25/3/98, Cape Town
interviewed by Rupert Taylor and Adam Habib
Habib: We generally start off with the question of trying to get people’s own conceptions of what they feel the conflict was about in South Africa, and who they think the major protagonists were. Partly because we see a kind of correlation between what people’s views are, and assessments of the NGO movement are. So, why don’t we start with that: what do you think the conflict is all about between 1976 and 1990, and who do you think the major protagonists were in the South African conflict?
Alexander: Well, the capitalist class and the working class, obviously, and different strata of the working class, with the major...from black workers, mostly urban but not only, also rural. And the fact that black middle class leadership of the liberation struggle eventually joined hands with the white capitalist class - I am deliberately using these terms - was not just predictable, but predicted - unless we organize working class, specifically the black workers, who would have been able to become a hegemonic force, which as we know failed. That didn’t happen. And that has global as well as domestic reasons. But essentially that’s the short answer, the actual dynamics are, of course, much more complex.
Habib: Would you conceive the conflict as having taken the form of a ‘war’? There is a lot of literature that describes the type of conflict in South Africa as being a racial war, or so much of a class war...
Alexander: Well, I don’t think one can actually separate these things out. I think these are all concepts that are necessarily integrated, part and parcel of, they are more dimensions than categories if they wish, so that then one could saying...social complex of forces and factors, so in that sense...it certainly wasn’t a ‘race war’, certainly not in intention, nor or in fact in some of its manifestations, but you had ‘class war’ undoubtedly - which had very strong racial overtones necessarily because of the economy. And as such the issue of racism, racial prejudice, will continue obviously to play a role in this country, and is in fact a major aspect of the so-called ‘transition’...
Habib: How would you have conceptualized ‘peace’ in the South African context? or a settlement in the South African context? What would your...
Alexander: A revolutionary victory of the working-class, that would have brought about the sort of peace I would have desired. That was made impossible by, as I say, both global and domestic class as well as organizational developments.
Habib: Let us move slightly to your own contribution...you have a long history as an NGO activist; from Sached Trust to...
Alexander: From Robben Island actually..
Habib:...so could you give us a quick survey of what kind of organizations..
Alexander: Forward education, adult education, and that’s why I said Robben Island - because that’s where I actually started teaching adults for the first time in my life, before that I’d been a teacher at a high school and at university. And it was on Robben Island that I actually in a very empirical way learned about how adults learn, just how concrete one has to be, you know, purposeful - and it was always linked to political education, sowing doubt in people’s minds, for me that was always the most important thing to sow doubt, to make people ask questions. And yet my entire practice and most of my theoretical bias has been towards theorists and practitioners who had that approach, whether it’s Paulo Friere, Illich, or whoever...you know, lots and lots of different people. But in my emphasis and of course most of the period afterwards, after my house arrest, I spent with Sached until 1986/87, then I did work mainly with Hewssa Trust, formed a lot of different organizations - really in order to underpin some of the political work that I was doing at the time, at that stage. And since 1990 I’ve been of course working at this place [Palesa, UCT], on this basis, on this space - which is still, it’s no longer adult education in a technical sense, it’s much more research, but it does involve teacher training, teacher education, so to that extent it’s also... Yeah, and that always seemed... if I may say so, as part and parcel of the overall strategy of sowing doubt, and creating a base for political organization.
Taylor: To what extent do you think you have made a difference through doing that?
Alexander: Well if I had to...it’s difficult for me to say actually. I think other people should answer that question. But if I had to go by what people say about me, and the way people refer to me - both negatively and positively - I mean I’ve had a major impact, to be quite frank [laughter]. You know, as I say, I really can’t myself...I think..just last month, for example, somebody said to me - and this person is now advisor to the Minister of Land Affairs - he said to me ‘You know, that if you hadn’t organized the African History resource group at Sached in 1982 or whenever it was, 81-82, I didn’t think I would have been sitting in this position today’, and this is not a person who shares my political view at all. And many, many... people who have come to play a major role, including people who are now in Ministerial positions, Valli Moosa, Dullah Omah, you name them. All people like that somehow have interacted with me, have been influenced by me. And from time to time still call me now and then for advice. So, in that sense...as I say I think it is difficult for me to gauge, but I do think that there are some objective indicators.
