Mbeki claims a pro-poor ANC has abandoned its roots


… the landless poor must look for a ‘win-win’ situation with a ruthless colonial and apartheid beneficiary capitalist class…

Reading Mbeki in this epoch reminded me of James E Cone’s book entitled “Martin and Malcolm and America a-dream-or-a-nightmare”. In such Cone makes the case that for King, given his education, economic status and social standing in that society the cry was for integration. Malcolm Little (X)’s struggle was about the right to his identity not as integrated but in coexistence of an equality of humanity with those responsible for his disenfranchisement.

He then shows how it was right for King to dream while X only saw a nightmare. I am afraid the liberation struggle could not have been about being accepted by the colonials and apartheid minorities, the struggle was always about the emancipation to possess and own as was taken from those who suffered the fate of disenfranchisement.

Let me then upfront thank Mbeki for having shared his mind and nailed his colours to the mast with this 30-page mini-volume, on the subject of land redress, among others, since we now have heard him in crystal clear fashion.

The former President of the ANC and SA recently took it upon himself through his foundation to release a statement which he refers to as a pamphlet centred on the subject of a land debate. In it he details a historical path for an ANC-led national question, driven by the philosophy of a national democratic revolution in which he locates the ANC as leader of society. Mbeki contextualises the history of liberation struggle understood from yellow, black and green colours as far back as 1912, for a movement that first came to be known SAANC and finally the African National Congress. We hear him as he categorically asserts, “Accordingly, successive generations among this indigenous African majority have consistently accepted and treated the ANC as their political home exactly because of how it has defined its historic mission over the decades, and what it has done to accomplish this mission.”

In order to drive his fundamental points home that being, (1). A consistent ANC policy position with the 1960 adoption of the Freedom Charter as cardinal bulwark he argues that the ANC’s  54th Conference held in December 2017 in its adopted and articulated position on land (2) deviated from that trajectory and is yet to explain its reason for such deviation and means for such actions. (3) He argues that this deviation translates to an abandonment of what the ANC always believed, stood for and lived up to since it (4) recrafts the ANC as representative of the black masses and by extension, therefore, the ‘black party’ that former President Jacob Zuma articulated, as new and un-ANC.

In order to advance his rationale to make the case for what he termed a contemporary and most recent deviation, he juxtaposes the outcomes of the 2017 Policy Conference held in June and the adopted resolutions with its leadership pronouncements. In defence of his position he cites Pixley ka Seme and Chief Albert Luthuli in different epochs who both articulate in parity the notion of an ANC that exists to attain and work for a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist society in its fundamental original intention and end goal as understood in a national democratic movement leading a revolution framed around a national question. He painstakingly explains this to those who do not know at the hand of critical areas in the life of the ANC among others the formation of the PAC in 1959 and later the Group of Eight who were expelled in the early 70’s.

We must, however, caution that Mbeki’s choice of Ka Seme and Luthuli in this instance are deliberate because he extends himself a free pass not to cite for example, a Anton Lembede who in crystal clear sense shares his mind on the tension of the white supremacist mind on the Africans, with the following words, “The African people have been told time and again that they are babies, that they are an inferior race, that they cannot achieve anything worthwhile by themselves or without a white man as their ‘trustee’ or ‘leader’. This insidious suggestion has poisoned their minds and has resulted in a pathological state of mind. Consequently, the African has lost or is losing the sterling qualities of self-respect, self-confidence and self-reliance. Even in the political world, it is being suggested that Africans cannot organise themselves or make any progress without white ‘leaders. Now I stand for the revolt against this psychological enslavement of my people. I strive for the eradication of this ‘Ja-Baas’ mentality, which for centuries has been systematically and sublimely implanted into the minds of the Africans.”

Mbeki may also reduce the formation of Umkhonto we Sizwe as a mere tactic but not a progression in thinking on how to realise the goals of that humanity it advocates as its objective.

