Draft as at 24 June 2008

Document Sample
Draft as at 24 June 2008 Powered By Docstoc
					                      A Time for War and a Time for Peace
                                                                 By Ronnie Kasrils

          (Memorial lecture for Job Tabane aka Cassius Maake)


When is revolutionary violence appropriate? Talk about being prepared to take
up arms and to kill by some members of the ANC-led Alliance and other more
thinly-veiled threats keep arising. As we pay homage to comrade Job Tabane,
whose nom de guerre was Cassius Maake, let us examine what drove this patriot
to join Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and give his young life for our freedom.

Tabane was born on 6 December 1942 in Maile village near Rustenburg. His
father was a migrant labourer and his mother a domestic worker so he was well
acquainted with the conditions of privation, toil and racist abuse faced by the
African masses. He was a keen scholar, whose political awareness led to his
interest in the liberation struggle whilst still at school. He initially joined the PAC
but soon sought-out the ANC. Events such as the forced removals under the
Group Areas Act which directly affected his family, the Sharpeville massacre and
Rivonia Trial informed his decision to join MK when the conditions to take up
arms arose. He excelled in the military training he received in the Soviet Union in
1965 and went on from strength to strength.

By the age of twenty-two, Job Tabane’s character and personality was ingrained
with a toughness and determination beyond his years. His devoted and
disciplined service in the ranks of ANC, MK and South African Communist Party
(SACP), earned him the widespread respect of peers and leadership alike, as
was evidenced by his promotion to senior posts in the upper echelons of the
liberation movement over the years.

These positions carried huge responsibility, and included amongst others serving
on Radio Freedom in Tanzania; being appointed Chief Representative in Angola,
where he opened the ANC office in 1976 and MK training camps; Deputy
Secretary to the Revolutionary Council in 1978; Chief of Ordinance (weapons
acquisition and distribution) on MK’s High Command from 1983; and his election
to the ANC National Executive Committee at the Kabwe Conference in 1985.
These were all well-earned positions following years of outstanding service and
bravery, where he spent many perilous periods in South Africa’s neighbouring
states: clandestinely delivering weapons, setting-up MK units, recruiting
personnel, giving guidance, political education and leadership. He served a term
of imprisonment with Joe Modise in Botswana on a weapons charge. ANC
President, Oliver Tambo managed to secure their release after six months.

Comrade Tabane was always willing to take the necessary risks in the face of
great personal danger. As is well known, in 1987, whilst on a mission in
Swaziland, apartheid agents finally caught up with him, when assassins from
Eugene de Kock’s infamous Vlakplaas command ambushed him and comrade
Peter Sello Motau – aka Paul Dikaledi – gunning them down in cold blood. The
enemy chose the targets well for they had recognised in the two, the
revolutionary qualities that the apartheid regime feared. They were given heroes
funerals. Comrade Job’s body was brought back to South Africa from Lusaka by
his family for re-burial in Rustenburg in June 2008, bringing an end to his long
absence from home and the long wait of his loved ones. Our solidarity and
eternal gratitude go out to his beloved family – his aged mother Mme Sedialapa,
his wife Thokozile (MK name Nozipo Madisane), daughter Phakiso and son
Karabo of whom he would be so very proud and who are a credit to him. Fittingly
the North West Premier has renamed a Rustenburg hospital after him.

It goes without saying that the democracy we enjoy today is a product of the
sacrifices made by those such as comrades Job Tabane and the young Peter
Motau. We re-bury Job Tabane at a challenging time where the unity of our

movement has been subject to severe strain, where we see unprecedented and
disgraceful incidents of rudeness, intimidation, ill-discipline and even senseless
violence so unfortunately on display in conferences and at public gatherings.
Such behaviour has been evidenced in the wider arena of protests and strikes
involving the trashing of public property and even shocking killings. Criminal
activity and corruption has made life cheap in a country where foreigners have
been shamelessly attacked. In circumstances where our country is beset by
growing levels of murder and gun-crime it is astonishing that some comrades
irresponsibly encourage the glamourisation of violence. This merits, by way of
comparison, to ask: What motivated the likes of comrade Job Tabane to take up
arms? How did his generation judge that revolutionary violence was appropriate
in their time? What can we learn from them about our conduct and choices

Why did Job Tabane take up arms?

