ANC 'Military High Command' Leader Interviewed

From the "Focus on Africa" program
BBC World Service 4th July 1986

South African police today launched a campaign to fight a spate of urban bombs. There have been about a dozen bomb blasts in South African cities such as Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town - the latest today in Pretoria-since the imposition of a state of emergency 2 weeks ago. There have been a number of deaths and injuries, among them lot of civilians, particularly when a bus was bombed and the police are urging the public to be on alert. The authorities clearly believe that the bombing campaign is the work of the banned African National Congress, ANC. Joe Slovo, number 3 in the ANC's military high command, is in London. Robin White asked him if the ANC was responsible for the bombs.

Slovo -  The ANC announced that this is a year of Umkhonto we Sizwe and that it is going to step up its armed struggle in new directions and the increase in military activity is a measure of that resolution. I have no personal knowledge of each and every action which has taken place, nor whether the facts that are being divulged under the restrictive form of reporting which is coming from South Africa are correct or not. All I can say as far as the ANC is concerned, as far as the armed wing of the ANC is concerned, the policies which have in the past been announced, that we are not directing our fire against innocent civilians, remains the policy. But I believe that there is no way forward in South Africa at the moment. I wish there were, but there is no way forward in South Africa without the armed factor in the struggle. To cancel a movement like ours, to abandon it, even if it does ocassionally have blemishes, is to counsel us to submit to surrender.

White -  These are blemishes, I take it, that you regret when civilians are killed. Is that right?

Slovo -  Absolutely, regret. I think it is tragic that a situation should arise where civilians on any side are killed. But it is almost a cliche to say that it is virtually unavoidable and this isn't unique to us alone. In fact, it operated in all situations where the armed factor is used including the last war, including action by the allies.

White -  You say it is impossible to avoid, but it is easy to avoid planting bombs on buses?

Slovo - Yes, it is. We have expressed our thinking on that and I reckon you want me to repeat it, but our policy remains that we are not moving toward a new strategy in our military activities, we are not now embarking upon a campaign of terror amongst civilians.

White -  So, how much control is there by the leadership of the ANC over people who might act on the ANC's behalf inside South Africa?

Slovo -  It doesn't mean that every particular action undertaken by a unit inside the country is first authorised by a meeting of the National Executive Committee of the ANC.

White - It is not authorised...

Slovo - No movement finding itself in this stage of struggle can operate by getting authority from the leading body of the political organs for even minor action that is taken and we don't even know in the case of the actions which have publicize whether they are in fact our people. In some cases it could even be provocation by the other side in order to discredit the struggle, in order to discredit the ANC in some way.

White: Can you eventually find out which actions have been carried out by the ANC? Do you eventually find that out?

Slovo: Eventually, it is found out but it takes time especially in the conditions when communication is difficult, when the enemy is making it extremely awkward for information to come out, to go.

White: Could I ask you then what do you do if you eventually find out that ANC cadres in South Africa have [word indistinct] and placed a bomb on a bus, and killed innocent civilians? Are they disciplined or reprimanded in any way or thrown out of the ANC?

Slovo - I think there have been occasions when the ANC has expressed itself to its members on how it views some of their activities. It is 50 in every movement and it happens in the ANC. I don't think we can have a formula about what happens to people who respond out of pure emotion in the case of the recent activity. If it was our people I wouldn't condemn them publicly, I would understand why it is that they did it and I would hope that the broad policy that we all support would be pursued without these kinds of diversions.

White - But, can I ask what is a legitimate target? Is a legitimate target a police station? That is a legitimate target, is it?

Slovo - I think a legitimate target is the enemy and enemy is basically in uniform, but not all in Uniform. For example in the rural areas, our judgement is that virtually the whole farming community is part of the South African Defence Force.

White - Is it the white farming community?

Slovo - The white farming community. They are all organised into their commandos, each farm is a major communication post, they (?harmed) our people in the vicinity, they have manoeuvre. They live with their wives, they live with their children, but I believe in that case it is not acting (against) civilian targets when one acts against those people who are part of the enemy's military machine in the countryside.