THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE POSITIVE ACTION CAMPAIGN AND THE WAY FORWARD

The significance of March 21, 1960, in the history of the liberation struggle is often played down to the level of raising worldwide sympathy for victims of apartheid and to commemorate the Sharpeville-Langa massacre. For the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) it represented and still represents the beginning of the end of settler colonialism through a roll-out of the Positive Action Campaigns, until final victory, in terms of which the African people were urged to take their destiny into their own hands.

Positive action was a phrase, akin to mass action, that would lead to a groundswell of defiant activities which forms an insurrection until the apartheid system was brought to its knees. The pass book was a badge of slavery for Africans to carry around their necks as a daily reminder that they were temporary in white South Africa. The powers that be panicked and shot peaceful demonstrators who demanded to be arrested without bail, without defense, and without fine.

The significance of March 21, 1960, in the history of the liberation struggle is often played down to the level of raising worldwide sympathy for victims of apartheid and to commemorate the Sharpeville-Langa massacre. For the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) it represented and still represents the beginning of the end of settler colonialism through a roll-out of the Positive Action Campaigns, until final victory, in terms of which the African people were urged to take their destiny into their own hands.

Positive action was a phrase, akin to mass action, that would lead to a groundswell of defiant activities which forms an insurrection until the apartheid system was brought to its knees. The pass book was a badge of slavery for Africans to carry around their necks as a daily reminder that they were temporary in white South Africa. The powers that be panicked and shot peaceful demonstrators who demanded to be arrested without bail, without defense, and without fine.

The pass system restricted Africans to reside in locations and Bantustans which served as reservoirs of cheap labour. The system degraded and dehumanized every black person and served to remind them of their slavery condition. Led by 36 year old Mangaliso Sobukwe, a university lecturer turned revolutionary thinker, the PAC took a strategic direction to shift the oppressed from appealing for the change of heart of their oppressors to a direct confrontation with the enemy. Before this, the congress movement (the ANC) collaborated with the system through serving in structures such as township advisory boards and the Native Representative Council. Thabo Mofutsanyane of the Communist Party, and Prof. Z.K. Matthews and Dr. James Moroka, both of the ANC, raised concerns with the pass laws in these dummy institutions to no avail.

The PAC approach was that the masses were to go into action and defy oppressors’ laws in large numbers. This was in direct contrast to the system of only a few volunteers in committees burning their passes in the glare of press personnel. Leaders who took lofty positions and were uncomfortable with the Positive Action Campaign were later driven by grassroots-based uprisings to make radical shifts to armed struggle after the banning of the PAC on 8 April 1960. The PAC leadership regarded the might and invincibility of Western-backed settler-colonial power structures in South Africa as a giant on thin mosquito legs. With the will of the people, it could be undermined and eventually overthrown. They chose Pan Africanism as a revolutionary tool of action against imperialism. Pan Africanism advocates a united continent with one government, in a union of socialist, democratic republics.

4 thoughts on “THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE POSITIVE ACTION CAMPAIGN AND THE WAY FORWARD

  1. Well put, Izwe lethu! Africanists have had over years of colonial-imperialist hegemony to compromise ideologically. In the 1960s it was apologists of imperialism who excused Boer police brutality as being sparked by “panic”. The massacres were cold-blooded, premeditated, planned, ruthlessly executed. Same pattern in Langa. A similar situation where Boers “panicked” was in Cape Town on March 30, 1960. Real panic here. 70,000 PAC men in the city centre where White families live. Hence Police Chief Terreblanche fell on his knees, salaamed and asked God for a miracle. He defied orders from the Defence Minster to shoot us. White panic led to negotiations. White racism and Christian bigotry, not panic, sparked the massacre of kafirs. My point is that Afrikanists must avoid colonial apologetics like “panicked” to cold-blooded. I was in Langa that day of March 21 1960. Afrikanists must unite and develop a Forum (maybe we have it already). We need to refine language,facts of history. We must be ruthless in our criticism before we take positions. Thank you for the good work. Where can I get photos of PAC Mammoth March of March 30, 1960 to Cape Town?

  2. It is refreshing to know that there are are people who concern about the current status of our revolutionary movement.

    I would propose that we should urgently organise a national consultative conference of PAC members with a view of reclaiming back our movement.

  3. I noted that in “the Significance of the Positive Action Campaign and Way Forward” the PAC is mentioned as the only organisation that was banned. Mayihlome perhaps agrees with Kwame Nkrumah that only the PAC was banned and that the ANC was bundled together with the PAC. In fact, prior to the ban, white parliamentarians were calling for the banning of the PAC only, not the ANC because they believed the ANC was “more responsible than the PAC”. Some whites pointed out that by banning only the PAC might arouse suspicion against the ANC and endear the PAC to the masses. It was then agreed to ban both organisations. This explains the genesis of the 21 March 1960 anti-pass campaign. I am not impressed that the ANC had planned anti-pass campaign for 31 March 1960 because in February 1958 Potlako Leballo told Cotact magazine that he and his Africanist group will call for a strike a few days before the white election. He said “we Africanist leaders are not afraid of going to jail and do not worry about legalisms like many of the present Conpress (ANC) leaders – if we, the people will carry on with action”. The Africanists did not want to postpone the African people’s confrontation with the settler colonial regime thus prolonging oppression.

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