The Tradition of the African National Congress: Maintaining Relevance

BradleyCollege Papers, Graduate Work, History0 Comments

In 1990, Nelson Mandela ended an almost forty-year prison term on Robben Island where he had essentially been internally exiled along with other African National Congress (ANC) and Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) leaders by the apartheid government in an attempt to neutralize his political influence on the black South African population. Even after almost four decades of imprisonment, what Mandela represented, as a symbol of a movement to rid the country of minority rule, still resonated with anti-apartheid activists in South Africa. Because of Mandela’s influence and the ANC in exile’s international political maneuvering, the apartheid government was able to use Mandela as a bridge between South African whites and blacks to initiate democratic elections and majority rule. A few short years later in 1994, Mandela, along with the African National Congress, were voted into office as a result of the first universal democratic elections held in South Africa. This was certainly a victory for anti-apartheid activists. For the first time, the government was truly democratic and representative.

However, the rise of the ANC after the end of apartheid raises questions about how the movement maintained its legitimacy in the eyes of both South Africans (apartheid government and anti-apartheid activists) and the international community during exile. This paper will focus on how scholars have addressed the effectiveness of the ANC as a resistance movement and potential governing institution in the 1950s and during the exile period. Based on the available material, the ANC often lacked direction and ideological coherence and was unable to reach or appeal to a large portion of the black South African population. Other movements, like Black Consciousness and the Communist Party, were essential in pushing forward the anti-apartheid movement both within and outside the country. Moreover, this paper will examine debates about the organization’s relationship with other nationalist movements, including Black Consciousness, the PAC, and African Congress members.

During the years between 1992 and 2009, there is a relative lull in accessible sources written from a historical perspective that address the role of the ANC in anti-apartheid activities. This lull corresponds to the unbanning of the ANC and SACP in 1990 and the democratic elections held in 1994 that brought the ANC to power in South Africa. Some of the authors noted that after 1994 the ANC allowed all of its records from the exile period to be made available for study.[1] It is reasonable to assume that transporting and organizing these records required time, and then researching that archive took additional time. With the exception of Hugh Macmillan’s work, the early 1990s generally separates two types of scholarship that this paper addresses: pre-1992 literature like that written by Gail Gerhart (1979) and Robert Fatton (1986) that is mostly first-hand accounts or that relies on interviews and eyewitness testimony; and post-1992 literature that relies more heavily on archival research and documentary evidence, like Sean Morrow’s 1998 article on the Dakawa education camp.[2]

This paper will first look at the debates presented by scholars writing about the African National Congress in the 1950s and its relationship with other movements during that time period. Gail Gerhart (1979) and Robert Fatton (1986) argue that the organization lacked ideological coherence and that it failed to deliver on its promises. The failures of the ANC, along with its offshoot, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), led to a public backlash during the 1960s that caused people to avoid becoming involved in political movements that could draw the attention of the white apartheid authorities. Stephen Ellis & Tsepo Sechaba (a pseudonym used by Oyama Mabandla, 1992) and Daniel Magaziner (2010) argue that this fear created an opportunity for another movement, Black Consciousness, to come to the forefront. By presenting itself as a sort of self-help movement that was at first interpreted as non-threatening to the establishment, Black Consciousness was easily disseminated and kept the idea and possibility of African self-rule alive during the 1960s when the ANC and PAC were banned.

This paper will then look at the debates surrounding the ANC in exile. In 1992, Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba argue that the SACP took control of the ANC in exile, occupying key posts, manipulating votes and re-orienting the ANC along Party lines of armed revolution. In 2009, Arianna Lissoni presents an overview of the ANC in exile in the 1960s, arguing that the organization suffered an identity crisis in terms of its “image” as an African organization, creating stresses that led to the 1969 Morogoro conference. Sean Morrow (1998), Rachel Sandwell (2015), and to some extent Colin Bundy (2012) present scholarship focused on the day-to-day life of the ANC’s camps. They generally argue that the ANC was inefficient and moribund, essentially struggling to maintain itself rather than working towards the goal of anti-apartheid. In 2013, Hugh Macmillan presents a history of the ANC in exile in Lusaka, in an attempt to counter modern accusations that weaknesses in the South African ANC government is a result of the exile experience.

Other scholars, like Janet Cherry (2012) and Steve Davis (2012), focus more heavily on the dissolution of the connection between the ANC and black South Africans within South Africa itself. Janet Cherry’s analysis of violent versus non-violent tactics is highly theoretical but also includes analysis that shows that the ANC had become marginal in the armed struggle against apartheid due to a lack of communications with actors inside South Africa. To show how the ANC attempted to overcome this barrier, Steve Davis looks at the role and use of radio by ANC personnel, arguing that the system was poorly planned and had limited effect.

In Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (1979), Gail Gerhart shows how policies of accommodation cyclically fell out of favor for a more African-centered political ideology. Gerhart’s work is a political history and presents an overview of the development of black national ideology rather than a particular critique or exploration of any one group or organization. She covers a broad time period, from the founding of the ANC in 1912 to the banning of the South African Student Organization and Black People’s Congress in 1973. This presents particular difficulties in finding coherent arguments about the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the organizations she is analyzing. The author indicates in her conclusion that she is hesitant in forming arguments or conclusions about the ANC, since she is writing about an ongoing conflict and does not have the benefit of hindsight.