Mbeki continues his belief of multiracialism and claims, “all South Africans had an obligation to accept that our country had become a multi-racial entity and therefore that it must respect the principle and practice of unity in diversity, became the view of the indigenous majority which had come to accept the ANC as ‘virtually their only true representative and defender of their interests!”

Mbeki in preamble sense makes a fundamental point when he argues, “Thus such notions as building a “non-racial” South Africa as a central objective of the liberation struggle became a property of the majority of the African oppressed, not merely the ANC. This is why all political formations which sought to challenge the ANC on this matter of a “non-racial” South Africa failed. This was because the matter to ensure that the successful liberation struggle remained loyal to the task to build a “non-racial” society had become an objective shared by the majority of the African oppressed, regardless of political affiliation.

One may easily concur with his claim for its apparent nobility and tranquil stance, yet at a deeper level arises questions on the ensconced subject matter of ‘race’ and how that ‘non- racial’ is given content. Later on, as means of conclusion, we will revisit this topic and ask of Mbeki to not just in a historical path but cognisant of an experiential reality, wherein undeniable and the definite anomalies breathe, what such content of a non-racial identity make look like. Particularly since Mbeki is known for his personal conviction of a doctrine of multi-racialism, the same he extends to the ANC devoid of necessary critique in asking the ANC why it accepts race as means for identity configuration.

Mbeki laments the fact that history will lead that the ANC has always understood its historic mission, as “being as being the heavy task to negate and repudiate the vile racism inherent in imperialism, colonialism and apartheid. Throughout the century of its existence, while also fully respecting its antecedents, the ANC has therefore done everything to emphasise that it has a historic mission both to help eradicate the legacy of colonialism and apartheid and simultaneously to help create a truly non-racial and non-sexist human society”

With this Mbeki again reminds all and sundry that the ANC he joined and later served from inception came into existence not for the masses, but for an elite minority who engaged on land ownership.  This is true, yet it cannot be that this is upheld as if the ANC did not increasingly adopt a pro-poor stance and identity. We all know that those who vote for the ANC from Mandela to today make up the poor and hardly the elite.

Yet, Mbeki appears to contradict himself when he a short while later argues, “it is therefore obvious that the ANC must proceed from this well-established tradition, which identifies it in the eyes of the masses of the black people as their representative and leader, as it takes action to take such action as arises from the adoption by the 54th National Conference of the ANC of the resolution on ‘land expropriation without compensation’. Meaning his deliberate reference and acknowledgement of ‘masses of black people’ identifying with the ANC as their representative and leader, inadvertently underscores Zuma’s unequivocal claims of the ANC as a black party. Mbeki’s sensitivity to ‘a black party’ as articulated by Zuma appears more artificial than real since we know the ANC in governance is kept in power by the poor black masses.

We are compelled to pause and ask of Mbeki to explain his deliberate usage of these constructs, particularly those that define social identities in SA. From previous engaging with Mbeki, my assertion remains that Thabo Mbeki in a sense of convenience of assumption uses “African” and “Black” interchangeably without ever attempting to define any of the constructs in its ontological trajectories, its evolutionary developmental cycles and its current anomalies and ambiguities.  In that sense, we are not sure if his use of ‘black’ is borrowed from the prism of a much later developed (the 1960’s) Black Consciousness response psychology paradigm or a ‘black’ defined by those who had defined natives black that came to be what he considers the authentic ANC?

Likewise, we are not clear and he does not afford us to appreciate his usage of ‘African’ as either borrowed from a geographical milieu or the known Pan Africanist philosophy made famous under the leadership of Robert Sobukwe. We are also not sure why he is reluctant to nail his proverbial colours to the mast to explain the problem of an African identity formulation from a scholarly perspective. For Mbeki, these are interchangeable constants less because he laboured to explain them but more for his ease of use to drive a point home when it suits him.

It would then have to be surmised that for Mbeki the ANC at inception and throughout its cited history understood the differences of what an ‘African’ means and what ‘black’ or any other group in distinction to each other. Mbeki has not taken the time to red flag or question the fact as to why the achieved democracy he espouses as an attainment of the national democratic revolution as misled by apartheid wholly and uncritically appropriated and adopted these race-based configurations for the totality of South African humanities.

