Commentary Magazine


The ANC

To the Editor:

In his article, “The ANC in Its Own Words” [July], David Roberts, Jr. begins by attributing to me the view that “neither the deep antagonism” of the African National Congress to the United States nor the assistance it receives from the Soviet Union “results in a pro-Soviet attitude on international issues.” This may be a naive judgment, but it is not mine. The passage in my article in Foreign Affairs which Mr. Roberts quotes refers to the results of a survey of black South African attitudes, not to my judgment of the attitude of the ANC.

Of course, if one must categorize the ANC as either “pro-Soviet” or “anti-Soviet,” it would be “pro-Soviet.” But this is a crude characterization. It imputes unthinking motives to a national movement whose pragmatic search for international support is as wide-ranging as its non-doctrinaire search for white and black allies within South Africa. Mr. Roberts does not say that the ANC might also be labeled “pro-Western” since it seeks and receives support from Western governments and organizations, including “anti-Soviet” organizations such as the Socialist International.

Mr. Roberts is said to be “a longtime student of South African affairs,” but I have wondered whether to take his article seriously. He has strung together selected quotations of some major leaders that display familiar anti-imperialist rhetoric, some overblown praise of the Soviet Union, and appreciation for the comradeship of South African Communist allies. He discerns in all this “a deeply rooted world view” that—in words I am still puzzling over—has “no logical dependence on the injustices of South Africa’s peculiar institution” or Western policy toward South Africa. The upshot is that he has persuaded himself that “the current ANC leadership—all [sic] of it—has accepted the terminology, definitions, political program, tactics, and the entire load of ideological baggage that make up the essence of Leninism.”

In selecting other quotations, Mr. Roberts apparently believes that any statement by an ANC member or, for that matter, in the ANC’s magazine Sechaba or on Radio Freedom is necessarily ANC policy. He quotes Winnie Mandela, for example, erroneously assuming that she speaks for the ANC. Most prominently, he quotes a paean to Communism written by Nelson Mandela over twenty-five years ago but does not say that Mandela repudiated it. Nor does he quote Mandela’s well-known admiration for American and British political and legal institutions.

In Mr. Roberts’s analysis there are no doubts or imponderables. The COMMENTARY reader who read the Wall Street Journal of April 18 and 22, 1988 on the ANC would have difficulty recognizing the same movement. Nor is there any recognition of the serious discussion within the ANC in support of an entrenched bill of rights for individuals, including the right to strike, an independent judiciary, a multiparty system, and a mixed economy. One can only speculate about the possibility that this will come to pass. But Mr. Roberts ignores all evidence of such aims. “The notion of limiting government power,” he says, “. . . is utterly foreign to the ANC.”

The distorted picture of the ANC is due as much to the failure to address relevant questions as it is to simplistic notions about the ANC’s internal political dynamics inferred from quotations. What accounts for the ANC’s popularity? Why do some pro-government journalists and intellectuals accept the necessity of negotiating some day with the ANC? Why has the ANC in recent decades been restrained in the use of violence? Why did it apparently condone “necklacing” for a period while not encouraging it? What circumstances currently affect differing tendencies in the ANC’s thinking about violence?

What conclusions and inferences for policy can be drawn from Roberts’s analysis? He implies that the ANC should be excluded from any role in South Africa’s future because “its totalitarian character” makes it irredeemable. It is difficult to reconcile this perception with ANC admiration for the responsiveness of American policy to democratic pressures. For example, Thabo Mbeki, the ANC director of information, has written: “We rely on the voters to whom even such people as President Reagan owe their positions to ensure that the West participates in bringing about a democratic South Africa.”

Mr. Roberts seems to suggest that the United States should identify itself with “pro-Western black South African democrats, such as Buthelezi and Bishop Isaac Mokoena.” The former is of limited and declining appeal even among Zulus, and the latter is a popular object of derision and rejection.

More perplexing is Mr. Roberts’s claim that the ANC has an attitude of “contempt and hatred . . . for every political current in South Africa aside from itself, the SACP, and their affiliated [?] organizations.” He ignores the effort to reach out widely to whites as well as blacks and the common cause the ANC has made with organizations that do not accept its Freedom Charter. Nor does he note the phenomenon of ANC leaders meeting with a broad array of South Africans, including businessmen and Afrikaans-speaking churchmen. The ANC’s welcoming embrace has extended to representatives of the ruling party in the KaNgwane “homeland.”

