Malema’s unflinching stance offers the liberation movement an opportunity for reconciliation.
At the launch of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) last weekend, just before the party's president, Julius Malema, gave his speech, a call was made for the EFF "national anthem" to be sung. More than 20000 voices rose as one on the Marikana koppie where scores were massacred, and bellowed "Azania!" to the sky. The rest of the lyric of the meditative song commits to a fight to return Azania to its people by any means necessary.
Something magical and almost impossible happened at that moment. Finally, the children of Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe and Steve Biko spoke the same mythical language of a people searching deeply for their dispossessed Africanness and their land. Azania is the name for a liberated South Africa first adopted by the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) and later accepted by Biko and his comrades, but in the song it refers to the whole African continent.
The song speaks the larger language of old symbolism that used separate tongues, now employed to meld a new identity, but one informed by the past. Malema's speech bridged the bitter sectarianism of our past struggle. The ANC greats were mentioned with the same reverence as those of the other-components of the liberation movement. The bravery of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) was acknowledged alongside that of the Azanian Liberation Army. A new capacity to speak of the past is now possible.
History is likely to judge the formation of the EFF as the moment we archived the illusive dream of uniting liberation movements and started afresh to decolonise South Africa. The South African liberation movement was divided between the ANC, the PAC and the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), respectively led by and associated with Mandela, Sobukwe and Biko. The fact that the ANC marched to power alone in 1994 and gave South Africa 20 years of disastrous rule is in a significant way a reflection of the divided liberation movement.
The most significant rift was when radical African nationalists, led by Sobukwe, walked out of the ANC and formed the PAC in 1959. The dispute, ironically, revolved around land. When the ANC adopted the Freedom Charter in 1955, a few vocal radicals could not accept its proposition that "South Africa belongs to all who live in it, both black and white".
The radicals led by Sobukwe felt such a framing of the land question sold the birthright of Africans to whites, who were land thieves and had no legitimate right to African land. The mediating explanations of the Freedom Charter were seen as a hypocritical attempt to hide this sell-out.
The PAC and BCM's criticism of the charter – that it limited land reclamation by Africans – seems to have been vindicated by 20 years of ANC rule. The ANC, it could be argued, followed the "willing buyer, willing seller" policy because the charter accepted that the land belonged to whites and blacks in equal measure. Hence, the ANC government's land policy is based on buying back the land.
This has yielded a bogus land-redistribution policy, which at its present rate would take more than a hundred years to redistribute the promised 30%. The EFF land policy is expressed unambiguously as "land expropriation without compensation". This cuts away the historical debris of the land issue and restores the African birthright. It immediately collapses any prior claims by whites.
Correctly read, EFF land policy corrects the deviation on land. It heals the rift in the liberation movement and enriches African claims to land. Malema's articulation of the land issue projects a forward motion, in which land is not reducible to its monetary and economic value.
Land redress redresses the totality of dispossession. Hence, Malema seeks justice without flinching from the historical scars that continue to afflict the souls of black people: "When you took land from blacks, you committed black genocide." The righteous accusation and indignation go further: "You are not ashamed of taking our land." Then, positively and assertively proclaimed, to frenzied applause: "We are not going to beg you for our land."
Here, we see the African birthright restored and the historical injustices to do with dispossession recalled in plain language, a language not available to the nuanced Freedom Charter, which was too concerned not to offend white sensibilities.
The EFF resolves the historical rupture in the liberation movement by restoring to the dispossessed the discursive means to proclaim their birthright to land. In a sense, the EFF forces the children of Mandela, Sobukwe and Biko into conversation about what it means to be free.
All of a sudden, the progeny of the three great patriarchs of the liberation struggle find themselves in one family and able to speak the languages of their fathers – an act which at one point was considered taboo. It was impossible to coexist under one roof.
The EFF suggests not only a return to the original idea of liberation, but also provides a new path of redress by radical demand, without the desire for revenge.
As Biko advised, whites will continue to live in South Africa, but under the conditions set by the black majority. Such conditions are based on the values of equality for all in a country without any of the brutalities of the past. The price of true reconciliation is the return of the land.
Andile Mngxitama is a member of the EFF