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 It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

But Joe proved me wrong

It has always astounded-both friend and foe as to how the ANC leadership succeeded in transforming an angry, and understandably anti-white 1976 generation which joined its ranks after the Soweto uprising, into truly non-racial combatants.

At the height of the massacre of the youth in 1976/7, the anti-white feeling among the black youth reached its peak. I remember moments when one would literally cry hoping for the day one could lay one's hands on some mysterious poison or bomb to wipe out the entire white community. One hoped that those whites who survived the holocaust would be forced to carry "dompasses" as big as a bible and be confined in concentration camps eternally.

The answer to that successful transformation into non-racial combatants lies, to a large extent, in the presence of Joe Slovo in the ranks of the ANC. Joe was not preoccupied with endless preaching about also accepting whites as legitimate South Africans. Indeed, he kept on emphasising that the main content of the South African revolution was the liberation of blacks in general and Africans in particular.

It was his mere presence and activism within the ranks of the ANC that brought to us an idea that there was something much deeper than the question of race in our oppression. We had reached the crossroad. We began to question some of the ideological positions we had espoused. Before the situation seemed very clear to us: it was blacks against whites. We could not explain how was it that some of the most brutal despots were our own black brothers, while some of the best leaders of the ANC and commanders of MK were white compatriots like Joe.

It was Joe who commanded MK Special Operations Command which attacked such targets as Sasol oil plants, Koeberg nuclear power station, Voortrekkerhoogte army head-quarters and the SAAF headquarters in Pretoria.

I first met Joe in Luanda in 1977. He was wearing a cheap crimplene safari suit. I must confess that at that first encounter I sincerely detested both Joe and his suit. I was immediately reminded of those dishonest white liberals back home who only paid lip service to the plight of blacks.

But Joe proved me wrong. I was lucky to be one of the first ten young combatants to be trained directly by Joe. It was there that I realised that he suffered the same deprivations with us. He shared everything with us in the camp. He was not different from us. It was Joe, together with ANC leaders such as Oliver Tambo, Moses Mabhida and Thabo Mbeki who, towards the end of the 1970s, began to pioneer a strategy that was to be built on the four pillars. These were the ANC unclerground to guide the struggle inside the country, mass struggle of our people, the armed struggle, and international solidarity with our struggle.

But while everybody praises his role, especially during the negotiation process, there is a renewed, much more cunning and subtle ideological offensive against Uncle Joe, the SACP, and the ANC. We are all of a sudden being told that Joe Slovo could play a positive role in the negotiations precisely because he was beginning to renounce Marxism-Leninism and the so-called hard-line ANC positions. What Joe denounced was not Marxism-Leninism, but its distortion by especially the communist parties of eastern Europe, which separated democracy from socialism.

Indeed, Joe could play such a positive role precisely because he was armed with the theory of Marxism-Leninism and not the opposite. Joe could blend together theory and practice because he was of the people. Joe kept on emphasising that there was a difference between formal independence and real liberation. That there was a difference between the hoisting of a new flag, singing the new national anthem and installing to power a new elite of a different colour, on the one hand, and real liberation which brings about real changes in the lives of the people.

Perhaps that is the reason why Joe fought so hard, and to the last, to ensure that the homeless find shelter over their heads. Even though there is still a long way to go to fulfil this ideal, Joe has already made a strong foundation for it. Ours is to do the final deed.

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.