For decades, Oliver Tambo 's 1985 speech — urging a reluctant British government to support the fight against apartheid — was buried in the ChathamHouse archives. The think tank has made the speech publicly available for the first time.
‘The choice we are faced with is to submit or fight’
.Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I need hardly say what a singular experience and what a great honour it is for me to have been invited to address this meeting atChatham House. As you say sir, since the British Government does not as yet seem to be disposed to talking to the ANC, whatever might come out of such talking, to which the British people, opinion makers, the leaders of this country, is the best thing to happen in the circumstances and we are very grateful that you have come in such large numbers to hear what we would like to tell you about South Africa.
Now, we are waiting today, because we are all concerned to do something about the South African issue. We would like to assume that we are all interested to see an end to the apartheid system. We are all interested to contribute what we all can to the birth of a democratic and non-racial South Africa. Something our people have striven for over many decades now. We would like to assume that you are with us in the desire to see the emergence of an era of peace, not only in South Africa but in the whole region of southern Africa, in Namibia, Angola, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana. All these countries have known no peace since their independence and the one single reason for that has been the apartheid system which helped Portuguese colonialism, which found side by side with the Ian Smith regime and which, after that regime collapsed, took over as the dominant destabiliser, waging what was described by the leaders of southern Africa as an undeclared war against each of them.
Peace appeared to be coming with the signing of theNkomati Accord. The African National Congress, understanding what the objectives, the true objectives of the South African regime were, did not think the signing of the Nkomati Accord was the beginning of an era of peace. We thought it would make no difference and we all know it has made no difference. When Piet Botha [President
PW Botha] came to this country and to other European countries he appeared to be carrying a message of peace from southern Africa, that message has evaporated, it has disappeared. There is no peace. There can be no peace while apartheid endures. What we are certain to debate therefore is not whether the apartheid system should be abolished or abandoned or ended, but the ways and means to achieve these results.
And in our brief presentation today we will concentrate on some of those questions that have merged in the course of the worldwide discussion of what should be done to abolish the apartheid system, because that is the centre issue. We might usefully begin by posing and answering the question: is the Botha regime an instrument of democratic change? To broaden the question, can the ruling national party transform itself from a party of Afrikaners and white minority domination into a force for a non-racial and democratic society? I think it is common knowledge among all of us here that the answer the ANC would give to these two questions is no. We do not believe — the ANC does not believe — that the party of racist rule in South African can transform itself into a party of democracy.
The raison d’êtreof this party is the promotion and defence of white privilege, the exclusive advancement of white interests at the expense of the black majority. The current leadership of this party has not hesitated to restate these objectives many times and in unequivocal terms. Consequently we cannot accept as meaningful any strategy for change based on the thesis that Botha has embarked on a reform process which will gradually knock down the edifice of white minority domination and privilege, brick by brick and erect a new political and economic reality in its place.
Theso-called reform programmewhich Botha and his supporters paint in such glorious colours is a set of measures elaborated and implemented in the context of Pretoria’s doctrine of national security. These measures have the sole aim of helping to defuse the explosive situation in the country, with a view to ensuring the permanence and security of the apartheid system of white minority domination. By their very nature these reforms must emanate from the top, they are an expression of the ideas of the ruling group, acting in its own interests. They are not the translation into policy of the wishes of the oppressed majority. The outer limits of this so-called reform programme are defined by the requirement that everything is subject to amendment, provided that such change will extend the life of the apartheid system in its most fundamental essentials.
Apartheid is being, as it is said, reformed in order to tame the system of oppression and not to abolish it. That is the long and the short of that story about reform. In any case, we maintain that the notion that a criminal practice can be reformed or amended gradually into something other than a felony cannot be taken as a serious proposition.
