An interview with comrade Joe Slovo

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Smiles and hugs from long-time comrades, ANC leader Nelson Mandela and SACP leader Joe SLovo meet in Cape Town

For most South Africans, Joe Slovo needs no introduction. Some see him as “public enemy number one”. But many more know him as a tireless fighter of apartheid and a champion of socialism.

Comrade Slovo joined the Communist Party in the early 1940s and has been an active member ever since. At present, he is Secretary-General of the South African Communist Party (SACP).

He is also a member of the African National Congress (ANC) and was one of the earliest members of Its army, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). He is a former Chief of Staff of MK and was the first white person to be elected onto the ANC’s National Executive Committee.

Learn and Teach spoke to Joe Slovo at the ANC’s Head Office in Johannesburg.

LEARN AND TEACH: Firstly, welcome home! What’s it like to be back?
SLOVO: Well, I think it’s the most warming feeling to be back. I feel for the first time in twenty-seven years that I am home!

Learn and Teach: Can you please tell us something about yourself? For example, where were you born?
Slovo: I was born in 1926 in a village in Lithuania in the Soviet Union. Of course at that time, Lithuania was not part of the Soviet Union. The people in the village were very poor and so the heads of families used to go and look for work in other places, just like in the rural areas in South Africa. My father left when I was two years old and went to Argentina. He worked there for some time and then the great depression came in 1929. He lost his job and was unable to make a living so he took a boat to South Africa, and eventually he saved up enough money to send tickets for the rest of the family to join him. This was in 1936. My mother came with us but she died a few years later. She died in childbirth.

Learn and Teach: What did your father do?
Slovo: Well, when we lived in Lithuania he was a fisherman, catching and selling fish. But when he came to South Africa, he was a fruit hawker. He used to sell fruit in the streets. He then became a lorry driver for a bakery in Doornfontein. But he kept losing his job, and in those days if you didn’t pay your debts, you could be sent to prison. So he was in and out of prison.

Learn and Teach: What school did you go to?
Slovo: The school was called Observatory Junior Secondary — it went up to standard eight but I left in standard six. I think I was about fourteen then …

Learn and Teach: Why did you leave? Was it because of money?
Slovo: Yes, my father couldn’t support me. At that stage we were living in a boarding house and he was unable to pay the rent, so I went to work. At first, I worked for a company called S.A. Druggists. I was a dispatch clerk. I used to check orders.

Learn and Teach: How did you get involved in politics? Was your family political in any way?
Slovo: My family was not really political. But at school I had an Irish teacher who influenced me. He was very anti-imperialist, anti-British, and he helped me to understand what was going on in the world. He took some of us to what was known then as a junior left book club. During the Second World War leftists used to hold book clubs where we discussed politics. That was really my first involvement in any kind of structured politics. Then, when I went to work at SA Druggists, I became involved in trade union work. I joined the National Union of Distributive Workers, which was then an all-white union. Blacks were not allowed to be in unions.

Learn and Teach: When did you join the Communist Party?
Slovo: I joined the Party while I worked at SA Druggists. I was about sixteen, I think.

Learn and Teach: Could you join the party at such a young age?
Slovo: Well, I tried to join a little bit earlier. The party used to hold meetings at the Johannesburg City Hall every Sunday night, and when I started working I used to go to these meetings, but I was still young. I applied to join, and so they looked at me and said ‘Well, we think you’d better wait until you wear long trousers’!

Learn and Teach: How long did you work at SA Druggists?
Slovo: Not very long — I was fired because of my union and Party activities! We started a factory group of the Party at the company. We had a Party newspaper in the black toilets, and it survived for about two years because we knew that no white would ever walk into a black toilet. After a year or two, we had a strike which we won. Then I was sacked, and I got a job at Elephant Trading Company in Market Street. I was sacked again for my involvement in union activities.

Learn and Teach: What did it mean to be a member of the party?
Slovo: Well, it meant that I was committed to being involved in its activities, and to spending all my spare time advancing its policies.

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Joe Slovo and ANC leader Ahmed Kathrada singing Nkosi Sikelel i’Africa at a meeting in Lusaka

Learn and Teach: What does it mean to be a communist?
Slovo: A communist is a person who believes that the only decent way in which people can live is if there are no individuals who live off the labour of others. In simple terms, we are talking about the kind of society where there are no bosses, and where people work together for the good of the community as a whole.

Learn and Teach: You said earlier you were sacked from Elephant Trading. What did you do after that?
Slovo: I joined the army. At the time, the Party decided that all its white members should join the army to fight against the fascism of Hitler and Mussolini. Not blacks — because they were not allowed to carry arms. I fought in Egypt and Italy, and came back after when the war was over, at the end of 1945.

