Does land redress for the masses impugn on the ANC’s elitist identity?


By: Clyde Ramalaine

– Is it possible that the black elites who gathered in Waaihoek never understood how radical the land question at national context back then and much later in 2020 would manifest?

Malcolm X warned us long ago with these words, “I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those that do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation.” The clash that X anticipated is a simmering one in South Africa; most may assume apartheid’s death marked by a negotiated settlement was the end of the clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing on land ownership. I wish to postulate the new oppressors may be in a large supply of melanin yet nakedly continuing the systems of exploitation that defined a heretical apartheid system. Those whom I sometime time ago distinguished as the new buffer-zone and blockage for true economic and land redress for the masses in this season is comfortably cocooned in the inner-folds of a historic liberation movement named the ANC.

Is it possible that there is a dialectic tension between its choice for land and land’s choice to impugn on it the [ANC] a natural radical identity where colonialism and apartheid centralized land in racial identity allocation and ownership?
Few historians will dispute that the ANC in its genesis in 1912 evidence a leadership that unequivocally assimilated as African elites, who no longer wanted to be side-lined and subjugated by white colonial masters, but who were not averse to making deals with the colonial powers in order to achieve their objectives. Thus, some of the most important activities of the early leaders of the ANC were to dispatch delegations to petition the British monarch and parliament for fairer treatment and recognition.

This musing asks was the original reason [Land] for the ANC’s existence attained. It becomes important to appreciate that the original gathering of the ANC while for land, it was land in a particular context and identity. Can we compare the original black elites at the turn of the 20th century to the ANC political elite of 2020? If we use this argument than the case can be made that the ANC attained its original aim of land for a particular group defined in historical elites since the current elites own land. In that sense, we must perhaps accept its 1960 adopted charterist stance of land belonging to all. The problem with the land question is that it extends beyond the historical elites that gathered at Waaihoek and the current elites that make up the governing political elite.

The ANC from inception in 1912 did not come into existence to work for non-racialism; it simply didn’t congregate to fight against sexism regardless of how noble this call. The ANC at inception did not come about for any ism as often is wrongly advocated. Perhaps we should dare to say the ANC of 1912 was not the opposite of capitalism it embraced colonial rule and was interested to negotiate its space in the proverbial colonial sun.

In recent months there are those who in cleverness of attempt at managing history prognosticate a scripted sophism of notions of ‘non-racial’ and ‘non- sexist’ much later adopted mantras as that which defines the core and original intent for the ANC’s existence. Among those is even a former ANC president Mbeki who in wilful obliviousness is yet to explain why his leadership of the ANC led Government despite a 2/3rds majority failed to address the land question. Increasingly we understand Mbeki’s inaction on the land question when he had the 2/3rds majority because his departure point on land ownership essentially adopts a 1960 Freedom Carter articulation and approach. He in 2019 advanced the land question as predicated on a thesis, with the following words: “The thesis that there were settlers who came to South Africa [who] took our land without compensation, and therefore we must take that land back and give it to other people, what does that mean?” We must hasten to add, it remains Mbeki’s right to choose his preference for an ANC articulation on land, yet that right cannot come at the expense of an acknowledgement of the original intention and reason for the ANC’s establishment in 1912 with land as anchor tenant albeit it on a very narrow understanding of land redress. Let us also concede that those who gathered in 1912 constituted hardly any radical organisation but a group of people essentially concerned about land for them in the narrowest of definitions.

We know that the ANC’s later association, with the Worker’s Cause at several historical intersections, left it dishevelled, out of kilt and struggling to maintain its elitist identity meaning it was enticed to be radical. This was evident in the elitist ANC leadership’s initial discomfort with communism. It can be argued that the eventual rapprochement between the traditional elitist, and initially pro-capitalist ANC leadership, was based on the fact that the Soviet Union and other East-Bloc communist countries were more prepared to recognize the ANC leadership and treat them on an equal footing than the elitist and racist insults, and disdainful disregard, that they had to endure from the British, and other European colonial powers.

When we, therefore, attempt to understand Africa’s oldest surviving liberation movement we must dispense with easy claims of non-racial of non-sexist as the organic and inaugural fundamentals for its forming. We must necessarily liberate our thinking not to rush to conclude the ANC at inception was a socialist movement seeking the advancement of socialism, communism or any ism for that matter. What is of paramount importance is the undeniable reality of a past that confirms the fundamental reason for an ANC existence was land yet just not land widely defined for the masses of the oppressed and with land for the masses we mean the minerals that define an economy.

The minerals-energy complex that from the start defined capitalism which in turn necessitated the first attempts to define social identities since capitalism needed a documented labour force is central to the subject of South Africa’s land disparities in ownership along clear racialized lines of white and black identity markers. It is important to remember the South African Native Affairs Commission (SANAC) of 1906 that sought to determine classifications on a native identity. In a sense, the SANAC commission can be understood as a response to what can be considered the ‘Native Question’. According to Braun, the commission charged with the inquest, the South African Native Affairs Commission (Lagden Commission or simply SANAC), held hearings in various towns around the subcontinent between 1903 and 1905 under the chairmanship of the Transvaal Commissioner for Native Affairs, Godfrey Lagden. The commission’s inception in September 1903 was preceded by an inter-colonial conference held in Bloemfontein which had at aim the preparation for an envisaged ‘coming Federation of South African Colonies” including Basutoland and Rhodesia. While the public reason for its establishment remains a subject of debate, Braun asserts the first major inquest specifically regarding the future of native policy across South Africa paid a great deal of attention to the African’s position within the territorial land legal bodies of the state”.

