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.  

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