The struggle against racism is not over

Lindiwe Sisulu says Africans who have joined the DA suffer from a mental inferiority complex


Quo Vadis

WHILE THE rest of the world discusses the sociology of Racism and its limitations. Ours is a lived and deeply entrenched reality. Just like the colonial yolk, we will probably be the last country to unshackle ourselves from this scourge. Racism in South Africa will not simply disappear because we all wish it to it will have to be consciously un-learnt.

After years of living in a society where racism is legal and normal, it is quite possible that it is an unconscious condition that infects all of us in one way or another.

Perhaps we missed the opportunity to dedicate a chapter in our Constitution to this matter it is an undeniable right that every citizen be treated with no racial prejudice.

The struggle against racism has been a long, protracted and arduous journey that still remains unfulfilled. From the time of the arrival of colonialists on our shores to this very date we still, in different measures, have to contend with the ugly revival and re-appearance and resurgence of this monstrous beast in the national scene in South Africa.

In this brief article I seek to show how, over many years, the ANC has waged a tireless struggle, through protests, campaigns, petitions and representations with the sole aim of overthrowing a racist system with its elaborate illegitimate laws and promulgations. At the heart of the minority regime were a litany of laws that were rooted in the Nazi’s Herrenvolk belief of the superiority of white race over Africans.

I will not seek to address the various philosophies that deals with the race and race-based discourse, save to show how the ANC has waged a struggle against racism with the view to advance a case for the intensification of such a struggle in our current trajectory. The fact that we have passed democratic laws that entrench a rights-based culture is not in itself sufficient to defeat and extirpate the roots of such a belief of white superiority.

The issue is not only the conduct of those who still harbour racists beliefs, but also of critical importance is the empowering of the victim of racism to accept that he/she is of equal worth to his fellow citizens.

Thus, a substantial improvement in the lives of Africans will constitute a veritable panacea against racism. Taking our people out of poverty and helplessness will go a very long way towards defeating racism as it thrives not just on unequal laws, but more so on poverty and disempowerment.


The struggle for freedom and justice has from inception been premised on the urgent and vital need to overthrow an oppressive, minority and racist regime. From the many frontier wars that were waged, the loss of land and dignity, the imposition of iniquitous laws and loss of productive use of the land were all the ingredients that accentuated the struggle for justice.

In order to meet the ever increasing demands for cheap labour arising from the discovery of the minerals, many schemes were concocted to force Africans from their land. The first such scheme was the imposition of an assortment of taxes such as the hut tax, poll tax and dog tax. Such taxes were to be paid in cash and not in kind, a fact that meant that a father had to sacrifice his sons and send them to the mines of Kimberly and Johannesburg to earn cash to pay the required taxes. The Bambatha Rebellion [1906] was a direct rejection of the imposition of such nefarious taxes.

The formation of the ANC in 1912 in Bloemfontein signalled a new chapter of our struggle against racism and minority rule which, after the enactment of the Union government, excluded the African people from a franchise, thus confining them to the status of the underclass, poor and oppressed. At first, the struggle was about the quest for the inclusion of Africans in the system that was answerable for their rule. The many letters our forebears wrote to the British Queen pleading for inclusion are cited in the first volume of Karis and Carter’s seminal volumes entitled From Protest To Challenge.

In due course, our people realised the futility of demanding to be included in their own governance or mis-governance and opted to chart their own course of freedom relying on their masses. The endless petitions, pleas, deputations and representations fell on deaf ears. The erudite expositions and the moving speeches failed to provoke any sympathetic reception from those who were intent on strangling race relations in South Africa.

The next approach was to build mass democratic organisations with the view to capacitate our people to fight against racism. Political agitation and mobilisation soon spread to urban and rural areas. The rural areas where racism was acute saw the birth of nascent resistance as Chiefs and the peasant fought hard to regain their self-worth and assert their productive rights to the land. the role of the emergent nationalist media such as the Bantu Batho, the World and later Drum furthered the political consciousness of our people by exposing the evils of racism and oppression.

Our people intensified the struggles against racism and its symbols such as the Pass Laws, influx control, forced removals, Bantu Education and Group Areas Act. The emergence of the ANC Youth League in 1944 infused a new ideological thrust into our national politics. The ideological thrust was more of an expression of radical Pan-Africanism as it was espoused by Nkrumah, Du Bois, Jomo Kenyatta and Padmore.


