About this site

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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Pallo Jordan

'Strategic debate in the ANC. A response to Joe Slovo' by...

Since the adoption of the document "ANC Strategy and Tactics" by the Morogoro Conference of 1969 the ANC has held the view that the contradiction between the colonised Black majority and the White oppressor state is the most visible and dominant within South Africa. It has further argued that this contradiction cannot be solved by the colonial state "reforming it-self out of existence", and consequently, only struggle to overthrow the system of colonial domination could lead to the resolution of this contradiction. Moreover, it has been the ANC view that since the colonial state and the colonised people cannot be spatially separated, there is no possibility of the two co-existing. In the South African context, this necessarily means that the struggle must result in the destruction of the colonial state. This thesis, generally described as the theory of Colonialism of a Special Type (CST), has been the core the ANC-led alliance's strategic approach to the liberation struggle.

There is now a perceptible shift in thinking on these basic strategic questions amongst some of us. This is, in fact, not a thought-out process, let alone the outcome of agreement within the leading bodies of the movement. It is better described as a change of gear among some of the leadership. They have canvassed their view of the current situation, without benefit of any discussion in the fora of the movement, in public sources. While their right to do this is not in question, the wisdom of such an undertaking at a time when unity is essential for contesting power with the De Klerk regime can be questioned.

This gear change became evident during an NWC Meeting during the last week of October, when we were called upon to discuss a document titled "Strategic Perspective"1.

Though the document in question, "Strategic Perspective", in its rhetoric, does not depart from the strategic objectives of the movement, once read it becomes clear that the logic of the paper is a fundamental departure from those objectives. Because there is no explicit statement denoting such a departure, it shall be my task in this paper to demonstrate the departure by dissecting the internal logic of the "Strategic Perspective" document.

1. The Stated Premise of the Paper

The central flaw in the paper is to be found in its fifth section. Here the authors suggest that there is an objective basis for a large degree of cooperation between the De Klerk regime and the ANC-led alliance. According to the authors the basis of such cooperation is the mutual need for each other "to move the peace process forward". They then proceed to assert that a relationship of cooperation and competition has in fact been imposed on the ANC alliance and De Klerk government by circumstances beyond the control of each - by "the balance of forces". I shall return later to this conception of the balance of forces as a preordained reality that seems impervious to human will.

At this point the authors perform what can only be described as a political sleight of hand. At 5.4. they invoke the movement's acceptance of the need for an Interim Government of National Unity (IG) to give credence to a point they want to make in 5.5.2 suggesting that the IG is premised on the assessment of the "objective character' of the "balance of forces" they have previously presented.

Firstly, the notion of an IG was never premised on a balance of forces that made it a political necessity. The IG derives from our Harare Declaration. It was refined and subsequently elaborated as an Interim Government of National Unity, without any reference to a so-called balance of forces. It was, from the beginning, regarded as one of the steps to facilitate the transfer of power, which took account of the reality that some form of continuity was inevitable. As originally conceived, it was to govern by decree - in much the same manner as provisional governments in Mozambique, Angola and Zimbabwe had done. To now invoke it by way of substantiation of an insubstantial line of argument is to mislead.

I strongly contest the assertion of an objective basis for cooperation between the regime and the ANC alliance.

There have indeed been situations where such an objective basis for cooperation does exist between a national liberation movement and an incumbent government. Mozambique and Angola were such instances. Those were situations arising from an anti-colonial liberation war at the end of which the colonial power had made the political decision to give up control of the colony. (It does not affect the argument whether this was voluntary or imposed.) Both the national liberation movement and the incumbent government, in such instances wish that the process of disengagement proceeds as swiftly and unimpeded as possible. It is that common interest, for differing motives, that is the objective basis for their cooperation.

In the South African instance this is not the case. No amount of clever word-spinning about disaggregating the immediate from the ultimate objectives can conceal the fundamental reality that the dominant aspect of our relationship with the De Klerk regime is that of opposition. To reduce this to "contradictory elements of cooperation ...and competition..." as if we are discussing a difficult marriage, is not only misleading, but dangerous.

As I see it, the reality is that the regime's objective - however defined - is to retain the essentials of White power - i.e. the accumulated, palpable privileges that the Whites, as a dominant racial group, enjoy in terms owner-ship and control of the decisive sectors of productive property; domination of the civil service; control over the decisive organs of the state. While quite prepared to make room for Blacks to enter the political domain, the regime is determined to so condition what power the majority acquire that it will frustrate any attempts to tamper with these essentials of White power.

