its mind.
The attempts to remove the people from the Cape Peninsula and throw them in the bantustans was fought by the people who were sought to be removed, successfully: the enemy was defeated.
Just about everywhere around, we have reached a position where we are controlling our own lives, and refuse to be told what to do. In every institution, the people are gaining power. The power to say we shall not have rent increases, and they don`t have them; the power to cause the enemy to abandon a decision taken according to his constitution. The danger is that we might sit on our laurels. We need to be vigilant; because this is a power we dare not lose. This is a level of struggle we dare not permit to decline. We need to build upon this.
But this is a basic difference between 1976-77, 1980 and 1984 where unity has been demonstrated; where power has been demonstrated. And these actions are proceeding on a sustained, determined, irrevocable basis. I think enough has already happened to indicate that we are going forward all the time. There is no longer a retreat, we are advancing.
Advancing against Malan, le Grange and all these big powers, who say they are coming into the township, and we cause them to retreat. That symbolises the mood, and the enemy has dared to refer to this mood as reflecting a revolutionary situation. It is the first time I have heard a racist Minister describing the situation in our country as revolutionary. He does so against the background of all that he has known about our struggle over the years. This time they cannot conceal the facts. It has become a reality. Then if the situation is revolutionary, we want to deepen and heighten that revolutionary situation.
Question: In your address on January 8th this year, you called on the people not only to smash the apartheid organs of government but also to go ahead and establish their own organs of power to express their will where such organs have been destroyed. Could you elaborate on this against the backdrop of achievements made in this direction in such areas as Pietermaritzburg, the Vaal Triangle and Vryheid?
TAMBO: This is a matter that relates to our entire struggle. We talk of the destruction of the apartheid system. But we need to see that destruction as part of a process which goes beyond the destruction of the apartheid system to the creation of a new system, to the replacement of the apartheid system with the system of our own choosing. This is the fact. We do not want merely to lay waste, to bring about ruination, devastation, No! We destroy as part of a process of building. We are pulling down inhuman structures, and creating democratic ones instead. Therefore as we go along destroying, we should also be building on the ruins of what we have removed.
The examples you cite of Pietermaritzburg, Vryheid, the Vaal Triangle, are indications of this process being carried on successfully at the level of these regional communities, local communities. We need to tackle greater formations like the bantustans, make them unworkable, destroy them, build something in their place.
This concept of putting before our people the thing we want must dominate our thinking, and we shall not be seen merely as just destructive forces: we are constructive forces. The councils we want must be built in the place of those we do not want. The system we will remove must be replaced by the one we want. In the Vaal Triangle, Maritzburg Vryheid and various other places our people are making the creations of the enemy unworkable. The idea is: take over these things to create something else in their place, because we are there still. We must have our own system of government and use that to advance the struggle. We must take over power from the regime and use that power to advance the struggle to the fulfilment of our ultimate goals.
So when we call our people to destroy these institutions, we wanted that they should create their own organs. What should these organs be? What should be their constitution? Take the example of the students in the area of education. They compelled the regime to yield to their demands, but only partially. The regime said you can have your SRCs(2) but we will draw up the constitution. The students said: "No we will have the SRCs we want: therefore we will draw up our constitution." That is part of the call of our whole struggle. We do not want the regime to make amendments for us to the constitution. We do not want the constitution because it is not the constitution of the people. We don`t want changes to be made on our behalf. The people must make the changes. The constitution of the new South Africa will not be drawn up by the President`s Council. It will be drawn up by the people of South Africa. This is central. It will be their constitution. And the students have picked on a key issue of who rules, who takes decisions, who governs - is it the regime or is it us? And I commend students on that decision because it shows political maturity.
This is what we are talking about. It concretises the fact of our opposition even to the new amendments, assuming we accepted any amendments at all. But who makes the amendments?
The principle of refusing to be governed by an illegitimate regime must be sustained in our struggle, and it must emerge that the illegitimate regime has no legitimacy. It has no right to take decisions on our behalf. It is running on the basis of a constitution which specifically excluded us; it is not our constitution. And therefore we are obliged by duty to reject anything that emanates from this regime. The students are starting the correct way. This is what we meant in our message.
