What was the fundamental objective of the African National Congress (ANC) when it was formed in 1912? Did ACN leaders, especially those from 1955 onwards, pursue the primary goal of the 1912 vision envisaged by the founding fathers? Does the present ANC have the same objectives as the 1912 ANC?
When opening the inaugural conference of the ANC (then called SANNC) on 8 January 1912, Dr Pixley ka Seme said: “Kings of the royal blood and gentlemen of our race, we have gathered here to consider and discuss a scheme my colleagues have decided to place before you… In the land of our birth, Africans are treated as hewers of wood and drawers of water. The whites have formed what is known as the Union of South Africa in which we have no voice.”
African kings had fought many wars of national resistance against colonialism for over 200 years until their spears succumbed to the guns of the colonial aggressors. All had their lands forcefully taken from them. Others, like King Hintsa, had fallen by the bullet of the foreign invader in battle defending the African country against rapacious colonial forces.
In 1952, Dr S. Moridi Molema, an ANC leader, described these colonialists as “men who are nothing else but robbers, villains and traitors to the highest and noblest teachings of Christianity which they so blatantly profess, men shockingly contemptuous of their conscience and now in a frenzy of self-adulation preparing to embrace each other and shake their bloody hands … and ready to commence another evil era of rapine and oppression.”
The colonial laws that precipitated the formation of the ANC in 1912 were the Union of South Africa Act 1909 and the Native Land Act 1913. The British parliamentary Act enacting the Union of South Africa read as follows: “1. This Act may be cited as the South Africa Act 1909… The qualifications of a member of the House of Assembly shall be as follows: He must… be a British subject of European descent.”
There were five million Africans in South Africa in 1909 compared to 349,537 colonial settlers (according to the 1904 census). The five million indigenous Africans remained helpless spectators as the tragedy of their land dispossession unfolded before them.
The draconian British colonial law was followed by another one called the Native Land Act 1913. This colonial law allocated 93% of the African country to the 349,837 European settlers and 7% to five million Africans!
Sol Plaatje, who became the ANC’s first secretary in 1912, wrote about why Africans were dispossessed of their land. “In the harvest of 1911, there was panic among white farmers because an African had garnered 3,000 bags of wheat and another 1,600 bags … in a neighbourhood where their white neighbours reaped 300 to 400 bags of wheat. African export produce was looming in the not distant future. Then public opinion, which in this country stands for white opinion, asserted itself.
“Where will we get servants?”, it was asked, “if the kaffirs are allowed to become skilled? A kaffir with 3,000 bags of wheat! What will he do with the money? If they are inclined to herd pedigree stock let them improve their masters’ [whites’] cattle and cultivate for them.”
Earl Glen, a British official, had put the issue of land dispossession in South Africa, colonially clear. “The Africans are generally looked upon by whites as an inferior race whose interests must be systematically disregarded when they come into competition with their own, and should be governed with a view to the advantage of the superior race. For this reason two things must be afforded to white colonists obtaining land: the kaffir should be made to furnish as large and cheap labour as possible.”
Enter King George V
On 20 July 1914, the leaders of the newly formed ANC, armed with the mandate from the kings and African people of the country, went to England to present a petition to King George V, protesting land dispossession of the African people. The delegation included President John L. Dube, Secretary Sol Plaatje, Walter Rubusana, Thomas Mapikela and Saul Msane.
In part, their petition read that Africans “loved their country with a most intense love … that their land had been taken away from them, their military and other institutions brought to nought.” The petition demanded “that the natives be put into possession of land in proportion to their numbers and on the same conditions as the white race.” The African trip to London achieved nothing except for a London daily newspaper’s favourable report on the cause of their mission.
