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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Letter from afar

A response to "The present political situation", in AC 2nd quarter 1994

by "Mayibuye"

I suppose the Editorial Board of Mayibuye will have felt quite flattered and perhaps even bemused that the Central Committee of the SACP met to discuss the Mayibuye editorial in the May/June issue. However, this would be before they read the rest of the document contained in your 2nd quarter edition, which attempted a conjunctural analysis of the situation a month or so after the elections. The analysis is well clone and raises issues that are central to the current phase.

However, one could easily take selective quotes from the document, conjure up negative "gear changes" and attempts at "covering flanks". For instance: "If we wanted to, we could turn SA into a Bosnia or a Rwanda" (who would this "we" be, is it the masses, the leadership or the author?); then: "If we spend all our time trying to woo ex-SAP generals and top civil servants in the name of stability, we will fail to address the real reason for instability..." , and then: "You cannot build houses, let alone trade unions or civics in a Bosnia."

But it would be the height of shallow mindedness to see in these statements negative "gear changes". Real life is made up of contradictory trends. It's in the struggle between such opposites that development takes place. An accurate analysis should identify such trends, without being eclectic, assess the balance among them and how each feeds a particular objective. A treatise, even a brief editorial, that lacks gear changes would be drab and undialectical.

This brings me to the critique in the CC document of the Mayibuye editorial. The Mayibuye issue was distributed a week or so after the inauguration. Its reference to the "out-pouring of emotions" was the most accurate reflection of the national mood at that moment.

But what needs emphasis is that black people did not have to read theoretical works to feel "free at last". Particularly when their organisation, the ANC, took office as the strongest political organisation, and when their hero Nelson Mandela became the country's president.

Many, including the leadership of the ANC and SACP, shed tears and poured out into the streets both when the electoral victory was announced and when the president was inaugurated. This is not because such leaders lacked cold strategic calculation; but because to them oppression and struggle had been real life experiences; and they knew that it was the first time in more than three centuries that black people and the South African nation as a whole could start to determine their collective affairs.

The CC document makes the correct assertion that: "Many struggles, from within and without government, lie ahead of us . . . We need to use our position in government to strengthen our mass forces, and vice versa." It also emphasises a crucial question with regard to mass organisations: "What is more, in getting back to basics, these sectoral formations cannot simply return, mechanically, to the 1980s. They will have to adjust (of course not completely) from a more oppositional into a more developmental mode - without losing their combativeness."

It is remarkable how the author covers his/her flank by means of two parentheses in one sentence, a crime the Mayibuye editorial is accused of! It is remarkable too, that the "back-to-basics" slogan used by the British Conservative Party is adopted without a blink.

But this is besides the point.

The assertions quoted above do underline an acknowledgement of the historic moment, the qualitative change in the political terrain and balance of forces. The whole document does show an appreciation ofthis and how to utilise it. Yet there is an inhibition, a fear to assert the historical significance of this moment.

This is the crux of the debate - not so much between the Mayibuye editorial board and the author of the CC document; but one within the left, which is yet to be resolved - if at all. (It would be wrong to assume that the whole of the CC agreed with the subtle implications arising from the document, particularly the critique of the Mayibuye editorial).

The question is: What constitutes a revolution? More concretely, were the Russian and other socialists correct in characterising the 1917 uprising and capture of power as the Great October Revolution? The same could be said about other revolutions before and after 1917. Can a day or even ten days be characterised as the moment when a revolution took place?

This has more or less been the approach of classical Marxism over the years. However, lately, there have been creative propositions that tend to underplay the significance of a brief moment in changing power relations. At times, proponents of these views have tended to show a disdain for state/political power. to them, there are simply a series of reformist changes, characterised by the weakening of the state (any state) and the ascendancy of organs of civil society. Thus there was no Great October Socialist Revolution: perhaps only in the 1930s when social relations had changed.

There is nothing inherently wrong with such creative thinking. It helps to enrich Marxism and ensure that theory is not a set of rigid rules. Besides, some would argue that this might simply be a matter of interpretation. In any case, a revolution is never fully accomplished until new social relations that it pursues are put in place. However, it is better that this issue should be debated as such.

This is because the Mayibuye eclitorial proceeds from the premise that, while revolution in the broad sense is a protracted process - even in cases of successful insurrection - there is a qualitative moment of rupture, when decisive change takes place. This, as statedabove, has been characterised as the moment of revolution in classical Marxism: the visible moment of transfer of political power from one class or group of classes to another.

