Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 37, Number 1. 6th March 1974
African Freedom Fighters Want NZ Support
African Freedom Fighters Want NZ Support
The controversy over the donation of $3,000 from the World Council of Churches to the National Anti-Apartheid Committee (NAAC) has given much publicity to the struggles of the African Liberation Movements and the supporting work of the NAAC. Trevor Richards and Toby Truell of the NAAC recently spent six weeks in Africa meeting representatives of! the liberation movements and finding out what New Zealanders can do to help them. Peter Franks interviewed them for Salient.
Truell: At the moment both the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) and the Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU) are engaged in military operations against the white regime. ZANU is attacking mainly from the northeast, ZAPU all along the Zambesi but predominantly in the Matabele speaking areas of the northwest.
Both groups have done a lot to arouse political consciousness inside Zimbabwe. They have been aided by the Smith regime's repressing measures: the declaration of "no go" areas, the herding of Africans into concentration camps and the massive arrests and hangings of prisoners. Both ZANU and ZAPU have sizeable forces inside Rhodesia, and when you bear in mind that in guerrilla warfare one freedom fighter can contain 10 regular troops, the liberation movements' containment of Rhodesian forces and South African troops makes Zimbabwe a major area of the struggle.
It is also an important area geographically because Zimbabwe borders onto Mozambique, South Africa and Botswana. The fall of! Zimbabwe would open up one side of Mozambique and provide access for freedom fighters to South Africa. If Zimbabwe falls it will be a major factor in advancing the African people's struggle for liberty.
Richards: Speaking generally, I found that the liberation struggle in Southern Africa is much further advanced than I had thought, and nowhere is this truer than Zimbabwe. You don't have to look further than the speeches and actions of Rhodesian government leaders to find this out.
The "no go" areas and concentration camps, Smith says, are to protect the African rural population from the freedom fighters. But in fact Smith is herding the people into concentration camps to prevent them from aiding and assisting the liberation fighters. Smith insistently refers to the fighting as being a "long, hard, bitter struggle". Now he would hardly concede that if the liberation movements were not hurting his regime.
But there is one matter at present that is particularly disturbing. That is the position of Bishop Abel Muzorewa, the chairman of the African National Congress of Rhodesia, which was formed to fight the Pearce Commission proposals for a political settlement. After the Pearce Commission reported to the British Government that the majority of people in Zimbabwe had rejected these proposals, Muzorewa no longer had a role to play.
Since then Smith has managed to isolate Muzorewa. His advisers have either been imprisoned or have fled the country and he has been banned and confined to a small area in Salisbury. He is a sick man, suffering from duodenal ulcers, and he has very onerous and time-consuming duties as bishop. Given that Muzorewa is isolated, sick and that he is not a politician it is very disturbing that he is being bombarded with settlement proposals from the Rhodesian regime, the British and the South Africans. It is known that if Muzorewa and Smith sign the same piece of paper the British government will give Rhodesia independence.
If Muzorewa does give in it won't mean that ZANU and ZAPU will give up the liberation struggle; because Muzorewa in effect represents nobody. But a settlement will mean that Smith will be able to get diplomatic recognition which he, will exploit very effectively in the short-term, although in the long-term it won't make much difference.
I understand that there is considerable military cooperation between ZANU in the northeast of Zimbabwe, and Frelimo in Mozambique. Frelimo have created large liberated areas in Mozambique, how successful have these been?
Richards: Frelimo has liberated more than 20% of Mozambique. Liberated areas are areas which are controlled by Frelimo and where Frelimo has built schools and hospitals and has created an administrative infrastructure.
But Frelimo is also moving rapidly south and east. The three attacks on the Beira-Salis-bury railway in the first six weeks of this year are indicative of their movements in one direction though it is important to realise that these attacks are not hit and run affairs. One of the cardinal principles Frelimo operates on is that before it undertakes military operations in an area it wins the support of the people and politicises them. So the news of Frelimo attacks in the east and south shows that Frelimo has been working among the people of those areas for several years.
Truell: There has been a noticeable reaction from the Portuguese people in the areas which Frelimo is not penetrating in large numbers. These people have been sending urgent telegrams to the Portuguese prime minister Caetane, and have been forming vigilante groups and generally panicking. In the past they left it to the military to deal with the situation.
Another point is that the quality of the Portuguese conscripts in Mozambique is deteriorating rapidly, according to South African and Rhodesian newspapers. There's a lot of opposition to conscription in Portugal from the peasants and working people who are being forced into the army.
One disturbing thing is that because Frelimo has been so successful there may be very brutal countermeasures by the Portuguese and their allies. Frelimo are now only 200 kilometres from the South African border, and the South Africans are already deploying troops in northern Mozambique around the Cabora Bassa dam. The South Africans have already got about 8,000 troops in Rhodesia and it is likely that they will put more troops into Mozambique.
