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Sunday, 3 May 2009

Racial discourse and the ANC

Paul Trewhela responds to Musa Xulu’s article calling on whites to 'accept their defeat'

What is interesting about the article by Musa Xulu, "It's time that white South Africa accepted defeat and moved with the times" (Politicsweb, 15 March 2009, see here), is its overt and highly racialised character. The history of the past fifty years, say, is described in terms of the "defeat" of one race, and suggestive of the race victory of another.

This is at odds with the entire character of the public discourse of the African National Congress over nearly the whole of the previous period. Luthuli did not speak or write like this, Mandela did not either, nor did Tambo, and while Thabo Mbeki certainly made use of racial constructs it was never in such a crude form.

In this sense, Xulu's reference to Afrikaners is cast in the mould of the racial thinking of the National Party regime of the Verwoerd, Vorster and Botha decades, in which races were conceived in terms of racial blocs, making conceivable the project of an ad hoc racial alliance under certain conditions between "race" (or "tribe") A and race B or C. This was in fact the subtext to the manipulation by the apartheid state of the isiZulu-speaking warrior-corps of the Inkatha Freedom Party, as led in the Eighties and early Nineties by Daluxolo Luthuli, Thula Bopela's old colleague from Umkhonto weSizwe in the Sixties, and his co-author in the writing of Umkhonto we Sizwe: Fighting for a Divided People, Galago, Alberton, 2005. (In his article Mr Xulu refers in the first paragraph to a recent article by Bopela - like Mr Xulu also a Zulu-speaker, and also a member of the ANC media and communications team in the Johannesburg region - available here).

Of course, this race discourse of Musa Xulu on behalf of the Zuma electoral campaign is also given a populist, sub-marxist, anti-"the rich" character, so as wed as many of the poor as possible to the chariot of a new aspirant elite in its grab for the spoils of state office.

But then, even the fascist programme of Benito Mussolini in Italy did the same, with its appeal to the "proletarian" nation (Italy) against the "plutocratic" powers (Britain and the United States). And if one were to remove the words "National" and "German" from the title of the National Socialist German Workers Party (the Nazis), then one is left with... the Socialist Workers Party.

It was with great care that the old ANC constructed its "Congress Alliance" in association originally with political organisations composed of members of different races, and then step by step in exile removed the racial criterion to membership within its own ranks. This was a precondition to its success as the overwhelmingly dominant party of post-apartheid South Africa. Resurrection of the racial criterion as a primary text of politics in South Africa in the 21st century would lead eventually to the disintegration of the ANC, irrespective of the outcome of the coming election.

It's an old game, this one of racial mobilisation added to by a populist appeal to the poor, played to an old tune, with a predictable outcome for the poor. What is new is the emphatic coarseness of this new/old language spoken by the ANC, through Musa Xulu, head of ANC media & communications in the greater Johannesburg region.

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