An interview with comrade Joe Slovo


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Welcome home Oliver Tambo!

Untitled0-11In March 1960, the African National Congress (ANC) realised that it was going to be banned. It decided immediately to send its vice-president, Oliver Tambo, out of the country. Tambo’s mission was to open offices in the outside world and keep the struggle for freedom alive in the minds and the hearts of the people of the world.

Two days after he left, the ANC was banned. Tambo was to remain in exile and at the head of the organisation for the next thirty years. His strong leadership and untiring dedication to the ANC helped to turn the organisation into what it is today…

After three decades of exile, Tambo is home. In this article, Learn and Teach pays tribute to this outstanding leader of the people of South Africa.

IT is Saturday, 27 October 1917…

Under the shade of a big womga tree sit the old, grey-haired men of the village. They pass an isatyi of umqombothi from hand to hand. A few paces away, pots are filled with thetasty smell of mqchushu and mutton. The villagers of Enkatsweni, near Bizana in the Transkei, are here to welcome the birth of a new baby, the son of Frederick and Julia Tambo.


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The Tambos named their new-born son Oliver Reginald — or OR for short. Little did the proud parents realise that their boy would rise to become one of the greatest leaders in South African history — and the President of the oldest liberation movement in Africa.

Frederick and Julia Tambo owned an orchard and a fowl-run. It was the young Tambo children’s job to look after the property. Frederick believed in developing the spirit of responsibility and management at a young age!

At the age of twelve, Oliver went to school at the Methodist Mission School in Ludeke. He got a first class pass in Standard Six — but he could not afford to study further because the family had no money. So, instead of leaving, he passed the same standard three times! Each time, he got a first-class pass.

In the mid-1980s, Oliver was given the chance to continue his schooling at the Holy Gross Mission near Flagstaff. After passing his junior certificate exams, the missionary school gave him a scholarship. He went to St. Peter’s School in Johannesburg where he passed matric with a first class pass in 1938.

The following year, Tambo got a bursary from the Transkei legislative assembly to go to university. He registered for a Bachelor of Science degree at Fort Hare. It was here that he met Nelson Mandela and the two became great friends.

After completing his BSc degree, Tambo enrolled for a University Education (teaching) Diploma. “I didn’t really want to be a teacher, but there was nothing else I could do. There were very few opportunities for educated Africans and teaching was one of them,” Tambo would later say.

In his fourth year of university — 1942 — Tambo’s leadership skills were recognised. He was elected head of the committee of the Anglican Church Hostel on campus. 1942 was also the year that Tambo became very politically aware. He remembers an incident that made him determined to devote his life to the struggle against racism — wherever it was found.

One day, a white boarding master hit an African woman employee. To Tambo’s horror, no action was taken against the man. The students organised a protest against the university and Tambo played a key role in it.

The young student realised that even the church carried the disease of racism. “This incident forced me to take a critical look at the church and racism in general. It forced me to take the step of fighting against all forms of racism. I was never to regret this decision,” he later said.

Tambo was a devout Anglican and still is. But he could not accept racist attitudes in the church. After taking part in another protest action against racial discrimination in the church, he was expelled. He taught at St. Peter’s High School in Johannesburg for a few years. Among his students was Duma Nokwe, who later became ANC Secretary-General in the 1950s.


1952 – A young Oliver Tambo in the office of his law firm

In the meantime, the ANC was getting a lot of support from young people and the organisation formed a youth wing called the ANC Youth League in April 1944. Tambo, AP Mda, Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela, and others became the leaders, with Anton Lembede as president. Tambo was elected National Secretary and later became Transvaal regional president. From 1948 to 1949, he was the League’s National Vice- President.

Until the formation of the Youth League, the ANC was a “hamba kahle organisation”, making representations to the government. But with the arrival of the “young lions of 1944” things changed… The Youth League decided that the time for reasonable talk was over — it was time to make demands.