Taylor: What were the kind of techniques you used to ‘sow seeds of doubt’? How did you do that? Was it easy to do that or was it difficult?
Alexander: Well, I think there are two sides to that. The one is the objective historical movement and historical situation which made people open to doubt, because they were questioning the system, necessarily as it were. And therefore it was fairly straightforward, relatively easy in most cases, not in all cases but in most cases, to say that, to pose the question you know do you think this could have a different meaning? do you think there is another way of looking at this? is that the only angle of vision that we can have? - that was always my approach, regardless of what the issue was that we were looking at, or the concept that we were trying to analyze - it was always that approach and in most cases, it was basically a dialectic approach, in most cases people themselves came out with suggestions with what it could be like, you know, and in that sense it was similar I would say - and I didn’t learn it from him, but later on confirmed - it was very similar to the sort of Paulo Friere code type of usage in adult education you see. You take something that people are familiar with and then on that basis you get them to start asking questions, you know: where does this come from? who invented the word? you know, etcetera, etcetera. And why do you think people are called ‘Kaffirs’? or whatever, you know, why did it come to have the meaning it has? you know, and so on. Lots and lots of things like that. And then a favourite technique of mine was to use the argument of science, in the sense that when you discuss racism, you know, I would simply draw peoples attention to the fact that there’s lots and lots of research and scholarly work that had demonstrated that race is not a valid biological entity, and then leave them to think about why race is such a salient factor in South African society. I mean that way, you know, because people usually were not having access to the information, because of the way in which we were educated, you know - except for most let’s say then white academics, university people and some blacks, people simply didn’t have access to that kind of information.
Taylor: You don’t think there were many people doing what you were doing?
Alexander: Not in the same way. Not in the same way. I think that in the Union movement certainly the labour activists, labour educators, I think were doing basic things... but I would argue that they started from fairly obvious clear models that they had taken from elsewhere, Europe mainly but also I think from Paulo Friere and so on - which of course BC [Black Consciousness] Movement also did - I mean they were very strongly influenced by that. And although people located us more closer to BC, the BC Movement, in actual fact I think we not only straddled that sort of divide - BC Movement and Union Movement.. - not only straddled that divide but I think that we were in some way slightly beyond them.
Taylor: But were intellectually did your own view come from? I mean did it come from studying overseas, did it come from your experiential reality of the South African situation, how did you arrive at it?
Alexander: Well, I think it was the entire complex. I was very strongly influenced by European Marxism, specifically by Trotskyism. Rosa Luxemburg played a very important role in my life, I mean she has written some wonderful stuff on exactly this question. Trotsky and Luxemburg I would say were the most important. And later on I started understanding chaps like Gramsci, in order to say we don’t need them, also influenced my way of thinking quite a lot, both politically and educationally, culturally. But a lot of it was also sort of plain native common sense I think, you know, just because it gave you a view of people, and you had a feel for people, and you had a genuine sense of wanting to help, to transform things, and also a genuine commitment to getting people themselves provided into doing things themselves but to do it for them, one of the things that Trotsky sort of taught us was that whole thing of substituting for a class and so on, is a major trap...because people become impatient, frustrated and so on.
Taylor: To what extent did the people you talked to on Robben Island come into contact with Marx?