Gerhart is generally critical of the ANC as an organization. Throughout her text she refers to the ANC as having no sound or consistent ideology to present to the public at large.[3] She is not alone in this assessment. In Black Consciousness in South Africa: the Dialectics of Ideological Resistance to White Supremacy (1986), Robert Fatton also argues that the ANC lacked ideological coherence, though he presents his analysis through the lens of Marxism and class struggle.  He attributes the failure of the early ANC to properly mobilize and actively engage in revolutionary activities to their attachment to entrenched “white” ideas of class membership. Fatton sees the “old guard” of the pre-1948 ANC leadership as being too infatuated with their status as members of the petty bourgeoisie to be capable of conceiving of an alternative ideological framework, and consequently a new system.[4] As a result, the organization was unable to achieve their goals.[5]

Both Gerhart and Fatton demonstrate that the ANC changed and shifted direction constantly. This can be viewed as an organization being realistic and pragmatic, but it also shows a clear lack of vision and a lack of any clear plan for reaching self-government or what that self-government might look like and who might be included. In addition to not having a clear ideological position, Gerhart argues that the lack of a clear goal turned the ANC into a “tradition”, rather than something one believed in. She compares membership in the ANC to membership in the local church: casual, traditional, and mostly composed of women, children and the elderly. This is a damning criticism of the ANC and shows that it had no connection with the public at large. Gerhart writes that:

Few in the ANC were prepared to admit to any ideological shortcomings, but it was evident by the late 1950s that the ANC was taking a line which no longer adequately reflected the mood of the urban African, or in particular the impatience of the urban youth. … as an organization it had now begun to lag behind the times, a captive of its traditions, its allies, and of the world view of its prestigious older leaders.[6]

The ANC then, as a movement, did not speak to the people. Other organizations and streams of thought stepped in to fill this gap, though Gerhart argues that they too had their failings.

Organizations like the Pan Africanist Congress, South African Student Organization, Black People’s Congress and early thinkers like Anton Lembede and even the early ANC Youth Leaugers, all adhered to the “rebel” stream of thought in African nationalist politics, which promoted an African centered theory of government, to one degree or another. In Black Power, Gerhart explains that in most cases, these early adherents of “Africa for Africans” ideology generally “mellowed” and became realists, attempting to work within the existing white apartheid framework of government.[7] The ANC was primarily representative of this racially inclusive stream of thought. However, together with other groups like the PAC, Steve Biko’s SASO and the Black People’s Congress, which promoted more militant ideologies, the ANC was banned and exiled by the apartheid government because it threatened the existing order. Gerhart argues that all of these organizations generally lacked proper planning, clear structure or goals. For example, she argues that the PAC failed to gain traction because it did not do enough grassroots organizing.[8]

Gerhart’s narrative essentially shows that all black political movements were ineffective during the period she writes about. Cycling between ideologies of ethnic solidarity, racial inclusiveness, and African-centered or African-only political ideologies, there was no cohesiveness to African political expression. Of course, expecting there to be one theory of proper politics from any group is unrealistic, but Gerhart clearly shows that the resistance movement as a whole was fragmented and disorganized. Additionally, these movements were restricted to small, educated and typically urban circles and had little impact on rural black Africans. Gerhart argues that the only movement to make any progress in that field was Black Consciousness, which appealed not only to students, but also to African clergy in independent churches. She also notes that Black Consciousness made inroads with the average black African because it included symbols and nonverbal language, like the raised first, that uneducated and illiterate people could understand and identify with. Black Consciousness, Gerhart writes, was not just a philosophy, but a “mood” with which all Africans could identify.[9]

Gerhart shows that Black Consciousness was more effective in reaching the people and reflecting the attitudes of average Africans than the ANC, but she questions whether or not Black Consciousness will remain relevant, describing it as a transitional philosophy that will outlive its usefulness.[10] In that respect, she is arguing that the ANC has something that Black Consciousness does not: lasting power.[11] She consistently shows that the ANC has established itself as a hallmark of African life and, while not particularly effective, has been able to stay active in one form or another, a feat no other anti-apartheid organization had managed to duplicate. This in itself, Gerhart agues, was its own form of currency. Gerhart only passingly mentions the ANC’s ban and the group’s subsequent ineffectiveness in the country, but her emphasis on the popular appeal of Black Consciousness further undermines the idea that the ANC was consistently the driving force in African political thought during the apartheid period.[12] At best, it was a symbol of a legacy of resistance to apartheid.

