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Issue 143 - First Quarter 1996


Eighteen years later...speaking to Lucio Lara

Eighteen years ago the African Communist devoted two issues to a conversation between Joe Slovo and Lucio Lara, then Organising Secretary of the Angolan Workers Party - MPLA-PT. Lara has been, since the Angolan liberation war in which he fought in the bush, a prime ideological and moral reference for revolutionaries throughout the continent. Still a member of the Central Committee and of the People's Assembly, he has long been out of the MPLA's policy-making Political Bureau. He recently talked to British journalist Victoria Brittain about the optimism with which he and Joe Slovo had seen their common struggle for socialism in southern Africa, and sadly criticised those who have not kept the faith.

VB: You were so optimistic at the time of your interview with Joe Slovo that socialism was the natural course for Angola to take. Why was that?

LL: Yes, if I remember correctly, I had always wanted to give the impression that our "socialist" choice, so to speak, had its roots in our history. We had very simple aims which struck a chord with peasants and workers alike: to end exploitation, and to give the people, the workers, power to have control over their own lives. Socialism at that moment in time appeared the simplest solution, the most obvious way to achieve these objectives.

When we emerged from the armed struggle in the bush, we found the young people to be very enthusiastic and excited at the prospect of socialism, with its extremism. Our MPLA had come from the bush with socialist ideas, but we lacked the organisation to achieve socialism. So then we thought it would be best if our MPLA were transformed into a party. The era helped greatly here. There were so many different things going on. One even had to deal with internal coups d'etat by extremists within MPLA. There were many tendencies, many ambitions, many demands. It was a great muddle, and it was then that the party was formed.

I think that the decision was right at the time. People had strong convictions, we had a very positive ideology because of our experience of capitalism, imperialism. It was a bit theoretical, admittedly, and even the transition we had made was a bit theoretical.

Lenin had showed us in his writings how to organise the party. For the economy we had chosen Marxism. So we defined ourselves as a party open to Marxism-Leninism, for they were the two methods which, in our opinion, were most relevant for the well-being of Angola. The MPLA, which had been a movement, became a Workers Party. So we did it and worked on the these principles. Above all, we rallied peasants and factory workers.

Perhaps we moved too quickly [in terms of economic transformation], because nothing like this had happened before in the colony. There was was no experience of management, I'm talking of the workers here, I'm trying to imagine how it was for the workers, taking over the running of things when they'd never done anything like that before, many of them were illiterate, they hadn't had access to any education, least of all administrative skills. Nonetheless we had thought it was possible to turn the working masses into managers capable of running our country. Our ideas were perhaps rather ambitious. But we did succeed nevertheless in many factories. We created cooperatives which worked on very fair principles. But there were management problems throughout, this was the weak link in our plan. We were able to continue for quite a while in our work, with these principles, always trying to reinforce the power of the workers.

But whatever our internal weakness our major handicap was the external forces, which I must call evil, which were ranged against us, above all the American side and the South African side. South Africa had been preparing for a major invasion for a long time. It was able to employ Angolans each time in its objective to destroy the country. We expelled the invaders, on 27 March 1976 we managed to totally expel the South Africans, and the Zaireans too, those who came from the north.

But these people had subversive skills and they nonetheless managed again to infiltrate the country, finding ways to destroy the country's economy. The economy was the important thing, and they worked with great patience, with great skill even. Despite our victory over the invaders in 1976, the imperialist forces worked hard, they hoped to seize Luanda. They continued to work and plot the downfall of the MPLA and of the country, the People's Republic. That was work which lasted a long time, demanding great patience and tenacity of these forces. They were patient, scientific, and despite everything they managed to mobilise international opinion behind their objectives.

VB: In 1977 when you spoke to Joe Slovo, both of you were confident that you understood the problems that existed, knew that people were working against you, but nonetheless you were confident...