In the townships the authorities there are an imposition. We must reject those authorities. We must reject the laws and the constitution on which they are based. The tricameral parliament in so far as it affects the "Coloureds and the Indians" is an imposition. We must reject it as we now must reject and be heard to be saying: we reject the very parliament; we reject the bantustans because they are part of the scheme not only for oppression but for excluding us. I believe that the struggle around the constitution - which is what we are involved in over the past eighteen months or so - has opened up a new area of struggle; or rather, should I say, it has thrown up a very important issue which should feature in our struggle against this regime - the issue of the legitimacy of the regime and therefore our rejection of the constitution which purports to legalise this regime.
Question: In response, the regime has not only unleashed its police but has also called in the army in an attempt to suppress the mounting revolt. It has also taken a number of measures in an attempt to paralyse the UDF and the rest of the legal democratic movement. How do you assess this development and how should the legal democratic movement respond to enemy repression?
TAMBO: The regime has acted predictably. Our cause is a very just cause. The enemy reacts to our demands in two ways: only either by conceding those demands or rejecting them by force. There is no other way of response because there is no question of our retreating. And it has sustained itself over the years simply, therefore, not by granting demands but by using repression - a huge army of repression, the biggest army of repression on the continent. And so the main function of the police force is to act against the movement of the people and its leaders. Lately, the police force has proved inadequate and the regime conceived of the idea of bringing in the army. That was a very significant indication of the growing power of the people, but that was a tactical blunder on the part of the regime. They recognised it and therefore decided to withdraw the army - at least physically - perhaps dress it up in police uniform, but the army is still there.
They are acting against the leaders of the democratic movement - that was predictable. At its inauguration, the UDF predicted that at some point the enemy would act against the leaders and against the Democratic Front itself. They are doing that. But for us this is nothing new. They are repeating now what they did, especially in the fifties, against the movement led by the ANC, ultimately banning the ANC, declaring it illegal. But they are doing it in a new climate of international opinion, in a climate in which the regime is being pressurised to talk to the leaders of the people to avoid an explosion which would hurt the regime and its allies. They act again in desperation. So everything they do brings problems for them, it compounds their crisis. And they continue to do this because they have no alternative. This is the crisis I was talking about.
So for us, recognising that these are acts of desperation, that the enemy is failing, the task is to intensify the offensive exactly because leaders have been arrested. That should be the reason for mobilisation - for people rallying behind those leaders, the people intensifying the struggle. And this process I think is going on. So the enemy will ultimately perhaps consider doing something that will be disastrous for the enemy: to ban the UDF in that way stabbing itself, wounding itself, possibly even fatally. And they may be forced to commit that kind of suicide.
If we understand the proper response to their action of repression, it is a response of the people in their struggle, intensification of that struggle. A quick glance at our history over the past few years shows that this has been happening. Nothing the enemy has done has had the effect of deterring our actions, nothing at all. Everything that he has done which aimed at destroying our movement, has built up and strengthened it. That is simply because of the stage of the struggle. Everything the enemy touches, brings about trouble for the enemy.
Our response therefore is: the detention of a single leader should be cause for action by the people - demanding their release, not just in statements, but in action. The enemy should not be allowed to get away with it anymore. If we adopt this attitude, then we can see the symptoms of a victorious struggle. The killing of a single child, young person, member of the oppressed, should provoke not just a response in a given area where this takes place. But it should touch the whole country. We should be united about everything. An action taken by workers should have the response of solidarity action by the people. Let`s retain this unity in action. This is what we mean when we say let us make the system unworkable. Let us become ungovernable. Government brutality in Pretoria should provoke a response throughout the country. In that way the enemy`s days become truly numbered.
Question: The regime says one of the reasons why it is taking action against the UDF leadership is that the UDF is a front of the ANC. Now if we say that the emergence of the UDF and present-day mass upsurge is a result of organisation and mobilisation by the ANC, does it follow that the UDF is a creation of the ANC?
