Interview with Ruth Mompati, ANC Chief Representative in Britain

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 14, November/December 1981

FRFI: The struggle in South Africa has now reached a new stage. The armed struggle is intensifying and the workers’ struggles are increasing in number, scope and determination. The prospect of revolutionary struggle is much better than ever before. Could you say something about this situation?

RM: It is true that the situation inside in the country has changed dramatically particularly in the last two years. There has been an intensification of both the armed and political struggle. I think that you are also aware that the ANC took this decision [to use arms] after a long period of peaceful protest to try and change the situation in South Africa. They reached a point when they felt there was no point in carrying on trying to get a change through peaceful means and decided on the armed struggle. This has been intensified in the last year and we have carried out quite a number of armed attacks. At the same time there has also been an intensification in the political struggle. Now I think that it is important that we should realise that this is one struggle. One cannot divide the armed struggle from the political struggle. In order for us to have more success militarily we have got to mobilise even more politically. The two are interwoven and they can’t be divided. The new phase, as has been indicated in all of our statements, both by President O.R. Tambo and leaders of our organisation, is mobilisation, political mobilisation of our forces inside South Africa, of the people inside. Because when you speak of the armed struggle in South Africa, who is fighting? It’s the workers of South Africa who are fighting. It is the women of South Africa who are fighting. It is the youth of South Africa who are fighting. They are the guerrilla fighters. They are Umkhonto we Sizwe. The armed wing of the African National Congress is not the kind of organisation which has got only a certain type of people involved. It has all kinds of people involved in this work. Political mobilisation inside the country is very important because it complements the military struggle.

FRFI: Following the death sentences on the ANC six, the ANC made a statement saying the mass political struggle will intensify and the armed struggle will be raised to new and higher levels. Can you explain why the ANC has taken the decision recently to further escalate the armed struggle? Why in particular?

RM: The decision to intensify the armed struggle inside South Africa is not a decision that was taken recently. It is better to look at it as a struggle which is building up year by year. In the last few years, we have been more successful. The political situation has changed because of the independence of the countries surrounding South Africa. The independence of Mozambique, the independence of Angola and Zimbabwe in particular, this has to a great extent influenced the situation inside the country. You see we no longer have to stretch our arms over hostile territory to reach out people. We can now go to our people directly. We can bring solidarity materials which we need for our struggle directly to the people. We are able to consult politically much more easily. So this change because of the independence of all these countries has influenced even the tempo of our work inside the country. Secondly we get a lot of political solidarity from these countries. This affects the amount of work we are able to do. If we look back, it sometimes took months to get solidarity material across enemy territory into the country. The independence of these countries has not been just a success for their own peoples, it has also been a success for us. It has carried our country a number of steps forward. We are able to operate inside the country, we are able to plan our work effectively in direct contact with people inside the country. We are able to arm our people at a time when it is necessary to arm them. 

FRFI: In the face of the independence of Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, imperialism has been further fortifying the apartheid state. Could you comment on the role of American imperialism in South Africa today?

RM: It is true that the Reagan administration has stepped up its imperialist aggression against the peoples who are fighting oppression – the majority of the people in South Africa, but one should take into consideration that the only difference between Reagan and past presidents of the USA is that Reagan is more open in his aggression. He is telling us to our faces, ‘I don’t like what you are doing, I don’t agree with the independence of black people, and I am going to oppose you and support apartheid.’ But if you go a little back you will find Kissinger was doing exactly the same thing. It is stated in Memorandum 39 that as far as the USA government was concerned, independence for the black people of South Africa was not on. That it was not time for black people to take power and that they would continue to support apartheid South Africa. The real reason for this is that South Africa is part of the imperialist world. It is an imperialist nation itself because it exports capital. That is why Reagan, Thatcher and other imperialist leaders have for the past period been plotting to organise the South Atlantic Treaty Organisation which was going to coordinate the activities of the imperialists in the Southern hemisphere. They intended to bring together the USA, Brazil, Israel, South Africa, into the NATO group and together work against any independence movement in South Africa and then use South Africa as a spring board against the already independent states of Africa. So I agree with you, this is imperialism. The independence of Angola and Mozambique is against imperialism because they are organising society the way the people want it. The imperialists realise that they have lost in these two countries, they are going to lose their huge investments and their huge economic role in South Africa. 

FRFI: Britain has been a steadfast ally of everything that the USA has done in the past period. Have you any comments on the role of British imperialism?

RM: Britain has been in South Africa from the very beginning. Whatever kind of government we have in South Africa comes from the British. We call it apartheid today, it was called segregation before, this came from Britain. Britain has had a hold on all aspects of the South African economy. It is only recently that the Afrikaners have played a full part in the economy. So in fact British imperialism holds a large part of the South African economy, through the banks, the mines, all aspects of the economy. The USA has also got direct investments, this has increased over the past few years. Both Britain and America are also heavily involved militarily in South Africa. Whatever South Africa is doing militarily both Britain and the USA are well aware of it.