LL: We were confident that the people would realise and take up arms, would equip themselves with whatever means necessary - not only firearms, but dignity also. It was clear to us that the march would be unstoppable. And we weren't wrong. I remember that we used a slogan in Angola at this time: "In Zimbabwe, in Namibia, in South Africa is the continuation of our struggle." Our people enthusiastically took up this slogan, and they suffered because of it. But today we can say that we've broken the back of apartheid. Namibia has gained independence, and Zimbabwe has fared a great deal better.

VB: But at what price for Angola?

LL: It is interesting to acknowledge that it is us who have suffered the most. First of all, Portuguese colonialism was the most backward-looking. At the first suggestion of independence they were frightened and they left the country. The factory managers, the capital, it all went. For various reasons this didn't happen in other countries such as Mozambique where, at least for a time, they managed to maintain stability. Mozambique had problems later on, but they maintained their industry. In Zimbabwe, Namibia and in South Africa the businessmen remained, they didn't leave.

Our attempts to rebuild our economy were then undermined by the cancer of civil war stirred up from the outside. The international community is most responsible for the immorality of a war which they fed and promoted. Today they are forcing us to accept a peace which is phoney, and which they are imposing upon us. The people want peace and tranquility, but the peace the international community is planning is clearly very dangerous, full of traps.

Today I say very sincerely, I see that even countries like Namibia and South Africa, liberated by the blood and sacrifices of our people with other friends, even these countries do not take a correct position, fair positions on the side of those who helped them faithfully, out of a sense of principle and at great sacrifice.

VB: And how do you explain that?

LL: It's difficult to explain, but maybe it's one of life's truths. If we study history through the ages, politics has never been about good intentions and human kindness, but is always ruled by self interest - in this case the self interest of individual countries. Often the Angolans have been naive. We were innocent enough to believe that we had made sacrifices for someone and that they might make some sacrifices for us in return. When I look at South Africans, our brothers with whom we always had close ties during the time of our liberation struggle, and when they waged a ferocious war against apartheid with our support, I don't see any thanks. Our country has been destroyed because of apartheid - destroyed! But from the South African authorities there is not one word of appreciation, nothing to the effect that "the Angolans, our Angolan brothers did the most they could have done so that we could win, and break apartheid." Sadly I haven't heard anything like that.

When Namibia gained independence, I listened to Sam Nujoma's independence speech and I was very surprised because my old ally in the struggle, we were together at the time of Nkrumah with Sam Nujoma, and I was surprised because in Sam Nujoma's speech he didn't once mention the words Angola, Angolans, or thank you. No, I listened carefully.

VB: People have short memories?

LL: Yes, perhaps that's it. Perhaps it's a question of politics of convenience at any given time. Perhaps, I don't know.

VB: What about the larger powers like the Americans, the French and the British, is their attitude to the MPLA governed by their desire to have Angola's wealth, or is it ideological, due to the fact that Angola posed an ideological challenge?

LL: I see both aspects, I think. There are the morons, let's say certain authorities, the congressmen, people with a certain notoriety. They have a pathological prejudice against anything vaguely connected with communism, and they regard us as communists - which is false. I personally discussed it with them. We got on well, and they were more than once surprised at what I said, or thought, because in their eyes I was meant to have such a bad attitude. Because of their prejudices they were surprised to be dealing with very simple, human objectives without any ulterior motives. As you know our economic dealings with the US in regard to oil is most important, and we have never retaliated against US interests here because of ideological differences. We try to develop in the fairest possible way in our dealings with everyone. We don't discriminate between capitalists and socialists.

To understand our independent spirit a little...We had terrible problems with the Soviets, the MPLA, Neto, the leadership of the MPLA, we all did. We had problems every time the Russians tried to use their approach, an argument of one type or another, no matter what, to force our country to do something. We always reacted with outrage. The Soviets withdrew their support from the MPLA when we returned to Angola. We had no support from them! At this time we had managed to receive some weapons brought to Angola on a Yugoslav boat. The Portuguese were still here, there were rival freedom movements, and we had already been attacked by the South Africans in the south and from the north by the Portuguese and Zaireans. We managed to get hold of weapons from Yugoslavia, not Russia. We had no Russian support at the time. It wasn't until later when we got the support of Cuba, which we asked for, that relations with Russia improved. We've always been very independent, even with regard to our allies. The Soviets had misgivings and wanted to impose their party line on us, and we never accepted.