TAMBO: No! No! It does not follow, because the ANC has for a long time now, even since it was banned, actually called on the people to organise themselves: any organisation, even where it differed with the ANC, provided only it was oriented against the apartheid system, we supported it. So we have encouraged the formation of organisations. These 700 organisations that belong to the UDF were not created by the ANC. But the ANC has called on our people to organise themselves, whether they organise themselves into pingpong clubs or whatever it is, but we said, organise and direct your attention and activity to freeing yourselves so that you become human beings and citizens of your own country which you are not!
To say the UDF is a front of the ANC is to say that all these constituent bodies - more than 700 of them - are each a front of the ANC. Well, to say that would be ridiculous is an understatement. The UDF is its own Front. It is what it is: it is the United Democratic Front of various organisations of our people. Of course to be credited with such power by the regime, that we can actually have contact with 700 organisations, is marvellous. But that kind of flattery does not get into our heads. The UDF is the UDF. If the enemy wants to destroy UDF, then the enemy will say to its friends and supporters, especially in the West, that the UDF is a front of the ANC. It is talking to the Reagan Administration, it is not talking to our people. Our people know that UDF is not a front of the ANC. It is a United Democratic Front which was formed by our people deliberately, responding to the call of the vanguard movement, the ANC. Now we have an absolute right and absolute duty to call on our people to come together and unite in action. If when they respond they become the front of the ANC so be it! But that does not represent reality.
The enemy is looking for an excuse. It has not even learnt from its experience, because in any case, the ANC should have been destroyed in 1960. Over the years they have proclaimed that they have broken its back. How does it manage to have a front?
They said they have destroyed it. Lately, after Nkomati, they said the ANC was shattered. Why do they continue to be worried about its having fronts? They will not destroy the ANC, and if the UDF was a front of the ANC, they would not destroy it either. But the reason they can`t destroy the ANC, and will not destroy the UDF whatever they will do, is because the ANC is the people; the UDF is the people. And these people are armed with a just cause. They cannot destroy a just cause; they cannot! So all these pretexts are part of an understandable struggle for survival by a regime whose days are numbered. We are confident that the United Democratic Front will not be deterred by such threats; nor by anything that the regime does under any pretexts. About that we are absolutely confident.
Question: Coming to southern Africa: earlier this year, the ANC characterised the signing of the Nkomati Accord as a temporary setback. To what extent has the regime`s so-called peace offensive affected our capacity to give effective leadership to the unfolding events inside the country?
TAMBO: In one sense, the Nkomati Accord, which was eulogised as a peace offensive, has become a forgotten factor in relation to our struggle - inside our country of course - because no one could ever pretend, even at the time of the signing of the accord, that there was peace in South Africa. There is less peace now. So the "peace offensive" did not have meaning at the time. It has even less of a meaning today. Certainly, judging by the developments in our country, it could even be said that the manoeuvre which was aimed against our movement, has had the effect of strengthening it, because of the way that our people related to the Nkomati Accord. They understood it perfectly well to be an attempt to destroy our struggle. They refused to be destroyed; they went into action. And the regime has had more trouble since Nkomati than perhaps at any time before. It has conceded more retreats, defeats. It has retreated many more times than it has had to do before Nkomati.
It is not a peace offensive. It never was and it is not now, neither in Mozambique nor Angola. For what is happening in Mozambique today has nothing to do with peace. In fact, it has more to do with the implementation of the strategies of the South African regime for political, economic and military domination of the entire region.
The Nkomati Accord was a setback because it disorganised us, it took us by surprise. But we have recovered; we have stabilised. We are on the offensive - and yet in any case, the accord has never had the effect of diminishing our capacity to lead the struggle. It has affected certain areas of operation; it was a setback in certain areas of struggle. It was a setback only in that limited sense. But the regime has got itself into trouble, and one day the regime will have reason to wonder whether it might not have acted more wisely by leaving the ANC alone in the areas where the ANC was. Because by claiming to have destroyed it, the ANC, it alerted our people to the fact that, after all, this struggle must be fought inside South Africa by us in South Africa. It must be won by us. We cannot continue to place reliance on what someone else is going to do for us. We have tried to say this to our people, but Nkomati rubbed the idea in, and it got a quick, swift, effective response. And so the struggle is continuing at a much greater pace now over the past six months than during the corresponding period before Nkomati.