FRFI: In the past the press has downgraded the role played by the ANC in the leadership of the liberation movement and has counterposed the black consciousness movement to the ANC. Could you say something about the black consciousness movement?

RM: When we speak of black consciousness we must be very clear of what we are talking about. Sometimes, as you say, the enemies of the peoples of South Africa and of the ANC, have tried to say that black consciousness is something which is opposed to the ANC, or something to which the ANC is opposed. But in actual fact black consciousness as it started was an organisation of people who came together in a situation where you could only act as black people. If you look at who is in the black consciousness movement, you will find members of the ANC, members of various religious movements, all sorts of people. The ANC had members who were leaders of the black consciousness movement. We in the ANC have never been against the black consciousness movement. We have never claimed that we are the black consciousness movement, because we are not. We are a banned organisation, we could never operate openly inside the country. We can only operate in the underground and as individuals who are members of different organisations. If our underground has organised black consciousness groups this is another matter. But we have never seen the black consciousness movement as enemies of the ANC.

In the last few years a number of organisations have tried to use the black consciousness movement as something to cling to, and so have the enemy. Some people have tried to set up a third force which would not be the ANC, not the Communist Party of South Africa, but something in the middle they could control. They have tried to use some people, disgruntled leaders, to set themselves up and then speak in the name of black consciousness. But it is clear from the black consciousness groups inside the country that they do not see the future of an organisation which only deals with black people.

You must also understand that the ANC started as a black organisation. We have always thought it important that black people become conscious, proud of the fact that they are Africans, and that black people should know that the struggle is their struggle. Nobody will come from outside and fight it for them. The black people must carry out this struggle themselves. We went a step further. There are other people in South Africa who have their own organisations, the Indian people, the coloured people, we have to work with them. They are also oppressed and exploited. So we must have a unity of the oppressed masses. We have taken a step yet further. There are white people and they must join us because there is no future in apartheid even for the white child, the white people. We must come together as a people and fight for freedom. I will add that I think it was in 1970 that Comrade Oliver Tambo described black people as firstly the black people of South Africa, the coloured people of South Africa, the Indian people of South Africa, and any white person who identifies with the ideals and aspirations of the majority of the oppressed people. If you are white and you are with us then you belong to the black people, then you are part of us. 

FRFI: Can you say something about the role of the USSR in Southern Africa?

RM: When I grew up in South Africa, when I was at school, the only literature black people were given free was anti-Communist. We were always told about the bad, bad wolf, the USSR. But when I joined the ANC I found that the only countries prepared to give help and solidarity to the liberation movement were the socialist countries, the USSR in particular because it was more able to. Even now the USSR is one of the countries which has given political, moral, material support to all the countries in Southern Africa which fought for their independence – Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe. They are now giving that support to the ANC. South Africa uses the USSR as a target because they are helping the ANC.

FRFI: As you know that FRFI gives unconditional support to the ANC in its struggle for liberation. There are however some sections of the left in this country who criticise the ANC because they say it sacrifices the workers’ struggle in South Africa in order to carry out an armed guerilla struggle.

RM: This has been said in certain quarters and usually by people who want to attack the ANC. The fact of the matter is that the ANC is a political organisation inside South Africa. It organises first and foremost politically. It is from this work that we organise the military cadres. Unless our people are organised politically we will not succeed. When they say that we sacrifice the workers’ struggle to the military struggle, we have been responsible for many of the activities of the trade union movement in South Africa. Many of the trade union leaders who have been killed by the enemy in South Africa have been members of the ANC. All the political leaders of the trade union struggle who are now outside the country, who have been active in the struggle, are members of the ANC. The political struggle inside the country for us is very important. It is only when the struggles of the workers, the women, the youth, the military wing of the ANC are co-ordinated, that we can push the struggle forward. The importance of the last two years has been the fact that this co-ordination has existed. In turn this has meant that the military wing has had a broad cross-section base amongst the people. 

FRFI: We know the record of Leyland in South Africa. Its use of the apartheid apparatus to try to crush the workers there. Now they are turning on the workers in Britain. They are threatening to close plants here if the strike goes on. What would you say to the workers at Leyland in their present strike?

RM: We have been calling on people of the world, governments of the world to support sanctions against South Africa. We have said that the struggle of the workers in South Africa is the struggle of all workers including those in Britain. A few weeks ago when Bill Sirs and Terry Duffy said that they were going to South Africa to take the workers out of the dark ages, our response was that the trade union movement in Britain should be working on co-ordination and co-operation of workers in South Africa and Britain. We felt that if the Leyland workers in Britain would support the Leyland workers in South Africa then we will have reached a new height in the organisation of workers. We would like to say to the workers at Leyland that we support their struggle against the bosses, but we know that Edwardes will close the plants in Britain and then open up more plants in South Africa, to get cheap labour. Leyland will lose nothing, but will increase their profits. This is how these international cartels work. If the workers are more organised in one country and the employers cannot break them, then they will close up and move their factories to countries where there is cheap labour and the workers are not organised. We are saying let’s apply sanctions so that the employers cannot do this.

 

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