Mr. Roberts’s underlying assumption is a straw man: that the ANC can be judged alone, apart from the United Democratic Front, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and other independent elements of the extraparliamentary opposition that either recognize the ANC as the head of the national-liberation movement or accept alignment with it in the interest of unity. This underlying assumption is the major unreality of an analysis that is grossly deficient in dealing with a pragmatic movement that embodies historical aspirations for democracy and is fluid and evolving.

Thomas G. Karis
New York City

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To the Editor:

Although the article by David Roberts, Jr. is an important contribution to public understanding of the African National Congress, I am perplexed by his contention that “in no intelligible sense is the ANC a front” for the South African Communist party (SACP).

In the appendix she contributed to the late Dr. Roberta Goren’s book, The Soviet Union and Terrorism (published in 1984), Jillian Becker wrote: “Today, the ANC has been so thoroughly infiltrated and taken over by the SACP that the two are virtually synonymous.” The title of this appendix is “How the ANC Became a Communist Front.”

The term “Communist front” can be reasonably and intelligibly applied to any organization that does not admit to being Communist but serves Communist purposes under effective Communist control. Good evidence that the ANC serves Communist purposes can be found both in its statements (some of which Mr. Roberts cites) and in the SACP’s recognition of the ANC as a close ally. As for the Communists’ effective control, Mr. Roberts himself suggests that they may hold as many as 19 out of the 30 seats on the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC). . . .

Indeed, given the sympathy for Communist views among the ANC’s technically non-Communist officials (a category that apparently includes the ANC’s president, Oliver Tambo), the SACP could probably exercise adequately effective control with less than a clear majority of the NEC acting under direct party orders. Thus it is disquieting that even Tom Lodge—an anti-government South African scholar who judges the ANC leniently—admitted in South Africa International (October 1985) that “about half” the NEC consisted of SACP personnel. . . .

But there is reason to fear that Communist control extends far beyond the NEC. In World Marxist Review (December 1982), the late Yusuf Dadoo, then chairman of the SACP, boasted about the “many” Communists occupying “leading posts in various sectors of the national-liberation movement.” He referred in particular to the “many” Communists in the “combat units” of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), “including their commanders.”

In a book somewhat oddly entitled The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist (published in 1984), the anti-apartheid radical Breyten Breytenbach wrote: “I have since many years given my allegiance and support to the African National Congress, . . . an organization working in alliance with several others, and in fact the pacesetter of these organizations is the South African Communist party. The SACP actually has the nerve centers of the liberation movement in its control. . . . The SACP has in its hands the secretariat of the ANC, the financial structure of the ANC, the control over the armed wing of the ANC which is called Umkhonto we Sizwe. . . . Above all the SACP has outlined and enforces the ideology by which the ANC is guided.” Breytenbach went on to admit that the SACP has been a “rigidly loyal supporter of Moscow’s foreign policy.”

The ANC’s own commitment to the Soviet bloc is suggested by the statement of its secretary-general, Alfred Nzo, that the “natural and genuine allies” of independent African nations—presumably including an ANC-ruled South Africa—are “the Soviet Union and other socialist countries” (see World Marxist Review, December 1984). This year, in its March issue, the ANC’s magazine Sechaba, printed in East Germany, published the text of a speech delivered in Moscow by Oliver Tambo on the occasion of his being awarded the Soviet Union’s “Order of Friendship among Peoples.” After proclaiming the ANC’s “strong and unbreakable ties of friendship and comradeship with the land of the Soviets,” Tambo spoke of the ANC’s and Moscow’s “shared commitment to the liberation of the peoples.” He concluded his speech with these words: “Our common victory on all fronts is assured! Thank you very much, dear comrades.”

The evidence cited here reinforces Mr. Roberts’s valuable warning about the ANC, and about the folly of Western support or admiration for that group. Further reinforcement can be found in material assembled by Keith Campbell and published in England in 1986 by the Institute for the Study of Terrorism, under the title ANC: A Soviet Task Force?

My only quarrel with Mr. Roberts arises from his objection to describing the ANC as a Communist front. It is true that Communist fronts exist largely to deceive gullible non-Communists, and the ANC is too blatantly pro-Soviet to be the ideal instrument of deception. Nevertheless, it has succeeded in deceiving many people. . . . I hope that the West’s all too numerous apologists for the ANC will not seize upon Mr. Roberts’s comment that the group is “in no intelligible sense” an SACP front, and quote it out of context to justify their enthusiasm for these anti-democratic revolutionaries.