Learn and Teach: How did you come to study law?
Slovo: Because I was an ex-serviceman, I was able to get a grant to go to university and an exemption for matric — which I never had. I then studied for a BA LLB at Wits, qualified as a barrister (advocate) and from 1950 to 1963 I practised law at the bar in Johannesburg.

Learn and Teach: In the eyes of some white people you are “public enemy number one”. How do you feel about this label?
Slovo: Well, I suppose to be called “public enemy number one” by racists is quite an honour!

Learn and Teach: Perhaps we can talk about events in the country that are taking place now. You were a member of the ANC delegation at the meeting with the government at Groote Schuur in May. Could you please talk about why the ANC decided to come and speak to the government?
Slovo: Well, I don’t think anyone in the ANC ever thought that negotiations is something which stands in a different corner to the struggle. We very early on accepted that negotiations or talks or dialogue is just part of the site of struggle. The goal of talks and the goal of struggle is the same. There’s no difference between the two. Our goal is, and has always been, people’s power. There’s no principle that says ‘violence is the only way to struggle’ or ‘dialogue is the only way to struggle.’ Of course, if you look at our history, we were forced into armed struggle because all the other avenues had closed. But we have always believed that if we could achieve what the people wanted through peaceful means, that was the preferable course. It’s the preferable course for all serious revolutionaries.

Learn and Teach: Why do you think the government was finally prepared to come to the table with the ANC?
Slovo: Well, I think the main reason was the many years of increasing pressure from people inside and outside the country.

Learn and Teach: How do the ANC and SACP see the unbanning of these organisations?
Slovo: The ANC and SACP weren’t unbanned as a present from de Klerk — it was a victory for us. This victory opened up new space for us to take the struggle forward. When an organisation is made legal this opens up enormous possibilities for it to grow strong, to get better organised, to mobilise the people more effectively. As you have seen since the unbannings, we are trying to use that space fully.

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A close alliance – ANC leaders ALfred Nzo and Nelson Mandela with SACP leader Joe Slovo at an ANC meeting in Lusaka

Learn and Teach: Could you please tell us how the ANC sees the process of negotiations?
Slovo: Well, I think it’s clear from the Harare Declaration that there are three stages in this process. The Harare Declaration was a document which was drawn up by the ANC, and was then adopted by the whole world. The first stage is the removal of all obstacles in the way of negotiations. The Harare Declaration says there is no possibility of negotiations starting until the state of emergency is lifted; organisations are unbanned; political prisoners are released and the exiles are allowed to return safely; troops are removed from the townships and repressive laws are removed. So far the government has only met some of these conditions. So, that is the first stage, and that is the stage at which we are. In our meeting with the regime at Groote Schuur we told them to meet all these conditions before we can get to the next stage — which is the suspension of hostilities on both sides leading to a cease-fire. We are not talking about abandoning the armed struggle but suspending it. But we made it clear that we are not prepared to suspend the armed struggle unless the government stops violence on its side. If that second stage is achieved, then the way is open for the third stage: the parties can now sit around the table and begin negotiations proper. But until that happens, of course, the struggle goes on in the same way as before.

Learn and Teach: At the end of these talks, both the ANC and the government signed an agreement which came to be known as the Groote Schuur Minute. In the Minute, both sides said that they were committed to the process of peaceful change and working groups have been set up to see that these changes happen. How important is this document and what does it mean to the struggle?
Slovo: Well, it is part of this process that I have just described. It’s at the moment just a piece of paper, and the real question is whether it will work.

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Flashback to Lusaka, January 1987: Joe Slovo with MK leaders Chris Hani and Joe Modise

Learn and Teach: There are some people who are critical of the ANC for talking to the government at this time. What is your response to this criticism?
Slovo: As I said in my speech at the rally in Soweto, it is precisely because we engaged the regime in struggle — including armed struggle, not just in theory but in practice — that they have been forced to open this dialogue. And perhaps I should say that some people are very confused about ‘what is a revolutionary policy’. Some people think that a revolutionary policy is a policy that sounds revolutionary. That is not the correct test. In some cases to engage in violence is revolutionary, and in some cases, it is counter-revolutionary. In some cases, to talk of peaceful dialogue, is revolutionary, in other cases, it is counter-revolutionary. The only test is: ‘Will what you are doing take you back, or enable you to go forward?’ We believe that by talking, we are going forward.

