Institutionalization of racism has eroded SA’s democratic dividend

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By: Jeff Radebe

Five recent shocking events gave a stimulus to this reflection on race and racism.

The reflection does not deny the existence of race. It argues that racism should not be used to gain an advantage over others. Its institutionalization and opportunistic deployment erode South Africa’s democratic dividend. It then creates unnecessary conflagrations and inordinate societal tensions.

Before enumerating the five shocking events, a few comments are necessary. Racism and racial intolerance are not only a threat to our democracy, but they rise and ebb even in old democracies and societies. Turbulences of poverty, social distress, economic hardships, droughts, famine, natural disasters and other acts of God draw out the rawest of human behaviours, and racism becomes the first reaction to these unplanned events.

Apartheid had been designed such that Africans were to be at the receiving end of its racial classifications. Their resistance to injustices against them was achieved through the cooperation of other races, domestic and international. The support and solidarity came from those who were expected to benefit from Apartheid (namely Whites), or those to whom Apartheid was less strictly applied than it was to Africans (namely Coloureds and Indians, in varying degrees of strictness).

This cooperation should not be lost to the memory of our glorious struggle but should be harnessed as a collective history of achievement against odds to isolate racists or racists behaviour in our societies. In other words, when individuals become racists, they should be shown a red card with an inscription that South Africans across racial divides contributed to the defeat of Apartheid’s racism together.

The resurgence of racism and racist behaviour is still a challenge facing the democratic State in its Sixth Administration. The onus to reverse it rests on the shoulders of all South Africans. However, the leadership to reverse it should fall firstly, on those who knew its worst effects, the Africans. Secondly, it should rest on a party whose ideology has for decades, been underpinned by non-racialism, namely, the African National Congress (ANC).

The responsibility is not an easy one because more often than not, it is Africans who are at the receiving end of renewed racism. It is difficult to appeal to victims to approach their victimization with caution while the perpetrators escape sanction and punishment. It is also difficult for the ANC who have the responsibility of providing answers to the victims and formulate and implement State policies to reverse the scourge.

What then are these five shocking events? Firstly, the reported assault of a 65-year old female domestic assistant by her employers’ son in the East Rand and the racial undertones underpinning it. The victim has been working for the family for more than twenty years, and the victim raised the perpetrator. The perpetrator is out on a R500 bail. The perpetrator’s anger was, and violence was ignited b disdain for a Black Government which was established before he was born.

In his Long Walk To Freedom, President Mandela wrote:

“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Secondly, a Mayor of a Free State Municipality who referred to Coloured residents who deserved a “skop and donner” in a derogatory “B” term. The Mayor was put through the ANC’s disciplinary process. His utterances resuscitate the pain of pejoratives used by the Apartheid Government against Coloureds. It also reverses the struggle gains which were achieved through an emphasis on non-racialism which came about through many trials and tribulations, debates and secessions, resignations and expulsions.

Forged on the anvil of challenges, non-racialism should not be defeated by emotional utterances. The Mayor’s behaviour calls on the ANC to seriously respond to complaints from the Coloured community that under Apartheid they were not White enough, and now under post-Apartheid, they are not Black enough. The cry might have at first been taken lightly, but when from amongst our own members, anti-Coloured behaviour rears its ugly head, we have to take note and act in line with the dictates of our convictions.

Thirdly, the recent attack on an elderly farming couple in Norgedien, 63 years and 60-year-old respectively in Northern KwaZulu-Natal. It deceptively looked like a robbery. However, singling out the “progressive” couple because of their colour could not be ruled out These despicable acts of criminality perpetuate the impression, and are opportunistically used by opponents of democracy, to export the narrative of White genocide.

Fourthly, on April 30th , South Africa woke up to the sad news of the death of Denis Goldberg. He was one of the last two surviving Rivonia Trialists. Goldberg was the only White person who was convicted with Nelson Mandela and others.

Fifthly, the Former Surgeon-General, Lieutenant-General Vejay Ramlakan, passed away on August 27th . Known as “Mandela’s Doctor,” Ramlakan was a committed South African who was prepared to lay down his life for the struggle for our freedom. He was a South African of Indian descent, a comrade and a true patriot. He was also a doctor who could use his syringe for curative purposes, but could also use his fighting skills as a member of the MK’s Butterfly Unit.

