Exorcising the demons of racism, tribalism and ethnicity is key to building a united SA

Nelson Mandela Voting in South Africa's First Democratic Elections, April 1994 Picture: www.anc.org.za/ancdocs/history/images/people.html

Nelson Mandela Voting in South Africa's First Democratic Elections, April 1994 Picture: www.anc.org.za/ancdocs/history/images/people.html

Published May 29, 2024


Dr Alex Mashilo

Race has received much attention in the body of literature, political work and activism that focuses on the national question. While there are references to ethnicity and tribalism, these problems are at times treated in passing.

In addition, it has become common to hear of what the Freedom Charter refers to as “national groups” frequently called this or that nation.

As if that were not enough, recent elections have seen a wave of ethnic and tribal revivalists, including the separatists who advocate for cessation from South Africa, in addition to those who have held on to the ideology of racial superiority disguised in various ways, continuing to defend the wealth and advantages inherited from its long history.

These are some of the problems we need to confront openly to consolidate South Africa as a single democratic non-racial nation.

During the recent election campaign, a leader of one newly formed political party nailed his colours to the mast as a typical ethno-nationalist.

He joined the allegation that Indian, Coloured and White democrats hijacked the ANC dating back to the roots of its alliance with the South African Indian Congress, South African Congress of Democrats and the Coloured People Congress.

Through this grotesque thinking mediocrity, the fellow distorted the character of the ANC by portraying it as a mere recipient of influence from other organisations.

In contradiction, there was mutual influence among congress alliance partners, including from the ANC to the others.

This was part of the democratic process.

The congress alliance also included the South African Congress of Trade Unions and the Federation of South African Women, with the Communist Party organising underground.

However, the party’s leaders and members were openly active in the leadership and membership of the legal congress alliance organisations.

He did not spare the Communist Party from the allegation levelled against Indian, Coloured and White democrats, who themselves included communists.

Let us recall. As President Nelson Mandela recounts in his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom”, when the apartheid regime faced collapse due to the liberation struggle, it demanded that the ANC sever its alliance with the Communist Party as a precondition for negotiations. Mandela rejected the demand.

Similarly, during the sixtieth anniversary of the Communist Party in July 1981, ANC President OR Tambo rejected the same allegation. In his speech, he said, “It is often claimed by our detractors that the ANC’s association with the SACP means that the ANC is being influenced by the SACP.

That is not our experience. Our experience is that the two influence each other.”

To suggest otherwise would be cowardly revisionism for someone who was in the ANC and said nothing in response to Tambo when he rejected the allegation, which the apartheid regime also spread and exploited as part of its divide and rule and “counterintelligence” agendas.

To be a Communist Party, among others, an organisation must organise people of all races, especially the working class and peasants, regardless of gender.

This can be traced back to the Marxist and Leninist foundations and guiding philosophy of the Communist Party. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels summarised it all in the “Manifesto of the Communist Party” by concluding with the clarion call for the working people of all countries to unite, stressing that they, the proletariat in one word, have nothing to lose but their chains and the world to win.

One communist party, one country, was also a condition for admission to the Communist International, formed in 1919 as a world organisation of the communist parties of different countries, with Vladimir Lenin playing a key role.

This contributed to the formation of the SACP as the Communist Party of South Africa in 1921, with its roots anchored in world communist opposition to the First World War.

The party was mainly a merger of various regional communist organisations and at least one national communist organisation, the International Socialist League.

Shortly after its formation, it applied and was admitted to the Communist International.

As a key point in its programmatic antithesis to racialism, the Communist Party is South Africa’s first political organisation to pursue non-racialism.

It did this by transforming quantity, multi-racialism, into quality, non-racialism, through active organising of people from all races into a single organisation.

To emphasise, this was not the only but one of the strategies the party adopted to pursue non-racialism.

In one of its strategies, the Communist Party became the first political organisation to adopt a resolution to fight for the transformation of South Africa into an independent republic under democratic majority governance, with equal rights for all, regardless of race and gender.

For its role, it became the first political organisation to face a ban under the Suppression of Communism Act adopted in 1950 by the apartheid regime.

This was ten years before others faced a ban. It was the reason why the Communist Party turned to underground organisation.

Regarding the ANC, it extensively consulted internally and arrived at its own determinations independently when it considered the theories and best practices first adopted by its alliance partners.

This is one of the reasons it took decades for the ANC at times to arrive at the same conclusions as its alliance partners, but also made additions in its own elaboration.

The practice of mutual influence guided by the need to achieve revolutionary objectives, aims and goals is a democratic process.

Tambo understood this when he defended it as a positive practice, as opposed to a negative one.

We need to take our cue from his intervention if we are to deepen and widen the process of democratising our nation.

To succeed, we should confront racialism, ethnicity, tribalism and, in the same vein, patriarchy and sexism, regardless of whether it is a former “revolutionary” who engages in such backwardness.

This immediate objective must be integrated into the broader imperative to overcome the capitalist political economy upon which these tendencies have been anchored.

*** The views here do not necessarily represent the views of Independent Media or IOL.

** Dr Alex Mashilo is the National Spokesperson of the SA Communist Party.

IOL Opinion