Alexander: Very little. You must remember I was not for most of the period in fact, virtually all of the period, I was not in the general section where I think the contact with Marxism was very slight except for a few leading people, I was in what was called the isolation section, now called ‘B Section’, where so-called prominent and influential people were kept - and most of those people I would say had some knowledge of and contact with Marxism. Some of them felt that there was a strong influence on them, saw themselves as Marxists. And one or two actually were Marxists. Most of them weren’t. Most of them...and I was always very careful not to describe myself as such, because I felt that one was always learning and I tried to use the tools and paradigm of historical materialism certainly, but I would never, I always feel queasy about describing myself as this or that, you know. Partly because I always feel I never fully understand, that you can’t actually, fully understand the paradigm, you are always contributing to it, and deviating from it, and so on and so forth. But I think that is how it really is, I think that people delude themselves, even the best, delude themselves into thinking that they have somehow got the whole thing together [laughter]. It’s just not true.
Habib: I would like to slightly move away...and ask a couple of questions about the sector as a whole. The first question: do you think that the NGO sector as a whole in this country had an impact in the struggle against apartheid, in bringing an end to apartheid?
Alexander: Oh, definitely. It had both the positive mobilizing effect and impact, which I think is absolutely not in doubt at all - and regardless of which particular sphere one is referring to, from labour to law to health to education, even rural struggles. I think in every respect an impact was made. Negatively, however, I think that tendentiously, not intrinsically but I think tendentiously, NGOs are inclined to serve their paymasters. And to adapt and adjust even their goals and more disastrously the values to what the paymasters eventually are willing to accept, or are willing to tolerate. So that the actual level of independence of NGOs, I think, was always in question. I speak from very personal experience in Sached. I’ll quote an example which I think really does, you know, capture what I’m talking about. In 1980 I think it was, John Samuel and I went to Geneva to talk amongst others to World University Service for funding for what then was just an idea, UPBEAT magazine which later on became very important, a magazine for high schools, and one of the people from Danish WUS then said to us this is a really good project and so on and so on, and we’d like to give money for it but have you discussed it with the ANC? So we both said no, we didn’t see why we should. And he then said well in that case there is no way, you need to do that in order for us to support you. So I said, and I mean I really went beyond my own authority, since John was the National Director and I was just a sidekick basically, I then said well keep your money! That we are not interested any more, it was 400,000 Swiss Francs or something, at the time lots of money. I said well keep your money, this is bullshit. And he was absolutely taken aback, and John actually asked me ‘Why did you do that?’ - and so I said well its a question of principle. If they are going to give us money then they give it to us without bloody strings, you know. And so on and so on. And we discussed it and I sort of mellowed my position, but at the same time I said look this is vital, we’ve got to be clear about this, and John knew me very well and he knew that I was damn serious and that this is the sort of issue on which I would resign - you know, I’m that type. So the chap obviously went out and phoned - I don’t know where, London, Tanzania, whatever, I don’t know where he phoned - he came back and he was probably told ‘Look here...’, he agreed completely and he said no he is satisfied that this is the right thing, he apologized actually for having suggested that we need to do this and so on. So, you know, that’s the kind of thing. I am not saying John would have made the... possibly, but I cannot say for definite. But I think a hell of a lot of people did, and it really weakened the movement. And this whole issue of the independence of civil society, for me, is absolutely first principle. That’s why I resigned from this...Language Board, for the very same reason. It’s a complete thread in my life, you know, I always insisted on that. So, in that negative sense therefore I think that that was the most serious flaw in the NGO sector, across the board, I think with a very very few exceptions where a few left-wing or left inclined funders, usually very small projects, would fund things regardless. You know, they didn’t set any particular parameters and so on. No, even though they insisted mostly, those particular ones, usually insisted on accountability, which you couldn’t say for the bigger ones. I mean they basically corrupted everybody - didn’t really look at the accounts too closely, which is how Boesak got into shit eventually... it corrupted people.
Habib: There is a whole list of organizations on this list, some of them you probably know very well, do you think any of them have had particular relationships with the mass based movements like trade unions, or political fronts like the National Forum or the UDF?
