Document: Making Sense of the Struggle for a non Racial Society

How do we deal with the past?In dealing with the national question the same Green Book Report of the Politico-Military Strategy Commission to the ANC National Executive Committee in August 1979 articulated the following position;

“The main content of the present phase of our struggle is to achieve the aims of our national-democratic revolution whose essence is the national liberation of the black oppressed. Among the black oppressed it is the African majority which, as a community, suffers the most intense forms of racist domination.

The aims of our national-democratic revolution will only be fully realised with the construction of a social order in which all the historic consequences of national oppression and its foundation, economic exploitation, will be liquidated, ensuring the achievement of real national liberation and social emancipation. An uninterrupted advance towards this ultimate goal will only be assured if within the alignment of revolutionary forces struggling to win the aims of our national-democratic revolution, the dominant role is played by the oppressed working people.”

Almost 30 years later, the ANC has changed the lives of our people with the provision of water, health care, electricity, housing, education, safety and security. Our constitution with its bill of rights, guarantees both human and socio-economic rights. The world regards it as a progressive model.

However, Cosatu and the SACP believe that despite these many gains, qualitatively the bourgeoisie and the rising new black elite have gained more than the working class, the rural poor, the marginalized and vulnerable in our society.

In the Western Cape, the same is true. The province remains the most racially segregated province with socio-economic disparities and inequalities continuing to block significant redistribution and transformation.

Whilst this national context is an important point of departure to analyse where we are and how we ought to deepen the NDR for a thoroughgoing and radical transformation, we dare not lose sight of regional dynamics which play an important part in how we apply tactics and strategies so as to rally our people against ignorance, prejudice, exclusion and marginalization.

Learning from joint struggles against apartheidSince the establishment of the ANC in 1912 a plethora of organizations located in the white, Indian and coloured communities worked side by side in an alliance with the ANC to overcome the apartheid monster and to put in its place a democratic, non-racial, non sexist and prosperous society.

People’s organisations such as the Congress of Democrats (COD – White democrats), Natal and the Transvaal Indian Congress (NIC & TIC – Indian democrats) and the Coloured People’s Organisation (CPO – coloured democrats) were in the trenches of our liberation movement to destroy the apartheid regime and to install in its place a democratic state where “the people shall govern in a country who belongs to all who live in it”.

The coloured and Indian communities actively participated in the national liberation struggle. Testimony of this is captured in the ANC Strategy and Tactics document of 1969:

“Historically both communities have played a most important part in the stimulation and intensification of the struggle for freedom. It is a matter of proud record that amongst the first and most gallant martyrs in the armed combat against the enemy was a coloured Comrade, Basil February.

The jails in South Africa are a witness to the large scale participation by Indian and Coloured comrades at every level of our revolutionary struggle.

From the very inception of Umkhonto they were more than well represented in the first contingents who took life in hand to help lay the basis for this new phase in our struggle.

The stirring demonstrations of the fifties from the Defiance Campaign to the Congress of the People, to the general strike, and peasants revolt and mass demonstrations saw many examples of united action by all the oppressed people.

Memory is still fresh of the outstanding response by the coloured workers of the Western Cape to the 1961 call by the ANC for a national general political strike.

The launch of the United Democratic Front (UDF) on August 20 1983 in Mithcells Plain, in the Western Cape saw a broad front of different communities, organisations and strata throwing their weight in with the struggle for the eradication of the apartheid system and ensuring that all segments of our communities actively partook in the national democratic struggle.

The UDF mobilised all communities (White, Coloured, African and Indian) and class formations together against the apartheid state. Through campaigns such as rent boycotts, consumer boycotts, sports boycotts, cultural boycotts and protests against the tri-cameral parliament, the rallying cry of the liberation movement was heeded and rooted in all black communities.

This is not to suggest that the entire coloured community was always together in their association with the liberation movement. In the same way that some in the African community supported the Bantustan system and undemocratic town councils, some coloureds also saw their salvation in the white minority regime’s apartheid institutions such as the Coloured Representative Council.

If through the ANC, UDF, SACTU, SACP and other allied formations there was an acknowledgement of the contribution and role played by coloured and Indian people, why do we today have a denial and a refusal to apply the tactics and strategies that would advance and cement the support that we enjoyed over many decades within this community in the Western Cape and within the fold of the liberation movement?

Some developments since the unbanning of the ANC and dissolution of the UDF require very serious and honest interrogation of where we made strategic errors in the manner in which we approached this question including understanding the nature of racism.

How racism manifests itself in our societyPrejudice along racial lines has found a safe haven within many spheres in our society not least the progressive trade unions. It finds expression where one group wants to yield power over others and where there is a scrambling over positions and resources.

Whilst we are not born racist, this phenomenon comes as a result of society’s influence on us over time.

As a revolutionary trade union movement we must accept that if we want to defeat racism, racial prejudice and racial stereotypes, we must raise the consciousness of workers. They must understand that no matter what colour or race they are, they are historically tied and bound together as a component of the working class. They are exploited by the capitalist class, who knows no colour when it exploits workers in its obsession to maximize profits.

Despite our principled stance against racist practices or racial prejudice, we must acknowledge that the shopfloor and the relationships between coloured, Indian and African workers remain an area for ongoing work to foster solidarity and unity which is devoid of any apartheid hangover.

How we relieve this apartheid hangover is a subject for this conference over the next few days. In discussing this issue it is critical that we are brutally honest on how we achieve and foster non-racialism in our workplaces, working class communities, in the ANC, Cosatu, SACP and other allied formations.

Karl Cloete is the Provincial Secretary of NUMSA’s Western Cape Region.