Learn and Teach: At this point, what should people and organisations on the ground be doing to end apartheid?
Slovo: I think we should continue struggling against apartheid. We should be mounting campaigns, around all the issues — not just local grievances, but around the issues of people’s power, such as the demand for a constituent assembly, for a redistribution of wealth, and a redivision of the land.

Learn and Teach: The ANC and SACP have fought side by side for many years. Can you please tell us something about the history of the alliance?
Slovo: The alliance has had a long history which started from the beginning of the 1920s, when the Party was formed. The two organisations have always worked together on campaigns like the anti-pass laws. This led eventually to the creation of a formal relationship in 1961.

Learn and Teach: Why was this alliance formed and how is that the two movements are able to work so closely together?
Slovo: The majority of our people suffer two kinds of oppression — economic exploitation and national oppression. You cannot really completely separate the two. They see themselves as being exploited, not just as workers, but as black workers. And so, it’s quite understandable that two organisations — one which is trying to achieve the national aspirations of people, and the other which is trying to achieve the class aspirations — should move closer and closer together. At the present time, the Party accepts that national liberation is the emphasis of this stage of the struggle.

Learn and Teach: The South African government sees the ANC as being dominated by the SACP. Can you please comment on this?
Slovo: It’s not true. And in fact, let me say this: One of the reasons why this alliance exists so strongly, and why non-communists, starting from Luthuli to Tambo to Mandela, treasure this alliance is for the exact opposite reason that the government gives. It is because they have learnt that communists don’t go into an organisation to dominate it, that the ANC values the contribution that communists have made throughout history to the growth and strengthening of the ANC as the ANC. When communists participate in the ANC as members — and I am one of them — they accept that they fall under the discipline of the ANC. If you have ever been to an ANC conference, you would have seen how communists sometimes argue in completely different directions on ANC policy.

Learn and Teach: What are the Party’s plans in the short term?
Slovo: The party is going to emerge as a legal organisation, and this is going to happen sooner than you think. We’re going to announce our interim leadership soon. But of course, we’ve been illegal, for forty years, and you can’t change everything in forty days. It’s a little bit of a process!

Learn and Teach: Will anybody be able to join the Party or will there be a strict selection procedure?
Slovo: The party will invite people who support its policy/its programme and its strategic approaches to join it. Just like any other normal political organisation. We want to grow into a mass party of the new type, but we accept that our numbers will be fewer than the ANC. Much more is demanded of a communist than of a person who belongs to any other political organisation. We believe that communists must show by their contribution by personal character, by dedication and by their readiness to sacrifice. We believe that each communist is an example of a revolutionary.

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African Heads of States and ANC NEC members met in Lusaka in February this year. Joe Slovo can be seen in the background.

Learn and Teach: What is your relationship with COSATU?
Slovo: We recently had a very fruitful workshop with COSATU in Zimbabwe. COSATU had 32 delegates, and we had 28 of our members. We spent three days discussing the role of the working class both now and in a post-apartheid South Africa, and we exchanged views on many questions. We believe that in future there will be many occasions for us to work together in an alliance with the ANC, because both COSATU and the Party represent the working-class.

Learn and Teach: How does the party see the role of trade unions in the future South Africa?
Slovo: I think the trade unions have a completely independent role. They must not be controlled by any political force whether its the ANC or the Communist Party. Their job both now and in a future society is to represent their membership — the organised working class — and to protect their interests. I think one of the main reasons that things went wrong in Eastern Europe, is that the trade unions were controlled by political organisations and they were suffocated.

Learn and Teach: How does the Party see the role of women both in the Party and in society at large?
Slovo: Well, our position is very strong on this question. Our practice is not so strong! But, we are really very conscious of the need to be serious. If you read our Umsebenzi, I don’t think there is ever an issue which doesn’t contain some kind of reflection on this problem. The women’s issue is really about men. Some men still have male chauvinist attitudes and this is what we have to address.

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Joe Slovo: I am absolutely convinced that socialism will work

Learn and Teach: You mentioned Eastern Europe earlier. Could you briefly talk about recent events in Eastern Europe and what it means for socialism?
Slovo: Well, I think it’s done a lot of damage to socialism, obviously. And I think the one lesson which we must learn, which I think our party learnt even before Gorbachev, is that, if you want to destroy socialism, you separate it from democracy.

