ANC is no older than it thinks it is

2015-03-15 18:00

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Was the African National Congress really formed in 1887, not 1912? That’s what Xolela Mangcu claims in “The ANC is much older than it thinks” (City Press, March 8 2015).

He refers us to poet SEK Mqhayi’s article published in Umteteli on October 5 1928 as the source of his assertion.

I disagree with Mqhayi’s (and Mangcu’s) dates of the ANC’s birth. They are not entirely wrong. Mine is simply a qualification. The two misunderstood the evolutionary process and the nature of the ANC and its predecessor.

The SA Native Congress (SANC) was not the ANC, but its ancestor. The two differed in form and content, but shared a similar raison d’être: to secure equality for Africans.

While sharing roots, the differences between the two are stark. The SANC Mqhayi refers to was formed predominantly by Xhosa-speakers and remained Cape-based. He does mention the presence of other individuals “from all over southern Africa” at the SANC’s formation, but that appears to have been insignificant.

The SANC’s formation was triggered by the so-called Sprigg Bill that sought to limit the number of African and coloured voters. Only in 1904 did the SANC in the Cape make noteworthy movements towards recruiting nationwide membership.

Even then, one sees that the non-Cape presence appears to have been negligible in the Cape SANC. The Cape SANC was not unique. There were other provincially based congresses formed from 1900. Each was triggered by, and focused on, provincial issues, but they shared the common objective of achieving racial equality.They nevertheless remained divided organisationally and ethnically.

It was only the initiation of the establishment of the union that gave impetus to a similar process to fuse the provincial congresses into a national one. For instance, their initial meeting happened in 1909 after the introduction of the draft of the Union’s constitution.

Because they were to be subjected to a common government authority, they thought it prudent to combine their efforts and strive for a common dispensation for Africans.This was a significant step towards unity, and the selection of Bloemfontein as a meeting point was meant to ensure easy access for everyone.

Other national gatherings of the ANC followed in 1910 and 1911, before the formation of the SA Native National Congress (SANNC) in 1912.The three national gatherings were the initial point of distinction between the SANC and the SANNC.

It showed an eschewal of ethnic-based organisational life in favour of national unity. This was also a sign of an emerging national consciousness by the sharing of common experiences and contact in industrial towns like Kimberley.

The ethnic diversity and representativeness of the founding conference further distinguished the SANNC from its ancestry. This explains the insertion of the word ‘national’ in its name.

The ANC, which started as the SANNC, was markedly different to the SANC.

They are connected by genealogy, but distinguished by traits and scope. And the new offspring arrived in 1912. That’s the date of the birth.

Ndletyana is head of political economy faculty at the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection

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