The first step was to draw up a document called the African Claims, which demanded a Bill of Rights and an end to racial discrimination. This was followed by the Programme of Action of 1949 and the Defiance Campaign of 1952.

By the end of these campaigns the ANC had become a militant mass organisation with 100 000 members. Many young men, such as Lembede and Mandela, were steadily making up their way in the organisation. Tambo was among them. In 1946 he was elected onto the ANC’s Transvaal Executive Committee.

During these years of political work, Tambo was still teaching at St. Peter’s. But he left to study law in 1948, after the death of Anton Lembede, who was a lawyer. Tambo remembers that it was Walter Sisulu who first gave him the idea of studying law. The story goes that Sisulu said to him: “Lembede is dead. Why don’t you take up law?” And so, he did.

Tambo completed his degree at Wits University and went on to open a law firm with Nelson Mandela in 1952. “Mandela and Tambo” was the sign on the door of their office at Chancellor House — opposite the Johannesburg Magistrate’s court. No problem — big or small — was too much for the young lawyers and there were always queues of people outside the office. Tambo remembers how he often had to climb over people so that he could reach his own office in the morning!

Mandela and Tambo’s friendship continued after their law firm was forced to close because of the Group Areas Act. Mandela was to write from his prison cell about this friendship many years later, in February 1985…

“Oliver Tambo is much more than a brother to me. He has been my greatest friend and comrade for nearly fifty years. If there is any one amongst you who cherishes my freedom, Oliver Tambo cherishes it more, and I know he would give his life to see me free. There is no difference between his views and mine.”

The end of the 1940s saw the National Party (NP) coming into power. Apartheid became the law of the land. In 1949, the NP passed the Immorality Act and the Separate Amenities Act. At the same time as the Nats were passing laws to stop black resistance, Tambo was rising in the ANC. He was elected onto the National Executive Committee (NEC) in the same year.


1959 – Tambo addresses an ANC meeting, a year before the organisation was banned

In May 1950, the government passed the Suppression of Communism Act and banned the Communist Party of South Africa. The ANC held a protest meeting and Tambo spoke: “Today it is the Communist Party. Tomorrow it will be our trade unions and the Congress.”

The 1950s were years of intensified struggle. The ANC organised a huge protest against the “dompas” in 1952, and launched the Defiance of Unjust Laws campaign. In 1955 the Freedom Charter was drawn up and a year later in 1956, 20 000 women marched to Pretoria in protest against passes. Their banner — the ANC.

The state reacted to the struggles by banning ANC members under the Suppression of Communism Act. In 1954, Tambo was given a two-year banning order under this act — even though he was not a member of the Communist Party. He was banned again in 1959.

The ANC continued to organise and get support despite the bannings of the leaders. So in 1956, the state fought back by arresting 156 leaders of the Congress Alliance — including Tambo, Mandela, Sisulu and Joe Slovo. All 156 people were charged with treason. The state’s argument was that the Freedom Charter was part of a communist plot to overthrow the government. The charges against Tambo and others were dropped in December 1957.

In the meantime, Tambo had been elected ANC Secretary-General in 1955. In 1958, when the ANC’s President-General, Chief Albert Luthuli, was banned, Tambo was elected Deputy President.


1988 – Oliver and Adelaide Tambo enjoyinh the birthday concert for their old friend and comrade, Nelson Mandela

But even for Tambo, life was not all politics and no play. In 1957, he fell in love and married Adelaide Tshukudu, a young nurse. The couple have three children — Dudulani, Dalindlela and Tambi.

On 21 March 1960 the PAC held a protest march against passes in Sharpeville. Sixty-nine people were shot dead by the police. The ANC National Executive Committee met on 28 March 1960 to discuss developments. It was clear that the government would act against people’s organisations.

It was then that the NEC decided that Tambo should leave the country. The banning of the ANC and the PAC closed the doors of peaceful forms of struggle that the ANC had followed for almost 50 years. The ANC decided that the armed struggle was the answer to police and army bullets.