VB: Did Cuba also attempt to impose their ideological lines?

LL: No, I remember the Cubans as the most generous people, real internationalists. Cuban internationalism has had a very special character, very fair and generous. Even today we have Cuban students sent by Fidel to build schools for our children and orphans. Remember how we defeated the invasion of Luanda? It was with Cuban instructors, thanks to their training. We were used to guerrilla warfare, and suddenly we were having to deal with the advance of large conventional armies. The South African apartheid army was stopped by us with Cuban aid, above all strategic and tactical aid. They were stopped in Kwanza Sud and others here at Kifangondo near Luanda. The Cubans taught us to defend ourselves from types of war we weren't familiar with, we had come from the bush.

VB: But in political terms, do you think the MPLA party would have been able to react differently in the midst of all the instability in the 1970s and 80s? Is there something the party could have done to safeguard the victory of 1975? For instance, when in the early 80s the pressures began to change the nature of the party, could the party have offered more resistance to the tendencies we see now?

LL: Yes, I think so. We weren't paying a great deal of attention to the ideological problem, to the precise nature of the ideological problem. I speak of honesty, sticking to one's principles, above all, kindness, generosity. A natural militant, by definition, is generous by definition, because he's doing what he can for the people without taking personal interests into account. Maybe we should have paid more attention to this. We should have been able to prevent these personal interests, gradually, the little egos, taking over from the generosity which should be the defining characteristic of militants in a party like ours.

Now some years have passed, I look for the causes in our history of slavery and humiliation. I think that it is normal that someone with just a little responsibility would try to use that little bit of responsibility to try and improve his living conditions. I think that is human nature. (Of course I'm not speaking of top leaders, from whom I demand much more.) I can't justify it, but I understand it. I think that individual problems have become more important to people than the collective ones, and that this was when corruption leaked in. Today it is terrible, it's disastrous.

VB: But you still say that you have faith in the people.

LL: This is one of the themes I discussed with Slovo. Today, almost 20 years later, I don't have illusions about many things. In the Angolan struggle perhaps we didn't have philosophers or sociologists, but we had the words of Neto: "the most important thing is to solve people's problems." Once in the Council of Ministers I heard someone say that we should stop using this phrase. I thought maybe he was right, because no one spoke out against him. In my opinion this was when the party began to collapse. The leaders felt they all had the right to be rich. That was the beginning of the destruction of our life. Our people are suffering and no one cares. If you talk to our people, they're all suffering. No one is smiling. But there's no preoccupation with this from the leadership.

Victoria Brittain adds an update on the Angolan situation.

Three and half years after Angola's elections the country lies broken, its infrastructure destroyed, its people traumatised. The social and political crisis is deeper than at any time since independence in 1975 - 300,000 people have died in the last three years; a million children are in acute need; 750,000 people are displaced.

Unita's threat, immediately after the elections won by the MPLA, to turn the country into another Somalia, has been carried out ruthlessly. The international community, with its policy of "constructive engagement" with Unita, has legitimised Jonas Savimbi's continuing bid for power. This policy has allowed the rebel movement, despite its militarist refusal to engage in politics, to present itself as a respectable alternate power.

From UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali and the US ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright, to Graca Machel and the head of almost every aid agency in Luanda, the great and the good have travelled to Bailundo to see Savimbi, and thus helped him to establish the bush town as an alternative power base to Luanda.

Round after round of UN-brokered talks outside the country have brought the Unita leader to promise peace, the recognition of President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos as President, the demobilisation of his army, and free movement of people. But on the ground almost none of these planks of the peace process have been carried out. Resupplies for Unita's army are flown in regularly from Zaire, funded by the diamond trade and in defiance of UN Resolution 864 of September 1985.

