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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Just how possible is peace?

An address given by SACP general secretary CHRIS HANI to 200 leading business people at a function on September 11, 1992, organised by Finance Week

My thanks to Finance Week for the opportunity to address you this morning. I am not sure if I've been invited because you see me as part of the problem, or part of the solution when it comes to peace. Perhaps, at its politest, your answer would be dialectical, or to use plain Afrikaans: "Ja-nee".

Let me be honest and confess that this kind of "Ja-nee", more or less summarises my own reason for wanting to exchange views with you this morning. When it comes to resolving the terrible problem of violence in our country, I see the business community as part (not the major part) of the problem, but also necessarily part of the solution.

Well, let's leave aside our various motives for being here. The fact that we ARE here together, members of the business community and a general secretary of a Communist Party, suggests that there are some grounds for hope in, if not agreement, then at least a relatively peaceful coexistence.

Unfortunately, however, bringing peace to our country is not just a matter of exchanges between people of influence on various sides. It is unfortunately not simply a question of"the personal chemistry" between leaders - as the media so often seems to imagine.

In looking at the causes of violence in our country I would like to highlight two main issues:

     the first, is the strategic use of violence for political ends; and

     the second relates to the underlying structural reasons for violence in our country.

I intend spending more time on the first, it is the more immediate problem, than the second.

But before even doing that let me say a few words about the terrible massacre on Monday in Bisho.

Bisho

The more I weigh up what I saw and what I have since learnt about the event, the more I believe that the massacre was not an accident. It was not the result of sudden panic on the part of the Ciskei troops. The triggers were pulled in Bisho, but the plan was hatched in Pretoria.

The troops who fired on us had hard nosed ammunition in their magazines, not rubber bullets. They had rifle-launched grenades loaded, not teargas cannisters. The massacre option was their first option. The teargas only came later.

Looking back now, why did the heavy SAP escort that accompanied us from Kingwilliamstown suddenly melt away just minutes before the massacre, only to return soon after when the firing had stopped?

Is it just accidental that the Ciskei Defence Force is commanded by seconded SADF military intelligence officers on the Pretoria payroll?

Was De Klerk gambling that fingers would be pointed, as he has tried to point them, at the victims of the massacre, at the planners of the march and not at the perpertrators? Why have De Klerk, Pik Botha, and Hernus Kriel failed to make one single critical comment on the conduct of the CDF?

All of this brings me to my first major theme:

The strategic deployment of violence

It is our conviction that the National Party government is pursuing a twin-track strategy. This strategy involves negotiating with its major political opponent, the ANC and allies, and at the same time deliberate destabilisation, including violent destabilisation of our forces.

What is more, this twin-track strategy worked relatively well for the government for more than a year. From about August 1990 until some time this year, De Klerk was very successfully projected, at home and abroad, as the man of peace, the negotiator. The ANC and IFP were seen by many as the culprits in a spiralling and mindless "inter-ethnic", "black on black" war.

There were always many reasons to doubt this view of the conflict, even before the Inkathagate scandal (which revealed ongoing government bankrolling of Inkatha), the Trust Feed Massacre trial (which revealed the security forces masquerading as ANC are prepared to kill their own surrogates, IFP supporters, in order to fan hatred) and events around Boipatong.

If it was "inter-ethnic" violence then why were the original killing fields in Natal, in which thousands of Zulu-speakers murderedother Zulu-speakers?

If it was just political party rivalry, then who was behind the train massacres? These are random killings, which seem to be switched on and off, and in which party affiliation, or ethnic background are absolutely irrelevant.

And who was benefitting from the violence, strategically?

Certainly not the ANC-led alliance.

In the first place, as a number of indepedent surveys have shown, well over 80% of the victims of the political violence are ANC members or supporters.

In the second place, the violence has had a major, destabilising impact on ANC organisational efforts, precisely at a time when, after 30 years of being banned, it is desperately trying to build normal, above-board political structures. I should add that the violence comes in two broad varieties - general mass destabilising violence (train massacres, attacks on vigils, etc.) designed to disrupt and terrorise, and the more professional and surgical assassination of key second and third-layer leaderships in the townships. Hardly a week goes by without the assassination of two or three ANC orSACP branch ordistrict officials.

