This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
Whither the Black Consciousness Movement?
The Deep Roots of our Struggle
The editorial of a local English newspaper, commenting on the banning of 18 organisations by the Minister of Justice in October 1977, described the emergence of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) as the most important development in black politics in recent years. The editorial comment produced conflicting reactions. There are critics in all sections of the liberation movement who refuse to acknowledge the achievements of others. They seem to believe that such acknowledgement will be a sign of weakness on their part and a lack of confidence in their own organisations. More specifically, they say that in a country like South Africa, with a significant and vocal body of whites which is opposed to apartheid and identifies itself with the black man's struggle, the emergence of the BCM is a setback; that its slogan of 'Black is Beautiful' is racist; that its policy of communalism in an era of industrial capitalism and an ever-expanding socialist world is primitive - hence the contention that the movement is in the hands of reactionaries. These critics are suspicious of the support the movement enjoys from the imperialist countries, particularly the USA, as well as the movement's alleged hostility to Marxism. Some of the critics dismiss the movement as the brainchild of the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and resist any form of co-operation with it. The youth demonstrations that began in Soweto in June 1976 are condemned for being badly planned, reckless and disastrous, exposing hundreds of innocent people to slaughter, arrest and persecution. The campaign fizzled out when the youth were jailed, fled the country in large numbers and schools in affected areas were closed.
Opposing critics go to the other extreme of exaggerating the role of the movement and claim that in the history of our country the BCM is a movement with a special mission of freeing the black man, that within a few years of its formation it eclipsed the older organisations, both legal and otherwise, that the older organisations are essentially reformist in outlook and methods. Earlier political struggles are denounced as adventurist and ineffective, a mere playing around with people's lives. The sabotage activities of the early 1960s are dismissed as a few bucket bombs that made no impact. They interpret the setbacks and political lull of the past sixteen years, especially the delay in commencing start armed operations inside the country, as evidence of the collapse of the older organisations, as incompetence of their leaders and as an absence of dynamic leadership. The BCM is hailed as a revolutionary movement with resourceful leaders, the Kennedys and Kings of South Africa2.
Such contrasting views demand the unprejudiced and objective analysis of an emergent youth movement. But to look at the political situation from prison tends to distort the very events one is trying to examine and makes an objective analysis far more difficult. However, the matter is sufficiently significant for us to run the risk of daring where the more cautious would hesitate.
The involvement of students in the freedom struggle is crucial and the emergence of a vigorous student movement is to be welcomed. To underestimate or exaggerate its role merely clouds the issue. The effect is either to discourage those who might be the country's leaders in future or, equally dangerous, to make them swollen headed.
The youth and, more particularly, university and high school students, are often the most idealistic and sensitive section of the community. At times they feel the stigma of oppression more sharply than the average worker. The worker has heavy responsibilities and maintains a family. He is reluctant to take part in any form of activity that may cost him his job. In the case of an African worker in this country, that hesitation is sharpened by the fact that strike action is a criminal offence. To make matters worse an African worker who is unemployed may be deported from his area - a disaster which entails, among other things, the loss of a house and the break up of his family.
Students have less responsibilities and respond more readily to protest calls, for they have little to lose by such participation. Political action provides a platform for their idealism and love of adventure. Their high literacy level tends to make them more conscious of social developments in other parts of the world and the need for change in their own country - all of which compels political critics to be objective in dealing with such a movement. A short historical sketch of the BCM may be necessary to explain its role in the country's politics, define the scope of its impact and place its achievements in perspective. Such a sketch may provide the reader with vital information in examining the important question whether the BCM will be able to overcome the difficulties of switching over from an open to a disciplined underground movement, of maintaining pressure against the enemy and the speed at which this will be accomplished.
During the mid-1960s there was no youth movement in the country that specifically catered for the needs of the black youth. Both the African Students Association (ASA), which was dominated by the youth of the ANC, and the African Students Union of South Africa (ASUSA), whose membership came mainly from the Pan Africanist Congress, were defunct. The Transvaal and Natal Indian Youth Congresses (TIYC and NIYC) also ceased to exist. Many of the active membership of these bodies were involved in the acts of sabotage which took place during the period 1961-64 and were either imprisoned, confined to certain areas or had left the country for military training abroad or for study. Although the Coloured Peoples' Congress (CPC) had drawn into its ranks progressive and militant youths, it did not form any distinct Coloured youth organisation. The Cape Peninsula Students Union (CPSU) faded out in 1962 when most of the members were brought into the African Peoples Democratic Union of South Africa (APDUSA), an affiliate to the Non-European Unity Movement (NEUM). The ANC Youth League, after campaigning for no less than 16 years, folded up when the mother body, the ANC, was declared illegal in 1960, whilst the Young Communist League (YCL), which had active branches in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg had been forced to dissolve when the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA) was banned ten years earlier3.
Three youth movements, the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), the University Christian Movement (UCM) and the Afrikaanse Studente Bond (ASB) were still active. Although the first two were open to both black and white members, in fact, neither attracted a substantial number of blacks. Both were totally opposed to apartheid and their non-racial programmes clashed with the government policy. Not only did the government constantly harass their members, but also the organisations were not allowed to hold meetings in black universities.
The ASB, according to its constitution, sought to promote the scientific development of its members and of Afrikaans culture on the basis of Christian Nationalism. Unlike NUSAS and UCM, whose membership was mainly English, the ASB was exclusively Afrikaans and throughout the 63 years of its history has never had any significant contact with black student opinion. It has been indoctrinated by generations of conservative Afrikaner politicians and racial thinking within it has taken deep root. The progressive developments that have affected practically the whole world, and which have established the principle of the equality of human beings, have barely touched this body. Its members moved together with their people into the isolation of the laager. There are several other white and mixed youth movements that we do not specifically mention here either because they avoided politics altogether or identified themselves with the government.
In the explosive atmosphere that affected the country since the Nats came to power, especially from the 1960s onwards, an organisation whose membership was, for whatever reason, dominated by whites was not likely to enjoy black support. In spite of the firm stand that NUSAS took on important national issues and the successful campaigns it launched, there was a widespread feeling among the black students that they had social problems alien to their white colleagues; that the white students had a patronising attitude towards the blacks which the latter deeply resented; that they were only interested in their black mates while they (white students) were still at university; but that as soon as they left university they forgot about blacks and became oppressors just like all the other whites. The black students were also of the opinion that the constitution of NUSAS, which did not allow for individual membership, hampered them in making their influence felt in the affairs of the organisation and that its policy was determined largely by whites. For these reasons black students felt that NUSAS was not the best organisation through which they could seek solutions, and that the moment was ripe for the formation of a student movement controlled in every respect by blacks themselves.
In the meantime international events and incidents on our borders were helping to stimulate the protest spirit among all students. America, the world's mightiest imperialist power, was being mauled by the small Vietnamese nation. The atrocities the American army was committing in Vietnam and the heavy casualties they were suffering there not only provoked protest inside America itself, but led to the realisation even in conservative circles in the West that imperialism was a threat to world peace.
Student bodies on both sides of the Atlantic were rebelling against parental, social, educational and governmental authority, staging huge protest demonstrations, many of which involved clashes with the police and loss of life. The largest of these demonstrations was held in the French capital, Paris where close to a million students and workers marched through the streets. The demonstrators fought the police from behind barricades and the country seemed to be on the brink of civil war. In the USA and some South American states, in Italy, Spain and West Germany the students were also up in arms. Although these demonstrations were finally crushed they produced echoes on almost all continents.
On South Africa's borders the people of Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe had risen against their respective oppressors, whilst armed detachments of MK had clashed with the enemy in Zimbabwe, forcing Prime Minister John Vorster to rush his army to the Zambezi4.
These events inspired our youth at the black and white universities. Although NUSAS did not attract large numbers of black students, it was for some time the only student movement that was outspoken in its condemnation of government policy. It condemned detention without trial from its inception and called for the repeal of the Terrorism Act. It backed up its demands with action and, in some cases, there were collisions with the police. NUSAS gave emphasis to public issues, demanding the release of all political prisoners, raising study funds for prisoners, helping their families and publicly attacking specific government measures.
African students at Fort Hare and at some of the high schools were also active. Apart from taking part in specific campaigns as part of the liberation movement, some students even joining MK after its emergence in 1961, but they had no specific youth organisation and concentrated on student domestic matters.
The initiative taken by white students on many public questions affecting blacks mainly, pricked the conscience of black students who realised the irony of sitting with folded arms while their white colleagues were on the attack. The result was the formation of the South African Students Organisation (SASO) in December 1968. Its chief aim was to unite African, Coloured and Indian university students. It also had the undeclared aim of creating conditions conducive to the operation of the underground organisations. Its constitution was modelled on that of NUSAS, but whites were expressly excluded from membership.
The success of any new organisation depends upon efficient machinery, a dynamic programme of action and the correct application of leadership skills. Soon after its formation, SASO evolved an ambitious organisational scheme to capture intellectuals and to mobilise mass support. Within a few years it spread its tentacles to practically every field.
The organisation of students in high, secondary and training schools was entrusted to the South African Students Movement (SASM), while working youth would be rallied, at a later stage, through the National Youth Organisation (NAYO).
The Black Community Project (BCP) would help people gain a variety of specialised skills. Training would be run on professional basis and would include leadership training, administrative skills, research, writing and publication of literature. Several cultural organisations were established or taken over to spread Black Consciousness through art, drama, poetry and music. One of these was the Music, Drama and Literature Association (Mdali). A programme was drawn up for the rural areas, particularly those affected by the government removal schemes. The programme included the building of schools, health clinics, roads and dams, literacy campaigns and lessons in domestic science.
Education By Employment was a special programme intended primarily for the students' benefit. Arrangements would be made for students to get employment during their holidays and to come into direct contact with workers and to acquaint themselves with the problems of the black man at first hand.
Within the UCM doubts were being expressed as to whether, in the country's unique situation, a non-racial organisation like the UCM itself was the best way to take up the specific problems of each particular population group. The emergence of SASO brought this question to a head. In 1971 the UCM voluntarily dissolved and its white members were given the task of conscientising the white youth. Blacks were now instructed to develop Black Theology, a new body of religious principles, which would serve as another effective agency for the freedom movement. In this way, it was hoped to draw all the black churches and black nationalists in the white congregation into the new movement.
Although primarily a student organisation, SASO realised from the start that the problems of black students were mainly a result of a lack of political power. The dominant idea in almost all the activities of SASO is that of Black Power and it soon felt the need for a legal organisation to promote this idea. With this object in mind, SASO held a number of bilateral meetings with different organisations. In 1972 there was a conference of cultural organisations that met to form one co-ordinating body. The SASO delegation rejected the original idea and suggested instead the formation of a political body. The conference ultimately accepted this proposal and the Black People's Convention (BPC) was born in July 1972. Although it was meant to be the senior body giving political direction to the other organisations, SASO easily captured its leadership.
The BCM embraced all these and other local organisations, all of which are bound together by the idea of Black Consciousness. Besides these, there are other organisations, like the Black Allied Workers Union (BAWU), the Black Women's Federation, and the Black Parents Association, which used the label 'black' but were not directly linked with the BCM. According to its policy manifesto, SASO is a black student organisation working for the liberation of the black man, first from psychological oppression by liberating himself from inferiority complex, secondly, from the physical one accruing from living in a white racist society.
The manifesto describes black people as those against whom the law discriminates economically, politically and socially and who identify themselves as a unit in the struggle for the realisation of their aspirations. SASO accepts that South Africa is a land in which black and white will continue to live together. But SASO believes that because of the privileges whites enjoy and because it regards all whites as oppressors, they are the main cause of the black man's suffering and must consequently be excluded in all matters relating to the people's struggle. Although law shall not prohibit it, personal contact between black and white must be discouraged especially where such contact undermines cherished beliefs.
SASO regards the urge towards black awareness as the logical and significant means by which the black man will gain freedom. Black Consciousness is defined as an attitude of the mind and a way of life which calls upon the black man to reject all value systems that deprive him of basic rights in his own country. The concept implies black awareness of the power they wield as a group both economically and politically. Hence group cohesion is regarded as an important facet of Black Consciousness. This concept calls for total involvement in the struggle of the oppressed people.
SASO believes that a non-racial society in this country can only be achieved by blacks themselves. Consequently, blacks must first unite and fight as a group to free themselves from white oppression. They argue that integration can only be realised in a just and free society and not in an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust. The manifesto expresses its lack of faith in the genuineness of multi-racial movements and in the capability of individual whites in South Africa to bring about social change. Self-reliance and the rejection of all forms of subservience and paternalism are the rock on which the BCM is grounded. The idea was well expressed by Barney Pityana, then President of SASO, in the following words, 'We must make blacks independent of whites as far as possible and make them realise that they are on their own. In order for a group of people to bring about change, there must be an identity that they seek to protect and promote. Black people must build themselves to a position of non-dependence on whites. They must work towards a self-sufficient, political, social and economic unit. In this way they will help themselves towards a deeper realisation of their potential and worth as a self-respecting people.'5
Three important points about the BCM already stand out in this short sketch: a shrewd plan, a powerful ideology and an able youth leadership. Certainly the founders of the BCM provided that movement with an impressive structure, and in a country where blacks are hungry for political power and where the practice of racism affects every aspect of their lives, the Black Power ideology is still likely to be a potent weapon. The ideology must have been chosen with the firm belief that it would appeal to Africans, Indians and Coloureds from all walks of life, to educationists, professionals and businessmen, the clergy, students, workers and people from the countryside. The whole plan set the stage for a powerful youth movement, which would make a significant contribution to black politics, fill the vacuum created by the banning of older organisations and prepare the ground for revolutionary forms of struggle.