The President's offers of the Vice Presidency for Savimbi and a number of ministerial and local government posts in a transitional government have not been taken up by Unita, but have left the country's politics in limbo. The "reconciliation" imposed by the international community has led President Dos Santos to make further significant political and military concessions to Unita (notably in the December meeting with President Clinton in Washington), which have not been matched by the other side. President Dos Santos, having very nearly lost power in Unita's post-election military offensive in 1992/3, is again in a dangerously vulnerable position.

Comrade Councillors: Consolidating and deepening our electoral victory in local government

Blade Nzimande looks at the strategic implications of the ANC's massive local government elections victory in November 1995

The landslide victory of the ANC-led alliance in the local government elections is another milestone in the deepening of democracy post-April, 1994. It marks both a quantitative and qualitative shift in the balance of forces in favour of the democratic forces in general, and the national liberation movement in particular.

It also marks another important step in the process of setting up and consolidating the structures of representative democracy in our country. This victory alone is not a consummation of substantive democratic control over our localities, but it creates an enormous opportunity for establishing truly mass based democracy in our country. It is an opportunity not to be lost. The point made in our Partys Strategy and Tactics Document in relation to the April, 1994, victory is equally valid for this victory at the local level:

It is critical that we do not squander the opportunities of the new situation with hesitation and indecisiveness, or with a complete absorption by a new elite in the enjoyment of the "spoils of office". (We need to) assum(e) full responsibility, as the ANC-led alliance for our victory and therefore governing. Hence the need to grasp the strategic significance of this victory in advancing, deepening and defending the national democratic revolution.

This victory further deprives elements of the old order of another avenue of government which they were using to block effective transformation. The sweeping out of power of the NP and the right-wing in many municipalities is a major advance in the deepening of the national democratic revolution.

This victory also lands a decisive blow against counterrevolutionary elements who were trying to use chiefs and the institution of chieftaincy to prevent democratisation at the level of the local state, and to defend class privileges accumulated under apartheid. It marks a total rejection by the people of those forces who were trying to use the new democratic order as an attempt to consolidate their class interests, as illustrated by elements within Contralesa, some of whom were so desperate that they aligned themselves with a counterrevolutionary force like the IFP.

Our success sets in place conditions for the development of a new relationship between the local state and our communities, thereby radically transforming the relationship between local government structures and the mass of the people on the ground. Thus, the strategic significance of this victory must be properly understood so that it can be translated into substantive gains. It is this success, for instance, that makes it possible to realise some of the strategic objectives of the RDP at the community level.

Lastly, though not least, the victory marks a momentous defeat for the strategy of some elements of the old ruling bloc, who had mounted a huge propaganda offensive aimed at generating disinterest amongst our people in local government. These elements claimed that there is disillusionment with the ANC because of the lack of delivery of the RDP. The capitalist print media played a leading role in this campaign of mobilising what they thought was the anger of the people against the ANC-led government in relation to the delivery of the RDP.

Our people have, for the second time in 18 months, shown their confidence in our movement not only as the champion of their national aspirations, but also as their local representative. It is a blow to our detractors who want to project us as a party interested only in accumulating power at the central level. The message of the people to the ANC-led alliance is unambiguously that it is the political force which can best relate the imperatives of national liberation to the democratisation and empowerment of communities at local level.

In order to deal with these challenges, it is important to understand the strategic objectives of our movement in this phase of the national democratic revolution. This requires that we situate local government within these overall objectives, while not losing the specificity of local government in our emerging democracy.

Locating local government within the strategic objectives of the national liberation movement

Our strategic objectives in local government should be located within the strategic objectives of the ANC, as outlined in its Strategy and Tactics Document adopted at the National Conference in December, 1994. Amongst other things, the document states that:

The strategic objective of the ANC is the transformation of our country into a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous society... It must be understood that this objective which visualises the reconstruction and development of South Africa, can be achieved only through the struggle for the completion of the total objectives of the national democratic revolution... Another objective of the national democratic revolution is the achievement of national unity...This requires among other things, that we should continue to oppose any solutions which seek to distribute political, economic and state power on the basis of race and ethnicity or which seek to distribute power among these regions. At the same time we must continue to uphold the principle and the practice of bringing government as close to the people as possible, to ensure popular participation in government (pp.5-6 - emphases added).

