South African’s National Liberation Movement

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Letter from Oliver Tambo to Ayatollah Khomeini

Your Excellency,

The leadership of the African National Congress of South Africa takes this opportunity again to congratulate Your Excellency on your recent election to the high post of Secretary-General of so august a body as the OAU. Being fully cognizant of the heavy duties that devolve on you, may we, Your Excellency, take this opportunity also to express our heartfelt wishes for success in your work for the total liberation of Africa and the future advancement of the noble cause of African unity.

Your Excellency, recent events internationally and in southern Africa in particular have helped to sharpen the focus of attention of the peoples of Africa and the world on the question of the destruction of the criminal system of apartheid in South Africa and the liberation of our oppressed and struggling people.

Throughout the world, the forces of reaction are suffering successive defeats. The peoples of Africa and the world struggling for national liberation, social progress and peace are scoring impressive victories.

Of particular relevance to us and to the great peoples of Africa is, of course, the heroic victory scored by our brother peoples and combatants of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde in helping to bring about the downfall of the hated Portuguese colonial and fascist regime of Caetano.

This decisive victory has not only opened up the prospects for the rapid accession to independence of the Portuguese colonies in Africa; it has also greatly strengthened the liberation forces of our own country, helped further to isolate and weaken the racist and fascist regime of South Africa, and make the task of removing that regime all the more urgent and pressing.

Our people and their organisation, the African National Congress, moved by their own suffering and by their obligation to the peoples of Africa and the world, who are threatened by the aggressive regime of apartheid, are equal to the task facing them; that of the destruction what will possibly be the last remaining bastion of colonial and racist domination on our continent.

For many years, Your Excellency, the South African fascists, aided by their imperialist allies, have tried their best to destroy the African National Congress and the South African liberation movement as a whole, as well as the will and determination of our people to be free.

Thanks to the unwavering conviction of our organisation in the inevitability of victory and the leadership it has given and is giving to the struggling people of our country, thanks to the heroism of our people and the support we have received from Africa and the world, the reactionary attempts of the enemy have proved to be in vain.

Strike Movement

South Africa, today, is being rocked by the biggest strike movement of the black workers in ten years. Everywhere the oppressed and exploited workers are downing tools, demanding their rights to a just wage, proper working conditions, human dignity and freedom.

Each time the workers strike work, they know that they are not only breaking the law and thus opening themselves to the possibility of severe punishment by many years of imprisonment. They know that they face sudden and swift death by shooting, as happened at Western Deep Levels Mine last year and at Loraine Mine this year.

But, Your Excellency, the black workers of our country, like the rest of the people, are inspired by a special yearning for freedom and a better life; they are fired by a spirit of self-sacrifice which is and has been the abiding feature of the revolutionary movement of our country.

Despite the vicious persecution of their leaders by arrests, bans and banishment and the intimidation of thousands of their fellows, the student youth continue fearlessly to challenge the regime of white supremacy which is keeping power in our country by force of arms and open terror.

Through the insidious slave system of education, the so-called “Bantu Education”, the South African racists had hoped to reduce our youth into their pliable and docile tools. But they have failed.

The youth of our country has drawn inspiration from its peers, combatants of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress, who heroically did battle against the joint Smith-Vorster forces in Zimbabwe, side by side with their comrades-in-arms of ZAPU, who put the racist forces to flight many times and laid down their lives without surrendering. The youth of our country has drawn inspiration from the members of Umkhonto we Sizwe who, having returned home from abroad and having unfortunately been captured, continued to hurl defiance at the enemy, even within his courts of law. Our people throughout the country, in the towns and in the countryside, men, women and youth, are everyday responding to the call of the African National Congress to engage the enemy at all times and on all fronts.

Repression Intensified

These internal and international developments are a source of great worry to the Vorster regime. This regime is forced to recognise the fact that its days are numbered. Yet it has no intention of handing over power to the black majority of our country.

Rather, it has intensified its repression of the liberation movement. It has resorted to the coldblooded shooting down of workers as a matter of consistent policy. The campaign of detention and torture, bans and banishment, is being intensified.

The policy of open terror has been extended to include murder by means of parcel bombs which, this year, have claimed the lives of Adolphus Mvemve, alias John Dube, a leading member of the African National Congress, and Abraham Tiro, leader of the South African Student Organisation.(2)

But neither the African National Congress nor our people as a whole will be dissuaded from the pursuit of their goals by this policy of open terror. On the contrary, our determination to remove the regime of terror increases with every outrage that the enemy commits. It is therefore to be expected that the South African fascists, like their predecessors elsewhere in the world, as in Nazi Germany, fascist Portugal and the OAS in Algeria, will, in its dying days, outdo itself in brutality and barbarism.

To create a second line of defence for themselves, the South African racists have speeded up their bantustan programme, which aims to destroy the strength of the African people by dividing them into tribes, to replace the authentic leadership of the oppressed people with placemen of the apartheid regime, to divert the people from the pursuit of their genuine national aspirations, to interpose, between the white oppressors and the black oppressed, black puppet regimes to break South Africa`s international isolation and defeat the worldwide anti-apartheid cause.