Has this taken place in South Africa?

To start with, democratic power should consist of a number of elements:

     a constitution setting out broad democratic norms and corresponding elected structures;

     a democratic political organisation in office;

     a restructured, loyal civil service, including security forces as well as the judiciary;

     powerful extra-parliamentary democratic organisations able to influence government decisions and operations; and

     socio-economic relations that are democratic in essence.

It is the attainment of the totality of these factors that can lead one to the conclusion that power is truly in the hands of the people, that revolution has been accomplished. The first three factors are, however, central in defining political power.

It will take years before even these first three elements are accomplished. That is why it is accurate to say that the democratic movement has won elements of political power. But, the fact of the introduction of the interim constitution, now enabling the introduction of all kinds of democratic laws and the beginnings of RDP implementation; the holding of the democratic elections as well as the assumption by the ANC of the central place in government - these factors together constitute that decisive moment in South Africa's history of struggle; the most decisive since 1652!

This is the moment of revolution, in the narrow sense. That is as distinct from the protracted process of consolidating these elements of power, broadening the hold onto power and introducing fundamental socio-economic changes. This is the reason why the author of the CC document is able, though begrudgingly, to say that the democratic movement needs to use its new position in government to change things further, and that civil society should adjust from a mere oppositional role.

Of course, this debate would require more time and space. It should be thrown open so as to help enrich Marxism and general discourse within the Left, rather than being masked in hair-splitting invective against a Mayibuye editorial.

In conclusion, two issues raised by the author regarding the Mayibuyeeditorial need to be rectified:

     If the author searched hard enough in Marx's Capital and other works, she or he would be able to find a sentiment similar to that of Tocqueville ("a writer on the French Revolution"): "Patiently endured so long as it seemed beyond redress, a grievance comes to appear intolerable once the possibility of removing it crosses men's minds". But it might be better to look out of the window at the blockading truckers, homeless people taking over land, students holding hostages, and so on, to realise the accuracy of this assertion. If the author's neo-liberal enemies use the same quote to pretend that these grievances are a result of election promises, this should amuse rather than anger the author.

     One hopes that the author by now realises that reference in the Mayibuye editorial to a victory that defends and advances itself is, in fact, a paraphrasing of what Lenin, Castro and many other revolutionary leaders have said: That a revolution is not worth itself unless it can defend itself. By saying this, Lenin and Castro were not forgetting the masses. Rather they knew that the masses are the revolutionaries!

The Mayibuye editorial is perfectly correct to say that the ANC should continue to have confidence in the people (for the ANC, together with them, to introduce the many socio-economic changes required); and that it should account to them (for them to help determine the content, pace and forms of change). This, certainly, is what the CC document means by a people-centred and people-driven process!

Missing page...

phase one was meant to be implemented before the national and provincial elections in April this year. For this reason, it is now locking us into a set of arrangements that reflect pre-election realities. In particular, phase one calls for a 50/50 arrangement in the formation of TLCs and TMCs. Half of these nominated transitional structures come from the existing apartheid era local authorities (the "statutory" side) and the other half from previously excluded political and community formations (the "non-statutory").

AC: What are the tasks of these phase one TLCs and TMCs?

SN: Their tasks are very important, and they include:

     preparing for the eventual elections. This is a complicated task, it includes the demarcation of wards (that will ensure certain guarantees for minorities), and the preparation of voters' rolls;

     the ongoing delivery of services on the ground in this pre-interim phase;

     the transformation of local administration;

     preparing the budgets for next year.

None of these tasks is easy. The delineation of boundaries is obviously one of the most complex. The previous authorities have a tendency to want to preserve old boundaries as much as possible. The constitutional requirement that, in phase two, "minority" interests are given some guarantees means that in the demarcation of wards old racial settlement patterns will have to be given some recognition.

The ongoing delivery of services by these nominated structures is an-other problem area. Being unelected they do not enjoy wide legitimacy, and many communities see no reason why they should pay for services, if and when these are provided. In regard to the transformation of administrative structures, as can be expected, many of the statutory authorities are doing their best to keep things intact, while confining "transformation"To a change of a few heads at the top.

AC: What's going on in rural areas?

