We, the Africanists should always take guidance from the concrete ideas of Mangaliso Sobukwe and learn from his practical experience as a leader and the first president of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania.
From his early twenties, Sobukwe was a thought leader par excellence. His political opponents were being contemptuous when they named him ‘Prof’, because they couldn’t handle lasting and intense debates with him on the history of the political economy and on cultural concepts in Africa. Those who were patient enough to learn, eventually came to understand him and turned the pejorative on its head. They changed the term ‘Prof’ into an endearment. The national leadership of the PAC preferred to address Sobukwe as Prof instead of President. The Africanists were a school of thought in the liberation movement – they expressed their ideas without fear and observed the code of conduct in a disciplined manner. This way of doing things and its experience is very telling about the Africanists.
Mzwakhe Lembede and AP Mda were gifted intellectuals who drove Africanism as a counter to the oppression of colonialism, monopoly capitalism and imperialism in Africa. They led the Congress Youth League soon after the Second World War in 1945. Even though they met huge resistance and discouragement from the Old Guard leadership, the young revolutionary thinkers brought in much needed content to turn their organisation into a mass movement.
The leader of the ANC, AB Xuma, was articulate in his criticism of the emergence of the youth league. He objected to its formation as “a party within a party,” which could cripple the liberation organisation from inside. He argued his points in what could be viewed as the grave danger of two centres of power in a single organisation.
The Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) upped the ante and saw this Africanist phenomenon as a living threat to their assumed mantle of thought leadership of the struggle. They vehemently opposed the Black Nationalism thesis for South Africa, saying the objective conditions in the settler state were exceptional and different to the rest of the African colonies. The CPSA eschewed White Domination and its specific consequences for the dispossessed and chose to only regurgitate class analysis. They regarded themselves as the brain power of the liberation struggle, borrowing from the classics of Marxism. They were oblivious to the characteristics of resistance launched by the indigenous African people before the discovery of mineral resources in 1886. They came around after 1950. In the end, the reformed SACP ran the African National Congress from within, on a basis of a two stage struggle.
During his term of office, Dr James Moroka (1949 – 1952) made self-preservation of the leadership his swan song and legacy. He had scrapped the popular civil disobedience campaign unceremoniously, just as it was gaining momentum, and instead revert back to a policy of collaboration with the status quo.
Trusteeship policies created the erroneous belief that African people were intrinsically incapable and could not lead the struggle for transformation. A post 1945 generation of new leaders stood in contradiction with this approach. Sobukwe emerged as the most articulate opponent of white trustees in the leadership of African resistance.
So it was that the rise of awakened African leaders with the ability to comprehend the challenges from within began to happen. The Africanists emerged – because their time had come. The Bureau of African Nationalism was a focus group which began to research and analyse the cause of freedom and to light the torch. Its members included John Nyathi Pokela, Mfanasekhaya Gqobose and others with whom Sobukwe increasingly identified.
Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe had drafted and co-authored the 1949 Programme of Action, which was adopted at the December conference of the ANC. He began to defend it at conference platforms in the Transvaal, the Cape, the Orange Free State and Natal provinces. He openly associated himself with the Orlando Africanists who opposed the 1956 Freedom Charter. They reached the culminating point to ‘break away’ in 1958 when it was no longer feasible to work as Africanists within the African National Congress.
The PAC of Azania was consciously meant to be a different organisation from the way Congress was run by its entrenched and captured leadership. In contrast, the PAC leadership would come from ‘the loins’ of the semi-literates and illiterates – whom they referred to as ‘the cornerstone’ of the national liberation movement.
A group of followers had formed itself around the soap box speeches of Josiah Madzunya, who led the 1955 bus boycott in Alexandra Township about ten kilometres from Johannesburg. The press defined them as extreme radicals and placed them in a caricature slot of the opposite to the policy of apartheid such that they called Madzunya the Black Verwoed. Josiah Madzunya’s group – emphasis is GROUP – sought to work with the Africanists on condition that the new organisation which was mooted would be an asymmetrical federal structure, with its leaders coming from the group with high numbers of followers.
Sobukwe and his comrades opposed the idea for its divisive nature and group exclusiveness. Meritorious leadership, they believed, would have the promise of high qualities of content and form for deserving individuals and the democratic choice would be well informed. The PAC constitution says you join as an individual, and it opposes blind loyalty. The 1959 Africanist Manifesto condemns the use of followers as canon fodder for the benefit of opportunistic leaders.
Even though Josiah Madzunya and his motley few followers were known Africanists, they were unable to find a place for themselves, as a group, in the newly formed PAC. By insisting on being a group led by Madzunya, they had defined themselves outside the PAC. In our view, Prof and his comrades were correct.
When the SA Coloured People’s Congress withdrew from the defunct Congress Alliance and approached the PAC for membership, they were urged to join as individuals. They gladly did so. Personalities with irreproachable integrity and upright character, like Barney Desai, took up leadership positions in the PAC on merit. This was a progressive attitude taken to move the PAC forwards.
Comrade Vusi Make voluntarily stepped down as leader of the PAC, after having led an arduous campaign against de-recognition by the United Nations and Organisation of African Unity. He magnanimously acceded to hand over the reins to John Nyathi Pokela who had been released from an eighteen year sentence on Robben Island maximum prison.
Again, the Azanian Peoples Revolutionary Party (APRP) which arose out of an aborted Arusha conference in 1978, was required to disassemble as a group and rejoin the PAC as individuals when Chairman Pokela led the reunification of the PAC in 1981. They did this successfully.
In our view, the PAC Mission-in-Exile was proved correct in all three instances.
The 1992 PAC congress in Mthatha resolved to bring back into the fold an aggrieved group that was ‘ill-treated and left out of a conference’ in Shareworld near Soweto in 1990. The then Secretary for Political Affairs and the National Organiser, newly elected into the National Executive Committee, were given this responsibility. In December 1993, the group came back to the PAC and they were warmly welcomed at an annual conference in Mthatha. However, the group continue to be a ‘group within the PAC’ after failing to dismantle themselves. They established group-think for themselves as a way of resolving internal PAC matters. The group mentality has proven itself to be a source of divisions which hold back progress in the PAC. In our view, this is absolutely wrong.
A group of rank opportunists has lately come up with calls for the ‘unity of factions’ as a condition to work for the renewal of the PAC. They took the PAC to the courts in more cases than one cares to count – and lost dismally because they were flouting the PAC constitution, the 1959 Pan Africanist Manifesto, the PAC Disciplinary Code and the content and spirit of the speeches of Mangaliso Sobukwe. They also fought tooth and nail against the PAC’s participation in the 2016 Local Government Elections. They publicly stated their position that the PAC could not operate without them, that is, without their say so the call for ‘unity of factions’ is a misguided attempt to distract the PAC from its core purpose to be ‘the embodiment of the aspirations of the African people’.
The proposition for ‘unity of factions’ is, in our view, horribly wrong. It is not in keeping with the organisational tradition to collapse all pretences of groups and factions in the PAC.
It is nevertheless absolutely important to work for principled unity within the PAC ranks. This can be done effectively within organisational discipline, with all united in positive action.
From the flow of the practice of democratic centralism, comes unity of purpose. Party unity is based on party discipline. The political line to serve the African people wholeheartedly remains the watchword. The PAC standpoint, as guided by the Sobukwe praxis, cannot be compromised.
We, the Africanists must be unwavering in our commitment to take up the cudgels ‘as tools of history’ and uplift the banner of revolutionary Pan Africanism.
By Jaki Seroke
The writer is the Chairperson of the Pan Africanist Research Institute (PARI) and member of the PAC National Executive Committee.