Mandela and our Revolution

Extracts from an article in Sechaba, Third Quarter, 1978

A discussion on the Freedom Charter is of great topical importance for our movement for many reasons. As a result of and since the historic incidents of the Soweto uprisings of 1976, our movement has seen an unprecedented influx into its ranks of young people. It is our revolutionary duty to rise to the occasion and a discussion on the Freedom Charter in the columns of Sechaba on the occasion of the 60th birthday of Nelson Mandela is a fitting tribute.

The adoption of the Freedom Charter by the Congress of the People was a fuming point in the development of political thought within the ANC. It was a culmination point, a crystallisation and a highest form of political expression of the ferment which started in the Forties with the formation of the ANC Youth League in 1944; the adoption of the African Claims and Bill of Rights in 1945; the Mine Workers' Strike of 1946; the Xuma-Dadoo-Naicker Pact of 1947 the Programme of Action of 1949; the May Day Rallies of 1950; the famous 1952 Defiance Campaign and many other actions of the popular masses. Nelson Mandela was directly and indirectly involved in all these activities.

By the mid-Fifties the time had come that the activities of the people had to be given a clear political and ideological content. The people decided that a document in the form of the Freedom Charter would be their political programme a blueprint for a future South Africa. The Freedom Charter is therefore a people's expression of their collective experience and wisdom.

Colonialism of a Special Type

By stating that South Africa belongs to all who live in it black and white the Preamble of the Freedom Charter states both the non-racial and antiracist policy of the ANC and goes further to state that our objectives will be realised through a struggle which obviously takes various forms. These ideas have been concretised and developed in the course of the years, notably in the 1969 Morogoro Conference documents, especially in the Strategy and Tactics of the ANC.

In the South African liberation movement, it is a generally accepted view that the national mission of the South African people black and white is the destruction of the imperialist system of colonialism and racism in our country and the establishment of a predominantly black, but not exclusively black, democratic and essentially workers' and peasants' government. In this context it is necessary to state that South Africa is not a colony of the 'classical type', but a 'colony of a special type' whose specific feature lies in the fact that black South Africa is a colony of white South Africa because in 1910, when South Africa was granted 'independence' by Britain, all the evils of colonialism were perpetrated and reinforced, that is, as far as the black majority were concerned. In other words, this means that since 1652 when the colonialists first invaded our country, South Africa has never been decolonised and that Vorster and his ilk are the direct descendants of their colonial predecessors. This does not mean that all whites are colonisers or 'white settlers', but it does mean that the present injustice of national oppression of blacks by whites is a product of colonial conquest. This is what the Freedom Charter wants to change.

The African Revolution

Mandela's trip to Africa was an eye-opener to him in many ways: 'The tour of the continent made a forceful impression on me', he stated later. He met Julius Nyerere, Haile Selassie, Modibo Keita, Ben Bella, Boumedienne, Obote, Kaunda, Nkomo, Oginga Odinga and many others. Mandela exchanged ideas and experiences with these African leaders. These ideas can be summarised as follows: In South Africa, as elsewhere in the former colonial world, the national question at this phase of our struggle is the question of decolonisation whose main content is the national liberation of the Africans and other nationally oppressed black communities. To state that the South African revolution is not socialist but democratic with a national content, is to emphasise the fact that our revolution is an aspect and integral part of the African revolution.

But the African revolution is not a homogeneous process. There are national specifics which cannot be ignored, e.g. the relatively developed industry and technology in South Africa; the existence of a strong working class whose leadership in our national liberation struggle has been accepted by all genuine revolutionaries and patriots, and the existence of a Communist Party whose experience is unequalled on the continent. These factors emphasise the fact that genuine liberation can be obtained on the basis of destruction of monopoly capitalism in South Africa. This is what the Freedom Charter stands for.

The Freedom Charter

What then is our immediate goal?

The Freedom Charter lays a basis and is a precondition for further development and radicalization of our revolution; its implementation will presuppose and demand the destruction of the white racist regime and the abolition of national, cultural, religious and language privileges of whites over blacks. This will encompass the equality of all ethnic groups large or small, black or white and satisfaction of their national rights and feelings, traditions and customs, aspirations and emotions, characteristics and features and the development of their languages and culture, interaction between different cultures and languages, and inter-ethnic contacts. This is what we mean by national self-determination.

