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The Lull

The white government was never more smug about its power than in the late 1960s. The resistance movements had been smashed. Profits soared with the inflow of foreign investment and the white standard of living reached record heights. A new divide-and-rule strategy ensured the continued supply of cheap labour.

Work had begun in earnest on the grand social engineering schemes envisaged by the apartheid theorists: Africans not needed in town and families living on white farms were forced out into remote rural dumping grounds, destitute 'ethnic' communities teeming with the unemployed, women, children and the elderly. Under the 1959 Promotion of Bantu Self-Government  Act, eight ‘bantustans' (later ten ‘homelands’) were eventually to be granted ‘independence’, with their ‘citizens’ stripped of all rights as South Africans. To the white minority, everything looked possible.

Various opposition groups attempted to fill the political void in this bleak period: one was the Liberal Party. Formed in 1953 by whites who stayed out of the Congress Alliance, the liberals had largely survived the repression that devastated the ranks of Congress-allied whites. (The Congress of Democrats was not banned until 1962, but scores of its members had already been restricted from political activity through individual banning orders and house arrests.) The Liberal Party had attracted few blacks in the past, but now the lack of any other legal option induced others to join.

The Liberal Party stands for a combination of private enterprise with state ownership, broadly similar to the present system in Great Britain. We believe that public services such as transport, power supplies, etc. are best managed by the state. We stand for non-racial trade unions and no job reservation. Under the Liberal Party all races will be taxed equally and from these monies funds will be made available for heavily subsidized housing schemes. The Party stands for universal adult suffrage — one man, one vote.

The Liberal Party deplores the present position, where 20 per cent of the population own 87 per cent of the land. The Party would abolish the Group Areas Act, and aims to have the state buy large areas of farm land with a view to making farms available, in particular to non-whites, for purchase free hold on easy terms.

The Liberal Party would respect the wish of any group to maintain its identity, provided always that there is no infringement of the rights of others. The Party rejects the extreme Black Nationalism which would place the interests of Africans before the interests of the other inhabitants of our country. The Party holds no truck with Communism, which it regards as a totalitarian system with no concern for individual human rights.

‘Where the Liberal Party Stands’, LIBERAL PARTY pamphlet, 1966


“When the screws really did turn on the ANC, people were just nowhere to be found. I must say, it seemed for a while that the ANC had a demise — it seemed like it was virtually dead. And its place was seen to be taken at that time by the Liberal Party. I saw it as the forefront organization at that moment. It was in 1963 that I joined the Liberal Party. It certainly was, in my own view, going the same way as ANC at that moment. I mean, as far back as 1960 it had abolished the qualified franchise thing — it was then an open organization. They were the only alternative that was available. I would have taken a stand against them being anti- communist, but we had no option. Somehow we had to get a political platform.

Why were you opposed to the Liberal Party's anti-communism? 

I had an inclination towards socialism. We had always looked forward to a society, albeit in a utopian manner, of equality, of equal opportunity and so on, and in a completely free enterprise situation you don't get that. I mean, if you look at America, it has been free for a number of years, but because of free enterprise you still have very poor people and very rich people.

In 1963 and '64, the Liberal Party had every promise to be a powerful party. It was attracting quite a number of Africans, they were coming in their numbers — particularly people who were facing removals in the northern areas of Natal. I think they just sought a political home, like I had, a form of protest. But in about 1965 the screws were turned on the party like anything: people were banned. So again, the Liberal Party seemed to be going the ANC way, in that now people just seemed to fear it.

And yourself, did you stick with the Liberal Party?

To its dissolution, in 1968. It was a terrible thing, looking at our party dissolve when this Prohibition of Improper Interference Acti was passed.

On balance, how do you feel about the work of the Liberal Party?

History has it that white liberals have wasted people's time, that liberals have done a lot to lead blacks up the garden path, but I think it really depended on the individuals involved. It was such an amorphous thing,there were so many personalities. In some areas it was very much like a 'tea party' party, as it were, but then there were times when principles had to be stood for, and that is where you would admire such characters as [Liberal Party chairman] Peter Brown and Alan Paton. Paton, of course, changed dramatically since then.ii At the same time, one really understood they were from a completely different background, and the struggle was really our struggle. In the final analysis, this is an African working-class struggle, and the Liberal Party recruited its members from the middle class and upper class of whites.”

