- Created: Wednesday, 09 December 2009 12:18
- Written by Carol Brickley
FRFI 211 October / November 2009
Next year, on 11 February 2010, will be the 20th anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in South Africa and the start of negotiations between the African National Congress (ANC) and the apartheid regime which culminated, in 1994, in the first democratic elections that brought the ANC to power and made Mandela President. BBC Radio 4 recently broadcast The Reunion, a programme to celebrate the release of Nelson Mandela. The main participants in secret talks between the ANC and the apartheid regime prior to Mandela’s release were invited to reminisce. This broadcast raised many issues about the role of the ANC. It is time to look back at the aspirations the black majority in
Their struggle was a long one, spanning most of the 20th century. Thousands of people were killed in a bitter bloody battle to win liberation, not least at Sharpeville in 1960 and
In response the regime declared a State of
This was a watershed. Like at all critical turning points in history, movements and people reveal their real class interests and intentions. In the history of working class struggle there are many examples, good and bad – on the one hand, the capitulation of the Second International to the interests of their national bourgeoisies at the outbreak of the First World War; the failure of the Labour Party and trade union movement to block Britain’s role in the invasion of Iraq in 2003; on the other hand, the determination of unarmed Soweto school students to march through the streets against the armed might of the apartheid state in 1976. Most of the participants in the struggle against apartheid had no idea of the secret talks taking place behind their backs. In 1985 at the height of the township battles, senior members of the South African government began secret talks with Nelson Mandela in prison. It is not clear what they hoped to achieve, and it is by no means certain that they knew themselves. What is clear is that, over the next five years, Mandela was moved to progressively better prison conditions, ending up in the deputy governor’s cottage at Victor Verster prison, with its own swimming pool and gym. This is not, however, a simple question of buying collaboration.
The regime may have thought it could recruit Mandela to play a role similar to ‘tribal’ leaders like Mangosuthu Buthelezi, but Mandela was made of sterner stuff. What did happen was that, over time, the aims of the ANC were revised and moderated in secret. The goal of liberation, expressed at its simplest in the 1956 Freedom Charter, was watered down to the achievement of majority rule – bourgeois democracy.
The task of assuring the regime that Mandela was not a red-blooded revolutionary committed to communism was not pursued by him alone. A network of communications was established so that at least some of the ANC leadership in exile in
The BBC Radio 4 programme, The Reunion. brought together the chief players in another set of secret talks being held in Britain from November 1987 to May 1990, hosted by the multinational company Consolidated Goldfields in a stately home near Bath. The main participants on the South African side were Willie Esterhuyse, an Afrikaner academic who reported back to Niel Barnard, and various other members of the Afrikaner Broederbond, including the brother of FW de Klerk (elected South African President in 1989). For the ANC the main participants were Aziz Pahad, Thabo Mbeki (South African President 1999-2008) and Jacob Zuma (current South African President).
Readers who would like to sample the flavour of treachery, should listen to the
Reporting back to his brothers in the Broederbond, Wimpie de Klerk wrote: ‘The essence of my message was “Look boys, everything is OK. We can do business with the ANC. They are not that radical.”’ Allister Sparks, journalist and another participant in the Reunion programme, recollects in his book of 1994,* ‘one afternoon in January 1990, as the participants gathered in the bar for a sundowner, the conversation turned to the international sports boycott against South Africa and specifically to a series of demonstrations then disrupting a boycott breaking tour of South Africa by an English cricket team led by the England Test captain, Mike Gatting. One of the Afrikaners asked Mbeki, “Why don’t you chaps stop all that nonsense? All we want to do is watch cricket.” This triggered a discussion of the boycott, during which it was suggested... that they should negotiate an agreement – to stop the demonstrations in exchange for abandoning the second leg of the Gatting tour, following which the ANC undertook that if a political solution to the South African conflict were reached it would give its full support to South Africa’s re-entry into international cricket.’
The small treachery against anti-apartheid demonstrators internationally – among whom the Revolutionary Communist Group is proud to have featured – is insignifant compared to the bigger picture. The future of an entire nation has been sold out. Bourgeois democracy over the last 16 years in
*Allister Sparks, Tomorrow is another country, Hill and