The Nordic Africa Institute

Tozamile Botha

Special Advisor to the Minister of Housing, IT Consultant

The interview was held by Bertil Högberg on 25 July 2005.

Botha became involved after Soweto as a student at the University of Fort Hare in 1976. After several incidents he had to leave and came to work as a high school teacher in Port Elisabeth where he formed the Association for Science and Technology. The association gathered students and teachers that had been thrown out of Fort Hare and acted as a cover for anti-apartheid activism. He went on to work for Ford Motors and formed the Port Elizabeth Black Civic Organisation (PEBCO) in 1978, a community organisation fighting for people’s civic rights. Several strikes were organised. Then in 1983 Botha was elected into the executive of SACTU and became the Administrative Secretary and was part of negotiating for the formation of COSATU. He was a prominent union activist.

Tozamile Botha

Bertil Högberg: I’m sitting here in Pretoria in the Ministry of Housing and with Mr Tozamile Botha and it is 25 of July 2005. How did you get involved in the struggle for liberation?

Tozamila Botha: Well in 1976 I was at Fort Hare and after the boycott of schools in Soweto when the uprising started, it was during the June holidays, the students who were at the University of Fort Hare when they came back were very agitated about what happened in Soweto. When they returned to the university the first meeting of the student union was called and the students explained what had transpired in Soweto, and their anger and of course what started in Soweto spread throughout the country very quickly, so tires started burning. Of course at Fort Hare it was clear, I mean everybody was saying “we cannot sit here at the university when the buildings are burning and the school buildings are burning in Soweto”. So the decision was whether we continued with the school or we went home and so the decision was that we must take some form of action and of course once that action was taken, it was sort of more of a boycott, the university decided that they were going to close the university. And the strike went on: the police came in, the riot police stopped the thing and we were all sent back home. So when we came back about two weeks later, we were sent back home again. So that was my end of university at Fort Hare.

Bertil Högberg: And you were actively involved in the student activities then?

Tozamila Botha: Yes, I was, but not in any formal organisation at the time. And then in 1976 when I went back I went to teach as an unqualified teacher at one of the high schools, Kwa Zakele High School in Port Elizabeth. So we started and then in 1977 we formed, in fact 1976, we formed an association called Association for Science and Technology.
Now that association was intended to assist matrix students, because there were a few of us who had done science, we were doing science at university, we started saying “the quality of science at high school is very low, there are very few highly qualified teachers to teach science” so we formed this association, we were called Association for Science and Technology, and it was really mainly the teachers or the students who were kicked out of Fort Hare who were now teaching in these schools that formed this primarily, so we were the activists. And a few of the students that were involved in this thing were arrested in my high school in the evening in 1977 for making petrol bombs and fuel bombs.

Bertil Högberg: That was the science education?

Tozamila Botha: Now the police started suspecting that this was not a genuine science and technology thing, that’s what they thought, it was more politically motivated, we wanted to do things, make bombs and what-have-you. So we got arrested for the first time and questioned. Oh, yes, the students were found and they were arrested and some of those, Sakie Makosoma, you know Sats, Sakie and their group, they were arrested and among those that were sent to Robben Island. Now we were arrested when we tried to demand the release of these first students who were arrested. There were 477 students who were arrested. At that time I was already involved in community activities in Port Elizabeth. I got involved in attempts at the rent boycott issues because quality of housing was bad and we started challenging the council to put up decent housing with proper sanitation, proper water systems for the black people. My first arrest was in 1977, I was arrested and charged for incitement to public violence. That was from a rally that we had organised for the release of the 477 students plus the fact that we were involved in this thing, the Science and Technology thing. Anyway, I was detained for about three months, we were charged and we went to court but we won the case. The four of us who were charged for the same thing, we won the case, we got acquitted.
Then 1978 I joined Ford Motor Company. So I worked for Ford Motor company as a work study technician. In 1978, we also formed PEBCO, Port Elizabeth Black Civic Organisation, which was really a community organisation fighting for people’s civic rights.

Bertil Högberg: That must have been one of the very early civic organisations.