A few points are worth highlighting here in relation to local government. Firstly, whilst recognising the specificity of local government, its transformation must be seen within the wider context of completing the tasks of the national liberation struggle. This means that at the centre of local government transformation should be the question of addressing the racial, gender and class inequalities which are sharply expressed in the divided cities, towns and rural towns that we have inherited from the apartheid government.

Secondly, the strategic objectives outlined above point to the fact that there is no contradiction between the goals of national unity and bringing government closer to the people through lower tiers of government, particularly local government. Our enemies attempt at all times to counterpose our legitimate goals of a strong, central government with strong and mass-based local government structures. Whilst there will be tensions between various levels of government, these tensions are not necessarily unhealthy. Instead, they are a healthy expression of the unfolding struggle to attain the goals of the national democratic revolution through both strong central government and vibrant mass-participation at local level.

The strategy of parties like the National Party and the Democratic Party - as articulated, inter alia, in their local government election campaigns - is to treat the three layers of government as isolated islands. Embedded in this approach is a desire to fragment state power, as this will better enable them to consolidate their racial and class interests accumulated under apartheid, thereby frustrating the process of transformation and democratisation.

There can be no democratic, mass-based local government without the capture and democratisation of the state at national level. Similarly, there can be no effective democratisation of the central state without vibrant, mass-based democracy in the various localities in our country. This approach is not new to us; it derives from our own experiences - brilliantly captured by cde George Mashamba - in the struggle for peoples power in the 1980's:

...the dominance of the 'monolithic' notion of 'people's power' as 'the supreme controlling power in the state' which has to be seized by the people via the instrumentality of their leading organisations - the ANC and allied organisations - was superseded by a 'dispersed' notion of 'people's power' that has to be seized via the instrumentality of the various organs of people's power in each and every front of the struggle as a matter of both tactical and strategic priority... People's power is concerned with people's control of their lives in all respects - political, economic, cultural, educational, etc. - on a continuous and local basis (Mashamba 1990, pp.11-12)

It was this revolutionary perspective that gave birth to the United Democratic Front (UDF) and lent it its character of welding together localised struggles for peoples power into a generalised national offensive against the apartheid regime, under the overall political leadership of the ANC.

Given the fact that, although both the April 1994 and November 1995, electoral victories were decisive moments in the process of transferring power from the white minority to the democratic majority, these - as the Strategy and Tactics Document says (in relation to the former) - are "not a complete transfer of power" (p.6). Electoral victories on their own do not mark the transfer of power, decisive as they are in qualitatively shifting the balance of power in favour of the democratic forces. There is, therefore, no need to shift from this revolutionary perspective, despite this new era of local government.

Key strategic challenges in local government

Despite this, our victory presents us with new challenges. For the first time, the movement is in charge of hundreds of town and city councils. Whilst the transitional structures gave us an entry into these, the new councils present a completely new situation, to which we have to provide leadership.

The key challenges facing us should be located against the background of the character and tasks of the current phase of the national democratic revolution. Again, the ANCs Strategy and Tactics provides the necessary guideline and starting point:

The main contradiction of this phase is the yawning political, economic and social disparities based on race and ethnicity which were created and consolidated by apartheid rule over the years. It is for this reason that the main content of this phase continues to be the all-round political, economic and social emancipation of the black majority in general and the African people in particular... The main motive forces of the democratic transformation are primarily the African workers and the African rural poor... These forces are also represented by black workers in general... These are the forces which possess the best political and ideological potential to lead and defend the process of transformation... At the same time we must recognise the fact that there is social differentiation (within) these black masses which at times will lead the various strata and classes to express different aspirations and pursue separate objectives. While continuing to strive to represent the black people as a whole, the movement must however ensure that, at all times, and in the first instance, it represents the interests of the workers, rural masses and the middle strata, those who represent the majority of the people of this country (p.7).

The key challenges and tasks require - within this characterisation - an accurate understanding of how the local balance of forces are shifted to favour the most thorough democratisation and transformation.