To be better able to defend white supremacy to the last, the racists, gambling on the deliberate impoverishment of our people, have also accelerated their policy of building up black paramilitary puppet forces.

The heightened mass struggle inside South Africa, Your Excellency, shows however that the people are not deceived by these manoeuvres. They have kept steadily in the forefront the fundamental objectives of enhancing the national unity of the African people, the unity in struggle of all the oppressed people and their total and unconditional national liberation, objectives that the African National Congress has spent over sixty years fighting for.

The great African Revolution is advancing inexorably towards the borders of South Africa. Portugal, an important ally in the counter-revolutionary Unholy Alliance of Portugal, Rhodesia and South Africa has found itself unable to hold its own against the brave and relentless blows delivered by our brother peoples of the Portuguese colonies. The sense of desperation of the South African racists has sharpened.

The day for which they have armed themselves with the most modern supersonic aircraft, warships, missiles and tanks is approaching. And that is the day when, in an attempt to defeat the revolution inside South Africa itself, they will loose their murderous wares against the peoples of independent Africa, to push back the frontiers of the African Revolution and to deny us our natural rear.

The South African racists and their imperialist allies have prepared very carefully, sparing neither money nor effort, to ensure that they transformed South Africa into a strong fortress for the defence of the huge imperialist economic stake in our country and a springboard for the subversion of the African Revolution and the recolonisation of Africa.

In the interests of our people, the peoples of Africa and the world, this bastion of reaction must be destroyed.

ANC Underground

The African National Congress, Your Excellency, its whole leadership and membership at home and abroad, are bending every effort to the realisation of this task. We are engaged in a complex and difficult struggle to strengthen the underground machinery of our organisation inside our country. Working under conditions of a police and fascist State, our cadres inside the country are making steady progress in consolidating and expanding the underground machinery of our organisation.

This internal machinery, with the aid and support of the section of our organisation outside the country, is constantly working to reach all sections of our people throughout the country, to organise them and to lead them in open mass political action against the Vorster regime.

The African National Congress is, however, aware that without armed struggle, it is impossible for us to defeat the apartheid regime and restore power to the people.

The African National Congress is therefore engaged continuously in the process of building up the people`s army, Umkhonto we Sizwe, in recruiting, training and arming its cadres. In our situation, which is characterised by the mass revolutionary enthusiasm of all our people, by the vicious reaction of the enemy to the popular mass struggle, and by the emergence of extremely favourable moral and material conditions as a result of the victories of our sister movements in the Portuguese colonies, the question of engaging the racist forces inside South Africa itself in armed combat has become a very urgent matter indeed. Our organisation and all its cadres are not shirking, nor will they in future shirk, this task, without whose fulfilment there can be no liberation.

The tasks we have to carry out, Your Excellency, are commensurate with the strength of our enemy and his importance in the global strategy of the common imperialist enemies of the African people.


While being quite convinced that we shall win our struggle by our own efforts, we are also convinced that without the massive, all-round and immediate assistance of the OAU and the peoples of independent Africa, our struggle will take that much longer and be that much more costly for our people.

We therefore appeal to Your Excellency and the OAU to provide us with such assistance, ranging from hard cash, weapons and transit facilities, to passports and other material assistance. We cannot, Your Excellency, over-emphasise the importance, sincerity and immediacy of this request.

It is, Your Excellency, also important that the OAU should continue to intensify the very valuable work it has already done in terms of rendering us political support.

It is vital that now we should intensify pressure for the total isolation of apartheid South Africa, paying particular attention to the imperialist countries, such as the United States, Britain, France, West Germany, Japan and Israel. These countries continue to defy the appeals of our own organisation and people, as well as the resolutions of the OAU and the United Nations. Not only do the OAU and the rest of the world anti-racist community have an obligation to take meaningful steps against the countries we have mentioned already, but the continuing deterioration of the positions of these countries in world politics has also created more favourable conditions for the success of the worldwide anti-apartheid movement.

The United Nations Organisation, Your Excellency, has declared apartheid a crime against humanity. It is therefore our view that the member States of the OAU should take the leading position in ratifying the Convention declaring apartheid to be such a crime. In this context, it is also vital that we should work so that the South African criminals are, once and for all, expelled from the United Nations, where they have masqueraded as representatives of the oppressed people for too long.

Political Prisoners

It is now more than ten years, as Your Excellency is aware, that the leaders of our people have been held illegally as hostages of the South African regime.

We refer, of course, to such outstanding leaders of our people such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Dennis Goldberg and others. There are, together with them, hundreds of others held by the South African fascists. There is a crying need, Your Excellency, that the OAU study carefully the question of the continued detention of these patriots and take the most resolute steps to ensure their release in the shortest possible time.

Your Excellency is aware that this is the Decade of Struggle to Combat Racism and Apartheid.(3)

It is a decade during which our people will make a supreme and concerted effort to rid humanity of the bastion of racism in the world, home of the apartheid system – that is, South Africa.

The willingness of our people to fight for their liberation, their readiness to sacrifice their lives for victory, are not in doubt. The peoples of Africa have already done much to assist us to gain that victory. The new situation, however, demands that much more should be done. We are certain that the fraternal peoples of Africa and the organisation which you head, Your Excellency, the OAU, will not fail us.

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