For three centuries the whites have tried to tell the black man that he has no history, civilisation or identity to be proud of; that only whites have a past, a cultural heritage and a common awareness of their mission in life. Even the standard works of white historians talk of Asia, America, South Africa and Australia has having been discovered by their forefathers, illustrating the same type of racism on a world scale. They refuse to acknowledge the black man's contribution to world history and civilisation. They would like us to believe that continents and people exist only if the white man has seen them.
It was blacks, the Abathwa, derogatorily referred to as Bushmen in white literature, who founded South Africa ages before Bartholomew Dias saw our shores, and the Khoi-khoi (the so-called Hottentots) who welcomed him when he landed. Yet Dias is introduced to the world as the 'discoverer' of our country. Race prejudice is so firmly entrenched amongst the whites that even history works which are published today hardly mention the ANC and the SAIC - the organisations that in 1946 initiated the campaign to isolate South Africa from the rest of the world and which campaign culminated in South Africa's expulsion from the British Commonwealth of Nations and other world bodies. Equally revealing is the almost complete silence on MK, whose armed units have had numerous engagements with the South African army and whose activities have turned the country into an armed fortress.
Whites regard themselves superior and blacks as inferior, and teach that the only way the black man can advance is by imitating the white man. Influenced by this colour prejudice, whites refuse to accept the black man as an equal, preferring to call him a non-white or non-European, not referring to him by what he is but by what he is not, all this being intended to support the myth of white supremacy. The district magistrate, the schoolteacher, the parish priest and the local trader all tell the black man this fable.
For centuries, generations of black South African patriots have fiercely challenged this fallacy and asserted the ideal of self-reliance in the most concrete terms. Although in the early days social conditions forced each ethnic group to fight independently of other black countrymen, within the framework of that social system, each group was fully aware of its black identity and the power of united action.
The Abathwa and the Khoi-khoi opened the patriotic wars that raged until the end of the nineteenth century and produced martyrs which today's freedom fighters, themselves born and bred in a racist environment, hardly ever mention in their speeches and writings on the struggle of our people against foreign aggression. Abathwa and Khoi-khoi fought for their country and their people. In doing so, they were asserting their identity and love of freedom. That glorious heritage was greatly enriched when, from the second half of the eighteenth century, the Africans took their respective positions in the line of battle. In those patriotic wars our forefathers were in fact saying: 'We are black and are on our own. This is our land and we shall defend it to the bitter end!'
After conquest the Natal Indian Congress (NIC), the African People's Organisation (APO) and the ANC, joined later by other sections of the liberation movement, rallied the Indians, Coloureds and Africans in disciplined political struggle around the same idea of the right of the black man to live freely in his country, to plan his own life and to draw inspiration from his own past and culture. Since 1921 the Communist Party has put forward the country's most radical programme of reform and fully identified itself with the struggle of the black man. It gave particular attention to the formation of black trade unions, not only to improve the material conditions of the black worker, but also to be able to back up its demands with economic pressure.
That feeling of unity enabled the ANC, SAIC and the APO thirty years ago to bring together Africans, Coloureds and Indians in a common struggle against white domination and to sharpen the spirit of resistance. That unity has become the solid rock from which the peoples' struggle is directed. All organisations that now accept this principle are either legitimate heirs of the heritage created during that unforgettable period of wars of dispossession or offshoots who broke away because they rejected this very principle, but who were later forced by events to eat their words. Few things illustrate an organisation's ignorance of our history and struggle than to imagine that in this country the crusade for black unity only began in the 1970s.
An Explosion of Energy
Preparing a master plan and applying it are two different things. All over the world Utopian programmes are a common feature of many organisations. Perhaps many critics may have dismissed the BCM as no more than a movement of this type and its ideology of Black Power as a false dream. They may have reasoned that the enemy which had given stronger and more experienced organisations a rough time was too powerful, and that it would easily put out the new fires that were beginning to lick our shores.
But the BCM quickly advanced beyond plan-making and took a bold initiative on a wide front. It began attracting attention and forced many people to take sides. Barely six years after its appearance it had made quite an impact and SASO, the driving force behind the whole movement, had won the respect of progressive opinion here and in many parts of the world. No other movement since the emergence of MK had caught the imagination of the youth as the BCM had done, undertaken so many positive mass projects, conducted its campaign with such enduring aggression and handled such a big budget.
The contribution of the BCM is even more striking if we bear in mind that when it was launched the enemy had become ruthless in dealing with its opponents; that many activists had been jailed, killed in detention, confined to certain areas or had fled the country; that the liberation movement was seriously crippled and mass political activity had been stamped out.
Equally significant was the fact that the youth that now resisted government policy so uncompromisingly were products of ethnic schools. They were a new generation of intellectuals who were trained to be spineless government tools, who would accept separate development without question, man its key positions and finally lead the black man away from solutions sought by the liberation movement. It must have been a grievous blow to Vorster to discover blacks who had been groomed from primary school to think on tribal lines could work so hard to unite Africans, Coloureds and Indians and reject apartheid with such finality.
When SASO emerged, the government and its supporters welcomed the new movement as a rebuff to the white liberals generally and, in particular, to NUSAS, hoping that this was a development much in line with their own policy. By throwing open its membership to all blacks the BCM had cut across government policy, which seeks to restrict the development of each ethnic group within the framework of a separate enclave. But the important point for the government was that in forming a black student body, the black youth had finally broken the links with liberal white student opinion. For this reason, the government did not harass the new movement and allowed it to operate freely.
Prof. Kotze, a supporter of separate development, wrote a critical but sympathetic review on SASO and the BCM in Politikon, issued by the University of South Africa, Pretoria, in 1974. Similarly Dean J J Otto, president of the South African Students Congress (SASCON), another body which advocates separate development, writing in the Die Huisgenoot of 19 November 1971, said that the chief object of the organisations was to unite Afrikaans and English-speaking students, to develop responsible contact with black students, and, by so doing to stem the influence of radical elements at the black universities, that SASCON was striving for co-operation with SASO. He declared war on NUSAS, describing it as the archenemy of SASCON and threatened to dismantle it in the coming year.
Dean Otto's statement that the development of responsible contact with black students would stem the tide of radical influence on the black campuses may be a shade naïve. In fact it is a timely reminder to us since it is an application of the general strategy of the government and right-wing liberals. They welcome black reformist movements that believe in co-operation, or at least in peaceful non-violent solutions, because such movements can eventually checkmate the more radical movements whose policies are to fight violence with violence. The editorial comment referred to earlier expressly warned government that the effect of banning the BCM, which until then worked openly, would be to drive it into the arms of sinister forces that are a threat to the security of the country.
SASO exploited this benevolence. Before the government realised its mistake, the new organisation was shooting out roots in all directions and had established itself amongst students on all the black campuses.
The unusually large number of full-time functionaries in BCM employ was a new feature and indicated the seriousness with which it viewed its mission. During specific campaigns the ANC and its allies, more especially the SAIC, were able to assemble an equally imposing full-time staff and, as an underground organisation, the ANC today has an even larger staff. In its heyday as a legal organisation SACTU had a fairly large staff. Never the less the size of SASO permanent staff was certainly a new feature.
SASO had a full-time secretary general, a permanent organiser, a director of literacy, four regional directors, a cultural committee director and various administrative assistants such as clerks, receptionists and typists. The BPC also had a full-time secretary general, a national organiser, four regional directors and several administrative assistants.
To ensure that it would reach all shades of opinion the BCM produced no less than fifteen cyclostyled publications. SASO's major mouthpiece was the SASO Newsletter, printed bi-monthly with a circulation of 4 000 and was distributed among the black community at large. The SASO Bulletin was also a printed bi-monthly with a circulation 2 500. It was meant for student consumption. Ten thousand copies of Creativity and Black Development were published. This was a compilation of the various papers delivered at the third general Students Council Meeting at Hammanskraal in July 1972. It was banned shortly after publication. A series of fact papers was also brought out which went in depth into particular topics. This material was also distributed chiefly among students. Freshers' Pamphlet, with a circulation of 9 000, came out yearly. In 1973, after the country-wide student demonstrations during the preceding year, SASO on the Attack! was issued. It was banned after publication. Apart from these there were several other publications such as 'reports of conference' commissions and seminars on particular topics as well as conference minutes.
The Black Community Project published an annual magazine, Black Review, which contained a detailed survey of almost every aspect of black community life in the country. The viewpoint of leading persons in the black community was set out in Black Viewpoint. Only one issue was published. Black Perspectives complemented Black Viewpoint. A work of particular interest was the Handbook of Black Organisations, which published important details of every existing black organisation in the country: its constitution and other policy papers, aims and objects, its members and date of formation. The idea was to collect essential facts on every organisation in the country for purposes of planning future campaigns and for quick reference.
The main organ of the BPC was the bulletin Inkululeku YeSiswe. The police repeatedly confiscated its material with the result that the bulletin did not come our regularly. In 1975 it issued a policy statement which, in many respects, was similar to the Freedom Charter of the ANC. By and large the BPC however concentrated on explaining the concept of self-reliance and attempted to give guidance to the community on day to day events.
These publications constituted a powerful propaganda machine and brought the BCM into close contact with various sections of the black community. Through these organs the views of the new movement and its activities were brought to the attention of the public. At the same time these publications created a forum for members of the public. The cumulative effect of all this was to enable the BCM to put its pulse on the feelings of the people.
The tag 'black' now spread to other bodies not directly influenced, as SASO was, by the USA brand of Black Power. Among these were the Black Women's Federation, the Institute of Black Studies and Black Academic Staff Association. Progressive political critics, like Fatima Meer and the late Dr Rick Turner, began writing articles in which they assessed the new movement6. In spite of reservations on certain aspects of its policy, they generally felt that in the light of our present situation, its emergence was a natural development and that its policy reflected the mood of the oppressed people.
The BCM also developed sophisticated techniques of politicising the people and used art to achieve this goal. Other sections of the liberation movement had tried this method in the past and staged up exciting shows that attracted large crowds. They realised that art is an effective way of spreading ideas and influencing the public, that it can take a man out of his shell into the wide world of human endeavour, where he can achieve the fullness of life by identifying himself with the struggle of mankind to create a better world, where he can be happy without making others unhappy, that by seeing a play performed, reading a novel, listening to music or poetry he can discover what other human beings were able to achieve in similar circumstances, that in South Africa good art can inspire the black man to stand up and fight.
Two interesting innovations, launched before the formation of SASO, aroused much interest. One of these was the idea of taking theatre to the people in their pondokkies and backyards. This was a revolutionary step and, with full-time and able functionaries, efficient organisation and sufficient funds, it has unlimited possibilities.
Another new development was the children's Experimental Workshop, whose aim was the orientation of the children's outlook, so that at an early age they could think progressively and be able to resist all forms of racial prejudice. African, Indian and Coloured children were organised into mixed theatre groups and presented plays, sang or recited poetry together. In this way, a new generation of artists was being created, which was free of colour prejudice and which was bound together by the common desire to build a greater South Africa. The Theatre Council of Natal (TECON) and the People's Experimental Theatre (PET) did useful work in this field.
Several young artists were also involved in theatre work and, more particularly, in the productions staged by TECON. After the establishment of SASO these artists applied these innovations as part of the conscientisation campaign. Some of their performances were based on these experiments and were definitely catching on when the BCM was banned.
The press often reported that the BCM ran several clinics, some with full-time and qualified medical and nursing staff. It was also reported to be running other important community development projects in various parts of the country.
Full-time functionaries, good organisation, a dynamic policy and constructive community schemes give an organisation a tremendous advantage and may help it to popularise its plans and entrench itself. But what completes the picture and excites the average man is its record in the field of conflict against the enemy - the fact that it can fight and win victories, however small. This is what has kept the ANC alive for more than six decades and this is why in his report on the 1962 Paarl riots Judge Snyman warned that the danger to white South Africa would come from the MK, the military wing of the ANC.
In its short history as a lawful movement, the BCM tried to combine ideology and planning with concrete action. If one bears in mind that SASO members were mere novices when they were forced to fight back, with members on average still in their twenties, they acquitted themselves well. It was mainly its open confrontation with the enemy that caught the public eye and put SASO on the map. The first of these clashes took place in May 1972, only 28 days after the organisation had been formed.
The late Ramothibi Tiro, a student at the University of the North (Turfloop) and SRC president for the 1970–71, spoke at the university's graduation ceremony7. In the presence of the Chancellor, Dr W M Eiselen, and other white dignitaries, he criticised Bantu Education. That a black man should have had the 'temerity' to attack their divide and rule master plan on such a solemn occasion was a kind of subversion the university bosses could not permit. Tiro was summarily expelled.
That was the flashpoint and the whole university was on fire, with the students demanding that Tiro be reinstated immediately and threatening not to write the June examinations. The authorities closed the university and sent all the students home. Their aim was to disorganise the students by dispersing them throughout the country and making united action difficult. Convinced that the recalcitrant students were sufficiently intimidated, the authorities sent new applications forms for readmission containing humiliating conditions, which the students resented.