This organisational destabilising has also directly impacted on our ability to negotiate effectively. While the leadership of the ANC and its allies has been talking out at the World Trade Centre, our support base has been hit by massive violence. A great deal of popular cynicism about negotiations has resulted. Our ability, therefore, to "deliver" (it's not a word I like) our constituency, is therefore, massively impaired. (This incidentally is why the central demand for free political activity everywhere in South Africa, which was the main demand of the Bisho march, is also so central to the success of negotiations.)

And then, on top of all this, for a good many months, De Klerk managed to persuade a significant constituency here in South Africa (including much of the business community) and abroad, that his hands were clean. That the violence was mindless black on black, inter-ethnic fighting, that it was political rivalry between the ANC and Inkatha.

No wonder, and this is the mildest way I can put it, De Klerk has at the very least lacked the political will to take decisive steps to end the violence.

For decades the public display of dangerous weapons has been outlawed. Why did De Klerk suddenly change the law in 1990?

There are 18 notorious hostels here in the PWV, they are veritable armed bases. Literally hundreds of people have been killed by attacks emanating from these 18 hostels. By contrast, Phola Park, a whole squatter camp and an ANC stronghold, or, in the case of Bisho, a whole so-called called "capital" have been encircled with razor wire. Why is there still no securing of the 18 notorious hostels? Why are illegals living in these hostels not removed and the original inmates allowed to return?

The brand of strategic violence that we have been seeing in our country is known, in US military parlance, as "low intensity war". It was developed out of numerous imperial and colonial anti-insurgency operations, and particularly after the humiliation of US forces in Vietnam. It involves the extensive deployment of proxy rather than US (or in our case SADF) forces. It uses Contras, Unitas, Renamos, Askaris, Lesotho Liberation Armies, the Ciskei Defence Force, etc, etc, backed up by small, special forces and seconded officers from the main army.

Its objective is not military victory, but political victory. It aims to destabilise a constituency or a country, and then impose a political settlement on a war-weary people. It is "low" intensity, or low cost (for the regular army and its political masters) because it triesto avoid the politically expensive, high cost, commitment on any scale of "white troops", of "white conscripts". It is, as one US strategist puts it, "subliminal war", it is barely noticed in the media, it is happening somewhere else (mostly in the Third World) and it is someone else who is dying (mainly peasants who don't speak English). As one former US secretary of state put it: "the best way of maintaining US influence in the Pacific is to let Asians fight Asians". Sound familiar?

But if it is "low" cost for some, it is "high" cost for the communities against which it is directed. Ask the people of Boipatong or Alexandra, orthe Natal Midlands, orthe Ciskei. It is, as one US Colonel describes it: "Total war at the grass-roots level."

Now this strategy has its own pedigree here in southern Africa. It has been used with devastating effect in Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. In recent years it has been deployed in South Africa itself.

Unfortunately for the securocrats in South Africa, who want to go on playing low intensity war, but fortunately for the rest of us, our country presents special problems for this strategy. It is one thing to wage low intensity warfare in the remote rural terrain of a third word country. It is something quite different in the industrial heartland of South Africa.

There have been hundreds of Boipatongs and Bishos in southern Angola or Mozambique. But these massacres have remained "subliminal", barely visible to the world. Boipatong might look like the third world, but it is also an hour away from the largest international press contingent on the African continent.

We are certainly going to pay for the devastation and scorched earth of our southern African region. This legacy is going to have a long-term impact on our own South African economy. The region is our natural market, it lies in ruins, and that is bad news for all of us in the region. In the words of an old Nigerian proverb: "He who defecates on the road to market, will encounter flies on the way home." There are a lot of flies awaiting us in the future.

But the impact on our economy of the destabilisation of Angola and Mozambique is much less direct and immediate, than it is when it occurs right here in a Boipatong or an Alexandra.

I believe that the political costs to the government of waging a low intensity war strategy are now starting to escalate. Low cost is starting to be high cost. De Klerk's personal image has been badly eroded in the last several months. We can debate whether De Klerk has personally sanctioned this strategy, whether he simply connives in it, whether it is being directed from much further down the hierarchy. Tactically, the answer to this question might be significant, but ultimately it isn't that significant.