Mandela and others set up the National High Command whose responsibility was to prepare for a violent overthrow of the government. On 16 December 1961, the birth of Umkhonto we Sizwe — the Spear of the Nation (MK) — was announced with bomb blasts in the major cities. From 1962 “amadelagufa” — those prepared to die — left the country to undergo military training in Algeria, Morocco, Ethiopia and Egypt and later in Zambia, Tanzania, the Soviet Union and East Germany.

In 1963, many members of the High Command were arrested at Leliesfarm in Rivonia. This was a crushing blow to the ANC. Many of its leaders were sentenced to long prison terms. The ANC had to start afresh to build a liberation army and underground structures inside the country. This it did successfully.


1987 – Even though Tambo spent 30 years in exile, he was able to meet his fellow South Africans from time to time. Here he is pictured with Dr. Beyers Naude. 

In 1967, the first group of trained MK guerrillas crossed the Limpopo river — together with the Zimbabwean People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) — into what was then Rhodesia. On their way to South Africa, the Luthuli detachment (as they were called) and ZIPRA fought fierce battles against the South African and Rhodesian security forces at a Zimbabwean town called Wankie. Tambo commented at the time:

“It can be said that for the ANC this is the beginning of the armed struggle for which we have been preparing since the early 1960s… Our fighters showed how superior they are over the racist forces…”

Tambo continued to travel the world seeking support for the South African liberation struggle and the ANC. He addressed the United Nations on many occasions, met Heads of States and was interviewed thousands of times.

In one of the interviews of the early 1960s he spoke to the author, Pieter Lessing. The author described him like this: “He is an impressive man, well-spoken and well-educated. I was once more struck by the thought what excellent Africans South Africa had produced.

“Tambo was critical of all the speech- making and the wild talk of liberation and violence by African Prime Ministers and others who have never been to South Africa and who probably have no intention of ever going there. He was equally critical of all the emotionalism which the wild speeches induce. To him the struggle is more that a bandwagon for aspiring leaders, more than a pastime to be indulged in from a safe distance.”

In the meantime, Adelaide and the children joined Tambo and settled in Britain. However, Tambo’s “home” was not to be his house in London. He was always on the move, travelling the world to try and get support for the ANC. He spent much of the time in Lusaka at the ANC headquarters.

After the death of ANC President- General, Chief Luthuli, in 1967, Tambo was appointed Acting-President until he became President in 1969. In June 1985, the ANC held its Second Consultative Conference in Kabwe and Tambo was re-elected to this position. By this time, OR’s name was emblazoned in the hearts and on the lips of many South African youths. Schools, “people’s parks”, township streets and squatter camps were all named after him.

Despite bad health in the past few years, Tambo continued to make an enormous contribution to the movement. He played a very important role in drawing up the African Position on Negotiations document. The document was adopted by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) as the Harare Declaration.

Finally, the years of stress and hard work caught up with the seventy-three year old leader. Last year in August, he suffered a stroke and spent a long time in hospital. He was discharged in April this year but until now, he has not been well enough to travel much.

In November, Oliver and Adelaide Tambo were awarded the freedom of London’s Haringey suburb. The Freedom Declaration praised the couple for the tremendous contribution they made to the struggle for freedom in South Africa during their long years of exile and residency in Haringey. OR is also due to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of the Western Cape early next year — also in recognition of his role in the struggle.

Learn and Teach magazine takes this opportunity to welcome OR back home as a dedicated, loyal, trusted, and tested leader of the people of South Africa!

In an interview with the ANC newsletter Sechaba in 1967, Tambo spoke about the ANC’s Programme of Action:
“Our programme of struggle is the Freedom Charter, which … sets out the kind of South Africa we shall establish upon taking over power.
“We fight for a South Africa in which there will be no racial discrimination, no inequalities based on colour, creed or race — a non-racial democracy which recognises the essential equality between man and man.
“We shall abolish ail the machinery whereby a few live and thrive on the exploitation of the many. The power of government will rest in the hands of the majority of the people,… It is the people who will decide on the methods … for putting into effect the principles set out in the Freedom Charter.”