Mbeki, pontificates, it therefore stands to reason that as far as the ANC is concerned, the Land Question in our country cannot be resolved in any manner which destroys or negates the role of the ANC in terms of helping to create and build the new and humane Africa of which Pixley Seme and Albert Luthuli spoke! With this, he wants to hold the ANC to the words of Seme and Luthuli as a matter of convenience because he accepts and prescribes to a doctrine of a static ANC that was not shaped by its century-long sojourn.

So desperate does Mbeki become that he has to remind the ANC that ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white; and, the land shall be shared among those who work it! ‘, The truth is there has never been a season when the ANC did ever imagine a South Africa without those who have accepted white for their denotation. As the USA social scientist James Baldwin long concluded, “there are no white people, only those who think they are white”.

To therefore, in this season, seek to underscore the right of ‘whites’ is an overstatement to say the least. To read the ANC the riot act on the reality of black and whites living together is a jaundiced rhetorical jab. No ANC leader has called for the eradication of whites, what ANC leaders increasingly have come to realise is that its position of seeking a living together must be centred on the undeniable reality of the very two nations Mbeki himself analysed in the economic sense which is the elephant in the room. That awareness dictates that the ANC leadership admits, calls for change and develops policy positions and  programmes that will ensure redress over the shorter and longer period.

When ANC leaders do this, it is in the aim to work for that which must reflect the true new society where the apartheid world is no more. The ANC and all its members and supporters call for land redress not with vindictive and malicious intent but in stark acceptance that the current situation is not the revolution it set out to achieve. The current politically connected few empowered blacks with their spouses cannot be considered the end of redress when the masses are landless. Yet it also cannot be accepted that the attainment of radical economic transformation will occur without costs to those who currently own that space. We cannot be under illusions of grandeur on what it will take to attain true economic redress, redress wherein lands stand front and centre and not a tactical means but the last frontier that marks liberation.

Mbeki continues to state, “Put simply and directly, the decision taken by the ANC at its December 2017 54th National Conference on ‘the Land Question’ raises the question – whom does the contemporary ANC represent, given its radical departure from historic positions of the ANC on ‘the resolution of the National Question’! It may very well be that that the ANC leadership is perfectly capable of answering this question in a satisfactory manner. “

To, therefore, play adjudicator and ask who does the contemporary ANC represent is as rhetorical as asking who did the ANC that was forced-fed GEAR and ASGISA etc, represent? Who did the ANC that relaxed laws to see major divestment when in democracy concessions were made for apartheid companies like De Beers, Old Mutual etc under his watch to move SA earned wealth to foreign stock exchanges in London etc?  Or will Mbeki tell us Gear, ASGISA were tactics and did not engage the central holy grail of non-racialism as he now makes of the land question?

Perhaps the biggest error Mbeki commits is his choice to think of the ANC as an organisation in exile. He denies the ANC its natural character of being a living organism that must engage its environment. To pretend the ANC remained static in its persuasion on a score of things that details its raison d’etre  is not hear Neville Alexander when he pleads for a new vocabulary for describing things (and I include people): “…societies and the global village have changed so radically that to continue to analyse and describe things as though we were still in 1848 or 1948 or even 1984 is to be woefully blind and self-defeating.”

Mbeki, therefore, is oblivious to the fact that beyond the original composition of who the ANC represented at Waaihoek in Bloemfontein, it has evolved to become the poor that a Zuma presidency became sensitive to and showed a grasp to realise where the ANC’s future lies. It’s therefore, not wrong to talk of an ANC which was originally for the elite with the attainment of a negotiated settlement ultimately in democracy evolved into the ANC for the poor and black masses essentially; we know that from what we spend on social development from the fiscus on a daily basis.

According to Mbeki, Jacob Zuma was advancing a perspective about ‘the resolution of the National Question’ radically different from the long-established a historic position of the ANC, which he led at the time.