Let us begin by examining the question within a broad international context.
Historically, revolutionary armed struggle has generally been undertaken in civil
war; resistance to foreign invasion and occupation; in struggles against
dictatorships; where a government becomes increasingly oppressive or for
reasons of people’s self-defence. Its appropriateness is commensurate with
conditions where peaceful change is impossible, as embodied in the admission
of none other than United States President John F Kennedy who argued ‘those
who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable’. Such
cases include the American and Russian civil wars against reactionary classes;
the response of the Allies to Hitler’s aggression; the resistance movements of
Nazi-occupied countries; the Vietnamese struggle against French colonialism
and later American occupation; Cuba’s struggle against the Baptista dictatorship;
various anti-colonial struggles across the length and breath of our continent and
the world. These can be characterised as just wars against foreign invasion or

It was the imposition of a repressive racist regime in our own country that led to
the establishment of MK, prompting Job Tabane’s decision to engage in armed
struggle. This decision did not derive from a lust to kill, to see blood on the floor,
out of reckless adventurism or the glorification of the gun, but rather because our
people were prepared to lay down their lives when they saw that there was no
other choice open if we were to overthrow apartheid.

Decades of non-violent resistance

Indeed, in the early years of the ANC’s existence, protest actions were confined
to legal methods that encompassed petitions, representations and deputations,
all of which, helped conscientise our people. In the words of Chief Luthuli: ‘In so
far as gaining citizenship rights and opportunities for the unfettered development
of the African people, who will deny that thirty years of my life have been spent
knocking in vain, at a closed and barred door’1. How well he was vindicated in

From 1949 onwards - influenced by the international victory over fascism; the
development of anti-colonial movements; the ever-growing mood of resistance
amongst our people – the liberation movement shifted gear, adopting more
militant direct action and mass mobilisation. These methods included boycotts,
strikes, stayaways and civil disobedience against unjust laws, which was the
central feature of the Defiance Campaign of the 1950s.

Space for non-violent action closed

It was only by 1960, with state repression reaching an all time high - following
Sharpeville and the banning of the ANC and other organisations – that the
necessity for armed action became clear. In this context the legal space for non-

    Chief Luthuli, 1952

violent, extra-parliamentary protest, that had been progressively narrowed over
the years, effectively closed. Non-violent methods having been virtually
exhausted, the conditions for armed struggle had emerged.

Notwithstanding this need, the decision to take up arms was not one entered into
lightly or recklessly. Rather it was subject to a long, difficult, intense and well-
reasoned debate, because as MK’s first Commander-in–Chief, Nelson Mandela
reminds us: ‘This was a fateful step. For fifty years, the ANC had treated non-
violence as a core principal, beyond question or debate. Henceforth, the ANC
would be a different kind of organisation. We were embarking on a new and more
dangerous path, a path of organised violence, the results of which we did not and
could not know’2.

Despite these uncertainties, in arguing for the need to review our position on
non-violence, the leadership explained how the regime had left the liberation
movement with no choice but to resort to armed activity to counter apartheid
brutality. They reasoned that it would be wrong and immoral to allow our people
to be subject to state violence, without providing them with an alternative. They
argued that people’s justified violence would inevitably occur, as was already
happening in certain areas, where communities were beginning to defend
themselves in the face of increased state repression. A century earlier Karl Marx
had analysed how the violence of an oppressive state gave rise to the increasing
resistance of the masses, and how this interaction created higher levels of
revolutionary organization and sacrifice as the spiral of repression and resistance
intensified, ripening revolutionary options.

Launch of MK

It was in such a context that MK was launched on 16 December 1961, with a
series of attacks against government installations. Whilst conditions in South

    Nelson Mandela, Long Walk To Freedom,1994

Africa did not favour the development of a fully-fledged guerilla struggle, its
operations were inspirational in reinforcing the political mass struggles of our

MKs founding Manifesto declared: ‘It is…well known that the main national
liberation organisations…have conducted themselves peaceably at all times…
they have done so because the people prefer peaceful methods of change to
achieve their aspirations without the suffering and bitterness of civil war. But the
people’s patience is not endless. The time comes in the life of any nation where
there remain only two choices: submit or fight. That time has now come to South
Africa. We shall not submit and we have no choice but to hit back…in defence of
our people, our future and our freedom…We hope - even at this late hour – that
our first actions will awaken everyone to a realisation of the disastrous situation
to which the Nationalist Party is leading…before matters reach a desperate state
of civil war…’.3

It is unfortunate that it took the regime 29 wasted years to come to its senses and
agree to talk!

