The Nordic Africa Institute

Kay Moonsamy

ANC—Treasury Department—Treasurer General of the South African Congress of Trade Unions Treasurer General of the South African Communist Party

Tor Sellström: In exile, you were involved with humanitarian assistance from the Nordic countries for a long time. When did you leave South Africa?

Kay Moonsamy: I was in the Treason Trial of 1956, which ended in 1961. I left the country after a trial for participating in banned organizations which went on for several months. Finally, by decision of the movement I had to leave the country. I left, to be exact, on 29 June 1965. I went into exile in Bechuanaland, now Botswana. Those were what we refer to as ‘the dark days’. It was two years after the Rivonia arrests in 1963 and the sentencing of our illustrious leader comrade Nelson Mandela and his colleagues in 1964. They were sentenced to life imprisonment and that was, I think, the darkest period in our history in so far as the leadership and the struggle was concerned. From 1962, the Sabotage Act, the Ninety Days Law, the Terrorism Act, in fact the most vicious, wicked and savage laws were passed to smash and destroy ANC, the Communist Party and the entire democratic movement in our country. But, of course, history has proved that the reactionary forces and the apartheid system failed to do that.
Well, my going into exile—like so many of the members of ANC and the party—led me to Bechuanaland. I remained there for more than three years. It was only after that that I was asked to proceed to Zambia. I used to get frantic calls from the late comrade Thomas Nkobi, who said that they needed someone to go to the ANC headquarters in Morogoro, Tanzania. The Treasurer General at that time was comrade Moses Kotane. When he fell ill, the position was taken over by comrade J.B. Marks and because of pressure of work and so on he wanted someone to assist him in his office. That is how I first made my way to Zambia in 1968. At that period we were preparing for the Morogoro Conference of 1969, so I went at a very interesting time. After a short while in Zambia, working with comrade TG (Thomas Nkobi), who was the ANC Chief Representative there, we proceeded to Tanzania. We all travelled with the Lusaka delegation. We travelled by road. The road from Zambia to Tanzania used to be called the hell-run. It took us about four or five days. We arrived on 25 April 1969, during the opening of the Morogoro Conference. We entered the hall as the late comrade O.R. Tambo was addressing the conference. That was the beginning of my stay in Tanzania, in Morogoro, working with comrade J.B. Marks.

Tor Sellström: When you came to Tanzania did you have any previous contacts with the Nordic countries?

Kay Moonsamy: No, I personally did not have any contacts. But I think that my contacts, at least with Sweden, should go back to 1972-73 by virtue of my position assisting comrade Thomas Nkobi and also in Tanzania comrade J.B. Marks. Comrade Marks passed away in 1972 and then comrade Thomas Nkobi became the Acting Treasurer General. I used to commute between Tanzania and Zambia, and I had my first dealings with SIDA in Lusaka. They began to give us aid, a very small amount at first. I know that comrade Treasurer General quite often used to refer to this. He always used to take us back to 1973, saying that there was something like 150,000 Swedish Kronor given to ANC by SIDA.

Tor Sellström: That is correct. That was the first allocation.

Kay Moonsamy: It was a very small one, but, nevertheless, it was the beginning of the massive all round aid that was given by the Swedish government, SIDA and the people of Sweden. And, of course, when you talk about Sweden you talk about the Nordic countries. But I think that one can say, without casting any reflection on any of the other countries, that Sweden played a pivotal role as far as aid was concerned, not only to our movement, but to the liberation movement as a whole. When you look at this in a broader context, the Nordic countries played a gigantic role.

Tor Sellström: How did you view this when you got the first support from the Nordic countries? Did you then see it as genuine support or as support with a hidden agenda?

Kay Moonsamy: No, none whatsoever. The support from the Nordic countries—especially from Sweden—was in our view support given to the people of South Africa who were struggling to overthrow the most savage system in modern history, that is, apartheid. The relationship was one of openness, one of fully appreciating our struggle, although it was both peaceful and non-peaceful. In fact, we started from the peaceful and went to the non-peaceful, because of the changed conditions in our country.
The Nordic countries have a history of fighting against racism and stood up in the United Nations and in other world and international fora condemning apartheid. Not merely condemning, but giving us full support. It was not only the governments—and now we are talking about Sweden—but the people of these countries themselves, the anti-apartheid groups, the Africa Groups, that gave us moral, political, diplomatic, financial and material support. I think that it has been proven that the support was one of commitment. In my relations with all those that I came into contact with, I always preferred the Nordic countries, because we worked so closely and their support was genuine, with no hidden agenda. The basis of their support was to liberate our country. The testimony is that from a mere 150,000 it ran into hundreds of millions of Swedish Kronor over the long period that we received support.
Not only in the field of humanitarian assistance. It went beyond that. The humanitarian assistance covered food, clothing, shelter, upkeep and the running of ANC offices throughout the world, but, much more, it also included a component which was simply called the Home Front. That is when one could say, yes, here is a country and a people who support our cause, because the millions that were given to the component called Home Front were given without any strings attached whatsoever. It was budgetary support. That is important, because those funds did a lot. It was under the heading humanitarian assistance, but the Home Front allocation was for underground activities, for organizers, meetings, publication of leaflets, pamphlets and so on. That is, to move the struggle forward.