WHAT a year this has been!

Since president de Klerk’s speech on February 2, we have seen more political change in one year than in the whole of the last 40 years. The eyes of the world were on us this year as the ANC, the PAC and other political organisations were unbanned, as Nelson Mandela was released and as talks about talks began.

But 1990 was also a year of terrible violence — and even as we write, the violence continues. The war in Natal has not ended, nor has the violence on the Reef and in other parts of the country.

We are also saddened by the rising cost of living. Inflation continue to cause more pain and hardship than most people are able to bear. Unemployment is worse than ever.

As we go into the new year and towards a democratic government we are faced with urgent problems. We need to get negotiations on the road so that we can well and truly throw the last spade of sand on apartheid’s grave. We need to educate our children — and adults need also to be given the chance to make up for lost opportunities. We need housing, decent health care. We need to learn and educate each other about the killer disease AIDS, And we need to learn — and practice — tolerance towards our fellow human beings.

The country is changing — and so is Learn and Teach magazine. We have big plans for the new year, plans which we hope will lead to a better, more educational and more exciting magazine.

January to April next year will be a time of planning for the staff at Learn and Teach Publications — so we will only be bringing you your first magazine in April. After April, the magazine will come out monthly. Those readers who have subscriptions should not worry — you will still receive the correct number of magazines.

A few months ago we ran a survey. We would still like to invite all our readers who have ideas about how we can change and improve the magazine to write to us. We would appreciate any suggestions and will give all suggestions serious thought.

So, this is our last issue of the year. Just as we began the year with a cover story about the release of Nelson Mandela, so it is fitting to see this year out with a dedication to Oliver Tambo, president of the African National Congress, who has come home after 30 long years in exile. Welcome home, OR!

Finally, we would like to thank our readers, sellers and funders who have continued to support us for the last nine and a half years and to wish you all a happy, healthy and peaceful new year. Roll on 1991!

Mandela: in his own words

Untitled0-14Since his release. Nelson Mandela has spoken out on many issues. Here are some extracts from some of the speeches and interviews he has given so far:

“I stand here before you not as a prophet, but as a humble servant of you the people. Your tireless and heroic sacrifices have made it possible for me to be here today — I therefore place the remaining years of my life in your hands.”

“I am a loyal and disciplined member of the African National Congress. I am therefore in full agreement with all of its objectives, strategies and tactics.”

“I call, in the strongest possible way, for us to act with the dignity and discipline that our just struggle for freedom deserves. Our victories must be celebrated in peace and joy.”

“It is only through disciplined mass action that our victory can be assured.”

“On the question of democratic practice I feel duty-bound to make the point that a leader of the movement is a person who has been democratically elected at a national conference. This is a principle which must be upheld without any exception.”

“The apartheid destruction on our subcontinent is incalculable. The fabric of family life of millions of my people has been shattered. Millions are homeless and unemployed. Our economy lies in ruins. And our people are embroiled in political strife.”

‘Today I wish to report to you that my talks with the government have been aimed at normalising the political situation in the country. We have not as yet begun discussing the basic demands of our struggle.”

“Mr De Klerk has gone further than any other Nationalist President in taking steps to normalise the situation. However there are further steps outlined in the Harare Declaration that have to be met before negotiations on the basic demands of our people can begin.”

“Negotiations cannot take place above the heads or behind the backs of our people.”

“Negotiations on the dismantling of apartheid will have to address the overwhelming demands of our people for a democratic, non-racial, and unitary South Africa.”

“Insignificant things, peripheral issues, they do not need any compromise. You need a compromise on fundamental issues. What those issues will be, and the extent of the compromise, will depend on the type of demand over which a compromise is required.”