Supremacy of politics

In undertaking armed struggle, MK soldiers like Job Tabane, were subject to very
strict principles, discipline and training in the conduct of war. Tabane’s Soviet
instructor used to quip that ‘revolution was not rock and roll’ in order to stress
how serious the business of armed struggle was. He would mock the Maoist
personality cultists of that time who behaved as though emotive calls from a
soap-box could rouse the masses to armed revolt. As such MK was a highly
organised and disciplined force.

    MK Manifesto, 16 December 1961

From its very inception, MK stressed the supremacy of politics over the military,
where MK placed itself under the direct guidance of the ANC, which meant that:
‘the political leadership [had] primacy over the military…[and] our military line
[derived] from our political line’.4 It is important to point out that an armed struggle
conducted without clear political leadership, goals and discipline invariably
descends into anarchy and itself can become a parasitic monster pitted against
the masses. Lenin particularly stressed that without high moral principles -
socialist principles - guerilla warfare would descend into banditry.

There are many examples in history of this, such as Pol-Pot’s terror regime in
Cambodia; FARC in Columbia whose guerrilla activities have come to rest on
drug manufacture and smuggling; the exploitation of populist brigades such as
Maoist Red Guards during China’s personality cult in the 1970s, where wide-
spread thuggery was utilized in the name of the revolution.

Every MK combatant was required to have a clear understanding of ANC policy
in respect of what we were fighting for and who the real enemy was. They were
clear they invoked a peoples’ cause; not a personal agenda of some war-lord or
individual leader. Our military activities did not exist in isolation but rather were
specifically directed to reinforce the mass resistance of our people in pursuit of
our political objectives.

As highlighted in our Military Code: ‘Umkhonto is a people’s army fighting a
people’s war. We fight to liberate our… people. We fight for their interests…We
fight…not by armed struggle alone, but first and above all by political education,
leadership and mobilisation…[ours] is a people’s war because the struggle is to
win the active support and participation of all who resist oppression…and

    MK Military Code, June 1985

Moral high ground

Because we insisted on the primacy of politics, we adopted a controlled
approach to our armed activities. Combatants were taught to ensure that the
moral high ground occupied by the liberation movement was as far as possible
maintained in the theatre of battle and in our choice of targets. Throughout our
existence we invariably sought to avoid civilian casualties, despite the difficult
conditions in which we operated. Our struggle was against an oppressive system
and not against whites as such. We directed our fire at the institutions of
apartheid, its security forces and those reactionary functionaries that served it
and not at a community or ethnic group or to settle personal scores.

Notwithstanding the difficulties confronting us, this principled approach to armed
struggle was consistently asserted by the leadership, as reflected in a statement
by Oliver Tambo in 1987. In commenting on those few instances where our
operations had run counter to this policy, where bombs were placed in
restaurants, Tambo stated that MK: ‘must continue to distinguish itself from the
apartheid death forces by the bravery of its combatants, its dedication to the
cause of liberation and peace, and its refusal to act against civilians, both black
and white’6.

Fighting for life

MK consistently countered the glorification of militarism, where we emphasized
that the gun was a tool to bring freedom and justice for all. Although we sang:
‘Hamba kahle Umkhonto…bulala amabuna’ (go well Umkhonto…kill the boers)
we explained, as mentioned earlier, that we were referring to a system and the
soldiers who upheld it, and not a race group; in other words we were fighting a
system not a skin colour. When it is sung today it is in the context of the burial of
MK combatants or at appropriate reunions and the refrain goes: ‘Thina sisimisele

    ANC January 8 Statement, delivered by OR Tambo, 1987

ukuphila nawo amabhunu’ (we are prepared to live with the boers). And that
implies living together in peace and harmony.

There is a scene from the film ‘To Catch a Fire’ which is about MK. As comrades
in a camp complete training their commander starts a chant: ‘Are you prepared to
kill?’ To this they respond in rising crescendo: ‘We are prepared to kill, to kill, to
kill!’ This was however never a slogan for MK. MK cadres were quietly spoken
about the need to bravely face death should such a moment arise. What was
stressed was that we fought for life. Whilst the Western media call the AK47 a
weapon of death, we referred to it as a weapon of liberation and peace, which is
exactly what it achieved in Angola, Guinea Bissau, Mozambique, Namibia,
Vietnam, Zimbabwe and South Africa, amongst others.

Why I am prepared to die

Whatever the notions of romantic heroism invoked in a just cause, anyone who
has participated in war and its agony and suffering will know that peace is to be
cherished and a call to arms not toyed with. Indeed, this was emphasized by
Nelson Mandela, at the Rivonia trial, when he explained the ideals for which he
was prepared to die: '... During my lifetime I have cherished the ideal of a
democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and
with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But
if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die7.'