Alexander: I think most of them, most of them have. And it was always some...debate with the... inside, although even they eventually... the UDF. Most of them had in one form or another at that time, interaction with the mass, particularly workers movement. I mean we did at Sached, for example, we did a lot of education for trade unions - you know the whole LACOM labour community organization, so there was that kind of thing, the Legal Resources Centre you know they did all sorts of things. So I think virtually every one of them, to be quite honest. And I think that is part of the reason for the major impact which the NGO sector had, the fact that they did work closely with the Union movement in spite of differences, I mean there were many ideological differences, and quite serious rifts as you all know from time to time. But overall, I would say that the Union movement itself could not have been a successful as was without that sort of support, because we supported from many different ways by all those organizations: people drafting papers, people training their people - I mean coming from outside the Union movement, because they didn’t have it there, originally, you see.
Habib: Do you think they impacted on the politics of the mass organizations?
Alexander: To some extent probably, yes I would think so, but in both ways by the way. Both in inclining some unions and union leaders towards a left position, but also the other way around - in moderating some of them. And of course the Union movement itself was corrupted, I mean I speak now very candidly from my own position - it was corrupted by money, and lifestyle and so on, to the point where today even the most ordinary of workers goes to a conference... and is put up in at least a three star hotel...you know, I mean that right at the beginning of the Union movement was simply unheard of, you know. And then of course the coming in of social democratic orientated unions from Germany and Britain and so on, sort of mid-80s I would say, that was the kiss of death as far as the militant union movement was concerned. And that slide of the union leadership to what I consider to be the centre, from a fairly left position. I mean the independent Fosatu unions as opposed to... Cosatu, I think those were really genuinely examples that gave hope to the left in this country. And that whole notion of a Brazilian PT type of party emerging out of the unions and out of the community based organizations was alive and that a genuine I think a real basis, the basis for believing at the time. But after we sort of turned in Cosatu towards a more SACP orientated position on the matter, it just ended. And from there I think the slide was - as I said - predictable and predicted. I mean, you read our literature of the time and we said that this is where it’s going. The problem was that, it’s because of the developments in the Soviet Union at the time, Gorbachev and that whole slide towards basically counter- or lets say anti-, anti-revolutionary strategies meant that the moderates in the union movement and in the NGO sector and generally in politics, the moderates were favoured. The landscape became much more favourable then. And that was of course a global phenomenon, like Nicaragua, El Salvador, everywhere the same thing happens. So it’s not that South Africa is unique at all.
Taylor: Do you think, I mean, I don’t know, part of the problem of - listening to what you are saying, what strikes me is that many of these organizations are rooted in terms of social location of their leadership in the middle-class and therefore that worked - to use your language - to ‘corrupt’ the transition. Would you accept that argument, that the class location of these particular organizations is important in understanding what has happened?
Alexander: Yes, I think to a large extent. But again I think, you know, one can’t use a monocausal argument, you’ve got to bring all these things together - with the global situation, with the - as I’ve said - this furthering of middle-class solutions. I mean these organizations, like Sached, to take an example, the one I know best, we of the left might well have taken over Sached had the conditions been otherwise, had the fact that money was available from the Ford Foundation or Carnegie Foundation, Foundations which clearly had no interest in Leftist politics. But had things developed differently, had there been more access to lets say some of the European funders, and had for example countries like the Soviet Union, who’d be prepared to make money available for that kind of project some of us had in mind, it could well have been very different. Of course, the Apartheid government would have come down heavily as it did in, you know, Pinochet’s Chile, and it would have banned the NGOs.
Taylor: Do you think that was ever on the agenda for the Soviet Union, to try and fund this work?
Alexander: I think so, yes. Not on a very large scale initially. But of course things went the other way in the Soviet Union, that’s the problem. So you can’t now sort of project...
Taylor: But if they hadn’t, they could have moved into...
Alexander: Yes. And in fact you know it’s clear that they funded the ANC and Communist Party, which while not NGOs in that specific sense, but they gave massive funding to them.
Taylor: What is your view of the relationship between the ANC and these organizations? I mean, we know that several of these organizations had ANC members before 1990...
