This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
Interview with Mayibuye
September 1, 1981(1)
Question: On the night of the 12th/13th of August, a unit of the People's Army shelled Voortrekkerhoogte, the Headquarters of the racist SADF with, according to reports, 122mm rockets. This is the first such attack by Umkhonto we Sizwe on a military camp of the regime and on its personnel inside South Africa. Does this, Comrade President, herald a new stage of the armed struggle?
TAMBO: I would want to be careful about identifying this attack as heralding a new stage. Rather, it is an expression of our determination to intensify our struggle; to take the offensive on all fronts; to raise the level and extent of mass political activity, the staying power of industrial actions, general resistance to the oppressive and exploitative measures of the system, and at the military front, to increase the frequency of assaults, expand the area of operations and to raise the scale of these attacks. In time, assaults and operations by Umkhonto we Sizwe must assume strategic dimensions. The attack on Voortrekkerhoogte is an indication of the direction we are taking, the capacity we have reached within the country to deliver heavy and effective blows, including particularly blows against the military set-up. It can be assumed, therefore, that Voortrekkerhoogte is but the beginning of a new level.
But perhaps it is even more important than that. I am struck by the coincidence reflected in the date, the 13th of August. It should be recalled that on this day, 14 years ago, a combined force of ZAPU and ANC (Umkhonto we Sizwe) guerrillas, known as the Luthuli Combat Detachment, was involved in armed clashes with the combined forces of Rhodesian and South African racist troops in Wankie, Rhodesia. For the ANC contingent, this was the first time that we confronted the enemy on the battlefield - the first time since Bambata. In one of the pitched battles in Wankie, the "Security Forces" were overwhelmed. Indeed they were in a series of conflicts and confrontations, but there is a particular one where they broke contact and fled, dropping and throwing away their weapons and equipment as the guerrillas decimated them with machine-gun fire. As we saw it at the time, it was Sharpeville in reverse; a glorious reply to the massacre of our people in Sharpeville and Ngquza Hill some seven years earlier.
Despite, and indeed because, of the increased involvement of the South African racists in the Rhodesian war of liberation, the armed struggle in that country grew from strength to strength until, 13 years later, in a glorious victory, the enemy was crushed, the people seized power and the new Zimbabwe was born.
In 1967, commenting on the Wankie battles, we said: "We are fighting in Rhodesia today; tomorrow we shall be fighting in South Africa". And so we are today. August 13th, 1981, the day Umkhonto we Sizwe rocketed Voortrekkerhoogte, may prove to be as significant for the history of South Africa as Sinoia and Wankie were for the history of Zimbabwe.
Question: After the attack on Voortrekkerhoogte, the racists did all they could to try and conceal the losses Umkhonto we Sizwe inflicted on them. What is the extent of the losses and how do you relate this "official communique" of the regime to those released in other instances?
TAMBO: It is often difficult to know the losses suffered by the enemy. It is particularly difficult in the case of the South African regime, and we do not in fact know the precise extent of the losses in the present instance. But four 122 mm rockets, each capable of destroying anything within the radius of 50 meters at least, exploded in a crowded complex of military houses, buildings and structures which included a military airport. There can be no suggestion that the SADF military Headquarters had been vacated before the attack. Everybody was surely there. And yet, according to the "official communique", the rockets all finished in a small room which they put in some disorder, causing slight injury to its occupant - an African woman. This communique conceals the fact that a large area of houses, and buildings, and structures was destroyed, including, as we were told before the news blackout, some war planes.
The newspaper pictures of an African woman pressed into a reluctant hospital bed, with uniformed nurses dutifully tending a barely visible cut on her black skin, are a remarkably desperate attempt by the racist regime to conceal grim and startling reality. The veil is incredibly transparent. In fact, the news media sound sillier and sillier as they progressively lose their freedom, and fall under the tightening grip of fascism. The only truth they are allowed to tell is the lies thought up by the police to deceive and mislead the public, in the interests of racist minority rule. The public, certainly the white public in South Africa, is going about its national affairs blindfolded. That is dangerous!
The situation was perhaps slightly better in the past. Indeed it was the press which blew up the police communique about the late Steve Biko having died of hunger, self-imposed in the exercise of what was called "his democratic rights". The false medical death certificates - which were by no means the first in the case of Steve Biko - were uncovered.
The press is now being used to project lies, lies and nothing but lies. We know how many children were slaughtered in 1976 in Soweto and around the country. But we also know that through the press the regime grossly understated the figures. We have been told of the numbers who died or committed suicide while in detention. These numbers are a gross understatement of the number of our people assassinated during detention. The SASOL explosions cost the regime something upward of R66 million. The figure was given as R6.5 million.
