When delegates to the African National Congress (ANC) consultative conference met on April 25, 1969 at Morogoro in Tanzania – the Congress Movement and its allies was beset by a number of challenges.
Not only were they grappling with serious questions around what form the struggle against the apartheid regime should take, but also with issues around the identity of the liberation movement itself; more specifically the role of “non-Africans” in the ANC.
At that time, though the organisation was supported by allies in the South African Indian Congress (SAIC), the Coloured People’s Congress (CPC) and the predominantly white Congress of Democrats (COD), its membership was still only for black Africans.
Taking into account the non-racial character of the Freedom Charter as well as the resolutions of previous ANC meetings that affirmed the necessity of working “with all forces that are prepared to struggle for the same ideas”, the organisation’s leadership was under increasing pressure to admit into its ranks and leadership structures members of all races who identified with the ANC’s mission. Positions were divided and opinion polarised on both sides – with some believing a status quo be maintained of four separate “ethnic” organisations under a broad umbrella, and others believing the membership restriction was tantamount to ethnic chauvinism.
When the delegates to the historic Congress of People at Kliptown in 1955 adopted the Freedom Charter that declared firstly that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white – and secondly that the people shall govern – they were proclaiming that the future society that would be built would reflect the aspirations of all – not narrow ethnic-based interests. Even as the ANC advanced its views on land ownership it correctly envisioned land being shared amongst those who work it, calling on the banishing of land ownership along racial lines.
The ANC’s roots of non-racialism were therefore sowed well before Morogoro – even though it was at Morogoro that a resolution was taken that membership of the ANC be opened to all race groups; a decision some have called a “dominant ideological benchmark”.
It went on to define the non-racial character of the liberation struggle going forward.
Both in exile, following its unbanning, and into the new South Africa, the ANC has remained committed to the principle of non-racialism. The organisation’s leadership structures and membership are reflective of the demography of South Africa and a tacit acknowledgment of the role of all South Africans, the majority and so-called minorities, in building a united country.
The 50th commemoration of the Morogoro Conference in this sense goes way beyond reaffirming commitment to the ideological principles underpinning the movement as espoused in the ANC’s “Strategy and Tactics” documents. As a matter of historic accuracy, the watershed conference adopted the ANC’s Strategy and Tactics document which defined and gave form to the notion of the National Democratic Revolution outlining the strategic objectives of the movement and the methods by which it sought to achieve those objectives. It called for unity in action among all oppressed groups, and reiterated that there was room in South Africa for all who live in it – black and white.
Throughout its 107 years of existence the ANC has always maintained its mass-based character as a home for all South Africans.
When President Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in by the National Assembly in May this year South African society was deeply fractured. Increasing instances of racism and intolerance were manifesting themselves in the country, and within the organization itself. The ascendance of tribalism had become of great concern.
To assuage concerns across various sectors of society – particularly those of racial minorities feeling under siege, President Ramaphosa declared: “I will be a president for all South Africans, and not just of the African National Congress.”
In making this powerful statement the President was drawing on the collective legacies of a succession of ANC presidents who have consistently reminded our citizens that the ANC is the home for all who identify with the mission of building a truly non-racial society.
Unlike other political organisations who pay lip service to racial and gender representation, the ANC has actively advanced the interests of all race groups and of women in its policies and programmes – but also, critically, with regards to representation in its leadership structures.
At a time when the ANC has embarked upon a path of renewal in line with decisions taken at the 54th National Conference in Nasrec in 2017 – we continue to call upon all South Africans to embrace the non-racial character of the organisation.
The 54th National Conference reaffirmed the ANC’s commitment to nation-building and directed all its structures to develop specific programmes to build non-racialism and non-sexism. In line with the President Ramaphosa’s Thuma Mina call, the ANC wants to that all its citizens unite to be part of realising the South Africa we want.
Both as individual citizens and in our different responsibilities we must strive to extend the hand of friendship across colour lines, and do our small part to uplift our fellow South Africans. As part of its ongoing commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Morogoro under the theme “Walking in the footsteps of OR Tambo – Be the Renewal” the ANC is making a clarion call to South Africans across the racial divide to become involved in societal renewal programmes in their communities, to exhibit pride in our national days and to actively participate in national building.
Those of our citizens who share in our non-racial vision may have found themselves disappointed by other political parties whose espoused principles did not match the realities and outcomes. The project to unite and renew our society in its entirety must continue in earnest as it is the best possible way to contribute towards the construction of a prosperous society.
The ANC is all alive to existing realities and continues to work even much harder daily to practically address trust deficit and reassert its status as a reliable leader of society.
- Pule Mabe is the national spokesperson of the ANC. He writes in his personal capacity.
OPINION: Pule Mabe