Note, he did not state that there were ideals for which he was ‘prepared to kill’,
but rather ‘why I am prepared to die!’ There is a vast difference in these two
formulations which need to be frankly and honestly debated because often we
may carelessly choose words on the spur of the moment that we may later come
to regret. I am sure most of us have fallibilities in this regard, and it is not just a
question of ones particular language or culture. The statement ‘I am prepared to

    Nelson Mandela, Statement from the dock, Rivonia Trial, 1964

kill’ has an ugly murderous ring, is hugely threatening and begs the question:
exactly who is the speaker out to eliminate? In contrast, being prepared to die for
a just cause expresses the highest level of morality and sacrifice for the noble
ideals of justice and freedom.

Prominent figures in history have made similar declarations to Mandela’s.
Consider the Irish patriot Wolfe Tone’s statement from the dock in 1798 in
Dublin, prior to being sentenced to death: ‘From my tenderest youth I have
considered union of Ireland with Great Britain as the scourge of the Irish nation.
And that the people of this country can have neither happiness nor freedom
whilst that connection endures…I have courted poverty; I have left without a
protector a beloved wife; and without a father, children whom I have adored. To
such and to so many sacrifices, in a cause which my conscience still tells me
was a just one, I have little difficulty now to add that of my life’.

John Brown, famous abolitionist, executed for his role in attempting to lead a
violent rebellion against slavery in America, declared at his trial in 1859: ‘Now, if
it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furthering of the ends of
justice, and mingle my blood…with the blood of millions in the slave country
whose rights are disregarded…I say let it be done’.

The dangers associated with ‘we will kill’

These are noble and selfless sentiments, eloquently expressed in pursuit of a
just cause and the antithesis of the murderous ring of ‘we will kill’. In respect of
comrades who might err in the choice of words, I would like to believe that a
statement such as possessing a conviction for which one is ‘prepared to kill’
might in fact have been meant in terms of Mandela’s ideals for which he stated
he was prepared to die. But then of course one need justify the merit of those
convictions, as Mandela so conscientiously did at the Rivonia trial.

There is, after all, a need to identify whom we would want to eliminate and the
reasons why. Is it the state functionaries responsible for investigating and
prosecuting alleged crimes? Would it be the judges presiding at trials or is this a
threat aimed at fellow comrades allegedly part of a monstrous conspiracy? There
is a time for war and a time for peace. Why the need for such astonishing violent
threats in a constitutional democracy such as ours? In a democratic South Africa
all are equal before the law and criminal allegations can be fairly tested in the
courts. There are ample peaceful and legal processes for correcting wrongs.

When such confusion is sown there is the danger that the space may be
exploited by forces bent on dividing the revolution and setting comrades against
each other. Israeli intelligence has done just this in fomenting civil war between
Hamas and Fatah and in Lebanon’s long troubled history. The example of so-
called ‘black-on-black’ violence and third force activities in our own country in
1976 and between the years of 1989-1994, should remind us of the dangers. The
recent eruption of violence against African ‘foreigners’ in our midst, shows how
prone sections of the marginalized masses can be to intemperate language and
how irresponsible it is to bandy war-talk about.

There are impressionable young minds that take the rhetoric very seriously and
who do not easily distinguish between a figurative sentiment and a literal
statement. So the threats and incitement get ratcheted-up by degrees; soon
blows are exchanged and stabbings and shootings becomes the order of the
day, ostensibly around leadership squabbles. In such a volatile situation
unsubstantiated and inflammatory accusations of conspiracy and counter-
revolution rapidly gain currency and provide fertile ground for the agent
provocateur – keenly watching from the shadows to take advantage of our
weaknesses. This is the danger of the unbridled rudeness seen at the ANC’s
Polokwane Conference last year, which shocked the country and has spread to
provincial conferences.

The decision to lay down our arms

Clearly the decision to embark on armed struggle in 1961 was appropriate, given
the context of the time. It was undertaken only as a last resort, in a principled and
disciplined manner, after very careful consideration when all peaceful means of
struggle had been exhausted. This is precisely why we agreed to lay down our
arms during the transition process in 1990, because we had reached the stage
where the regime finally agreed to talk, opening up the possibility for the peaceful
road to change.