Tor Sellström: Was that unique to the SIDA assistance or did other Nordic countries also support Home Front activities?

Kay Moonsamy: No, SIDA was the only one that had this Home Front item very clearly. The allocations from DANIDA, FINNIDA and NORAD were mainly for external support for projects in the settlements in Morogoro and Mazimbu. Unlike SIDA, which very distinctly had this Home Front component. Not that the others did not support the struggle of ANC that was taken inside the country, but the SIDA component was very clear. In fact, it was the first item on the agenda at the negotiations with SIDA, dealing with publications and activities in South Africa. But SIDA did much more than that. What about the various organizations inside the country? They used to make requests to ANC and some organizations used to make direct appeals to the Swedish government although some were afraid to ask because of the confidence that was built between our two organizations and peoples.

Tor Sellström: The Swedish government did not want to end up in a situation where they were supporting activities inside that would go against the thrust of the support to ANC?

Kay Moonsamy: That is right. SIDA was concerned about that and its concern was justified, because for SIDA ANC was the major liberation movement, without excluding others. It was an organization proven, first of all by its policy and programme of non-racialism and, secondly, of being in the forefront of the struggle.

Tor Sellström: Within the Nordic countries there was often criticism of the governments by the solidarity movements. You had relations with both the broad base of the Nordic societies and with the governments. Did that constitute a problem for you?

Kay Moonsamy: Well, as I stated earlier, we went from a peaceful form of struggle, non-violence, to the launching of the armed struggle in 1961 with the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe. We entered a radically new era in the struggle. There were countries that did not see that clearly, but they softened and said: ‘Well, we will give you humanitarian support.’ That was their right.
In Sweden, the Africa Groups were very strong. But I do not think that there was anything that undermined our struggle and I cannot recall when the Nordic countries, especially SIDA, said: ‘You cannot do this or you cannot do that!’

Tor Sellström: There were no conditions attached to the aid?

Kay Moonsamy: There was no condition whatsoever. Now, if you look at the Western world, especially the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, West Germany and so on, the people took a different position to the governments. The people supported totally the stand of the people of South Africa to overthrow the apartheid system. They supported the armed struggle. They supported the Isolate South Africa Campaign, economic sanctions and so on. The people took an anti-apartheid position, but the governments of those countries took a different stand. After a period, they also had to change. We, therefore, make a distinction between the people of a country and the government. Even in Sweden, the Africa Groups were more radical on some of the issues and tried to push the government, saying ‘please give more so that we can end the savage apartheid system’.

Tor Sellström: Did you read Helmuth Kohl’s speech to the South African parliament last Monday? He said that the German companies supported you even in the darkest days of the struggle by maintaining their businesses in South Africa, assisting discriminated population groups.

Kay Moonsamy: Well, everybody knows that we were critical of the United Kingdom, the United States of America, France and the Federal Republic of Germany, because they were the sanction busters. The whole world knows that. Of course, when the situation was changing in our country—when we went towards negotiations and after the lifting of the ban on ANC— these countries saw the writing on the wall and began supporting, in the main, ANC and, generally, the struggle against apartheid and for the negotiation process. But one must be very clear and make a distinction between the government and the people of those countries.

Tor Sellström: You mentioned the annual consultations between ANC and SIDA. Did you also have annual consultations with DANIDA, FINNIDA and NORAD?

Kay Moonsamy: Yes, with all the Nordic countries, but the most intensive was with SIDA. I would say that the second was with NORAD, because of their involvement in Mazimbu. Also FINNIDA. We had annual consultations to look into our budgetary requirements and so on. But there was much more than the annual meetings. There used to be many meetings even before the annual consultations took place, to discuss new programmes, to review the progress that we were making, to see how they could assist us, increasing the support etc.
All this also bears testimony to ANC’s commitment. In spite of our weaknesses—we are not saying that we are perfect—the Nordic countries and all those who were supporting us recognized the leadership of ANC, its ability to implement projects and to account to its donors. I think that it is very significant. I was in it and I know that from a mere 150,000 the support ran into hundreds of millions of Swedish Kronor. That in itself is an indication of the confidence that these countries had in our organization. I think that we carried out our obligations to the best of our ability, in spite of our weaknesses. We were an underground movement. We did not have many trained people. Our main aim was to train people and send them into the country. That was the important thing, because that was the key to liberation in the shortest possible time.

Tor Sellström: The Nordic countries would in this respect treat ANC as a sovereign country. There would be the same procedures for annual consultations, budgetary follow-ups etc., as with, for example, Zambia, Zimbabwe or Angola. As the representative of the ANC Treasury, do you think that there were sufficient financial controls?