Kenneth H.W. Hilborn
University of Western Ontario
London, Ontario, Canada

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To the Editor:

David Roberts, Jr.’s article on the African National Congress is an all too rare exposition of that organization’s real intentions. This excellent piece should be required reading for anyone in a position to affect our relations with South Africa. Our major media indulge in nebulous descriptions of the ANC which invariably avoid mention of its commitment to terrorism now and the establishment of a Leninist police state and centrally-planned economy upon taking power. . . .

John McCormack
Chicago, Illinois

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David Roberts, Jr. writes:

Thomas G. Karis has managed to raise a great many points in a short space. I shall attempt to respond to the more serious allegations.

1. Since Mr. Karis presumed throughout his Foreign Affairs article that the great majority of South Africans support the ANC, I gained the perhaps mistaken impression that he was describing the attitude of ANC supporters in the sentence which reads, in full, “Remarkably, neither the deep antagonism toward the U.S. nor acknowledgment of Soviet assistance to the ANC results in a pro-Soviet attitude on international issues.” But granting Mr. Karis this one point leaves unexplained the assertions elsewhere in his article that “the ANC historically, politically, and culturally is more attuned to the United States and the West than it is to the Soviet bloc,” that “criticism of U.S. policies does not mean . . . that an ANC-led government would be aligned with the Soviet Union,” and his palpably false remark that ANC secretary-general Alfred Nzo, who has spoken in glowing terms of the Soviet system, “does not make judgments about Soviet internal policy.”

2. Mr. Karis should be apprised that the Soviet Union itself no longer considers the Socialist International “anti-Soviet,” and for excellent reasons: among other things, the Socialist International has extended aid to a number of totalitarian movements in the Third World (e.g., the Sandinistas). So the support of the ANC by the Socialist International and by Western governments (some of which have also supported the Sandinistas), which I implicitly acknowledged in my article, proves nothing. Nor does the willingness to exploit the democratic political process of the West entail an admiration of that process, or an acknowledgment of the legitimacy of bourgeois democracy; and neither does it imply that the ANC intends to imitate Western democracy upon coming to power. As Dumi Matabane, the ANC’s Washington representative, once told an American audience, “In the future I don’t think we would like to have what you call democracy, because we have seen a lot of its weaknesses.”

3. Yes, the ANC has met from time to time with South Africans who do not endorse the Freedom Charter, but only for tactical reasons, not out of a willingness to tolerate opposition forces in a liberated South Africa. The rationale for such contacts was described in a 1969 ANC document, which declared: “[N]or must we ever be slow to take advantage of differences and divisions which our successes will inevitably spark off to isolate the most vociferous, the most uncompromising, and most reactionary elements among the whites.” But the ANC remains determined, in the words of Oliver Tambo (Kabwe address of 1985), “to vanquish the efforts of schools of thought, different from our own, to resurrect the idea of a Third Force.”

The ANC has had some not unexpected success in winning the support of radical white churchmen like Beyers Naude and Catholic Archbishop Denis Hurley, but its initiatives have had little effect on the South African business sector or on the current leadership of the liberal Progressive Federal party (PFP), despite press reports to the contrary. For example, PFP founder Helen Suzman advised the Oxford Student Union in 1986: “I don’t think you ought to bluff yourselves . . . into believing the ANC, which now demands no less than a total transfer of power, is striving for a nonracial, democratic South Africa.” As for the business leaders who met with the ANC in various African capitals, they learned to their dismay that the ANC remains determined to nationalize everything they have, which is why Gavin Relly of the Anglo-American Corporation announced over South African television (June 19, 1986): “I hold no brief for the ANC.”

