Apartheid’s People

October 3, 1985 at 12:00 AM EDT

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Black townships in South Africa today, rising up against apartheid. From a thousand miles away, the voice of Thabo Mbeki over the airwaves.

THABO MBEKI, ANC Information Director: We have to make apartheid unworkable and our country ungovernable. The accomplishment of these tasks will create the situation for us to overthrow the apartheid regime and for power to pass into the hands of the people as a whole.

We have achieved a good deal of progress in making South Africa ungovernable. Correctly, we concentrated on the weakest link in the apartheid chain of command and control. For months we have maintained an uninterrupted offensive against the puppet local government authorities.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: It is a voice of revolution being planned from here, in Lusaka, Zambia. Like so many members of his revolutionary movement all over the world, Thabo Mbeki cannot go home because he belongs to the African National Congress, Africa’s oldest revolutionary movement.

The ANC has been outlawed in South Africa since the early ’60s. The move came in the wake of what is now known simply as Sharpeville – March 21st, 1960. At a rally against the laws requiring blacks to carry passes that restricted their movement, some 67 Africans were shot, most in the back, by police who charged the crowd.

After Sharpeville men like Nelson Mandela, now widely regarded by blacks as the father of a new South Africa, and Thabo Mbeki’s father, Gorin, decided to pursue revolutionary violence against the state. Immediately banned and pursued by the government, Mandela spoke then from an underground hideaway about the rationale for the decision.

NELSON MANDELA, former ANC leader [1960]: There are many people who feel that it is useless and futile for us to continue talking peace and nonviolence against a government whose reply is only savage attacks on an unarmed and defenseless people.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Soon afterwards, Mandela, Gorin Mbeki and most of the leadership of the ANC were arrested, tried and sentenced to life imprisonment for high treason. They began serving their terms in South Africa’s Robben Island prison. The ANC leadership was decimated, but a new generation, their sons and daughters, had been prepared to carry on.

Mr. MBEKI: There were other people who were ready to assume the positions of leadership in case the most senior leadership got arrested, and given what the situation was in 1963 in the country, we were all very confident that whatever arrests took place, they wouldn’t disturb the pace of the struggle.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But no one in the movement counted on the state’s determination to crush the ANC once and for all. But in fact they crushed any hope of an early black victory, and the heirs of Mandela, Mbeki and others had to leave South Africa.

Mr. MBEKI: I left South Africa by decision of the ANC. I was selected as a student to go and study in England. The other students were sent to all manner of other countries in the world. It was part of a process which was supposed to create a corps of people who would have the necessary skills, the necessary qualifications to be able to participate in the administration or the running of a liberated South Africa.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Each day, more and more people arrived from South Africa to join the ANC in an exodus that has been going on since Mbeki and the others fled. Some go to schools the ANC has established in other countries, like Tanzania. They pursue college preparatory courses as well as training in guerrilla warfare.

STUDENT, ANC member: I had originally intended to join the military wing of the ANC, but I thought that I can make a double contribution if I went to school first, because then I’d be able to contribute in the postrevolutionary period in the reconstruction of the country as well.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: To date, the ANC guerrilla strategy has been to attack only property, hard targets like the Sasol oil refinery in the Transvaal in 1982. But at army recruitment station in ’83 they killed 32 people.

OLIVER TAMBO, President, ANC: After the Pretoria bomb, which killed a lot of people, one of the questions that was asked, a significant question, was: what makes people want to do this?

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: ANC president Oliver Tambo.

MR. TAMBO: It was a very good question. What’s worrying these people? That question was being put across the country. It was a very good question. And it is a result of that kind of conflict which reaches people that they begin to question where they stand, what’s wrong with the system, why is it being opposed with such virulence?

And they’d find the answer, and then they’d re-reflect on that system and find that there is indeed something wrong with the system. Why is a black person a subhuman because he’s black? It’s never occurred to some of them. Never occurred until the slave rises up and say, “I’m a human being too,” and then they begin to realize that he is indeed a human being – “I’ve been wrong in treating- in thinking he wasn’t.”

