Chief Albert Memorial Lecture by Dr Frene Ginwala at University of UKZN

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16 Nov 2013

Program Director: Prof. Sihawu Ngubane;
Deputy Minister of Arts and Culture: Dr Joe Phaahla;
Vice Chancellor: and Acting Chancellor:
Prof Malegapuru Makgoba;
Deputy Vice Chancellor and Head of the College of Humanities:
Professor Cheryl Potgieter;
Chairperson of the Luthuli Museum: Mr Jabulani Sithole;
Dr Albertina Luthuli: Daughter of Chief Luthuli and members of the Luthuli family;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

I am honoured by the invitation to deliver this year’s
Chief Albert Luthuli Memorial Lecture. I thank the organisers: the Department of Arts and Culture, the University of KZN, and the Luthuli Foundation for giving me this opportunity.

For over 150 years, issues linked to the franchise: namely who should be allowed to vote and which persons excluded; what the qualification for the franchise should be; and which electoral system would be appropriate: these have all been part of the contested terrain that has bedevilled our country. We have only to consider the lead up to the 2014 elections these past months to realise that variations of old debates, are once again being raised. However, more on this later. Let me first speak of the long and difficult road we have had to walk to get here.

Both the Dutch and British colonisers established their hegemony over the African people of this continent by force of arms and further imposed their own political systems which had a common objective of a white dominated society. Over much of this period the issue was about exclusion from the franchise on the basis of race. In the Cape, the influence of British missionaries and supporters in Europe initially facilitated the introduction of some liberal measures. In 1834 slavery was abolished and six years before that, the people who were called the “Hottentots” were promised rights equal to whites.

In 1852 the grant of representative government and the prospect of responsible government opened the doors slightly to those African and Coloured people who could meet property and educational qualifications. Significant numbers of Africans were Christianised and had received education in mission schools hence could be considered “civilised British subjects”.

The Dutch, German, and French settlers especially, were antagonised by these developments and following the abolition of slavery, began to move north out of British controlled areas in what became known as the Great Trek. After bloody conflicts with the African people they established the two Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State whose constitutions explicitly provided for a subordinate status for all African people.

In Natal, the Cape policy of a non-racial franchise was abandoned with the introduction of indentured Indian labour. Moreover, the white settlers, mostly of British origin, were able to pressurise the colonial government to introduce measures which excluded all people of colour from exercising the franchise, and so violated and later abandoned the promises made to Indians recruited under the indenture system.

It was a case of one step forward and two steps backward. The African people did not passively accept their exclusion neither in the British colonies nor the Boer Republics. Concerned by the extent of white racism, a small group of Africans in the Transkei called on educated Africans to form political organisations. By 1882 Imbumbe Yama Afrika was established, followed by organisations in other parts of the country.

Newspapers were started and African political journalism flourished. The focus was on the racially defined franchise but appeals for intervention from the Crown or British Parliament were in vain. Not all Africans accepted co-operating with white liberals, nor a white prescribed definition of “civilisation” which excluded Africans. The South African Native Congress was formed in 1902, followed by similar organisations in Natal and elsewhere.

Martin Luthuli, an uncle of Chief Albert Luthuli, appeared before the South African Native Affairs Commission in May 1904, and expressed the desire for full equality under British law for Christian detribalised Africans who were members of the Natal Native Congress. In responding to questions, he stated unequivocally: “I think myself, that it is time we had a voice in Parliament.” Asked how these men should be appointed, he expressed a preference for the men to be elected, and on whether election should be by white people and Natives, or Natives only. He said “By white people and by Natives.” Here we see the stark difference in how African leaders understood democracy as inclusive of all South Africans, black and white, in contrast to the racist views of white settlers and the British Government. Demands from other parts of the country were similar: political representation and a non racial franchise as well as greater economic opportunity.

I cannot fail to draw attention that the entire discussion focussed on how men, should be involved and an assumption that women’s involvement did not arise. But that will have to be the subject of another lecture.

Demands from all parts of the country were similar: political representation and a non-racial franchise, and greater economic opportunity.

Responsible government opened some doors for those African and Coloured people, who could meet property and educational qualifications. A number of Africans were Christianised and received education in Mission schools, and hence could be considered “as civilised British Subjects”.

Martin Luthuli never went to Parliament. It took a further 90 years before any African, man or woman, was elected to the South African Parliament.

