The ANC’s commitment to non-racialism is unquestionable but it may need another 100 years to deliver a white president. This is not a problem of the organisation’s principles and ideals per se. Instead, it is the legacy of colonialism and apartheid.
Of course, when it first started out in 1912, the ANC was an exclusive African liberation movement. Its primary purpose was the total liberation of African people. So, whoever joined the organisation later was required to put the interests of African people, first.
What that means is that if you were Indian, coloured or white who joined the ANC, you accepted that you were part of the family because you truly believed that Africans had a right to self-determination, especially the leadership of their own indigenous organisation.
Significantly, in the late 1950s, the ANC experienced an ideological split when Robert Sobukwe suspected that non-Africans exerted too much influence and thus were taking over the leadership of the ANC. According to him, this compromised the rights of Africans to fight for the return of their land and for political self-determination. As far as Sobukwe was concerned, this South Africa was, essentially, a black man’s country and whoever chose to live and die here would do so under the terms of African people.
In the 1950s the ANC would not budge from non-racialism and thus Sobukwe was allowed to leave with those who did not buy into the notion of non-racialism. Thus in 1959 the PAC was launched.
The ANC survived it first major split and grew stronger because of its unwavering commitment to non-racialism. In fact, it was African nationalists in the ANC who suggested that Indians, coloureds and whites should organise themselves (along racial lines,) first, to join what later became known as the Congress Alliance. But this was a partnership that would, primarily, work towards African liberation and political liberation.
Non-African leaders, if you like, like Yusuf Dadoo, Reg September and Bram Fischer had no problem with this understanding and interpretation of non-racialism or vision of the ANC. They were part of a collective leadership that was led by the African leadership in the ANC.
It is important to understand this background, simple as it is, because it forms the premise why South Africa may not have a non-African president anytime soon despite the fact that ANC is committed to non-racialism. Well, with Barrack Obama’s emergence as the first black president of a white country, people are curious to know when South Africa or ANC will deliver a white or any other non-African president.
In the light of the organisations’ commitment to non-racialism, it is a pertinent question, especially 15 years into constitutionalism non-racialism of these times.
But we need to understand that the ANC is, essentially, an African party now, whose primary purpose is to ensure that the aspirations and hopes of the majority are fully satisfied before anyone else can be considered.
If you think about it, there have been Indians, coloureds and whites who have, traditionally, been part of the collective leadership of the ANC and have even been members of its national executive committee. This was part of a new, non-racial culture that started in 1985. But less than 25 years later, the number of non-Africans in the top leadership structures has suddenly diminished to insignificance.
So, what does it mean for the ANC’s rank and file to specifically elect Africans to the top leadership without making an effort for it to reflect non-racialism? Of course, on a superficial level, it would not be entirely incorrect for anyone to suggest that the ANC is now failing to reflect non-racialism, which it enshrined in the constitution. Instead, Africans are overwhelmingly dominant and seen to be too keen to tighten their grip on political power and leadership of the party, government and country.
The current ANC leadership profile makes non-Africans feel left out, abandoned and irrelevant. Already, there are whisperings that there is nobody to articulate the concerns and views of the minorities in the top structures of the ANC. Well, there are almost 40-million Africans in South Africa with the other minorities making up slightly over eight-million.
Ironically, Africans – who include the African bourgeoisie – are silently but painfully aware that they neither own the land nor its wealth. It would seem that Africans will continue to want to hold onto political power and thus have an African president until they are convinced that they have made enough strides to return their land and own its wealth.
If you think about it, it may take yet another 100 years before Africans — who elect the leadership of the ANC — are ready to elect a white or any other non-African president.
Even now after 15 years, when you raise the prospect of a white or any other non-African president, it would seem that the rank and file may not yet be ready.
There is reason to believe that Africans will continue to assert their political power and tighten their grip on ANC leadership until they have got what they want. What the ANC members, supporters and followers want is not necessarily a black or white president but a country that inspires pride and confidence in the knowledge that South Africa is an African country.
Is it right to claim that the ANC is a racist organisation because its majority membership are Africans who want to boost their confidence and self love? Perhaps the answer for the ANC to have a non-African president depends on what Indians, coloureds and whites are willing to do to show their loyalty and allegiance to the African majority. Above all, non-Africans must be willing to accept that Africans have every right to call the shots in the land of their fore-fathers.
Ignoring that the greatest causes of division among the people of this country are the land issue, racism and wealth monopoly is going to make it difficult for non-racialism to take place in this country. In fact, there will be no white or any other non-African president until these issues are resolved.
The ANC may need another 100 years to deliver a white president.