Tozamila Botha: That’s right, it was almost at the same time as the Soweto Civic Association. So we really were very active and I was elected the President of PEBCO and it was really holding big rallies, 10 000 people attending, so it was quite big and I was of course in the press almost every day. My supervisor started calling me to his office, he said “I understand you are getting very political and the white foremen in the factory are unhappy about the fact that you are headlines in the papers and so you’d better choose between working for Ford and working for your – and getting involved in political activities”. It was a very difficult decision because I knew if I choose to go I’m going to starve, if I stay on I’m abandoning the people. So I said “no, I choose to leave”, so I left. I said “I will continue to work for my political organisation, I don’t know what it has to do with my work”. And I asked “am I not doing my work?” because my work was done and I really – it had nothing to do, I didn’t – my political activities didn’t interfere with my work at all, and they acknowledged that, they didn’t have a problem with that, they were just concerned that the whites – because the type of work we were doing was time and motion studies we were actually timing them as well, and there were a few of us who were blacks who were doing these things. So they were really very unhappy, just sheer racism in my view.
So once I left the following day the whole factory went on strike, 700 workers went on strike and they demanded that I be brought back and that the company stated the reasons why I had to leave or I was made to leave the factory. Then Ford sent a black foreman to my place to say please, I must come and negotiate with management, with top management. So first I refused, the first day I said “I’m not coming, the demands are very clear, go and meet these demands in this leaflet”. The demand was that I must come and address the workers in the factory as to why I was made to leave. Now obviously they wouldn’t like that so to cut a long story short the following day I went to management, to meet with management, they drove me back to the back of the factory, I entered through the back gate, they didn’t want the press and workers to see me, and of course then they said “we agree that you come back provided you go and tell those workers at the gate to just come back, tell them that the matter has been resolved”. There was no matter that was resolved so I said “no, I’m not going to do that. I will do it provided I do it according to these conditions. I will go and address them and tell them exactly what happened”. Oh, they were not happy with that, they didn’t want that at all.
So we ended up in an agreement that yes, I will come back and tell them to come back. I said “okay, I will come back but I will tell them why I was here”. So the following morning I was at the gate at seven o’clock, we waited, management and I then said I would not address these workers unless management, the MD of Ford South Africa was there, and of course he was not keen to go there, to come. So finally, and they were all in the same factory and they had informed the police, the police vans were inside the factory at the back of the factory, I mean Ford was big. Anyway the workers came in – I’m sorry they were gathered on the lawns, I said I wasn’t going to address them until management showed up – they didn’t come until I gave them an ultimatum that if they are not here within ten minutes I’m going home. So they came rushing, finally came with a loud hailer, they were going to address the workers, I asked for the loud hailer and I said “the reason that we’re today on strike is because of the arrogance of this management”.

Unidentified male voice: You said that?

Tozamila Botha: Yes, I said it. I said “it was the arrogance of this management because – one, I don’t know why they asked me to make a choice between political activities that had nothing to do with Ford and my work, and of course I chose to go home. Two, you told them what to do, they could have brought me back the following day and the matter would have been resolved. They didn’t listen and now we have this situation". So I addressed them, we agreed as I have said “now that we have resolved the matter they’ve agreed that they will reinstate everybody, you come back to work, so let’s go back to work”. So we went back to work.
A few days later the workers drafted a list of 14 grievances. At Ford there was discrimination. There were certain jobs which were still reserved for whites. The salary scales were different. We did this work and time study course, a mixture of us black, white, coloured and Indians and everybody, there was a white guy who came from Rhodesia, he was in the same class, two of us were the only two Africans in that group. We were the top of the class and we were promised, we were told before we wrote the exams, this was practical and theory at the same time, the whole course was about three months, “if you get above a certain percentage”, I think it was 75%, “you will get a supervisory position or you’ll get a certain salary increase” and blah, blah. We did the course, we completed it, this guy who was far behind us was our supervisor when we finished the course. So we said “hey, this is very nice” and he was in our office supervising us and supervising guys who had been working there for three years already. So these are some of the things.
So they put forward these grievances and said “you must address these within ten days”. They refused to address these grievances. On the tenth day the workers downed tools. I was back at work, they walked out, they sat on the lawn, they said “we are not going to work until our grievances are addressed”. By that time the vans were all over the factory, the police vans and soldiers, so as they sat there I was one of the people sitting there and I deliberately sat to the back and they asked me to address them.
The Ford public relations manager stood up on the roof of the factory with a loud hailer and addressed us “you get out of these premises otherwise we’ll call the police”. So we sat there and nobody responded, nobody, they ignored him. Then after a while they summoned the police in and they really came. You know those days they were very militant, the Caspirs, they came back, they just surrounded us, the vans were all over the show, they were armed already, and everybody stood up with pangas and other tools, they were just about to attack so I knew that here’s a massacre if it happens because they are going to shoot. So I stood up and I called on everybody to sit down and I addressed them in vernacular.
They had prohibited me from speaking, they said I should not address any meeting of workers on the factory premises. But when the police were there first I didn't ask them because when the situation erupted I just said “everybody sit down, wait, sit down, just sit”. But then I was asked to speak provided I was speaking through an interpreter and of course I spoke through an interpreter in my Xhosa language and the interpreter spoke in English. Of course the workers could understand because they were all Xhosa speaking anyway, it didn’t make sense.
So anyway the situation was that we did walk out of the factory, held meetings outside the premises and then at once the workers went on strike with their demands not having been met, the 14 demands where they were saying management must remove all discrimination on salaries, there must be equal pay for equal jobs in the work place, everybody must get the same training, so there were about 14 of those demands and when all of those demands were not met we held meetings and we had the support from the community, especially from the organisation PEBCO that I was heading. And then there were sympathy strikes at Firestone, at General Motors, and some of the other motor industries within the Port Elizabeth area.
That strike lasted for almost three months. It went to a point, where we were summarily dismissed, all of us, when we didn’t come back at a certain time. Then they replaced us with workers from the coloured community. That created a problem because then we demanded to be reinstated, all of us, 777 workers. When management appointed the other workers from the coloured community to scab on us then they had a problem because we said we were not going to accept what they called re-employment. Management proposed that they will take who they wish to take from us, we said “no, we want all of those workers that went on strike to be reinstated back into their positions”. Now they had already employed people so that they had employed close to 200 workers replacing the striking workers so they had a dilemma and we then said “no”. Of course we had mobilised support for the strike, we spoke to Bishop Tutu, we spoke to Dr Mathlana, we spoke to a number of other organisations that were communicating with America and it was an embarrassment to America because Ford was a signatory to the Sullivan Code of Conduct.