These five events require the African National Congress (ANC) to reassert its long-standing policy position and empirical practice on non-racialism. Left unattended, the events threaten to dismantle the equality enshrined in our Constitution the majority of these clauses are reflected in the ANC’s own policy documents and have become its DNA. A single act of irresponsibility, and a failure of any ANC member to uphold our noble non-racial stance, reduces our potential to both attract, keep and promote South Africans of non-African heritage within our ranks.

Writing for the Mail and Guardian, columnist Solomon Makgale hit the nail on the head on the scourge of racism and our reactions to it when he said

“Some Whites respond to it with either timidly or, condescendingly in its defence, while some Blacks answer with fury or disdainful acquiescence.”

If championed with deserved aggression, non-racialism should consolidate these divergent responses with one South African answer.

The reflection aims to remind ANC members not to veer off policy. They should not embark on the destructive road of race bating, dog-whistling, racial profiling, otherness, supremacism etc. of the constant marching orders to promote and protect the non-racial vision of their party. The reflection takes into account the global movement against racism, particularly in the United States, where the spectre of racism is rearing its ugly head.

The Black Lives Matter movement, ignited by Mr George Floyd’s murder on May 25th , has become a global movement against racism. There is resistance and push back from the beneficiaries of racism posing as “balancing” the scales with slogans of White Lives Matter. Tipping towards the precipice of neo-Nazism, whose Hitlerian origins were defeated more than 70 years ago, non-racial discourses such as those encapsulated in or policy documents should be offered as viable, realistic and achievable objectives.

Signing off on his slot on September 5th, the CNN’s Fareed Zakaria indirectly called for the ANC to expand its lessons on racialism when he said:

“Once upon a time, the United States taught the world many things, it is now time that the United States learnt from the world.”

Ideally, as these racial scenes and reactions appear on Television screens, we should take pride in the strength of the resolve we voluntarily made. However, the three mentioned incidences (amongst the many unreported) show that we too should be concerned because racists can appear from unexpected quarters and at inopportune times.

Since the ANC was the first organization to champion non-racialism, the pressure is on it to promote it rather than for non-African South Africans to claim and demand it. Preaching non-racialism is not a sign of defeat – but wisdom. The embrace should ignore that there is no uptake from the other side. Non-racialism was a conscious decision taken by our forebears without a gun pointed at their heads and because it was the right decision to make.

Naysayers and recalcitrant behaviour should not dampen our resolve to soldier on with our mission. We will continue to have the Vicky Mombergs and Adam Katzavelos. Some politicians will tweet praises to colonialism and others will nostalgically refer to the beauty of the Apartheid past from which they benefited to the exclusion of other races. There will be subtle racist attitudes as they have appeared from the sports fraternity where Black sportspeople are speaking out.

Racists are slimy characters who can hide their racist attitudes through innocuous references to race. As I was drafting this reflection, a famous departmental store was called out for issuing an advert with heavy racist undertones. The advert referred to Black female hair as undesirable because it is “dry, damaged, frizzy and dull, and preferring White female hair because it is “fine, flat and normal.”

As it has happened all too often, the departmental store withdrew the advert and apologized profusely.Even a sophomore student realizes that on the hair matter, some racists have not forgiven Ms Zozibini Thunzi for being crowned Miss Universe in December last year in her natural hair.

Even when armed with an anti-racist and anti-exclusionary Constitution, the fight against racism is like chipping a granite block which needs patience and endurance. Throwing our hands in the air, will give victory to the few, and rob the many of the benefits of an equal, non-racist, non-sexist society.

This is precisely why we should soldier on with non-racialism because the negative forces and instances are few and far between. The heightening of tempers when racists are exposed should embolden us than cause despair. People with resolve do not despair because of the few who disparage their vision. On the contrary, those who disparage are cowered by the overwhelming disapproval of their behaviour. All ANC members should be at the beachhead of disapproving racism and racial behaviour.

Our policy position has to be re-emphasized, considering that even within our own ranks, there is concerning recidivism to racialism that has the potential to repel non-Africans. Our programmes have the potential to attract, but more dangerously to discourage those who are already within our fold. If ignored and left unchecked, the ANC stands the risk of unwinding our forebears the bravery, foresight. They visioned a future South Africa where the character of a person rather than his or her race, gender, culture, religion and creed determines his or her station in society.

The ANC did not immediately embark on a non-racial trajectory when it was formed in 1912. Over time, it has grown a non-racial approach determined by the stage of its struggle. A few of these “mile stoning” decisions are discussed below to catalogue how non-racialism is mushrooming in post-1994 South Africa but has been held as a beacon of hope of a future we envisaged for ourselves ages ago.