Learn and Teach: After what happened in Eastern Europe, can you say that you still believe confidently that socialism is a better system than capitalism?
Slovo: Oh, I have absolutely no doubt that it’s the only civilised way in which humanity should exist. Socialism has achieved much — even in those countries where it failed because of corruption. It achieved the absence of unemployment, social security for every person and free education. For example, take a poor country like Cuba. It is really a Third World country, mainly because of the attempts by the United States to destroy it. But in Havana, fewer babies die at birth than in Washington D.C. That is a United Nations statistic. Even capitalism has been influenced by socialism, for example, the social welfare measures in some countries. It is true that a lot of crimes have been committed in the name of socialism. But remember that even more crimes have been committed in the name of religion. That doesn’t make people move away from their faith in their religious beliefs and so I don’t think we should lose faith in socialism. I think socialism can work, and I am absolutely positively convinced that it will work, despite the setbacks we’ve had in recent periods. I am also convinced that socialism will eventually work in South Africa. It’s also very odd that people talk about the failure of socialism, but what has failed in South Africa is capitalism, not socialism.

Learn and Teach: You have said there must be democracy at all levels of society in South Africa. Can you explain this?
Slovo: That’s right. Democracy is not only voting in general elections every five years or so. For a society to be truly democratic, democracy must be practised from day to day. It is necessary, for example, for workers to participate in the direction of the factories where they work. Organisations such as trade unions, women’s organisations, youth organisations should be given real recognition and participate in the whole process of running society, including civic and local structures and so on and so forth.

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Comrade Joe Slovo shares a joke and a laugh with UDF leader “Terror” Lekota

Learn and Teach: Does the SACP support the spirit of glasnost that is blowing through the Soviet Union? How does the Party understand this word?
Slovo: The Party supports the spirit of glasnost. To us, glasnost means a spirit of openness, a spirit of debate, a spirit of tolerating different opinions, as long as they’re not destructive. In other words, a spirit of democratic discussion in the real sense of the word. A spirit of accountability, where the leadership is not a power unto itself, that it can be questioned by the rank and file, and it can be criticised, and it must answer those criticisms. So glasnost really means openness, accountability, democracy.

Learn and Teach: In a recent interview, you spoke about the need for a leadership code. Could you please explain what you mean?
Slovo: Well, it’s going to take time before there is economic change in an ANC-led future society. Overnight we will not be able to provide everyone with a job and a house. And people will have to make sacrifices. But if the leadership earns big salaries and live in nice houses in smart suburbs, there’s no way we will get the people to accept the need for such sacrifice. There is going to be a long period where people are going to be asking themselves: ‘What has happened to this liberation?” And we will have to explain that it’s a process we have to work for, it doesn’t just happen when the ANC flag flies over Pretoria. And the only way those people will remain with us is if they see that the leadership is sharing some of these sacrifices. This is one of the lessons that we can learn from Eastern Europe — that if there is one lifestyle for the leadership and another for the people, the people obviously won’t accept the need for hardship. So I think it is very important that the broad liberation movement starts developing a leadership code of conduct.

Learn and Teach: Are you hopeful for a speedy end to apartheid?
Slovo: Well, I’m hoping for a speedy end but I can’t say for sure — it’s not written in the stars! It doesn’t depend on what I and other people hope, it depends upon struggle. But I do believe that the power of the people today is great enough to make the other side realise that they can’t continue holding on for too long.

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Phistus Mekgwe: Mr Distributor

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Phistus Mekge

“I was born in Soweto, Orldando East on 15 September 1957 but grew up in Rustenburg. It was a village of Luka, Phiring, part of the MoPhiriing clan. Phiri means “hyena”.

“However, for many Bra Fees was Mr Distributor, who was responsible for distributing Learn and Teach to unions, communities, churches. He made many trips to the post office too, posting subscriptions to the readers far and wide.

“When I left school in 1980, I went to work at SASOL, then only SASOL 2 and SASOL 3 was still under construction. SASOL 3 was also part of their plans. Then in 1981, I was transferred. There was no union.

“We organised ourselves into CWIU, which had their offices in Germiston. We were working with Tshidiso Modupi, who later became an organizer.

“Meshack Ravuku also worked with us, more or less underground, to form the union. Sasol at that time was under heavy security and did not like discussions or pamphlets on progressive things. They also lectured us about terrorism and unions.

“You see I had arrived at SASOL the first time, after the ANC bombing of which Solomon Mahlungu was implicated.

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Bra Fees with community activist Thusi Rapoo

“So the bosses were very strict with us, in terms of security. And I was an organising then members in the plant, in a very hostile environment.¨

“We organized for the simple reason: because our wages / salaries were very low, and Apartheid inside the company was very strong and the whites had a lot of power. The place was fully segregated: the canteens, the toilets, etc. One could not even use a mug that was reserved for whites…

“All these factors coincided in them responding to the call of COSAS for a national stay away. This all came 5 and 6 September 1984 when the mass strikes resulted in 6 500 workers were dismissed.