“We call on the international community to continue the campaign to isolate the apartheid regime. To lift sanctions now would be to run the risk of aborting the process towards the complete eradication of apartheid.”

“Everything we have set out to achieve is still the same. Nothing has changed. You must remember that the demand in this country is for a non-racial society. We are very far from that, and it is still too early for anybody to expect us to call for the lifting of sanctions.”

“Our resort to the armed struggle in 1960 with the formation of the military wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe, was a purely defensive action against the violence of apartheid.”

“There is not a single political organisation in this country inside and outside Parliament which can ever compare with the ANC in its total commitment to peace…. The factors which necessitated the armed struggle still exist today. We have no option but to continue. We express the hope that a climate conducive to peace will be created soon so that there may no longer be the need for the armed struggle.”

“I salute the working class of our country. Our movement would not be where it is without your organised strength. You are an indispensable force in the struggle to end exploitation and oppression in South Africa.”

“We call on employers to recognise the fundamental rights of workers in our country.”

“In particular, we call for genuine negotiations to achieve a fair Labour Relations Act and mechanisms to resolve conflict…We call on workers, black and white, to join industrial trade unions organised under the banner of our non-racial progressive federation, COSATU.”

Untitled0-17ON THE SACP
“I salute General Secretary Joe Slovo and the South African Communist Party (SACP) for its sterling contribution to the struggle for democracy. You have survived forty years of unrelenting persecution. The memory of great communists like Moses Kotane, Yusuf Dadoo, Braam Fischer and Moses Mabhida will be cherished for generations to come.”

“The crisis in education that exists … demands special attention. The education crisis in black schools is a political crisis. It arises out of the fact that our people have no vote, and therefore cannot make the government of the day responsive to their needs.”

“Apartheid education is inferior and a crime against humanity.”

“Education is an area that needs the attention of all our people, students, parents, workers, and other organised sectors of our community…”

“I want to add my voice, therefore, to the call made at the beginning of the year that all students must return to school and learn…”

“We call on our white patriots to join us in the shaping of a new South Africa. The freedom movement is a political home for you too. Whites are fellow South Africans and we want them to feel safe…we appreciate the contribution they have made towards the development of this country.”

“… I must make it clear that the level of crime in our township is unhealthy and must be eliminated as a matter of urgency.”

“The hijacking and setting alight of vehicles, and the harassment of innocent people are criminal acts that have no place in our struggle. We condemn that…”

“I call on the leadership of UDF, COSATU, and Inkatha to take decisive steps to revive the peace initiative and end the scourge on our proud history … Let us end this mindless violence.”

“I am also concerned by the ongoing violence perpetrated by certain sections of the security forces against our peaceful marches and demonstrations. We condemn this.”

“South Africa is a wealthy country. It is the labour of black workers that has built the cities, roads and factories we see. They cannot be excluded from sharing this wealth.”

“Our people need proper housing, not ghettos like Soweto. Workers need a living wage, and the right to participate in trade unions of their own choice, and to participate in determining policies that affect their lives.”

“…we are also committed to ensuring that a democratic government has the resources to address the inequalities caused by apartheid.”

“Nationalisation has formed part and parcel of the history of this country. The government’s current attitude towards the ANC’s demands for nationalisation seem out of character. Only now that the possibility has arisen that Blacks might be able to participate in the running of the country is the government beginning to privatise.”

“Now is the time to intensify the struggle on all fronts. To relax now would be a mistake which future generations would not be able to forgive.”

“We are going forward. The march towards freedom and justice is irreversible. Our struggle has reached a decisive moment. We call on our people to seize this moment so that the process towards democracy is rapid and uninterrupted. We have waited too long for our freedom. We can wait no longer. We must not allow fear to stand in our way. The sight of freedom looming on the horizon should encourage us to redouble our efforts.”

