An Interview with… Vusi Khumalo

“Comrade News,” the Osaka JAAC’s newsletter, is pleased to present an interview with South African labor leader Vusi Khumalo, conducted on 6 July 1990 during his recent tour to Japan. His visits to various labor unions in Osaka, Kyoto, Nagoya and Tokyo were intended to shore up solidarity for the South African freedom struggle — as well as to plan bilateral strategies for putting pressure on Japan-South Africa economic ties.

—Birth date/place: 16 Dec. 1949; Johannesburg, South Africa.

—Present positions: Gen. Secty. of 20,000-member Postal and Telecommunications Workers Assoc. (POTWA). Exec. committee member of Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), an umbrella organization of about 1 million workers.

—Other memberships: African National Congress (ANC) and Mass Democratic Movement (MDM).

—Harassment by state: He was jailed without charge for six months in 1981 for attempting to form Black trade union within governmental Dept. of Post and Telecommunications. In 1988, he was placed under strict house arrest for six months due to union activities.

—Recent activities: Joined delegations that met with Pres. F.W. de Klerk and the Labour Minister regarding the government’s repressive Labour Relations Act (LRA).

COMRADE NEWS: I’d like to ask you about your visits to some of the [Kansai-area] trade unions. What have you talked about with them and what has been their reaction?

VUSI KHUMALO: The main message was that of continuing and maintaining the pressure of sanctions against the Pretoria regime, and also to continue the solidarity action that exists between the trade union movement of our country and the trade union movement in this country. So it’s been actually an attempt to revitalize that relationship. And I have received a very, very welcome and warm response from all the people I’ve spoken with so far.

CN: Unions here in Asia and in the West may have no idea how tough it is to operate as a union in South Africa. What are some of the worst experiences you’ve had as a union leader?

VK: It would be very difficult to single out one incident. But recently on 24 May 1990 — in daylight — my house caught fire “mysteriously” and half the house was burned down. That was the most harrowing experience for me because I left my family [for] an hour to go to the airport, I come back, I find my house is half-burned, and no one can explain to me how it happened. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. And the insurance [company] refuses to pay….

And the other harrowing experiences I have had were when attempts were made on my life by agents of the South African government: being shot at, being bumped out of the road. I’ve survived two major accidents where brakes of the car failed or where someone simply wants to run you off the road with a motorcar. These have been the day-to-day experiences
not only by myself, but by other trade union people in my country.

CN: What advice can you offer to all of the people here [in Japan], not just unions but to all the grassroots activists, [in working for] the future of South Africa?

VK: I would say that we are in for a very good future in our country. If the developments currently taking place proceed rapidly, I think South Africa is going to become one of those countries where physical change is brought about without a loss of many lives — if we go this route. That is why we call upon the people to increase the pressure of sanctions because we believe it is a peaceful way that other countries can contribute to a peaceful transformation of the South African situation.

CN: Have you had a chance to meet Nelson Mandela? How did you find him?

VK: Yes, I met him the second day [after] he was released [in February 1990]. And he has attended many of the COSATU/ANC consultative meetings where we have been planning the strategies together of how to bring about this state [of change].

He’s a very intelligent old man. He’s very warm, he’s not bitter about the fact that he stayed in prison for such a long time. And he’s as determined as ever that he will use his last years of life to help resolve the situation in a peaceful way.

CN: What is the general timetable we’re looking at for the ANC’s congress some time this year? Is that still planned?

VK: Yes, that’s being planned. It will be held on the 16th of December. We haven’t found the venue yet, but it will be held.

CN: And when do you envision a free South Africa?

VK: If negotiations — serious negotiations — do take place toward the greater part of this year, say, by October, then I give that process a year and another year after that. So one is talking about two years — if nothing dramatically changes — [when] we will have free elections and therefore a democratic government being installed.

CN: And we look forward to that day. Thank you very much.

VK: Thank you.