In the context of its time, the ANC embraced the non-violence of Satyagraya, a philosophical approach of passive resistance adopted by the India leader, Mahatma Gandhi in his struggle against the British in India, but which was exported to the South African political scene. Until the ideas of more robust forms of struggle, starting from the militant mass action of the 1950s culminating into the armed struggle whose time had come in 1961, Satyagraha had dominated as a method of struggle.

When President Mandela was asked to choose one of the 100 most influential persons of the 20th century, he had no hesitation in choosing Gandhi. He called him ‘the sacred warrior’ because of how he combined ethics and morality with a steely resolve that refused to compromise with the oppressor. Gandhi’s influence spread across the Atlantic, influencing the conduct of the civil rights movement in the United States.

The recidivism to racialism undermines the heroic tripartite struggle waged by the triumvirate of the Xuma (President –General of the ANC.), Dadoo (President of the Transvaal Indian Congress), Naicker (President of the Natal Indian Congress) Pact, officially known as the Joint Declaration of Cooperation generally known as the Doctors Pact. At Dr Dadoo’s funeral in 1983, President Oliver Tambo stated

“it would be wrong to conceive Comrade Dadoo only as a leader of the Indian Community of our population. He was one of the foremost leaders of our country, of the stature of Chief Lutuli, Moses Kotane, J.B. Marks, Bram Fischer, Nelson Mandela and others.”

As early as 1904, Dr Abdullah Abdurrahman formed the African Political Organization, later named the Africa People’s Organization (APO) as a confirmation that the so-called Coloured people were of African origins. The identification of Coloured People went beyond Dr Abdurrahman to the South African Coloured People’s Organisation (SACPO), later changed to the Coloured People’s Congress (CPC) in 1953 which joined the Congress Alliance, which became the driving force behind the drafting of the 1955 Freedom Charter.

In addition to the CPC, the Congress Alliance led by the ANC, also included the Congress of Democrats (COD). After the 1952 Defiance Campaign, a group of Whites who shared the sentiments of the Campaign formed the South African People’s Congress. In 1953, this group of Whites met with the ANC, the South African Communist Party and the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) with a view of forming the COD. At this time ANC membership was not yet opened to Whites. The COD became

“a small and strictly secondary wing of the Congress Movement.”

Forming part of the Congress Alliance was the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU). SACTU’s formation was a defiance of the divide and rule of the State which was against non-racial unions. In March 1955, through breakups traversing the episodes of Trade Union Councils of South Africa (TUCSA), and the Trade Union Coordinating Committee and the Council of Non-European Trade Union (CNETU), SACTU was formed without the burden of racial categorization.

The journey to March 1955 was so thorny that if we were to undermine it by reverting to the racialism before it, we would be paying the biggest compliment to our Apartheid past. But if we undermine the non-racial outcome of SACTU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU’s) foregoer, we would be spitting in the face of one of the finest ANC leaders to come out of SACTU, the late Mr Reggie September.

The Freedom Charter was not an exclusively African affair. It was one milestone which embraced all races and people from all walks of life, represented by mixed delegates of about 2 844 South Africans. The Charter’s Preamble proclaims that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white. Of course, the specific non-mentioning of Coloured and Indian was deliberate, because the Charter recognizes them within the singular Blackness. Despite the untiring efforts of the Apartheid Government to divide and subdivide its population the unity of Africans, Coloured and Indians in their Blackness ought to stand the test of time.

The Statement of Policy in the ANC’s Annual Report of 1958, commitment to non-racialism was expressed. The Statement acknowledged that it was essential to work with all forces that are prepared to struggle for the same ideas. The commitment echoed the views of the President-General, Chief Luthuli who had rejected the State’s efforts to dismantle the Congress Alliance. The Chief chaired the whole Congressional Movement and expected its constituents to “canalize” their objectives to the broad objectives of the ANC.

He did so not out of imposition, but because these constituent parts also expected the ANC to lead. This expectation still exists as any stumble in our common journey to full nationhood is expected from us. But the expectation is also because the ANC has proclaimed itself to be a leader of society. Leading a society as complex as South Africa’s requires solid adherence to principles, and one such principle is anti-racism.