The ANC alliance, on the other hand, has the national liberation of the most oppressed and exploited as its central objective. The realisation of that project necessarily includes the dismemberment of the racist state as one of the priority items on its agenda. In other words, to directly tamper precisely with one of the core institutions sustaining White power. To characterise this fundamental contradiction, this collision of basic interest, as "competition" is to make nonsense, of the English language.

Objectively, the relationship between the ANC alliance and the regime is conflictual. This is also not because we desire it, let alone because I say so. The conflictual nature of the relationship is structured by the diametrically opposed interests the two represent. In the case of Angola or Mozambique such diametrical opposition did not dictate no basis for cooperation. In the South African instance it does dictate it because the colonial power shares the same geographical space with us.

1.1 The Elevation of Negotiations

Negotiations cannot and will never be a strategy in any political conflict, whether the conflict be between states, classes, nations or oppressor and oppressed. Negotiation is an aspect of a strategy.

A tactic, as conventionally understood, is a conjunctural instrument of policy, employed to achieve an objective that is relevant within a set time-frame. For example, the tactic of boycott of a particular institution (like the Tri-Cameral parliament) is determined by the specific set of circumstances in which the movement and the country find themselves, and not by a pre-existing and eternal principle. In a particular context it may be employed, at an-other moment, depending on circumstance the movement may choose not to employ it.

The attempt to elevate negotiations to the level of strategy is fundamentally flawed and betrays a misunderstanding of negotiations.

To illuminate the point let us look at negotiations in the context of an industrial dispute. Proceeding from the premise that the relationship between employers and workers is fundamentally antagonistic, there are parallels between that situation and the national liberation struggle. The class struggle proceeds both openly and covertly, and it is irrelevant to the argument whether or not there is a conscious striving towards revolution. In general terms, the working class (in all its fractions) strives to improve its bargaining position on the market-place. The strategy it employs to attain this is to achieve as much control as is possible over the commodity the working class has on offer, its collective labour power.

This strategy itself can, however be broken down into a number of aspects. Regulation of the pace of work and production is one aspect; enforcement of certain codes with respect to the conditions under which the workers labour is another; ensuring that experience and length of service are remunerated is another. Broadly stated, the working class strives to achieve as much control as is attainable over the conditions of its reproduction.

Matters sometimes reach a flashpoint - say a strike. Both sides to the conflict however recognise that, unless they have decided to go for the final showdown, they must compose their differences. Negotiation then is the manner in which these differences are composed, and each side chooses to enter into negotiations at a moment which it feels will give it greatest advantage.

In the course of the negotiations, one or other side may choose to break them off, as a means of enhancing its bargaining position. That - the breaking off, or resumption of negotiations - is a tactic; the negotiations themselves are not . The negotiations feature as an aspect of the strategy being pursued by the working class (or a section thereof) in a particular dispute with the employers. They can never be a strategy, any more than strike action can be a strategy, or working to rule can be a strategy, or factory occupations can be a strategy.

Though there are similarities, the national liberation struggle diverges from the above in that it is explicitly about the striving for power. Moreover, since a transfer of power to the oppressed cannot co-exist with the retention of power by the oppressor, it is a final showdown. Historically the ANC's strategy was to harnessevery conceivable instrument of struggle into a multi-pronged offensive which would draw the broadest front of opposition to the apartheid regime into active struggle. In these terms the ANC always posed its objective as the seizure of power, not in the poetic sense of the Storming of the Bastille, but in the sense of taking power against the will of the oppressor. At no time, since 1969, did the ANC ever elevate any one of the prongs above the others, though it was understood that there would be moments when one or other prong might acquire a higher profile than the others. (For example, during the 1984-86 mass uprisings, when mass struggle acquired a profileover and above the others.) It was understood that the thrust of ANC strategy was to knit these prongs together, through mutual reinforcement, so as to merge them into one huge current, culminating in the overthrow of the racist regime. Each of the prongs would make a contribution, though at a specific crisis point one of them would prove decisive.