Bertil Högberg: Which stated equal pay.

Tozamila Botha: Exactly. So for Ford to actually have been faced with a strike where there were discriminations it was contrary to the Sullivan Code of Conduct and was really embarrassing politically at home. So the American Consul General, Alan Lucans[?] who was based in Cape Town then mediated on the strike, talked to Ford Motor Company, they then set up a meeting to bring both the Ford workers, the striking workers and Ford management under the same roof to talk for the first time in almost three months.
So we then talked and finally in that meeting it was agreed that Ford will reinstate all the striking workers and Ford said “yes, we will reinstate subject to availability of jobs”. We said “no, no subject to availability of jobs, all striking workers full stop”. They announced it in the papers that it will be subject to availability of jobs, we said “no” and we knew that they would want to victimise the striking workers so what we did we agreed that they must take the workers in groups. We were going to go in groups of about 25. So we took all the troublesome workers who were leading the strike and put them into the first group because we knew that these are the ones they wanted to take out anyway even though they said they were not going to discriminate against anybody.
So at the end all the striking workers were reinstated in February 1980. I was the only one not reinstated. On that very same day when we resolved the strike, I was going to address a meeting in Walmer township in Port Elizabeth because Walmer township was threatened with removal, mass removal by the old – you know these mass removals of the apartheid government – so I was addressing people, we were opposing the removal of the people in Walmer at the time and we resisted that, we were demonstrating against this and I was going to address a meeting that evening in Walmer and I was arrested. I was in detention for two months, almost three months, and then I was banned, I was put under a banning order, I was prohibited from working in any factory, going to any university, going near learning institutions and I couldn’t leave my house from six in the evening to six in the morning, I couldn’t be out of my house on public holidays and weekends. So that meant that I couldn’t work.
I was under that banning order for about two, three months and I arranged to leave the country illegally. But before that in November of that year we went to Lesotho, illegally, we found ways to get into Lesotho to meet with the ANC. We had discussed the strike with the ANC and got support from the ANC, even financially. So when I left in March of the following year, in 1980, I already knew Chris Hani and a lot of other people in Lesotho, ANC.

Bertil Högberg: He was the chief representative then in Lesotho?

Tozamila Botha: That’s right. So I went to Lesotho, that’s where I was then based for about 3 ½ years. I went to the university and then via the ANC I joined SACTU. This because I came from a trade union background. We had formed a trade union called MACWUSA, the Motor Assembly and Component Workers Union, which was in competition to UAW, United Automobile Workers Union within FOSATU. Because they refused to support us in the strike.

Bertil Högberg: They were mainly white?

Tozamila Botha: They were black and white.

Bertil Högberg: Okay, they were mixed.