In Black Consciousness in South Africa: the Dialectics of Ideological Resistance to White Supremacy (1986), Robert Fatton builds on Gerhart’s analysis of Black Consciousness by analyzing its development and progress through the lens of Marxism and revolution. He argues that prior to 1948 the anti-apartheid movement failed as a revolutionary ideology and primarily focuses his attention on the rise of Black Consciousness, the ideology and movement attributed to Steve Biko.[13] Fatton’s interpretation of events is an attempt to marry Marxist class struggles with Black Consciousness, which promoted an independent system of values that would essentially place black men on their own, equivalent scale, separate and apart from white conceptions of civilization, values, and achievement. Black Consciousness was the idea that Africans were just as inherently valuable and worthwhile as whites, and that their culture and ideas were just as valuable, on their own, and did not have to be held in relation to white values and culture, or placed on some sliding scale of achievement created by white intellectuals.

Fatton analyses the history of ideologies that gave birth to the Black Consciousness Movement as well as other groups’ reactions to it. Most notably, he mentions the ANC’s view of the movement as a transitional stage that the ANC had already passed through, which was likely an attempt to delegitimize Black Consciousness and maintain supremacy as the sole legitimate representatives of the anti-apartheid movement and black Africans in South Africa.[14] This is important in understanding how little relevance the ANC actually had. The organization felt the need to “get in front of” a new movement and delegitimize it. This tactic indicates the ANC was reacting from a position of weakness and attempting to remain relevant in the face of a fresh and growing movement, rather than speaking from a position of strength. As an organization that had been relegated to a “tradition”, with a membership of mainly the elderly and children, the ANC had lost the initiative.

In addition, when Black Consciousness was gaining in popularity, Gerhart notes that the ANC was mostly dormant in South Africa because of the banning orders, internal imprisonment, and external exile of the organization in the 1960s.[15] Writing much later, in 1992, Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba would reach the same conclusion, as would Arianna Lissoni, writing in 2009. Ellis and Sechaba write that the arrests at Liliesleaf Farm in 1963 of the leadership of the ANC and Imkhonto we Sizwe (MK) rendered the ANC and SACP inactive in South Africa. Steve Biko, the Black Consciousness movement’s founder, had no connection with or interest in either the ANC or the SACP because neither one had any remaining power or influence in the country. Steve Biko had only just begun to think in terms of creating a political framework when he was assassinated in prison. Ellis and Sechaba argue that Black Consciousness was able to spread because the apartheid government hoped that the ideology would help to legitimate and promote the idea of separate African homelands (Bantustans). In some cases this did work, leading former ANC and PAC leaders to give up the struggle and head “home”.[16] The movement did, however, lay the foundation for continued resistance to apartheid, as well as widen the rift between the ANC and black South Africans.

Gerhart notes that the rise of Black Consciousness psychologically prepared urban black youth for confrontation with whites and was accepted to such a degree among Africans that it created a shift away from accommodation in politics. One could no longer operate within the white-defined political system and be seen as legitimately representing black South African interests.[17] This is significant in terms of the ANC’s effectiveness as a representative of South Africans during this period and after unbanning, since the organization promoted a non-racial, inclusive and democratic government for South Africa along existing institutional lines. Despite this inconsistency, Black Consciousness and its effects were indispensable to the anti-apartheid movement during the years when the ANC could not effectively communicate with or organize people inside South Africa. In The Law and The Prophets: Black Consciousness in South Africa, 1968-1977 (2010), Daniel Magaziner writes that “Black Consciousness filled the gap between the 1950s and early 1960s and the younger generation of activists who emerged in the wake of the Soweto protests of 1976.”[18]

Magaziner analyzes the Black Consciousness Movement from a perspective that is almost the exact opposite of that taken by Fatton. Where Fatton tries to fit the movement into a paradigm of class struggle with a teleological conclusion, Magaziner is attempting to avoid grand political narratives. Rather he wants to analyze process, positioning his work as intellectual history, something that he says is not popular in South African history because it is not popular or democratic, referring to popular literature that attempts to paint a rosy picture of the anti-apartheid movements.[19]

Magaziner looks at the period in the mid- to late-1960s and early 1970s as a time when ideas were fermenting and solidifying into an ideology that came to be termed Black Consciousness. Magaziner defines Black Consciousness as “multiple and contingent, subject to debate and change,” but also “an ethic, a way of life, a being for change that was supposed to saturate and fundamentally alter an entire society.”[20] Magaziner sees the Black Consciousness movement as having sold out on its original principles when it aligned itself politically, but that does not take away from the effectiveness of the organization in promoting the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa when the ANC and other groups were unable to do so.[21]

In relation to the ANC and PAC, Magaziner shows that Black Consciousness was consistently thought of as a “baby organization,” because of the movement’s early emphasis on philosophy and deference to older organizations in terms of political action. However, the South African Student Organization (SASO), of which Black Consciousness was a part, soon took an active role in promoting anti-apartheid activities. Magaziner describes the movement as having grassroots support and being at the cutting edge of black opinion in South Africa.[22] In other words, Magaziner agrees that the ANC had lost relevance in South Africa, especially among the younger generation, and Black Consciousness stepped in to fill the ideological gap.