And this is what is happening. It is a struggle. It is not that somehow, by some miracle, they’ve started thinking differently. It is the struggle, the intensity of the struggle – the international pressures that are being put on them. This is what is making them question the whole status quo.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Such attacks, however, have only fueled South Africa’s drive against the ANC. It’s reinforced its charge that it is controlled by communists who are only interested in the violent overthrow of the government.

PIETER W. BOTHA, President, South Africa: We can ill afford the irresponsibilities and destructive actions of barbaric communist agitators and even murderers who perpetrate the most cruel deeds against fellow South Africans because they are on the payroll of their masters far from this lovely land of ours.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The ANC openly acknowledges that some of its members are communists.

Mr. TAMBO: Certainly there are communists in the ANC and have a right to belong to the ANC so long as they accept the policy of the ANC.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Recently, a group of white South African businessmen defied President Botha and initiated a meeting with the ANC in Zambia. The businessmen defended their actions.

GAVIN RELLY, chairman, Anglo-American Corporation: No, I don’t think any of us had any sense of being hostile(?) to the government. He himself has said on several occasions recently he believes in open negotiation on an open agenda, and in that sort of context I’d have thought that for South Africans of whatever different persuasion to come together to discuss the future of their country was a perfectly legitimate occupation.

MR. MBEKI: With regard to contact with the business community, we would certainly wish in the ANC that more businesspeople should be exposed directly to the ANC. I think we’re all of the view that at the end of this six hours or so of discussion, these people left with a somewhat different impression of what the ANC is; that it’s not a bunch of wild, gun-toting, fire-eating rebels; that it is South Africans who are concerned about the future of their country and concerned about the future of all South Africans, black and white, and even concerned very much about the future of the South African economy.

And hopefully if that message gets across to other businesspeople, it will be very useful – if others could see the ANC. Because maybe a cumulative awareness of what the ANC is about, and therefore what the oppressed people are saying what they want, might help to get the business community to use its considerable power to help to move the situation towards a resolution.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: In reality, leaders like Mbeki and most other ANC members around the world spend far more time waging propaganda wars than guerrilla warfare.

There’s even been some criticism that the ANC has become a bunch of gentleman revolutionaries, growing fat off hotel food and donations from sympathetic governments. Those critics argue that events inside South Africa are spontaneous and that a new generation of protesters has sprung up, leaving the ANC scrambling to catch up.

MR. MBEKI: It’s not a very serious charge. Look at the ANC leadership outside the country, and look at the number of ANC leaders that have been assassinated outside the country. Our first representative, for instance, in Zimbabwe was killed, shot to death by South African death squads.

Our representative at some stage in this country in Zambia got sent a parcel bomb, got killed. In Mozambique, sent a parcel bomb, killed. Other people in Angola. I don’t think the South African regime would resort to those sorts of measures if they thought that the ANC leadership was nicely tucked away in a Sheraton hotel, eating nicely, not bothering them.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And in the townships of South Africa where there is no visible leadership in the uprisings, young people who weren’t born when Nelson Mandela and the other ANC leaders went to prison celebrate them as if they’d been there all along. [interviewing] What are you singing about? Tell me, what is this about? What is the song about? [many voices answer] Mandela? Mandela and Oliver Tambo?

WOMAN: We want Mandela to be released from jail.


WOMAN: And those who are in exile to come back to South Africa.

MAN: There’s one man we all respect, Ndutheki Mai(?). We call him our father. None other than Nelson Mandela. If and only if that man can be released and then we can see the direction of South Africa.


MAN: Nelson Mandela is the father of, say, the revolution of the black man in South Africa.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Back in Zambia, Thabo Mbeki and the others are waiting and hoping and remembering, and it is as much their past as it is their future that drives them.

MR. TAMBO: For 22 years now, Gorin has been sitting behind bars. Twenty-two years. What has changed in that 22 years? Really nothing. Ms son entered the struggle in his youth; 20 years ago he was in the struggle. He also is still in it, and in that 20 years, what has changed about the apartheid system? Nothing. And the Gorins come and go. Their sons come and go. And the apartheid system goes on and on. It must now be destroyed by the entire people, and after that there will be peace for everybody.