SN: The question of local government in many rural areas is even more complex. The Act says nothing about rural local government, and the Interim Constitution speaks vaguely of "rural local councils". One obvious problem is that in many former bantustan areas there are no formal "statutory" structures. In KwaZulu-Natal the IFP is claiming that there is no need for transitional structures, the chiefs, they say, are the local government.

AC: Can you explain the so-called "Stand-Alone" and the "Co-ordinating Committee" options?

SN: Well, in terms of the Act there are basically three options for transitional local government structures - what I have referred to as TLCs and TMCs, and then the Co-ordinating Committees. The "Stand-Alone" option is really a variation of the first two. An example is Port Elizabeth. Here, although a Transitional Metro Council was one possibility, the local structures, that is, the old PE City Council and township structures got together and formed a single Transitional Local Council. In the case of Pretoria, the Wits Chamber in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, the TMC option has been followed. TMC structures bring together more than one economic centre (for instance Durban and Pinetown) into one Metro Council, and then below it there are substructures. This means that there are basically two levels of local government.

The Co-ordinating Committee option is a compromise that has been struck largely because of Conservative Party controlled towns in the Transvaal. In this case the existing councils remain intact (both the white and black ones), and then, above these, there is a Co-ordinating Committee with some statutory and some non-statutory representation. But these Co-ordinating Committees have few powers, they have very, very limited budgetary powers for instance. This is a very weak option, to be avoided where possible.

AC: Who will be conducting the elections? Will we have some kind of Independent Electoral Commission again?

SN: No. The constitution gives provincial governments power to conduct these local elections. Fortunately we have already obtained the agreement of all the Provincial executives that they will observe one basic set of regulations. Voter registration will be uniform nationally, and there will be one national data base. Many of the actual hands-on arrangements have been left to TLCs and TMCs. They, for instance, will have to appoint local election presiding officers, and so forth.

AC: There is much confusion among mineworkers as to whether they will be able to vote. There are rumours that it is only those who either own property, or who pay for municipal services that will be able to vote. On the mines, management pays for water and electricity in bulk.

SN: Miners will definitely be allowed to vote. The draft legislation is quite clear, it not on the basis of ownership, but on the basis of occupation of property that people will be eligible to vote. In the case of migrant workers, the key question will be where they register and where they will be on the day of voting. You cannot register in two different places, and you will have to be present on the day of voting in the municipality in which you are registered.

Third World with generally authoritarian regimes, are being held up as examples that we in South Africa should now follow.

Indonesian background

Indonesia was colonised by the Dutch. In the first half of the twentieth century powerful anti-colonial movements emerged, including a very strong Indonesian Communist Party the (PKI). During World War II, Indonesia was occupied by Japanese forces. Following the defeat of Japanese militarism the Dutch attempted to reassert their colonial control, but without great success.

Between 1945 and 1959 an independent Indonesia developed strong democratic traditions, with one of the freest parliamentary democracies in the world. There were also powerful social movements, very large trade unions, peasant, women's and cultural organisations. The trade unions were able to launch actions to take over all the companies still owned by the Dutch. By 1957 almost all of these companies had been occupied by their workers and they were eventually nationalised.

Through this period the Communist Party was extremely influential and it was the fastest growing Indonesian party. But this liberal democratic system was progressively eroded by the Indonesian military. Extreme right-wing generals staged a series of mutinies on some of the islands making up Indonesia. These actions were basically designed to protect their smuggling and business enterprises, and to express their hostility to the Indonesian left.

In 199 the military encouraged President Sukarno, until then a figure-head president, to disband the elected National Assembly, and to begin a campaign to replace political parties with various official mass organisations. In 1965 the generals launched a full-scale coup. Over 500,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands of others were arrested. Left-wing organisations and parties were banned. Suharto, one of the right-wing generals was installed as president. This is the same Suharto who still rules in Jakarta.

Several dozen PKI prisoners remain in jail to this day. Six of them have been under sentence of death since the late 1960s or early 1970s. They are all elderly and ailing. The hundreds of thousands, who were arrested in the late 1960s for alleged communist sympathies and released many years later without charge or trial, still suffer grave violations of their civil rights. Even their children are discriminated against.

But it is not only communists or communist sympathisers who are incarcerated in Sukarno's jails. There are political prisoners right across the political spectrum, including Muslims, students and youth, and communities involved in land claims.

