Question: What has the ANC`s attitude been to violence?
TAMBO: For decades we did not think violence had a role to play in the ANC`s struggle: not until the National Party came into power in 1948 and was physically violent. The obvious thing was to respond with violence, but then we thought that perhaps that was what they wanted - that they would use our violence to rally whites around them.
We decided we would not be provoked into violence. If the regime had not been violent, we would not have thought of violence. It was our policy to be consciously, deliberately, nonviolent and we persisted with this during the 1950s. There has never been a more violent regime in South Africa, but we stuck to our nonviolence.
But as the years went by violence increased. We saw more armed police - with pistols at first, then sten guns. Then the tanks came. Women`s demonstrations were put down with tanks. As we approached the 1960s our people asked - where do we go from here? In 1960, when the ANC leadership were still insisting on nonviolence, on discipline, that we must get the support of the white electorate - the white electorate continued to support the regime. Then we had the Sharpeville shootings (67 blacks killed, 187 wounded). Even after that we decided to continue with nonviolence.
In 1961 we called a strike to protest against the formation of a republic in South Africa, because the government had failed to respond to our call for a national convention. But the army was mobilised on a scale not seen since the Second World War - against a peaceful strike. We knew then that the army had left its barracks and that we had reached the end of the road of nonviolence. Once the army was involved, we could not take it any further than that. The police were no longer sufficient. It was a new situation.
We decided then to embrace violence as a method of struggle. But we were still cautious. The strict rule was that sabotage should involve no injury to life. We carried out numerous sabotage actions, but no one was injured. We always selected targets away from the likelihood of anyone being hurt. That was in December 1961. I recall that the office of a Cabinet Minister in Pretoria could not be attacked because he was there. Ultimately it was hit, but he was not there - we had taken care of that. That has been the pattern. There have been thousands of sabotage attacks over the past 20 years and in almost every instance the reports were that no one had been injured.
When we blew up the SASOL tanks, where thousands of people were working, the attack was carried out in such a way that no one was injured. Yet on the other hand our people were being captured, tortured and mercilessly interrogated. False statements were extracted and on the basis of those false statements they were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment, under severe torture. Many became demented. Some who escaped are mental wrecks.
We have fought back when attacked, and there have been many clashes with the police, but only against the police. Lately the regime has become almost desperate. There have been assassinations of our people. In 1979 they tried to kill hundreds of our people at a military school in Angola. They came over in five planes, but fortunately we were not there. That was March 1979. It was a brutal attempt to massacre.
(Tambo then referred to the SADF raid on ANC houses in Matola, outside the Mozambique capital, Maputo, in 1981 in which 12 ANC men died; a similar commando raid on the Lesotho capital Maseru on December 9 last year, in which 42 ANC members and Lesotho nationals died; and the South African Air Force bombing of Maputo on May 23 this year, in which at least five Mozambicans and one black South African died...)
This means the conflict is escalating. We always thought it was going to be a bitter, brutal, vicious struggle, almost as a necessary precondition for the liberation of South Africa. We have got to go through that. The conflict is reaching new levels. There is going to be much destruction, much suffering and a lot of bloodshed which will not be confined to South Africa.
Question: How far do you think South Africa will go in its attacks on its black neighbours?
TAMBO: The ANC has tried desperately to place as little weight as possible on the neighbouring countries and to make our own sacrifices. But South Africa will stop putting pressure on them only if they turn against the liberation struggle, if they actively obstruct it. Without doubt South Africa wants to see Chief Leabua Jonathan`s government (in Lesotho) out of office. They are working for this. They want him personally and his government to fall. Then they will replace him with their own puppets - they have got them all ready. They want to do the same thing with Mozambique by promoting the Mozambique Resistance Movement to replace the Mozambican government. In Angola they want to see UNITA take over. These are all puppets. They would surround South Africa with a constellation of puppets. Then they would feel safe.
But it is not possible for these governments not to support our struggle. The Machels, Dos Santos`s, Kaundas, Mugabes - they are all creations of liberation struggles. That is what put them there. It is part of a whole historical movement. They cannot avoid supporting the struggle, agreeing with us, wishing us success. There may be limitations as to what they can do in practice, but they cannot be our enemies. If they did what South Africa wanted them to do, to destroy the liberation struggle, they would be destroying their own independence.
