Q&A

Rebel against apartheid

September 21 1987
Q&A

Rebel against apartheid

September 21 1987

Rebel against apartheid

Q&A

OLIVER TAMBO

Branded as a terrorist by South Africa's white-minority regime, Oliver Tambo, leader of the rebel African National Congress (ANC), has fought for international recognition of his controversial antiapartheid group. The government of President Pieter Botha has repeatedly accused the group, based in Lusaka, Zambia, of murder, sabotage and the use of Soviet funds in its efforts to bring down the Pretoria regime. Still, Tambo, 69, a lawyer and devout Christian who has lived outside the country since 1960, has achieved some diplomatic successes. Last January, in a surprising U.S. policy move, Secretary of State George Shultz met with Tambo in Washington. And last month Tambo paid a visit to Brian Mulroney— the first time he has met with a Canadian Prime Minister—to try to persuade him to put increased pressure on Botha 's government at next month 's Commonwealth conference in Vancouver. While in Ottawa, Tambo spoke with Maclean’s correspondent Hilary Mackenzie.

Maclean’s: What is the likelihood of a bloodbath in South Africa over apartheid?

Tambo: What we are expecting is that in the absence of effective sanctions to complement our own struggle, there will be an escalation in the internal conflict—therefore creating conditions that could precipitate a bloodbath. But we also believe that must lead to the

We are fighting the apartheid sgstem with strikes, with bogcotts, with armed struggle— even with our lives

breakdown of the apartheid system. We have always thought that before apartheid is abandoned, there would be massive violence in desperation by the regime, of a kind that we haven’t seen yet. Now the duration of that conflict depends on the extent to which the international community can intervene— and how soon it can. Otherwise, this could result in untold damage to life and

property. We are looking at things getting worse before they get better. Maclean’s: Is the ANC, in your view, the sole legitimate representative of the South African black community? Tambo: No. The ANC is acknowledged to be leading the struggle in South Africa by everybody—its opponents also acknowledge that. But you have the United Democratic Front, the trade union movement, the church, the youth, women’s leaders—all these are part of the movement against apartheid, and there are whites among them. Therefore the ANC—if ever the moment for negotiations [toward a new government] came—would be an embodiment of the leadership of the democratic movement. Maclean’s: When do you see such negotiations happening?

Tambo: You have a problem there, because the Botha regime is clearly not ready for negotiation. The pressures are inadequate as yet.

Maclean’s: What do you hope will come out of the Commonwealth conference? Tambo: I don’t think that the conference can do better than decide on strong measures to be taken against South Africa. The nations at the conference in 1985 felt very strongly about apartheid. In our view, the most effective would be comprehensive sanctions, side by side with the concept of [diplomatically] isolating South Africa totally. We don’t

know if that is likely to happen, but that is what we would expect.

Maclean’s: Do you think Canada, which imposed economic sanctions on some South African agricultural and mineral imports in 1986, is softening its position?

Tambo: We didn’t gain that impression. Mr. Mulroney still spoke in terms of strong action against South Africa—and he sounded as if he meant something stronger than the sanctions that are now in place. If anything is going to be done in the Commonwealth, we can’t look to Britain. The mantle falls on Canada, which has had a history of strong positions against apartheid.

Maclean’s: How would you answer the concerns of those who are reluctant to support the ANC because it condones violence?

Tambo: We are not doing anything others have not done. Americans took up arms against Britain. They took up arms against those who practised slavery. Other countries in southern Africa have taken up arms against racist regimes like that of [former Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian] Smith. The Mozambicans took up arms against the Portuguese. This is an

armed struggle against the worst system since Hitler. We can’t be expected to fold our arms indefinitely. The image of us being violent is being promoted, more than by anybody else, by South Africa itself. I think one can understand that against your enemy, you use anything and everything. What we do not expect

is that Western countries should give credence to this propaganda, to forget what Pretoria is. They have been saying since they came to power that anything that opposed them was Communist. Maclean’s: What are your views on the perception that you are Communistcontrolled?

Tambo: But we are not. There is no evidence to show that we are Communist-controlled, or even Communistinspired. We formed in 1912 to fight for the rights of our people, to fight for political power. There is nothing about the demand for a nonracial, democratic and united South Africa that says we are Communist-controlled.

Maclean’s: Are you seeking the violent overthrow of the white-minority regime in South Africa?

Tambo: We are fighting to end the apartheid system as quickly as possible by the most effective methods. Armed struggle is one of those, and we are saying that is not enough—we need international support. Nobody can come to us and say we should be nonviolent. That is where we started. We are fighting the apartheid system politically: with strikes, with boycotts, with armed struggle. We are fighting it even with our lives. This crime against humanity must be ended. And we are ready to make the sacrifices that that objective demands of us.&lt£>