“One demand we made that was very important to us, was that of UNION Recognition… SASOL could not believe that the workers could join a union, after they tried to brainwash us, the workers.

“I was a shopsteward and a recruiter for members to join our union.

FIREDLearn and Teach’s Marc Suttner came to do a story on the strike. More or less at the same time, Mekgwe began to sell the magazines to striking workers, earning a small stipend whilst being on strike.

“Many of the workers were fired and some reinstated. In some cases, they were asked to re-apply. We re-applied but the cases of the leaders were rejected. The company had taken our photos and accused us of being the instigators of the strike… with the news that we will not be taken back. But many got back… Not me. I was one of those not reinstated.

“I was then approached by Learn and Teach. I had been a seller and was looking for work. So I began selling it at union meetings at COSATU and other union meetings.”

That is how Phistus became a contributor to knowledge creation and for him, sharing knowledge was very important.

Based on interviews Hassen Lorgat did with Bra Fees, on 17 January 2012

Stop racist sport!

An Interview with Krish Naidoo, General Secretary of the National Sports Congress (NSC)

IN 1960, South Africa took part in the Olympic Games for the last time. Soon afterwards, the African countries got together and made a resolution calling for an international boycott of South African sports. The Resolution was adopted. Since then, any tours to South Africa have been rebel tours.

This year, Mike Gatting and his British cricket team have come here to play cricket. Everywhere the cricketers go, they meet with thousands of people telling them to go home. In restaurants and hotels, the staff have downed tools and refused to serve the rebels. And on the playing fields, the applause of the few spectators is drowned out by the steady hum of freedom songs from those outside the stadium gates.

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Nconde Balfour, chairperson of the NSC, announces the Anti-Cricket Tour Campaign at a press conference in January this year

Learn and Teach spoke to Krish Naidoo, the General Secretary of the National Sports Congress (NSC), the organisation that has spearheaded the Anti-Cricket Tour Campaign.

Learn and Teach: Could you please give us some background to the National Sports Congress (NSC). How and when did it start?

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Krish Naidoo, General Secretary of the NSC

Krish Naidoo: The UDF began to be concerned with sports and culture in 1985. In the same year, it campaigned against the New Zealand All Blacks rugby tour. The UDF made it clear to the team they couldn’t play in a country where apartheid is felt in each and every aspect of life, even sport. The tour was cancelled.

In 1986, the UDF established its Sports Desk, with the aim of working with UDF affiliates. In April 1988, we decided to form a broader sports organisation, called the National Sports Congress. Today, we have both regional and national structures and our membership has been open to all local sports clubs since December last year.

Learn and Teach: What are the NSC’s aims?

Krish Naidoo: Our policy is based on three legs. The first one is unity — we believe that in a post-apartheid South Africa there will be only one sports movement. The second leg is the development of sport — in Africa, too little attention is given to sports. We are trying to develop sports people for a post-apartheid South Africa.

The last leg is preparation — we are preparing our sports people to play a meaningful role in the new non-racial democratic society we are building.

As part of our programme of action we have organised Soccer Unity talks. They are going well and we hope that by the year 1992 we will have one soccer federation. We are also involved in unity talks in sports such as tennis and table tennis.

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A kitskonstabel on guard outside the change rooms of the English cricketers

Learn and Teach: About Mike Gatting’s English Cricket tour— could you please talk about the campaign against it.

Krish Naidoo: Last year we met with the South African Cricket Union (SACU) and told them to forget about the English Cricket tour. We said they should instead solve the problems in sports in South Africa, such as the division in sport along racial lines. SACU refused to cancel the tour.

We then sent representatives of the UDF and COSATU to meet with the English cricketers. The cricketers still said they would not cancel. It was then that we decided to form the Anti-Cricket Tour Campaign. We have organised protest demonstrations against the tour like those that have taken place at Jan Smuts airport and Bloemfontein.

Learn and Teach: What are the aims of the campaign?

Krish Naidoo: Simply to stop the tour. But we have also decided to use this anti-tour campaign to educate our people about the sports struggle. At the same time, the campaign has shown us how much support we have. We hope that this will be the last rebel tour in this country.

Learn and Teach: What do you say to those whites who say that it is their democratic right to invite and watch Gatting and the English Cricket team?

Krish Naidoo: That is a mad understanding of democracy! They are not genuine with themselves because if they were truly democratic, they would do what the majority of the people in this country and the world are doing — that is, to reject the tour.