Reddy leaning on Ashcroft, concludes ‘one interpretation for the establishment of the SANAC was to investigate African life and the world was to see it in relation to shortages facing the labour -thirsty mining sector.’ From what we know the SANAC commission “was to formulate general principles of subaltern governance and in so doing provide a long-term solution to the demands facing modernist development.’ The African National Congress is born in this season. There is little doubt that when the ANC first the SAANC was formed in Waaihoek Bloemfontein in 1912; its singular reason was the land question.

Yes, the ANC was from the start a gathering of the elitists; its inaugural leadership confirm this elitist identity. It was nowhere at its inception consumed by or sensitive to any pro-poor agenda or organisation led by the proletariat. It’s raison d’tre namely the return of land albeit in its prism for the black elitists came on the back of colonial rule on land necessarily the subject that defines a South African divide more than twenty-five years after the dawn of democracy immanent in black political leadership. We know this because the ANC back then sent multiple delegations to make its case before the crown in Britain. We know it could not be communism that produced the ANC but land. Malcolm X said it best “the struggle was always about land” and as I have noted they do not make land anymore. We know the equilibrium of an elitist ANC leadership was threatened when Anton Lembede among others began to argue for a more radical ANC.

The argument is while the ANC’s core interest at inception was land that land definition was not in radical redress for the masses of SA. The original land quest that defines an ANC at inception was narrow and self-serving one for the particular elite group thus ostensibly part of the oppressed yet an elite group. I wish to postulate a dialectical tension between the radical components of land redress for the masses when land is broadly defined as to how it was chosen by an elitist group in 1912 in a narrowness of focus. Is it possible that the black elites who gathered in Waaihoek never understood how radical the land question at national context back then and much later in 2020 would manifest?

We can surmise that the ANC of 1912 was also less moved by the loss of land, the plight of being declared vermin as suffered by the Khoisan people who were since 1483 the first defenders of their land against invasions from Portuguese of a European origin.

The question remains was the ANC ever ready to embrace the innate radical nature of what land redress as an economic, identity emotive, divisive oppressive subject means? One must perhaps conclude that the ANC was until now not willing to embrace its chosen mandate in the totality of a disenfranchised and side-lined masses vantage point. It appears each time when confronted with the task to radicalize as compelled by a wider reality it opted to value it’s elitist identity more than its chosen mandate.

There is also further confusion created around an ANC of 1912 and the 1960 Kliptown Freedom Charter on the subject of land. There are many charterists in the ANC today and these have over time redefined the ANC’s original quest for land as a charterist dictum when in principle if critically engage may not be if the land was for the masses not. Its current president Ramaphosa after his now acknowledged meandering and uncertain ideological footing immanent in mix masala of white liberal ideology, his cradle, an entices black consciousness [he later discredited], UDF Mass Movement politics and organised socialist labour ideology Ramaphosa shared with a friend, what drew him to the ANC was its adoption of the Freedom Charter. It does not take rocket science to understand that Ramaphosa confirms a coagulum of mixed ideology hence his confusing stance on what land redress or a land question attests. It, therefore, makes perfect sense that the current president will drive a charterist agenda.

Unless our reading of the Freedom Charter underscores a natural radical component. We must acknowledge that the Freedom Charter arrives in a South Africa that is wholly controlled by the 12 years into apartheid ideology and its systems in control of SA. When the Charter says “the land shall be shared by all who live in it….” Is it to mean in the radical sense of redress in a known disparity space defined by race where that race attest white ownership and black disenfranchisement? Is its call thus radical in that it challenges the core of apartheid immanent in land equality?

It is here that I will postulate while land redress was what the ANC chose as it’s mantra- it never did so in full recognition of what that land question meant in broadness of a disenfranchised subjugated back masses who plausibly took refuge in the ANC as the political leader to lead them into land ownership restoration and economic freedom.

I likened the ANC’s choice to adopt the Magna Carta, Freedom Charter of Kliptown in a sense as the second coming of the ANC. A different interpretation of Freedom Charter on its land articulation may rightly underscore the initial narrow The embracing of the land shall be shared by all who live in it is in sense not different from its original choice for land for an elitist group. At another level, it can be argued that the Freedom Charter became the justification for the ANC never to become radical. Therefore easy references to the Freedom Charter as the overarching guiding light for post-1960 ANC policy on land in claims of equality of all is absent in cognisance of how unequal land ownership detailed by the time the almost disintegrated groupings that defined ” the people ” met in Kliptown. When the ANC in these days say on land, “We must emphasise that our approach will enhance, rather than undermine, property rights as we seek to address what we have termed the original sin which was committed against black South Africans during colonial and apartheid days.” What does it mean?

Is it possible that there is a simmering dialectic tension between the ANC’s choice for land and land’s choice to impugn on it the [ANC] a natural radical identity where colonialism and apartheid centralized land in racial identity allocation?

Ultimately, the land question is an identity question. That identity question for the ANC in 2020 is not sealed in non-racial or non-sexist castes as easy escapes but a radical ANC in working for the redress of land for the masses as trusted it in ballot definition to lead.

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
A Lifelong Social Justice Activist Political Commentator & Writer is a SARChi D. Phil candidate in Political Science with the University of Johannesburg. Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation – The Thinking Masses of SA