Tozamila Botha: But they refused to support the strike, saying that the strike was politically motivated. So the only way we could resolve the strike, if we didn’t stand united as striking workers, was because now we were able to take workers from FOSATU and form a union because of their attitude – I was the Chairman of that organisation so when I left I then joined SACTU and ANC of course and the South African Communist Party.
Then in 1983 I was elected into the executive of SACTU so I became the Administrative Secretary of SACTU, I was based in Lusaka. So then I continued with the activities of SACTU. When we were raising funds abroad we were raising funds because SACTU, although it was a banned organisation when it was formed in the 1950s, it continued to operate underground so it was in contact with many of the trade union movements within the country. It would send pamphlets, we had several meetings with unions when we were still in Lesotho, Sydney Mufamadi the current Minister of Local Government and Provincial Affairs, was one of the contact people that we used to meet there, Cyril Ramaphosa, those are people we met with when we were still in exile to infiltrate information and of course debrief them about what was happening in the country, so we knew what was happening. We participated in the negotiations for one union, even when they were busy negotiating for the formation of COSATU we had workshops and conferences in Lusaka, we had meetings in Zimbabwe, in Harare, debating and discussing these things.
But of course the unions were also negotiating directly with the ICFTUs and what-have-you but of course South African unions couldn’t be involved in WFTU. SACTU was an affiliate of WFTU and of course in the western world SACTU was a communist organisation and therefore couldn’t receive funding directly. So it was difficult for SACTU to raise funds, however SACTU didn’t deal with it, because it realised the difficulty of its position because as that it was affiliated to WFTU it had to deal with the affiliate unions because some of the affiliate unions of the country federations were supporting SACTU. In Britain we had a number of unions that supported SACTU at sub-federation level, so that helped it to build up and we appealed to solidarity organisations and so forth. So really some of the resources of SACTU came from that and of course because of the support we were getting, the ANC was getting, from Sweden SACTU had a share of that via the ANC because as part of the liberation organisation we also had to present our credentials, we had to get a bit of that at least to cover some of our costs. After all the struggle we were prosecuting was a struggle for liberation of everybody, and we were focusing on the labour front.

Bertil Högberg: What were your first contacts with Sweden or other Scandinavian countries?

Tozamila Botha: You see the difficulty I will have is that I was not – you see the person who was dealing with our relations in those countries, in Europe in general, was John Gaetsewe and Zola Zemba. So we dealt with the trade unions via London because our office, our international office, was in London, so when it comes to specific names I will not be able to remember names. I know that we had a couple of meetings but one of them I remember very well, we had a meeting in Sweden, I think in the late 1980s, I can’t remember it was 1985 or 1986, when we were talking to SIDA about funding and SIDA said it needed support from the LOTCO to make sure that because they were opposing they realised that we were getting money via SIDA, then they tried to block our budget because of our affiliation to WFTU and they said that the money has got to come via ICFTU or via LOTCO which will be supported by -. We knew that there was no way we were going to get the money in that route so we had a big fight and we were in Stockholm for a couple of days fighting for this and finally we managed to get something out of that.

Bertil Högberg: Did you meet the trade unions at that time?

Tozamila Botha: Yes, we did meet with the trade unions.
I can’t remember the names but we did meet with the senior people from some of the trade unions.

Bertil Högberg: And also with the solidarity organisations, Africa Groups and so on, did you meet?

Tozamila Botha: Oh, yes, no, we met. Oh, I went to Sweden to meet with them –I remember going to where they used to collect clothes and …[interruption]

Bertil Högberg: Bread and Fishes?

Tozamila Botha: Bread and Fishes, yes.

Bertil Högberg: That’s my old organisation.

Tozamila Botha: Yes, that’s right. The first time I went to Sweden I went to Bread and Fishes to get nice clothes there.

Bertil Högberg: That’s also when we had this debate with ASEA that was down there.

Tozamila Botha: Yes, that was the time. You see when we were campaigning, in fact I had addressed a meeting on ASEA, ASEA had investments in South Africa and it was selling components, if I’m not wrong, it was selling motor components, ball bearings.

Bertil Högberg: No, not ball bearings, but motor and transmitting components.

Tozamila Botha: Components, yes.

Bertil Högberg: Like transformers and things.

Tozamila Botha: Yes, so we were campaigning because we were saying “why should you continue to operate in South Africa under these conditions when your government does not support apartheid?”. So that’s really the long and short of what I can recall.

Bertil Högberg: I mean there was this political support from the solidarity movement towards SACTU in relation to this conflict but did you also receive any other support to SACTU, like money and things from the solidarity movement?

