Saturday, September 24, 2011

Coalition Politics of the ANC and the US Civil Rights Movement

As I navigate through the ANC political behavior and organizational maze my brain consistently attempts to make order out of chaos.  I often end up shaking my head repeating “makes me want to holler, through up both my hands!” (A future blog is ANC and chaos theory.)

In order for me, an African American, to wrap my brain around the chaos of the ANC I need a historical frame of reference familiar my gray matter.  Ergo a comparison of the US Civil Rights Movement to the ANC. Because both entities are so misperceived my brain gravitated to this analogy.  

The main misconception many African Americans have of the ANC is that is a united party. Wrong! Just as many South Africans perceive the Civil Rights Movement as a unified movement. Wrong! 


First, let me state the disclaimers to this analogy:
  • The ANC structurally evolved to a opposition political party
  • The CRM was always a social movement and never a political party
  • The CRM’s mission was not to take over or overthrow the US government. We wanted to secure the civil rights of African Americans (and other minorities) as guaranteed by the US Constitution.  
  • The ANC, representing the majority of South Africans, wanted to govern South Africa and, via its military arm, Umkhonto We Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), was dedicated to bringing down the apartheid regime by “any means necessary.”   (By the way, Umkhonot We Sizwe (MK) was banned in 1961 by both the South African and United States governments as a terrorist organization)


Analogy: Coalition Politics

Coalition politics dominated the ANC and the CRM’s formation and history. The informal and formal structure of each organization may be analyzed in the way disparate political groups coalesce. That is, each independent organization joined the ANC or CRM coalition with collective AND individual agendas, missions, goals, strategies and tactics.  Depending on the political power of the independent organizations within the coalition these internal contradictions would influenced, and sometimes determined the direction of the entire coalition.


During the creation of the famous 1955 “Freedom Charter” the ANC was at the time an umbrella organization (the essence of coalition politics). The Charter conference in Kliptown Soweto consisted of the following organizations:

  • African National Congress (ANC)
  •  South African Communist Party (SACP)
  • South African Congress of Democrats (COD)
  •  Coloured People's Congress (CPC)
  •  South African Indian Congress (SAIC)
  • The Federation of South African Women

True to a political “umbrella,” or coalition structure, the organization was full of internal individualist and collective political struggles. The conflict between the “Africanists” the “Charterist” exploded into violence. In 1959 the Africanists split from the ANC over the issue of the Freedom Charter and Oliver Tambo's 1958 rewriting of the ANC Constitution, founding the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC). The maneuverings of the SACP within the coalition is legendary. 

The ANC Youth League (ANCYL), lead by Nelson Mandela, eventually rejected the non military option of the ANC and champion arm struggle. 


Now African Americans think back to the politics, personalities and leadership of the CRM’s “Big Six” at the height of the movement. Using the famous 1963 “March on Washington” as our frame of reference, the following organizations and individuals were leaders of the March:

  •  Roy Wilkins  and NAACP,
  •  Martin Luther King and SCLC,
  •  James Foreman  and CORE,
  •  John Lewis and SNCC,  
  • Whitney Young and Urban League,
  •  A. Philip Randolph and the Sleeping Car Porters (organized the March)

President Kennedy opposed the March until he received promises from the leaders that “Negroes” would behave themselves in the nation’s capital. True to coalition politics SNCC did not share in the cozy relationship with the Kennedy Presidency.  John Lewis wrote a speech expressing SNCC’s displeasure with the regime’s civil rights policies. However, he was forced by the “conservative wing” of the coalition (and the Catholic Archbishop) to moderate his speech. SNCC eventually embraced “Black Power” and rejected nonviolence.

Coalition Politics: Order Out of Chaos

The Civil Rights Movement has since disbanded as a movement. However, the ANC is governing South Africa.  As we observe the ANC and other Southern African Politics, we will, where applicable, use coalition politics as a political lens.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Introduction to Southern African Politics

Diaspora musing: observations from an African American political scientist.

Southern African Politics is my observations of the political behavior of South Africans in particular and Southern Africans in general. I will also discuss the African American expatriate community in Southern Africa, our relationship with the United States and our host state (s).  

I’m in South Africa on sabbatical from Morehouse College. I’ve been here approximately one month. It is by happenstance that I arrived right into the briar patch of Southern African political struggles. 

Southern Africa is critical to understanding all of the African continent and the role that Europe and the West play in African and developing world politics.  South Africa is the political-economic linchpin in Southern Africa. 

Here are some of the political items I will be observing and writing on in the future: 

  • The political battle between the ANC Executive Committee and the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) leadership. The key political actors are President Zuma, and Julius “Juju” Malema, President of the ANCYL. 
  • Julius Malema’s singing the liberation song “Shot the Boer” and the social and political reaction here 
  • The ongoing violent explosions over the poor quality and the poor delivery of municipal services in South Africa
  • President Zuma , the African Union and Libya
  • The large gap between the have and have-nots in South Africa
  • The breadth and depth of corruption in the South African public sector
  • The crisis of the last monarchy on the African continent – Swaziland
  • The elections and their aftermath in Zambia 
  •  China’s political economy in Southern Africa 
  • Africa is the only continent that has so far resisted a formal and permanent American military presence will Botswana be the first 
  • Bishop Tutu’s call for a “wealth tax” to be imposed on all white South Africans and that members of President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet to sell their “expensive cars”

There is much to discuss and this just the beginning.