Speech at a meeting of the African-American Institute, New York, on whether there was a climate for negotiations with the Black Majority in South Africa – 1989/09/29

The answer to the question, “Is there a climate for negotiations?”, is no. The phrase, a climate for negotiations, has taken on a specific meaning for the ANC. A number of things need to be done by the de Klerk regime to create a climate for negotiations – the unbanning of organizations, ending the state of emergency, troops out of the townships, ending of political trials and political executions. When that is done, then one can say that a climate conducive to negotiations has been created.

It is sometimes said that these are preconditions for negotiations. We don’t think that they are preconditions for negotiations. These are things that need to be done in order to create equal opportunities for all the political forces which are to participate in the process of negotiations. It cannot be that it’s OK for the National Party, with all of its leadership out of prison and capable of holding any meeting, to consult its own constituency without fear of its meetings being banned under the state of emergency, while the ANC must continue to have some of its leaders in prison, some of its meetings threatened, and continue to be banned. If one wanted negotiations, one would have to make sure all the political forces participating in the negotiations have an equal opportunity to take part in the political process.

On the issue of violence, as it is called, the reason that the matter cannot be approached in a unilateral manner is precisely because the source of violence in South Africa is apartheid. And to address the issue of violence, both sides have to make certain commitments. Now, a comparable thing would be to say the ANC is setting off bombs, the government is setting off bombs, why don’t we get together and address the issue of stopping that process?

We have said that once the climate for negotiations is created, the very first thing that gets negotiated is the question of violence. We are sensitive to the concerns expressed by the regime, and indeed internationally, about the issue of armed struggle. And so we say that given all of these sensitivities, the climate having been created, meaning it is possible for the ANC to act as a political party in the same way as any other political party, then why don’t we at that point sit down to address this question of a suspension of violence on both sides?

At a rally in Johannesburg in October, Walter Sisulu said:

“We call on the rank and file of all organizations to work together for peace. The ANC has consistently throughout its history been committed to the politics of peace and negotiations. I would like to speak from my personal experience.

“In 1952, I as secretary-general of the ANC, together with the then-president of the ANC, wrote to Prime Minister Malan, calling on him to negotiate. In 1955, we invited all organizations, including the National Party, to the Congress of the People where the Freedom Charter was adopted. The National Party did not come. In 1958, Chief Luthuli, then-president of the ANC, wrote to Prime Minister Strijdom, asking him to negotiate. In 1960, the ANC was banned and thousands of leaders and members were jailed or forced into exile. In 1961, Nelson Mandela, who was underground at the time, wrote to Prime Minister Verwoerd and asked him to call a national convention.

“Our pleas fell on deaf ears. And that is why we formed Umkhonto we Sizwe.

“We stood for peace in 1912, when we were formed. We stood for peace in our long struggle of resistance. We stand for peace today and we will stand for peace tomorrow. In spite of countless bitter experiences, we will not allow the past to stop us from constantly searching for the shortest possible path to freedom.”

The reason Walter Sisulu spoke at such length about this matter is specifically to respond to the demand of the regime for the ANC to be committed to peace.

It is our view that de Klerk is committed to the notion of groups and group rights. What he would be negotiating for is the survival of a system based on the notion of groups. If the National Party came to negotiations saying the notion of groups is non-negotiable, and therefore we must produce a constitution which is based on groups, then of course negotiations could not take place. That would be an affirmation of apartheid. On the other hand, if we said the National Party must adopt the Freedom Charter before it talks to us, that is obviously unreasonable, too. It is a demand we do not make.

In the end, the dismantling of the apartheid system is not something that can be handled solely and exclusively by the architects of apartheid. Dismantling the apartheid system has got to be in the hands of a democratic South Africa.

The things that de Klerk can do – releasing all political prisoners, including Mandela, ending the state of emergency, and so on – he doesn’t need any parliament for, he needs the agreement of his colleagues. They can do all these things tomorrow. These things have not been done and therefore a climate for negotiations has not been created.

A climate for negotiations does not exist essentially because de Klerk is not convinced that he should enter into genuine negotiations. He carries with him the baggage of groups and group rights and would like to produce a system, with our cooperation, which keeps as much of that idea of groups and group rights as possible. Floating around in de Klerk’s head is still the notion that around that negotiating table would sit group representatives – bantustan leaders, people from the tricameral parliament, plus the ANC. Of course, we would not accept that.

We couldn’t say the apartheid system is unjust and it must go – bantustans, tricameral, everything – and then proceed to sit around a negotiating table with people drawn from that system. Obviously, that would be legitimizing those representatives and saying we accept that they are genuine representatives of whomever they claim to represent. But the idea is still in de Klerk’s head that around the negotiating table will sit these apartheid structures which we are fighting against. There is not as yet a serious commitment on the part of the de Klerk regime to enter into genuine negotiations.

The impact of the struggle is very gravely underestimated. The political struggle, the armed struggle, and sanctions have obliged the regime to move. It has had to move. look at the release of the eight political prisoners on the eve of the Commonwealth conference. The reason is obvious. De Klerk didn’t want the Commonwealth to come out with more sanctions, because he knows sanctions work. In order to avoid more sanctions from the Commonwealth, he gave those people to Margaret Thatcher so that she could then say, “The situation is changing,” and thus avoid further sanctions. This is something we should not underestimate – the importance of the struggle in obliging the regime to move.

The conclusion has to be that the struggle must continue, the pressures must continue, that if we want change we have to increase and intensify those pressures to produce the sort of serious change which will then make possible a genuinely negotiated settlement of the South African question.

1. Source: Africa Report, New York, November –December 1989

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