Alexander: Yes. I think that relationship was there actually for most of them, many of them rather. There was no direct relationship, but individuals as you say were there, and of course gradually individuals joined the ANC, because it was in their interest to do so. It was much easier to get money if you had ANC contacts, or if the ANC gave you benediction, like the example I quoted, and that’s already from 1980. I mean, later it became even more so, as the ANC became more and more compromisist, more and more committed to a negotiated settlement and so on. Eventually virtually everybody became ANC. And you know...[laughter]
Habib: Did these NGOs impact on the leadership of the ANC and in the State in any way?
Alexander: I don’t think the ANC leadership needed any impacting. I think they were very clear from the start. I always quote Nelson Mandela as saying that ‘we don’t want to overthrow the state, because we can’t; we want to force them to the negotiation table, that’s all’.
Habib: And the State? Do you think it had an impact on the State?
Alexander: You mean in terms of changing the minds of the de Klerk’s and so on?
Habib: Let me put it this way: there is a view that kind of says that in South Africa you had two intransigent leaderships of nationalist forces, on the one hand the leadership of the State that wanted to destroy the ANC, and on the other hand the ANC that wanted to overthrow the State. And here are these NGOS, far sighted bodies, which came in and facilitated a realization on both sides that you can’t do this and that you need to negotiate. Do you think that is accurate?
Alexander: No, No, No. I think that is absolutely simplistic. And absolutely wrong actually, because de Klerk and company changed their minds, were made to change their minds, by the bourgeoisie including their own Afrikaans-speaking bourgeoisie, once it became clear that the Soviet Union was no longer going to fund revolutionary activity anywhere in the world. That was a decisive moment for the bourgeoisie in South Africa, because.. the bourgeoisie is clearly more advantageous to be aligned with a black majority if you wish democratic government than with a white minority racist, you know, stigmatized isolated government - that was very obvious. And the de Klerk’s had to make up their minds, the man who quickly concentrated it for them...
Taylor: Do you think that the role of Idasa was important in influencing...?
Alexander: In a sort of logistical, technical sense, yes. You know, you need transitional types and people who do that. But the actual paradigm, the actual framework was set globally. No, I don’t think Idasa or van Zyl Slabbert or anybody had the, you know, the charisma to...
Taylor: He was just there at the right time..
Alexander: ‘Cometh the time, cometh the man’ [Engels].
Taylor: I mean when we interviewed Slabbert he said ‘Yeah, Dakar was our magic moment’ as if it just appeared from nowhere.
Alexander: And that’s not true, you know. ‘Cometh the time’, as Engels says, ‘cometh the man’, he would say ‘the person’ nowadays. You know, that’s the point that, I think, that global framework, that shift in geo-politics made the Idasa’s possible - and there were many Idasa’s, Idasa of course being the main symbolic...
Taylor: What was your view of Idasa. I mean, you attended a couple of their events...
Alexander: Yes, it’s a bourgeois liberal reformist organization. But it’s quite useful sometimes, for various publicity and even... publicity purposes. And obviously I always make the point you know that if you a democrat whether you are a socialist democrat or a liberal democrat there are certain things on which you actually do agree; like freedom of speech, for example. And sometimes you have to use those platforms for that purpose.
Habib: Do you think that NGOs had an impact on public perceptions?
Alexander: Oh yes, undoubtedly. They dealt with thousands of people, quite literally, be they very often of quite high profile, lots of publicity, they issued lots of material - most of them, and certainly the middle class and even organized working class people read these things and of course they were influenced, they spread, distributed those ideas. There’s no doubt about that. I mean I could take almost any of the central concepts that we propagated in the early and mid 80s and demonstrate how popular these things became - even a thing which didn’t eventually work out like the ‘mass workers party’, that sort of idea, I mean everybody was speaking about it. Because through these types of organization we were able to put forward these ideas.
Habib: NUMSA still speaks about it [‘mass workers party’]... once a year.
Alexander: Don’t be too cynical [laughter]. It may just materialize sooner than you think.
Taylor: Why don’t you think the State acted more heavily against some of these organizations? Of these organizations they banned the Christian Institute, the ECC... but many were allowed to continue, why do you think they allowed that?
