By Norm Dixon
The South African government's (and Australian media baron Kerry Packer's) secret funding of Chief Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi's Inkatha movement, following revelations of police and military complicity in murderous attacks on supporters of the African National Congress, have put the politics of South Africa on the front pages of the world's press. Ismail Momoniat, a featured speaker at the Socialist Scholars Conference in Melbourne, says this violence is crucial to the apartheid regime's strategy. In a wide-ranging address and in comments to Green Left Weekly, he outlined the current state of South African politics.
Prior to his visit here, Ismail Momoniat attended the ANC national conference. He is a member of the South African Communist Party regional leadership in the Transvaal and secretary of the Transvaal Indian Congress. He represents the SACP on the ANC Campaigns Committee.
Born in 1957, Ismail began his involvement in politics in the student movement in 1979. Since then he has been detained by the regime three times and, after the introduction of a state of emergency in 1985, was forced to go underground between 1986 and 1990.
The February 1990 decision of the de Klerk government to unban the liberation movements, release Nelson Mandela and agree to begin negotiations with the ANC was a victory for the democratic movement, Momoniat told the Melbourne gathering. Throughout the '80s the United Democratic Front and later the Mass Democratic Movement built a powerful political force.
"Before February 2, 1990, the UDF and the MDM were able to mobilise a wide front of forces against apartheid, to isolate the National Party, the extreme right-wing Conservative Party and the [neo-fascist] AWB. The middle ground, which included the white liberal groups, were able to be brought over into the camp opposing apartheid and the National Party in particular."
Momoniat said the changes "didn't happen merely because of the political crisis caused by trade sanctions and the mass pressure on the ground. The South African economy has been stagnating since the '70s ... In the late '80s big business began to put pressure on the P.W. Botha regime to liberalise politics in South Africa.
"The palace coup within the National Party when de Klerk ousted P.W. Botha ... was a retreat. It was a response to its failure to
stem the political crisis and economic stagnation resulting from its policies."
But it would be "a grave mistake" to assume that this retreat will lead inevitably to the apartheid regime's total defeat, Momoniat warned. "De Klerk has opted for a new line of attack."
Following the unbanning of the ANC, the regime put numerous obstacles in the way of the organisation. These included bureaucratically delaying indemnity to ANC leaders and staff and delaying the installation of telephones in ANC offices. These tactics compounded the disorganisation that resulted during the return of exiled leaders to South Africa.
The regime used its control over the media: "Little problems were blown up in order to paint a negative picture of the ANC as an irresponsible, unthinkingly militant and inefficient organisation ... small business people were told that the ANC was going to nationalise every barber shop and corner grocery shop." The government also claimed it had exposed a secret Communist plot to overthrow the government by force.
"To make sense of what appears to be a chaotic situation, it must be understood that the National Party is skilled in the art of counter-revolution, having learnt its lessons not only from intelligence agencies in the US, Britain, Israel and Latin America, but from direct experience in Angola, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
"The violence, and the use of Inkatha, are critical to the strategy of the regime, and it is quite simplistic and totally incorrect to see this as black-on-black violence, a struggle between rival political organisations ... or tribal battles between Xhosas and Zulus.
"The ANC and SACP have never doubted this violence can be traced back, not just to Inkatha, but to the white regime itself, to de Klerk himself ... This strategy has succeeded to some extent in creating a reign of terror in many townships. The ANC and other liberation organisations have suffered a very serious slowdown in membership growth in the townships affected by the violence."
The National Party believes it can defeat the ANC with a multiracial alliance based on sections of the Indian, coloured and Zulu communities plus the white population. This alliance would also include black collaborators from the bantustans, members of the fundamentalist religions such as the Zionist Christian Church (which claims a membership of 4 million) and those with an interest
in maintaining the economic status quo.
"The violence creates a climate of fear. Township people are beginning to feel all Zulu people are killers, and this may drive Zulus away from the liberation movement. In the Indian community there is the beginning of a shift away from the ANC. They look at the violence and feel the ANC can't bring stability ... and begin to look at 'minority rights' — something they didn't support before."
Nevertheless, the ANC and its allies continue to register as much as 65% in the polls while a National Party-Inkatha alliance has yet to muster more than 15%.
Momoniat stressed that it was "a misconception ... to regard Inkatha as an anti-apartheid organisation. Inkatha has participated in the bantustan system, and the only difference between it and other collaborationist bantustan parties was its refusal to accept 'independence' in KwaZulu."
Opposition to Inkatha is strong within the Zulu community, which is largely based in Natal province. In urban townships throughout Natal, it has very little support, according to every opinion poll conducted in the last year.
"Apartheid is still alive and well", he reminded his listeners. While de Klerk boasted that statutory apartheid had been eliminated, black students attempting to gain access to an empty white school were prevented by armed police. "Fiscal apartheid is alive and well, as the budget speech of the minister of finance clearly shows. The inequalities of apartheid remain. The de Klerk government shows no real commitment to compensate those who had their land confiscated."
Momoniat pointed out that, while the ANC and the SACP believe forcing the de Klerk regime to negotiate was a victory, the regime is still in power and has an unfair advantage over the ANC. It not only controls the police and defence force, but has sole control of television and much of the media. It still has not released all political prisoners. Many exiles still wait for permission to return home.
"Our major demand is for a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa. We believe that such an outcome can be both guaranteed and be more stable and secure if the process towards its attaining is democratic ... [A] fundamental commitment to democracy and mass participation calls for an elected constituent assembly to write the constitution for the new South Africa rather than getting a few experts into a room." While this assembly meets South Africa should be governed by an interim
"We hope to convene a Patriotic Front of the major anti-apartheid forces, like the PAC [Pan-Africanist Congress]. We don't have total agreement amongst ourselves, but all those movements agree on the idea of an elected constituent assembly.
"The state-inspired violence is a clear indication that unless pressure at all levels is maintained ... the negotiation process will come to a standstill as the white minority tries to maintain its rule under the guise of a multiracial alliance. The ANC-SACP-Congress of South African Trade Unions alliance is therefore committed to mass action on the ground.
"Sanctions have a crucial role to play to force the regime to take effective steps to stop the violence and create the climate conducive to negotiations.
"For all our problems, we don't believe that anybody, least of all de Klerk, is going to be able to stop the tide of freedom, of one-person, one-vote elections in South Africa. More than just national liberation, we believe socialism is a real possibility in South Africa."