Unfortunately for the enemy, all these manoeuvres had been anticipated. The students were able to draw on their own efficient machinery and the goodwill of the black community and of progressive whites. Student leaders from all the black campuses met in Alice. They decided to boycott the examinations and refused to sign the conditions. They called upon all those at institutions of higher learning to support their Turfloop colleagues and appealed to parents to form parent committees to assist the students. The Council of SRC Presidents was set up to direct the demonstrations and each campus was asked to make local demands in addition to the principal demand for Tiro's reinstatement.
The response was swift and solid. Examinations were boycotted, with varying degrees of success, by students at all black campuses including the Springfield College, M L Sultan College and at the Transvaal College of Education. Although there was no intention of involving high school students, some joined in. Meanwhile, white students at the universities of Witwatersrand and Cape Town staged solidarity demonstrations. Black and white leading personalities publicly condemned the government. Although some students were expelled, it was a runaway victory that shocked the government. Black youth whom they had strongly relied on to become puppets serving white interests, had overnight become an army of rebels on the attack.
The echoes of the student demonstrations had barely died away when, in October the same year, African, Coloured and Indian workers of Natal opened another front. The strikes spread to Pietermaritzburg, Hammarsdale, Newcastle and other centres in the province and these continued until early the following year when they reached their peak. There was sporadic activity in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and on the Witwatersrand. Opinions vary as to who organised these particular strikes. Some say the strikes were spontaneous. Others maintain that the hand of SACTU was clearly to be seen. Others swear that at some stage BAWU, other trade unionists and even NUSAS were involved. Perhaps all these versions contain some element of truth. What is quite clear is that in the trial of Harry Gwala and others, the state alleged that the accused had played an important role in organising the strikes. It is also true that during the strikes nine SASO officials were among those who were banned. Five of them were later arrested and charged for fomenting feelings of racial hostility. It was part of the state case that they had taken part in the organisation of these strikes. However the court did not accept the evidence and they were all discharged.
Events beyond South Africa's borders were also setting the pace for political developments in the own country and stirring the youth into action. In April 1974 there was a military coup in Portugal. A dictatorship that had lasted several decades and that the Portuguese people had accepted as a way of life was toppled and popular institutions were introduced. The new coalition government, which included communists and socialists, agreed to negotiate with MPLA in Angola, Frelimo in Mozambique and PAIGC Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. The negotiations with Frelimo, which had been fighting the Portuguese for more than 10 years, resulted in the formation in Mozambique of a provisional government on the 25 September 1974. SASO decided to celebrate this event on a national level, and, on the weekend of 22 September, announced its decision, adding that Frelimo speakers would be invited to address the rallies.
For more than a decade before this development, South African government spokesmen had denounced Frelimo as a gang of murderers in the pay of communist Russia. The political changes that were now taking place in Mozambique would force South Africa to retrace her steps and were a source of real embarrassment to her. By planning the solidarity rallies SASO was rubbing salt into a wound.
On the same weekend the press announced that the Minister of Justice intended to ban the planned rallies. The students were determined to defy the ban. The stage was set for another ugly confrontation. Indeed, on 25 September, there were violent clashes between the students and police at Turfloop. Students were so determined that they forced police to release four students they had arrested earlier.
That evening a large crowd gathered around the entrance of Currie's Fountain singing freedom songs and shouting slogans8. The police had cordoned off the place after locking up the gates. They followed the same tactics as at Turfloop, dispersing the crowd with dogs and charging them with batons. Several people were arrested. Country-wide raids in which homes and offices were searched and many BCM members detained. By the end of the year, no less than two hundred people had been detained. Many of them were subjected to torture and other forms of persecution. Many activists had to flee the country. In the meantime the prestige of SASO and the calibre of its leadership was considerably enhanced.
Thirteen of the members of the BCM arrested from September 1974 (this number was later reduced to nine) were finally charged in the Supreme Court, Pretoria, for conspiring to overthrow the state by violence. It was a show trial full of fireworks. In the tradition of all freedom fighters, the accused carried the fight to the enemy, even inside his own den. They entered the awe-inspiring court packed with police, singing freedom songs, showing the fist, shouting 'Amandla' and even exchanged blows with the police. At one stage they dispensed of their lawyers, conducted their own defence and asked the presiding judge to recuse himself. They used the court as a platform from which to explain their views to the people of South Africa. In December 1976 they were all convicted and given sentences ranging from five to six years.
The most important student demonstration and campaign however took place in Soweto in June 1976. From Soweto the uprisings spread to other parts of the country. In terms of the numbers of students involved, the nature of demands made, the strength of feeling generated and their duration, these demonstrations were unparalleled in the history of this country. Not even the Sharpeville massacre created such world-wide outcry and damaged the image of South Africa as much as the Soweto uprisings.
The pivot of these riots was Soweto, an African complex of about 38 square kilometres. Although its official population is estimated at 800 000, in fact about a million people live there. According to government policy, Soweto is an area where African workers are temporarily housed and from here they would be removed to the Bantustans upon retirement or upon losing their employment. For this reason trading rights are restricted to small businesses such as groceries, butcheries and dairies. For those who have more ambitious trading schemes facilities are offered in the Bantustans. The white municipality owns the land and Africans live there either as outright tenants or leaseholders.
When the disturbances started, there were forty state-run secondary schools in Soweto with a total enrolment of 27 000. The average man earned between R60 and R70 a month and a woman between R30 and R35.
The term 'city' conveys the idea of a town with a large population, modern buildings and installations, industrial and commercial establishments governed by an autonomous authority that provides its residents with public amenities of various kinds. Although called a city, Soweto is far from that. It has no autonomous authority and is governed by a white statutory body. Apart from one or two special housing schemes where the well-to-do section of the people live, Soweto is an ugly and badly planned collection of match box houses, ranging from between two to four rooms. It is a place of poverty, slums, frustration, bitterness and crime and about fifteen murders are committed there each month.
Prior to 16 June 1976, the Bantu Education Department ordered African schools to use Afrikaans as the medium of instruction. Students, parents and teachers alike greatly resented this and several schools went on strike. A Black Parents' Association (BPA) was formed to mobilise the community behind the students. The students demanded the withdrawal of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction, universal and free education for all, the release of all political prisoners, adequate salaries for their parents, and the abandonment of the Bantustan policy. The students demanded further that negotiations on the disputed issues should be conducted directly with the BPA and not with dummy institutions.
These were bold demands. By linking them with the question of the Afrikaans medium of instruction the whole controversy assumed a political character that involved every black.
On 16 June 1976 about 10 000 unarmed students from the primary and secondary schools, the majority of whom were under the age of 20, staged a protest march in Soweto to attract public attention to their demands. During similar demonstrations by white students from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1972 and the University of Cape Town the police were restrained and used relatively moderate methods of crowd control, even though at the former institution, the students were defying a magisterial order forbidding the procession.
But in this particular case involving African students, who had every justification to protest, the police were vicious. They treated the matter as if the liberation army being assembled outside South Africa's borders had broken through and reached the Witwatersrand. They immediately opened fire, killing a child of sixteen and injuring many others. All hell broke loose as the enraged students retaliated with everything they could lay their hands on. They stoned the police, burnt down any symbols of white power in the townships and boycotted schools. Whilst the first clash between students and police occurred at Naledi Secondary School, the lead in the planned demonstrations was taken by pupils at Morris Isaacson School. Its principal was later detained. Although the demonstrations revealed wide opposition to Afrikaans as the medium of instruction, not all the schools were involved at that stage. A Soweto Students' Representative Council (SSRC) was formed under the chairmanship of Tsietsi Mashinini from Morris Isaacson High School to rally all the students behind the demonstrations. This was a shrewd move that brought immediate results. The school boycott was total. Clashes with the police occurred daily as students improvised a variety of weapons, such as petrol bombs, catapults and choppers. Administrative buildings and other installations were razed, members of the Urban Bantu Council were forced to resign and students virtually took over the administration of Soweto as the white power structure collapsed in the area.
In spite of the massacre of several hundred people by the police and the arrest of student leaders, the riots quickly spread to other parts of the Transvaal. A wholly unexpected feature was the spontaneous response of the coloured people in the Cape Peninsula. Although students at the University of the Western Cape played quite an important role after speakers from SASO and the BPC had addressed them, there was already sporadic and organised action amongst them which was initiated by Coloured and African youth who were not connected to the university, but who distributed a large number of leaflets in many parts of the Peninsula.
The intervention of university students in co-ordination with secondary school students and working youth produced even better results. The university students formed a disruption squad that brought lectures to a standstill, forcing the authorities to close the institution earlier than usual.
The Cape Peninsula was in turmoil and the Coloured youth were fighting side by side with their African comrades at a time when Vorster, the Prime Minister, was working hard to lure them away from Africans.
An exciting aspect of the demonstrations in the Peninsula was the arrest of four Coloured women from the University of the Western Cape for acts of sabotage. The state alleged that they had attempted to burn a building. Witnesses refused to testify against them, and those who did gave favourable evidence, which resulted in the collapse of the case for the state.
The demonstrations and riots engulfed the secondary schools in the Eastern Cape and the Orange Free State. Although the administration block building was burnt at Ngoye, there were no disturbances in Natal. Solidarity action came from white students at Wits, Cape Town and Natal universities.
The police handled the riots with total disregard for human life. They cruelly shot down school children, tortured those that fell into their hands and ill-treated those who were jailed.
In Cape Town and Johannesburg the police tried to incite African migrant labourers to attack the demonstrators and the families of known freedom fighters. Innocent people were murdered and injured. Property was damaged or looted under the eyes of the police. The youth found an answer to this manoeuvre as well. They fought the police and the migrants, at the same time carefully explaining to the latter the real issues involved. The tactic proved effective and the police gave up the attempt.
Students learnt that even if the school boycott was a 100 percent successful, they could not by themselves cripple the economy and bring the government to its knees. This could be achieved only if the workers were mobilised. In pursuance of this goal a general strike was called. The response was poor. Nevertheless, demonstrations continued throughout 1977 and revealed remarkable endurance on the part of the youth.
This country-wide, sustained youth resistance movement was greatly encouraged when the authorities were forced to withdraw the instruction enforcing the use of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction. Their guns and paid gangsters had failed to coerce black students, teachers and parents into submission. The black legion had fought and won, in the process emerging as an important force in the country. With the collapse of white-controlled administration in Soweto, a people's governing body, the Committee of Ten, supported by the students and progressive opinion in the area, emerged under the chairmanship of Dr Nthatho Motlana, a well-known freedom fighter and former secretary of the Transvaal branch of the ANC Youth League. His committee at once overshadowed the statutory bodies that administered Soweto and the government repressed it and sent its chairman and committee members to jail.
These achievements indicate the important role the black youth, and especially the students, played during the 1970s, and the vital contribution they are likely to make in future.
Soon after the riots the Minister of Justice, J.T. Kruger, was haunted by the spectre of more than 1 000 embittered black youth who had fled the country and were now squatting in the neighbouring states. In spite of the slaughter of their parents, relations and comrades, they had fought bravely and were conscious of the impact they had made. Events at home had compressed into a few months the political awareness that would have taken years to develop. From these foreign states they could now see with their own eyes and convince themselves that separate development was indeed a false solution. In the neighbouring states Africans were free, managed their own affairs and lived harmoniously with other population groups.
This army of rebels was now in direct contact with the freedom movement on South Africa's borders and fully exposed to all progressive forces that white South Africa feared most. It is events like Soweto that make children think hard about their own future and that of their country, that drive them to vow to avenge their dead parents and friends, to discover their political idols and to model their own lives on those of past heroes. In these foreign countries they were free to read all kinds of revolutionary literature, to listen to radical political discussions and to the story of the pioneers of our own armed struggle, who fought and fell in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Now they had the chance of being part of an army with the most cherished mission in life, that of liberating our people and our country. With guerrillas systematically infiltrating South Africa and with the bulk of our units biding time just across the borders, it was a disaster for white South Africa that so many school children were out of their ghettoes. For the first time Kruger regretted his mistake when he realised that, in the course of a few years, he himself would be running away from the same youth that were fleeing from him now. He decided to offer amnesty to all those who decided to come back but nobody believed him. All that Vorster could do in the circumstances was to squeeze more money from the South African taxpayer, increase the defence budget and strengthen the defence force on the borders.
In desperation, and with the aim of winning more votes in the November 1977 general election, Kruger took what he considered to be the final step to crush the BCM. He cracked down upon them, banning the movement and all its affiliated organisations. Able men and women who once led this army of young people, Ramothibi Tiro, Mthuli Shezi,9 Steve Biko and others, are no more. They fell fighting, even though without arms, and had joined that long line of South African martyrs whose heroic deeds span the five hundred years of our freedom struggle.
Pitfalls and Fault-lines
It has been said that the successes the BCM achieved have made its members swollen headed, that the bombastic language that characterises many of their speeches and writings show that they have now lost their original perspectives; that we must guard against the danger of a new movement developing into a third political force which, in spite of its militant language and anti-whitism, will finally ally itself with the enemy as some organisations have done in Namibia and Zimbabwe.
Critics vehemently protest that the BCM should not be raised to anything higher than a mere patrol to scout the terrain, investigate the deployment of enemy forces and to harass its weaker units. It is also said that, although full of fight, it is barely equipped ideologically, that in the past it made headway simply because it was the only legal movement in black politics in the country and received solid encouragement and support from older organisations, that behind it was a seasoned liberation movement that has been in the field of battle for decades and whose growing army is now beginning to strike deep into enemy territory.
