Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Karega Hart

Fighting sectarianism in the U.S. anti-apartheid movement

First Published: Unity, Vol. 8, No. 17, December 6, 1985.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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As an activist in the Black Liberation Movement who participated in African liberation support work in the 1960’s and 1970’s and who is active in the anti-apartheid struggles today, I am disturbed to see the ugly revival of the same type of sectarianism that divided past support movements.

Some of the same forces that used to try to throw the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) off the stage of African liberation support events as a bogus liberation organization in favor of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) are now busy advocating that people lend support solely to South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC), and attack other liberation organizations such as the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC).

Splitting the movement along the lines of pro-ANC only and attacking other liberation organizations does nothing to build the anti-apartheid movement. It only exhibits chauvinist arrogance in thinking that the U.S. movement has the right to declare one or another liberation organization as the “true leader” or “vanguard.”

Pressuring organizations not to invite the PAC to speak, or to “disinvite” PAC to speak even after PAC representatives have entered the hall, or to oppose any support for the National Union of Miners because they were seen as affiliated with PAC and/or the Black Consciousness Movement, is outrageous, chauvinist, and destructive.

These kinds of activities and views violate the very spirit of the anti-apartheid movement which we are building in the U.S. today, which is for the right of the people of South Africa to self-determination free from all outside interference.

Why these sectarian attacks?

It’s important to make a distinction among those who support the ANC only. There are some honest activists who have come to agree with the ANC’s program. There is nothing wrong with having opinions about the political strengths or weaknesses of these liberation forces. But should our political opinion of them be the basis for our support of or opposition to them? If we support self-determination in South Africa then we must support every force that is fighting apartheid regardless of our opinion of their politics. What is correct and who will lead the South African revolution will be determined by the South African masses themselves and their struggle, as it must be.

Other activists have heard only of the ANC and therefore quite naturally support it only. However, there are some pro-Soviet forces who are using the attacks against PAC and using a “support only the ANC” club to split and manipulate the anti-apartheid movement in order to gain more leverage for their pro-Soviet views.

What is to be gained by attacking the PAC, which is recognized by the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) as a legitimate liberation organization?

What these sectarians hope to gain is to render as illegitimate support for any liberation forces which are not, in their view, aligned with the Soviet Union. To these sectarians, they support the ANC because it includes members of the Communist Party of South Africa, which they consider to be “pro-Soviet.” That is a similar basis upon which they supported ZAPU and attacked ZANU. ZAPU received aid from the Soviet Union and ZANU did not. Therefore it was open season to spread slander about ZANU and to try to split the African support movement.

Now whether or not these liberation forces are actually pro-Soviet is an entirely different matter. The ANC is the oldest liberation organization on the African continent and has struggled against apartheid and for liberation for over 73 years. It has earned the respect it has around the world and in South Africa because it has fought for the liberation of South Africa. Just because a liberation organization takes aid from the Soviet Union does not necessarily make that organization a Soviet ally or supporter. But to these sectarians, that is a good enough indication of possible future alignment, and they go on merrily supporting them under the belief that it is furthering their idea that a world revolution can only surge forward under Soviet leadership, aid and support.

Along the way, these forces are willing to split and destroy different movements and sling slander at any group which in their view is not aligned with them and the Soviet Union. Rebuffed in the Central America support movement due in large part to the unity of the Central America liberation organizations themselves, these forces are now focusing on attacking the PAC and any forces in the U.S. anti-apartheid movement which will not go along with their attacks.

Some of the charges being launched against the PAC are outrageous lies which are not only dishonest, but play upon many people’s chauvinist arrogance toward the black South African masses. The claim that the PAC doesn’t exist any more is simply asserted. PAC is freely inferred to be a CIA front.

But in the midst of these attacks, do they pause to ask why would the OAU Liberation Committee continue to fund the PAC’s work if it believed either of those two charges? Do they think that Africans are stupid? Where are the facts to back up the charges?

When direct lies don’t work, more convoluted lines of attack are launched. One argument starts with saying that it was a mistake to support all three liberation groups in Angola ten years ago because one of the groups, UNITA, following Angola’s liberation in 1975, turned into a reactionary force backed by the U.S. and South Africa. It then proceeds to argue that therefore people shouldn’t support the PAC and should only recognize the ANC because PAC could or will turn out like UNITA. This argument twists history around and is totally absurd. PAC is not UNITA. PAC has never made a deal with the South African government.

Many socialist, revolutionary and progressive forces around the world supported all three liberation organizations in Angola at a time when all three were fighting to overthrow Portuguese colonialism and were recognized as such by the Organization of African Unity. The MPLA, FNLA, and UNITA signed three separate agreements in 1975 to unite to fight the Portuguese and to form a transitional coalition government and merge their military forces. However the Soviet Union, which had done little or nothing to help the liberation forces during their long fight against the Portuguese, suddenly intervened and supplied massive amounts of military aid solely to the MPLA and exacerbated the differences among the groups to the level of armed attacks. UNITA later allied itself with South Africa, an act for which it has been condemned by the PAC and other progressive forces. UNITA has not been supported by any progressive, revolutionary or socialist force since it began its alliance with South Africa.

Superpowers and reactionary regional powers often seek to meddle in different national liberation struggles in order to gain advantage for themselves and their interests. The Soviet Union has historically played upon differences which exist in different liberation struggles, and has anointed various liberation movements as “genuine” and even “socialist,” and has sought to build a special relationship to them by denying aid to other liberation groups. In most cases they have been unsuccessful, and the unity of the liberation movements is maintained and differences are struggled out as an internal affair of that country, such as in Zimbabwe. To meddle in the internal affairs of other countries is a violation of the principles of proletarian internationalism and the right of self-determination.

But this denial of the right to self-determination is now being turned on its head by these sectarian forces who are trying to make it a shortcoming, error or even crime to support more than one liberation organization. What’s wrong with supporting more than one liberation group? Many progressives today support the FMLN/FDR of El Salvador, a coalition that encompasses some 35 organizations, including five revolutionary parties with differences among them.

There are differences among the South African liberation groups as well, in their philosophy and approach to winning the common goal of political power. The PAC and black consciousness forces emphasize the liberation of the land from whites for black people. They advocate black leadership of the mass struggle and black self-determination. The ANC and the United Democratic Front, a coalition of groups, advocate a non-racial perspective. These differences can and will be resolved only by the South African masses themselves, without outside interference.

U.S. supporters of South African liberation need to recognize the right to self-determination of the South African people. They are fully capable of choosing their own leaders. Sectarian attacks only weaken the movement and are a flagrant act of interference.