As such, today we no longer need to resort to force or violence to sacrifice our
lives or to kill for our ideals. In our democracy there are peaceful means to
resolve   differences   and    achieve   legitimate   objectives.   The    necessary
constitutional, legislative, judicial and institutional mechanisms exist to enable the
people or any section of our society to take up grievances or promote their
interests in a lawful and peaceful manner, be it through legitimate protest,
parliament, the courts or elections. We live at a time where we need to do
everything we can to enable our people to enjoy peace, security and the material
and spiritual development the Freedom Charter promises.

Fourteen years down the line, the central task confronting us is to ensure that we
continue to mobilise our people in disciplined efforts to defend, consolidate and
advance our hard-won freedom and democracy, as enshrined in our country’s
Constitution. It was for this that Job Tabane and so many others laid down their
lives: Vuyisile Mini, Flag Boshielo, Basil February, Solomon Mahlangu, Ruth
First, Dulcie September, Steve Biko, Barney Molokwane, Hector Petersen,
Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge, Chris Hani amongst them.

We need to emulate the qualities of those martyrs. We also need to frankly
acknowledge that we have witnessed their noble legacy being undermined by the
alarming incidents of senseless violence, intimidation, and ill-discipline referred

to. It is our morality that sustained us during the dark and difficult days, which we
must jealously safeguard if we are to successfully strengthen and renew our unity
in action for the demanding challenges that lie ahead.

It is for this reason that ANC President, comrade Jacob Zuma’s, call for discipline
and unity is so important: ‘…we are constantly being subjected to some shocking
behaviour…which is alien to the conduct of members of the ANC …such
behaviour cannot be accepted… [we] must ensure that…it is condemned in the
strongest possible terms…we have a constitutional obligation and responsibility
to protect…the integrity…of our glorious movement’. 8

ANC Deputy President, comrade Kgalema Motlanthe was unambiguous in
condemning the ‘I am prepared to kill’ rhetoric, which is so incongruous and
harmful to our democratic order. It is incumbent upon us to educate our members
about our values, traditions and culture, as part of the broader programme of
unity, organisational renewal and action, which we adopted at Polokwane and
previous conferences.

Leadership - at all sites and at all levels of our liberation movement - has a
special responsibility in this regard. We cannot only ‘talk the talk’, but more
importantly we must lead by united action and example; resolutely demonstrating
our commitment in both word and deed. It is these values that comrades like Job
Tabane embodied in their character and conduct, which we are duty-bound to
emulate. We owe it to his proud memory; we dare not let him and our other
martyrs down. That is the best way to respect their ultimate sacrifice.


May I conclude by referring to some of Job Tabane’s many admirable qualities,
which I believe are relevant for us today. It is said that dynamite comes in small

    Jacob Zuma, Address to June 16 Rally 2008

packages. Whilst comrade Tabane was diminutive in build, he radiated a quiet
inner strength, born of his convictions. Comrades liked to refer to him as ‘the
quiet giant’.

It is also said that still waters run deep and whilst Tabane was a man of few
words, people listened when he spoke, because his arguments were informed
and well-reasoned, where he chose his words very carefully; making his points in
a clear and unambiguous manner. He thought before he spoke.

All his actions were theoretically grounded, based on firm principle and
revolutionary morality. He was an extremely honest person and could always be
trusted with the funds provided for underground responsibilities, and he
scrupulously accounted for every last cent. He lived his life in a very modest,
undemonstrative way, was morally upstanding in his conduct and always
controlled his behaviour, although he could be fun to be with. He never drank
alcohol, nor did he smoke, which says something about his restrained qualities.

He was a loyal husband, a good father, a devoted son, where despite the
pressure of his political work he always found time to take care of his family in a
loving and caring manner. They enjoyed quality time with him. He respected
others and treated all with dignity, male and female alike.

He believed firmly in the value of education and always sought to upgrade his
own skills and development as well as those of his comrades, many of whom he
taught to read and write. This was particularly evident in the way he became a
mentor to the young rural recruits from the Zeerust area, who were illiterate when
they joined MK at the time he did. Whilst training in the Soviet Union he became
their interpreter and tutor, encouraging them to make great strides in their

He was a teacher, a well-rounded revolutionary, a multi-dimensional human-
being. It goes without saying that he was courageous, hardworking and
disciplined and could always be counted upon to defend and uphold the unity of
the movement. Comrade Job Tabane, our unforgettable Cassius Maake, is a true
role model; his qualities, life, conduct, nature and character provide an extremely
fitting example for our youth and indeed for all of us to follow. Glory to him and
his memory!

Note: This lecture was delivered at the invitation of the Gauteng Political
Education and Training Unit, June 25, 2008


Shared By:
Tags: Draft, June, 2008
Description: Draft as at 24 June 2008