TAMBO: The events in Soweto and other parts of South Africa have become a significant milestone in the development of the liberation struggle. To assess these events and their impact on the future of our movement we must first consider them as one of the manifestations of the new revolutionary level to which the confrontation with imperialism has risen not only in South Africa itself, but in southern Africa as a whole.
For the liberation movement in South Africa, in addition to the armed and unarmed struggle led by the African National Congress, the collapse of Portuguese colonialism has been of decisive importance. This applied particularly to Mozambique's winning of independence, the emergence of an independent progressive State directly on the South African border, and the victory of the MPLA in Angola over the aggressive forces of the South African regime. This victory had a tremendous mobilising impact on the masses in South Africa. In the same period the national liberation movements of Zimbabwe and Namibia, which are waging an armed struggle for independence, have increased their striking power and are bringing ever greater pressure to bear on the racist forces of Smith and Vorster.
The events in Soweto and other areas fit into the context of this new stage that has arrived for the national liberation movement in southern Africa, and correspond to its demands. It may be claimed that since Soweto our struggle in South Africa has been at par with other countries of southern Africa that have not yet freed themselves. It should be noted that the number of fighters who have perished in our country in clashes with the regime in the 18 months since the Soweto events is approximately equal to the number of guerrillas who died the death of the brave in the same period in Zimbabwe and Namibia.
Our struggle has developed in two basic directions. The main one is mobilisation of the masses, workers, peasants and young people. The other is stepping up of armed action. In South Africa in 1977 mass action with workers and young people participating was combined with actions by the military formations of the African National Congress, and both types of action were obviously coordinated in time. This demonstrates, on the one hand, the support of the masses for the armed struggle that is needed to bring ultimate victory, and on the other, the reliance of our underground organisations on the support of the mass of the people.
For many years the Vorster regime tried to prevent such coordination, such an alliance, resorting to various repressive measures, imposing long terms of imprisonment without trial, to assassinations and shootings, the victims of which were often young people. However, the scale and intensity of the struggle grew inexorably. In the autumn of 1977 the Vorster regime was confronted for several weeks by a mounting popular offensive. Realising that the activities of the masses confronting the government were getting out of hand, Vorster imposed additional restrictions. He banned a number of moderate organisations and newspapers, prohibited the political and social activity of certain individuals, and later arrested some of them. Vorster must have known, of course, that such actions were bound to evoke the condemnation of international opinion, further isolate the regime, and force even the imperialist powers, verbally at least, to dissociate themselves from him.
But declaring political organisations illegal means forcing them to go underground and leaving them no alternative but to take up arms against the Vorster regime. So intensified repression leads to intensification of the struggle, which in its turn evokes even more brutal repression. Despite all this, however, we still regard such a situation on the whole as a positive factor: the enemy is in considerable disarray. There are increasing opportunities for stepping up the struggle at all levels and in all spheres. More and more people are being drawn into it. A radical change is occurring in the people's mood in South Africa.
The ANC now has to put all its weight into maintaining the momentum of the struggle, the offensive against the regime. Armed action must be intensified, blows must be struck at the enemy from every possible direction. In this connection it must be stressed that we attach the greatest importance to international support, particularly in the form of material aid.
Although the situation favours us, the enemy is far from beaten. In South Africa vigorous efforts are being made to divide and weaken the forces that are working for revolutionary change. For instance, for the first time in the history of exploitation of an indigenous population, the ruling regime is encouraging and is building up a black bourgeoisie, both in the rural areas where the so-called bantustans have been set up, and in the cities. This is nothing less than an attempt to create a "shock-absorber" for the blows that the working class strikes against the capitalist system in South Africa.
The bantustan system, as we know, is calculated to divide the oppressed and exploited masses, who are forced into economically and politically weak ethnic formations, the idea being to facilitate the exploitation of the whole people, with the "independent governments" of the bantustans acting as its direct instruments.
Pursuing the same aims of splitting the exploited masses, the regime of the white minority is planning to create separate "parliaments" (inferior and helpless, of course) for South Africans of Indian origin and "Coloured people". But to carry out these plans, Vorster needs time. His imperialist supporters also need time to adapt to the changes caused by the rapidly developing revolutionary offensive in South Africa. This is one more reason why the African National Congress regards the intensification of the struggle as an absolute necessity at the present stage.
The ANC is also quite certain that the revolutionary movement in Zimbabwe and Namibia will press forward with the offensive against the racist forces and in the near future lead the peoples of these countries to final victory. And this is yet another factor contributing to our confidence in the ultimate triumph of our people's struggle for liberation.
Question: Couldn't the plan for setting up "parliaments" for the Indians and Coloureds mislead the people belonging to these communities?
TAMBO: Of course, even among the exploited and oppressed there are traitors. Of course, even among the Indians and the Coloureds one can find people ready to collaborate with the enemy for personal gain, who will support Vorster's policy of perpetuating the enslavement of their peoples. Others, perhaps, may think this is better than nothing at all.
However, people representative of even of these Indians and Coloureds of South Africa who are working "within the system" - I am not referring at the moment to participants in the revolutionary movement - cannot remain indifferent to the problems of their peoples and the revolutionary currents in their country. And they have already rejected Vorster's plan. They say quite rightly that it would perpetuate the domination of the white minority and help to stiffen racist policy. Vorster's plan is designed to separate, to isolate the Indians and Coloureds from the majority of the population. This would naturally put them at the service of the racist minority.