After its assumption of power in 1948 the National Party was obsessed with the desire and determination to send a very strong message to Africans that they will be put in their place. Racist laws such as the Criminal Law Amendment Act, the Bantu Education Act, the Suppression of Communism Act, the Pass Law Act, the Native Resettlement Act and the Group Areas Act were passed in an alarming speed. All these laws were passed within the first five years of the assumption of office of the National Party. It was this same period that saw the upsurge of resistance against apartheid and resulted in the culmination of the Defiance Campaign and the adoption of the Freedom Charter.

The brutal suppression of the 1946 Mine Workers strike angered many liberal Africans who were members of the Native Representative Council. They decided to adjourn indefinitely and thus gave in to the radical agitation of the ANC Youth League that had accused them of being part of what amounted to nothing more than a toy telephone with no significance. The many strikes at tertiary institutions such as Lovedale encouraged both the ANC and its Youth League to assume a radical posture. The Defiance Campaign against unjust laws ushered another epoch of radical mass-based defiance against the system.

The mammoth gathering that brought together a number of African, White, Coloured and Indian organisations was ostensibly convened to unite the oppressed and increased their fighting capacity against minority rule. The ANC had come to accept the centrality of the unity of our people as a potent weapon against racism and minority rule. The victory of the National Party in 1948 drove a chilling message of the determination of the new Afrikaner rulers to foist and foster a Nazi type of stranglehold over the African people. The rejoinder was the adoption of the Program of Action by the ANC conference in 1949 at the instigation of the ANC Youth League. The Program of Action was intended to usher mass action and mass mobilisation of our people.

The resultant repression of the apartheid regime saw the banishment of the Communist Party of South Africa. After the Defiance Campaign, the ANC saw a vital need for a national, inclusive co-operation of all racial groups in a determined effort to bring about a mass based non-racial political mobilisation. It was to this end that the Doctors Pact was signed that ushered in the era of the alliance politics in South Africa under the leadership of the ANC. This alliance brought together diverse and divergent political parties with the aim of defeating a racist regime and install or enthrone a non-racial society.

The ANC was faced with a critical task of navigating the complex maze of the South African political scene when it decided to work closely with the White, Indian and Coloured organisations while at the same time retaining its hold on African aspirations. This creative approach towards a non-racial political posture and activism required serious soul-searching and handling of complex relations that involved at first the Liberal Party, the Indian Congress and the Communists Party of South Africa, including the Trade Unions.

The Congress Alliance was a by-product of the struggles leading up to the Defiance of Unjust Laws that was spearheaded by the joint National Action Committee which comprised of the ANC, the South African Indian Congress of Democrats (SACOD) and the South African Coloured People’s Organisation (SACPO). The National Action Council was tasked with detailed planning of events leading to the actual hosting and ultimate adoption of the Freedom Charter.

In time the adoption of the Freedom Charter brought about serious ideological clashes with a number of individuals and organisations that had hitherto worked with the ANC. One such an organisation that broke ranks with the ANC was the Liberal Party. Selope Thema was also another avowed and vocal critic of the Freedom Charter and soon opted to resign from the ANC and established his short-lived National Minded Block or euphemistically called “Bafabegiya”. The Africanists under Robert Sobukwe severed ties with the ANC after failing to capture the leadership of the Transvaal in 1958. The ANC was firm in its resolution that a new epoch had dawned and that the exclusivist struggles of the pre-World War years were no longer sustainable.

The ANC took a conscious decision that the struggle against racism in South Africa should include White and Indian political parties. With such a groundswell of mass-based national support victory against a racism regime was assured.

This was a new and strategic direction that the ANC crafted for a non-racial broad political fulcrum whose opposition against the racist regime was to prove formidable. The removal by the National Party of the coloured voting privileges threw them into the radical mound of ANC politics. A section of the white liberal community soon took up short-lived protests under the Springbok Legion and the Torch Commando and these soon dissipated when most joined the United Party.