IAN MKHIZE, a one time member of the Pietermaritzburg ANC branch

 The same disheartening lack of political options spurred a small group of whites to form the African Resistance Movement (ARM).

The unit will act for the furthering of the broad aims of non-racial social democracy in South Africa; the concepts as understood by the non-communistic sections of the ANC, the official leadership of the PAC, the left wing of the Liberal Party, and possibly more progressive Progressives.iii The members of the group will have no particular party loyalty but to the broad belief in basic social and democratic principles and a concern for the future of South Africa.

‘Political Intelligence Unit — Confidential’, document found by police in ARM leader Adrian Leftwich's flat, 4 July 1964


“In Cape Town, certainly at that period, in 1962, '63, there was no contact between ordinary whites and any blacks. So that the whole ARM thing,really, was what was possible for an ill-informed white who was radical and who didn't come from a political background. I think they were a group of liberals — I mean a handful, really, in the Cape, mainstream Liberal Party people — who I believe now were almost entirely motivated by an anticommunism and a lack of confidence in the mainstream of the movement, a feeling of their own historical importance, a kind of white arrogance.

I think what the ARM didn't recognize was the importance of African nationalism — as a concept, as a real thing in this process — so that they recognized a sort of non-racialism that obliterated all that. You know,people were just people, and the fact that they were African or white was unimportant. Yet it was important for them to establish their credentials by ensuring that they had some black support — and they had very, very little.iv

I stayed with them till I was arrested, simply because it happened so quickly that I didn't have a chance to really consider anything else, and in a way, nothing else presented itself. Basically, there was no overt political activity, really, except the Liberal Party, and that was no longer really something towards which one looked, because I think it was so obvious that South Africa wasn't something for which whites had to find a solution, but something for which the solution would come from the rest of the population, and into which you had to play a part. 

Then people started getting arrested. Adrian Leftwichv began to sort of name and betray people, one after the other, so over the next ten days people were being arrested. They actually wanted me to give evidence against him.The last thing they wanted was for me to stand trial — this young, pretty Afrikaner girl to stand trial while this Jewish radical student leader got off. I was far too mainstream, it offended them to find an Afrikaner woman on the wrong side of the law. They hated it. So I held out, and always in the background was Nelson Mandela. I didn't know anything about him, but he was this figure, and Rivonia had just happened and I wasn't going to standup in court and be on the wrong side.”

STEPHANIE KEMP, recruited to ARM while studying at the University of Cape Town

 For all the criticism of the Liberal Party, its demise made the political landscape even more barren for whites.

“In those days a whole lot of our contemporaries left. It was very like what's happening now amongst a number of people who are deciding to leave South Africa. They said, ‘We cannot go on living in the apartheid society,’ or alternatively they said, ‘The revolution is just around the corner, this isn't a safe place for our children.’ 

So it was imperative to get involved, and I did. The black community was totally crushed, and the only white organization that was doing anything at all was NUSAS [National Union of South African Students]vi and I was too old to be a student. The Black Sash was the only organization in the white community, outside party politics, that was doing anything at all.

The first advice office started in Cape Town, because hundreds of black women were being arrested for refusing to apply for passes. It started just as a bail fund, to get those women out of jail while they awaited trial so that they could be with their children. After that advice centres grew all over the country.

Black Sash women were very emotionally involved about the destruction of family — this person sitting in front of you whose wife and children aren't allowed to be with him.Or this woman whose husband was arrested yesterday.Or this woman whose child was detained by the Security Police. That concern for the individual person has remained all the way through, but whathas developed is the understanding of the structures and the philosophies and the forces at work in the society that have maintained that system.