The Chief also provided his wisdom to the goal of non-racialism when he said

“I believe here in South Africa, with all our diversities of colour and race, we will show the world a new pattern of democracy. There is a challenge for us to show a new example for all. Let us not side-step this task.”

President Oliver Reginald Tambo, his successor, echoed the same sentiments when he said:

“We had to forge an alliance of strength based not on colour but on commitment to the total abolition of apartheid and oppression; we would seek allies, of whatever colour, as long as they were totally agreed on our liberation aims.”

In 1961, Umkhonto Wesizwe was formed, there was no race test, and the threshold was determined by those who were ready to pay the supreme prize for the liberation of their country. Among those who were prepared to lay down their lives were Joe Slovo, Braam Fischer, Reggie September, Ronnie Kasrils, Arthur Goldreich and many others.

The 1967 Wankie and Sipolilo Campaigns led to skirmishes against Apartheid and Rhodesia. The gallantry of MK soldiers was across colour lines. One of the heroes was Basil February, whose gallantry is missing in the accounts of MK’s achievements. He was a student of Trafalgar High School who was refused permission to study law by the Minister of Education, and later Prime Minister John Vorster. February joined the Luthuli Detachment under Commander Lennox Lagu (nom de guerre General Tshali). He was amongst many Coloured comrades who joined Umkhonto Wesizwe and who graduated to the Detachment.

The passing away of legendary human rights lawyer, George Bizos, brings into sharp focus how an individual of Greek descent, who could have enjoyed the benefits of Apartheid, decided to offer his legal skills to fight for the freedom of all Soth Africans. Escaping Nazism in his native Greece, he arrived in South Africa in 1941, in the middle of a Second World War. He defended ANC leaders in the 1956 to 1961 Treason Trial as well as during the 1963 Rivonia Trial. All South Africans mourn his death.

The heroism and sacrifice of these episodes in our history knew no colour and the blood that was lost was not African, Indian, Coloured, or White: it was a South African blood yearning for freedom. A granular detail of who these South Africans were would present activists across all races, all religious persuasions and all classes who pursued their South Africanness over and above the narrow divides the Apartheid State tried to enforce. Space is too limited to mention all South Africans who were prepared to lay down their lives. The magic about their participation against Apartheid was not that they were South Africans, but that the System had been designed to separate them.

The involvement of non-Africans in the struggle broadly included comrades who also provided legal defence to leaders and ordinary ANC members. Names of South Africans of Jewish descent such as Isie Maisels, Arthur Chaskalson, Sidney Kentridge, Joel Joffe, Shulamith Muller, Denis Kuny, Jules Browde formed the legal bodyguard of our struggle. They sometimes provided legal services pro bono.

Many political activists and leaders complemented these legal minds, and they included, Lionel and Hilda Bernstein, Ruth First, Arthur Goldreich, Harold Wolpe, Ben Turok, Dennis Goldberg, Wolfie Kodesh, Paul Trewhela, the Coleman family, conscientious objector David Bruce, Pauline Podbrey and Raymond Suttner.

In the 1980 and early 1990s, a new cadre of South Africans of Indian descent, as individuals such as Yunus Mahomed, Paul David, Krish Naidoo, Shun Chetty in their non-racial National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL collective), took up the task of defending mainly African detainees who had no means to afford lawyers and took most of their cases pro bono as a contribution to the struggle for a free South Africa. They did so at great risk to themselves as individual and as activists, but also to their legal practices as professionals.

From April 25th to May 1st ,1969, the Morogoro Consultative Conference brought together with leaders and 70 delegates representing ANC branches, units of MK, leaders of Coloureds and Indian peoples and the leaders of the revolutionary working-class movements. They were to deliberate amongst others, to open participation in the struggle to all South Africans. Conference also decided to pare down the National Executive Committee (NEC) and integrate the political and military leadership to form the Revolutionary Council chaired by President Tambo and which included Dr Yusuf Dadoo and Reggie September mentioned earlier.

Despite its strides in accommodating members of other races in the Revolutionary Council, it was only in Kabwe in 1985 that

“the delegates overwhelmingly decided that ANC membership should be open to all South African revolutionaries that accept the programme and policy of the ANC irrespective of race or colour. This decision meant that membership is open to all levels of the Movement, including the highest leading organ – the National Executive Committee….The main reasons for adopting this step were that the ANC is today the leader of all South Africans from all racial groups. Comrades from other racial groups have laid down their lives for the cause of freedom.”

