As the ANC celebrates its 100th anniversary, has it remained true to its founding principles? Did a section of the party sell out the dispossessed with the Freedom Charter in 1955?
What was the fundamental objective of the ANC when it was formed in 1912? Did the present ANC leaders, especially since June 1955, pursue the primary goal of the 1912 ANC as envisaged by the founding fathers? Is the present ANC therefore 100 years old or 57 years old? Does it have the same objectives and policies as the 1912 ANC? Why was South Africa last to be ‘liberated’ on the African continent, and without repossession of the land, economic power and with so much poverty among the African people?
On 8 January 1912, when opening the inaugural conference of the ANC (then called SANNC), Dr. Pixley ka Seme said, ‘Kings of the royal blood and gentlemen of our race, we have gathered here to consider and discuss a scheme my colleagues have decided to place before you…In the land of our birth, Africans are treated as hewers of wood and drawers of water. The whites have formed what is known as the Union of South Africa in which we have no voice.’
African kings had fought many wars of national resistance against colonialism for over 200 years until their spears succumbed to the guns of the colonial aggressors. All had their lands forcefully taken from them. Others, like King Hintsa, had fallen in battle against rapacious colonial forces.
WHAT PRECIPITATED THE FORMATION OF THE ANC IN 1912?
An ANC leader, Dr. S. Moridi Molema, described these colonialists in 1952 as ‘men who are nothing else but robbers, villains and traitors to the highest and noblest teachings of Christianity which they so blatantly profess, men shockingly contemptuous of their conscience and now in a frenzy of self-adulation preparing to embrace each other and shake their bloody hands...and ready to commence another evil era of rapine and oppression.’
The colonial laws that precipitated the formation of the ANC in 1912 were the Union of South Africa Act 1909 and the Native Land Act 1913. The 1909 Act stated that to qualify as a member of the House of Assembly a person had to be a British subject of European descent. In 1909, there were five million Africans in Azania (South Africa) and a total of 349,537 colonial settlers, according to the 1904 census. The five million indigenous Africans remained helpless spectators as the tragedy of their land dispossession unfolded before them. The 1909 Act was followed by the Native Land Act of 1913. This colonial law allocated 93 per cent of the country to 349,837 European settlers and 7 per cent to five million Africans.
Sol Plaatje, who became the first secretary of ANC in 1912, wrote about why Africans were dispossessed of their land. ‘In the harvest of 1911, there was panic among white farmers because an African had garnered 3,OOO bags of wheat and another 1,6OO bags...in a neighbourhood where their white neighbours reaped 300 to 400 bags of wheat. African export produce was looming in the not distant future. Then public opinion which in this country stands for white opinion asserted itself. “Where will we get servants?” It was asked, “if the Kaffirs are allowed to become skilled? A Kaffir with 3,000 bags of wheat! What will he do with the money? If they are inclined to herd pedigree stock let them improve their masters (whites) cattle and cultivate for them”.’
Earl Glen, a British official, had put the issue of land dispossession of the African in South Africa, colonially clear. ‘The Africans are generally looked upon by Whites as an inferior race whose interests must be systematically disregarded when they come into competition with their own, and should be governed with a view to the advantage of the superior race. For this reason two things must be afforded to white colonists obtaining land...the Kaffir should be made to furnish as large and cheap labour as possible.’
ANC FOUNDERS IN TALKS WITH KING GEORGE V ON LAND DISPOSSESSION IN 1914
There was panic among African leaders and their people. On 20 July 1914, the leaders of the newly formed ANC went to England to present a petition to King George V, protesting land dispossession of the African people. They were President John L. Dube, Secretary Sol Plaatje, Walter Rubusana, Thomas Mapikela and Saul Msane.
In part, their petition read that Africans ‘loved their country with a most intense love...that their land had been taken away from them, their military and other institutions brought to nought.’ The petition of the five ANC founders demanded: ‘…that the natives ( Africans) be put into possession of land in proportion to their numbers and on the same conditions as the white race.’ The delegation achieved nothing, except for a favourable London daily newspaper report on the cause of their mission in England.
