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In the late 1950's, the African resistance in South Africa was divided. The apartheid government was continuing to legislate harsher and harsher laws, and a large contingent were becoming disillusioned with the ineffectiveness of the protest. Some pushed for non-violence to continue while others wanted the struggle to take on a new life through urban terrorism.

The African National Congress (ANC), the largest and most well known of the anti-apartheid activist organisations, was also divided over the issue of Africanism. The Africanists were of the view that Africa should remain for the Africans, that the settlers should be returned to their homelands. In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela tells of his transformation of political ideology from Africanist to well... to what? unAfricanist? There was a new understanding amongst party leadership that the future of South Africa was based on inclusion of all her people. We were all born in Africa, we are all Africans, regardless of the colour of our skin. A lesson Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe is still to learn.

In 1959, a group of Africanists broke away from the ANC, stating that there was a crying need amongst the masses for leadership that could take on the oppressor militantly. At its founding conference in the Orlando Community Hall in Johannesburg in April 1959, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe was elected president of the new Pan Africanist Congress of Azania1 (PAC). The conference was attended by delegates representing more than 1,000 provisional branches of no less than 12 members each. Sobukwe was 36 years old.

The PAC's first campaign is described on their website as their most successful, which I find ironic but will discuss in greater depth elsewhere. In early 1960 the PAC organised a peaceful national strike against the Pass Laws which went off without a hitch in many places, but resulted in bloodshed in Langa and Nyanga in Cape Town and Vanderbijl Park and Sharpeville in the Transvaal.

The events at Sharpeville, which became known internationally as the Sharpeville Massacre, resulted in the National Party government's proclamation of a nationwide State of Emergency, the banning of the ANC and the PAC, and the arrest and imprisonment of many of the PAC leadership. Many were released after three years, but in 1963, the government passed a clause that enabled it to detain people beyond their sentences. Fortunately the government only used this clause once, earning its being dubbed the Sobukwe Clause. Sobukwe was finally released in 1969, only to find himself immediately under house arrest in Kimberley until his death in 1978.

Throughout his detention, Sobukwe continued to lead the PAC, while the paramilitary security police targeted PAC activists, particularly those involved in Poqo, the armed wing. Zephania Mothopeng was second in seniority during Sobukwe's detention, but he was detained in August 1977 and faced trial with 17 others in December, charged with terrorism. The trial continued until July 1979 when Mothopeng was sentenced for 15 years. When Sobukwe died in 1978 and Mothopeng was on trial, the PAC found itself devoid of a leader, which was arguably nothing new.

Its lack of solid leadership meant that the party was lacking funds and international contacts. While the ANC had a firm base in exile, the PAC was all at sea within the borders. In the late 1970's, the PAC's estimated guerilla strength numbered less than 450 men and women, most of whom were in Tanzania and Libya.

In 1985, when PW Botha was offering political prisoners their release on condition that they gave up the struggle, Zeph Mothopeng was among the majority who chose to remain in jail. He was released in 1988. The PAC was among the organisations unbanned on February 10, 1990 and they began preparing for the elections in 1994. Unlike the ANC, which was focused on a rich and full inclusive Rainbow Nation South Africa, the PAC had not - and still has not - given up their Africanist views.

The PAC continued their terrorist activities right up to the elections in late April 1994, with their members being convicted of senseless attacks on multiracial establishments such as the St James's Church massacre and the Heidelberg Tavern massacre in Cape Town. The PAC achieved marginal support in the 1994 elections, achieving about as much following as the right-wing Afrikaner party, Constant Viljoen's Freedom Front. There were leadership struggles within the PAC, and in December 1996, Dr Mmutlanyane Mogoba took over as President.

Today the party continue to seek their following amongst the radicals. Their website is a heinous collection of jargon and grammar mistakes, interspersed with radical slogans. Izwe Lethu (The Land is Ours) flashes across the homepage and they have taken a leaf out of Robert Mugabe's book with trying to drum up support over the land issue. They were stealing headlines at the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development, trying to latch onto other organisations and doing sundry rabble rousing.

Almost seven years after the first democratic elections in this country, the evil issues over which the masses have waged a liberation struggle against have not been addressed. These evils - that is crime, corruption, economic poverty, landlessness, lack of housing, poor education and health system - continue to ravage the nation.

The first elections were April 1994, that quote was lifted from the PAC's homepage in October 2002, it is over a year out-of-date.



  1. Gritchka says Azania is an old name on maps (many centuries old) that originally referred to the area now known as Somalia. It was somehow transferred south, I don't know when.

Sources:

  • http://www.paca.org.za
  • http://www.anc.org.za/ancdocs/history/misc/sharplle.html

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