Alexander: I think that chap, Neil Barnard amongst others, would probably have a perfect answer to that. You see, the apartheid state had a two-pronged strategy - the one was to make sure that when the transition eventually came they would not - as Hermann Giliomee I think put it - they would not actually, they would hand over ‘power’ in inverted commas but not control. They wanted to see that people were caged whoever it was eventually became the spokesperson for the country - Mandela or anyone else - would be caged, that was the one strategy. So of course it meant that you had to make very sure that the left and most militant elements were hamstrung and bridled. On the other side they had the difficult task of persuading their own constituency, racist constituency, to accept that look things are changing. The fact that, for example, the union movement was eventually recognized through Riekert and Wiehahn - those people, had to do with both the objective fact that the strategic leverage of black workers had increased tremendously and they could actually paralyse the economy for quite a long time, but also with this point that you needed to show white workers that things are changing, the world is no longer the same, and this is why I think most of these organizations were allowed - to preach even in quite extreme forms, ideas about non-racialism and so on. Because the Botha’s of the world of course honestly believed that people are naturally racist, and naturally prejudiced and so on and so on. And that therefore the more you... the more airy-fairy these... in a sense. It did have that effect. And at Afrikaans-speaking universities there were major shifts: Rand Afrikaans University, Potchefstroom University, I mean ‘Word and Daad’ a Potchefstroom philosophy magazine became one of the most radical, in conservative terms, one of the most radical publications - philosophically they were questioning things like race, apartheid, etcetera, etcetera. And all these organizations of course really worked in the same direction. I think it was an atmospheric milieux creating strategy, which undermined the sort of pristine arcane ideas of race - and they had to do that. For de Klerk and them that was an essential element in their strategizing. And that’s the reason, I feel, that they didn’t.. so they realized that they were not a revolutionary organizations.
Taylor: They realized that these organizations could also be a channel between them and - like Idasa - without actually being seen themselves...
Alexander: Yes, that’s right, a middleman. And I think, a lot of people would of course discount this sort of statement, I think they did realize that the ANC was not a revolutionary organization, that it didn’t want to overthrow - I mean Nelson told us on the Island ‘We don’t want to overthrow the State, you chaps are idealistic, utopian, you can’t’, and they realized that. Once they realized that I think and they saw which way the sort of world winds were blowing they were very clear in their own strategy - perhaps not as neatly as I am saying it, obviously there were lots of tensions...but nonetheless I think the general direction was very clear.
Taylor: What we ask people to do, is to very briefly run through the list and maybe comment on individual organizations in terms of your views on them, to comment on the kind of contribution and impact you feel they had over the last ten to fifteen years. We’ve talked about Idasa, we’ve talked about...do you have any views on the work of the legally based, do you think that the work of CALS and Legal Resources Centre in challenging apartheid through the courts was a viable strategy, did it achieve anything?
Alexander: Well it was helpful. I don’t think it was that important, but it was helpful on occasion. It certainly kept a lot of people out of prison. Certainly helped to make it possible for people to have something... I think the Churches played the most important role to be quite honest - both in terms of channelling money to organizations and to people, but also in terms of the kind of propaganda - ideological consciousness shaping stuff that they gave out, and of course some of the Church leadership - individuals - played a big role, from Tutu to Frank Chikane...
Taylor: Beyers Naude as well?
Alexander: Beyers Naude, yes. Beyers Naude was a power, very strong personality. Some people would say a bit sinister..
Alexander: Well, now looking back, you do wonder whether certain developments weren’t steered through people like him by, you know, forces with very different agendas from the general liberation movement and the agenda particularly on the left. The skewing of money in certain directions rather than others. But you know one does not want to malign any individual. I did think that there is that kind of thing. I know for a fact that the Catholic Bishops Conference played a big big role between educational funding and channelling funds, including towards Leftist...liberation theology actually did play a role in an organization like that, just as black theology did in SACC.