We've moved from our naive belief that if you could convey to people,such as English-speaking businessmen, the human suffering involved inmigrant labour, if you could convey that to them, they would do something toget rid of it. Our whole attitude has toughened considerably in that respect because we have discovered that people, on the whole, are not moved by human suffering, and that you therefore have to find political pressures that will start hurting them enough to make them move. If profits are threatened,that is when you get white people in this country to act. So we stopped going on deputations to Harry Oppenheimervii and people like that, because it was a total waste of time. 

So what does move them?

What moves them is what hurts them, not what hurts other people.”

SHEENA DUNCAN, member of the women's service organization, Black Sashviii

The first signs of an end to the lull came from outside South Africa. Umkhonto we Sizwe had regrouped in exile and in 1967 the ANC launched its first major military campaign. Guerilla infiltration was complicated by the fact that the neighbouring states were still under colonial rule, so the ANC's army joined forces with Zimbabweans fighting the white minority regime ruling the colony of Rhodesia,ix as a first stage in establishing routes to South Africa.

Furious fighting has been and is still taking place in various parts of Southern Rhodesia. From the thirteenth of this month, the area of Wankie[now Hwange] has been the scene of the most daring battles ever fought between freedom fighters and the white oppressors' army in Rhodesia. We wish to declare here that the fighting that is presently going on in Wankie area is indeed being carried out by a combined force of ZAPU and ANC, which marched into the country as comrades-in-arms on a common route,each bound to its destination. It is the determination of these combined forces to fight the common settler enemy to the finish, at any point ofencounter, as they make their way to their respective fighting zones.


J. R. D. Chikerema, ZAPU Vice-President

0. R. Tambo, ANC Deputy President 

Joint press release, Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU) and African National Congress (ANC-SA), 19 August 1967


 “I didn't want to come out of South Africa. We had already sent out some men and I took the stand that they would come back and train us inside the country. But then the chaps warned me that the Special Branch were hunting for me. So I left: to Botswana by round-about route and to Tanzania, back to Zambia, and into Zimbabwe. We went to fight there because we had no friendly borders at the time. We went to fight there because those were our brothers, they were as oppressed as we were. We had a jolly fight with the Rhodesians. We existed in the bush for a long period, nine months.

Wasn't it a problem not speaking the main language spoken in Zimbabwe, Shona?

Oh yes, it was a problem. We, the South Africans, couldn't simply go among the people unless they were already known to us. But then the Zimbabweans amongst ourselves were not so much better off. Everybody knows that you are a stranger because everybody knows each other. There's always that difficulty everywhere, so what we did was whenever we went to meet people we simply used people who came from that region, who spoke the same dialect, you see. But then there was another slight problem: there was the question of complexion. We were slightly lighter, generally.

Whenever people discovered that there were South Africans, we would explain, 'Of course, yes, but we all regard Southern Africa as oppressed. Rhodesia is as oppressed as South Africa is oppressed, so our business is to liberate the sub-continent.' We never had any difficulties about that, we never had awkward questions. We just got cooperation. You must remember the ZAPU freedom radio in Zambia was operating full blast, twice, thrice aweek, and in any case, it got to be known by the world that there were ANC people who were operating there, so it was not such a secret.

South Africa responded by deploying its 'Police Anti-Terrorist Unit' to fight the ANC-ZAPU incursions into Rhodesia,x did you get any sense that the South Africans were threatened by the idea of two different groups of blacks fighting together?

They were threatened by that. We actually suffered for that. They didn't like our participation in that struggle one bit.

What did they say to you in interrogation after you were captured?

‘Why do you fight here? What business have you got here? You are an intruder, you are an invader.' Then they would take a different line, like for instance: 'Zimbabweans can't fight — you are the only people who are doing a lot of fighting here.' It's the old enemy tactic of trying to drive a wedge between you. But it didn't have effect. They didn't impress us one bit.

Those Zimbabweans, I want to tell you one thing, I bloody well respect them. We came off well in a fight, but whenever we were walking, hell, those men are strong. They are rural-orientated and it makes them used to walking long distances, and they are bloody well tough, I can assure you. I used to marvel at them, really.