There is plenty of evidence to show that until the end of 1976 SASO openly acknowledged the seniority of the ANC and PAC. There is also evidence that SASO considered its role to be that of filling a vacuum created by the banning of the two older organisations and even worked for their eventual unity. At the 1972 and 1974 SASO conferences the proposal that SASO should form a military wing was heavily defeated and those who were keen on military training were advised to make arrangements with the two organisations.
This healthy attitude prevailed among the members of the BCM when they first came to Robben Island and they exchanged warm fraternal messages with all political prisoners. For some time relations were cordial and we were able to discuss even delicate matters in a comradely spirit. This gave the impression that they were fully committed to unity and our relations were inspired mainly by this fact.
It is not at all clear to what extent the present attitude of the BCM in prison accurately reflects the attitude of the movement as a whole and it is sincerely hoped that the sharp turn in their approach is influenced purely by local factors. But the image the new movement once projected as a neutral body striving for unity has been ruined by the BCM's anti-ANC alliance with the PAC and APDUSA in prison. According to our information there has been a similar change of position abroad and that after an abortive attempt in London to bring together the South African liberation movement at the height of the protests when Steve Biko was murdered and the BCM moved closer to the PAC.
It may well be prophetic to say that the BCM will play the same role in this country as the collaborating organisation in Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Certainly the government welcomed its emergence in the hope that it would ultimately neutralise or even kill any influence of communism and liberalism in black politics. The support the new movement enjoys from the imperialist countries has led to considerable speculation about its role in future. Its present hostility towards the ANC, which works closely with the SACP, gives rise to concern, especially since that hostility is not based on any fundamental policy differences. The main aim of the entire liberation movement in this country is to remove all forms of racism and to introduce a new social order based on the principle of 'one man, one vote'.
The present hostility of the BCM does not justify making harsh judgements and observations about their future role. As a political organisation our judgement should be based on concrete facts and these show that, in spite of its mistakes, the new movement is lead by serious-minded political activists who are making a definite contribution to the freedom struggle. That is why Kruger has thrown them into prison, killed their leaders and finally banned their movement.
Few people will deny that there is plenty of arrogance in their speeches and writings and one cannot help but wince from sheer embarrassment at some of their statements. Speaking only to 10 of them, one of them headed his paper 'an address to the nation'. They have also claimed that 'The 1976 SASO case turned Pretoria into a Mecca and increased the radicalisation of the black man in this country', 'It was the result of our efforts that the relations between the ANC and PAC in prison improved', 'We are at the helm and we must be there first' (presumably be the first to take power), 'Only the BCM is known by the people outside prison'.
It is the prerogative of the youth to exaggerate the importance of their organisation and to flex their muscles for everything under the sun just as we did in our younger days. They will probably mellow with time. It also seems irrelevant whether or not commentators consider them to be a mere patrol or more. What is important is to see them as they are and to acknowledge their achievements: to accept them as a body of organised young men and women who are fighting hard for a new South Africa. Equally important is the fact that they had produced their own cadres, theoreticians, writers, theologists, and artists and formulated their own policy and tactics. They consider themselves as an independent movement with their own thinkers and ideology, however nebulous it may be.
Their bitterness flows mainly from the assumption that every member of SASO, SASM and NAYO is automatically a member of the BPC, the political mouthpiece of their movement. They also claim as members all those who participated in the demonstrations from 1976 to 1978, and even try to force this ridiculous claim against those who expressly state that they are not members of the BPC. The Freedom Charter and the operations of the ANC today attract many young men and women in the country and this tendency is strong in prison. To the BCM youth who have been made to believe that they were at the helm, it was a real shock to discover only on Robben Island, where it easy to count those who have common ideals, that after all, the BPC is far weaker than the ANC. Above all, many young people find it difficult to understand how any freedom movement in this country today can ever hope to destroy white supremacy without an army.
In a cosmopolitan environment where common sense and experience demand that freedom fighters be guided by progressive ideas and not by mere colour, the ideology of the BCM remains embryonic and clannish. By opening its membership to all blacks this movement seems well ahead of those that are organised on ethnic grounds. But, while they admit that South Africa is a country where both black and white live and shall continue to live together, they adopt a purely mechanistic approach and brand all whites as oppressors. For this reason whites are excluded in all matters relating to the black man's struggle.
This dogmatism flows from the fact that the concept of Black Consciousness advocated by the BCM is imported from America and swallowed in a lump without regard to our concrete situation, in which progressive whites, including Marxists, liberals, missionaries, professionals and businessmen form part of the liberation movement and fight the enemy with the most militant methods.
Since the early 1920s progressive whites have been active in the struggle, and some of them were charged with fomenting of feelings of hostility between the different racial groups, incitement, public violence, sedition, treason and a host of other offences connected with their political activities. Since 1962 no less than thirty-six white freedom fighters were given heavy sentences for furthering the aims of banned organisations, committing acts of sabotage and for so-called terrorist activities. As far back as 1965 John Harris, a white member of the Liberal Party and the African Resistance Movement (ARM) was executed after committing an act of sabotage. What more can a white man do to identify himself with the black man's struggle than to buy freedom with his own life? To dismiss such martyrs as oppressors is a crime most South African freedom fighters find difficult to excuse.
Such superficialities are peddled by youngsters who entered politics only in the 1970s, who confined themselves to non-violent forms of struggle, who have never committed any significant act of sabotage, nor recruited a single man for military training. The BCM organisations were banned in 1977, almost thirty years after the CPSA, where the most radical white politicians are to be found, was declared unlawful. It is true that the South African revolution will be victorious only if the Africans take the lead, and if the African masses are fully mobilised. But the true story of our struggle shows that the fight against racial oppression is not the monopoly of the black man. The founders of the PAC made the same mistake when they defected from the ANC on the grounds, among others, that they were against co-operation with communists, Indians and whites. Later they turned right about, admitted Indians and whites and even sought assistance from foreign communist parties. Now they claim that the PAC has long been a Marxist-Leninist organisation.
Liberation movements in Africa have used nationalism, which inspires the BCM, and Asia to mobilise oppressed people against foreign domination and it is the main inspiration of the ANC. But in the best traditions of progressive thought the ANC preaches a dynamic and progressive nationalism, which seeks to unite Africans, to co-ordinate their struggle with those of other sections of the people at home, including whites, a nationalism which aligns itself with the progressive forces of the whole world. In its work the ANC is guided strictly by the principles set out in the Freedom Charter. Those who help to perpetuate white supremacy are the enemies of the people, even if they are black, while those who oppose all forms of racism form part of the people irrespective of their colour. A freedom movement that rejects this basic principle does so at its own peril.
The idea of Black Consciousness that dominated the BCM comes from the USA where it has had a long history with many variations. The mechanical manner in which it has been applied to South Africa by the BCM has led to serious policy errors. Black Consciousness is in essence a rehash of Garveyism, a militant form of nationalism, which serves as the rallying point of black opinion in the USA. The Black Muslims and Black Panthers movements are today the principal exponents of Black Consciousness in the USA, and, in their struggle to unite blacks, they have turned the idea into a powerful weapon. Its influence was greatly boosted in the 1960s when the world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, himself a Black Muslim, refused to fight in Vietnam and chose to be jailed instead. The militant Black Power leader, Stokely Carmichael was another prominent American citizen in the campaign against the Vietnam War. The Black Panthers went further to guarantee protection to blacks from whites. With a view to gaining a hold on sources of power and making its influence felt in the country's politics, it contested and won seats on various government organs. All these developments portrayed the Black Power movement as a dynamic concept that helped the black man to advance.
The similarity between the Black Power movement in the USA and in South Africa is striking. The principle upon which it was founded is that the black man must control his own affairs, develop pride in his own history, culture and blackness and reject the moral and cultural values of whites.
Quoting from Black Power by Carmichael and Hamilton, Austin Rauney in his book, The Governing of Man says that the basic tenet of Black Power in America is that blacks must have one conviction that they are different from whites, that 'Black is Beautiful', that blacks should reclaim their history and identity from destruction by whites. Although blacks may be willing to accept financial and other forms of aid from whites, black organisations should be led by blacks only and whites must take a subordinate role. No matter how liberal a white person may be, continues Rauney, still quoting Carmichael and Hamilton, he cannot escape the overpowering influence of his whiteness in a racist society. Blacks must abandon all delusions that they can make progress by voluntary surrender of power by whites. Only by mobilising black votes and economic power can this be done. Blacks will never advance by working within the white man's parties or by playing them off against one another. Finally, the American Black Power movement completely rejects the policy of integrating blacks into white society. It is these ideas which SASO took over almost word for word from the book Black Power and embodied them in their manifesto without modification. By adopting such an exclusive philosophy the whole BCM assumed the character of a racialistic sect which blindly bundles a section of the progressive forces with the enemy.
A foundation member of the BCM declared that the outlook of the movement is existentialist, that they 'have no time for the dusty manuscripts of Marx and Engels', that their fight is for a social order based on black communalism. In this statement the BCM seems to be urging South Africa to return to the community of potentially self-sufficient agriculturalists that existed before whites came to our country. Under that system we should live as our ancestors did then, with the land held in common, each household producing its own food, clothing and tools, building its own houses and with no incentive to produce more than was needed for consumption. The emphatic rejection of Marxism by the new movement seems to confirm this view. Although its remnants are still to be found in isolated parts of the country, primitive communal society has been completely shattered by more advanced capitalist system and to hope that South African society can return to it is a mere pipe dream.
The declaration also suggests that the BCM embraces the philosophy of existentialism. According to this doctrine the individual, in association with his fellow men, his creator and the universe is the key to the understanding of humanity, history and the universe itself. Even in Europe, where this philosophy began, it has many variations, but substantially all of them embody the above idea.
Another spokesman of the BCM who was well aware of the policy declaration made by his colleague later explained that the declaration expressed the opinion of the individual who made it and not that of his movement. According to him the expression 'black communalism' was a convenient cover for scientific socialism that the movement embraced right from its establishment, but which it dared not to state openly on security grounds. He insisted that the BCM had no intention of going back to the old ways of our forefathers, except to take from our past the humane principle of a man sharing what he has with his fellow men. He, however, challenged the Marxist doctrine which states that the most crucial contradiction of modern society is its division into two main classes of workers and capitalists, adding that society is far too complicated to be sufficiently explained with such a simple statement. He argued that when Marx formulated these principles he was chiefly concerned with analysing conditions in Europe, which in some respects were fundamentally different from those of other continents, and that Marxism is a vibrant philosophy, the application of which should be dictated by the conditions. Discussing the matter particularly in regard to South Africa he disagreed with the proposition that economic factors are primary and that racism is of secondary importance. To him the position is the other way round and he considered racism to be primary in theory and practice and that economic issues were secondary.
Finally he pointed out that the term 'existentialism' in the BCM policy documents did not refer to the doctrine of existentialism as explained above, but was intended to stress the fact that the actual application of socialism in any particular country should be determined by the existing conditions and not just follow the formal rules laid down in any particular philosophy.
I readily accepted this explanation on the meaning of existentialism and was certainly happy to know a little more than what appeared in the policy documents of the BCM. But many critics will wonder how it came about that in a considered policy statement in response to a request made by leaders of other sections of the liberation movement such a top BCM member did not take his own colleagues into confidence on such an important issue. The context in which the concept of black communalism appeared and the categorical manner in which the author of the policy declaration rejected Marxism, the basis of scientific socialism, suggests that to me that what was at issue was more than a question of caution. If a policy maker of the BCM is ignorant of the views of his own movement on this issue, how would the masses of the people ever know?
The PAC also spoke with different voices on vital questions. The PAC was barely a year old when it was banned, its leaders restricted and scattered before they could clearly formulate a coherent approach on many pressing issues like African socialism, dialectical materialism, co-operation with other population groups and their attitude towards the SACP and its members. Frequently, enthusiastic spokesmen do not find it easy to admit to outsiders that on a particular point their declared policy needs to be reconsidered.
It is not possible to discuss these questions at length in this essay, but it is re-assuring to know that the doctrine of existentialism is not part of this movement's outlook, since it is a philosophy of superstition, individualism and chaos which can never be used as a basis for solving important social problems. The efforts of all truly radical social reformers are directed towards removing all social evils so that all men can lead a full and happy life. But in a progressive society the welfare of one person is measured by the welfare of society as a whole. Existentialism is really a bourgeois philosophy that cuts across this vital principle and that places the welfare of the individual above that of others. It is the epitome of individualism and anarchy and the antithesis of scientific socialism based on collective effort.
With regard to the 'dusty manuscripts of Marx and Engels,' no serious-minded freedom fighter would reject ideas in theoretical manuscripts that are a blueprint of the most advanced social order in world history, that have led to an unprecedented reconstruction of society and to the removal of all kinds of oppression for a third of mankind. Not even the most headstrong imperialist despises the socialist countries. On the contrary, in the war against Hitler the capitalist countries sought the co-operation of the Soviet Union. That co-operation is taking place today in world bodies, sports, scientific projects and in numerous other fields. Not only does scientific socialism bring security to all men in the form of a just distribution of the country's wealth and the removal of all sources of national and international friction, but the socialist countries are the best friends of those who fight for national liberation. They are giving enormous support to freedom movements all over the world in the form of military and educational training, unlimited quantities of weapons, ammunition, funds, medicine, clothing and other types of help. In world bodies they have condemned colonialism and racism in unequivocal terms and are helping the people of Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa to get rid of their racial regimes. Why would a committed freedom fighter have no time for literature containing the outline of a social system that is playing such a key role in the struggle for the liberation of mankind? Is it not significant that an increasing number of African and Asian states are either adopting scientific socialism or emulating important aspects of it? Western countries also help liberation movements in one form or another to prosecute the struggle. But such help is limited to funds and hardly any of them has given arms or military training to liberation movements.