Learn and Teach: What gains have been made so far in the anti-tour campaign?

Krish Naidoo: We have had the chance to explain to our people about the sports struggle. We have made links with other sports organisations inside and outside South Africa. And we have had the chance to lay the basis for a mass sports movement in the future. Most importantly, we have educated and organised our people against apartheid sports.

Learn and Teach: Mike Gatting and his fellows have been called “rebels” and “mercenaries”. Do you agree with these descriptions?

Krish Naidoo: Yes! Mike Gatting and his English cricketers are breaking the laws of the world sports movement. We are not the founders of those laws — the international community is. So Gatting and his fellows are rebelling against the world.

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Hotel workers at the Sandton Sun in Johannesburg protest against Mike Gatting’s rebel tour

Learn and Teach: Some time ago on TV we saw some black people in Bloemfontein protesting in favour of the tour. Who are these people?

Krish Naidoo: Those were school children who were transported from Bophuthatswana by SACU. They were not from Kimberley. We have learnt that they were paid to come and protest in favour of the tour. It was sort of a Rent-a-protester business. It makes a mockery of SACU and its leader AN Bacher, because people are asking why they used black children. This proves true that “SACU is riding to fame on the backs of blacks.”

Learn and Teach: Why has Mike Gatting’s tour been targeted? Other sports people who have broken the boycott, like the golfers at the Sun City “Million Dollar Tournament” and the recent American athletics team, did not experience the same protest actions as the cricket tour.

Krish Naidoo: We are still a new organisation, and we are doing it slowly but surely. We are still educating our people. We are planning more meetings to educate our people about other sports.

Learn and Teach: What is the NSC’s relationship to the South African Council of Sports (SACOS) and to the South African Non-Racial Olympics Committee (SANROC)?

Krish Naidoo: We have a working relationship with SANROC, although we do not have formal links. SANROC has helped us a great deal during this Anti-Cricket Tour Campaign. Among other things, we have used their offices in Britain to launch our campaign there against this tour.

Our relationship with SACOS is not easy to explain. It is too early to talk of unity between the two organisations, but what I can say is that we have a very good relationship with some of SACOS’ sporting codes, especially cricket and rugby. Some of the officials and members of these codes are also NSC Interim Executive Committee members. We have discussed the question of unity with SACOS several times and we hope that SACOS will in future see itself as one of those forces that are fighting for unity in this country.

Learn and Teach: What is the NSC’s position on sporting contacts with other nations or sports people from other nations?

Krish Naidoo: The International Campaign Against Apartheid Sport (ICAAS) says that no nation or sports people from other countries should have contact with South Africa until apartheid is completely destroyed. We are part of that world community.

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The hot sun didn’t stop this comrade from protesting against the rebel tour

Learn and Teach: Are there any exceptions to the NSC’s policy? In other words, are there any situations where the NSC would support sporting contact with other countries?

Krish Naidoo: The only exception is when we encourage people to go to other countries for training only. But those sports people must come back and share their skills with others. This is part of our 1990 programme of action.

Learn and Teach: What is the NSC’s opinion of SACU’s township cricket coaching clinics? Do you see this as a sincere attempt to promote non-racial sport, or just an attempt to fool the world community?

Krish Naidoo: I have said that development is part of our programme. But our people have problems with SACU’s programme because they were not properly consulted by SACU. We learnt that they only consulted the DET, an apartheid structure that our people do not support.

In townships like Atteridgeville in Pretoria, people are organising against SACU’s cricket programme. The NSC is also planning to replace SACU’s pro­grammes with our democratic ones.

Learn and Teach: Under what conditions will the sports boycott be lifted?

Krish Naidoo: For the sports boycott to be lifted, the South African sports people have to get their house in order. They have to be united and fight against apartheid. All of them — black and white — have the serious task of getting together and solving the problems of sponsorships and apartheid in sports.

We are quite confident that within two years we will have addressed these problems. We hope to see our sports people marching hand in hand with the masses of our people towards a non-racial democratic country. Then we shall be saying that conditions are ripe for the sports boycott to be lifted!

NEW WORDS
objectives — aims
mercenaries — people who are only interested in money
an attempt — when you make an attempt to do something, you try to do it
make a mockery of something — make something look stupid
address a problem — discuss a problem and try to solve it

Preparing ourselves for freedom

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Comrade Albie Sachs

Throughout our country, and throughout the whole world, the winds of change are blowing strong. Many of our old ideas are being swept away and new ideas are taking their place.