I concur with Mbeki that ‘the ANC must fully discharge its responsibilities on the Land Question as our country’s governing party. In this regard, it must explain in public and in detail what it intends to do relating to all major issues relating to the land. My agreement emanates from the fact that the ANC has failed to act in the interest of the masses that keep it in power, in delivering a coherent plan to actualise redress of land ownership. The ANC is engaged in double speak in its attempts to be apologetic because it seeks to be looking for a win-win situation of deal-making. The ANC must ask itself as to how it may have concluded to strive for land ownership and in the same breath advocate for a sensitivity of the apartheid economy. Less in a choice of agricultural land and or urban land to be expropriated, but to know 72% of all land remains the in unequal ownership of apartheid and colonial beneficiaries, and that is the result of a negotiated settlement.

We thus summarise:

  1. We must ask Mbeki where and in what forum were South Africans afforded space to engage this categorical multi-racial identity claim he so glibly claims? We also need to know where is the evidence that a former president can claim South Africa in democracy accepted the doctrine of race for South African identities? If the president can show us we may take him more seriously, because the record shows an ANC-led government  – despite many of us protesting this race means for identity configuration – refused to listen and continues to believe it knows what a multiplicity of races looks like. Mbeki in honesty will have to admit this race doctrine for identities was wholly and uncritically appropriated by democracy.

  1. Mbeki’s handling of the subject of land in this epoch and his lens for interpreting where we find ourselves postulates a claim that blame for an apparent deviation of ANC fundamentals must necessarily be laid at the post-Mbeki leadership. One of his cornerstone beliefs is the ANC until his period of leadership that came to an abrupt halt in September 2008, was on the right path in honouring of the ANC of Seme, just not the one of Lembede.

  1. Throughout this his expression of a necessary and timeous contribution to solicit an ANC statement on land, we find Mbeki uses the interplay of “indigenous”, “Africans” and “blacks” in a symbiosis of convenience less in corroborating his claims of usage or in clarification for his foothold. This is a common thread with Mbeki not just as limited to this reflection, but throughout the better part of the nineties.

  1. Mbeki’s pleading for an ANC to remain true to its founding strategic ethos which he claims had been the case for 105 of its 106 years of existence, leaves a chance to ask what this means in a society where the reality dictates a failed economic transformation for the masses in which land stands central?  Let us not forget Malcolm X reminded us the revolution was always about the land.

  1. A cardinal critique I continue to have for Mbeki in his non-racial doctrine is his natural acceptance of ‘race’ as the correct means for South African identity formulation. Mbeki does not question or challenge the construct of race, he does not pay any due deference to the fact that race is and remains a debunked scientific notion that continues to exists seventy years on purely in social constructionism. Meaning it was birthed by a society in an epoch which remains questionable for another society who may have developed the tools to appreciate humanity outside the frame of its highly carceral nature.  Maybe he must hear Deborah Posel again, when she reminds us all, “The architects of apartheid racial classification policies recognised explicitly that racial categories were constructs, rather than descriptions of essences”.

  1. Mbeki’s paradigm race is a benign innocent construct that is contaminated by racism, meaning he does not appreciate that race is and remains the product of a racist mind.

  1. Mbeki’s defence of the constitutional democracy as uniquely ANC’s original thought and premise is not without challenge. It may be a useful means and tool of noble attempt to define the ANC and South Africa, yet there are those that argue the ANC had no clue what a constitutional democracy was and how it would function. Maybe Mbeki can explain why Van Zyl Slabbert in his book “Duskant die Geskiedenis” argues it was up to Professor Marinus Wiechers to help and explain to the ANC leaders the idea of a constitutional democracy.

