Pursuing the revolution versus “selling out”: Did the ANC make the right choice?
- Ranjeni Munusamy
- South Africa
- 08 Dec 2015 12:44 (South Africa)
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema has struck a raw nerve and he knows it. The negotiations during the transition to democracy and the legacy of Nelson Mandela are the most celebrated eras of South Africa’s torrid history, which Malema has now set about taking down. What started as a response to a question he was asked in London has now flared into a major national debate. He says the ANC compromised on “fundamentals” when “our people were prepared to fight on”. Malema was of course not there at the time. Some people who were, have a different perspective. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
ANC and South African Communist Party stalwart Joe Slovo predicted that those engaged in the negotiations with the apartheid regime might be accused of “selling out”. This was during the multiparty talks in the early 90s; in a document titled “Negotiations: What room for compromise?” Slovo asked and answered the question: “Why are we negotiating?”
“We are negotiating because towards the end of the 80s we concluded that, as a result of its escalating crisis, the apartheid power bloc was no longer able to continue ruling in the old way and was genuinely seeking some break with the past. At the same time, we were clearly not dealing with a defeated enemy and an early revolutionary seizure of power by the liberation movement could not be realistically posed,” Slovo wrote.
In the document setting out the ANC’s negotiations strategy, and which proposed the controversial “sunset clause” as a bargaining chip, Slovo said if the ANC kept its support base in the dark “it will eventually attract charges of ‘sell-out’”.
In the document, Slovo sketched out the differences between “quantitative” and “qualitative” compromises the ANC could make. “We must distinguish between what I choose to call qualitative compromises which imply a surrender of the whole or part of a substantive demand and quantitative compromises which allow for a degree of elasticity within otherwise fixed parameters.”
“Qualitative compromises do not arise in the course of the give and take of day to day negotiations. They constitute a clear departure from major policy positions,” Slovo wrote.
This document shows that the negotiations were not a hit-and-miss process for the ANC. They knew that the talks were a give-and-take process, they had certain bottom lines and they accepted that they did not have the military power to forcefully seize power from the regime.
In an interview with Stephen Grootes on Radio 702 on Monday, EFF leader Julius Malema introduced a different historical narrative. He said the majority of black South Africans were at the time prepared to continue fighting to “totally dismantle the apartheid state”. “Our people were prepared to fight… they were ready for anything.” Malema said there were “uncompromising leaders” like Winnie Madikizela-Mandela who were “not prepared to compromise on fundamentals”.
Speaking in London recently, Malema accused former president Nelson Mandela of turning his back on certain fundamentals such as the Freedom Charter. He has since clarified the statement saying it was not Mandela alone but the ANC collective that had abandoned the tenets of the Freedom Charter and surrendered to white capital.
Still, there are few people who would have the temerity to set Nelson and Winnie Mandela up against each other.
In the radio interview, Malema said the ANC negotiators had “ulterior motives”. “The ANC collective had uncontrollable ambition to be in power, to be ministers and presidents, therefore [they said] ‘the rest, we will entertain them later’. We are still sitting with that problem now,” Malema said. The ANC was now unable to get out of the “elite pact” it had agreed to then, he said.
One person who was part of the negotiations as a member of the ANC national executive committee (NEC) was Mosiuoa Lekota, now the leader of the Congress of the People. As a former Robben Island prisoner and a leader of the United Democratic Front, Lekota is well aware of the conditions of the time and what was at stake in the negotiations process.
In response to Malema’s claim that people wanted to continue to fight for political and economic freedom, Lekota said “people of our country did not want war”.
“It is not in the nature of human beings to kill other human beings”.
He said the path of negotiations was pursued from the time the ANC was formed and the Defiance Campaign against unjust laws was aimed at increasing pressure on the regime to negotiate a settlement. “I don’t think Mr Malema is alive to these things,” Lekota said.