4. Mr. Karis faults me for believing “that any statement by an ANC member, or, for that matter, in the ANC’s magazine Sechaba, or on Radio Freedom, is necessarily ANC policy.” In fact, I never cited an ordinary ANC member, except for the testimony of a former cadre on the Leninist character of ANC political indoctrination. I quoted Oliver Tambo more than anyone else, since he is both president of the ANC and the alleged leader of its putative moderate faction. I employed the early writings of Nelson Mandela to demonstrate that the ANC’s anti-American, anti-Western, and pro-Soviet world view goes back to the early 50′s, when the United States had little economic influence in South Africa, and could hardly be accused of being the mainstay of apartheid. I quoted Alfred Nzo because he is the ANC’s second most important official, and Chris Hani because he is the chief of staff of MK and a possible successor to Tambo. Unsigned articles in Sechaba do indeed reflect the official ANC line, and the broadcasts of Radio Freedom, the contents of which are determined by the ANC’s Department of Information and Publicity (headed by Thabo Mbeki), are a principal means of communicating with the ANC’s internal supporters. I find all of these choices eminently reasonable.

As for Winnie Mandela, although she is not an ANC official, she is perhaps the favorite ANC personality of American liberals. If I had neglected to quote from the speeches of the woman whom Senator Kennedy and other liberals have called “the first lady of South Africa,” I would probably have been accused of excluding a moderate voice.

Finally, I took care not to cite a single acknowledged Communist within the ANC leadership, in order to establish that the non-Communists within the ANC are no less committed than are the Communists to totalitarian collectivism.

5. Since Mr. Karis cannot understand how the sum of these quotations might describe a world view, let me try to explain. In the first place, the ANC routinely describes itself as a “vanguard movement”—a term that only has meaning in the argot of Leninism. It describes as “democratic” places like Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran, Ethiopia, Bulgaria, and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, giving one a pretty good idea of how it defines democracy. It uses the word “imperialism” to describe the West and the West only. According to the ANC, even Western Europeans have suffered from American imperialism in the form of the Marshall Plan which Nelson Mandela denounced as a mechanism for “gaining control of the economies of European countries and reducing them to a position analogous to that of dependencies.” The fact that during the administration of Jimmy Carter, Oliver Tambo could anoint the U.S. the successor to Nazi Germany as “the spearhead of international reaction” indicates something about the depth and virulence of the ANC’s anti-Americanism.

In the economic sphere, the ANC has declared its resolve to imitate the Stalinist policies of Angola and Mozambique in liberated South Africa. It has promised to nationalize “the big-business operations which are synonymous with this nation’s economy,” to take back the land from “the racist white farmers,” and to nationalize most of it, to politicize education, to curtail the right of free speech in the name of combating racism and fascism, and, according to ANC sympathizer Howard Barrell, to “break the existing press monopolies—perhaps by nationalization.”

This is a world view that the ANC would continue to hold if apartheid were abolished tomorrow. The United States would still be guilty of militarizing the Indian Ocean, of trying “to roll back socialism,” of perpetuating the cold war and the arms race, and of plotting nothing less than “world conquest” for the benefit of a few multinational corporations. The Soviet Union would still be, for Alfred Nzo, “the bulwark of peace, security, and happiness for all mankind,” while capitalism would still be held responsible for the misery of most of the world’s population. In the ANC’s view, the future happiness and the very survival of mankind depend upon the planetary triumph of socialism (which it believes is inevitable), and will continue to do so after South Africa is free, democratic, and liberated. This is what I meant when I said that the ANC world view had “no logical dependence on the injustices of South Africa’s peculiar institution”; so Mr. Karis can cease being puzzled.

6. Finally, Mr. Karis assails me for assuming “that the ANC can be judged alone,” rather than in the context of all political forces in South Africa. But this is only to say that I should have written about something other than the ANC. The “straw man” in question is the ANC itself as described in its own words, which Mr. Karis and others (including Roger Thurow of the Wall Street Journal) have been striving to keep obscured.

As for Kenneth H.W. Hilborn, I think his fears about the potential misuse of my article are groundless. In saying that the ANC was not a front for the South African Communist party, I merely meant that non-party ANC leaders have no sense of prior organizational allegiance to the SACP, that they are not being “manipulated,” as some critics have charged, for the very good reason that there is no need to do so, and that decisions of the ANC’s politico-military committee are not predetermined by the SACP. Even the lowest ANC cadre should have some notion of the ANC’s ideological character upon the completion of his Communist-directed political education, as Mr. Hilborn himself clearly understands.

Mr. Hilborn is, of course, correct in pointing out that the ANC has in effect served as its own front by effectively concealing its Leninist character and totalitarian intentions from many influential Westerners, as John McCormack also notes, and I thank them both for this and other interesting observations in their letters.

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