The mineral discoveries in the Boer Republics brought the avarice of British Imperialism into play. The hand of the Afrikaners was strengthened as Britain made concession after concession for fear that its interests would be excluded from profiting from the mineral wealth. In the Treaty of Vereeniging that ended the Anglo-Boer War it had already conceded to defer consideration of the franchise to a future date.

In the negotiations for the establishment of a Union of South Africa, including the Free State and the Transvaal, further concessions were made to racism. The Black leaders who had been excluded from the debate in the country, went to London to make representations to the colonial government. They made clear that they were not seeking an exclusively black franchise but a non-racial one. Eventually, it was the British Parliament, which in 1910 to its eternal shame enacted the legislation which provided a Constitution for the Union of South Africa which did not provide a non-racial franchise, and instead entrenched racism in the constitution of the Union of South Africa.

Not surprisingly, for the rest of the century, new laws entrenched racism into every aspect of the lives of the black population.

The South African Native National Congress, precursor of the African National Congress was formed in 1912, uniting many of the provincial and other African organisations. A year later the Land Act was enacted restricting African ownership of land to only 7.3% of the Union’s land area. In 1936 the potential African area was restricted to 12.3%. Almost every following year new restrictions were imposed on the few rights and liberties of the Black population.

The election by an all white electorate in 1948 brought the Nationalist Party to power, leading to the era of apartheid, with further restrictions, imposed with violence and repression. Initially, individual leaders of Black organisations were banned and banished. But the government was unable to destroy the organisations nor diminish their support. Repression served to unite the Black people, who refused to allow the apartheid government to choose their leaders. When a President, Secretary-General or other official was banned, “Acting” officials were elected, and later “acting – acting……” officials and many times so on. Defiance and strikes escalated, strengthening the unity of the oppressed population, and democratic whites joined in the resistance.

However the ANC was aware that it would eventually be banned and by 1952 began to prepare for that eventuality. At its conference that year a committee was appointed under Oliver Tambo to amend the Constitution. Not made public was a decision of the leadership to establish an external mission, which could speak for the ANC when it was banned. As the political authority of the ANC vests in the office of the President, provision had to be made for a Deputy President. The 1958 Conference adopted the changes, and Oliver Tambo was elected the first Deputy President of the ANC.

At the end of 1959, having completed my studies I returned to South Africa to establish a legal practice. I was then informed of the decision to establish the External Mission and requested to assist in its establishment, as well as assisting Oliver Tambo to leave South Africa safely when the time arrived.

The Central African Federation, under Sir Roy Welensky was a strong supporter of the apartheid regime, as was Portugal, with its colonies. The nearest border where we could find refuge was thousands of miles away across hostile territory.
The Sharpeville massacre signalled that the banning of the ANC was imminent, and I was instructed to leave the country and do whatever I could. We were fortunate, that though Tanganyika was not yet fully independent Julius Nyerere the leader of the nationalist movement TANU, intervened with the British Governor General Sir Richard Turnbull and initially secured agreement that if South African politicians made their way to the country they would not be returned to South Africa. Later Julius Nyerere allowed the ANC to establish its office and later our school in his country.

So began the period of the “External Mission” and the armed struggle which was launched inside the country. Some Umkhonto we Sizwe recruits were trained in the country and many were sent out to obtain training elsewhere and return.

On August 2nd 1967 the first MK combatants crossed into Southern Rhodesia to work out alternate routes for returning to South Africa. On the night of their departure, they were given the name the “Luthuli detachment” by Oliver Tambo. And so were born the “soldiers of Luthuli”.

Yesterday, I went to Groutville, and after a service in the Church we laid wreaths on the grave of our leader Chief Albert Luthuli who is buried there. This is not my first visit to Groutville. I came here towards the end of February early March in 1960. By then there was already world wide condemnation of apartheid policies, and in many countries people had begun to boycott South African products in protest. While I was in South Africa, I was working as a freelance journalist and recording interviews for radio stations including the BBC.

I was asked to try and get an interview from a leader inside the country to explain what was happening, and to support the growing boycott campaign. Ahmed Kathrada drove me to Groutville. I asked Chief Luthuli if he would make such a call and he agreed without hesitation.

So though he was banned and restricted in South Africa his voice was heard in Trafalgar Square outside the apartheid in London and elsewhere describing what was happening and calling for the boycott of South African products.