The exile period was a time of internal disintegration for the ANC. Writing in 1992 in Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & the South African Communist Party in Exile, Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba argue that the organization had given up its ideological stance of multi-racialism and inclusiveness and had adopted an African first policy in order to appeal to African nations that they came to rely on for help and sanctuary. Arianna Lissoni focuses on this transformation in a 2009 article titled “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960-1969.” She provides an overview of the nature of the Congress Alliance in the 1950s and then argues that the idea of multi-racialism was undermined by pragmatic concerns when the organization attempted to restructure itself in exile. She notes that after Nelson Mandela returned from a mission in Africa to find support for the ANC, he expressed concern about promoting “the image” of the ANC as being authentically Africa in order to appeal to other African nations that the ANC relied on for sanctuary and support. This became an important point of discussion at meetings and a vote was taken that situated the ANC as the first among equals in order to create the right “image.”[23]

Ellis and Sechaba’s work is an outlier in terms of its position on the South African Communist Party (SACP) and Soviet Communist influence on the ANC as an organization. They argue that the ANC had essentially disappeared in all but name, with key posts being taken over by SACP members and votes being manipulated to conform to Party lines.[24] According to the introduction of Comrades Against Apartheid, Sechaba, Oyama Mabandla writing under a pen name, was an ANC and SACP member in the exile community and is writing from a position of insider knowledge. The claim that the ANC in exile was “[dancing] to the tune of the Communists” was not new when Comrades was written, however.[25] According to Lissoni that had been a common accusation beginning as early as the 1950s.[26]

Lissoni seems dismissive of the idea, as does Hugh Macmillan, who directly criticizes Ellis and Sechaba’s work in his introduction to The Lusaka Years, 1963 to 1994: The ANC in Exile in Zambia in 2013. He applauds Comrades Against Apartheid for revealing some of the excesses of the ANC’s security department in Angola and the mutinies that took place there, which Lissoni mentions had been covered up by the ANC, but goes on to call their work “marred by a conspiratorial view of history and profound anti-communism.”[27] Macmillan goes on to criticize Ellis’s solo reworking of the same book as equally poor for including the same thesis of the SACP hijacking the ANC and for overemphasizing the influence of Moscow in the organization.[28]

Given Ellis and Sechaba’s analysis, the claim that the ANC was run by Communists was likely due to the ANC’s policy of inclusiveness in contrast to the rest of Africa’s Pan-Africanist mentality. Ellis and Sechaba also argue that the SACP had a long-term plan in place to take over the ANC and redirect its fight for liberation into a revolutionary “People’s War” that would establish a socialist order. Macmillan probably disagrees with this as well, but weighing one scholar against another is difficult without a larger understanding of the issue involved.

For the purposes of this paper, it is enough to note that Macmillan is presenting and promoting a point of view that limits Communist and Soviet influence on the ANC in exile, while other scholars are promoting the view that the SACP and Moscow had some degree of influence. Considering the investment that Moscow made into the liberation movement, it seems reasonable to believe that the Soviets would have expected something in return for their help. Not only does that mesh with the overall atmosphere and terminology used in the ANC (commissar, comrade, etc.), it fits into the reality of Cold War politics in the “third world,” which in general expected a commitment to one side or the other in exchange for economic aid.

Lissoni notes that the issue of participation and inclusion in the ANC was constantly brought up by both former ANC members and members of other groups formerly in the Congress Alliance. She also notes, interestingly, that after a meeting in Morogoro in 1966, a non-public sub-committee of non-African organization members was established to facilitate coordination, including with the Communist Party, finally allowing them to have some degree of influence.[29] Ellis and Sechaba would argue that the Communist party already had all of the influence it needed. If Ellis and Sechaba are correct, the reasons for not opening membership were likely unchanged from the previously noted pragmatism towards maintaining support from African countries for the armed struggle against South Africa.

Ellis and Sechaba argue that the ANC had so completely been subsumed by Communist Party ideology that its very nature had changed. It was no longer an umbrella organization, but rather had become a socialist movement with commissars, education programs meant to instill Soviet-socialist ideology and a heavy emphasis on military revolution. The authors also note the disproportionate amount of energy and time put into military training and preparations for an armed struggle that failed, since it never arrived.[30]

According to the authors of Comrades against Apartheid the influence of the Communist party negatively impacted the ANC by misdirecting the majority of supplies and resources into armed struggle to conform to an imported Communist ideology. The atmosphere of the ANC was altered and became heavily socialist, paranoid and involved internal checks to enforce adherence to Communist ideology. [31] One could argue that this was a justified move in order to maintain the support of a super power (the USSR), but in the process the ANC as an organization disappeared in all but name and failed to accomplish its mission. The international solidarity that led the way to ending apartheid was triggered by the Sharpeville Massacre, which was associated with the PAC. Also, Arianna Lissoni writes that later efforts to mobilize international support for the isolation of South Africa and the end of apartheid was largely organized by those people who had been denied official ANC membership because of skin color.[32]

Ellis and Sechaba also note that the end of the cold war played a major role in ending apartheid. A situation was created that simultaneously denied the ANC its international military support while also diluting the Marxist influence in South Africa’s neighbors. Combined with the financial incentives of ending international isolation and normalization with her neighbor countries, Ellis and Sechaba argue that this gave the South African government the justification it needed to unban the ANC and SACP, which was the first step in ending apartheid.[33] Considering the major implications the end of the Cold War had for the world in general and the authors’ temporal proximity to the event, it is possible that this influence is overstated. If the ANC lost its military backer, that would be more of a reason for the South African government to continue apartheid. It is more likely that international isolation in general and the opportunity for financial growth played larger roles in the decision making process.