The repression of the Nationalist Party also played into the hands of the strategic thrusts that the ANC had fashioned for its self as many organisations soon realised that their political salvation rested with the broad ANC-led mass-based and non-racial movement that would substantially increase people's fighting chances against the apartheid system. The formation of the Congress of Democrats and the Liberal Party were ostensibly inspired by the ANC’s quest for a broad-based mass movement against racism and such a move just after the Defiance Campaign fundamentally changed the political direction of South Africa forever.

At a time of serious national crisis, the ANC conjured up a plan and conceived a strategic direction that would harness and marshal the South Africa populace into a single national democratic front, a measure of no mean feat. Such was the display and expression of foresightedness on the part of ANC leaders at a time of great strife when the oppressive racism rule was menacingly trying to regress South Africa to a barbaric state. As we are faced with the threat of the resurgence of barbarism, we too are called upon to be more creative and farsighted and foresighted in our response. Our history, to date, is such a pivotal beacon that must always guide and show us the light and the way.


One example of our struggle stalwarts who bears all the hallmark of a people’s leader who sought to demonstrate an example of the justifiability of our struggle was Bram Fischer. Fischer was a famous and successful mine lawyer who dined and wined with the mine magnates of South Africa and the world. As a descendent of the aristocratic Afrikaner family, all imaginable political and legal avenues were wide opened for him. This hardcore Afrikaner, who was very proud of his heritage and language, broke ranks to take sides with the oppressed people – not on the basis of race, but on the basis of the justness of our course.

He had nothing to benefit from fighting against apartheid since he was himself privileged. Bram left the plush legal offices and its attendant prestige and pomp and became a fugitive from the law as an underground operative of the ANC. Beyers Naude also broke ranks with the racists Afrikaner Calvinistic faith to side with the poor oppressed. There are many such examples that can be cited of how some of our fellow countrymen chose the side of truth and justice at the expense of the lavish and privileges status. Their lives and sacrifices are a beacon of hope.

The National Party was determined to impose a recialised society whereas our movement was keen to bring about a more inclusive non-racial country. Richard Turner, in his seminal book entitled The Eye of the Needle, devotes one of his chapters to a topic that he refers to as, The Impracticability of Realism. He argued thus,

“The Christian model is one of freedom and openness. To love means to be free and open to others. Certain kinds of social institutions make people unfree in themselves by subjecting them to the hidden conditioning mechanisms, and also make them unfree for other people, by setting up harmful imbalances between people. Freedom for oneself and freedom with others requires certain kinds of social institutions.”

He concludes, “it is only (through) participatory democracy (that we) can... co-operate freely with others...” The resurgent spates of racism are an indication of some measure of failure from the White compatriots to cooperate with the African in building a non-racial society. The ANC conference of 1958 took a decision to reaffirm its commitment to non-racialism in South

Africa and to struggle with like-minded organisations to realise this objective. This resolution was consolidated at the Morogoro Conference in 1969.


As the marauding forces of darkness are making their rehearsed debut in many fronts in a democratic state, we must remain assured that the pillars of a non-racial and non-sexist state are firmly in place and that individual actions born by the rabid racist nostalgia will not shake then in a millennia. What we are witnessing in recent South African politics are mere acts of racist nostalgia borne out of a historical hangover of White political power. These are not institutional actions with the potential to undermine the eclipse of a new democratic state, but are exemplifications of frustrated signs on the part of those that still long for the dark days of racist minority rule.

We must not think that we all shared the victory against a racist apartheid regime and its brutal machinery. There are many who still mourn its loss and they will occasionally display signs of relapse. The emotional scars that are a result of the loss of political power by our fellow White citizens must not be undermined. The loss of the benefits that came with a racist society are still felt to date and these are compounded by the still existing economic privileged status of most White South Africans. That their privileged economic status cannot alter the trajectory towards a non-racial society is distressing and frustrating to most, if not some. So, the occasional resurgence of isolated cases will not and must not deter us. Instead they must embolden us to continue on our historical chosen course of action.