In the 1980s, with the upsurge of mass internal resistance, the ANC recognised that apartheid could not survive much longer, and negotiations were imminent. Preparations for that eventuality began to be made. A Constitutional Commission was established to consider the principles on which a new democratic constitution should be based. At that time, inside the country the franchise had been racialised even further. An all white House of Assembly retained power. The rest of the population were allowed to vote for separate “parliaments’ on racial and tribal lines. A Coloured House of Representatives and an Indian House of Delegates were created, as well as legislatures in the Bantustans some of which were allegedly independent, and some on the way to that status. Only the apartheid South African regime recognised 4 of these. It would be crucial to reverse these divisive systems, and reassert the Freedom Charter, according to which the whole of South Africa belonged to all who lived here, without distinction of race. Equally, there had to be universal adult suffrage.

In reality our country had been divided spatially, on apartheid principles. It was obvious we needed to introduce an electoral system that was inclusive, and which would receive the support all our people. A system that required the demarcation of constituencies would coincide with the spatial divisions of apartheid, resulting in particular groups voting for candidates on racial lines.

Hence we advocated a proportional representation system with no minimum requirement. This would allow a large number of political parties to be represented in Parliament. Later research by the Slabbert Commission indicated that the ANC majority in the 1999 elections would have been over 80% if based on constituencies. Nonetheless, we retained the system we still have, though it might not provide the majority we desired. After the four democratic elections we have had the number of political parties represented in Parliament have varied from an initial 6 to 17. So let us be wary of calls to change our electoral system, as the problems we have are not caused by the system.

There are serious problems in our country: we have not yet been able to bring about the prosperity and improvements in the better life to the extent and as quickly as we had promised and as people expected. We still live in segregated areas, divided not by laws but by wealth. From this flow our separate schools, hospitals, provision of housing, water, electricity and sanitation.

Millions of the poor now receive and survive on social grants. But for how long will this be sustainable. The number of African children in schools and university has increased, but there are many who are still unable to complete studies for financial reasons. RDP houses have been built, but often crumble and have no proper utilities. Most people are concerned not so much with overall statistics but with their particular circumstances and experience. The health services have improved and there are clinics and hospitals for the poor. But more is needed to make up for the backlog from the past.

Even as we meet, there is an Enquiry into the events at Marikana, where many miners were killed. What is the policy of our democratic government that guides the police as to the circumstances in which they can use live ammunition? As the Enquiry continues, I will not comment further. But as citizens (with hindsight) we need to ask why when the migrant labour system ceased, we did not insist that the mine owners built proper housing for families?

We are proud of our gender sensitive constitution. There was a surge of women leaders in government and business. But equality is not about numbers alone. Legislation will place African women under the power of traditional leaders. Violence against women is growing. Why are children being kidnapped, mutilated and killed? Why the gratuitous violence in crime, where victims are often brutally assaulted even if they do not resist?

Most distressing is why we as a people do not feel it necessary to address these issues, but call on “them”: the government, the municipalities, the Councils, the ANC, the Unions to solve the problems, and to do so quickly.

I am ashamed; as I am sure many of us are, of the poverty around us. The growing difference between the rich and the poor. The despair that leads people to tear down and burn what little they have, including schools and clinics. The violence in society against the old, women and children, runs counter to the traditions of all South Africans. Corruption and wasteful expenditure in local government and national departments has diverted resources that should be devoted to improving the quality of life of the majority.

What has happened to the values for which the ANC has always stood and which Chief Luthuli exemplified? We need more than paying lip service to them. All leaders at every level and ANC members need to promote and live by them.

It is the fault of our failure to deliver, on corruption and incompetence with wasteful expenditure, and sometimes on poor deployment and policies. Let us not fail to admit our mistakes, and focus on correcting them.

If we listened to people, we would hear them say, that demonstrating and violence is the only way they can get the attention of politicians.

It is not too late. At the Mangaung Conference the NEC was instructed to set up an Integrity Committee. This has been done and the committee has begun its work. While the media focuses on shortcomings, it has failed to report that the Treasury has gazetted an extensive list of names of persons and companies who are banned from applying for government tenders. Together with Corruption Watch and other civil society initiatives, every citizen and ANC branch can be alert and help to start mending the fractures in our society. The responsibility is ours to go beyond pointing fingers, and asking government to act.

In a sustainable democracy the responsibility of all citizens goes beyond casting a ballot on particular occasions. It requires action to promote the improvements we want for ourselves for our people and for our country