Of the articles on the ANC in exile explored in this paper, many are narrow in focus. They use particular situations or places as lenses through which to understand life as an ANC exile. For example, in an article titled “Dakawa Development Centre: An African National Congress Settlement in Tanzania, 1982-1992” (1998), Sean Morrow analyses the role of education in the ANC’s external mission, demonstrating a change in the organization’s focus from short-term exile to long-term self-sustainment with a diverse population.[34] Also, in “’Love I Cannot Begin to Explain’: The Politics of Reproduction in the ANC in Exile, 1976-1990,” Rachel Sandwell addresses changing perceptions of the ANC’s mission over time through the lens of women’s roles as mothers and revolutionary fighters. Both authors are critical of the ANC. Morrow shows that attempts were made to gain international support for education programs at Dakawa, near Morogoro in Tanzania, but through mismanagement of services and personnel, the program became a site of exploitation and punishment. Sandwell similarly shows that there was a consistent effort to use the Charlottes as a positive place to support and free women from the responsibilities of motherhood in order to engage in revolutionary work, but through administrative mismanagement the institution became a site of punishment.

Sandwell shows that initially the Charlottes were meant to be a place that freed women from the responsibilities of motherhood in order to engage in the struggle against apartheid. She then argues that in the ANC, women’s attitudes towards motherhood and family changed over time as it became obvious that there would not be a quick victory and return to South Africa. The ANC was ineffective in engaging with apartheid in a meaningful way, leading to apathy and the feeling of needing to settle down among ANC members. In Sandwell’s study, this was reflected in the way that women changed their minds about having their children stay with them in their current location.[35] ANC exiles were scattered all over Africa, Europe and Russia, but the ANC only set up one maternity center in Tanzania at Morogoro. The houses were not well built and were not constructed specifically to serve as maternity centers. The approach the ANC took was piecemeal, which would lead one to think the organization did not originally see maternity as a priority.

Later, as time passed and it became obvious that there would be no quick return, attitudes towards unattached, single mothers changed. Pregnancy came to be viewed as a lack of dedication to the cause and women were punished by sending them to the Charlottes, with their “sentences” reduced in exchange for breastfeeding their own children.[36] Money was often requested to build a real maternity ward according to the original intent of the Charlottes as a place to free mothers for ANC work, but that money was never provided.

Janet Cherry’s article, “The Intersection of Violent and Non-Violent Strategies in the South African Liberation Struggle” (2012), complements the work done by Morrow and Sandwell. Cherry analyzes the use of violence in securing the transition to a democratic, fully representative government in South Africa. In her article, Cherry presents evidence and analysis by security police analysts and underground ANC members that acknowledge that MK did not have the strength necessary to overthrow the apartheid regime. She also presents an assessment by a military intelligence colonel named Lourens du Plessis who believed mass action and international pressure, rather than armed struggle, were key to ending apartheid. In other words, mass action inside South Africa and international pressure from other countries was more important than anything the ANC in exile necessarily accomplished. The ANC had put a lot of effort and resources into providing military training for its personnel, but the organization lacked the requisite skill and equipment to actually take on the South African defense forces, leading to changing perspectives on the nature of living in exile, as noted above.

One of the more interesting concepts raised by scholars like Morrow, Sandwell, Lissoni and Cherry is the way that the desires of ANC members to actively do something to further the fight against the apartheid government was blocked, leaving them with pent up frustrations that had no available outlet. Lissoni’s article also notes the disaffection in the MK with the ANC’s leadership, but Hugh Macmillan really develops this idea in The Lusaka Years, 1963 to 1994: The ANC in Exile in Zambia (2013). Macmillan’s writing seems less academic in style. The text reads like popular history, especially since he uses endnotes rather than footnotes. He uses a considerable amount of archival research, oral testimony, personal experiences, secondary sources and even unpublished dissertations in his work, however, so that is less a criticism and more an observation on style. More unusual is the fact that his writing seems apologetic and glorifying in tone. It lacks the same critical tone common in other writing on the ANC.

Regardless, in Macmillan’s work on the ANC in Lusaka, the issue of diminishing morale stands out. He seems to indicate that this became a problem with the failed Sipolilo and Wankie raids.[37] He notes Chris Hani’s observations of a lack of morale and direction and then details the effects of the Hani Memorandum on the leadership of the ANC, which the authors of the 3000 word document accused of becoming career, salaried, globe-trotting bureaucrats that had turned the ANC into an end unto itself.[38] The document was not well received.

