by Alex Mashilo, Bhekithemba Mbatha and Tom Mhlanga
‘After the enemies with guns have been wiped out, there will still be enemies without guns; they are bound to struggle desperately against us, and we must never regard these enemies lightly. If we do not now raise and understand the problem in this way, we shall commit the gravest mistakes.’
Mao Tse-tung, 1949
Perhaps we must pose a question to our problem first. Where does Nelson Rolihlahla Madiba come from?
The struggle against oppression
On 8 January 1912 one of the greatest movements was born, the African National Congress (ANC). The ANC was founded to unite the oppressed people, Africans in particular and blacks in general, against oppression, including colonialism in all its manifestations, namely external colonialism, colonialism of a special type, apartheid, etc. The founding of the ANC was a culmination of deeper and long-standing structural processes and forces. This was also the beginning of a new era in the struggle of our people for independence, national liberation, self-determination and freedom.
The founding of the ANC was preceded by two centuries and sixty years of struggles by our people against colonialism since the 1652 arrival of the first European-settlers-cum colonisers in our land. These struggles of a single whole corresponded with the forms of societal organisation at the time, which were largely but not exclusively based on tribal formations and cooperation.
Without organisation there can be no revolution
The formation of South Africa as a colonial-type segregated nation state and thus the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910 necessitated a shift in the form of organisation of our people and their methods of struggle, hence the founding of the ANC two years later in 1912 following thoroughgoing engagements. The ANC heralded a new phase in the struggle of our people against oppression.
Mandela was born six years later under these conditions and during the struggle of our people through the ANC against oppression. This was to shape his world view and the organisational choice the ANC as he grew up. It was as thus that Mandela joined the ANC in 1940s and became one of the founding members of the ANC Youth League (YL), which developed a militant Programme of Action adopted by the ANC five years later in 1949.
By this time, Mandela had become the Secretary of the ANCYL in 1948, the year the National Party won undemocratic white only elections on a platform of apartheid. It was during this period, 1948-1949, that the National Party introduced apartheid as South Africa’s legal doctrine and socio-politico-economic engineering. The adoption of the ANCYL Programme of Action by the ANC in December 1949, was, therefore, part of a response to the introduction of apartheid.
The 1949 Programme of Action also emerged in the context of other processes led by the Communist Party to transform the ANC into a fighting revolutionary movement. In 1928 the Executive Committee of the Communist International (Comintern) following the 6th Comintern Congress resolved that the Communist Party in South Africa should pay particular attention to the national organisations such as the ANC with the aim of transforming it into a fighting nationalist revolutionary organisation.
Internationally there were two major developments. The world suffered a major crisis of capitalism since the late 1920s – the Great Depression. This was followed by World War II. As a result of the Great Depression, the working class and the poor were devastated, thus there was a sense of urgency for radical actions against the systems of oppression and exploitation in most parts of the affected world. The war made matters worse.
In line with the 1949 Programme of Action, more and more ANC’s strategy shifted towards mass based organisation and mass activity from earlier formalistic approaches. An ANC ally, the Communist Party of South Africa (CPSA), was banned months later in 1950, because it represented the most of the radical programmatic blows to the enemy and his friends.
Marxism-Leninism hit at the belly of the enemy and exposed its class essence. The major threat it posed lied in its historic mission to eliminate class contradictions which the enemy primarily thrived on. In response to the banning, the Communist Party reconstituted underground and was renamed the South African Communist Party (SACP). Because of the dangers imposed by the conditions of illegality and associated repercussions, henceforth, except under particular exile conditions, no one could declare their membership of, and not least any association with the SACP.
The underground Party almost operated as a secret society with many possibilities in certain instances of some members not even aware they together belonged to the SACP. In fact, denouncing communism and any such association became a strategic defence mechanism. The Party recruited the best, and functioned in line with the principle defined by Vladimir Lenin in 1923 as ‘Better fewer, but better’.
Madiba, a product of our revolutionary movement
From the above it is clear that Madiba’s contribution in the liberation struggle was firmly rooted in the ANC and in its alliance with the SACP. The alliance, although assimilating new characteristics following the banning of the Communist Party, developed from its foundations to include the progressive trade union movement. It constituted our national liberation movement along with an array of other organisations – formations of the Mass Democratic Movement which were founded as the struggle unfolded. It is this movement that fought for the release and liberation of Madiba and many others from jail, defeated apartheid, and campaigned for Madiba to become the founding President of our democratic transition.
Instead of properly appreciating Madiba in the correct context, the mainstream and dominant media projects him using liberal illusions of a disconnected individual working miraculously alone to bring about South African freedom and democracy. Not only is the role of Madiba’s organisations marginalised in this agenda, but the role of the masses is grossly neglected.
A liberal agenda, offensive against comrade Mandela
The liberal agenda of the mainstream and dominant media constitutes a stark contrast to Madiba. In his own words, comrade Nelson Mandela had the following to say: ‘It is not the kings and generals that make history, but the masses of the people’. The role of the masses through our national liberation movement as led by the ANC in developing and shaping the values and ideals that Madiba embraced, for which he said he lived and if needs be he was prepared to die, does not find space in the mainstream and dominant media. Why?
The mainstream and dominant media has by and large in somewhat become part, if not playing into the agenda of opposition forces lined up against the ANC and the alliance. This is basically because it is only the opposition that seeks to water-down the historic role played by the ANC in alliance with the SACP and the progressive trade union movement, and as a leading formation of our national liberation movement. The opposition seeks to relegate the advances achieved by our movement since ascendancy to government in 1994, itself our hard-won democratic breakthrough. This agenda also comprises in elevating and magnifying problems concerning the ANC and the alliance as well as the ANC-led government, which is done to portray a bleak picture, manufacture and mobilise pessimism about, and dislodge the ANC.
The agenda not to recognise and profile Madiba as a product of the ANC, the alliance and indeed our broader national liberation movement, and provide these formations a well-deserved, sufficient space in the media on the life and times of Madiba, is not innocent. Neither is simply liberal or just it for the sake of nothing, and has nothing to do with the fact that Madiba indeed belonged to all of us. On the contrary, it is trivial. In fact, some of the coverage we have seen on Madiba appears to be clearly factional and portrays a picture of hostile forces being charge of certain elements of power, among others in the media.
Our immediate task: What is to be done?
All the revolutionary forces, in particular the alliance and our entire national liberation movement are thus called upon to defend the alienation of Madiba from his political movement. This alienation could constitute a new form of dispossession if not an agenda of the enemy without guns, and can only be ignored to our own peril. As part of disappointing this agenda we must close rank as a revolutionary alliance and broader movement. The first task in this regard is to defend what the pretenders of Madiba do not want, the victory of his ANC in the forthcoming elections and beyond as part and parcel of preserving his contribution and legacy.
Alex Mashilo is SACP National Spokesperson, Bhekithemba Mbatha is YCLSA Member based at Wits University where he studies BA in International Relations and Political Science, Tom Mhlanga is former YCLSA Secretary at Wits University where he is studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics, writing in their personal capacities.