Tozamila Botha: I’m not sure of financial support, I don’t remember. As I said the office that was dealing with that financial business was the London office. The person who will be able to give you more information might be Zola Zembe who lives in the UK.

Bertil Högberg: Oh, he still lives there?

Tozamila Botha: He’s still in the UK, in Manchester I think. I don’t remember the details about it but I know the bulk of the money, cash, used to come from the government and really what we got from the solidarity organisation was humanitarian support.

Bertil Högberg: Did you have any other contacts with the other Nordic countries – were you ever visiting Denmark, Norway or Finland?

Tozamila Botha: We had. I mean I visited, we had support from Norway, we had Denmark, we had support from across the board from the solidarity organisations those were strong countries in terms of solidarity organisations and of course the government.

Bertil Högberg: Did you also have visits from the Nordic countries in Lusaka?

Tozamila Botha: Oh, yes. I mean all of these countries, the Nordic countries, all of them, the Danish solidarity organisation, Norwegian support organisation, they all had programmes that supported the ANC, supported the various organisations including SACTU.

Bertil Högberg: What would you say that the support from the Nordic areas, from the solidarity organisations and the state, meant for the trade union development in South Africa?

Tozamila Botha: It was... I mean the whole idea was really... I mean most of the support we got when we did, for example, workshops and conferences was easy to get. If we said that we needed money for a workshop, we’re going to meet people from South Africa, it was something tangible, we would get that kind of thing. We got a lot of, some of, the funding via ILO, but this money was mobilised from some of these countries. It was relatively easy for us to get money when we were training people, we were training shop stewards, we were training people in negotiation skills, we were writing books, pamphlets and things like that, that type of thing we would get as a trade union organisation.
Some of the support would have to come via the ANC and when it came to trade unions there were a number of other sensitivities about this affiliation thing with the WTFU and what-not. The ANC was much broader and sort of perceived as broad and all encompassing.

Bertil Högberg: Is there any special memory you have around, any special incident or contact with the Nordic countries that you remember?

Tozamila Botha: For me all I can say is that without the Nordic countries the liberation, the ANC as a liberation movement in the broad sense of the word, would not have been where it is today because whilst the eastern European countries supported us through scholarships and military support, training and so forth, the Nordic countries supported us financially. The food we ate came from the Nordic countries. Our budget, the ANC budget, was almost part of the budget of those countries on an annual basis, so for me that’s the best memory, that at least I know for a fact because without that kind of support, financial support, at the end of the day it didn't matter how good we were being militarily trained, without food we wouldn’t be, we wouldn’t survive. We were clothed, we were fed by the Scandinavian or Nordic countries to a very large extent. Denmark, Norway, Sweden, those are countries that really gave us food.

Bertil Högberg: And what happened after 1990 with SACTU?

Tozamila Botha: When we came back home SACTU could not operate as SACTU because there was COSATU, so we all accepted that we couldn’t resuscitate SACTU so those of SACTU who still wanted to pursue trade union interests had to do that through COSATU. Whatever resources that SACTU had they were donated to the trade unions here at home. We continued within the broader liberation struggle, I mean 1991 I was elected into the National Executive of the ANC so I was in the National Executive of the ANC until 1994. I resigned in 1994, I was re-elected in 1995 at the Bloemfontein conference, because I was appointed by President Mandela as the Chairman of the Commission on Provincial Government. That commission was responsible for establishing the nine provinces and dissolving the old homeland administrations and the four provincial administrations. So we were integrating the administrations into nine provinces and dissolving that. So I was chairing that commission with nine other commissioners, which we did, we did that for a year and then I was appointed the Director General in the Eastern Cape province. Then I came in 1997 into business.

Bertil Högberg: And now you’re a big and established businessman.

Tozamila Botha: Yes.

Bertil Högberg: In what field? What is your company doing?

Tozamila Botha: We are in the IT and telecommunications sector.

Bertil Högberg: Okay, that’s for sure an expanding sector.

Tozamila Botha: Yes, we assemble computers, we repair computers, we assemble pre-paid cards, we are a distributor of SIM cards for cell phones, we install the masts for the cell phone towers for communications. That’s the sort of business we’re in.

Bertil Högberg: Okay.

Tozamila Botha: And then of course on a part-time basis I’m a special advisor to the Minister of Housing, I spend a few hours a week on housing.

Bertil Högberg: That’s why we started our meeting there?

Tozamila Botha: Yes, that’s right.

Bertil Högberg: Okay, thank you very much for your time.

Tozamila Botha: Thank you very much indeed.