The enemy, quite understandably, grossly understates its losses, but to suit its purposes, it exaggerates if it wants to prove its power, and strength, and superiority. And so, according to its figures, countless thousands of SWAPO guerrillas have been killed and wiped out; numberless tons of equipment captured. Only a few weeks ago, the army commanders of the regime were singing praises to their troops who invaded Angola, and, according to them, completely wiped out SWAPO, demoralising the guerrillas of PLAN, the People's Liberation Army of Namibia. But the racist troops are back in Angola, according to them, to fight SWAPO and eliminate it there. But which SWAPO? Was it a lie that they had wiped out SWAPO, or are they back there in the course of an invasion against Angola? The people of South Africa will never know the truth from the fascist rulers. In 1975 they claimed for months that they were fighting on the borders of Namibia and Angola. In fact, they were near Luanda. Now they claim to have withdrawn from Angola, but in fact a fierce war is raging in Angola.
The South African white population perhaps believes these stories. The oppressed don't. Ian Smith played the same game on the whites in Rhodesia, until, to the surprise of the Rhodesian whites and the South African whites, Prime Minister Mugabe was in power. They did not know what had happened. What had happened was that they had been kept blindfolded about the reality of their situation.
So, our people must seek to get their information from the ANC and its allies, from the countries of Africa and its friends beyond the oceans. The South African regime seeks to feed them with nothing but lies. That is why we do not really know the extent of the damage and the casualties resulting from the Umkhonto we Sizwe attack on Voortrekkerhoogte on the night of the 12th to the 13th of August this year.
Question: A few days before this attack, the enemy assassinated one of our leaders, a member of the National Executive Committee, Comrade Joe Gqabi. This act of terrorism has naturally evoked anger amongst all democratic forces in South Africa and internationally and has thrown up the question, whether we should and can allow the enemy to do this with impunity - in terms of taking action against those who decide on and sanction such acts! How do we respond?
TAMBO: It would most certainly be wrong, inexcusable and dangerous to allow the enemy to perpetrate heinous crimes in our midst with impunity. We have been the victims of these crimes for a long time now. Our people, the patriots of our land as well as the international community have all too often been outraged by the inhuman acts, the crimes and the brutality of the apartheid regime in South Africa. And if we did nothing about these crimes, the criminals would have no reason, no cause, to desist from their conduct.
It can be said with some justification that we have on the whole allowed the regime to get away with murder. None of us can ever forget how a gleeful Johannesburg newspaper editor, after pouring praises on, and congratulating, the enemy on the Matola murders, proceeded to chide our bereaved masses on having, over a period of many decades, behaved as if violence was a nice one-way street running against us - an arrangement which we behaved as if we welcomed. He was in fact reminding us of the fact that we have been victims of the South African system in all its brutality for decades; victims of white minority rule, and had not done enough about our being victims. We have not done enough. And so, violence has been a one-way street.
Perhaps our anger at the assassination of Comrade Joe Gqabi justifiably raises the question, what do we do against those who have decided and sanctioned this kind of crime? We, of course, do not want to allow the enemy or his base and bestial nature to distort the basic character of our armed struggle as a people's war in which the justified wrath of the fighting masses must seek and find expression in the destruction of the fascist system which gives rise to these crimes, and in the process to find expression in the liquidation of its managers, collaborators and agents. These agents and collaborators are there because the system is there.
The best response we can make to this dastardly crime against our colleague, our leader, our friend, a freedom-fighter, a devoted son of our people and our country, is to intensify the struggle for the overthrow of the system which made his cruel and criminal death necessary. We need to look at what we are doing day to day, from place to place, group by group, organisation by organisation, not only as individuals but also as a people: as workers, youth, women, intellectuals, farmers business people... the oppressed and exploited, the patriots of South Africa. We must together work to put an end to the racist minority regime and the system over which it presides, which it protects and defends. Then there will be no more assassinations, no more death sentences and executions, no massacres. There will be freedom and peace. This is what Joe Gqabi lived and died for.
Question: As is characteristic with all criminals, the enemy sought to draw a red herring across the track, after murdering Comrade Joe Gqabi, by invoking the slander that there are internal conflicts within the movement - a campaign in which Botha and Company seem to revel of late. What does the regime intend to achieve out of this campaign?
TAMBO: The regime has been gravely concerned about the degree of unity within the ANC leadership, within the ANC itself as a body, within the liberation forces comprising the ANC and its allies. The enemy has been perturbed about the unity that is getting stronger and stronger among the liberation forces headed by the ANC in South Africa; the unity of the people against the regime, as was so dramatically demonstrated during May this year when the regime was trying to celebrate 20 years of rule as a republic.
Therefore, Botha, his followers, his colleagues, his collaborators, his agents are desperate to find some way of planting divisions within the ANC leadership, within our liberation forces and among the masses of our people. A convenient way to this end is to imply or even allege that Joe Gqabi was assassinated in the context of an internal conflict, some struggle for power within the leadership of the African National Congress. Stories are being thrown around already to this effect; wild stories which have nothing in common with reality. But the enemy is behaving characteristically. We have known this to be done in other cases. The enemy is just unfortunate in that our people understand the tactics of "divide and rule" which take such forms as the establishment of bantustans, and, at moments of explosive unity among the people, the creation of opposition groups and splinter movements. Our people have been long enough in the struggle to understand these enemy tactics.