MR. MBEKI: Compatriots, the Pretoria regime speaks about law and order. It says it has imposed martial law on large parts of our country in order to reestablish order and stability.

ROBIN MACNEIL: Secretary of State Shultz has now called on the South African government to free Nelson Mandela and begin talks with him and the ANC. Shultz told The New York Times today that, “Such a move would send a signal that the government was willing to search for political compromise with the black majority.” Otherwise, Shultz said, “The government faces being toppled by violent revolution.”

In Lusaka, the ANC charged that the Reagan administration is actually avoiding taking any serious action against the South African government. For Pretoria’s view of this and other issues, Charlayne Hunter-Gault talked by satellite earlier today with South Africa’s foreign minister, Pik Botha.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Foreign Minister, welcome. I’d like to begin by asking you your reaction to a report today that Secretary of State Shultz has called on the South African government to release Nelson Mandela and begin negotiations with the African National Congress. What is your response to that?

R.F. “PIK” BOTHA, South African Foreign Minister: We have made our position very clear on this matter. And it surprises me that Secretary of State Shultz does not know our position. Our position has been made very clear and I’m quite sure that most Americans can support our position, and that is simply this.

We’re prepared to talk to any individual, any organization, on condition that they foreswear or abandon violence as a means of achieving political objectives.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But as you know, Mr. Minister, the ANC accuses the South African government of violent acts against its organization. You deny those?

FOREIGN MINISTER BOTHA: Of course I deny this, particularly after we’ve announced that all communities in this country can share in government up to the highest level. We have removed many forms of racial discrimination. We have announced our intention to remove racial discrimination in this country.

We have achieved quite a lot in this respect, and whatever might have been the reasons why the ANC was founded, there is no reason for them to say or state that they need to fight or create violence to achieve anything, because this government is prepared to talk to any individual, any leader and any organization abandoning violence.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But business leaders, prominent business leaders in South Africa have also called on your government to discuss a peaceful solution to the situation in South Africa without any preconditions. They’ve even gone themselves and spoken with the ANC. They say this is not the time to be proud, but the time to take action to calm the situation.

FOREIGN MINISTER BOTHA: I fully realize that there–ask those business leaders what the ANC told them. The ANC told them that they would nationalize all big business, that there would not be a free press but a state-controlled press, and the implication was very clear there would be one party. This is what they told the businesspeople.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But even after the businesspeople returned to South Africa they stated publicly, in ads taken out in your newspapers and supported by your newspapers, that negotiations should begin, which may or may not include some of the things that the ANC has said, you still reject any discussions whatsoever with either the ANC or with Nelson Mandela?

FOREIGN MINISTER BOTHA: We did not reject discussions with anyone. We reject the principle of violence. We cannot negotiate with people on the right or the left of the political spectrum in this country because if that principle is established, then whatever government comes into being in this country in future will be faced with the same prospect–in other words, the moment there is a pressure group that doesn’t like the government it will return to violence. I do not think it is unfair. I do not think your government will countenance violence.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Secretary Shultz also said this week, in stating that apartheid is doomed, he said that the only alternative to radical, violent outcome in South Africa is political accommodation before it’s too late. What’s your response to that?

FOREIGN MINISTER BOTHA: I’ve made my position clear. We have said that we have outgrown apartheid. We have made it clear that we reject racial disc on, the impairment of human dignity. We are not going to exclude any community from the sharing of decision-making processes up to the highest level on matters of national concern. What more must we do? What more must we do?

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, who is widely regarded as one of the moderate black leaders in South Africa, said just this week that the reform proposals that have been put forward by the South African government to date commits the state to an upward spiraling of violence and continuing unrest. He rejects the reform proposals that have been made so far.

FOREIGN MINISTER BOTHA: No, no. I do not agree with you. I do not agree with you – you have quoted Chief Gatsha Buthelezi only partially. It is not quite correct. I can quote back to you quite a number of leaders of this country and opposition newspapers and opposition leaders in this country who generally welcome the latest statement of the state president of this country.

Our position is now clear. Either you must tell me you do not believe me, but what more can I do than to say to you we are ready to share decision making with all communities. We are ready to remove racial discrimination. Now, what more must we do? Must we commit suicide or run away from this country, or what must we do?

