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Nationalism, class and non-racialism in the 1950s and beyond: the search for convergence

Nationalism, class and non-racialism in the 1950s and beyond: the search for convergence

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Published by Books LIVE
A conference paper presented by David Everatt, author of The Origins of Non-racialism.
A conference paper presented by David Everatt, author of The Origins of Non-racialism.

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Published by: Books LIVE on Nov 17, 2009
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Nationalism, class and non-racialism in the 1950s andbeyond: the search for convergence
David Everatt
We, the people of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know:That South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people
We, the people of South Africa … Believe that South Africa belongs who all wholive in it, united in our diversity
Among the most consistent threads in the discourse of liberation in South Africa wasa commitment to non-racialism. How strong that thread was – unbreakable
accordingto some, distinctly fragile according to others
– can be debated. But from the 1955Freedom Charter to the 1996 Constitution non-racialism has featured significantly inthe canon of all anti-apartheid organisations. The same applies internationally.But it has also become clear since democracy was ushered in, in 1994, that acritical weakness was the failure to
non-racialism, to give it content beyondthat of a slogan or a self-evident ‘good thing’.
It made intuitive sense, uniting raceswhere apartheid divided them. But beyond that, what was the meaning of non-racialism? How should it be implemented? What was it, in practice?Successive governments, ruling (and opposition) parties and civil society haveall failed to offer us citizens much beyond an early, misty-eyed ‘rainbowism’, whichfaded as Mandela’s glow dimmed. Recently, a more hard-edged Africanism has become evident in public discourse, compounding the tetchy responses to supposedcolonial slights that marked the Mbeki years, as well as the deeply conservative ‘fight back/stop Zuma’ politics of the Democratic Alliance (DA). The xenophobic violenceof 2008 spoke volumes about our failure to stitch together a compelling nationalvision of citizenship, one that exceeds racial categories.
Race, we are told, must be confronted and talked about. The fact that all thexenophobic victims were African, and all their murderers were African, should tell usthat we need to do more than stop at race. The history of the Congress Alliance fromthe 1950s onwards compels us to base notions of citizenship on non-racialism, wherethe
of people are what matters, not the colour of their skins. But this has proved impossible thus far. The most common response to questions about themeaning of non-racialism is ‘what did you think majority rule meant’? The answer isvery simple – and inherently bound up in the history of the Congress Alliance – namely, majority rule was a necessary condition as a step along the road to non-racialism; but it was not a sufficient condition to realise non-racialism in practice.True non-racial, non-sexist democracy can only be built on the basis of majority rule – but it goes beyond it.But majority rule, the triumph of African nationalism, has become an end initself, and the discourse remains stuck at the reductionist perspective that argues thatevery segment of public life must be a demographic mirror of the nation. Only whenwe reach this mirror image, will South Africa be ready to take the next step, to think  beyond race, to think about what non-racialism might mean. Yet another variant of the two-stage revolution – and in all instances, the first stage is the triumph of Africannationalism as a precondition for whatever is meant to follow. This paper argues thatthe wrongs of the past must be corrected while simultaneously imagining newdiscursive spaces where citizens can add value regardless of the colour of their skin.
If non-racialism holds such a central place in South Africa,
was (and is) such acentral concept undefined? Why was the African National Congress (ANC)committed to non-racialism, but practiced multi-racialism, where races wereseparately organised? Why did the United Democratic Front (UDF) mimic the ANCin this regard? Was the notion of ‘equality under African leadership’, which hasdominated the anti-apartheid struggle from the late 1940s onwards, in any way anadequate translation of non-racialism?This brief paper 
 argues that non-racialism could not be realised in practice because beneath it lay a contradictory and bitterly fought out set of ideologies withinthe Congress Alliance, including most obviously the exclusive African nationalism of many prominent Youth League members (some of whom stayed with the ANC, while
others left), and demands from the left for immediate class struggle and the rejectionof national liberation as entrenching a black bourgeoisie not liberating the workingclass. These tendencies existed within the ANC and its allies, and the concept of ‘Colonialism of a Special Type’ was developed to stitch together a conceptual blanketthat could be thrown over the shoulders of all anti-apartheid forces, promising bothnational (first) and class struggle (the famous ‘second stage’ of the struggle), andcleaving to non-racialism while refusing to permit it to take organisational form.
Those calling for organisational non-racialism demanded ‘One Congress’, and in the1950s this demand was intimately associated with calls for class-based struggle andequally strongly associated with white leftists; and as such non-racialism was injectedwith ideological, racial, and other overtones that left it stranded as a slogan butnothing more.The situation has not improved much since then. The 1996 Constitutionimplicitly defined non-racialism as a democratic state where the rights of every citizenare equally protected by the law. This equates non-racialism with formal equality.Which in turn begs a whole slew of questions: is there no more to non-racialism thanthat, nothing to do with the actions or moral base of individuals? Is it a passive or anactive state? Are there specific types of action required of a non-racialist, or is it allleft to the state or political parties or courts to resolve? For example, should theerstwhile non-racialist follow the advice of Warren Beatty (in
when hesuggested that non-racial democrats should pursue ‘…a programme of voluntary,free-spirited, open-ended procreative racial deconstruction’, by which was meant, heexplained, ‘… everybody just gotta keep fuckin’ everybody till we’re all the samecolour’
?If for some reason this fails to appeal, does non-racialism require (some other types of) pro-action on the part of the would-be non-racialist? And if so, what formshould these take? Is equity or redress involved, whereby the non-racialist can or should make amends for the racialism of the past? How, and to whom, and for howlong? Who decides when enough is enough? And most importantly, how can this bedone at an
level? How do we move beyond repentance and redress – the latter currently the focus of much state activity – and look to building new citizens and anew society on a new moral basis, where individuals are not immediately pigeon-holed socially, economically, psychologically, intellectually or morally, by their race?How do we create spaces where citizens can leave behind the trappings of race and

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