Macmillan also attempts to put the ANC in Lusaka in context with other movements, the most similar being the Palestine Liberation Organization’s establishment of extensive camp networks in Southern Lebanon. He shows that the ANC and Zambian leadership were not unaware of the similarities and that Kenneth Kaunda, the first president of Zambia, feared that Lusaka might become the target of reprisals, as was the case with Beirut.[39] By the 1970s, Macmillan notes that the MK in Lusaka had been disarmed. The men lived in the towns with Zambian civilians and the trained fighting men being kept busy with vegetable gardening. Oliver Tambo thought these men should be sent for education or training, but many lacked educational qualifications, something noted by Sean Morrow in his analysis of Dakawa in Tanzania.[40]

It was almost as if, for lack of forward momentum, the ANC external mission began to turn in on itself, becoming trapped in a spiral of self-accusation and self-destruction. Lissoni’s article ends on a hopeful note, with the argument that the Morogoro conference of 1969 showed a willingness to work together and create something better, but Morrow, Sandwell, Ellis and Sechaba all demonstrate that issues of poor leadership and the inability of MK to be effective continued through the end of apartheid.

For example, Dakawa, a facility near Morogoro that was originally conceived of as an adult education center, became a site of punishment and exploitation, with training programs set up that gave people just the bare essentials in terms of knowledge so that they could engage in ANC work programs, but not necessarily have marketable skills. Dakawa was in operation until the end of apartheid. Apathy was reflected in the use of dagga (marijuana), alcohol, and an unwillingness to engage in physical labor.

Both Morrow and Sandwell show that ANC officials, cadres, paramilitary members and other exiled South Africans were acculturating to a life external to their country, with towns and welfare systems developing around self-support and maintenance.[41] This mirrors Macmillan’s argument that the MK rank and file became disaffected with a leadership that had committed to being “career bureaucrats” with large paychecks in exile, rather than revolutionaries. The ANC had stopped being a revolutionary movement and had instead set itself in a holding pattern.

In Colin Bundy’s article, “National Liberation and International Solidarity: Anatomy of a Special Relationship” (2012), the author examines the working relationship between the African National Congress and the British Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM). An interesting idea introduced in Bundy’s article centers on ideas of community and identity formation, which is relevant in relation to the articles written by Sandwell and Morrow. Bundy relates feelings of disconnectedness among people and families that were exiled from South Africa and shows how the AAM and ANC stepped into the gap, becoming cultural anchors that maintained community cohesiveness and solidarity.[42] The fact that exiles recognized and felt at home in ANC/AAM exile institutions shows that there was some degree of continuity between what was happening inside South Africa and in exile culturally. However, Bundy’s article also raises the question of the legitimacy of the ANC as a government in exile.

If the ANC had become a disconnected government in exile, with only other exiles as constituents, how well did the organization represent the actual will of black South Africans within South Africa? And, if the ANC and AAM were jointly creating a national identity among exiles, complete with education institutions and the management of sexual ethics, how did that identity compare to the national identity being formed within South Africa? Bundy reveals that there was a political and cultural disconnection between the “outside” and “inside” anti-apartheid movements and a parallel development of identities. Ellis and Sechaba also note that returning ANC leaders experienced culture shock. They noted that there were layers of removal from the South African reality, including those who had been interned at Robben Island, those in exile, and those who had lived in South Africa for the duration of the struggle.[43]

Janet Cherry’s analysis of violent versus non-violent strategies reveals that the external ANC leadership was unable to adequately communicate with the underground network inside the country, leaving the internal leaders to take the initiative while waiting for some “grand strategy to unfold.”[44] In other words, there was a distinct lack of a coherent plan of action or any means of implementing plans for anti-apartheid activities within the country. In an article by Steve Davis on the use of radio, addressed more fully below, Davis elaborates on this lack of a coherent strategy on the ground by pointing out that during the first two years of MK’s operations (1961-1963) there was only a vague notion among regional commanders in South Africa that they had to put pressure on the government. They supposed that if they could destabilize the economy, the “masses” would rise up and MK could lead them to victory.[45] There was no consideration of the logistics of arming these masses, just a notion of spontaneous action and victory. This is very similar to the idea presented by Ellis and Sechaba that the SACP wanted to initiate a “People’s War” through the ANC at some indeterminate point in the future.

Like Bundy, Janet Cherry also dismisses the role of the ANC in the liberation struggle as marginal. She describes Imkhonto we Sizwe members as being heroes after-the-fact and presents the ANC as being ideologically symbolic rather than practically effective, and certainly not as an organization at the forefront of the struggle.[46] If the ANC had largely become an “outside” organization and was ineffective in organizing or supplying internal anti-apartheid actions, militant or otherwise, then how did it maintain popularity and public support? Was it simply the best of bad choices? Or was it the organization’s legacy status, mentioned in 1979 by Gail Gerhart as a tradition, similar to belonging to and attending church? In his article, “The ANC: From Freedom Radio to Radio Freedom” (2012), Steve Davis explains one method the ANC attempted to use to maintain its status among the South African population.

