Evolution of Black Majority Rule in South Africa

Press Conference by President of African Natio...

Press Conference by President of African National Congress of South Africa (Photo credit: United Nations Photo)

English: Map showing the territorial four main...

English: Map showing the territorial four main races/ethnicities/colors of South Africa in 1979: Whites, Coloureds, Blacks and Indians. The gray areas indicate the Apartheid-era Bantustans, which are almost exclusively black. This map is a photoshopped version of the CIA-made original map at Perry Castañeda map collection at the University of Texas website. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Map showing, for each electoral ward ...

English: Map showing, for each electoral ward in South Africa, the percentage of votes in the 2009 National Assembly election that were cast for the African National Congress. 0–20% 20–40% 40–60% 60–80% 80–100% (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

United Democratic Front (South Africa)

United Democratic Front (South Africa) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: South Africa (orthographic projection)

English: South Africa (orthographic projection) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Early activism over the issue of sporting cont...

Early activism over the issue of sporting contacts with apartheid South Africa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Signs on a beach in , , . The top sign is in E...

Signs on a beach in , , . The top sign is in English and ; the English version states: “White persons only. This beach & the amenities thereof have been reserved for white persons only. By order, Provincial Secretary.” The bottom sign indicates that dogs are not permitted on the beach. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Taken and donated by Guinnog.

Taken and donated by Guinnog. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The original architects of apartheid gathered ...

The original architects of apartheid gathered around a map of a planned township. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Anti-apartheid protest in London, UK,...

English: Anti-apartheid protest in London, UK, at South Africa House (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“For use by white persons” – sign from the apa...

“For use by white persons” – sign from the apartheid era Español: “Sólo para blancos” – letrero de la era del apartheid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Negotiations to End Apartheid in South Africa

Negotiations to End Apartheid in South Africa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

South Africa

South Africa (Photo credit: United Nations Photo)

Apartheid in South Africa

Apartheid in South Africa (Photo credit: United Nations Photo)

On the African continent, civic organisations have been associated with national liberation movements and trade unions, they challenged the laws that underpinned the system of settler colonialism. While these organisations are supposed to be located outside of the formal governmental, party-political or development-agency institutions, they are often affiliated to political organisations. In the South African context, civic organisations were historically radical, community-based organisations that were established to protest and attempt to improve the living conditions under the apartheid system. Thus to understand the posture and orientation of civic organisations in South Africa, it is necessary to first give a brief analysis of the socio-political milieu of townships, the birthplace of the civic movement, in apartheid South Africa.

The establishment of townships in South Africa came as a result of the promulgation of the Native Affairs Urban Areas Act, which made provision for the establishment of a special kind of township that was intended as a habitat for migrant black labourers who toiled in the mines of Witwatersrand and the homes of white people. These townships were situated close enough to the metropolis to make allowance for black workers to commute, but far enough that they would not taint ivory towers of white existence with blackness. The infrastructure in these townships was of inferior quality and there was poor sanitation, with rubbish bins overflowing, sewage pipes blocked and streets unpaved. These poor conditions became a fertile ground for nurturing a community consciousness and for developing a resistance culture among black township residents.

The banning of national liberation movements in South Africa in the mid-1960s created a political vacuum that led to the growth in community consciousness. During the period of the 1970s, the ANC, the PAC and other liberation movements had little organisational presence inside the country. As a result, from the late 1970s, civic organisations that emerged in townships were at the forefront of struggles. These organisations became key players in the resistance movement, with their strategic thrust being that of seizing power from the apartheid government and its structures at a local level. They mobilised township residents against the state towards the realisation of an apartheid-free South Africa. This civics contributed to the formation of the SA National Civics Organisation (Sanco) in 1992, a civic organisation that is a component of the ANC-led Mass Democratic Movement (MDM).

The importance of Sanco belonging to the anti-apartheid MDM pre-1994 is evident. However, the orientation of the civic movement in the post-apartheid period is different to that of the former dispensation. The most important factor that is giving rise to the emergence of new social movements in our country is the high and growing levels of poverty, unemployment and inequality that characterise our current society. These triple challenges are a result of both an inherited apartheid past (in which a two-tier economic system that marginalised the black majority existed) and a post-apartheid government that is defined by maladministration, corruption and misappropriation of state resources. And so in essence, post-1994 civic movements are a response to the specific and real failures of a democratic state in the form of the ANC government to deliver on its responsibilities to the citizens it governs.

The reality of the situation is that the pre-1994 ANC is not the same one we have today. As such, the argument that civil society must work with government does not hold, because ours is not a progressive government that truly champions working-class interests. The former ANC was a liberation movement fighting against an unjust system that stratified people on the basis of race and class. Today, it is a bourgeois nationalist organisation that harbours the worst elements within its leadership ranks, and one that, through policies such as BEE and the controversial willing-buyer, willing-seller policy undermines the land-redistribution process and protects the interests of capital.

Sanco therefore cannot continue to belong to an alliance with a ruling party that is attempting (lugubriously) to represent the interests of the working-class majority and the bourgeoisie, at a time when Africa is faced with a neo-liberal crisis and imperial devastation at whose receiving end the poor majority is located. Furthermore, its alliance with the ruling party alienates many people because the working class itself, while it has common struggles, is not homogenous in its political outlook. Some of us love civil society but we do not want to work within the alliance.

The responsibility of reclaiming the civil-society space, in a quest to fulfil a historical mission of consolidating the struggles of the working-class masses, is one that Sanco must necessarily take. The failure to do this will result in the death of a gallant organisation and the birth of potentially reactionary formations that will undermine the revolutionary gains our country claimed through blood and sweat.

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