Among the most recent acts of repression was the June 21 banning of the country's three leading political weeklies, and the outlawing in August this year of the country's only independent trade union federation, the SBSI. This latter action merits closer consideration - in light of the often heralded Asian Tiger path to economic growth.

In all sectors of life, the Suharto regime allows only a single organisation to "represent"That sector. For workers, the only trade union allowed is the SPSI, a sweetheart union, which sides with the bosses and acts in conformity with government wishes. In 1992 the SBSI was set up in defiance of this. The SBSI, together with a number of NGOs, succeeded in supporting or initiating labour disputes primarily focused on the appallinglylow wages paid to industrial workers.

Following a strike in Medan, North Sumatra in mid-April this year, when about 50,000 workers took to the streets and were beaten up by heavily armed troops, many trade union leaders and NGO activists have been arrested and are presently on trial for "incitement". The General Chairperson of the SBSI, Muchtar Pakpahan, was arrested on 13 August in Jakarta and taken to Medan where he has been formally charged with "incitement".

Suharto's reign of terror has also extended beyond the borders of at least 200,000 people have been killed. This amounts to one-third of the entire population. This is proportionately one of the worst cases of genocide this century. Human rights abuses by the occupying forces have continued unabated through the 1980s and 1990s. The worst tragedy in recent years was the Santa Cruz massacre on 12 November 1991. Some 400 people were killed when troops opened fire on mourners at a cemetry. Wounded survivors were killed that night at the hospital.

Xanana Gusmao, the leader of the East Timorese resistance movement was arrested in 1992 and is now serving a 20-year sentence in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

The Indonesian aggression against East Timor is in direct defiance of two UN Security Council and eight General Assembly Resolutions. Sadly, the major powers have not enforced these resolutions with anything like the resolve and haste displayed in the case of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, for instance, Indeed, US ambassador to the UN, Daniel Patrick Moynihan boasted to Henry Kissinger in a secret cable about the "consider. able progress" he had made in blocking UN action on Fast Timor.

Nevertheless, there are some signs of a growing international concern about this ongoing genocide that has been enveloped in deliberate silence for so long. The US has sent some signal about reconsidering Indonesia's most favoured nation trading status. The Irish foreign minister has recently called for sanctions against Indonesia. In Australia, in the face of official connivance grounded in commercial concerns, there is a growing solidarity movement. Earlier this year a major international solidarity conference for East Timor was held in the Philippines. Inspired by the brave stand of Bishop Belo, who remains in East Timor despite two assassination attempts against him, progressive Catholic groups have also become more outspoken on the situation.

Mandela in Jakarta

At a press conference at the conclusion of his private visit to Indonesia, President Manciela said: "I raised the issue of East Timor and of the oppression of human rights in Indonesia."

He was further quoted as saying: "President Suharto . . . gave me a good hearing. My appeal for dialogue was received positively."

Two days later, a Reuter's despatch from Jakarta (it was not carried in any of our local media) reported that "the Indonesian military has held talks with jailed East Timor leader Xanana Gusmao, raising for the first time the sensitive issue of a referendum in the troubled territory... sources said the meeting in Xanana's Jakarta cell...appeared to be linked with broader moves to establish contact with dissidents in East Timor."

It is not clear what influence President Mandela's visit has had on these developments. At the very least, his raising of these questions will hopefully have reinforced internal and external pressures on the Indonesian military regime. And, hopefully, the South African negotiated transition can serve as something of a model.

But the opening up of tentative discussions with Gusmao have other causes as well. Ramos Horta, the main exile leader of the Timorese resistance, believes that the Suharto regime might be trying to make concessions before hosting the high profile Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in November, which will be attended by many regional leaders and President Clinton. "I believe there is a rethink in Jakarta in military and intelligence circles, not necessarily that they have made up their minds, but that no longer is the issue of a referendum, or even independence, completely off the agenda", says Horta.

As South Africans we need to take forward the concerns raised by Mandela. We need to do this out of a basic sense of moral justice and international solidarity with the people of Indonesia and East Timor.

We are constantly being told to emulate the Asian Tigers, to pursue international economic competitiveness at all costs. Instead of blindly pursuing this (in any case unrealisable) dogma, we should campaign against the conditions that underpin the "miracle" of the Asian Tigers - authoritarian regimes, the suppression of basic human rights, the regimentation of trade unions and unbearable working conditions forced on workers, especially young women.

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.