In challenging Marx's theory of the division of society into two classes and the class struggle, the BCM spokesman appears not to have understood the theory at all. The Communist Manifesto states that there are two main classes in capitalist society, workers and capitalists, with smaller ones in between, that the fundamental contradiction in contemporary society is the clash of class interests and that the struggle against capitalism will be led by the working class. As the most reliable social force in the fight for socialism, this class will continue to grow whilst the other will be destroyed by the very development of industrialisation. The class struggle is the driving force in the development of society and to sharpen it is the duty of all revolutionaries.
The history of our country bears out Marxist theory. Before the industrialisation of South Africa, Africans were a simple community of peasants who lived by ploughing the land. The process of industrialisation led to the growth of the working class and the corresponding decline of the peasantry, until today the workers have become the biggest single class in the country. This is the revolutionary force on which the liberation movement relies, the force that will eventually overthrow the capitalist system. It is the force to which the Soweto students had to turn at the most critical moment during the 1976 demonstrations. It is this same force that provides the MK with the bulk of its soldiers.
With regard to the primacy of economic or spiritual factors, the approach of the BCM spokesman may have been clouded by the fact that at this stage of struggle the liberation movement is faced with the dual problem of national oppression and class exploitation. The concern of the liberation movement and its immediate task is the removal of the former evil, not because national oppression is primary, but because its destruction will pave the way for the eventual elimination of economic exploitation. This is a question of strategy. The fight against racism demands the maximum unity of all the people, who may differ fundamentally on the type of social order to be established after liberation. For this reason we deliberately do not stress the economic aspect.
In this country racism has been exploited by the white capitalist class to defend its economic interests and to secure the support of the whites as a whole for the maintenance of the system. The removal of white supremacy with all the racism that accompanies it will put political power in the hands of the people. The mere disappearance of racism will still leave intact many social evils. The white man will still be in control economically, monopolising all the resources of the country. But the destruction of class society will itself go a long way towards eliminating racial thinking. This is one of the reasons why racism cannot thrive in socialist countries. A final point is that although economic factors are primary over the spiritual, ideas also react on economic factors. In our country racism, even though it forms part of the superstructure, has been an important factor in shaping the economy. The fabulous wealth accumulated by whites and their high standard of living is a result of the pitiless exploitation of the black man.
Political critics have expressed concern over the support the BCM enjoys from the USA and over the movement's hostility to the Soviet Union. In this regard the new movement is again in a position similar to that of the PAC, the formation of which brought a new element into South African politics. The US State Department even inflated the number of its membership and deflated ours to boost the PAC. Officials from the American embassy in South Africa held regular discussions with leaders of the organisation and even paid them friendly visits in prison. At the same time American writers praised the extreme nationalism of the PAC, openly stating that its ideology was the best guarantee against a communist take-over in South Africa.
The PAC and BCM members have been equally critical of the close co-operation between the ANC and the SACP, as well as of the help the ANC receives from the Soviet Union. They have joined western spokesmen and conservatives in accusing us of being a communist front and the tools of the Soviet Union. In actual fact, the ANC welcomes support form both the capitalist and socialist countries and has many friends in the west who give material and moral support. But as already pointed out, the support we receive from the Soviet Union and other socialist countries is far greater than what our western friends have so far offered.
In helping the ANC and other freedom movements, the socialist countries are motivated by the desire to see all human beings running their own affairs and living happily. If they have any ulterior motive in helping us it is simply the knowledge that the freedom of any oppressed nation is a blow to imperialism and an advantage towards socialism, a worthy motive that accords with the aspirations of any freedom-loving people throughout the world. This is why the Soviet Union plays such an important role in the struggle of the Vietnamese people against American aggression, of the people of Angola, Mozambique and Portuguese Guinea against Portuguese colonialism. The support the socialist countries are giving SWAPO, the Patriotic Front of Zimbabwe and the ANC is similarly motivated. In all these countries the USA has been on the opposite side. In Vietnam she was the aggressor, in Angola and Cabinda she supported the FNLA, FLEC and now UNITA, in Mozambique Adelimo Gwambe's Udenamo, all of which were anti-communist. It is appropriate to ask what imperialist America's ulterior motive is in supporting the PAC and BCM now. Is there something in their policies and activities that encourages the USA to believe that the victory of these organisations can also advance their imperial interests?
A related question is that the amount of funds an organisation possesses and the way they are derived are normally an important yardstick to measure the strength and independence of an organisation and to assess its real as opposed to its apparent policy. An organisation is definitely in a commanding position if a substantial part of its budget comes from its internal sources, from the activities of its own members and from the public in general. This will give it greater scope for independent action. For one thing it will show that the masses of the people identify themselves with its aims and objectives.
Delicate problems may, however, arise if practically all the funds are donated by a single or small group of generous benefactors. It is not easy to investigate this aspect of an organisation's affairs: it is far better if it is volunteered. What is quite clear is that despite its ten years of existence as a legal movement, the BCM never embarked on a serious drive for funds from the black public - yet it was swimming in money. Almost all its funds came from external sources. The size of its revenue and expenditure could not, therefore, be used to gauge its popular strength.
At best the size of its funds merely indicates that its policy and activity are acceptable to those who subsidise it. A political movement that puts forward a realistic and thorough-going socialist programme, as several liberation movements in southern Africa now do, or which closely work with the SACP, is no investment option for American big business. Many political observers believe that American imperialism has chosen to support the BCM in order to stem developments towards socialism.
Although on ideological questions the BCM speaks with an uncertain voice, the movement is clear as to who the enemy is and has rightly concentrated its attack on separate development, Bantu Education and dummy institutions. Despite the fact that its achievements in this field are far less than those of older organisations it has nevertheless done well.
A controversial question is which organisation should receive credit for the 1976 demonstrations and whether the aftermath that was still erupting in 1978 was the work of the same organisation. In spite of all its setbacks that campaign scored notable victories. The withdrawal of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction has already been mentioned. In Soweto the demonstrations led to a closure of the schools, followed by large-scale resignation of teachers. The riots also led to the abolition of Urban Bantu Councils and forced the government to establish the new machinery of Community Councils, though with limited powers. So effective was the resistance to these dummy institutions, that only 3 600 of the 60 000 registered voters, mainly the older people, went to the polls. The so-called mayor of Soweto managed to gain only 97 votes.
The very success of the demonstration had made the question as to who organised them even more complicated, with several organisations and many individuals making conflicting statements. But there are concrete facts that cannot simply be brushed aside in searching for an answer.
The Minister of Justice tried to justify the banning of the BCM on the grounds that, although the BCM had first worked well, it was later infiltrated by the ANC. The Minister is the political head of the department, one of whose functions is to deal with questions of state security and to watch developments in black politics. He is expected to know what he is talking about but his statements should be treated with caution for they may be plain propaganda to frighten whites to support the Nationalist Government.
In a London Television interview Tsietsi Mashinini, chairman of the SSRC, told the world that, although the demonstrations had started spontaneously, the ANC subsequently stepped in and directed the campaign. Few people would ignore the considered statement of a man who played a leading role in planning and directing the demonstrations. For once in the course of the disturbances Kruger and Mashinini spoke the same language, a fact which adds some weight to Kruger's statement.
According to evidence given before the Cillie Judicial Commission on the Soweto riots, people like W B Ngakane and Winnie Mandela, whose association with the ANC is well known, were members of the Executive Committee of the BPA, which also featured prominently during these demonstrations. In fact, Kruger deported Winnie Mandela to the Orange Free State on the express allegation that she had incited the youth to riot.
The comment of Die Burger shortly before the November 1977 general election, on the review of the Soweto disturbances by the London office of the SACP, also indicates that the ANC and SACP were deeply involved. The newspaper report is obviously slanted, but it also contains interesting quotations and observations. According to a report, Soweto disappointed the ANC and the SACP for they had hoped that the demonstrations would mark the beginning of a peoples' revolution. Apparently the analysis posed the important question why the ANC after sixteen years of a preparation for armed struggle was not in a position to arm the people and to ensure that the demonstrations would be backed up by effective action against the enemy army and the police. 'The greatest obstacle to an armed rebellion is the extremely difficult and unfavourable internal and external conditions under which we had to work...When Soweto burst out our military structure was not strong enough.' The writer believes that in the light of the present situation among the African people in this country, the SACP could not have seriously hoped that a peaceful demonstration of unarmed African schoolchildren could have led to an insurrection. But it is clear from the report that the SACP approached the whole issue as an involved party having expected better results than those actually achieved. Apart from Mashinini's statement and others referred to above, there are the first-hand accounts from individuals who were directly involved in the demonstrations in various parts of South Africa and who were sentenced for taking part in them. Amongst these are ANC members who are also members of SASM, the organisation that led the demonstrations. One should remember that the ANC is an illegal organisation and if any of its members joined SASO, SASM, NAYO or any of the organisations claimed by the BCM, they would not burn their fingers by disclosing that fact to outsiders. In 1977 young people like Naledi Tsiki and Elias Masinga were charged under the Terrorism Act and evidence indicated that they were members of the ANC as well as SASM. A leading member of the internal wing of the ANC put the matter in a nutshell when he said: 'The ANC did not initiate the uprising but found itself in control.'
It is now common knowledge, especially on Robben Island. that the majority of students and working youth who took part in the demonstrations were not even members of SASM. In fact the SSRC was only set up after the first part of activities in the area because it was realised that, up to that stage, SASM was not representative of all students in Soweto schools. Many of those who later came in merely joined a student movement and had no political affiliations at all. Even more important was that they did not consider themselves members of the BPC - the political mouthpiece of the entire BCM. This was the position in other areas as well, especially in the Eastern Cape. The BCM people were shocked to note that the youth who were sentenced for their involvement in the riots and whom they wrongly assumed were their members, were in actual fact more inspired by the activities of MK and were keen to join it. This discovery made them aware of their shaky positions as individual organisations and is the main cause of the strained relations between the ANC, on the one hand, and the BCM and APDUSA, on the other. Although the exact scope of the anti-ANC alliance here in prison, as well as that of the PAC faction abroad with which the BCM now works, is not altogether clear, the step may prove disastrous for the BCM because part of their success was due to the goodwill and co-operation they got from the ANC, a fact which they openly acknowledged on their arrival on Robben Island.
This is an appropriate moment to point out that the ANC has used the slogan 'Amandla' and the clenched salute since 1960, when the ANC was banned. People frequently ask how it came about that the BCM, which emerged in the early 1970s, uses the same slogan and salute. This issue has lead to considerable speculation. Some feel that the BCM uses the slogan and salute as part of its exotic outfit of ideas, imported lock, stock and barrel from the USA. Others regard it an action of men who considered themselves heirs of an organisation they dismissed as defunct. Maybe our members working in the BCM induced them to do so.
There are several questions on which the BCM ought to examine its approach to fulfilling its mission as part of the country's liberation movement. One of these is its policy on Afrikaans. Like many people inside and outside the liberation movement, BCM members have strong objections to the use of Afrikaans. The objection is quite understandable since Afrikaans is not only the language of the oppressor, but has also produced a literature that portrays the black man in a bad light. However, Afrikaans is the language of a substantial section of the country's blacks and any attempts to deprive them of their language would be dangerous. It is the home language of 95 per cent of the Coloured population and is used by Indians as well, especially in the country dorps of the Transvaal. It is also widely spoken by the African youth in the urban areas Even if only Afrikaners spoke the language it would still be unwise to abolish it. Language is the highest manifestation of social unity in the history of mankind and it is the inherent right of each group of people to use its language without restriction. Not only would its abolition be out of step with progressive developments in the enlightened world, but also it would be inviting endless strife. The question of minority rights has been of major concern to progressive forces throughout history and has often led to sudden and violent strife from the aggrieved community. Today South Africa has almost three million Afrikaners who will no longer be oppressors after liberation but a powerful minority of ordinary citizens whose co-operation and good will be needed in the reconstruction of the country. One can think of no better way of turning South Africa into turmoil than to implement this proposal.
Precisely because Afrikaans is the language of the oppressor we should encourage our people to learn it, its literature and history and to watch new trends among Afrikaner writers. To know the strength and weakness of your opponent is one of the elementary rules in a fight. Past mistakes in the liberation movement - the contempt for the Afrikaner, over confidence on our part and expectations of easy victory - have all been a result of our ignorance of this group and have led to disillusionment on our part. With proper planning and better knowledge of Afrikaans we can speak directly to a wider audience and win more Bram Fischers, Jack Simonses, Piet Voegelses and Breyten Breytenbachs.
It is better to draw a clear distinction between the oppressive policies of a dominating racial group and the language in which those policies are enunciated. We fight the former and not the latter. The German language has been used in committing the greatest atrocities in human history and for the perpetuation of the most offensive theories of race superiority. During the Second World War almost all nations rallied to resist Nazism and its atrocities. Yet nobody has suggested the abolition of that language. It is today the official language of the German Democratic Republic, which was founded on the ruins of Hitlerite Germany, and it is freely spoken in some of the socialist countries bordering the GDR.