In this article, Albie Sachs — a member of the ANC’s Legal Department, gives his ideas about culture. Some of us may be surprised by the things he says. They are quite different to many of our old ideas about culture and the struggle. In fact, when Comrade Albie first gave these ideas to an ANC meeting in Lusaka recently, there were many raised eyebrows! He wants to challenge us so that we will question our old ideas openly and unselfishly.

The article is long, so we have divided it into two parts. Here is the first part. You will be able to read the second part in the next issue of Learn and Teach.

We have changed Comrade Albie’s words quite a lot to make them easier for us to read. We hope that we have kept the spirit of his thoughts alive.

PART 1

We all know where South Africa is, but we do not yet know what it is. Ours is the lucky generation that will make this discovery — if we open our eyes wide enough. The problem for us is to have enough imagination to see what riches there are in the united South Africa that we have done so much to build.

For many years we have had a political programme for the future — the Freedom Charter. More recently, the ANC released the Constitutional Guidelines which gave us a basic guide to a constitution for a free and equal society. But do we have a similar kind of thinking for art and culture in the new South Africa? Do we really understand the new country and the new people that is struggling to give birth to itself? Or are our minds still trapped in the ghettoes of apartheid?

In order to help us give new energy to our thinking about culture, I want to make a few suggestions which some comrades might find shocking.

‘BANNED!’
The first suggestion I make is that our members should be banned from saying that culture is a weapon of struggle. I suggest a period of, say, five years. I make this suggestion even though I am fully aware that the ANC is totally against censorship and for free speech.

I have been arguing for many years that art is a weapon of struggle. But now it seems to me that this statement doesn’t mean anything and in fact it is wrong and may even be harmful.

In the first place, it makes our art poorer. Instead of getting real criticism, we get solidarity criticism. People do not feel free to criticise the work of our artists because it would be wrong to criticise a weapon of struggle. Therefore our artists are not pushed to improve the quality of their work. We accept that they are politically correct and so we do not criticise their work fully and honestly. The more fists and spears and guns, the better! We limit ourselves so much in our work that we no longer consider what is funny, or strange or really tragic in the world. We pretend that life is clear cut — good and bad, black and white, beautiful and ugly. The only conflict that we show is between the old and the new, as if there is only bad in the past and only good in the future.

THE GOOD AND THE BAD

If one of us wrote a story about Natal, the main person in the story would not be a member of the UDF or COSATU but a member of Inkatha. Yes, Inkatha. He or she would be opposed to change — a reactionary — but at the same time would feel the oppression of apartheid. The person would be thrown this way and that way by the conflict of emotions. When we read the story we would see all the struggles, pain and joy that a person experiences in the struggle for a new South Africa.

But instead, in our poems, in our paintings and in our theatre plays, we line up all the good people on one side and the bad ones on the other side. Sometimes we allow people from the one side to pass to the other. But we never show that there can be bad things in the good people or, even more difficult, good things in the bad people. We can tell who the good people are because they are always handsome and they know how to recite sections of the Freedom Charter or Strategy and Tactics.

A real weapon of struggle is a straightforward thing. A gun is a gun is a gun. There is no question about it. It fires in only one direction. If it fired in lots of different directions it would be useless. But art and culture have a different kind of power. Art and culture can look in many different directions at once to show us things which are hidden, the many different things of life which are not clear cut at all. That is why we cannot say that art is a weapon in the same way that a gun is a weapon.

AND WHAT ABOUT LOVE?
And what about love? We have published so many poems and stories and articles in magazines but you can count those that talk about love on the fingers of one hand. Can it be that when we join the ANC we do not make love any more? When the comrades go to bed, do they discuss the role of the white working class? Surely even the comrades whose work in the struggle means that they do not have the possibility of enjoying a love life now, must remember their past loves and dream of the loves they will have in the future.

What are we fighting for if we are not fighting for the right to enjoy all the fruits of human life — including love, and fun and tenderness and the beauty of the world? The apartheid rulers would really like us to believe that because apartheid is ugly, the whole world must be ugly as well.

ANC members are full of fun and romanticism and dreams. We enjoy and wonder at the beauties of nature and the marvels of human creation.

But if you look at our art and our writing, you would think we are living in the greyest and darkest of all worlds, completely imprisoned by apartheid. The apartheid rulers seem to haunt all our paintings, stories, poems and songs like ghosts. Everything we paint or draw or write contains the oppressors. Nothing is about us and our new way of thinking and our new way of feeling. We do not express the new culture that we are building.