With all the time you spent together, and with all the tensions and deprivations, were there not ever times when there'd be a resort to an ethnic slur?

No, not that way, not that way at all. Listen, we were mature politically. The basis of a guerilla movement, it is the political training of the cadre. We are not just fighting by pulling the trigger and releasing the bullet — no, we also have to win people. You have to know what you are fighting about, you have to be able to tell the people what we are fighting for, why we are fighting, how we are fighting, why they should contribute. I'm trying to tell you that there was no question where I'm going to start quarrelling with you because you are white, because you are Zezuru, or you are Ndebele, or you are South African— no, no, no. We disagreed occasionally over issues, but that didn't mean that we disagreed because of ethnic divisions, because I came from South Africa or because he was Ndebele. There were Ndebeles, there were Shonas, there were ourselves,xi the Zulus, Xhosas, Sothos, Tswanas.”

RALPH MZAMO, founder member of the Umkhonto we Sixwe Eastern Cape Command, who left South Africa for military training and then fought in Zimbabwe in the ANC's ‘Lutuli Detachment’ 

This joint South African-Zimbabwean offensive was subsequently criticized as a short-sighted response to agitation for action from frustrated ANC and ZAPU cadres idling in Tanzanian military camps,and indeed the Wankie Campaign' failed in its goal of opening infiltration routes southward. The success it did achieve was rather in signaling — at the height of the demoralizing lull in popular resistance inside thecountry — that the struggle was alive and continuing from outside.

While mass political organization was at an all-time low in the 1960s, there was less inertia on other levels. This was a time of analysis and reassessment, and one of the key debates concerned the position of non-Africans in the exclusively African ANC. Following the decision by the Congress Alliance that the Indian Congresses, CPC and COD would not open missions outside South Africa, some ANC members opposed the inclusion of non-Africans in their organization. They argued that minority groups should mobilize within their own communities, and that only when Indians, Coloureds and Whites were politically engaged in confrontation with the regime and could be found in corresponding numbers within Umkhonto we Sizwe would the time be ripe to consider the question of 'open membership'. The 'London Debates', as the controversy that erupted in London was known, made a consultative conference imperative in order to resolve the issue once and for all.

More than seventy delegatesxii met in Morogoro, Tanzania in 1969 for the ANC's first big conclave outside South Africa. The consensus at Morogoro was that non-Africans should be integrated into the ANC's External Mission and serve for the first time as full members of the ANC, but that only Africans could be elected to its top policy-making body, the National Executive Committee (NEC).xiii

The main content of the present stage of the South African revolution is the national liberation of the largest and most oppressed group: the African people. This strategic aim must govern every aspect of the conduct of our struggle, whether it be the formulation of policy or the creation of structures. Amongst other things, it demands in the first place the maximum mobilization of the African people as a dispossessed and racially oppressed nation. This is the main spring and it must not be weakened. It involves a stimulation and deepening of national confidence, a national pride and national assertiveness.

The national character of the struggle must dominate our approach. But it is a national struggle which is taking place in a different era and in a different context from those which characterized the early struggles against colonialism. Thus our nationalism must not be confused with chauvinism or the narrow nationalism of a previous epoch. It must not be confused with the classical drive by an elitist group among the oppressed people to gain ascendancy so that they can replace the oppressor in the exploitation of the mass.

But none of this detracts from the basically national context of our liberation drive. In the last resort it is only the success of the national democratic revolution which — by destroying the existing social and economic relationships — will bring with it a correction of the historical injustices perpetrated against the indigenous majority and lay the basis for a new and deeper internationalist approach. Until then, the national sense of grievance is the most potent revolutionary force which must be harnessed.

How can we strengthen and make effective the cooperation between the communities, and how can we integrate committed revolutionaries, irrespective of their racial background? Whatever instruments are createdto give expression to the unity of the liberation drive, they must accommodate two fundamental propositions. Firstly, they must not be ambiguous on the question of the primary role of the most oppressed African mass, and secondly, those belonging to the other oppressed groups and those few white revolutionaries who show themselves ready to make common cause with our aspirations must be fully integrated on the basis of individual equality.

