The ANC is racist

2016-07-19 09:31

In this opinion piece I am arguing that the governing party is predominantly concerned with black African supremacy.

When Thabo Mbeki (around April 2014) raised the issue of resurgent tribalism within the African National Congress (ANC) in a lecture on decolonization at UNISA, some analysts perceived this as an attack against President Jacob Zuma's leadership. They were wrong. Tribalism has existed long before Zuma ascend to the ANC presidency and thus Mbeki rightly asserted that the ANC had failed to eradicate it.

I put it to you that the ANC is not just tribalist party, but is also a party predominantly concerned with black African supremacy. Many African nationalists within the ANC believe that the black African comrades are superior than comrades from other racial groups. They further believe that African black cadres should have a control on the resources of the State. It seems as if their attitude is: "It's our turn to chew". Zulu nationalists within the ANC are agitating for a 20 Year Project. They argue that Xhosas (Nelson Mandela and Mbeki) were at the helm of the government for 15 years and thus they should hold the presidency of the ANC and the Republic for 20 years. However, Cyril Ramaphosa, who was once reportedly described as Venda dog by one of the Zulu royals (Butler, 2008), appears to be a stumbling block for the 20 Year Project. The battle of the ANC presidency, which will partly be fueled by tribalism, will earnestly start on the 4th August - a day after the 2016 Local Government Elections.

Mbeki has exhausted everything there is to be said about tribalism and that's why I will confine the remainder of this article focusing on racism within the ANC.

Many years ago, Walter Sisulu and Ahmed Kathrada were able to convince Mandela and some militants to open the ANC to other races. This led to some nationalists breaking away from the ANC. The intensity of the fight against apartheid unintentionally unified cadres of all races within the ANC. Struggle stalwarts such Joe Slovo, Mac Maharaj, Ronnie Kasrils, Marion Sparg and Helen Joseph were respected like their fellow black African comrades. In exile, these comrades ate rotten rice with worms, endured cold winters in Umkhonto we Sizwe camps, and risked death as they struggled against apartheid together.

During that difficult time, the ANC truly became a non-racial party. Back in South Africa, the United Democratic Front (UDF) was also a unifier to those who were fighting against apartheid. Jay Naidoo and Trevor Manuel were some of the UDF leaders while Ramaphosa, who only joined the ANC and politics in 1990, only confined himself to the union work. Gwede Mantashe, a "Johnny come lately" in politics and Ramaphosa's protégé in unionism, had the nerve to say that "Manuel is a free agent". I just shook my head.

After being unbanned in 1990, the ANC went back to being a predominantly black African supremacist party. When Oliver Tambo stepped down and handed the ANC presidential baton to Mandela, a new position of Chairperson was created specifically for Tambo. After Tambo's death, Mandela lobbied for the position to be occupied by Kader Asmal in order to diversify the ANC leadership and to eradicate any insinuation of the ANC being an Nguni organisation. Mbeki turned what was a ceremonial role, into one of the ANC powerful positions. He used this position to champion the African nationalism agenda within the ANC.

African nationalism grew steadily after Mandela's retirement. With the subtle support of Mbeki, the then Provincial Member of the Executive Committee (MEC) for Housing in Kwazulu-Natal, the late Dumisani Makhaye described Jeremy Cronin as "a factory fault, a white messiah, and a dog". Just imagine what would have happened if, for example, Derek Hanekom had called Malusi Gigaba a dog. The ANC's attitude appears to be this - as long as you are not black or black enough, you are on your own. There is also Fikile Mbalula who once visited the campus of the erstwhile University of Durban Westville and remarked that there were too many Indian students; that he felt as if he were in Bombay. Then there were those three bright Indians, Naidoo, Maharaj and Asmal, whose services were no longer required in Mbeki's cabinet because they questioned too much. The tacit message to them was very clear - "We are all blacks, but black Africans are superior and thou shalt not question us.

This reminds me of the racist gesture made by Makhaye in 2001 in the Kwazulu-Natal Provincial Legislature. Independent Online (1 February 2001) reported that Makhaye "held his nose and waved in front of it, as if dispelling a foul smell and on at least one occasion while doing this he had referred to ‘abelungu' (white people)". The inference was that white people smelt. If it was a white member of the legislature who did that towards black members, he/she would have been kicked out of the house and got into huge trouble.

Makhaye and Jimmy Manyi can make racial utterances and receive implicit approvals. But Cronin and Barbara Hogan (former Minister of Public Enterprises) would be shown the door if they appear to be questioning comrades who are black Africans. That is how Hogan and Mary Metcalfe (ANC stalwart and former Director General of Higher Education) lost their jobs; they spoke the truth to the black African nationalists. Metcalfe's sin was to reportedly question the appropriateness of Minister Blade Nzimande's use of government money for a trip to Cuba which appeared to be an SACP trip. She paid dearly for that, she was shown the door together with the Nzimande's spokesperson, the outspoken Ranjeni Munusamy.

The ANC will probably become a truly non-racial party again after losing the national elections in 2024; this will usher an era of deep introspection and long overdue rehabilitation. For now, tribalism and racism will continue to be a cancer which is slowly eating away the ANC.

This opinion piece first appeared in the Politicsweb.


BUTLER, A. (2008). Cyril Ramaphosa. Johannesburg: Jacana Media.

Dagada is a South African academic, analyst, and consultant. He is on Twitter: @Rabelani_Dagada

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