We can expect a hardening attitude from the United States and South Africa, and more CIA involvement in this part of Southern Africa. There are enormous South African and American investments in Mozambique, the Anglo-American Corporation owns over 50% of all the cashew nut trade in Mozambique, 45% of the Mozambique fishing trade and have large investments in mineral rights in the country. Gulf Oil of the United States has exploration and oil interests in Mozambique. These multinational companies and the western governments won't let those interests go easily.
Richards: The president of Frelimo was asked a while ago how long it would be before Mozambique was completely free. Given Frelimo's rapid advance in the last twelve months, you'd think he would have said "two years, three years, four years". But he put it in terms of ten years. Frelimo has been in existence for fifteen years, its not a hit and run "terrorist" organisation, and it is well aware that before Mozambique is completely liberated there will be a lot more interference from the West and from South Africa.
How far advanced is the liberation struggle in Angola?
Truell: There's tie-up between Angola and the state that borders it to the south, Namibia or South-West Africa as it used to be called. There are freedom fighters in both these territories, the South West African People's Organisation SWAPO in Namibia, and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola, MPLA, a very well organised group operating in Angola itself.
Angola is a huge country and it is probably the richest of the two Portuguese territories in Southern Africa, in terms of mineral resources and particularly oil. Namibia is particularly valuable to South Africa, (which continues to defy United Nations' decisions by illegally occupying the country) because it has the largest open cast uranium mine in the world I think the Portuguese will try and keep control of Angola even longer than Mozambique, because of the rich mineral resources and tropical crops they get from Angola. For similar reasons South Africa is going to hang on to Namibia as long as it can.
Richards: Angola is the other country in Southern Africa where there are liberated areas under the control of the guerrilla forces. The MPLA works in a similar way to Frelimo. After an area has been liberated it doesn't abandon it but works among the people and develops its own administration, schools and hospitals, etc
One of the things the Portuguese may try to do is to form a Greater Portuguese Commonwealth with Angola. Mozambique, possibly Guinea-Bissau (on the west coast of Africa) and Portugal. Black stooges would be put in control in these areas—people who had the economic interest of the multinational corporations and Portugal at heart. Portugal might rig a plebiscite in its three African territories, in which the people of Angola and Mozambique would vote to join a Portuguese Commonwealth while the people of Guinea-Bissau voted to stay out. Guinea-Bissau is not much more than a bog-land, and given that 75% of its territory has been liberated and that over 70 countries have recognised it since its declaration of independence last September the Portuguese would probably be prepared to cut their losses there.
How successful have the liberation forces been in Namibia in winning popular support, and being able to strike at the South African forces?
Truell: From December 1971 to June 1972 there were strikes throughout Namibia, which were some of the most successful strikes there have ever been against white colonialism in Southern Africa. These strikes were partly due to Swapo's organising, but were also partly a spontaneous revolt against the appalling contract labour system operating in Namibia. Under this system a man can be forced to work for the whites for a number of years for virtually slave wages.
For the first time in Namibia the South Africans are having to use black troops, which is something they have always been adverse to doing. This shows the extent to which the South African forces are stretched logistically: from the Cabora Bassa in northern Mozambique, across Rhodesia to Namibia, and right up to the Cunene dam in the border of Angola. Both Rhodesia and South Africa are scraping the bottom of the barrel as far as recruitment is concerned. And they are using mercenaries as well.
Although there is no armed struggle at present against the fascist regime in South Africa, what strength has the African National Congress got in terms of popular support and organising ability?
Richards: We've already mentioned some of the reasons why there is no armed struggle at present in South Africa. There is no border with an independent African state, a page 11 and South Africa is the most urbanised of all the colonial five ruled countries of Southern Africa with a sophisticated communications system that makes it easier to put down an uprising than, for example in Angola.
Nevertheless the liberation movements in South Africa arc doing a lot of underground work to politicise the people so that when it is possible for freedom fighters to enter the Republic they will have contact with the people and the struggle will be possible.
Truell: This is the richest country in Africa; more than 50% of all foreign investment in Africa goes into South Africa, and the Republic is totally allied with the United States and the Western European power Britain, the United States and France have all supplied enormous quantities of arms to South Africa.
But it is significant that in his New Year message the South African Prime Minister Vorster talked about the increasing amount of guerrilla activity, that he has more than doubled the size of his defence forces in the last eighteen months, and that his government has provided for the largest defence budget in the nation's history. South Africa is becoming aware of the increasing sophistication of the liberation movements.
Another sign of growing rebellion in South Africa is the increasing number of strikes and wage demands. These are largely due to the political work of the two liberation movements, the African National Congress and the Pan African Congress, among workers in the mines, the ports and the metal industry.
Do you think Southern Africa could become another Vietnam, and that American or British troops could be brought in to help the colonialists?
Richards: I don't think that's a solution the western countries would favour at the moment. I think they'd rather have other people do their dirty work for them.