Taylor: Did it have any influence on the Island, liberation theology?
Alexander: Possibly, but not by the time I’d left definitely. By that time Black Consciousness was being addressed... at least not on the Island, but I think afterwards it probably came in. Other than that I don’t think any of the others had a major impact...Race Relations of course, in a more conservative way...
Alexander: Yes. Well even then I think they had a lot of information and made a lot of information available, and in fact amongst intellectuals it was a very important influence. I mean, we would regularly consult the ‘Survey’ and other publications.
Habib: Do you think it impacted on the State, on the leadership of the State? Cabinet Ministers or...
Alexander: Yes, I am sure. I mean I am guessing but they had a whole range of stuff, and they would have used that, because they didn’t have the same kind of access in most cases. And also any really serious tyrannical state will look at all sources of information and has to. I mean I wonder how stupid... is and they believe they live in a sort of world of their own you know.
Taylor: I’d like to ask your views on the white-based organizations like ECC and Nusas.
Alexander: Nusas of course, because of the wages commission had a very important role in the formation of the independent trade union movement. To that extent, whatever else you might think of Nusas, it played a very very important role as one of the sort of source organizations if you wish of militant action. Despite itself almost, I would say. Because the wages commission was just one aspect of Nusas of course. But both it and the ECC, and remember it also played a role, I think they were important in terms of undermining the morale at the very least of middle class whites, not working class whites, but of middle class whites - and that was quite important I think, that that happened. You know it was one of those things that, you know just like sanctions, like mass mobilization and so on, armed struggle and so on, one of the things that actually weakened, made the State more and more brittle. You know, so they did have an impact, undoubtedly. But again as I say one has to have a holistic view of the thing, you cannot have a monocausal thing, or that this made in a particular moment - but in general terms.
Habib: We have been trying to draw a link between the underground structures of the ANC which were established in the course of the 1980s and their links to the NGO movement. One of the things that we have come across was that the underground structures at a particular point in the 80s split between a kind of Mbeki/Pahad wing on the one hand, and another wing which was kind of Mac... and no one seems to ever talk about these things. They are clearly in the past. Can you give us any information in that regard?
Alexander: Not really. I mean, you know, I knew certain people, there were lots of people working with Sached who very clearly had links with the ANC underground directly. Which of these particular tendencies within the ANC, if they were there I mean, they were supporting I really cannot say. Speaking for myself, and speaking now from the late 70s I always regret the fact that some of the links which we had, both as political group, underground political group, and as people involved in NGO work, mostly community based organization and which fed into the armed propaganda as I call it of the ANC, that that stuff in a way has been suppressed by the ANC, I mean they have never acknowledged that the origins of Umkhonto in the 70s, we are not talking about the 50s, the 60s, had a lot to do with... who were willing to take certain risks, not just ANC structures - in fact very few ANC structures survived the 60s, they literally had to build up from scratch and they used any and everybody that had the courage, including people like us. Now that I think, hopefully sometime that history will be written you know. I mean we had links with people in the ANC underground, both here and abroad, and did actual things for them, and sent people out of the country to talk with them and bring them things and so on and so on. Including maps of buildings, and all that sort of stuff. Drawings and weaponry. So yes, but I think afterwards when the ANC underground itself became more sophisticated they could jettison us, they could jettison us you see, and pretend that we’ve never played a role, you see. Which I find most disconcerting actually in terms of historical truth and reconciliation.
Habib: Here’s a counter-factual question: do you think that we would have had the end of apartheid without this network of organizations?
Alexander: You mean the repeal of apartheid legislation?
Habib: Both. The repeal of apartheid legislation and the emergence of negotiations.