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Miriam Makeba – “music of hope”

A COP-FREE WORLD
Listen, in contrast, to the music of Hugh Masekela, of Abdullah Ibrahim, of Jonas Gwangwa, of Miriam Makeba. Their music is full of life and human warmth and beauty. Their music tells of a cop-free world. The new and growing spirit of our people sings clearly through them. And yet if you look at our poems or books or paintings or woodcuts, all you can see is darkness.

No one ever told Hugh or Abdullah to write their music in this way or that. No one told them that they must be progressive or committed. No one told them that they must be funny or gay. No one told them to use a strong beat so that their music could be full of hope.

Their music has all these things not because they are following the rules of progressive culture but because their music comes from inside themselves, from their own person­alities and their own experiences. It comes from the people’s traditions and from the sounds of everyday life around them. Their music moves us because it tells us something lovely and lively about ourselves. Not because the words are about how to win a strike or how to blow up a petrol dump. It pushes apartheid away, it climbs above apartheid to a place much higher, a place free of apartheid.

Our writers and painters could do the same kind of thing. They could also break away from the pain and seriousness of apartheid. They could stop trying to follow the rules of anti-apartheid culture that people (including myself, Albie Sachs) have been forcing them to follow for so many years.

Dumile, perhaps the greatest of our painters, was once asked why he did not draw scenes like the one that was taking place in front of him. This was a scene of a long line of men being marched under arrest for not having their passes in order. At that moment, a hearse drove by and the men stood still and raised their hats. “That’s what I want to draw,” he said.

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Hugh Masekela – “his music pushes Apartheid away”

A STYLE OF OUR OWN
The narrow view of culture that we have had for so long has been damaging not only to culture but also to the struggle itself. Culture is not something separate from the struggle. It is not just something we can use from time to time to mobilise and unite the people, or to prove to the world that we are civilised. Culture is us, it is who we are, how we see ourselves and the vision we have of the world. When we make the culture of liberation, we make ourselves, and re-make ourselves.

The culture of liberation is not just a question of the discipline of our organisation and the relationships between the members of the organisation. All organisations have these things. But our movement has developed a style of its own, a way of doing things and of expressing itself, a particular ANC personality.

And this ANC personality is very rich. It includes African tradition, church tradition, revolutionary socialist tradition, liberal tradition, all the languages and ways and styles of all the many communities in our country. We have black consciousness, some red consciousness (some people would call it pink consciousness these days), even green consciousness (long before the Greens existed, we had green in our flag, representing the land).

Now, because our members have been spread all over the world, we also include the cultures of all humanity. Our comrades speak Swahili and Arabic and Spanish and Portuguese arid Russian and Swedish and French and German and Chinese. Not because of Bantu Education, but through ANC Education. We are even learning Japanese.

WE SING WHEN WE STRUGGLE
Our culture, the ANC culture, is not simply a collection of a lot of separate ethnic cultures lined up side by side, or mixed together in certain quantities, like the ingredients of a cake. It has a real and living character of its own. When we sing our anthem, a religious song, with our fists raised up, we are expressing the relationship that we have built together. We sing when we struggle and we struggle when we sing. This is perhaps the greatest cultural achievement that the ANC has made. We have made all South Africans, from very different backgrounds, feel comfortable in our ranks.

This does not mean that all differences and tensions disappear when you join the organisation. We bring with us our own particular way of seeing the world, our jealousies and our fixed ideas. But the goals and the comradeship of the struggle we have created allow us to deal with these differences. We have had debates about such things as whether to allow non-Africans onto the National Executive Committee, whether there should be corporal punishment at the Solomon Mahlangu College, and whether married women should do high kicks on stage. Today the question of women’s liberation is finally forcing itself into our thoughts and our actions, a very serious and important cultural change.

Culture is at the very centre of our movement. It is not something which we just bring out and put on the stage on ceremonial occasions and fund-raising events, or something which we use to entertain us at our meetings. If it was so, we would have no personality at other times. No, happily this is not the case. Culture is us, a.id we are people, not things waiting to be put into motion from time to time.

You can read the second part of Albie Sach’s paper in the next issue of Learn and Teach. If you would like to share your own thoughts on culture with other Learn and Teach readers, please write to us and we will try to print some of your letters.

NEW WORDS culture — art, music, poetry
censorship — control over what people say or write
conflict — struggle
reactionary — conservative, against change, clinging to the old ways
tenderness — gentleness, loving warmth
romanticism — ideas of love
consciousness — thinking and feeling
tensions — disagreements
National Executive Committee (NEC) — the highest decision making body in the ANC
Solomon Mahlangu College — the
ANC school in Tanzania
women’s liberation — the struggle of women for freedom from oppression and for equality with men