Even while we pursued the four pillars of our strategy, the ANC never excluded negotiations as an aspect of its strategy. The movement had repeatedly argued that at some point negotiations must inevitably arise, even if merely to receive the surrender of enemy. When they seriously came on to the agenda - beginning with the soundings from prison and the various contracts with the regime - the ANC said negotiations are a terrain of struggle, no different from the others. Implicit in this was the understanding that negotiations is neither a tactic nor a strategy but an aspect of strategy. As such, its relative weight is far lower than that of the four major prongs of strategy. They feature as a subsidiary means for the realisation of the objectives pursued through strategy. Hence, the ANC never saw any contradiction between negotiations and waging the armed struggle. Which is what "Strategic Perspective" implies! Equally, we saw no contradiction between continuing either underground work or mass political mobilisation and negotiations.

However, there is a crucial difference between the analogous industrial dispute and the national liberation struggle. Industrial disputes - including any negotiations they entail - are waged in a manner that will enable both sides to co-exist, as antagonists to be sure, but to co-exist nonetheless. In the case of the national liberation struggle, one or other party to the dispute must go under. Negotiations, in such a situation, are not aimed at composing differences, but are aimed at the liquidation of one of the antagonists as a factor in politics. This crucial distinction, in turn, should determine the alliance's entire approach to negotiations.

1.2 The manner in which the document poses the issue at section 2, "Negotiations the preferred option of the liberation movement" is indicative of the utter confusion of the authors. Here they confuse non-violent struggle with negotiations. The ANC alliance resorted to arms when all avenues of non-violent struggle vanished, not when the possibility for negotiations vanished.

The unstated premise (that non-violent struggle and negotiations are synonymous) not only raises negotiations to the strategy, but by so doing suggests that everything else, all other prongs and aspects of strategy, must merge into this dominant thrust, negotiations, to which they are all subordinated.

This has far-reaching consequences for the ANC's entire approach to the liberation struggle which require examination in depth.

What we are encountering is in fact a fundamental revision of the ANC's conception of struggle as consisting of mutually supportive prongs and replacing that with a conception of a hierarchy (like a series of terraces), one of which will provide the breakthrough to success. Thus, the other prongs support this one, which, because of primacy over the rest, must be preserved at all costs.

The danger concealed beneath the fine words of the authors of"Strategic Perspective" is that by elevating one aspect of strategy above the others, the ANC would in fact be stripped of crucial instruments of policy. The logic of ahierarchy is that certain aspects of strategy necessarily recede in importance. These may, therefore, either be dropped or relegated to a lesser role maintained merely as a hedge against contingencies. That aspect which has acquired (or rather has been attributed) primacy, on the other hand, in turn requires the greatest investment in time, effort, talent and perhaps even finance.

The unwarranted elevation of negotiations to the ANC's primary strategy has the unfortunate outcome of re-orienting the movement away from confrontation with the enemy to a search for common ground. "Strategic Perspective" exudes a desperation to discover such common ground at all costs. Rather than discovering ways of enhancing the growing confidence of the mass of the oppressed as the agency of their own liberation, it advises the ANC to discover new ways of facilitating communication between its leadership and the regime. Amazingly, this is seen as a "breakthrough". "Breakthrough" into what? One may well ask!

The harm this can inflict on the movement is already evidenced by the confused signals which have emanated from the NEC - its oscillation between militancy and complacency.

1.3 Trapping Our Victories In the Jaws of Defeat

It would seem we all agree that it was the combined impact of the many prongs of ANC strategy that compelled the enemy to seek negotiations. Quite correctly, we claim that as a victory! We proceeded from there and said the challenge facing the ANC was to skilfully employ negotiations to expedite the transfer of power from the enemy. This has been a process characterised by an ebb and flow, forwards and backwards. (The suspension of negotiations in 1991, followed by a successful CODESA 1 in December 1991; the deadlock at CODESA 2; the suspension of talks after Boipatong; etc). We have, however, been able to marshall both internal pressure, through mass mobilisation, which has in turn generated international pressures, plus the pressure arising from this indecisive inter-regnum (e.g. a continuing investors' strike) to force the regime to yield. Thus we characterised our unprecedented mass action as a victory. Its immediate outcome was the Record of Understanding, which objectively regarded was the ANC compelling the De Klerk regime to accept our terms. Once again we said this was a victory. Its immediate fruits were the release of some of the remaining and most prominent political prisoners. We correctly claimed that too as a victory.