We must recall that when slavery was abolished in 1830, it dealt a deadly blow to the master–servant relations in the Cape. As a result, large sections of the Afrikaner community left the Cape in disgust and sought to find unpopulated places in the interior where they were to continue with the master–slave relations.  This is how the

Voortrekker movement was started. It took different directions and caused havoc in its wake. In 2016 there can be no running away into any other place by those who harbour racist tendencies. They are forced to face the reality of a changed socio-economic milieu that aims to institutionalise equitable treatment of all citizens. Thus, the resurgence of the frustrations of racists must not deter us from the forward march to the new nation that we promised our people.


Let us also be reminded of the fact that even amongst Africans, there are those who will still wish and long for the days of the master–servant relations. There are those Africans who still cannot get rid of the inferiority complex which underpinned the policy of apartheid. They lack self-confidence, lack the eagerness to attain and reach greater heights and always exhibit inferiority complexes even though they are empowered by the laws of their country. Steve Biko argued that the most important weapon in the hands of the oppressors is the mind of the oppressed. We need to invest in the mental liberation of our people and not just accept that, given a new democratic and human rights based constitution, they will necessarily embrace a liberated mindset and outlook.

The many Africans who have joined the ranks of the Democratic Alliance (DA) suffer from such a mental inferiority complex. We need to ask hard questions as to what is it that could be done to rescue them from this inferiority status that always make one to seek tutelage from ‘baaskap’. White patronage and White tutelage is still firmly entrenched in our society. The struggle to liberate our people from it must be sustained.


We should not be side-tracked by the occasional outbursts of racism acts. Ours should be a long term and sustained struggle against racism and all of its manifestations.

There are few remedies that are at our disposal that we should activate to continue the struggle against racism in South Africa.

1. Public Education

There is a serious need to ensure that there is a sustained and protracted public education programme against racism. Government and its various entities should embrace this campaign and some of its public statements and expressions must be intended to foster a campaign against racism. Public and private institutions must also be brought on board to lend their support and commitment to the fight against racism.

2.  Anti-Racist Curriculum

The younger generation should be inducted into a society that eschews racism and upholds a democratic and egalitarian culture. At an early age, we need to deliberately foster a non-racial culture that is in keeping with our constitutional state. It is to this end that we need to and must bring about a conscious anti-racist curriculum at all levels of educational institutions in our country. This must affect all universities, colleges and basic education institutions.

This anti-racist curriculum must also be strongly hinged on fostering a patriotic culture. To engender a love and appreciation of the country will go a long way in promotion of anti-racist culture.

3. Sustain the fight against poverty

Racism thrives on condition of material and spiritual. Poverty engenders feelings of self-hate, inferiority and underclass. The poor feel that their poverty is brought upon them because they are the unwanted and are thus rendered weak to fight against racist acts and undertones. The continued lack of social infrastructure, lack of sanitation, lack of housing, lack of access to work and work opportunities contribute to absence of self-worth.


I have aptly demonstrated that this movement has travelled a long and arduous road towards the establishment of a non-racial, non-sexist, egalitarian and democratic state. Our forebears have, when faced with the imponderable challenges, delved deep in their souls, in the tradition of resistance, in their teaching and in their moral treasure trove to bring into bear solutions that were creative, long-term and unemotional. Their humanistic framework served as a pivot around which their solutions were based. Their care, regard and compassion for the people of South Africa, regardless of race, class and gender always guided their actions, thoughts and strategic inputs.

Alan Moorehed in his book The Russian Revolution once said that “Half measures are no good in this wilderness any more than a leaking boat is any good in an ocean. One needs certainty, a sense of security, something to hold on to in the dangerous void and it has to be absolutely solid.”

We have installed a democratic constitution, we have installed a Human Rights based culture and have entrenched our people in the constitution and this the lasting gift that we have bequeathed to our prosperity. We are alive to the fact that the struggle against racism will be a continuous and protracted struggle even in a democratic state.

Victory against Apartheid was thought to have been as impossible as the duel between the whale and an elephant, to borrow the expression from Professor Edgar Brookes. We have managed to undress apartheid’s self-professed divine inspiration mantle and exposed it for what it is. We have managed to unmask the monster of its monstrous façade and have debased its lofty pretentions of invincibility. It was exposed for what it was. We have come a long way and need not allow those detractors who wish to pour scorn on our hard worn victory. Ours are no half measures, but long term and sustainable solutions.

This article first appeared in Umrabulo, the journal of the African National Congress.