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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Negotiations - a mass-driven victory

Meeting through the night of November 17-18, the plenary session of the Multi Party Negotiations finally adopted the transitional package that the ANC, SACP and allies have fought for these past three and a half years. Even The Sunday Times, no friend of the SACP, conceded that the package represented a score of 16 out of 16 for the bottom-line, strategic objectives of the alliance, as first proposed by Joe Slovo in the pages of The African Communist.

But as Joe Slovo himself is first to admit (see his article in this issue), the breakthrough in the negotiations remains to be implemented. Implementation is the crucial challenge of the coming weeks and months.

In taking up this challenge, we must never forget how it is that we have got as far as we have in the negotiations. The critical breakthroughs have all been mass-driven.

When, in April last year, the regime deadlocked the CODESA negotiations it was pursuing a deliberate strategy. The regime knew that it was provoking a response from our side. It speculated that, after months of extended negotiations and low intensity warfare, the ANC-led alliance would not have the capacity to launch effective and sustained mass action. The regime also deliberately planned to turn the mass action against us, to blame our campaign for escalating violence (which would be deliberately fomented).

The massacre at Boipatong on June 17 last year, precisely 24-hours after we had launched our mass action campaign, illustrated their strategy. Within hours of the massacre by Inkatha-aligned hostel-dwellers, with clear SAP complicity, official government spokespersons were blaming the mass action for the carnage. And on the day following, the NP announced the launch of its recruitment drive in the black areas.

But the strategy backfired. It was too crudely implemented. The regime had seriously overestimated the degree to which the majority of our people believed in the "integrity"of the new-look De Klerk. The regime had also seriously underestimated the capacity of ordinary South Africans to organise themselves under ANC banners. Through June, July and early August 1992 millions and millions of South Africans participated in mass actions of all kinds. The liberal press, which initially predicted a lukewarm mass response, was stunned into silence in early August with huge city and town centre marches.

The same liberal press presented this period as one in which negotiations were suspended. In fact, while the central political negotiations were, indeed, suspended, virtually every mass action involved one or another form of negotiation. In the most remote rural localities, where the township marched on the white dorp, it was not just a question of mass action. In every case, demonstrators carried not just national demands, but local demands. And in virtually every case they negotiated, often for the first time in history with the local power structures, around local demands. They demanded the right to use the local hall, or they called for the release of detained comrades, or they advanced and negotiated for socio-economic demands.

The negotiations process ceased being only a remote, constitutional affair.

After two and a half months of sustained rolling mass action, the critical turning point in the national negotiations was achieved with the Record of Understanding. Tail between its legs, the regime signed the Understanding. Although not all that was agreed upon has been implemented, the Record of Under-standing was a watershed.

Two critical and related things were formalised by this Record of Understanding. In the first place, the regime was compelled to acknowledge publicly that the negotiations process was (and is) essentially a bilateral issue. This, all along, has been the position of the alliance. While a range of parties have a place within the negotiations, the essence of the negotiations is between the two prime former combatants and ongo-ing antagonists - the incumbent regime and the national liberation movement, embodied in the ANC-led alliance.

In turn, compelling the regime to swallow this reality achieved a second key objective. From the beginning of the negotiations process, the regime had calculated on building a centre-right non-racial coalition, of which the National Party and Inkatha would constitute the rump. Without Inkatha, the NP remains an overwhelmingly white formation. The signing of the Record of Understanding broke the back of this intended NP/IFP strategic alliance. While some kind of coalition may still be cobbled together, perhaps regionally, and perhaps after the elections, it will carry little conviction. It will be a lack-lustre affair, and every-one will know it.

The rolling mass action of June-August 1992 was, then, absolutely critical to the breakthrough in the national negotiations. We must never forget this.

Nothing, however, is permanent in politics. In the first months of this year, there were again signs of a rearguard action from within the NP cabinet to prolong the negotiations, to dump the centrality of bilaterals in favour of a "troika" (Mandela-De Klerk-Buthelezi), and to get heavy with the ANC-led alliance. These initiatives centred around Kobie Coetsee, Tertius Delport and Hernus Kriel. There were indications that this grouping was beginning to re-gain hegemony within cabinet.