“In carving out estates for themselves in Africa,” the London newspaper wrote, “the white races have shown little regard for the claims of the black man. They have appropriated his land and have taken away his economic freedom and have left him in a worse state than they found him…
“That the African has been dispossessed may be illustrated by the facts in regard to the Union of South Africa. Here blacks compared with whites are in the proportion of four to one, but are in legal occupation of only one-fifteenth of their land … the deputation of natives [ANC leaders] now in England have appealed to the imperial government for protection. They asked for the suspension of the Native Land Act 1913…”
And indeed, some justice-conscious white people spoke about the land dispossession of the Africans in South Africa. For example, Sir Godfrey Lagden would write: “The active seizure by force or guile of lands actually in possession of the Africans was a blunder of the first magnitude and an act of injustice.”
In 1930, Jan Smuts (a former apartheid prime minister) was quoted as having said: “The mistake we made in South Africa in the past was our failure in reserving sufficient land for the future of the natives and the problem we have on our hands in consequence is one of the most difficult.”
In 1955, a section of the 1912 ANC leadership was captured by a section of the white ruling class. Despite the background of the Union of South Africa Act 1909 and the Native Land Act 1913, in 1955 the authors of the Preamble of the ANC’s Freedom Charter proclaimed: “We, the people of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white … and therefore, we the people of South Africa black and white together, equals, countrymen and brothers adopt the Charter.”
Fifty-seven years after this declaration there are two “nations” in South Africa. One is extremely rich and white and minority, the other is extremely poor and African and majority (80%).
In 1943, 1944, 1948 and 1949, the ANC Youth League had formulated four freedom documents. The 1912-oriented ANC had adopted these documents as its policy. It implemented them under the ANC Presidents A.B. Xuma, Dr James Moroka and Chief Albert Luthuli. On the economy, the 1944 document had proclaimed: “The Congress Youth League holds that political democracy remains an empty form without substance unless it is properly grounded on a base of economic democracy…
“Land: The re-division of land among farmers and peasants of all nationalities in proportion to their numbers [is needed]… The improvement of land, the reclamation of denuded areas and conservation of water supplies…
“Education: The ultimate goal of African nationalism in so far as education is concerned, is one hundred per cent literacy among the people in order to ensure the realisation of an effective democracy… Some of the means to that end are: Free compulsory education for all children, with its concomitants of adequate accommodation, adequate training facilities and adequate remuneration for
A section of the 1912-based ANC that rejected the Freedom Charter adopted in 1955 declared that: “Following the capture of a portion of the black leadership of South Africa by a section of the white ruling class, the masses of our people are in extreme danger of losing sight of the objective of our struggle… This captured leadership claims to be fighting for freedom when in truth it is fighting to perpetuate the tutelage of the African people. It is tooth and nail against Africans gaining effective control of their land…
“It has completely abandoned the objectives of freedom. It has joined the ranks of the reactionaries. It is no longer within the ranks of the liberation movement… These leaders, after doing a dirty job, namely, [have seen to it] that the African is deprived for all time of his inherent right to control his country effectively, [and have seen to it] that whatsoever new social order is established in this country, the essentials of white domination are retained, even though its frills and trappings have been labelled multi-racialism by their masters.”
ANC President Luthuli did not know who drafted the Freedom Charter. In his book Let My People Go (first edition), he writes: “I can only speak vaguely about its preparations that went before…The main disadvantage from which it suffered was that the branches submitted materials for the Charter at a very late hour – too late in fact, for the statement to be boiled down into a comprehensive statement. It was not possible for the National Action Committee to circulate the draft carefully… The result is that the declaration in the Charter is uneven.”
The ANC president, who was elected according to the fundamental objectives and policy of the ANC as founded in 1912, has said that the Freedom Charter is open to criticism and is vague. There was definitely a fundamental change in the policy of the 1912 ANC in 1955. The ANC leaders and members who stood by the fundamental objectives of 1912 declared: “In 1949, we got the African people to accept the nation-building programme of that year. We have consistently and honestly stuck to that programme which according to us is in irreconcilable conflict with the 1949 programme of action, seeing that land no longer belongs to the African people…
“In numerous ANC conferences, we have made it clear that we are committed to the overthrow of white colonial domination and restoration of land to its rightful owners. We are now launching openly on our own, as custodians of the ANC policy as it was formulated in 1912 and pursued up to the time of the ‘Congress Alliance’.”
