ANC radical softens his line: Joe Slovo, the whites' bogyman, tells John Carlin about his 'heretical' view of a post-apartheid South Africa

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The Independent Online
THE MOST revolutionary thought to have emerged from the African National Congress in a long time is also the most conciliatory one towards white South Africans, especially those in government.

The man who has had the thought is Joe Slovo, long regarded by the white establishment as one of the most sinister individuals on the planet. Mr Slovo, 63, is chairman of the South African Communist Party, a leading member of the ANC's National Executive Committee and former chief of staff of the military wing.

Mr Slovo's thought is that while majority rule is a good thing in principle, it does not offer a short- term practical solution to South Africa's problems. Better to share power for a while, to meet President F W de Klerk halfway.

As if this heresy were not enough, he believes that civil servants, including police and army officials, should be given guarantees that they will keep their jobs and pensions in a post-apartheid South Africa and, where necessary, be granted amnesties.

'Monstrous', 'unbelievable', 'terrible', have been some of the responses of ANC militants to Mr Slovo's proposals, published in the latest edition of African Communist magazine.

Mr Slovo explained in an interview with the Independent what had prompted him to put forward what he insisted was a 'purely personal' position - but one, none the less, which the ANC leadership is seriously considering adopting as policy.

His starting-point is that since no side won the struggle for power during the long years of open confrontation, neither side can be expected to surrender at the negotiating table. Compromise, therefore is inevitable. And the broad test for compromise, Mr Slovo believes, is whether it will permanently block the future advance towards the non-racial democracy which has always been the ANC's first political objective.

'There are a number of areas where concessions could be made that do not conflict with our bottom lines, with our principles. I ask people to consider the possibility of a period of power-sharing - perhaps three to five years - after a new constitution is adopted; of giving the incumbents in the civil service, the army and the police a feeling that we are not going to jettison them; of accepting that there is going to be an amnesty; no solution has been found anywhere in the world without addressing this question.'

Whatever criticism Mr Slovo may face from within his own ranks over these proposals - proposals that Nelson Mandela, the ANC president, broadly accepts - no one will dare question his political credentials. He still remains convinced, for example, that socialism is not inherently flawed, that it is still, as he put it, 'the only sensible way humans can order their existence'.

'My motivation is purely selfish,' he said. 'I'm not pandering to white people. I'm not addressing the question in the moral sense of allaying fears.

'I'm acting in the interest of a lasting democratic transformation because the new fledgeling democracy, if it emerges, will face a period of inordinate social and economic problems which will require the broadest possible national effort to resolve.

'Secondly, and most important, within the ambit of basic democratic principles, we should try to minimise those forces who could provide the potential for right- wing destabilisation, for sabotage, for what I call the counter-revolution, in a post-transformation period. And the way in which I think about this problem is that even if the ANC gets a 60 per cent majority - or even a 66 per cent or 70 per cent majority - in the first constitutional election, it will achieve political office but it will not really achieve control over the essentials of the state framework and the state operators. The civil service will be exactly the same the day after as the day before, the same with the judiciary, the same with the army, the same with the police force and so on.

'These people are racists because that is the way they were brought up. But they are not political animals. All they are concerned with, most of them, is whether they will be able to survive the transition period, whether they will lose everything they thought they'd accumulate in terms of pensions and some kind of job security. And we've got to address this question by providing a clear and decided position.'

Mr Slovo believes there will be an election for an interim government, which will also function as a constitution-making body, by the end of next year. Once the democratic constitution is in place, elections for the first post-apartheid government will be held, with the foreknowledge that power-sharing will be compulsory.

'The executive - the cabinet - must be made up on the basis of proportional representation. One important condition will be that whatever devices are worked out, we must not have a situation where the minority can paralyse it. This will be a majority government accommodating minority parties as part of a national government, in the manner of Churchill's government during the war. We're not talking of equality, but we are talking of meaningful participation.'

Unlocking shackles, page 26

(Photograph omitted)