  1. It is therefore rather expedient for Mbeki to – in broadside sense – want to red-card his elected successor Zuma as having attempted to supplant the SA constitutional democracy for a parliamentary democracy. We must ask did the ANC in 1912 and throughout ever define this constitutional democracy for SA that it today defends as if it birthed it? There are those who argue the idea of a constitutional democracy despite its egalitarian expressions became a useful and very effective means to contain how and what type of transformation will be attained. It by extension underscores the challenge of a negotiated settlement for the fact that it inadvertently guaranteed the oppressor his right of identity however that is defined while it equally explicitly for 25 years underscores the plight of the oppressed, colonialism and apartheid victims.

  1. May we remind Mbeki it was none other than him as he in soberness of mind, so we believed then, pressed by the undeniable reality of the moment to observe the true state of a South Africa beyond its glades, mountain peaks, pristine coastlines, fauna and flora and a wildlife second to none in juxtaposing that to the ruthless and crude ugliness of an endemic racist economy that underscores white wealth and black poverty.  He was the one that told us we live in a black and white South Africa where white means advancement and wealth and black has a signpost of poverty and squalor.

  1. While Mbeki, speaks of a non- racial society as the fulcrum focus of an ANC original intent, he does not explain why the non-racial, 25 years since a 1994 and its preceded CODESA engagements, wherein this season there is  consensus that the National Party outfoxed the ANC and left the table with much better a deal than the ANC led negotiators, content is not yet filled. Mbeki has never attempted to fill that non-racial with content because the day he may attempt to do so without annihilation of race, which he uncritically has come to accept as means for the social identities of South Africans. As with his use of African in the frame of the National Question, Mbeki is super lite on content for the African because anytime you want to use African for more than geographical spacing you expose yourself to get twisted in your own confusion.
  2. Mbeki must be held accountable less for his astute intellectual mind, but for remaining one who gets away to thrust subjects (African, black etc) in conclusiveness upon SA, without ever explaining or being open to being engaged on the constructs he uses.

  1. Mbeki’s epistemology has either developed or should we accept regressed to conclude whatever we need to do is at the privilege of capital. We must, therefore, have to bow to capital if we hope to have our land back because its role is so dominant that our fate is dependent on such.

  1. Mbeki laments and advocates for a win-win situation for SA, one where the poor and the wealthy feel they both have one. It is this form of misconception of deal-making that has come to define the ANC that proves problematic. Liberating of the masses cannot be reduced to a win-win deal making frame.

Can someone tell Mbeki that the poor will never be satisfied for as long as the wealthy have their wealth unfettered in birthright claim?

Blacks however defined will never be okay to be black if whites own the means of production and they must remain at the mercy of that in the form of a win-win situation claim. To arrive at the current imbalance of land ownership and economic inequality participation there was no deal-making. Land was taken and done so not to appease anyone but those who took it. The ANC is not advocating for an eye- to an eye but it is emphatic that land will be taken, and that cannot translate to a denial of the existence of apartheid beneficiaries, but its natural next stop in this arduous journey of liberation. There needs to be no apology expected or proffered, neither can this be deliberately confused in fear-rhetoric as a deviation from the liberation ethos.

To pretend the poor can be seeking to be directed by a misguided pietism of selflessness where they can be politically free but economically oppressed and bereft of land ownership and define that as a win-win is the thinking of someone who is a benefactor of the imbalance. To achieve this the state has an undeniable role to play.

  1. Mbeki attests a convenient mind on what the ANC has become that is oblivious and negates the role that capital played from the time poor ANC leaders had their personal homes, children’s school fees and annual holidays paid for as bought by capital. The same capitalist society he defends in claims of we must resign ourselves to the fact that the national democratic revolution cannot occur without the role of the entrenched capitalist of a special kind in SA. Mbeki is still busy trying to rewrite history and wants to apportion blame for land, be it in agricultural or urban, on a new ANC, one he easily wants to define that emerged with his departure. Mbeki, therefore, tells us land return to the masses must be a win-win deal with the same colonialists and apartheid capitalists. He advocates there will be no land redress without capital agreeing to it. In a nutshell, it is in the hand of the capitalists and beneficiaries to again determine the economic fate of the landless masses. How can this be correct?

Clyde Ramalaine

Political Commentator and Writer