Important to recognise in the context of these most recent victories is that De Klerk could quite easily have denied us these by taking formative action himself. He has consequently been seen by his constituents and his allies as submitting to the ANC alliance's agenda.

There is consensus in the NWC that the ANC alliance can win at the negotiating table only that which it has secured through struggle. In other words, the struggle, which continues with negotiations as one of its aspects, is the factor in determining the balance of forces - leave aside whether these are tactical or strategic shifts.

It is this movement that stands at the head of a series of victories, which every NWC member claims to recognise, which is now being advised to act in the following manner:

1.3.1 The regime has put forward a Constitutional Plan that seeks to make power-sharing mandatory and coalition governments, in which it has a decisive voice, constitutionally com-pulsory. The "Strategic Perspective" document advises that we comply, not in terms of a constitution but by accommodating the regime for a while - three years, five years, ten years?

1.3.2 The regime wishes to retain its security services, shield them against possible prosecution now or in the future, integrate the members of MK (and possibly APLA) as sub-ordinates and as secondary factors in the security services. The "Strategic Perspective" ad-vises us to comply.

1.3.3. The regime wants to retain the essentials of the colonial administration it has run since 1910, to provide sheltered employment for incompetent and badly trained Afrikaners and other Whites from the lower middle strata, continue with feather-bedding and grossly inflated, wasteful bureaucracies (in triplicate to boot!), permit them to waste, squander and embezzle taxpayers' monies. Such strategically placed persons would also have the capacity to thwart every democratic reform the democratic state wishes to implement. The "Strategic Perspective" advises us to comply.

1.3.4. The regime would like the boundaries, powers and the configuration of future regions to be determined outside the Constituent Assembly. Its purpose is to try to ensure that it can gerry-mander boundaries that will advantage it and its allies. The "Strategic Perspective" says we should accommodate them.

1.4 There appears to be a deep-seated pessimism that runs through the entire document. True, as the document says, we have not defeated the regime. But neither has the regime defeated us! The thrust of the document suggests that we are suing for the best terms we can get from a victorious enemy.

1.5 To be generous, the authors appear charmingly ignorant of the history of the 20th century. These measures, which would amount to capitulation to some of the core objectives pursued by the regime at this time, we are advised to adopt as a hedge against the destabilisation of democracy by the SADF, SAP and the racist civil service. That there are people who fondly imagine that the appetites of repressive armies and police forces can be stilled by appeasement is alarming. If, as the authors seem to fear, the officer corps and ranks of the SADF and SAP are likely to be opponents of a democratic order, I would have thought that underlined the need to have them vacate these strategically important posts as soon as possible. The gravest danger to a transition and the democratic order is precisely such potential fifth columnists. Had the government of the Spanish Republic been firmer in its attitude to Franco to begin with, there is the great likelihood that he could never have been emboldened to make his coup! The history of this century is literally strewn with similar examples - every repressive military formation that has been coddled by the democratic forces has not had its teeth drawn, instead it has taken courage from such leniency.

Conceptual confusion runs through this section of the document as well. I find it alarming that the authors seem to think that the motivating factor in the action of potentially subversive civil servants is their individual pensions, job security and perks. A first year sociology student knows that the actions of a corporate body do not reflect the individual wills of its members; that the actions of a class or a dominant racial, or ethnic group are not the arithmetical aggregate of the wills of its members. That being the case, it is foolhardy to imagine that a democratic state will contain subversion by the racist civil service by giving guarantees about pensions, job security and perks. If they act they will act as a corporate body, on behalf of their perceived interest as a group and appeals to individual benefits accruing from loyalty will be seen for what they are attempts at bribery to desert their side.

The authors also seem to have no appreciation of the feather-bedding and wastefulness of the incumbent regime. The dictates of austerity alone - leave aside politics - would compel a democratic state to take a very sharp axe to the bloated bureaucracy which the regime created to make comfortable jobs for Afrikaner sons and daughters. A single example: The creation of one education system, something a democratic regime will ignore at its peril, alone would immediately render three parallel bureaucracies redundant! The entire machinery of"Native administration"; "Coloured administration"; "Indian administration", etc. will also disappear.

Setting the politics aside, how can the ANC alliance give assurances about the continuity of the existing civil service?

Once we factor in considerations of competence, honesty, public service ethos, and loyalty to the democratic political order the case becomes hopeless. The imperatives of good government - which our posters boldly proclaim our people should vote for - would dictate that we take another very sharp axe to the racist civil service!