‘In carving out estates for themselves in Africa, the white races have shown little regard for the claims of the black man. They have appropriated his land and have taken away his economic freedom and have left him in a worse case than they found him…That the African has been dispossessed may be illustrated by the facts in regard to the Union of South Africa. Here blacks compared with whites are in the proportion of four to one, but are in legal occupation of only one fifteenth of their land...the deputation of Natives (ANC leaders) now in England have appealed to the imperial government for protection. They asked for the suspension of the Native Land Act 1913…’
‘SETTLERS ARE RECEIVERS OF STOLEN GOODS’ – A BRITISH HUMANITARIAN
Some justice conscious whites spoke about the land dispossession of the African people. Here are a few examples:
a. ‘The active seizure by force or guile of lands actually in possession of the Africans was a blunder of the first magnitude and an act of injustice.’ – Sir Godfrey Lagden
b. ‘The mistake we made in South Africa in the past was our failure in reserving sufficient land for the future of the natives and the problem we have in consequence on our hands is one of the most difficult.’ - Jan Smuts in 1930
c. ‘Aborigines have had wholesale robbery of territory committed upon them and settlers have become receivers of stolen good.’ – Blackhouse, a British humanitarian.
PRESENT ANC REPUDIATED LAND DISPOSSESSION OF AFRICANS 57 YEARS AGO
The present ANC is not 100 years old. It abandoned the fundamental objectives of the 1912 ANC 57 years ago. In 1955, a section of the 1912 ANC leadership was captured by a section of the white ruling class. Despite the background of the Union of South Africa Act 1909 and the Native Land Act 1913, in 1955 the authors of the Freedom Charter preamble falsely proclaimed: ‘We, the people of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white...and therefore, we the people of South Africa black and white together, equals, countrymen and brothers adopt the Charter.’
This was a colossal colonial fraud. Fifty-seven years after this deception there are two ‘nations’ in South Africa. One is an extremely rich and white minority and the other is an extremely poor and 80 per cent African majority. In 1943, 1944, 1948 and 1949 the Congress Youth League had formulated four freedom documents. The 1912 ANC had adopted these documents as its policy. It implemented them under Presidents A.B. Xuma, Dr. James Moroka and Chief Albert Luthuli. The Freedom Charter defectors threw them into the political dustbin and replaced them with this so-called Freedom Charter.
On the economy, the 1944 document had proclaimed, ‘The Congress Youth League holds that political democracy remains an empty form without substance unless it is properly grounded on a base of economic democracy…Land: The re-division of land among farmers and peasants of all nationalities in proportion to their numbers…The improvement of land, the reclamation of denuded areas and conservation of water supplies…’
A section of the 1912 ANC that rejected The Freedom Charter declared: ‘Following the capture of a portion of the Black leadership of South Africa by a section of the white ruling class, the masses of our people are in extreme danger of losing sight of the objective of our struggle…This captured leadership claims to be fighting for freedom when in truth it is fighting to perpetuate the tutelage of the African people. It is tooth and nail against Africans gaining effective control of their land…It has completely abandoned the objectives of freedom. It has joined the ranks of the reactionaries. It is no longer within the ranks of the liberation movement…These leaders after doing a dirty job namely, seeing to it that the African is deprived for all time of his inherent right to control his country effectively, of seeing to it that whatsoever new social order is established in this country, the essentials of white domination are retained, even though its frills and trappings has been labelled multi-racialism by their masters.’
ANC President Albert Luthuli did not know who drafted the Freedom Charter. ‘I can only speak vaguely about its preparations…’ he has written in his book ‘Let my people go’ (First Edition). ‘The main disadvantage from which it suffered was that the branches submitted materials for the Charter at a very late hour - too late in fact, for the statement to be boiled down into a comprehensive statement. It was not possible for the National Action Committee to circulate the draft carefully…The result is that the declaration in the Charter is uneven.’ The ANC president, who was elected according to the fundamental objectives and policy of the ANC as founded in 1912, therefore admitted that the Freedom Charter was open to criticism and was vague. There was therefore definitely a fundamental change in the policy of the 1912 ANC in 1955.