Davis analyzes radio usage by the ANC as a lens through which to explore the ANC’s relationship with the anti-apartheid movement within South Africa. The physical proximity of friendly countries allowed the ANC’s exile leadership to attempt to remain relevant within South Africa by broadcasting messages over radio from neighboring countries. Unfortunately, the ANC never presented a clear plan of action and seemed to be more interested in fighting to stay relevant at home than fighting to actually free South Africa. As Janet Cherry noted, Imkhonto we Sizwe lacked the ability to actually engage with South Africa militarily, so the radio messages were merely rhetoric. Davis notes that the first broadcast did not appear to be planned or well thought out, but rather an act that signaled the desperation of the MK leadership to maintain momentum and legitimacy.[47]

However unplanned and potentially ineffective the use of radio was, it was the best option available to MK and the ANC and, if nothing else, reflects the adaptability of the organization.  Davis notes that the failure to “incorporate radio into a coherent plan for political mobilization within South Africa from the late 1960s into the early 1970s” was the result of “ongoing internecine conflicts within the ANC/SACP [(South African Communist Party)] alliance” that was formed in exile.[48] Ellis and Sechaba mention this infighting, noting that the organization’s military effectiveness was likely affected by the attempt to “neutralize” military and political leaders of opposing factions. They do not make clearly articulate whether or not they think this would have made a real operational difference.

After surveying these books and articles, it becomes apparent that the ANC had only a limited role in the actual popular uprisings and protests within South Africa after their banning. Existing scholarship is fairly consistent in its evaluation of the ANC as reactionary and generally ineffective, overly preoccupied with internal rivalries and gaining financial welfare. A major debate seems to be the amount of influence the USSR and the South African Communist Party exerted over the ANC in exile.

Even before the banning, the ANC is described as being reactionary at best and was unable to develop or maintain a coherent strategy. Existing scholarship seems fairly consistent in its presentation of the ANC as a type of heritage or legacy organization that had symbolic currency with the average South African. The ANC earned early recognition as leaders against apartheid, but its real strength was simply the organization’s ability to survive long enough to emerge at the end of the struggle mostly intact. Defiance of apartheid alone was socially significant.

Many of the leaders in the ANC were educated and education in South Africa was generally limited to those who came from upper-class backgrounds. It would be interesting to see research done on how black South African ideas of proper social customs affected their loyalties to the ANC and other political organizations. In other words, how much of their loyalty was based on ideas of traditional leadership being autocratic. How much influence did tribalism have in dictating loyalties among those who were generally uneducated? And, in terms of the modern conclusion to the anti-apartheid struggle, how does the legacy of being unrepresentative of actual South Africans affect the ability of the ANC to effectively rule South Africa?


Footnotes

[1] For example: Arianna Lissoni, “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960-1969,” Journal of Southern African Studies 35.2 (June, 2009): 287-288.

[2] For some early histories of the ANC that are not addressed in this paper, see: Peter Walshe, The Rise of African Nationalism in South Africa, The African National Congress 1912-1952 (Christopher Hurst, London, 1970); John Pampallis, Foundations of the New South Africa (Zed Books, London, 1991); Mary Benson, The African Patriots (London: Faber & Faber, 1963); Heidi Hollander, The Struggle: A History of the African National Congress (New York: George Braziller, 1990); Stephen Davis, Apartheid’s Rebels: Inside South Africa’s Hidden War (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987). For primary documents of the early history of the ANC, see: Thomas Karis and Gwendolen M. Carter (eds), From Protest to Challenge, a Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa 1882-1964 4 vols., (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1972-77).

[3] For example: Gail M. Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (Perspectives on Southern Africa, 19) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 88.

[4] Robert Fatton, Jr., Black Consciousness in South Africa (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), 7.

[5] In Black Power (1979), Gerhart also addresses the issue of relative standards of achievement and the importance of understanding self-worth outside of a European framework (p.6, 111). She emphasizes the role of external black influence in guiding black South African thinking, especially in terms of ideology imported from other African countries and the American South, for example W.E.B. Du Bois (pp. 273-277). Additionally, she shows that the ANC had become ineffective, leading to the rise of organizations like the ANC Youth League and PAC (p. 49).

[6] Gail M. Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (Perspectives on Southern Africa, 19) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 215.

[7] Ibid., 292.

[8] Gail M. Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (Perspectives on Southern Africa, 19) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 226.

[9] Ibid., 294-295.

[10] Ibid., 311.

[11] Ibid., 214.

[12] Ibid., 249.

[13] Robert Fatton, Jr., Black Consciousness in South Africa (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1986), 3.

[14] Ibid., 135.

[15] Gail M. Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (Perspectives on Southern Africa, 19) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 249-251, 315.

[16]  Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba, Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & the South African Communist Party in Exile (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 69-71.

[17] Gail M. Gerhart, Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology (Perspectives on Southern Africa, 19) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 296, 315.

[18] Daniel R. Magaziner, The Law and the Prophets: Black Consciousness in South Africa, 1968-1977 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2010), 3.

[19] Ibid., 5.

[20] Ibid., 5, 187.

[21] Ibid., 181.

[22] Ibid., 141-150.

[23] Arianna Lissoni, “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960-1969,” Journal of Southern African Studies 35.2 (June, 2009): 292-293.

