Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Leadership is action, not position" - A call to the PAC and BC formations

“This is one country where it would be possible to create a capitalist black society, if whites were intelligent, if the nationalists were intelligent. And that capitalist black society, black middle class, would be very effective….South Africa could succeed in putting to the world a pretty convincing, integrated picture, with still 70 percent of the population being underdogs.”
(Steve Biko, 1972)[1]

I think it is a moot point that today South Africa has put across a pretty convincing, integrated picture, with 70% of the population still living in abject poverty. The difference is that the nationalists did not have to raise any finger or be intelligent for that matter, they just had to give power to the ANC, or chaterists as Biko and his colleagues would call the ANC.

The ANC came into power with an overwhelming majority in 1994 and in 2004 they received a two-thirds majority and with the 2009 elections one has for all intents and purposes seen the demise of the two liberation movements, the PAC and AZAPO together with all their splinter groups that could challenge the moral authority of the ANC. What happened, besides the fact that we know that the nationalists were brutal in crushing these nascent movements? What happened to that alternative view that got South Africa reinvigorated and changed how the struggle was viewed?

The formation of both the PAC and Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) resulted in a fundamental shift in the fight for liberation in this country. Both these organizations had visionary leaders and philosophers in Robert Sobukwe and Bantu Biko respectively. Both died at a critical time in the history of their organizations and the history of the struggle. With both their death there was stagnation in the philosophies and the policies they were espousing. In my view the politics of expediency took over and replaced what had been noble intentions. The leaders who remained panicked and totally lost the plot. This is evident in the result of this year’s elections. Whatever support these organizations have was based on their history as liberation movements. Going forward they had no alternative to offer from the ANC. Why, when it was clear to them from the beginning that the ANC would never bring true liberation to the majority of South Africans?

It is clear that although the ANC has tried to relegate the contribution of these organization and their two leaders to the footnotes of history, they have failed because of the forcefulness of their ideas. The ideals that these organizations were founded on are very much alive today and need much more forceful articulation. It is however clear that these organizations are not equipped to articulate such ideals. If not them who will then? There needs to be a serious introspection by these organizations and their leaders and it needs to start from the beginning. The introspection needs to first acknowledge that the leadership of these organizations post Sobukwe and Biko dismally failed to carry forward their ideals. They will be forgiven because the apartheid government was brutal in dealing with their leadership in particular and membership in general.

It is Frantz Fanon who said “ It so happens that the unpreparedness of the educated classes, the lack of practical links between them and the mass of people, their laziness, and let it be said, their cowardice at the decisive moment of the struggle will give rise to tragic mishaps”.

This is so true of the Black society in South Africa today. Taken with the quotation from Biko above one can see that there is a total lack of intellectual discourse on whether what we have is what the struggle for liberation sought out to achieve. When Mandela came out of prison in 1990 the first thing he said was to shout “nationalization” and two days down the line he changed his tune without any consequence. Mbeki is lazily dismissed as an intellectual president who was out of touch with the masses, just as the BCM was dismissed as a group of intellectuals who have no touch with reality. Looks like in South Africa intellectualism is frowned upon and this has its roots in the liberation struggle. Anyway I digress.

These organizations needs to go back to the starting blocks and examine their decline, right from the moment their influential leaders died. They need to intellectualize influences that were brought to bear on them by events outside their organizations like the fall of communism, the relevance of Marxism, the formation of the UDF and the role the ANC played in their demise. Importantly these constant fights for leadership positions need to be critically examined. A lot of historical texts that are outside the mainstream by leaders past and present need to be revisited and the history of the liberation movements needs to be properly contextualized.

Strini Moodley, one of the founders of the BCM, had these profound words to say “You see, the ANC had a program, together with the SACP, that there is a two stage revolution. The first stage is to capture capitalism, and the next stage is then to transform it. Now that’s bullshit argument. It defies logic. Because once you’re involved in state power without changing the economy, you’re fucked. Because now you’ve become part of the program.” (2005).

The existence of the PAC and BC formations is very important but it will take leadership to recognize that they have been barking up the wrong tree.

[1] Quoted from “Biko Lives: Contesting the Legacies of Steve Biko” A. Mngxitama, A. Alexander and N.C. Gibson, eds, 2008


  1. Hi there! Thank you for this super interesting lesson of South African reality today. I am really enjoying reading your considerations, and looking forward to more!

    Thanks a million for your link to a site, where I can look for movies.

    Stay well, and very best regards,

  2. We need to get our pride back.

  3. About Soweto diaries, click on the topic/post and not on Soweto Diaries. Let me know if it works.

  4. I did manage to access it, thank you...

  5. This is a great post.

    Looking at it just reminded me - I used to marvel at how active the black consciousness movement still was, because I used to often see headlines that said "The BCM does this or that..."
    Until I (sadly!) realised it was referring to the Buffalo City Municipality!