Approached in the right spirit, these two propositions do not stand in conflict but reinforce one another. Equality of participation in our national front does not mean a mechanical parity between the various national groups. Not only would this in practice amount to inequality (again at the expense of the majority), but it would lend flavour to the slander which our enemies are ever ready to spread of a multi-racial alliance dominated by minority groups.

Strategy and Tactics of the ANC’, the central policy document adopted by the Morogoro conference 

Opposition to the policies adopted at Morogoro continued even after the conference. A dissident faction representing the rump of the Africanist camp — such as it still existed within the ANC following the formation ofthe PAC — began denouncing even the limited involvement of non-Africans. The faction focused its attacks on the ANC's London office, headed by a coloured (Reg September) and including a number ofIndians and whites. In 1975 a group of eight Africanists issued a statement charging that a 'non-African clique' had 'hijacked the ANC', and was attempting 'to substitute a class approach for the national approach toour struggle'. The ANC expelled the Africanist group,xiv but the movement was well aware that the resentments and fears that lay beneath this controversy were not so easy to dismiss.

"Now when you have very physically divided groups with different economic and other status, if you suddenly imply a blanket society with pure merit and nothing else, the whole history of acquired skills, of acculturation into a modern technological world and so on will mean that the people not of the majority will have the skills and just on pure merit they will dominate. So how then are you going to help the other group, given along history of racism?

“One way is parallel development: saying we keep the leadership of this group, we teach ourselves a self-awareness and political consciousness.That's why in the first instance the ANC's doors were closed, this is why all these things had to go in stages. You know, merit can be technical, but if you talk in terms of the ability to mobilize, then all sorts of other forces come into play: the ability to communicate, language and so on. The tendency is that because you operate in a modern technological world,people see the need for leadership qualifications to come out of the ability to operate in that world — the fact that that ability doesn't necessarily go with an ability to operate in the world of the oppressed is not often recognized. They're different value systems. So perhaps the best way is to close that society for a while.

This is where the question of positive discrimination would come in — it's a question that we argue about in the women's movement. I personally would not oppose positive discrimination in principle. It's got to be done consciously, with an awareness of what we're doing, and it's got to be done for a limited time. I would say that for women, and for all racial groups.

If women stay out of the struggle, how then do we get women's issues put on the agenda? You do it by participation now, by raising the issues now,and in the process of the struggle you fight those things out. You don't, after one kind of liberation, put the question of how you protect minorities on the agenda — you sort it out now. That's why you've got to get at the grassroots and you've got to address the fears.

With all minorities — it doesn't matter whether you're talking of the Southern Sotho or of the protection of the Tswana against the Zulu — first establish a national objective of a non-racial society, a recognition that rights and privileges or disabilities and whatever else don't accrue because of race or ethnicity. The second step is that these groups then have to pitch in and put what concerns them onto the agenda, because by working together is how you will resolve these problems. 

Now if whites or Indians or coloureds are not there to be seen, there's no way the ANC's going to convince the African people that we want to be a non-racial society. You've got to be seen there, within the movement. Non-racialism has got to be seen to be there, in practical terms. It requires adegree of sensitivity on the part of the non-Africans, because we do have skills, we do have a history of privilege, which affects us in all kinds of undefinable ways which we're most unconscious of. And it requires a tremendous sensitivity on the part of the leadership of the ANC, so that you can defuse the problems as you go.” 