I am sure that the racist and imperialist puppets will agree with the Vorster plan, but the mass of the population will not. All the organisations representing Indians and Coloureds are exposing this plan. It is being fought not only by the ANC, but also, for example, by the Coloured Labour Party which operates legally. Coloureds and Indians are taking part in the national liberation and working class movement of our country. Their opposition to racist policies is obvious. They are against any and every kind of ethnic and racist "State" formations.
Question: What about the grating of so-called "independence" to the bantustans?
TAMBO: Well, what is meant by "independence" of the bantustans? It means privileges for a few - big houses, cars, and so on. But such "independence" gives the masses nothing. The people who live in the bantustans are usually unemployed and with a very few exceptions are unable to find work locally. They have to go to the cities, which belong to the white minority. But even there they are often unable to find a job and, if they do, the conditions amount to semi-slavery. The bantustans cannot help the people living in them to overcome poverty, give them an education, and meet their other needs. On the contrary, in formally becoming "citizens of independent States", the people in the bantustans lose all rights in South Africa - their citizenship, right to travel, and so on. They are subjected to new, unprecedented restrictions. They are herded together in quite small territories, whereas before they were at least able to travel anywhere in the country. The "citizens" of Transkei, for example, are severely restricted beyond the Transkei borders, which means throughout the rest of South Africa.
But there is another important side to this situation. The policy of worker migration pursued by the South African regime means that every year thousands of Africans are driven out of the cities into rural areas, while thousands more are forced into the cities. So the rural areas are being steadily enriched with the political experience of proletarian struggle. Today the Africans living in rural areas have become semi-proletarianised. They actively oppose the bantustan system and this is a significant factor in the development of the revolutionary struggle in our country.
Question: A lot is said in so-called liberal circles about the "moderate leaders" of the black population who could help to reduce the tension, act as a safety valve, so to speak.
TAMBO: They are yet another shock-absorber that the regime is trying to create. But they have thought of it too late. The "moderate leaders" will be swept off their feet by the mighty tide of revolution, and this is already happening. On the other hand, some of the moderate leaders who had been so highly praised by the South African liberals were arrested in the autumn of 1977 because, in the view of the regime, they could not be moderate enough in the present situation.
In general, South African liberalism is in crisis. It has lost its self-given mandate to speak for the oppressed and exploited masses. Today they speak for themselves, by their actions and often at the cost of their lives. And the politicians who want to build their careers on "defence of the grievances of the oppressed," now find themselves out of a job. Hence the confusion in the ranks of the South African "reformists," the disappearance of one of their parties and the formation of new parties that are also doomed to split and disappear. Amid the working people's mounting struggle for national and social liberation, the contradictions in the ranks of the exploiters become even more acute.
Question: The press in the imperialist countries writes a lot about South African businessmen who because of their need for a steady flow of new manpower have an interest in some relaxation of apartheid and might bring pressure to bear on the government. What is your view on this point?
TAMBO: The hopes of the so-called liberal South African businessmen are pinned on certain minor reforms that could, so they believe, help to put things right and lift some of the restrictions of apartheid. They think that this would satisfy the people enough to hold back the revolution. But it is unrealistic today to imagine that the actions in Soweto were intended to achieve only partial improvements and reforms in minor matters. If this were so, it would have been all over in one day, after the first shooting. But the staunchness, the unbending will shown by the people proves that they are fighting for complete liberation, and not against "petty apartheid," not for "pleasant exploitation," but against all exploitation of man by man.
The social content of the national liberation movement in South Africa has now come much more clearly to the fore, because the regime's racist policy means that the most exploited are those who are most oppressed in the national sense. This is what has determined the social content of our national liberation struggle.
Question: The murder of Steve Biko and the banning of a number of moderate organisations in South Africa was followed by a big uproar in the press of the imperialist powers and some government leaders spoke out against the regime. Does this signify any real change in their attitude toward Vorster?
TAMBO: The growing power of world progressive opinion, which opposes racism and supports the struggle for national liberation, tends to isolate the imperialist powers that are helping the Vorster regime. Their role as accomplices in the racist crimes against the peoples of South Africa is become increasingly clear. World opinion is concentrating the fire of its criticism on these powers as the force that is behind the executions in Soweto and other crimes of the Vorster regime. The masses of the people in these countries do not want to see their governments on the side of the regimes of the white minority.
Even the argument that South Africa must be defended as an anti-communist bastion does not hold water nowadays, although the South African regime clings to it for lack of anything better. The South African racists have sung the anti-communist tune for a quarter of a century and are still singing it. But in the present situation there is hardly anyone anywhere who takes it seriously.
These factors compel the governments of the imperialist powers to present matters as if they are siding with world opinion with regard to the South African regime. So the protests against the murder of Steve Biko and other repressive measures do to some extent express the feelings of ordinary people in these countries, which are similar to those of ordinary people the world over. And this is certainly a sign of the growing power and influence of the progressive forces on the world scene.
And there is another aspect to all this. Imperialism today is incapable of crushing the revolution by force, as it did in the past. But it is trying to control and contain it. And if imperialism starts speaking the "language of liberation," some see this as a "change of the flag". But experience has shown that one can attack apartheid in the fiercest terms and call it a crime against humanity - and still give it military, economic and political support. So the loud protests that we have been hearing lately from a number of government leaders in the imperialist countries do not necessarily mean the end of these countries' support of the racist regime in South Africa.