Nomboniso Gasa, a stand-in presenter on Radio 702, recently shut down a radio interview with Wanelisa Xaba, a spokesperson for UCT student movement Rhodes Must Fall. Xaba had objected to the paternalistic and bullying manner in which Gasa corrected her on an alleged misrepresentation of the history of the ANC. HUGH MACMILLAN and LUCY GRAHAM argue that debates about the conduct of the interview detract from the historical issues discussed.
Xaba received a great deal of support from listeners to the programme, who phoned in, and on social media. Vashna Jagarnath rushed in to defend Gasaâ€
It is not our role to defend Wanelisa Xaba or Rhodes Must Fall. They are well able to defend themselves. But the debate about the conduct of the interview, and even about black love and Hindu essentialism, has diverted attention away from the historical issue. The debate was killed when Gasa intervened to correct Xaba who was arguing that in contrast to the PAC, and Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement, the ANC had advocated “multi-racialism”. Gasa interrupted her to argue that the ANC had never been “multi-racial” and had always been “anti-racial” and/or “non-racial”.
Historically speaking, Xabaâ€
From 1912 to 1969 the ANC was in practice open to Africans only. From 1953 to the mid 1960s the ANC was part of the “multi-racial” Congress Alliance â€“ the other members of this alliance were the old-established SA Indian Congress, the SA Coloured Peopleâ€
The Freedom Charter was adopted in 1955 at the Congress of the People in the name of the multi-racial Congress Alliance. The charterâ€
After the banning of the ANC in 1960, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), was set up in 1961 as a nominally autonomous joint venture of the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP). It was a “non-racial” organisation which, like the SACP, but unlike the ANC itself at the time, was open to people of all “races”.
The Congress Alliance never really functioned in exile and the exclusion of whites, coloureds and Indians from the ANC in exile became increasingly anomalous in view of the non-racial membership of MK and the fact that a few coloureds, Indians and whites, as well as many Africans, were serving long prison sentences in South Africa for MK involvement.
It was not, however, until the Morogoro Conference in April 1969 that the ANC opened its doors to coloureds, Indians and whites. Even then the top three leadership positions, and membership of the National Executive Committee (NEC), was reserved for Africans. The ANC only became wholly “non-racial” at the Kabwe Conference in 1985 when these positions were opened to people of all “races”. Two Coloureds, two Indians and one white person were then elected to the NEC.
As stated above, the PAC was indeed based on the rejection of the Congress Alliance and of “multi-racialism”. That said, Robert Sobukwe is often quoted as claiming, “there is only one race, the human race”. Although it was often seen as more racially exclusive than the ANC and it never embraced “multi-racialism”, the PAC in exile opened itself to South Africans of “other races” before the ANC â€“ accepting its first non-African members in 1963. Indeed some leaders of the SACPC, including Barney Desai, joined the PAC in 1966 precisely because the ANC would not allow them membership.
It is unfortunate that Radio 702 debate on Rhodes Must Fall was “killed” prematurely as a result of Gasaâ€
Authors’ note: Non-racialism is a great ideal, and of course there is no scientific basis for racial categorisation, but racism has left a historical legacy that is often erased when people today talk about non-racialism. It is unfortunate that those who draw attention to this legacy are often then branded “racists” or asked “why can’t you stop talking about race, there is no such thing as race.”
Editors’ note: For a roundup of the Friday Stand-In from Nomboniso Gasa’s perspective, click here.Â