One of the “Four Pillars” of the struggles, international mobilization and solidarity (the other three were mass mobilization, armed operations and underground organizations) enhanced the ANC’s non-racial ethos. Drawing fraternal organizations and progressive individuals into its fold, the ANC was joined by nationals of States where it has established its presence, and in many capitals outnumbering where the Apartheid State had established its Embassies. These foreign progressives joined the ANC struggles and operations at great risk to themselves.

Two examples will suffice. The first was Mr Alexis Moumbaries. He was a French trade unionist born in Egypt but who emigrated to Australia. In 1973, he arrived in South Africa to join the nascent trade union movement but was arrested for aiding the “terrorist” ANC by distributing pamphlets and reconnaissancing, the sea-born landing in the “independent Transkei.

The recce mission showed the extent to which international solidarity comrades were prepared to open a naval front as a complementary element of the armed struggle. The recce was in preparation for Operation J (a plan to infiltrate MK soldiers from the Transkei to obviate the challenges which had been experienced in Wankie and Sipolilo). In 1973, He was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment, but in 1979, he escaped from Pretoria Central Prison with two other South African White detainees, Tim Jenkin and Steven Lee, using a set of wooden keys.

The Second were the London Recruits. Formed by a variety of ideological persuasions of the London School of Economics young students, there were from Trotskyites to Marxist and Socialists. They were experts and pamphleteering and graffiti painting popularizing the ANC just when the Apartheid regime thought the movement had disappeared into the dungeons of exile or was contained within the walls of imprisonment. They were organized by Comrade Ronnie Kasrils and George Bridges of the Young Communist League in 1967. They assisted the ANCs propaganda, matching pound for pound Apartheid’s Propaganda machinery which had unlimited resources.

The 1983 formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF)was a backhand retort to the Apartheid Government which had tried to forge a non-racialism of its own by co-opting gullible Indian and Coloured leaders into a Tricameral Parliament. No sooner had the Tricameral Parliament sat in three ‘own affairs” Parliament than comrades across the racial divides came together to establish a response with a bigger mass appeal than the State’s false representation.

The birth of the UDF gave to the struggle the young revolutionary, Mr Ashley Kriel. Known as the Che Guevarra of the Bounteheuwel in the Cape Flats, at the age of twenty he joined Umkhonto Wesizwe and was trained in Angola. Slipping back to the country on July 9th 1989, he was shot by the Apartheid security forces at just 20 years old, joining Solomona Mahlangu as one of the youngest revolutionaries to lose his life in his struggle for a free South Africa. He responded to the ANC’s call for making the country’s ungovernable and brought mass politics to the Western Cape.

Indian and Coloured UDF members and constituent organizations could have chosen to club together with the Government to exclude Africans from decision making. Instead, they forwent what little privileges the Tricameral experiment would bring them, and chose to align with African aspirations. Should we now forget the hard choice that they made by treating them as if the post-1994 South Africa was achieved only through the sweat of Africans.

The decision on non-racialism was not without its birth pains. There were secessionists and dissidence. Even when they faced a secession in defence of non-racialism in 1959, the ANC soldiered on, convinced of its superior argument of the future of South Africa being a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist and a prosperous one.

In 1975, the ANC suffered a dissent when the Group of Eight walked away complaining that non-racialism was equal to domination by minorities. Again, the presence of non-Africans was used to promote a different agenda from what Conference had intended to achieve. Out of about 70 or 80 delegates, there were only three Coloureds, five Indians and three Whites. Most of the deliberations were conducted and argued by Africans mostly from the rank and file delegates and MK.

Having gone through the pangs which at certain times threatened its unity, it is not advisable to take the foot off the pedal now. Facing so many challenges to its policy position (in this case non-racialism), weaker parties would have ceased to exist. The ANC did not tire because of its commitment to achieving a non-racial South Africa. A non-racial world is a mission for all ANC members.

Two final words which should continue to oil our commitment to non-racism. The first was from the icon of the Black Consciousness Movement, Steven Bantu Biko, who said:

“We believe in our country there shall be no minority, there shall be no majority; there shall just be people. And those people will have the same status before the law and they will have the same political rights before the law. In this instance, it will be a completely non-racial egalitarian society.”

The second is borrowed from President Tambo who said.

“It is our responsibility to break down the barriers of division and create a country where there shall be neither Whites nor Blacks, just South Africans, free and united in diversity.”

* Jeff Radebe, ANC Head of Policy