Contrary to Afrikaans, English is an international language and to master it is in our own interests. While our people are repelled by the crude racism of the Afrikaner, they are attracted by the well-established tradition of liberalism in British political thought and by the fact that Britain has for centuries provided asylum to all kinds of political refugees. However, the English are still important partners in our oppression today. Why should our people not be invited to boycott the English language also and to demand its abolition after liberation?
Our English background has aggravated our strong feelings against the Afrikaner, and we inherited certain attitudes from the English who have their own reasons for despising the Afrikaner. Our forefathers eulogised Queen Victoria and her successors, were baptised and educated by English missionaries, bought our goods at English stores and were until recently ruled by English magistrates. English is the common language of the liberation movement and many of our political refugees sought asylum in England, from where our own affairs were directed for some time. In the process we have become 'black Englishmen' and that has many advantages.
The superficial manner in which the BCM has handled the Afrikaans question is very similar to the fanaticism with which they harp on the word 'black', and to their attempt to show that it is politically incorrect to speak of Africans, Coloureds and Indians. There is a merit in saying that in our present situation, where the enemy is trying hard to split the oppressed people into small and parochial ethnic units, we should stress, wherever possible, those concepts that help us discover a common identity and to avoid those which may fall into the hands of the enemy. In this regard the positive concept of black is of immense significance and is far in advance of the negative 'non-white' or 'non-European', which describe us in terms of what we are not, instead of what we are. This positive approach is used in the opening sentence of the preamble to the Freedom Charter 'We the people of South Africa, declare...that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white…' But any form of fanaticism on political questions is undesirable and may blur the importance of ideas that are otherwise widely welcomed by the liberation movement.
To say that race is a myth and that in our country there are no Africans, Coloureds and Indians, but only blacks is to play with words. The main ethnological divisions of mankind are acknowledged by bourgeois and Marxist anthropologists and those from the so-called uncommitted world. People can observe them with the naked eye. Physical characteristics - the colour of the skin and the texture of the hair - can be observed by merely looking at a painting of Chaka and one of Napoleon, at Tambo and Dadoo, Kotane and Reggie September. In addition to the colour of their skins and the texture of their hair they differ in historical origins and in their culture and languages. What is a myth is the theory that there is a pure race, for miscegenation has taken place throughout the world since the dawn of history. It has also affected this country and many leading white families who are so obsessed with the idea of racial purity are themselves of mixed blood. Science and experience has also shown that no race is inherently superior to others, and this myth has been equally exploded whenever blacks and whites are given equal opportunity for development. But race as such exists in the world, and in our country there is nothing wrong with in using the terms African, Coloured and Indian in appropriate cases.
Linked with the above issue is the charge that, far from developing non-racial thinking, the Congress - structure which embraces separate organisations for the four different population groups - entrenches racial thinking since it is a perpetual reminder that we differ from one another.
The Freedom Charter is the most radical programme ever proclaimed by the national movement in this country, and the historic mass campaigns of the last three decades, in which all the national groups joined, were inspired by the Congress movement. Among the better known of these campaigns are those of 26 June 1950, the 1952 Defiance Campaign in which 8 500 volunteers were jailed, the 1955 Congress of the People, which 3 000 delegates from all parts of the country attended, the 1956 anti-pass demonstrations to Pretoria in which 20 000 women took part, the 1958 Witwatersrand General Strike which also affected Pretoria, the Eastern Cape, Durban and other areas, and the anti-pass campaign of 1958 to 1959 in which about 4 000 African and Coloured women were arrested in various parts of the country.
The effectiveness of the Congress structure is also shown by the number of people from all national groups who have either appeared before the courts or who have been imprisoned for political offences. Of the 156 people involved in the Treason Trial from 1956 to 1961, 105 were African, 23 whites, 21 Indian and 7 Coloured. Freedom fighters from the Congress movement who were imprisoned during the period from 1968 to 1977 for MK activities, furthering the aims and objects of the ANC or SACP, include no less than 28 whites, 20 Indians and 8 Coloureds. The number of Africans runs into four figures.
No Coloureds or Indians have actually appeared in court or were jailed for PAC activities, but three Coloureds were associated with this organisation while serving their respective sentences on Robben Island. From the NEUM a total of 2 Indians, 2 Coloureds and 11 Africans were convicted for political offences during the same period. Between 1963 and 1973 there was, however, a splinter group from the NEUM called the National Liberation Front with 9 Coloured prisoners and 9 Africans which voluntarily dissolved before its members left jail. But during the period under review only 2 Indians and 8 Coloureds were convicted for activities of the BCM.
Political trials alone and the racial composition of people who are convicted for political offences are not by themselves decisive in determining the effectiveness of a political structure.
But linked with the mass political campaigns mentioned above the figures show that our machinery for joint action is the best in the country and suits our unique situation. Abroad, where conditions are totally different, the membership of the ANC is open to all groups and the innovation is working well. Even inside the country all groups are free to join the ANC but internal conditions affect the full implementation of the experiment.
The history of the struggle in this country, over the last thirty years, demonstrates that there is no substance in the allegation that the Congress structure encourages racist thinking amongst the people.
The BCM criticises those who refer to our country as South Africa and to this island as Robben Island instead of Azania and Makana Island, respectively. All its members scrupulously avoid the former two names and consistently use the latter. Whilst it is not clear why the name Azania was chosen, there is nothing wrong with the liberation movement giving a new name to our country and in doing so, the movement is following the example of many countries on becoming independent. Ghana, Mali, Namibia, Zimbabwe and many other names are associated with the independence of these countries. The change was inspired amongst other things by the natural desire to cut all links with the imperialist countries that had previously ruled these countries or that still ruled them and to enter the international community in their own name and right.
But in all these countries the names were carefully chosen and formed part of their history. The names Ghana and Mali are taken from ancient kingdoms of precisely the same names and on whose ruins new African republics were established, while the Namib desert and the Zimbabwe ruins are prominent in the geography and culture of Namibia and Zimbabwe respectively. None of these countries have chosen an exotic name couched in a language unknown even to our intellectuals. 'Azania' has very little connection with our country's history and means nothing to our people. In his book Old Africa Rediscovered, Basil Davidson quotes from the old Greek pilot book, The Periphis of the Erythraen Sea which he says contains fairly detailed information on the African coast. It describes the coast of Azania as that of Kenya and Tanganyika. It is clear from Davidson's account that Swahili was the language of this particular coastal region and that by the seventh and eighth centuries AD the culture of the area had become Islamic. The author also describes the longest Azanian road from Kenya that linked the head of Lake Nyasa with Arusha and Nairobi. Quite clearly this account confines Azania to East Africa and does not include southern Africa. Swahili has never been our language and Islam reached our country only when the Malay slaves were imported during the seventeenth century and through the Indian community during the second half of the nineteenth century.
It may well be that the naming of South Africa as Azania was influenced by the fact that, somewhere during our journey from the far north and our stay in the vicinity of the Great Lakes, as legend says, we were known as Azanians. But at one time or other in history many famous kingdoms were established around our route - Egypt, Cush and Nubia. Precisely for what reason must we choose to call ourselves Azanians and not Egyptians, Cushites or Nubians? Our country is rich in its own history and there is no need to venture out into the mists of ancient Africa, Greece and Arabia in search of a name.
As far as Robben Island is concerned, it is understandable that Xhosas in the past may have called it after Makana, since in those days they thought as Xhosas rather than as Africans and even much less as blacks. After all, Makana was a leader who commanded an army of 18 000 in 1890 and who devastated white areas for several months. His people were greatly disappointed by his banishment and deeply shocked by his unexpected death when trying to swim from the island to the mainland. They knew very little or nothing of the history of other indigenous peoples of South Africa or about the men who were deported here long before Makana's time.
It is not clear why in the twentieth century a political movement could endorse the use of a name which ignores the contribution of heroes who were the first to be associated with Robben Island or who at least equally deserve to be so honoured. Quite a number of people, including condemned prisoners or rebelling crews of passing ships, were sent to the island from the beginning of the seventeenth century. In 1658 the first black patriot, Awutshumayo, known to white historians as Henry the Strandloper, was banished here. After living upon the island for 17 months he escaped to the mainland. He was followed in 1742 by Sheik Motura who had fought the Dutch in his homeland Batavia. He lived on the island until his death in 1754 and a shrine that brings his followers to this island regularly hallows his memory. Why would Makana's name be preferred above these prisoners? It cannot be because Auwtshuwayo, as a Khoi-khoi chieftain with a small following, was regarded as inferior to the Bantu-speaking army leader, nor could it be owing to the fact that the other was a Muslim religious leader from a foreign country. Freedom fighters cannot be subjected to such discrimination and have been honoured by progressive forces in other parts of the world. All they need to deserve honour is to suffer or die for a great cause. That is why distant countries have honoured men like Albert Luthuli, Bram Fischer and Patrice Lumumba.
The naming of the country is an important matter and ought never to be approached from a competitive point of view. It requires maximum unity and careful consultation, not only with all sections of the liberation movement, but also with the masses of the people. The whole liberation movement and the entire world may enthusiastically brandish a new name, but if the masses of the people feel that it is a meaningless foreign importation, it can never catch on. It is worse when a political organisation, which is locked up in faction fights abroad like the PAC and which is conducting no effective struggle at home, seeks to impose such a far-fetched name unilaterally.
It is equally regrettable that the BCM should seize upon the name and wave it about in practically every speech. When the liberation movement finally agrees on a suitable name it would be advisable to use it sparingly at first as part of a campaign for mass mobilisation and to prepare people for contemplated changes in the history of the country. To the average man, as against the intellectual or propagandist, the new name will assume real significance only when the struggle has reached an advanced stage and especially, when certain areas have been liberated and a people's government is in power there. Otherwise many critics will rightly say that the use of the name is nothing more than creating a revolution by word of mouth.
The great divide in South Africa is the demand for full democratic rights for all people, for the removal of all racial discrimination and for total rejection of separate development. On this, the liberation movement speaks with one voice. Following in the footsteps of other South African freedom fighters, the BCM has from the beginning made the overthrow of apartheid its chief plank and it is today among the most uncompromising opponents of white supremacy. All its important campaigns have revolved around this issue. They firmly realised that real progress in this country will be made only after separate development has been completely smashed.
The liberation movement has not only rejected separate development in principle but has also fought it through concrete action. The liberation movement has resolved to boycott all elections to dummy institutions and has urged the nations of the world not to grant diplomatic recognition to the independent Bantustans. Our campaign on the international level is not only intended to isolate South Africa from the rest of the world, but is also a means of forcing her to abandon separate development at home and to accept the principle of one man one vote without qualification. Fighting separate development involves the use of the boycott weapon, a controversial issue that has aroused heated debate in many countries where the weapon has been used. Freedom fighters naturally object to discriminatory institutions and do not want to be associated at all with them even for strategic reasons. Moreover the boycott weapon can also be a severe test for any political organisation and its success or failure can affect the future of that organisation. It is the type of weapon that can easily recoil and show that the organisation has no mass following and thus boost political parties that collaborate with the enemy. Because the enemy controls its dummy institutions and the entire voting machinery and therefore has considerable scope for all kinds of political manoeuvres, the weapon requires sustained initiative and flexibility on the part of the organisation using it, demanding that it should remain on its toes all the time. These problems have at one time or another faced us.
In this regard the ANC and the NEUM have always been poles apart, the latter treating the whole question of the boycott as one of principle and refusing any exception. Those who for any reason work within these dummy institutions are to the NEUM not just politically wrong, but traitors. Presumably, this would be the case even if the organisation that may elect candidates to these bodies on a boycott ticket, is the most advanced in the country in terms of waging guerrilla warfare and committing acts of sabotage and even if it succeeded in crippling or destroying such institutions from inside. In its approach to this question the NEUM is guided not by concrete results but by abstract principle. Those who stand aloof and merely fight separate development and its institutions by word of mouth are considered as revolutionaries by the NEUM. But those who go further to capture and use them to reach the people and to prevent the people from using them as originally planned or who kill and paralyse them in the process are deemed collaborators.
The BCM has also taken this inflexible line and has gone further by inserting a clause in the constitution of the BPC that expressly prohibits members from taking part in the elections to government institutions. Like the NEUM it also recognises no difference between principle and tactics and does not fully appreciate the value of combining legal and illegal work.
A banned organisation depends for its existence on its illegal work and it is vital for it to build efficient underground machinery. Almost all its resources should be concentrated on this task and from time to time it must publicly announce its existence through various forms of political activity. This is the approach of the ANC and the correctness of that approach has been shown by results.
Though banned in 1960, the organisation has never been completely silenced. Various forms of activity demonstrate that it is much alive even though it might be acting under a different name. In March 1961 it held an All-in-Africa Conference attended by 1 500 delegates from all over the country. It called upon the government to summon a National Convention of all South Africans to draw up a democratic constitution. Two months after that conference the ANC called a general strike, followed in December 1961 by acts of sabotage, which continued for three years.
As numerous court cases have shown, in spite of the ban, the ANC continues recruiting members and holding secret meetings, sending out recruits for military training and for study purposes, broadcasting to the people of South Africa, distributing various forms of propaganda material and preparing for armed warfare. Our men have fought the enemy in Zimbabwe and are now doing so inside the country and on its borders. In spite of the counter-measures taken by the enemy, our operations are growing and our fighters are gaining experience and confidence. Government spokesmen, including the Ministers of Justice and Defence, the Commissioner of Police and the head of Security Police, have repeatedly warned white South Africa about the impending civil war. Our underground work within the country is our trump card and the stronger that underground machinery becomes, the nearer will freedom day be.