Question: What about civilian deaths?
TAMBO: In 1980 we signed the Geneva protocols and said that if we captured any enemy soldiers we would treat them as prisoners of war. The fact is we are not against civilians. We do not include them in our definition of the enemy. The ANC was nonviolent for a whole decade in the face of violence against African civilians. What do we mean by a civilian? It really means white civilians. No one refers to Africans as civilians and they have been the victims of shootings all the time. Even children. They have been killed in the hundreds. Yet the word has not been used in all these years. Now it is being used, especially after the Pretoria bomb (outside Air Force headquarters). But implicit in the practice of the South African regime is that when you shoot an African you are not killing a civilian. We don`t want to kill civilians. But some will be hit, quite accidentally and regrettably. I am sure we are going to lose many civilians and many innocent people, as happens in any violent situation. The situation of heightened conflict is going to destroy human life as well as property. I am afraid this is coming. Bombs will explode, and one or two people who were not intended to be there will be killed.
We will not boast about it the way the South African regime boasts about its killings. But surely someone is going to say - why are you keeping the South African regime in power? Get rid of the system and everyone will be safe. I think South Africa is going to be a very happy country one day, and we will avoid loss of life but - harsh though this sounds - we cannot allow the system to persist for the sake of saving a few lives. It is not so harsh when one considers how many lives apartheid has destroyed. The Zimbabweans lost about 30,000 people to get their independence.
Question: Won`t violence polarise whites and blacks and make the building of a nonracial society one day impossible?
TAMBO: The ANC must be credited with having tried to avoid polarisation. But if that is the price we must pay not to live as slaves forever, we will pay it. Also, while white South Africans enjoy the benefits of apartheid, I don`t think they are going to die for it. Already thousands are refusing to fight for it. South Africa is lucky to have an organisation like the ANC. When it takes over it will be as a nonracial force.
Question: How do you answer the charge by the breakaway Marxist Workers Tendency that you cannot win an armed struggle against such a powerful white state - that the black workers alone can achieve this?
TAMBO: To give up the sabotage campaign would be a disastrous mistake, the workers are potentially decisive, but it is not sufficient to rely solely on them. You are not going to win the vote simply by organising yourselves for higher wages. In the 1950s we called a strike almost every year, but it was not sufficient. If we remove the armed component from our struggle, we are back to square one. No change. We must not have exaggerated notions of what workers as workers can achieve. Power is not achieved without armed struggle when you have a regime which is prepared to shoot and kill to defend its position. It would be equally disastrous to say the armed struggle has no need of any other form of struggle. Organisation of the workers is most important. They are a very powerful component of a total struggle.
Question: Is black consciousness thinking pushing out a lot of the old, nonracial ANC ideas?
TAMBO: No, young people who have joined the ANC have become very contemptuous of black consciousness ideas. I have heard them say it is rather primitive stuff.
Question: The accusation is often made that the ANC is under the undue influence of white communists?
TAMBO: I don`t know where these white communists are. When I say: mention them, they reply - Joe Slovo. When I ask: who else? they are silent. It is extraordinary how white communists are credited with so much power and influence and supremacy and superiority. Why are we not being influenced by black communists? And why can`t the influence go the other way? Individual members of the Communist Party are like any member of the ANC.
Question: Does the fact that Russia gives the ANC military aid put Joe Slovo in a specially strong position?
TAMBO: No. We have direct access to the countries that support us. We meet presidents, prime ministers, ministers, foreign ministers. This is done by ANC delegations, sometimes led by me, sometimes by others. Why would we need Joe Slovo to convince Bulgaria or Hungary to support us? Why do people think the ANC cannot be run without the help of white South Africans? How can a whole movement like the ANC depend on one person? People who belong to the Communist Party accept that the ANC must lead. They take direction from it. If Joe Slovo comes to me and I say no, he accepts it. They have come to accept our course because they accept it as the correct one. There is no question of the ANC being controlled, directed or influenced by communists.