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Well, critics of your government, Mr. Minister, say that the reforms that have been put forward to date merely nibble around the edges of apartheid, that the fundamentals of apartheid, like dismantling the homelands, abolishing the pass laws and allowing blacks to vote, one person, one vote, in a unitary state are fundamentals that the government is not dealing with. Is the government going to deal with those things as well?

FOREIGN MINISTER BOTHA: We are going to deal–anything can be put on the agenda. Of course there will be various communities. There will be various black leaders who will express their views. It is simply not correct to say that all black leaders stand for one man, one vote, in a unitary state. It is simply not true. But as far as the other matters are concerned, they are there.

The state president’s council recommended the change of the influx control and pass laws and the South African government will be sympathetic. We must- we haven’t had a chance to consider this, but we’re going to consider this soon and it will be a sympathetic consideration.


FOREIGN MINISTER BOTHA: In respect of labor laws just give me a chance, because it is obvious to me that you tend to believe only the opponents and critics of my government, and we never get a chance to tell the American public what is going on in this country. You get a tunnel vision of South Africa.

We have changed the labor laws. There are labor unions today, mixed labor unions. We have removed offensive racial provisions in many laws – in marriage laws, in laws concerning the provision of sexual relations across the color line.

As far as property rights of blacks are concerned, the permanence of blacks in our cities; restoration of their citizenship in cases where they have lost it; immigration laws for white only – that was going to be repealed. I can go on. Forced removals. Parity in education.

What more must we do? And we have announced our intention, we have announced our intention to negotiate with any leader the participation of all communities in the central government of this country up to the highest level.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: I hear what you’re saying, Mr. Minister, but I think that one of the things that continues to fuel our questions on these issues is the violent protests that continue in your country. Seven hundred people have been killed in the last few months. The violence in the townships goes on. I mean, what do you think is the reason for that continued unrest in your country?

FOREIGN MINISTER BOTHA: We regret it. I personally regret this most sincerely. Partly this is instigated, it is encouraged in the area by actions of the United States and the West.

A lot of the instigators of violence do get encouragement from decisions such as that of President Reagan and your Congress. But I also admit there are legitimate grievances. There is unemployment in this country, and your government is doing its best to increase that unemployment and your Congress.

Now, there’s. a severe drought in this country – there has been a severe drought for many years. We have had economic conditions which could have been better. Instead of investing here, instead of assisting us to create jobs and address these grievances, you are now punishing us and you are being vindictive after years of not worrying about the situation at all. Now, this is what I cannot understand.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Foreign Minister, let me ask you this then. You say that there are those who support the government’s reforms within the black community in South Africa.

There are those who do not support those reforms. What kind of mechanism is the South African government establishing to hear what those people have to say, those who agree or disagree? I mean, is there any kind of forum being established for legitimate expression of grievances on the part of blacks?

FOREIGN MINISTER BOTHA: There are various forums. At the present moment, a large number of black leaders are intimidated – intimidated to the point where their shops are being burned, their houses, where they are being shot, where they are even burned alive. Blacks by blacks.

But we have created a cabinet committee. The president has just announced that he is prepared to restructure the president’s council to allow black membership in order to discuss and negotiate with us.

Individual ministers, find the opportunity to discuss even privately and informally with individual black leaders. The process is continuing, and we hope that sooner or later, rather sooner than later, we can put together an agenda which would be fair, and which would be reasonable, on the basis of the principles announced by our president.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. Botha, do you think that the recent U.S. actions and criticisms is tantamount to abandoning South Africa, abandoning the policy of constructive engagement it’s pursued throughout this administration?

FOREIGN MINISTER BOTHA: No, I do not think so, but we do feel–I must be honest with you today– we do feel the stick effect of the constructive engagement policy and nothing of the carrot. All we are feeling is the stick effect.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How do you character that relationship at this point between the U.S. and South Africa?

Min. BOTHA: Very difficult for me to say because, if I must be honest, I will be violating the professional ethics of foreign minister.

CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well. Mr. Minister, we wouldn’t want you to do that. Thank you very much for being with us.