, a senior representative in the ANC's London office since the 1960s

The irony of 'the lull' lay in the lack of cross-fertilization between the ideas that emerged from this re-think outside South Africa and from there-evaluation taking place inside the country, for the links between the exiled movement and its internal supporters were still under reconstruction.Young South Africans coming of age during this period were deprived of the history of the ANC, and few had studied the documents reflecting its revitalization. It was no wonder, then, that so many dismissed the ANC as moribund and saw their own generation as the vanguard of change. The black student movement that did so much to rekindle mass resistance in the 1960s and 1970s owed a great debt to a tradition it was still to discover.



i Legislation which criminalized political parties embracing both black and white.

ii  Internationally famous for his 1948 book, Cry the Beloved Country, which propounded quite liberal views in the context of the time, Paton moved rightward in his later years. In the decade before his death in 1988, he opposed sanctions, supported Zulu homeland Chief Buthelezi, and endorsed a federal, multi-racial solution for a post-apartheid South Africa.

iii The Progressive Party was founded in 1959 with the support of liberal big business (mainly the Anglo American Corporation), and its sole parliamentary representative throughout most of the 1960s was Helen Suzman.

iv The ARM arrests and trials involved only a handful of blacks, but it was a coloured man, Eddie Daniels, who received the stiffest prison sentence of fifteen years.

v The National Union of South African Students (NUSAS) president at the University of Cape Town who helped found ARM, and then gave state's evidence against those he had recruited in order to win immunity from prosecution.

vi Then chairman of the Anglo American multi-national and an important source of finance for the Progressive Federal Party (PFP), as the Progressive Party was known after a 1977 merger with former United Party members of parliament.

vii Founded in 1955 as the Defence of the Constitution League by a group of women that included Duncan's mother, Jean Sinclair, initially to protest the gerrymandering of the South African constitution to effect the removal of the coloureds from the common voters' roll.

viii  NUSAS was formed in 1924 by the white universities and focussed on forging English-Afrikaans student unity, but all the Afrikaans campuses had disaffiliated by 1936. In 1945 NUSAS admitted the black campus of Fort Hare, and by the mid-1960s it had become the most radical and outspokenly non-racial of the legal organizations

ix After the white leaders of the British colony of Southern Rhodesia illegally declared independence in 1965, the two wings of the Zimbabwean liberation movement launched an armed struggle to win back their country. The ANC formed an alliance with the Zimbabwe African People's Union (ZAPU), for at that time the ANC (like the leading liberation movements of Mozambique and Angola) regarded the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) as a breakaway, Africanist grouping in the mould of the PAC. The ANC was also drawn closer to ZAPU by the fact that ZAPU's guerillas were based in neighbouringZambia, infiltrating from the southwest, so its supporters tended to come from southwestern Zimbabwe's Ndebele minority, which has a language and culture similar to that of South Africa's Zulu. In addition, like the ANC, ZAPU wassupported by the Soviet Union and the Eastern socialist countries.

x South Africa continued to deploy its paramilitary forces in Rhodesia for the next seven years, until the troop withdrawal of the detente era, and at a less publicized level it maintained 'logistical support' up until the 1979 ceasefire that led to Zimbabwe's independence in 1980. The South African military took advantage of the Rhodesian training ground: from 1989 revelations about Security Police and military involvement in 'death squads' formed to assassinate anti-apartheid activists it emerged that former death squad commander Major Eugene de Kock had trained under the 'anti-terrorist' Rhodesian Special Air Services from 1968 to 1972.

xi Several coloured cadres played important roles in early Umkhonto campaigns, a fact not well known in South Africa at the time, but by the mid-1980s awareness was such that students at the University of the Western Cape renamed a residence after Basil February, and MK cadre James April was feted upon his release from Robben Island after serving fifteen years.

xii The overwhelming majority were African, but conference delegates also included three coloureds, five Indians and three whites.

xiii The ANC's Revolutionary Council, formed in response to a resolution taken at the conference and later renamed the Political-Military Council (PMC), included non-Africans: an Indian, a coloured and a white.

xiv The 'Gang of Eight', as the ANC disparagingly referred to those it expelled, included George Mbele, Pascal Ngakane and ThamiBonga (who all later rejoined the ANC), Jonas Matlou, 0. K. Setlapelo and Alfred KgokongMqota(who have remained politically non-aligned since then), Tennyson Makiwane(who was shot dead after his return to Transkei in 1980 in what was widely seen as an assassination, although Umkhonto we Sizwe never claimed credit for the deed), and Makiwane's brother, Ambrose (whose current whereabouts are unknown).

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