A section of ANC leaders and members of the ANC who stood by the fundamental objectives of the ANC as constituted in 1912 declared, ‘In 1949, we got the African people to accept the nation-building programme of that year. We have consistently and honestly stuck to that programme which according to us is in irreconcilable conflict with the 1949 programme of action seeing that land no longer belongs to the African people…In numerous ANC conferences, we have made it clear that we are committed to the overthrow of white colonial domination and restoration of land to its rightful owners. We are now launching openly on our own, as custodians of the ANC policy as it was formulated in 1912…’
THE 1955 ANC IS THE ANTI-THESIS OF THE 1912 ANC
The fundamental change in the 1955 ANC policy is affirmed by Ernest Harsh, the author of ‘South Africa: White Rule, Black Revolt’, when he writes, ‘Because of its hostility to militant African Nationalism and its policy of seeking blocs with white “democratic” forces, the South African Communist Party bore a certain degree of responsibility for the change in the ANC policies.’
In 1984, General Sebastian Mabote, the chief commander of the Mozambican army explained on behalf of President Samora Machel why his country agreed to support the Zimbabwean freedom fighters in Rhodesia, but was not prepared to give the same measure of aid to the ANC of South Africa. He said, ‘The Zimbabwe guerrillas are fighting for self-determination, independence and liberty. In South Africa the ANC is carrying on a fight for civil rights and not an armed struggle for national liberation (Sowetan 10th March 1984).’
CONSEQUENCES OF CHANGING POLICY
The 1955 ANC became a civil rights movement. In 1994 it negotiated ‘democracy’ and not equitable redistribution of land and resources according to population numbers. The Native Land Act 1913, through which Africans were dispossessed, is entrenched in Section 25(7) of the South African Constitution. The negotiations the ANC pursued at CODESA with the apartheid Nationalist Party in 1994 were not in accord with the fundamental objectives of the 1912 ANC. John Pilger, in his book ‘The betrayal of the South African revolution’, reminds how in September 1985 the Freedom Charter ANC leaders met a group of whites in Lusaka, led by the chairman of the Anglo-American Corporation, Gavin Relly. The Johannesburg stock market had crashed and the apartheid regime defaulted on its debt and the chieftains of South African capital took fright. Their message to the ANC leaders in exile was that ‘transition’ to a black-governed liberal democracy was possible, only if ‘order’ and ‘stability’ were guaranteed. This was a reference to a ‘free market’ state where social justice would not be a priority. What followed later were secret meetings that took place in England.
As Pilger puts it: ‘The prime movers who had underpinned and profited from apartheid - such as the British mining giant Consolidated Fields, picked up the bill for the classical wines and malt whisky scoffed around the fire place at Mells Park House. The aim of the Pretoria regime to split the ANC between the exile moderates with whom they could do business and the majority who made up those resisting in the townships.’
Prof. Sampie Terreblanch observes: ‘The ANC’s core leaders effectively sold its sovereign freedom to implement an independent and appropriate socio-economic policy for a mess of potage when it entered into several compromises with the corporate sector and its global partners. These unfortunate transactions must be retracted or renegotiated (A History Of Inequality in South Africa 1652- 2OO2).’
If the leaders who founded the ANC in 1912 and those who presented a petition on land dispossession of the African people to King George V were alive, this year, what would they say? How would African kings and those warriors who died in those many battle fields to defend this country against colonialism, feel when they see that for 57 years, the land question in South Africa has not been a fundamental issue for this ANC since 1955? If, as the Freedom Charter states, ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white...equals, countrymen and brothers...’ why is the ANC spending billions it has not got, buying land for blacks from whites on an exploitative ‘willing seller willing buyer’ basis and inflated selling prices? This is getting the ANC government deeper into debt without resolving the land question in South Africa.
The demand that was made by the 1912 ANC leaders ‘that the Africans must be put into possession of land according to their numbers’ has not been met. This primary demand of the African national liberation struggle was betrayed in 1955. Section 25 of the ‘New South Africa’ constitution is the same thing as the Native Land Act 1913. No sane nation has ever commemorated its genocide or spat on the graves of its ancestors.
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* Dr. Motsoko Pheko is the writer of several books, the latest of which is ‘How Freedom Charter Betrayed the Dispossessed’. He is the former representative of the victims of apartheid at the United Nations and at the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva as well as a former member of the South African Parliament. Cell: 0761414204
* Please send comments to editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org or comment online at Pambazuka News.