2. The Issue of Violence

I have often questioned the realistic prospect of the regime embarking on serious negotiations, in the full realisation that their inevitable result must be the loss of power. I have consequently insisted that the alliance must take seriously De Klerk's words that he seeks to reach an accommodation about sharing power, and not to surrender power.

In other words, the regime would like to arrive at a formula that would make possible the co-existence of CST and democracy. I am, consistent with ANC strategic thinking up till now, convinced that such co-existence is impossible. That democracy requires the uprooting of CST.

De Klerk's strategy - a mix of reformism, coupled with the systematic destabilisation of the ANC alliance - has as its immediate objective rendering the ANC too weak to resist such a compromise. There is ample evidence that the SADF, the overt and covert security services, assisted by a range of irregulars and free lance auxiliaries, have been assigned the task of continuing the counter-insurgency war. Contrary to what some, including the authors of "Strategic Perspective" appear to think, there is no contradiction between reformism and the "informal repression" that the De Klerk regime is employing. We are not by this suggesting that each and every cabinet member knows the operational details of the strategy, but it is clear that its broad parameters are the outcome of collective decision. De Klerk's demonstrated unwillingness to do anything to stop the violence can have no other explanation.

The authors, inexplicably, treat the SADF and SAP as if these are autonomous players and not parts of the state machinery De Klerk uses against us. I cannot decide whether this is yet another instance of conceptual confusion or a deeper malaise. I do not suggest that specific agencies of the state lack the capacity to act independently and in defiance of the political masters.

But at this point in time, there is nothing to suggest either that the SADF or SAP is acting in this fashion, or that they entertain the ambition to act in such a manner.

The De Klerk regime obviously has not come to terms with the inevitable outcome of serious negotiations. It has not arrived at the seminal political decision that it must give uppower. The violence betrays that; its negotiations position betrays that; its clinging to its alliance with the IFP betrays that.

3. Happy Trails to You, or Ridinctg Into the Sunset Together?

It has been suggested by one of the sources of inspiration of "Strategic Perspective" that the sort of compromises the movement should make are such as will not undermine its strategic objectives or subvert the achievement of national liberation.

I have already indicated, and it would seem many agree, that the ANC alliance and the regime both decided to explore the path of negotiations, but with diametrically opposed immediate and long-term objectives. It is my contention also that this opposition is rooted in the fundamental contradiction of our society.

The national liberation project includes not only the creation of a democratic state, but crucially, the dismemberment of the racist state. The central components of this state are its coercive arms - the army, police, law courts, the prisons; and its persuasive arm - the civil administration, civil service, the state ideological apparatus (like SABC, schools, etc). It is precisely these organs of White minority state power that we are now being told should not be tampered with, so as to enable the liberation movement and the regime to ride blissfully into the sunset together. (Images of Roy Rogers fill our tearful eyes!)

Such an option, I submit, will permanently block the path to any meaningful change in this country. We would, by choosing such a course, do two things. We would keep in place a civil service that has no interest in serving the mass of the oppressed who are the ANC's constituency; a civil service that will do everything to undermine the democratic government. At the same time we would be keeping under arms the agency that can ensure that the democratic forces dare not touch that civil service when its disloyalty is uncovered. A national liberation movement that did that would not be riding into the sunset, it would be building its own funeral pyre! Not only does that option lead to a dead-end, it is suicidal!

Negotiations are a key aspect of ANC strategy at this time. Within their context we have employed various tactics, both to keep the process on course and to pressure the regime.

No one in the ANC wants to see them fail.

While we will not get at the table what we have not won on other fronts, we should be equally careful not give away what we have won on these fronts at the negotiating table. I fear "Strategic Perspective" is a prescription to do that . This attempt to revise the ANC's strategic perspective and these latter notions form a composite whole, linked by a radically misguided conception of what is possible in the present. It must resolve itself in a perspective that projects or accommodates the piecemeal eradication of the substantive elements of CST - a reformist perspective!

Unfortunately, it does not work. Look at the history of social democracy! .


1. Jordan is referring here, and throughout, to the first document with this title drafted by the ANC Negotiations Commission, dated October 1992 [ed].

2, 5.4 and 5.5 refer to paragraphs in the ANC Negotiations Commission paper. These paragraphs no longer appear in the ANC NEC paper [ed].

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.