Alexander: Oh, the emergence of negotiations, OK. Now that’s a different question. I don’t think that apartheid has ended, apartheid has been privatized. I don’t think it has ended, I think racial discrimination - well let’s say that apartheid is out if you are thinking of it as a system of practices that no longer exist in that form, yes then probably it’s correct to say that. Would it have ended without this? You know it’s the E H Carr question, the if’s and but’s of history you see. It’s a difficult question to answer. Let me put in historic terms, that is to say that that particular system of practices was doomed I would say from the time when Gorbachev came to power, I’m now putting a hell of a lot of weight on Gorbachev and Perestrokia movement, but I genuinely think so, because I think that apartheid was buttressed and kept afloat as it were by Reagan, Thatcher and company basically as a counter-revolutionary anti-Communist system, I think once it became clear to leaders in the West that the Russians were really serious about giving up revolutionary strategy and even embracing capitalism really in the final analysis, apartheid was doomed. And whether these organizations, whether they had existed in this form or not, would have played a similar role, it couldn’t play any other role other than that. I think that is really the essence of the answer, that given that global framework there was no other role that they could play.
Taylor: Do you see what has happened as being a victory for capitalism?
Alexander: Absolutely. I think a setback for socialism, not the ‘end of history’ but a setback...Because of the inner contradictions of capitalism I have got absolutely no doubt that there will be a turn of the tide. When? Difficult to say of course. But there all these explosions now, occurring all over the world - in Eastern Europe, Central Europe, Africa, Asia and so on. All these different manifestations are signals of a, I would say, deepening crisis particularly on the political level. To some extent even at the economic level, but certainly at the political level, and I think people are going to have to ask whether there are alternatives to the system of so-called globalization, and they are going to ask those questions in every country, and people are asking that question here in South Africa - 50% unemployment, is that really our fate? is that what freedom is about? and these are the sorts of questions that are going to make people change their consciousness and begin to visualize a different kind of system, and that’s a beginning of a revolution.
Taylor: I want to come back to a question around non-racialism. You mentioned how - and it’s clear to us - that many of these organizations did promote non-racialism not only in their practice but also at an ideal level. It’s also been put to us that to many of these organizations, to many people non-racialism was really a pragmatic move, rather than embracing intellectual arguments along the lines of how you and I would argue about the lack of scientific evidence for race, they would argue that it more a pragmatic endorsement..
Alexander: Well, I think for probably most of those people, as you say, that’s true. But of course, that’s not necessarily significant, because people’s practice does eventually influence the way they think, the way they perceive things. And to that extent the source of their shift doesn’t have to be intellectual, doesn’t even have to be an understanding of why they are non-racial in their attitudes. The fact that it hasn’t happened in South Africa today, I think that is a major question which we have to face. The fact that it is not deeply entrenched, I think that is a very big question.
Taylor: How can we confront that? What can we...
Alexander: I think there are a lot of things. I think that the State has to take some initiatives, of course other actors as well, agencies, but the State does have I think a major responsibility. I would say that the State has a paradigmatic prerogative, it has set parameters within which people think, act and so on. And this multi-linguism, if I can come back to my own pet subject, the Constitution set those parameters, very noble Constitution, I have no problems with it, but unless the State actually acts consistently on those lines, the middle class is going to become more and more Anglophile, more and more using English as cultural capital, keeping out the majority of the people who don’t know it well enough, to keep them out of power... And in effect therefore undermining the very framework which they have enunciated in the Constitution. And the same applies to racial labels, racial terminology, racial discourse generally, stereotyping, etcetera. There’s a time for those things undoubtedly, I mean I don’t believe that you should never use a racial word - on the contrary, sometimes it’s essential to use one, but it’s how you get to people across radio, TV and so on, and shed their consciousness. And there I think the State is culpably responsible for the future. I think there’s lots and lots of things we have to do, and we need to raise these issues in all the forums possible, but obviously unless there is some mass base to it it’s difficult..
Taylor: Would you go along with the argument that the spirit of non-racialism was more alive in the 80s than it is today?
Alexander: Oh yes, definitely. No doubt about it. People were more open, now people are scrambling for position and power, influence, they are scrambling for that - whereas those days people were seriously motivated to free the country from the upper class of what they considered to be you know apartheid.
Habib: Thank you.