“I stand before you…”


Comrade Mandela addressing the people in Cape Town on the day of his release

Hundreds of thousands of people waited to see and be addressed by Comrade Nelson Mandela outside the City Hall in Cape Town on the day he was released. It was a long, hot wait, but it was a privilege to be there.

The mood among parts of the crowd is beginning to turn sour in the heat.
Posters all over Cape Town had advertised that Comrade Nelson Mandela would address the people at three o’ clock. Hundreds of thousands of people watch that time come and go. Organizers promise he will come.

The square across from the city hall is jam-packed with people. Everywhere, ANC flags and banners. Anywhere there is space to get some height — on traffic lights, a statue, roof tops — people have climbed up. The branch of a tree on which youths have been perched like birds snaps and comes crashing down, injuring some of them.

By the time we arrive, the crowd in front of the podium where Comrade Mandela is to speak is so thick that it will be impossible for his car to get there. Some are fainting in the crush and need medical attention.

As time drags, people get restless. Suddenly, trouble. A group of youths begin smashing shop windows and help themselves to bottles of drink. The riot police appear, and blaze the youths with birdshot. People dive to the ground for cover.

Fearful of being trampled underfoot, we run with the human tide towards the edge of the square. We later learn one person was shot dead. Dozens of others are hurt.

The sirens of ambulances can be heard above the noise, as they inch their way through the masses.


Part of the huge crowd that gathered outside the City Hall in Cape Town to greet Mandela

Still no sign of Comrade Mandela. There are no announcements explaining why. People say the sound system has died.

It is already just about dark when shouts of “There they are!” and “Viva! Mandela!” fill the air.

Comrade Mandela, his wife Winnie and others arrive in three or four cars. Instantly, hundreds of people surround them. They simply leave the vehicles in the middle of the street and make a dash for the side door, followed by a mass of chanting, happy bodies.

Word that the Comrade Leader has arrived blows across the square within seconds, as if driven by the strong Cape wind. At the far end of the square, people immediately begin pressing towards the podium.

The threat of violence has gone, and tension gives way to joy and expectation. Comrades Mandela and Sisulu appear on the balcony, together with the other leaders. The moment everyone has spent so much time waiting for has come. The crowd roars.

Comrade Sisulu calls for silence. Comrade Mandela, under the glare of yellow television lights, begins his first public speech in 27 years.

Above him, a huge ANC flag flutters. In front of him, a SACP flag. His strong voice carries over the square.

“I stand here before you not as a prophet,” he says, “but as a humble servant of you the people.”

What beautiful words, after all those years separated from his people. We are not ashamed to admit that there are tears in our eyes.

Comrade Mandela’s speech is hard-hitting and fresh — in true Mandela style. He calls for the intensification of the struggle against apartheid on all fronts, including the armed struggle.

He talks of fallen comrades, of the great suffering caused by apartheid, of freedom, and of justice. He ends by repeating the words from his historic speech from the dock in the Rivonia Trial in 1964:

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Comrade Winnie Mandela takes over and leads the huge crowd in the singing of the anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica. The melody fills the air, her voice rising out strong and steady.


Suddenly it’s all over. Thousands of men, women and children begin leaving. Their departure is orderly, disciplined and happy. It has been a day whose importance is beyond words in the long struggle against racist oppression. An ugly chapter in the history of both South Africa and humankind has been closed.

Down Table Mountain, a strong wind sweeps into the city, as if nature herself is trying to lend a hand in blowing away the great injustice that has gripped our country for so long.

When the prison gates opened

Untitled0-8At sixteen minutes past four on Sunday afternoon, the 11th February 1990 f the prison gates opened for Comrade Nelson Mandela for the first time in 27 years. Learn and Teach was there to witness this historic moment.

There are no signs leading to the Victor Verster prison in Paarl, “home” to the world’s most famous political prisoner.

But with the sun blazing down on the heart of South Africa’s winelands, we soon find our way by following another car, a family who have come to witness Comrade Mandela take his first steps from prison after 27 years.