Kay Moonsamy: Again, a clear indication of their confidence in ANC was to deal with us as a government.
Yes, we had reporting mechanisms, not only financial, but through quarterly statements and progress reports on what had been done in a particular field. I know that there were certain critical areas. When SIDA said: ‘We are not very happy. Not that there has been embezzlement, but we need to know more’, we went back to the various ANC departments and held departmental meetings. We found cases where the department was slow in reporting or when it was not utilising the funds rapidly. I think that these things were dealt with very frankly. What is important is that there was an agreement which was very clear on what the two parties had to do, how the accounting was to be done, how the reporting was to be presented, the audited financial statements etc. And, again, it is significant that SIDA did not want any statement apart from a report as far as the item called Home Front was concerned. It shows the confidence which the Swedish government, SIDA and the people had in our movement.

Tor Sellström: I think that it is important to record that people like Thomas Nkobi, Kay Moonsamy and Roland Axelsson, worked very closely and actually held the whole thing together. And that the officials in the Procurement Division at SIDA, Stockholm, which normally would be seen as a technical unit, were involved in the shipment of considerable amounts of food and humanitarian goods to Angola, for example.

Kay Moonsamy: Indeed. It was a great tragedy when we lost our outstanding comrade Treasurer General, Thomas Nkobi, soon after the birth of the new South Africa. Our relationship was based on a very genuine friendship and commitment. He always used to refer to the Nordic countries, especially to our colleagues in SIDA, and the manner in which they used to approach our problems with a view of always finding a solution to assist and not to create difficulties for us. I think that it was very important. I have very fond, and I would say revolutionary, memories of my association with all the SIDA representatives, right from the Director General, Carl Tham, to Roland Axelsson, Jan Cedergren, Johan Brisman, Anders Möllander, Lena Johansson, Birgitta Sevefjord, Ingalill Colbro and many others.
Although the Nordic countries geographically are not Frontline States like Zambia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, politically, diplomatically, morally and in giving us financial and material assistance they were right in the frontline. We really cherish this long friendship. With the new South Africa, I think that the relationship is quite different. There will be a state-to-state relationship. There will be relations between different organizations and we look forward to closer cooperation in all fields, economically, culturally, in the sports field, in every way, so that the countries come closer. We have entered a special period after 340 years of colonial rule and 45 years of the worst form of apartheid to transform our country. And we can say that we look with confidence to the future. The transition process is taking place and with the support of the international community we will be able to transform our country into a strong, viable, democratic, united, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.

Tor Sellström: The Swedish government supported SACTU within the SIDA allocation to ANC. Did other Nordic countries support SACTU in a similar fashion?

Kay Moonsamy: No, not as far as I can recall. It was only SIDA that found a formula to assist.

Tor Sellström: But at one stage it was said from the Swedish side that SACTU was a trade union organization and therefore could not receive official support under the ANC umbrella. SACTU should seek contacts directly with the Swedish LO/TCO.

Kay Moonsamy: Yes. Again we have to thank SIDA and the many officials who tried to set up meetings with LO/TCO. We did succeed and we had more than one meeting. I participated in the meetings and we even drew up an agreement of intent. Let us be very clear: They were very supportive of ANC, SACTU and the struggle against apartheid, but their problem was that SACTU was an affiliate of WFTU, that is, the World Federation of Trade Unions. They were members of ICFTU and therefore felt that they were not in a position to assist. That did not in any way sour our relationship, because through their own channels they gave support to ANC in the struggle. I think that it was important. But, unfortunately, we could not cement this in a more tangible way.

Tor Sellström: Later, LO/TCO channelled a lot of support to COSATU and to the unions inside the country.

Kay Moonsamy: Yes, that is true. During the struggle against apartheid I recall that we started discussions on how the new South Africa would relate to our genuine friends who supported us in the very critical period. We used to assure our colleagues in the Nordic countries that the new South Africa under ANC would have the closest relationship with them, in the diplomatic field, in the cultural field, in the sports field, in the economic field and so on. I think that it is very vital for us and that it is important because of the past. The new South Africa needs to have this very active interrelationship to build a strong, better and prosperous nation.
The Nordic countries were our staunch and committed supporters, while some of the big Western powers were obstructing our struggle. Of course, they have now changed. ANC would like to have the closest all round relationship with every country, but we have our principles. Sometimes expedience gives way to principle, but we have to be the torchbearers of democracy, freedom and equality, because such an approach will ensure that we build a better South Africa.
We want this relationship. I thought that I should say this. I think very strongly on this question. There are some, for instance in the Western countries, who think that they were in the forefront. I want to say very emphatically that they were not. On the contrary, they were obstructing our struggle. The countries who were in the forefront were the Nordic countries and Africa, in spite of all her problems. Of course, apartheid was responsible for them. I think that it is important to state that SIDA also used to assist the Southern African countries. If it were not for the Frontline States, our struggle would probably have taken a little longer. In spite of their economic problems, they gave us much more than shelter. For that we are most grateful, just as we are very grateful to the Nordic countries and to all those who supported the struggle against apartheid.