The Presidential Years

As part of the work that we had to do prior to the negotiations, there was an attempt to organise what was called an ‘anti-apartheid conference’. That was before the Patriotic Front, but it was a forerunner of that negotiation, and this was before the release. We started when Valli was in detention but when he came out we worked with him. If you go to the South African History Archive you will find the papers we were writing to facilitate the debate around it. We had a very good pretext for organising it because it was at the height of the state of emergency when the other side was trying to close the space for organisation and we were trying to broaden it. We used that opportunity to consult widely, including with Bantustan leaders, like Enos Mabuza, carefully selected traditional leaders. You could see the Patriotic Front in the making. They banned the conference but the organisational and mobilising work, the consultation, was good enough to achieve the goal for which we wanted to hold the conference. We held that conference later under a different name, the Conference for a Democratic Future.

So the point I’m making is that by the time the other side released Madiba, setting the stage for negotiations, they realised that we had outflanked them because we had succeeded in dislodging many of the leaders, so-called, who would have come to the negotiating table ostensibly in their own right but on the side of the regime. They were now coming as members of the Patriotic Front, because of the work that was done. And that work was consistent with the essay Madiba wrote in prison about the strategic importance of work in the Bantustans. It must have been consistent with what we hear about the debate that comrades had in prison, it was consistent with Lusaka’s thinking, but also with the thinking of the movement internally, because the UDF experience was very useful in helping to finally anchor this idea of the Patriotic Front.

Almost to the end the other side was trying to hold on to Buthelezi. They wanted to get the dividend of the politicisation of the ethnic identity they fostered through the bantustan system. You can see the complications. There was the mythology of the Zulu-Xhosa conflict: they wanted to play that card, they really wanted to play that card. So, that’s why they would talk about a troika, De Klerk, Mandela and Buthelezi. But it backfired because the position we were taking was one which they ought to have taken, looking at things from their own perspective, which was to say that all these homeland leaders are important.

Sydney Mufamadi