Whatever the truth, and it might be a mixture of these possibilities, the government must develop the political will to abandon a strategy that worked relatively well for it for some months, but at a huge price and with tremendous dangers for all of us. It is working less well now, even from its own narrow partisan point of view. We need, all of us, to ensure that the government now takes the firmest steps immediately to end this kind of strategic violence.

The business community has a particular interest in and the capacity to assist with this persuasion. Some time last year I read an interview in The Star with the chairman of Anglo, Julian Ogilvie Thompson.

"God knows...we all know perfectly well that the influence business had on the NP was minimal", says Ogilvie Thompson. "I don't expect that the influence of business on the new democracy in South Africa is going to be any different."

And he adds modestly: "I may be the chairman of a big group, but just like anybody else I have one vote."

Wrong - on at least two counts.

     There is, of course, the "minor" detail that seems to have escaped Ogilvie Thompson. Having one vote happens not to be the privilege of the great majority of people in our country.

     But, more to the point, it is simply nonsense to pretend that business is not a major political role player. And its capacity to influence government today is possibly greater than it has been for decades. That capacity needs to be used and it needs to be used intelligently.

I have, so far, focussed on the government's low intensity war strategy.

No doubt many of you will feel that I am evading something significant. Is all the violence state inspired? Is it all plotted by some nasty securocrats in Pretoria?

I readily admit that the answer is: No.

In the first place, some of the political violence is the result of ill discipline on our side, of political intolerance, of comrades turning into tsotsis, of the legitimate right to self-defence being hijacked for personal ends. Many of you will know that I have gone on record more than once to condemn ill discipline, militarism or blind anger within our own ranks. I stand by those criticisms.

But these negative and worrying phenomena are not the same thing as the systematic deployment of violence as a central component of a poltical strategy. Since 1990 the ANC-led alliance has not deployed violence strategically. Indeed, despite much provocation and popular calls to the contrary, we believe it would be a grave strategic error in the new situation to use violence strategically.

This is our responsibility, and we must discharge it.

But there is, of course, another reason why it would be wrong to blame all violence on a low intensity war strategy.

Underlying structural causes of violence

Last year over 11,000 people died violently in South Africa. More than 8,000 of those deaths were not politically related. We are living in a chronically violent society. Cape Town is the murder capital of the world, Johannesburg is not far behind. We have the highest known per capita rate in the world for other violent crimes as well, notably rape.

These are all the symptoms of a radically sick society, in which the moral and social texture of lives has been devastated. This is the legacy of decades of apartheid, and decades more of segregation.

Yes, peace has a chance, although it seems to be getting slimmer by the day.

But to give peace a chance we need, first of all, to address the gravest immediate threat. We have to isolate and stop those who continue to be tempted to deploy strategic violence for political ends.

But then, and I don't mean in some distant future, we need to tackle the deep, underlying problems - homelessness, joblessness, illiteracy, the lack of running water, the lack of electrification.

As a Marxist and as free marketeers we could indulge in a long and fascinating argument about the strengths and shortcomings of the market. The fact is, the great majority of South Africa's people are not even IN the market, they are utterly marginalised, without resourcesand skills to sell, without means to buy.

We could indulge in debates about growth strategies. I certainly accept that there has to be sustainable economic growth in our country. I also accept that we need foreign investment.

But unless growth is accompanied by more than a trickle down, the underlying social crisis will feed instability and violence and these will in turn undermine any growth.

In turn, endemic social violence will continue to scare off potential foreign and indeed domestic investors.

There will have to be restribution.

Now, I don't hold to a dead cow version of redistribution. I mean, you kill it, and then carve it up, one for you, one for me. That version of redistribution has a very limited shelf-life, roughly the shelf-life of dead meat.

By redistribution I mean, rather, redistribution that occurs within a realistic and coherent' economic policy framework that encourages a dynamic reorientation of resource distribution and economic growth. In other words, redistribution should be approached less as taking away, and more as development to address social needs. And, in turn, the addressing of social needs to be seen as an important catalyst for more development.

We certainly disagree about many things. But, somewhere within the general framework I have vaguely outlined I feel sure that we can find some common ground.

If we don't find common ground, as South Africans, across ideological divides, we will be left with no ground under our feet at all.

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.