South Africa - Isolate Apartheid!

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 16, February 1982

While the British imperialist press busily denounces martial law in Poland and hypocritically proclaims itself in favour of ‘democracy’ and ‘free trade unions’ it has hardly a word about the South African regime’s recent attempts of stamp out any and every expression of opposition to apartheid. Yet the apartheid regime, armed with fascist force and a battery of most despotic laws, is carrying out a massive number of arrests and detentions in an attempt to smash independent black trade unions and all other opposition to its bloody rule.

Arbitrary arrest and detention is an everyday experience for black people in South Africa. Over 18,000 have been detained since 1960 under the Internal Security Act, the General Law Amendment Act, and the most frequently used, Terrorism Act. Those arrested under the Terrorism Act can be held indefinitely without charge, they are held incommunicado with no access to family or legal representation, they can be interrogated for 24 hours a day and the police are not obliged to reveal the detainee’s whereabouts. They are at the mercy of a merciless and savage security machine. During 1981 over 620 people were detained of which 306 were trade unionists and workers.

Terrified of the growing power of independent black trade unions, the apartheid state machine hopes to crush them by arresting their leaders and organisers. Thozamile Gqweta, President of the South African Allied Workers Union (SAAWU) which has massive support in East London and the Ciskei because of its staunch opposition to apartheid and the Bantustan policy, was arrested on 9 December along with the union’s Vice-President Sisa Njikelana. Thozamile Gqweta has also had his mother and uncle murdered by apartheid forces. And at the funeral, his girlfriend was shot dead by police. In late November, 15 other leading trade unionists were arrested and detained under the Terrorism Act. They include Sam Kikine the General Secretary of the SAAWU, Samson Ndou the union’s President, Emma Mashinini General Secretary of the Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union and many others. The South African government has announced a mass ‘security’ trial to begin shortly when some of those arrested are to be charged with ‘terrorism’ and ‘furthering the aims of the ANC’. Meanwhile they are being held in complete isolation from the outside world.

The net of apartheid detention is not restricted to trade unionists and open ANC supporters. Journalists, community workers, church activists, students, white liberals, academics and anyone who dares express even the slightest opposition to apartheid is being arrested and thrown into detention. The Detainees Parents’ Support Group formed to demand the immediate release of all detainees issued a statement on 28 December revealing that of the known 180 current detainees only 18 have been allowed visits. The remainder, isolated and alone, are being subjected to who knows what torture and degradation behind the iron doors of apartheid police stations.

Alongside detention is murder; murder by apartheid state forces or apartheid organised fascist bands – the murder of Griffiths Mxenge, the murder of Joan Weinberg, the murder of Joe Gqabi in Zimbabwe, the murder of 13 ANC members in Matola last January.

British imperialism has been silent about all this. It has been silent because the struggle of the ANC, the struggle of black workers threatens to undermine and destroy imperialism in South Africa, and with it the profits of British banks and British firms operating in South Africa. The British labour movement too, has hardly moved a muscle in support of black trade unionists and revolutionaries in South Africa. Why no campaign, even half as energetic as that conducted against socialist Poland? Because the privileged existence of the opportunist leaders depends on imperialism, on national oppression, including oppression in South Africa. Despite the repeated calls of the ANC, the TUC has refused to disinvest or to build a campaign to end economic links with apartheid. The corrupted British labour movement is an accomplice of imperialism in its oppression of the South African masses.

The black masses of South Africa and the ANC will not bow before apartheid violence, neither do they fear the sacrifices required in the war against apartheid. With the opening of 1982, the African National Congress is poised to deliver further heavy blows to apartheid and imperialism. Throughout last year at hundreds of public meetings, church congregations, social events and funerals of ANC heroes, the black masses demonstrated their support for the ANC. They hoisted ANC flags, wore ANC t-shirts and applauded militant speeches in support of the ANC and the demands of the Freedom Charter. At the December funeral of Griffiths Mxenge, ANC lawyer murdered by apartheid, over 20,000 people hailed the ANC. A witness to the funeral said, ‘It wasn’t a funeral, it was like an ANC gathering’. Alongside the ANC’s mass political struggle, the people’s army – uMkhonto we Sizwe – has raised the armed struggle to new heights. In 1981 it carried out over 50 operations against railway lines, Defence Force installations, police stations, government offices, oil storage depots and power stations.

This revolutionary struggle can only grow stronger and it is a struggle in which the enemy has been clearly defined. Seretse Choabi speaking for the ANC, in London on Heroes Day 16 December 1981 said:

‘The real enemy of our people are not the white settlers in South Africa. No. The real enemy is here in London. The real enemy is in New York. The white settlers in South Africa are only the caretakers of imperialist interests in South Africa.’

The ANC is part of the international revolutionary front against imperialism and racism, and communists in Britain stand alongside it and declare

Release all detainees now!
Death to British imperialism!
Death to apartheid!
Victory to the ANC!

Eddie Abrahams

Oscar Mpetha

Oscar Mpetha is a black trade unionist, national organiser of the African Food and Canning Workers Union and chairman of the Nyanga Residents Association. In August 1980 he and 17 others were arrested and detained under the notorious Terrorism Act.

Oscar Mpetha is now 72 years old and suffers from acute diabetes. 18 months after his arrest, he is still in prison while his trial drags on and on. For the first four months of his detention he was denied all visits from his family, suffered solitary confinement and had to be taken to the prison hospital for medical treatment. There is no end in sight to his trial. The apartheid state is expected to close its case only in May or June 1982, after which the defence will put its case. The trial could last until the end of this year and judgement passed in 1983.

During the trial which has lasted well over 9 months, it has been revealed that statements from 5 defendants were extracted by torture and assault. The apartheid state is fabricating evidence, torturing the accused and hoping that Oscar Mpetha will die in prison before judgement is passed.

Free Oscar Mpetha and his 17 comrades!


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