At the same time, the ANC has not ignored the legal forms of struggle and, through legal organisations, we are constantly striving for mass activity on a large scale, trying to mobilise all anti-apartheid forces, even those outside the liberation movement, and in spite of the fact that their fighting methods may fall short of ours. We will use dummy institutions once we are convinced that to do so will strengthen the struggle and hasten the enemy's downfall.
It is important to remember that the situation in the Bantustans changes from time to time. Though we reject the Bantustans, it will be disastrous if our tactics in fighting them remain stereotyped. Two Bantustans have already become independent and the rest may soon follow. It is correct for liberation movements to campaign against their diplomatic recognition and to claim them as still part of our country. It is also correct to say that these areas will remain caricatures of independence and not real states. In fact, few things illustrate the meanness with which the government carries out the scheme of separate development and its contempt for the black man who is collaborating to make the scheme work, better than the fragmentary nature of each Bantustan. By May 1972 only QwaQwa was composed of one block of territory, while the others consisted of a number of fragments, in one case scattered over three provinces. KwaZulu had then as much as 29 and Bophutatswana and Ciskei 19 each. Although some measure of consolidation has since been attempted, these areas still remain hopelessly fragmented. For the people of these territories that independence means something. At least they now have their own independent organs of government, their army and police, their education and health schemes and they control their external relations. They can own freehold land, have access to sources of capital, invest in big business and hold top jobs in the civil service. We cannot expect them to throw away the opportunities they now enjoy, come back to the present racist South Africa with their Bantustans and be subjected to all the evils of apartheid again.
Prior to 26 October 1976, when the Transkei obtained independence, many people inside and outside the liberation movement doubted whether the Nat government would ever grant such independence on the ground, among others, that an independent Bantustan might give bases to freedom movements from which to attack South Africa. This is a possibility that has occurred in similar circumstances in other parts of the world. Who would have thought that Tunisia and the kingdom of Morocco, both of which were once considered, rightly or wrongly, as the puppets of France, could offer bases to Algeria to fight France?
In Die Burger of 25 April 1978, Chris Vermaak disclosed that it was the opinion of South African security experts that, should the Transkei carry out its threats and offer bases to freedom fighters, this would constitute a serious bridgehead for subversive activity. He added that should the territory allow the ANC presence with a view to make strong its case for recognition by Africa, this would shorten the ANC's logistic lines and thus remove a great deal of the ANC's burden on Mozambique. These are possibilities which should not be ignored and which must, short of diplomatic recognition, influence our tactics towards any independent Bantustan. People in these areas can also be mobilised to join in the demand for majority rule in this country and for the eventual return of all Bantustans to a free South Africa.
Our strategy on separate development must also be seen in the context of the world situation and be related not only to the international forces on our side, but also to forces that try to checkmate militant liberation movements. Free elections have become a fetish in the west and the older generation of western-educated freedom fighters has been taught to regard such elections as an acceptable method of settling major national issues. Common sense and experience have taught us to approach this question realistically and not idealistically.
An election involving a liberation movement that has been waging an armed struggle for years against a colonial and semi-colonial power and its black puppets is a critical affair, and freedom fighters are likely to insist on the fulfilment of the most stringent conditions before they can participate in such elections. An illegal or semi-illegal organisation enters such an election at a serious disadvantage. Usually its leaders will have been jailed or immobilised, or they will have been forced to flee, with the machinery of their organisation destroyed. The organisation will also have to overcome the stigma projected for many years through various enemy propaganda agencies, of being an organisation of criminals who only want to murder and rape, of acting under the orders of some foreign communist power. To win an election under such circumstances would be a difficult task, since the organisation would have to start from scratch and depend for victory on a voting process still controlled by the enemy, whose limitless funds and propaganda machinery would be at the disposal of its stooges.
In Angola and Mozambique the imperialists tried this tactic, and in the latter country Frelimo, which was in a commanding position with almost all the country's leading freedom fighters behind it, promptly rejected the proposal. In Angola the imperialists were caught unawares by an entirely new development in the history of the struggle for national independence in Africa when Cuba and the Soviet Union intervened on the side of the people.
In Namibia and Zimbabwe the imperialists are trying desperately to forestall what happened in Angola and are using the technique of 'free' elections under a UN peace force. This move is creating problems for our allies there.
When Namibia and Zimbabwe have become independent and our own armed struggle is intensified, the imperialists might use this strategy in an even more sophisticated manner, requiring us to streamline our own tactics and intelligence. The central idea is to entrench ourselves firmly by involving the masses of the people inside the country in our own programme and, with this in mind, no organisation or individual fighting against racial domination should be alienated. In this way, the ANC will easily become the country's strongest organisation in armour and negotiation, behind the ramparts and at the ballot box.
The Challenge of Illegality
The BCM emerged thirty years after the banning of the CPSA, ten years after that of the ANC and PAC and thirty-six months after the ANC had started armed operations. Eight months after this historic development a PAC unit of 12 armed men on their way to South Africa, escorted by the Mozambique Revolutionary Committee, fought with a Portuguese patrol in Mozambique. In 1973 the Natal Supreme Court convicted 12 NEUM men and gave them sentences ranging between five and eight years on the allegation that they were engaged in preparations for guerrilla warfare.
These events should have made the BCM aware that the liberation movement has a long and proud record of struggle that dwarfs their own successes. For decades the liberation movement agitated and campaigned against racial discrimination, waged countless militant battles and made some notable gains. In this context, the contribution of the Indian community has been impressive and in the course of its struggle it built an organisation that up to the present remains its mouthpiece. The government's hesitation to have a freely elected South African Indian Council springs from the fear that the Indian people might paralyse this dummy institution, just as the Asiatic Land Tenure and Indian Representation Act was torpedoed in 1946.
The first Indians to arrive in this country were indentured labourers mainly of Hindu origin, who worked on the Natal sugar plantations. They were followed later by businessmen and other Indians, chiefly Muslims. The labourers were badly treated, underpaid, frequently flogged for minor offences and imprisoned for absence from work. They suffered many other indignities. At that time the business class kept aloof from the labourers and believed that close co-operation with the ruling class was the best way to advance their interests and those of the community.
This was a typical middle-class attitude but in the South African setting it contained numerous contradictions. Because Indians offered economic competition, the government imposed various restrictions and discriminatory practices against them. Opportunistically the ruling class welcomed collaboration from the Indian segment of the oppressed, so that it could concentrate its attacks on the African people, whom it considered the real threat to white supremacy. Although class divisions, caste, religion, language and other differences divided the Indian community in South Africa it was spared the Hindu-Muslim communal strife that tore India apart. As the smallest community here they realised that it would be suicidal to be divided among themselves. The quest for unity was given expression by Gandhi when he formed the Natal Indian Congress in 1894. It was through the conscious efforts of the NIC, the TIC and, since 1920, the South African Indian Congress that the Indian community was finally welded together as a political force.
One of the tasks the NIC, as the oldest political organisation in the country, set itself was to unite the Indian community in the fight against racism. It inculcated in the people a spirit of self-reliance and dispelled the illusion that collaboration with the ruling class would serve their interests.
From 1906 the NIC and TIC launched a series of passive resistance campaigns which drew wide support. These culminated in the 1913 mass campaign, when Natal Indians crossed into the Transvaal in defiance of provincial barriers and, simultaneously, Indian coal miners in Natal went on strike. These and other mass campaigns further united and politicised the Indian community. The workers' level of political consciousness, their emphatic rejection of racial discrimination and their readiness to make sacrifices to win their demands were firmly laid in those days. In initiating passive resistance they forged a powerful weapon, which was effectively used later by other sections of the oppressed people.
The SAIC was foremost in drawing world attention to the evils of racism in South Africa and actively campaigned against the oppression of all blacks. This culminated in the Xuma-Dadoo-Naicker Pact of 1948. Although traditionally associated with non-violence, Indians also saw the need to change to more effective methods of political action when conditions demanded this. The SAIC is still a lawful organisation, but some of its members were among the first to join MK and are today playing an important role in its activity.
Attempts to unite black political organisations have also been made by leading figures from other sections of the oppressed, notably by Dr Abdullah Abdurahman, the President of the African People's Organisation. In 1927 and in 1933 he called conferences of leaders for this purpose. Although the proposal was not accepted the issue had been thrown open to the public and occupied the minds of the far-sighted.
The APO was far ahead of all other sections of the liberation movement in this regard. Though the APO was ostensibly an organisation for Coloureds, it was also open to Africans and Indians, and its very conception indicates a strong desire for wider unity. To its founders the word 'African' meant not only the Bantu-speaking people, but all those who had made Africa their permanent home.
The present generation of youth mistakenly thinks that the quest for black unity was unknown before their emergence. In fact, black unity has a long history going back as far as 1795, when the Amagqunukhwebe Chief Cungwa and the Khoi-khoi leader Klaas Stuurman jointly attacked the Vanderleurs army in the Zuurveld. When the Xhosa army was locked up in battle against the English during the Eighth War of Dispossession in 1850 another Khoi-khoi leader, Willem Uithaalder, seized the opportunity and to lead his people from the Kat River against the common foe and took Fort Armstrong. The efforts made by Mosheshoe and Cetshwayo in uniting Africans against white aggression are well known.
Perhaps Abdurahman, aware of this background, consciously made this move at that particular time because in 1927 there was great agitation among Africans, especially at the passing of the Natives Administration Act. The law gave powers to the governor-general to break up and move tribes, and to deport people arbitrarily. It curbed freedom of speech under the pretext of a so-called fomenting of feelings of hostility between the various racial groups.
But Abdurahman was ahead of his times. By insisting on a single organisation to unite all the oppressed people, he encroached on the delicate problem of the independence of the organisations involved. A lot of spadework has to be done before realising this superstructure. This is the practical problem the BCM overlooked in its crusade for black unity, and this is why there is a hollow ring to its sermons on this issue. Apart from specific problems that affected black students at the various campuses, the BCM as such did not attract significant support from the Coloured and Indian communities, and is predominantly an African movement.
The APO faded out in the 1940s and from the early 1950s the Coloured People's Organisation (later Congress) became the main channel through which the ANC and its allies reached the Coloured people. The Coloured People's Congress (CPC) inherited the tradition of its predecessor and although it concentrated on organising coloureds it made the question of unity with Africans and Indians a major one. Some of the national issues in which the CPC was involved were fighting the removal of Coloureds from the common voters role, the 1961 campaign for a National Convention and fighting race classification and job reservation. Its members are active in MK and some even fought the enemy in Zimbabwe.
The CPC has been paralysed by bannings, arrests and the flight of its members out of the country. As mouthpiece of the Coloured people it has been overshadowed by the Labour Party. Nonetheless the liberation movement's consistent standpoint on the issue of black solidarity is manifest even within the Labour Party itself. It also regards the idea of black unity as crucial and has allied itself with Inkatha and the Indian Reform Party.
In present-day South Africa it is by no means easy to win whites over to the liberation movement. This group occupies a dominant position economically, politically and socially and regards the black man, particularly the African, as inferior and a threat. Whites earn high incomes, live in comfort and enjoy all the best facilities this rich country offers. They have little reason to risk those comforts by meddling in black politics and exposing themselves to victimisation. The matter is complicated by the rigid separation of black and white in almost every sphere of life, making meaningful contact between the two groups virtually impossible. To get a hard core of whites who are totally committed to the freedom struggle is a Herculean task. Yet this was achieved when the Congress of Democrats (COD) emerged.
The COD, which is part of the Congress movement, has white members who are prepared to break with their own racial group, surrender their valuable privileges and fight on the side of their oppressed countrymen. Moreover, the Congress developed a unique structure that embraces all those Africans who are welded by a common ideology. No other section of the liberation movement provides a better structure, comprising the different racial groups that jointly implement a common programme and have produced such positive results in a fight for a non-racial South Africa. At the time of writing, news has reached me that white democrats are appearing in court in various parts of the country for political offences associated with the ANC's fight against apartheid - Helen Joseph, Barbara Waite, Illona Kleinschmidt, Jacqueline Bosman, Tim Jenkins, Stephen Lee and others.
Like the CPC and COD, the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), was not formally banned, but is was paralysed by bans on its officials. At the height of its strength, SACTU galvanised the workers and ably implemented the policies of the Congress movement. Black and white trade unionists jointly tackled common issues. In some of its clashes with the government and employers it enlisted world support and brought powerful international institutions to their knees. SACTU has been a thorn in the flesh of the government, the reactionary Trade Union Council and employers. It played an important role in ending South Africa's membership of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and in popularising the international boycott of South African goods.
On numerous occasions critics expressed concern that top communists held key positions in the ANC and SACP. We have repeatedly tried to explain the all-embracing nature of the Congresses in speeches, in formal conversations and in writing. A section of the liberation movement is drawn into this trap and has joined in the witch-hunt. The BCM sneers at our association with the SACP with equal contempt. In a sense this fear of communism is genuine, for there are not many nationalist movements that are is so broad in their political outlook as to welcome communists to their ranks and to trust them with important responsibilities.
The history of the ANC demonstrates that its openness in this regard is not something new. It is a tradition going back as far back as the 1920s when people like Walter Thibedi, Goma, Gana Makabeni, Johannes Nkosi, Albert Nzula and many other communists were members. Yet the ANC has been dominated throughout its long history by non-communists like Makgatho, Mahabane, Alfred Xuma, Selepe Thema, Z K Matthews and many others.
