SADF, MK generals talk about peace

Generals of opposing armies met in Lusaka this week to talk about the possibility of a ceasefire and the merging of the South African Defence Force and Umkhonto weSizwe. The African National Congress’ army is “willing to abide by a mutually binding ceasefire” and believes a negotiations breakthrough is possible, Umkhonto weSizwe leader Chris Hani said yesterday. 

Addressing a meeting of ANC, SADF and “homeland” army members in Lusaka, Hani warned, how­ever, that there were still obstacles to a ceasefire and that the ANC would not consider a unilateral halt to the armed struggle. SADF Commandant Dr Jac Cilliers, a former member of the State Security Council secretariat, said the ANC did not have the capacity to run a modern defence force.
This would have to be a joint venture with the SADF. They were speaking at the start of a five-day conference on the future of the military in South Africa, organised by the Institute for Democratic Alternatives in South Africa (ldasa). 

“We have repeatedly stated our preference for a less violent transition in South Africa,” said Hani. “We believe the present political initiative - a definite product of people’s struggle- does offer a possibility of breakthrough. It is on this basis that our soldiers, as political cadres of our movement, strongly sup­port these initiatives and our negotiation concept spell out in the Harare Declaration. “That declaration also categorically expresses our willingness to abide by a mutually-binding ceasefire that is jointly monitored,” he said. Any call on the ANC to abandon the armed struggle unilaterally was “unfair and unrealistic”, Hani said. 

The ANC and MK were concerned about security force “tolerance” of right-wing vigilantes. He said the ANC was concerned about the deployment of 32 Batallion in Natal which he described as an act of “extreme provocation”. Hani added, however, that he was not opposed to the use of conscripts and other SADF troops as an emergency measure. Regarding ANC attacks on white civilians, he stressed such action bad been contrary to ANC policy. “The way some of the comrades responded was guided more by the prevailing mood of the people around them. As a result, some of the action did not reflect policy.” 

Earlier, ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) member John Nkadimeng reiterated the organisation’s opposition to conscription. “It is the practice of a state at war or preparing for war,” he said. “We should be building more schools, not barracks; not more AK and R1 rifles but more tennis racquets and golf clubs; not more Hippos but more tractors,” Nkadimeng said. Cilliers, who for the last year has been a private researcher on security matters, said he believed there was “almost no chance of any military coup. “Such action will not be supported by a conscript army and it is contrary to our military culture.” 

Cilliers said he believed the SADF had “exerted an influence beyond its mandate” but “now recognised the necessity for a cessation of hostilities while remaining opposed to integration with MK. “And MK should not make the same mistake we made in talking of revolution and counter-revolution,” he said. “We are talking about moving to­ wards a future common to all and we don’t have to kill the goose which lays the golden eggs.” Recently retired SADF commodore, Vic Holderness, said he believed the SADF was “not as politicised as some people think. “Politicians have to find political solutions to the country ‘s problems and all the military forces could do was to find the breathing space for this to take place.” 

The conference was opened by Zambian Prime Minister Malima Masheke, who said the region was “not in peace, but in pieces”, adding that the meeting could help in the reconstruction process. Delegates to the conference include 10 NEC members, several senior MK commanders, nine senior “homeland ” military officers and 20 SADF advisors and Citizen Force or retired Permanent Force officers. 

Other members of the South African delegation are Venda’s military leader, Colonel Gabriel Ramushawana, and SADF military intelligence officer Colonel Gideon Meiring. Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda told the delegation that the conference was “a move in the right direction because nothing can be more telling than when generals of opposing armies get together to exchange views”.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

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