This entails the injection of hatred for the enemy and all that he stands for, imbuing the masses with a revolutionary consciousness and this should be accompanied by stimulation of national pride and identity, assertiveness and patriotism which are associated with the revolutionary traditions of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism of all our people and ethnic groups and their positive contribution to the struggle for social progress. The solution of the national question in South Africa entails a 'violent change' (armed struggle) in the status quo, the raising of the living standard of the black majority to that of the whites and then the general improvement and development in material life and cultural welfare of all the people irrespective of race, colour or creed to an extent hitherto unknown in South Africa. This is the essence of equality as understood by us: concentration on the development of the most oppressed and raising their level to that of the 'privileged' national group. Mandela expressed his feelings in the following words: 'During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities'.

Our Internationalist Duty

The above-mentioned factors coupled with the reality of today's world, which is characterised by growing merits and influence of world socialism and the disintegration of imperialism and capitalism, and our own bitter experience and suffering under imperialism and capitalism, force us to conclude that the struggle for national liberation of the black people in South Africa is not an end in itself, but a stage, or one of the stages, to a non-exploitative society, a future without exploitation.

The revolutions in Angola and Mozambique teach us the simple lesson that in Africa there is a need to differentiate between formal independence and genuine independence. Talking about Mozambique and Angola, the Freedom Charter states that: 'South Africa shall be a fully independent state which respects the rights and sovereignty of nations'.

This statement is important for two reasons:

  1. The barbarous aggression by the fascist hordes of the white racist regime of South Africa against the peace and freedom-loving people of Angola, together with the double crime of misuse of Namibian territory (which does not belong to South Africa) has once more vindicated the assertion that the international responsibility of our movement is closely inter-connected with our national mission, whose main essence is the liquidation of the racist-fascist regime of Vorster.

  2. This is an expression of the realisation by our movement that South Africa is not a 'fully independent state' a fact which needs to be repeated time and again in the light of the rapprochement between some African states and South Africa.

Ideological Struggle

The ideological struggle in South Africa in general and in our movement in particular takes a form of clarification of the essence of the democratic and revolutionary content of African nationalism; its relations with other ethno-cultural groups to which South Africans of all nationalities belong, and, above all, with internationalism and a confrontation with reactionary trends within African nationalism, representatives of the emergent African bourgeoisie who would like to portray their interests as 'national interests' thus camouflaging their real intentions. We have in mind the so-called Pan Africanist Congress and the 'Gang of 8' expelled from the ANC.

Progressive African nationalism is an objective phenomenon which has its roots in the unsolved national question. The realities of the former colonial countries show that even after the liquidation of national oppression nationalism does not die out so quickly. This cannot be otherwise because as the experience of the socialist countries teaches us long after the class question has been resolved the national question still plays an important role in the life of a new society, obviously with a new content and different tasks. We have a lot to learn from the socialist countries. Indeed Nelson Mandela in a slightly different context did indicate this: 'On my return I made a strong recommendation to the ANC that we should not confine ourselves to Africa and Western countries, but that we should also send a mission to the socialist countries to raise the funds which were so urgently needed. I have been told that after I was convicted such a mission was sent'.

Now more than ever before politically and ideologically our movement will have to continue basing its policy as the Morogoro Conference confirmed on the firm foundation of mutual co-operation and respect between communists and non-communists, heathens and Christians, Moslems and Hindus, a tradition which has been set up in the Twenties and continued throughout, finding expression in many forms. There is no spontaneity in this and other processes: cautious and conscious encouragement and development of these processes is necessary. Above all our movement must encourage active participation in the struggle of all nationalities that make up South African society provided that the people concerned accept the policy of our movement as embodied in the Freedom Charter and developed at and after the Morogoro Conference of 1969, which brought the discussion on the national question to a higher level: a fact which testifies to the maturity of our movement.

The question of unity in action of all the oppressed and democratic forces as a whole is vital. The ANC was formed in 1912 to unite and lead that freedom-loving African people. Over the years this task has expanded and charts. Today the ANC is faced with the task of organising and leading all the oppressed people African, Coloured and Indian and to win over to its banner all democratically-minded whites. Today the ANC is a genuine people's organisation. It enjoys the support and confidence of the people whom leads; it is viewed by the masses of our people as the product of their sacrifices, the inheritor and continuation of the revolutionary experience of the oppressed people as a whole; the people's organiser and leaders to the activities and thinking of far-sighted men such as Nelson Mandela.


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