If apartheid is a crime against humanity, a crime against its victims, it is incapable of reform. It should only be ended and the issue is therefore again not how to amend, how to reform it, but how to put an end to it as a crime. It ought to be self-evident that the principal agents of change in South Africa must be those sections of our population who stand to benefit from the abolition of the apartheid system. Recognising the correctness of this rather mundane and obvious thesis, it ought also to be a straightforward matter of logic to arrive at the conclusion that those outside our country who seek change in South Africa are obliged to support those whom the apartheid system disinherits and not those who are the beneficiaries of the practice of racism and human degradation.
The standard response to this will be, “Yes of course we support you, we support your effort to end the apartheid system, but we do not agree with the methods you are using to achieve your objectives.” That’s the idea that is gaining currency; that we must modulate our pressure on the Pretoria regime as a prerequisite to the acquisition of our liberty in all its fullness. In terms of our strategy, this amounts to advising us that we must abandon both the armed struggle and economic sanctions against apartheid South Africa.
The most sophisticated argument in favour of these positions is once more based on the thesis that we must rely on the Botha regime to institute the process of change. It is then proposed that we must conduct our affairs in such a way that we avoid two consequences, that is suggested that we conduct our struggle in such a manner that the Pretoria regime does not lose its supporters to its right wing.
Secondly, it is said that a determined all-round offensive against this regime would drive the white population into a lather and make the process of change that much more difficult. But clearly we cannot predicate our conduct on the maintenance of order in power as the first argument suggests. Our task is to remove the white minority regime from power, whatever the guise it assumes, whether so-called reformist or right wing. The lather thesis puts forward a perspective which, in fact, does not accord with the reality of what has been happening to the white power bloc over the last few years. As the internal and external offensive against the Pretoria regime has mounted, so have divisions and conflicts within this bloc sharpened. Of course, we are perfectly conscious of the fact that there are large numbers of our white compatriots who will fight to hold on to power and privilege, to the bitter end. That is an inevitable consequence of the history of our country that we have to live with.
And so we come back to the proposition which we have advanced over the years, this is that a people denied constitutional rights cannot be asked to use the constitutional means that are unavailable to them, to achieve their liberty. For us this is a matter of practical politics.
In practice the Pretoria regime does not recognise that we have any right to an organised expression of our views. Mr Chairman, it is sometimes forgotten that when the ANC was banned in 1960 it had not yet decided on a policy of armed struggle, it was still committed to non-violent struggle. Today, the leadership of the
United Democratic Frontis facing charges of treason, despite its consistent adherence to a policy of peaceful struggle and if I may say so, only this morning we learned from the news media that more than 100 organisations in the Cape Town area have been banned from holding meetings. What are they to do?Read more: Mail & Guardian »
How racism is an essential capitalist tool - The Mail & GuardianOPINION: In the United States, the African American minority is capitalism’s ‘business cycle shock-absorber’.
IEC ready for elections despite budget and Covid setbacks - The Mail & GuardianThe Electoral Commission of South Africa told MPs on Tuesday that the 2021 local government elections will go ahead as planned despite fears of the Covid-19 pandemic, lesterkk reports.
New August 31 deadline for the last learners to return to school - The Mail & GuardianIn an amendment published in the Government Gazette on Tuesday, the basic education minister has made further changes to the school return dates for different grades
Extract: Gunning for Bessie’s Head, from ‘The Terrorist Album’ - The Mail & GuardianThe question of what made one a terrorist is easy to answer: any form of opposition to apartheid. Harder to answer is the question: Who made one a terrorist? Among the people in the album is novelist Bessie Head, who left South Africa for Botswana in 1964 to escape the “fatal feeling of doom” that […]
Empire and environmentalism: The legacy of a brilliant maverick, Richard Grove - The Mail & GuardianThe prolific interdisciplinary scholar who worked on the periphery and challenged Eurocentrism also drew attention to the El Niño phenomenon and global warming concerns in Victorian times
Covid-19 in classrooms: When a cough causes chaos - The Mail & GuardianDespite the department of basic education’s announcement that teachers and learners were given orientation about the coronavirus, anecdotal evidence doesn’t bear this out writes bongemacupe EducationMatters