In working closely with the SACP and welcoming communists into the ANC and its allies the Congresses are doing no more than the capitalists themselves are doing when they consider it in their interests to co-operate with the socialist countries and communist parties. Such co-operation is taking place in many fields today in several European countries. Bourgeois political parties have formed alliances or coalitions with the communist parties and communists occupy key positions in the army, civil service, commerce and industry. No serious liberation organisation can ignore the existence of a powerful ally in the communists. Had Churchill and Roosevelt not formed an alliance with Stalin during the Second World War, the history of the world may have been different. In our life and struggle the communists have proved faithful allies, fully committed to the principle of human equality and democratic government. Our long-term objective and the SACP's short-term aims are the same. The basis of our comradeship is the determination to overthrow colour oppression and to establish a united and democratic South Africa, where all its people will live as equals.
It may well be true that infiltration is a common method of spreading communist influence. In our own case there is no need for alarm or for communists to use underhand methods. For more than four decades the ANC has welcomed communists with open arms. No limits were put on the members that may be admitted and on their membership rights. They were always free and if they so wished to have taken over the entire organisation by using the normal platforms and procedures of the Congresses. But the did not do this. Since the formation of the SACP in 1921, the communists moved to the forefront of the struggle and thus proved to be amongst the staunchest Congressites.
For our own part, we have confidence in the strength of the ANC and its ability to defend its policies and freedom of action. We are certain of mass support. History is on our side. We do not fear the judgement of posterity. We can tame the most ultra-leftist radical just as we can rebuff the rightist elements who glibly warn us of communist danger and who at the same time collaborate with our enemies.
Organisations and individuals should be judged by what they stand for in life and by their actual record in the liberation struggle. More specifically, their success or failure is measured by their service to humanity in general and their country and people in particular. By this token, no honest person will deny that the achievements of the SACP are impressive. From its inception the SACP singled out the special dangers: the evils of class exploitation, racism and aggressive wars.
Because they stand for a classless society, the communists are the most persecuted politicians and the SACP was the first political party to be declared unlawful when the Nats came to power. Communists continue to preach human brotherhood and peace, although they regarded as seditious in South Africa where racism is firmly entrenched in all spheres of life. The white communists were the first to break away from the other whites and to cast in their lot with their downtrodden black countrymen. They were the first to form African trade unions and they pioneered adult education among urban blacks.
An equally important aspect of the SACP's work has been its influence on the international socialist movement, especially in the socialist countries. The SACP drew the socialist world closer to the aims and aspirations of not only the oppressed people of South Africa, but to suffering humanity the world over. From the time of the controversial Black Republic issue through to the national liberation struggle in Africa and Asia the SACP's theoretical contributions have been immeasurable.
The ANC and the Freedom Struggle
An account of the freedom struggle in this country is not complete without the mention of the ANC, which is proving to be the oak tree of South African politics. In its turbulent history of sixty years it has shown unusual resilience. It survived the crippling blows of the last sixteen years. Though it has suffered heavy casualties and still faces a multitude of unknown challenges, the tremendous endurance and initiative shown by our men in the ever-sharpening struggle have won us more and more supporters, giving us the hope and confidence that whatever counter-measures the enemy may still take, victory will be ours.
Although the ANC existed in at least two provinces before 1910, it only became national in 1912, when its membership embraced Africans from all over the country. From its inception it stressed African unity based upon the fact that Africans have a common history, tradition, culture and aspirations. It strenuously resisted every encroachment on the people's rights and demanded among other things full franchise rights, adequate land, free and universal compulsory education, the right of free movement in the country and the repeal of all oppressive legislation. Its main blows were directed against the oppressive pass system. The ANC as a dynamic organisation with an equally progressive outlook uses militant methods of action to achieve its aims. In 1949 it formulated a militant programme of action and most, if not all, of the mass campaigns waged since then were the conscious application of that programme. In 1953 the ANC went further and brought together the widest spectrum of political opinion to draw up a democratic constitution for the country. This move finally took shape in June 1955 in the form of the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter is the ideological foundation of the Congress movement. With the exception of the political programme of the SACP it is the clearest and most advanced non-racial programme of principles ever formulated in this country.
In fighting for a non-racial South Africa the ANC is influenced by its undying love for democracy and by the important fact that the fight is not against a foreign power but against a firmly entrenched white minority in our own country. The staying power of the ANC is enhanced by its ability to adapt quickly to changing conditions. Within 21 months after it was declared illegal, it launched a series of acts of sabotage and began train a freedom army that is active today in various parts of the country. Our freedom army has forced the government to place the country under a perpetual state of emergency.
The influence of the ANC reaches beyond our boundaries. It led to the formation of similar congresses in many parts of southern and east Africa, including countries like Northern and Southern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, Tanganika and Uganda. It was one of the foundation members of the Pan African Congress, which first met in Europe in 1919. In 1953 the ANC contacted independent African states and political organisations and suggested holding a Pan African Congress on our continent. This proposal culminated in the first All African People's Conference in Ghana in 1958. We consider the establishment of the OAU in 1963 to be the triumph of the idea contained in our proposal ten years earlier.
But the history of the liberation movement is much wider than that of the ANC and its allies. Throughout its history the ANC faced serious challenges from a variety of political organisations. Some of these were originally formed for non-political reasons, whilst others though inspired by political motives, were mere ad hoc bodies formed to deal with particular situations. Whenever new organisations emerged, many people, especially the government and its propaganda agencies, prematurely wrote off the ANC. This was the case, for example, when Clements Kadalie's Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) was established in 1919. Within ten years the ICU was reported to have a membership of 30 000, which reached a record figure of 100 000 by 1926: a fantastic achievement by the standards of those days. From a mere trade union body whose primary task was to organise the workers, it considered itself the African people's mouthpiece. Its militant campaigns provoked the government of the day to take drastic measures to curb its activity. However, by the end of the 1920s the ANC had regained its position as the country's premier African organisation. In 1930, working together with the CPSA, it organised the successful country-wide pass-burning campaign. The second challenge came in 1935 when it was felt that the ANC was not strong enough to rally Africans against the Hertzog Bills. An ad hoc committee, the All African Convention (AAC), was therefore created with the special purpose of fighting the bills. That body brought together the country's leaders who were capable of uniting the African masses.
For almost three years, the AAC appeared to have eclipsed the ANC. Again the prophets of doom prognosticated that the ANC was a spent force. Although it was an ad hoc committee expressly formed to fight the bills, certain elements tried to make it permanent. By 1938 the AAC had lost momentum and those who had joined it expecting quick results became disillusioned.
In 1943 another newly formed organisation attracted much attention was the African Democratic Party. According to its manifesto, its programme would differ from that of other organisations in the methods of struggle. It claimed that its programme covered immediate and pressing issues and that it would use militant methods to win its objectives. It never fulfilled any of these claims and became defunct within a few years. Since then several smaller groups have appeared - the nationalist block in the Transvaal and the Bantu National Congress in Natal. But all these soon fizzled out.
Although it has always been a small organisation of intellectuals confined mainly to the Western Cape and the Transkei, the Non-European Unity Movement has been vocal in emphasising black unity. It has played some part in the polarisation of the oppressed people. But it spent as much of its energy, literature and speeches on attacking the ANC and its allies, with the result that it unconsciously served as a divisive element in the liberation movement.
A more serious challenge came in 1959, when the PAC broke away from the ANC. In March 1960 it launched its anti-pass campaign with the slogans: 'No bail, no defence, no fines!,' 'Freedom by December 1963!', 'Unity of Africa from Cape to Cairo, from Morocco to Malagasy!' The slogans had their impact especially on the youth and even the sceptics felt their hearts beat faster. There were unprecedented demonstrations in Cape Town and the Sharpeville massacre triggered off fierce condemnation from every part of the world, whilst foreign investors hurriedly withdrew their money. Police Commissioner Rademeyer temporarily suspended the passes and no less than four senior cabinet ministers made statements promising urgent policy changes.
Overnight the PAC found itself setting the pace in African politics and was to revel in sunshine and warmth for several months. The "Voice of Africa" describes Robert Sobukwe as a Christ carrying the cross to Calvary. Indeed, March 1960 aroused in some circles the hope that the target the PAC set itself might be reached in time. After all, the campaign had started off with a big bang. But March 1960 passed into history, leaving the Nats on the rampage. The ANC and PAC were banned and the magic slogans came flush against the concrete realities of life. All the flowery slogans were thrown to the winds and during the campaign PAC funds paid bail and fines, engaged lawyers to defend members and appeal against convictions.
Potlako Leballo surprised everybody in 1963 when, speaking from Lesotho, he announced plans by PAC forces to invade South Africa. No armed attack followed and no explanation was ever given for the failure to implement the sensational declaration or to liberate the people before the end of 1963.
At the 1962 Pan African Freedom Movement for East, Central and Southern Africa (PAFMECSA) conference in Addis Ababa, a PAC spokesman dramatically told delegates that his organisation had ordered all members who were abroad to return to South Africa and report directly to their National Executive before the end of June that year. Again nothing came of this 'order'. Members of the PAC continued to leave the country like other freedom fighters.
There are several other examples of these fanfares that may have damaged the public image of an organisation whose initial showing certainly made some impact. A sizeable number of PAC members have been imprisoned for various political offences including acts of sabotage, and it is regrettable that their contribution to the cause should be marred by such unrealistic propaganda. When the organisation was banned its internal machinery collapsed and although it still lingers, it is a shadow of its former self and its membership split into warring factions.
The latest splinter group to emerge was the so-called pure ANC of the Mbele-Makiwane group in 1975. Unlike the PAC, which broke away, this group was expelled from the ANC and included men who held top positions in the organisation. Some of them were Marxists of some fairly long standing and two of them were imprisoned on Robben Island for political offences. When they advocated racist and anti-communist standpoints and resorted to the slander of the leadership, they antagonised even those who might have given them a hearing. Many dissident groups have tried this tactic in the past and in every instance the effect was the same: to unite Congressites as never before. The dominant impression this group left was that of a clique of self-seeking, irresponsible and undisciplined men who were determined to wreck the organisation. Almost all were capable men who served the organisation and made sacrifices. It is up to them to recant their false stand, which only plays into the hands of the enemy, and rejoin the organisation.
No political organisation is free from internal conflicts and we have not been spared this problem. But the endurance of the ANC has been demonstrated over the past 60 years by its continued growth and influence against all odds. The heavy casualties that we have suffered, the constant flow of men into jail and the vigour with which the ANC prosecutes the internal struggle and the campaign to isolate South Africa from the world indicate in-built resistance.
Many splinter groups have landed on the rocks. Those that still remain are but caricatures. This should be sufficient warning to all those sections of the liberation movement, particularly the new ones which may wish to venture in a different direction and which may cherish the hope of leading the people. Experience tells us that the road to liberation is not an easy, romantic wish, but a practical and complicated undertaking that calls for clear thinking and proper planning.
The ANC welcomed the formation of SASO, SASM and NAYO as organisations of students and working youth. As a banned organisation which operates from underground, the ANC realised the enormous value of a legal body that could work openly among the students and working youth and rally them behind the liberation movement. Almost all the major problems of black students, even those relating to education, the powers of student representative councils and diets are basically political. They can never be removed before a political settlement is achieved. Consequently, any black student who fights for his rights as a student is automatically drawn into the struggle against racial oppression. This is one of the reasons emphasising the political aspect in the manifesto of SASO.
Furthermore, the establishment of these student bodies also contained the important lesson that despite the ruthless counter-measures taken by the enemy, it is still possible to form a legal organisation inside the country auxiliary to our underground work. In this situation it was natural for the ANC to make resources, expertise and experience available to all these bodies and to assist them in every possible manner. Whether or not the slogan 'Black is Beautiful' had any scientific basis and irrespective of whether a broad minded organisation like the ANC, which fights for a non racial democracy, should be associated with organisations whose ideology was basically chauvinistic, is not the question. Of immediate importance was the fact that the black student had found his feet, his slogans appealed to the black man's emotions, flattered his national pride and inspired him to assert his identity with confidence.
The ANC was able to work out a suitable formula to co-ordinate the efforts of the students with those of the organisation. These efforts bore fruit, especially during the 1976 uprisings, when the bulk of the young people who were involved identified themselves with the ANC. Meanwhile, the enemy and other sections of the ruling class tried to drive a wedge between the liberation movement and the youth organisations. They hailed the latter as a new political force that accurately interpreted the mood of the black man, and with whom a peaceful settlement should be sought. Unfortunately, a minority of the BCM fell into this trap and now sees itself as the prophet of a new South Africa.
But like all emotional slogans, 'Black is Beautiful' has lost its original appeal. The BCM must now come up with something fresh and concrete to gain the initiative. They will find that now that they are an illegal organisation many agencies that once patronised them will lose interest because they do not want to be associated with an organisation that is deemed subversive. Even more importantly, they will discover that the real reason a section of the press hailed their emergence as the most important development in black politics in recent times was mainly to discredit and minimise the role of the underground, which undoubtedly is the main threat to the existing white power structure. The observation that emerges from an objective review of the short history and role of the BCM is that, in spite of all its weaknesses and mistakes, the BCM attracted able and serious-minded young people who acquitted themselves well, appreciated the value of unity, and whose main efforts were directed towards this goal. Realists amongst them accepted that the enemy would not be defeated by fiery speeches, mass campaigns, bare fists, stones and petrol bombs, and that only through a disciplined freedom army, under a unified command, using modern weapons and backed by a united population, will the laurels be ours.