Democratisation and transformation

The first task of the new local government structures is substantive democratisation of the local state. The strategy of our enemies at the local level would be to turn the electoral victory into a formal and not a substantive victory, by attempting to simply fit our councillors into existing structures. Transformation should principally include the transformation of local government bureaucracies. For instance, experience at the national level shows that elements of the old ruling bloc, by virtue of their preponderance in strategic decision-making positions in these bureaucracies, are attempting to draw a rigid distinction between the "civil service" and the ministries as political structures. This is aimed at entrenching the old bureaucracy and minimising the impact of transformation in the bureaucracy. There is no reason to believe that such struggles will not be waged at the local level; thus, we have to ensure, amongst other things, the restructuring of bureaucratic offices (such as town clerks, and so on) so that they serve the democratic project. This should entail re-examining the relationship between local bureaucracies and elected councillors, and ensuring that those bureaucracies implement the political programme of the councils.

In undertaking the process of democratisation and transformation of apartheid local councils, a proper assessment and understanding of the class forces in each locality, their various interests, and their stance in relation to the key tasks of creating new cities and towns will be required. There are class forces that have used the apartheid local state as a basis for accumulation and building patronage networks. Other class forces will attempt to use the opportunity of democratisation at the local level as a site for strengthening their class interests at the expense of the working class and rural poor. The task is, therefore, to ensure that the transformation process is driven by those forces placed by our movement as the leaders in this transformation process - in particular the working class.

Local government and the implementation of the RDP

The overarching task of the new local government structures is the implementation of the RDP. As a movement, we have identified transformed local government as a crucial instrument and link in the implementation of the RDP. However, what has not been adequately discussed is the concrete meaning of this. Each local authority must undertake, without delay, a process of prioritisation and preparation for the most thorough implementation of the RDP. Of tactical and strategic importance is the creation of broad-based RDP Forums at local level, and strengthen those already in existence. The small areas within which local government structures operate make them amenable to the development of comprehensive local RDP programmes and a movement towards their speedier implementation.

Struggles around the meaning and implementation of the RDP in local government will be similar to those at the national and provincial levels, although sharper, since it is here that we have to concretely deal with the legacy of apartheids divided localities with their inequalities manifested through group areas. Capital and other forces of the old order are on an offensive to give the RDP a meaning suitable to their own interests, whilst rhetorically claiming to share with the democratic movement a progressive interpretations of the RDP. We must not be fooled by this. This requires an accurate characterisation of local class forces, whilst simultaneously being guided by the character and tasks of the present phase of the national democratic revolution. The movement must take a leadership role in uniting as wide a range of class and social forces as possible without losing sight of the class distinctions both within the democratic forces themselves and in the broader local communities. Underpinning this should be the creation of new, unified, non-racial cities, towns and rural authorities.

Within the overall objective of implementing the RDP, the new local government structures are well-placed to give a major boost to the Masakhane campaign, although this campaign must be broadened without deviating from its main goal. It must not be seen narrowly or negatively as a "pay up" campaign, but rather as a campaign to rebuild our localities, at the centre of which is the question of payment for services. In this sense, paying up will be linked concretely to the reconstruction and developmental objectives of the RDP at the local level.

Democratising the countryside

Another key task facing our new local government structures is the democratisation and transformation of the countryside. This relates particularly to the new rural local authorities. The countryside in South Africa is where the most scandalous legacies of apartheid - poverty, exploitation and gross underdevelopment - are to be found. Specifically facing the new rural local authorities is the question of land redistribution and the development of appropriate mechanisms to bring on board the farmers and chiefs to the democratic process. The success of the rural structures of local government will hinge on progress made in making land accessible to the landless. It is, in other words, the effective taking up of the clarion call by the Minister of Land Affairs, Cde Derek Hanekom, for local authorities to form viable land committees to expedite land reform.

Of critical importance in the rural areas is the incorporation of chiefs into the democratic structures without undermining the elected representatives. The translation of constitutional and legislative provisions on the role of chiefs into a workable arrangement will be fraught with problems, thus requiring a focused and systematic strategy. In particular, the movement n