[24] Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba, Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & the South African Communist Party in Exile (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 6, 41, 52-60. For an example of this type of political maneuvering within the ANC by SACP members, see South African Communists Speak. Documents from the History of South African Communist Party 1915-1980 (London: Inkululeko Publications, 1981), 408-17. Also: Tom Lodge, Black Politics in South Africa Since 1945 (London: Longman Group United Kingdom, 1983), 302-303.

[25] Arianna Lissoni, “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960-1969,” Journal of Southern African Studies 35.2 (June, 2009): 291.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Hugh Macmillan, The Lusaka Years, 1963 t0 1994: The ANC in Exile in Zambia (Auckland Park, South Africa: Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd, 2013), 10.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Arianna Lissoni, “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960-1969,” Journal of Southern African Studies 35.2 (June, 2009): 293-297.

[30] Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba, Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & the South African Communist Party in Exile (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 200-201.

[31]Ibid., 125, 200-201.

[32] Arianna Lissoni, “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960-1969,” Journal of Southern African Studies 35.2 (June, 2009): 293.

[33] Ibid., 203.

[34] Sean Morrow, “Dakawa Development Centre: An African National Congress Settlement in Tanzania, 1982-1992,” African Affairs 97 (1998): 497, 504. Morrow’s article relies on primary research of African National Congress records from the exile period that had just been deposited in the Liberation Archives at Fort Hare and opened to the public, as well as interviews.

[35] Rachel Sandwell, “’Love I Cannot Begin to Explain’: The Politics of Reproduction in the ANC in Exile, 1976-1990,” Journal of Southern African Studies 41:1 (2015): 81.

[36] Ibid.: 78-79.

[37] Hugh Macmillan, The Lusaka Years, 1963 t0 1994: The ANC in Exile in Zambia (Auckland Park, South Africa: Jacana Media (Pty) Ltd, 2013), 71.

[38] Ibid., 71-74.

[39] Ibid., 64.

[40] Ibid., 101.

[41] Sean Morrow, “Dakawa Development Centre: An African National Congress Settlement in Tanzania, 1982-1992,” African Affairs 97 (1998): 501-502.

[42] Colin Bundy, “National Liberation and International Solidarity: Anatomy of a Special Relationship,” in Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, ed. by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2012), 218-220. For more information on families in exile see: Tom Lodge, “State of exile: the African National Congress of South Africa, 1976-86,” Third World Quarterly 9.1 (1987): 1-27; the chapter titled “Family in exile” in Luli Callinicos’s biography of Oliver Tambo; Hilda Bernstein, The Rift: The Exile Experience of South Africans (London: Johnathan Cape, 1994).

[43] Stephen Ellis and Tsepo Sechaba, Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & the South African Communist Party in Exile (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992), 205.

[44] Janet Cherry, “The Intersection of Violent and Non-Violent Strategies in the South African Liberation Struggle,” in Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, ed. by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2012), 144.

[45] Steve Davis, “The ANC: From Freedom Radio to Radio Freedom,” in Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, ed. by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2012), 118.

[46] Janet Cherry, “The Intersection of Violent and Non-Violent Strategies in the South African Liberation Struggle,” in Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, ed. by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2012), 148.

[47] Steve Davis, “The ANC: From Freedom Radio to Radio Freedom,” in Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, ed. by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, (Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2012), 119.

[48] Ibid., 126.


 

References

 

Cherry, Janet. 2012. “The Intersection of Violent and Non-Violent Strategies in the South African Liberation Struggle.” In Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, edited by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, 142-161. Cape Town: University if Cape Town Press.

Colin, Bundy. 2012. “National Liberation and International Solidarity: Anatomy of a Special Relationship.” In Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional and Global Perspectives, edited by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, 212-228. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press.

Davis, Steve. 2012. “The ANC: From Freedom Radio to Radio Freedom.” In Southern African Liberation Struggles: New Local, Regional, and Global Perspectives, edited by Hilary Sapire and Chris Saunders, 117-141. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press.

Ellis, Stephen, and Tsepo Sechaba. 1992. Comrades Against Apartheid: The ANC & the South African Communist Party in Exile. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Fatton, Jr., Robert. 1986. Black Consciousness in South Africa: the Dialectics of Ideological Resistance to White Supremacy. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Gerhart, Gail M. 1979. Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology. Berkely: University of California Press.

Lissoni, Arianna. 2009. “Transformations in the ANC External Mission and Umkhonto we Sizwe, c. 1960–1969.” Journal of Southern African Studies, June: 287-301.

Macmillan, Hugh. 2013. The Lusaka Years (1963-1994): The ANC in Exile in Zambia. Johannesburg: Jacana.

Magaziner, Daniel R. 2010. The Law and The Prophets: Black Consciousness in South Africa, 1968-1977. Athens: Ohio University Press.

Morrow, Sean. 1998. “Dakawa Development Centre: An African National Congress Settlement in Tanzania, 1982-1992.” African Affairs, 497-521.

Sandwell, Rachel. 2015. “‘Love I Cannot Begin to Explain’: The Politics of Reproduction in the ANC in Exile, 1976-1990.” Journal of Southern African Studies, January 9: 63-81.

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