We drive and park on the dusty road side and begin the trek to the prison, a walk that turns out to be about three or four kilometres long. Behind and in front of us, as far as we can see, groups of people walk towards the prison gates. Some sing, others simply sweat in silence. Nobody seems to mind the walk or the sun.

On the left, we ask a young white couple standing by their car if they know what is going on down the road. Without replying, the man asks if we are journalists. When we say we are, he politely asks if he can take a picture of us with our fists raised in a clenched salute. We agree, and he pulls out a pink camera and happily snaps a shot.

There is an edge of fear in his voice as he points up the road and says there are thousands of people there. “I don’t know what is going to happen,” he says.

We tell him the people are happy and there is nothing to worry about, but our words do nothing to make him feel any better. His fear says much about the worries of so many white South Africans at this moment.

Small groups of police stand back on both sides of the road, as the people make their way towards the prison. They do nothing about the ANC and Communist Party flags that are everywhere. They are legal now, and they are flying higher than ever before.


Mandela’s “home” at Victor Verster Prison in Paarl

Finally, we are there, outside the prison that has been home to Nelson Mandela for nearly two years.

Across the road, directly opposite the gates to the prison, are dozens of reporters, TV cameramen and photographers. Some have been there for weeks, staking claim to their piece of ground.

Blocking the entrance, more police. But the atmosphere is as warm as the day. The cops look happy -perhaps they are relieved, that soon they will no longer be responsible for the people’s leader.

Marshals keep everyone away from the gates. Everyone obeys. Everyone is disciplined.

And we wait… and we wait.

Mandela was supposed to have been released at about three p.m. But the hour passes. Five past three. Ten past three. Still nothing.

Freedom songs fill the dusty air. A man dressed in an animal skin does a dance in the open space in praise of Nelson Mandela, and we all cheer. Around us, bare chested young men have painted their upper bodies in the black, green and yellow colours of the ANC.

Journalists joke, and bottles of water or cooldrink are passed around. Suddenly Winnie Mandela arrives, together with senior members of the ANC and the National Reception Committee. Cameras click, and shouts of “Viva!” fill the air.

Again we wait. With the passing of each minute, the excitement grows. A marshal explains that Comrade Mandela is spending a quiet moment with his family. Half past three. Quarter to four. Four o’clock. Still nothing.


At sixteen minutes past four, someone shouts, “There he is!”. The crowd roars and pushes forward to see their hero.

Standing tall and straight, smiling and with his fist in the air, Mandela the prisoner steps beyond the gates and takes his first steps as a free man.

This is the first time that the world has seen Comrade Mandela in 27 years. He looks old, and he is much thinner than we expected. But he looks good, fit and strong. Proud and dignified.

The cheering crowd crushes toward him, journalists climb over and under a rope barricade in their rush to get the picture. A small child, sitting on his mother’s shoulders, cries with fright.

For just a moment, Mandela appears taken aback. He waves at the people who are there to greet him, and to all those millions of others all around the world who are watching this historic moment on their TV sets.

Then he turns, moves around his car, gets in, and off they go. The happy crowd, most of whom had barely caught a glimpse of their leader, sing and clap wildly.

We begin the long slog back down the road. It is still hot, and we are tired from all the excitement of the past few hours. But the walk back to the cars is not so bad. Our spirits are high and our hearts are light.

Along the highway to Cape Town, traffic slows to a crawl as dozens of youths stand in the road, raise their fists and salute the passing motorists. I put my arm out the window, and clench my fist too. But one person grabs it a little too eagerly as we drive by, and he almost breaks my arm against the window frame. From then on I keep my arm well inside.

From every highway bridge and every hilltop, people give the clenched fist salute. ANC flags fly high in the dry, hot breeze. The joy of the people seems as endless as the road stretching towards the setting sun. Long live Comrade Nelson Mandela!