I think there are two other possible reactions from the white colonialists to the growing successes of the liberation struggle. The first and most likely possibility is that of a Greater Portuguese Commonwealth, which I have already mentioned. The second is the solution which would be the most effective in the long term, and that is the deliberate subversion of the bases from which the liberation movements operate, i.e. the governments of Tanzania and Zambia. There's plenty of evidence that this "solution" is being planned. Boss, the South African Bureau of State Security, Red Fox, the Rhodesian security service, and the American Central Intelligence Agency are all involved in Tanzania and Zambia. In 1971 Tanzania was invaded from the south by the Portuguese as part of a drive to wipe out the liberation forces in Mozambique.
Zambia and Tanzania are absolutely crucial and pivotal to the liberation struggle. For example the port of Dar-es-Salam is the port through which all the military supplies and humanitarian assistance goes.
You spent six weeks in both Tanzania and Zambia. The South African government and right-wingers in New Zealand often attempt to make political capital by comparing the "lack of democracy" and "instability" of independent black African states with the "stable" governments of South Africa and Rhodesia.
Richards: Nothing could be further from the truth than the allegation that the people of Tanzania and Zambia are badly governed. From what we saw, the fact that there is only one party in both Zambia and Tanzania doesn't mean that the people have no say in the government. In fact they have a big say in the government because the party organises right down to the grass roots level. Leaders at every level of administration constantly ask the people for their opinions. So to say that a one party state cannot be a democratic state is quite untrue.
Truell: Tanzania is a very egalitarian state with a decentralised form of government right down to grass roots level. The situation of the two countries is different because Zambia is a land locked state and its communications and access to ports etc. has been through the white south.
But with the completion of the Tan Zam railway this year this situation will change and Zambia will have access eastwards to Dar-es-Saalam, and it will then become economically independent of the south. However the Tanzam railway is very vulnerable to sabotage, and as Zambia moves 'owards economic independence, Portuguese and Rhodesian sabotage inside Zambia is increasing.
Before you outline the ways in which the New Zealand government and people can assist the liberation movements in Southern Africa, could you comment on the allegations that the World Council of Churches is engaged in gun running through its programme of assistance to the liberation forces?
Truell: The suggestions that the World Council of Churches is engaged in gun running are exactly the same stories that are being put out in Salisbury and Pretoria, and they are totally untrue.
The World Council of Churches is doing a lot to help the liberation movements. But the help it is giving is looking after the refugees, their sick and wounded, and helping to provide education for the children in the liberated areas. This is purely humanitarian, merciful, and I would call it Christian aid. There's nothing to worry anyone who has a conscience about violence or anything like that. The World Council of Churches in any case, believes the liberation struggles to be just struggles.
Richards: It was made quite clear to us in Africa that the liberation movements do not want progressive forces in the west to supply them with guns. As far as they are concerned the most important support New Zealand can give them is political and diplomatic support at an international level; the way we vote at the UN, what we say and how we vote at regional forums, Commonwealth Conferences etc. So first and foremost the support we give the liberation movements will be judged by the support the government gives the liberation movements.
But that is not to say that there is nothing the people of New Zealand and non governmental organisations can do. The task of the National Anti-Apartheid Committee and people concerned about the situation in Southern Africa is twofold.
Firstly there is the question of giving humanitarian aid and assistance to the liberation movements, and secondly there is the question of educating the New Zealand people about the situation in Southern Africa, Before we can get the desirable level of support for the liberation movements from both the government and the people of New Zealand, the New Zealand people are going to have to be informed about the struggle. And they have been misinformed up to the present.
I understand that in your discussion with the liberation movements you found that people were very appreciative of the Labour Government's stand towards Southern Africa and its changing of New Zealand policy.
Richards: It is true that everyone we spoke to—representatives of Liberation movements, government spokesmen etc. were very impressed with the Labour Government's stand on Southern Africa, especially in view of its predecessor's policies. However it was also felt very strongly that while the government's cancellation of the Springbok tour showed, in the words of a spokesman from Swapo, that New Zealand had come of age. New Zealand should build on these good beginnings rather than rest on its laurels.
In that connection it is useful to quote from an editorial in the latest publication put out by Frelimo which roundly criticised New Zealand for abstaining on December 18 on a UN resolution aimed at denying Portugal the right to represent its overseas territories at the UN. Frelimo's attitude was that up to then New Zealand had acted very well but that this vote had been a lapse or might even be a sign of continuing policy.
It is very important for the anti-apartheid movement to impress on the government the fact that New Zealand's support for the liberation movements is far greater than our economic or military power, and it is also important to supply the government with information about the struggle in Southern Africa in the face of the misinformation they'll be getting from a host of sources.
Would an exchange of diplomatic representatives between New Zealand and Tanzania and Zambia be useful in developing government support for the liberation movements?
Truell: We need to have New Zealanders stationed in independent Africa to provide the government with information about the struggle there, and to tell the African people that not all the New Zealanders who tour Rhodesia and South Africa are not representative of New Zealand attitudes towards Africa.
We also need representatives of the independent African states in New Zealand to counter the propaganda of the South African government and their right-wing allies in the Friends of Rhodesia and the Friends of South Africa etc.