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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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Mass action works!

The agreements reached at the ANC-South African Government summit on September 26 are a major breakthrough for our liberation movement.

Of course, we need to be cautious about claiming victories. The balance of forces in our country is such that victories, however real, are likely to be partial. They are victories that can be reversed. We need to be careful not to demobilise ourselves, or lower our guard.

Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that the summit agreements are a real victory.

The regime has committed itself, amongst other things, to:

     a democratically elected Constituent Assembly, that will have deadlock-breaking mechanisms;

     an Interim Government of national unity;

     effective legislation outlawing the public display of weapons;

     effective measures to counter violence launched from 28 notorious hostels - clear implementation steps and deadlines have been set out for the fencing of these hostels and other security measures;

     the release of all our political prisoners convicted of "offences" committed before October 8, 1990.

Let there be no doubt about what has been primarily responsible for this major retreat by the De Klerk regime. Three months of sustained and unprecedented mass action, more than anything, has forced the regime to back-track. The victory our movement has just scored is the victory of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of South Africans, who rallied, who marched, who demonstrated, in every corner of our land over these last months. The African Communist salutes all our people. This victory is yours.

The breakthrough was also the result of effective negotiating by our comrades charged with this task. It is clear that since 1990 we have sharpened our negotiating skills considerably, and we have learned to combine mass action and negotiating.

Yet another major factor in the breakthrough has been international pressure on De Klerk. Since the deadlock at CODESA 2 and since the Boipatong massacre on June 17, massive pressure from Western governments, and from financial institutions like the World Bank and the IMF has been placed on Pretoria. Much of this pressure is not public and the regime has been doing its best to conceal it.

All of these pressures combined, have opened up very clear strategic and tactical divisions inside the De Klerk cabinet. Those who favour prolonging the whole transition process with a view to weakening the ANC through a long drawn out process, those who favour building an NPIFP alliance at the expense of progress at the negotiating table have, at least temporarily, lost the upper-hand in the cabinet.

They have lost this upper-hand because the delays in the negotiating process were, for the first time since February 1990, beginning to cost De Klerk more than they were costing the ANC. Likewise, the price paid by De Klerk for allowing the IFP to project itself (largely through violence) as a major national player, was proving to be far higher than any electoral lobola the IFP is likely to deliver in the future.

When De Klerk is feeling strong, he tries to project the transition process as a "troika" affair. When he is weakened, he is forced to accept that there are only two major parties - his regime and the ANC-led alliance. In the weeks before the summit there were growing signs that a seriously weakened De Klerk wanted a summit with comrade Mandela, almost at any price. Buthelezi has been peripheralised, and he is now deeply embittered and angry with his erstwhile friends in Pretoria.

The deadlock between the two major parties prior to the September 26 summit also led a whole series of other forces to try to raise their own profile and stake out some kind of "middle ground" turf for themselves. The PAC, having spent the last years trying to outflank the ANC-alliance down the left (mainly, of course, in rhetoric), has suddenly done a ninety degree turn. It has dumped its "revolutionary guards", jumped into negotiations with the regime, and even, in the person of its president, disgracefully paid a courtesy visit to Gqozo with the blood of the Bisho massacre hardly dry.

The Democratic Party tried its hand at a mass march (although it denied that it was really mass action, or even that it was really the DP calling it). The DP reportedly spent R35,000 on the march, and got 350 mainly white marhers. As one newspaper noted, that works out at a R 1000 a marcher! Less amusingly, the DP also jumped onto the red-baiting band-wagon in the week before the Bisho march, and afterwardsshamelessly blamed the victims much more loudly than the perpetrators.

One of the secondary advantages of the September 26 summit is that it has cut down to size all of these opportunistic, "middle ground" initiatives.

The past three months provide us with rich and collective lessons. They have clarified the limits and possibilities of our situation. They have highlighted the need to combine mass action and negotiation. The unity of the tripartite alliance has been deepened in action. The need for an even broader unity of democratic forces has been underlined. We have scored many successes, but we have also made our own tactical errors.

This issue of The African Communist is devoted to assessing the events of the immediate past, and to opening the debate on the way forward.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.