Tragically, but factually, the assassination of Chris Hani in April this year, and the overwhelming mass response swamped this tendency. The two largest stayaways in the history of our country in April introduced a new sense of urgency and purpose into the negotiations.

This, too, we must never forget. In the coming months and years, the positions that our alliance wins in Transitional Executive Councils, in the Constituent Assembly and in Parliament, in regional and local governments, all of these gains will only be made effective if they help to sustain and, above all, are themselves sustained by an organised mass base.

The masses of our country have driven the negotiations process. It is they who will continue to be the key to propelling the transition that lies ahead. *

Party politics

The traditional parliamentary political party is taking strain in many parts of the world. In some cases it is in deep crisis.

In japan the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, the piling party since the end of the Second World War, has been engulfed in corruption scandals, and has recently lost power to breakaway factions. In Italy, the Christian Democratic and Social Democratic parties that have dominated government for decades, have been similarly enmeshed in gigantic corruption scandals. In the past 20 months in Italy more than 3000 politicians and business-people have been implicated in the web of corruption. Support for the Christian Democrats and Social Democrats has collapsed.

In the United States there is a major malaise around the existing two-party system, a large percentage of the electorate simply fails to vote, or wastes its vote on maverick candidates like Ross Perot.

In Scandinavia, green-house for the most advanced social-democratic experiments in our century, social democratic parties, as in Britain and Australia, are drifting centre-wards and face growing popular disaffection.

The uncertainties of traditional political party formations is not confined to the advanced capitalist countries. Throughout most of Latin America there is a deep sense of popular alienation from the traditional ruling parties, dominated by corrupt elites. In Algeria and in Zambia, to name just two African countries, the national liberation movements that led their countries to independence, have become top-heavy bureaucracies, out of touch with the aspirations of their people, and largely rejected by them.

Increasingly, with more complex social formations, people are finding traditional parties largely irrelevant to their concerns. Much popular energy and mobilisation is located in a wide variety of social movements, more or less alienated from traditional political parties.

It is important to note this generalised situation when turning inwards to look at the challenges facing Communist/Left parties in the 1990s. Our challenges are not just those relating to the collapse in eastern Europe.

In this issue of The African Communist we publish excerpts from debates going on within and around three different Communist Parties (the SACP, the Communist Party of the USA, and the French Communist Party). The interventions grapple, in their way, from within different national situations and political cultures, with the question of how to make Communist/Left formations adequate to the demands of the decade and the coming century.

As we go to press it is, perhaps, significant to note two important Left electoral victories in Italy and in eastern Germany. In nation-wide Italian local elections the Democratic Party of the Left (PDS), working in alliance with a range of social movements and other left groupings, swept the polls. PDS-backed candidates now control five main Italian cities, Rome, Naples, Venice, Genoa and Trieste. The PDS, the majority of whose members and leadership come from the former Italian Communist Party, is now the largest national political formation in Italy, and it has a real chance of winning national elections, which are likely in March next year.

In the east German state of Brandenburg, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democrats (CDU) have suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the Social Democrats. Significantly, however, the CDU was beaten into third place by a resurgent PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism) in which the bulk of still active former East German communists is located.

No doubt, some of the votes going to the two PDSs, the Italian and the German, are protest votes, rather than a stabilised left constituency. But we cannot underrate the significance of these recent left electoral victories. The imperialists won the Cold War, but they have been singularly incapable of consolidating their victory, even within their own back-yard. It is, perhaps, also significant that both PDSs have attempted to develop innovative organisational forms. Attempting to interrelate parliamentary struggles and sectoral struggles, combining the party political form and the mass movements, in flexible structures.

Clearly, there are no blueprints that we can mechanically import into South Africa. But clearly, also, a key challenge for any left formation going into the 21st century, is the critical challenge of combining (without collapsing) the struggle for govern-mental power and increasingly di-verse social movements in civil society.

We shall certainly have to return to this, debate, as it occurs locally and internationally, again and again. *

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.