Although the ANC, in particular, has been subjected to a continuous and close scrutiny designed to detect signs of a power struggle among the ANC leadership, it has not been possible to uncover any facts indicating an internal struggle because, and simply because, there is none. Instead, there is firm unity. Our people understand this. And, therefore, no amount of dreaming up internal conflicts within the movement is going to take away from the fact that it is the brutal South African regime which ordered the assassination of a member of the National Executive Committee of the ANC. No amount of cheap lies about the ANC can ever divide our people. What is more, this campaign will not save the racist criminals and their hirelings from the revolutionary wrath of the people, and from punishment.
Question: The South African regime has launched yet another large-scale invasion of the People's Republic of Angola, and, according to latest reports, the racist troops are being beaten back by the Angolan People's Liberation Forces, FAPLA, with heavy losses on the invaders. How do you assess this development?
TAMBO: The first thing that sticks out in this development is the role of FAPLA and the Angolan people in the defence of the gains of the African revolution over the past 20 years - over the past 20 years because, by 1961 when the Angolans started their war against Portuguese colonialism, great victories had already been scored in the African anti-colonial struggle. Those victories could only be defended by advancing the struggle and liberating more territory; fighting and conquering the remaining strongholds of colonialism. So, from the very beginning, the Angolan liberation war was a war in the interests of the people of Africa as whole.
But the war has never ended for the Angolan people. At the end of the first liberation war, they were involved in a war to defend their independence against a new enemy, the South African invading army. They have continued to stay in the battlefield fighting South African troops who were in Angola on one pretext or another, the main aim being a determined bid to roll back, to reverse, the revolutionary process in Angola and elsewhere in southern Africa.
Angola is in the battlefield today because the liberation war is continuing in Namibia. That is why FAPLA is involved in these bitter battles. It is fighting a war in solidarity with the Namibian people. It is fulfilling the internationalist obligations of the Angolan people and their duty as a member of the Frontline States, the OAU, the Non-Aligned Movement and the United Nations. The war in Namibia is the concern of the entire world community. But we have the feeling that the Angolan people are bearing the brunt of this struggle to assert the rights of the international community on Namibia. And although FAPLA has inflicted heavy losses on the racist troops, it remains a fact that they have not come off unscathed. The civilian population, children and women, property, the economy... whole cities have been demolished.
We ought to be talking about FAPLA as well as other contingents from Africa and from the true friends of the people of Africa - these contingents fighting side by side with FAPLA: to drive racist troops out of Angola; together with SWAPO, to drive the racist regime out of Namibia; and, with the ANC, to drive white minority colonialism out of South Africa and out of Africa.
Question: Finally, Comrade President, in your address at the funeral of Comrade Gqabi you indicated that the immediate future is not bright. Yet you also said that the struggling people of South Africa are near the end. Could you elaborate?
TAMBO: It is inevitable that our just cause will triumph and our objective of liberation and power for the people will be achieved. It is indisputable that today our people's march towards this goal is firm, resolute and irreversible. But it is no easy walk. Inevitably, a grim and increasingly bitter and brutal struggle is unfolding as we advance towards victory. This fact is itself a reliable indicator of the growing proximity of victory. The nearer we approach our goal, the stiffer is the resistance offered by the enemy.
We say victory is certain. In that statement, we are acknowledging that the enemy will defend his criminal system with all his might, but we are also asserting that the people's just cause is mightier and the enemy will be crushed. The point to bear in mind is that victory will be preceded - must be preceded - by a gruelling conflict which will be costly in every sense of that term for all sides, and certainly for us. In the period immediately ahead of us, therefore, it is inevitable that Africa's war of liberation will reach beyond Namibia into South Africa, the territory which is still under apartheid colonial domination. Nothing can stop this African liberation process. But the intensity of the war is bound to be enormous and southern Africa cannot possibly escape its harsh political, military and economic consequences.
Our task, the task of the ANC and its allies, of the cadres of Umkhonto we Sizwe and of the popular masses in our country is to take to the battlefield with all its bitterness and fight through to the brightness of a new day, a new South Africa; to a totally liberated Africa with southern Africa totally and at last relieved of the terrorism of the racist white minority regime that rules over us today.
The task of the countries and peoples of Africa and the progressive international community is, first, to support our liberation struggle in every conceivable way, and secondly, recognising its implications for the countries of southern Africa, to support, strengthen and reinforce these countries; join them politically, militarily, economically in the defence of their independence and territorial integrity. Given this support, our people cannot take long before they liquidate every vestige of colonialism in South Africa, and in the result, in this southern part of the African continent. 1 From: Mayibuye, Number 9, 1981