The 1955 ANC
The fundamental change in the 1955 ANC policy is affirmed by Ernest Harsh, author of South Africa: White Rule, Black Revolt, when he writes: “Because of its hostility to militant African nationalism and its policy of seeking blocs with white ‘democratic’ forces, the South African Communist Party bore a certain degree of responsibility for the change in the ANC policies.”
In 1984, General Sebastian Mabote, the chief commander of the Mozambican Army, explained on behalf of President Samora Machel, why his country agreed to support the Zimbabwe freedom fighters in Rhodesia, but was not prepared to give the same measure of aid to the ANC. He said: “The Zimbabwe guerrillas are fighting for self-determination, independence and liberty. In South Africa, the ANC is carrying on a fight for civil rights and not an armed struggle for national liberation” (reported by the Sowetan newspaper, 10 March 1984).
Consequently, the 1955 ANC became a civil rights movement. In 1994 it negotiated “democracy” and not equitable redistribution of land and resources according to population numbers. The Native Land Act 1913 through which Africans were dispossessed is entrenched in Section 25(7) of the “New South Africa” constitution.
This civil rights movement and “Freedom Charter” ANC government has laws for issues that the dispossessed people of South Africa never asked for. Some of them are on homosexuals, same sex marriages, abortion “on demand”, prostitutes who are now called “sex workers” and so on. The “Charterists” have lost the 1912 ANC vision for South Africa.
The negotiations the ANC pursued at CODESA (Convention for a Democratic South Africa) with the apartheid National Party in 1994 were not in accord with the fundamental objectives of the 1912 ANC.
John Pilger in his book, Betrayal of South African Revolution, reminds readers of how in September 1985 the Freedom Charter ANC leaders met a group of whites in Lusaka, led by the chairman of the Anglo-American Corporation, Gavin Relly. The Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) had crashed, the apartheid regime had defaulted on its debt and the chieftains of South African capital had taken fright. Their message to the ANC leaders in exile was that “transition” to a black-governed liberal democracy was possible, only if “order” and “stability” were guaranteed. This was a reference to a “free market” state where social justice would not be a priority.
What followed later were secret meetings that took place in England. This is the very England where King George V had ignored the land dispossession of Africans raised there by the founders of the ANC. This time the meeting was with the Afrikaner elite.
As Pilger puts it: “The prime movers who had underpinned and profited from apartheid – such as the British mining giant Consolidated Fields, picked up the bill for the classical wines and malt whisky scoffed around the fireplace at Mells Park House. The aim of the Pretoria regime was to split the ANC between the exiled moderates with whom they could do business and the majority, who made up those resisting in the townships.”
As the author and academician, Professor Sampie Terreblanche observed in his book, A History of Inequality in South Africa 1652-2002: “The ANC’s core leaders effectively sold its sovereign freedom to implement an independent and appropriate socio-economic policy for a mess of potage when it entered into several compromises with the corporate sector and its global partners. These unfortunate transactions must be retracted or renegotiated.”
If the leaders who founded the ANC in 1912 and those who presented the petition on land dispossession to King George V were alive as the ANC celebrated its centenary on 8 January, what would they say? How would the African kings and those warriors who died in the many battles to defend the country against colonialism, feel when they see that for 57 years, the land question in South Africa has not been a fundamental issue with this ANC since 1955, as it is now buried in the miracle “rainbow nation”?
If “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white… equals, countrymen and brothers”, why is the ANC spending billions of rand buying land for blacks from whites on an exploitative “willing seller willing buyer” basis and at inflated prices? This is getting the ANC government deeper in debt without resolving the land question at all. The demand that was made by the 1912 ANC leaders “that the Africans must be put into possession of land according to their numbers” has not been met. This primary demand of the African national liberation struggle was betrayed in 1955. Section 25 of the “New South Africa” constitution is the same thing as the Native Land Act 1913.
No sane nation has ever commemorated its genocide or spat on the graves of its ancestors!