He said the decision to form the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe was “never unanimous” and not every ANC member was in MK. “I don’t know if Mr Malema knows that. MK members were volunteers. Those who volunteered to take up arms were not in the majority,” Lekota said.
He cited the Umkhonto we Sizwe military code, which states: “Umkhonto we Sizwe is the fighting arm of the ANC and its allies. Our armed struggle is a continuation of our political struggle by means that include armed force. The political leadership has primacy over the military. Our military line derives from our political line. Every commander, commissar, instructor and combatant must therefore be clearly acquainted with the policy with regard to all combat tasks and missions. All of us must know clearly who the enemy is, and for what we are fighting. Thus MK cadres are not only military units, they are also organisers of our people.”
Lekota said the armed struggle was an “additional measure” to various other forms of struggle. “There was a commitment made that the day the rulers agreed to our demands, we would immediately cease the armed struggle and return to negotiations,” Lekota said. “This young chap doesn’t know what he is talking about.”
“A negotiated settlement means you must compromise to the extent that you can persuade the other side. No one side can dictate to the other,” he said.
With regard to the criticism of Mandela on issues such as nationalisation, Lekota said the former president did not take such decisions on his own. “These were decisions of the NEC. It doesn’t matter that he may have had to express them on our behalf in public.”
Lekota said the ANC was guided by lessons of history, particularly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Mandela’s meeting in 1991 with the then Chinese premier Li Peng, who advised against pursuing the nationalisation policy, was what brought about the turnaround. The Chinese leader had told Mandela that they had tried to experiment with nationalisation unsuccessfully and decided against it. It was then that the ANC changed its approach, not because it surrendered to white capital’s demands.
Lekota says the ANC tripped on the implementation of its policies and not because of compromises during negotiations. “Under the circumstances then, there is nothing better that could have come out of the negotiations process,” he said.
Former MK combatant and spy chief Barry Gilder says there was perhaps a slant towards the political demands and not enough on economic issues during the negotiations.
“Some of us were quite sceptical of the negotiations and ready to carry on fighting,” Gilder said. He said there was however no guarantee that anything more could have been achieved if the struggle had continued.
The ANC had to walk a “tricky tight rope” as negotiations could have been derailed by the right wing, a possible military coup by the then South African Defence Force, as well as the ANC’s own constituencies, Gilder said.
“It was the approach needed at the time, to get as much as we could from negotiations without backlash. We couldn’t afford to have the economy collapse so we had to keep white business on board. As a result, some of us got co-opted,” he said.
He said after the ANC’s unbanning, it “didn’t just throw down our arms”. Operation Vula was still running as the ANC did not trust the regime. But there was also widespread violence and massacres. Mandela withdrew the ANC from the Codesa negotiations in 1992 after the Boipatong massacre in which 45 people died.
The situation was complex, not theoretical as Malema might now think it is, Gilder says. But many ex combatants have some “emotional regret” about not pursuing the armed struggle further. “I wanted to march into Pretoria atop Soviet tanks… But the conditions at the time, there weren’t many options. You deal with what’s in front of you.”
In his book, Songs and Secrets, which documents his life in MK and experiences as one of government’s super spies before his retirement, Gilder explores the negotiations process in the postlude.
“No one can deny that what we won through struggle and negotiation was political power. Many acknowledge that what we did not win was economic power. But not many recognise that what we are still far from winning is ideological power – the supremacy throughout our society of the ideas and values that underpinned our struggle.”
And isn’t that why Julius Malema is a force to be reckoned with in South Africa in 2015? Because the ANC let go of its ideas and values? The ANC has let go of its institutional memory, its history, its heroes and their legacies. The preoccupation is with the preservation of power now. The ANC is unable to even defend its greatest achievement, the peaceful transition to democracy, and Nelson Mandela, one of the greatest leaders of all time.
Photo: President Nelson Mandela chats with Deputy President F.W. de Klerk and Constitutional Assembly chair Cyril Ramaphosa outside Parliament after the approval of South Africa's new constitution, May 8. 1996. (Reuters)