Clarence Makwetu was among a few leaders of the Pan Africanist Congress who insisted that the party should participate in the first democratic elections in 1994, despite opposition from within the party.
Due to a ballot draw, Makwetu, as the face of the PAC, appeared at the top of the list of parties on the national ballot – a fact that some in the PAC believed was a sign the party would lead the country’s first democratic government.
With the PAC divided over whether to contest the election or to boycott it, the party won a mere five seats in the 400 member National Assembly. Its seats dwindled over successive elections, from three in 1999 and 2004 to a single seat in 2009. Floor-crossing was allowed at certain points during those years, and the party’s representation in Parliament was cut further. Patricia de Lille took one of the PAC’s seats to form the Independent Democrats in 2003. Themba Godi and Mofihli Likotsi defected to the African People’s Convention (APC) in 2007.
Party infighting racked the PAC – and still does – with court battles over leadership. This seems the only constant for a liberation party that failed to soar in a democracy; it lost its way.
Twenty years on, Makwetu is a bitter man. As South Africa prepares to celebrate 20 years of freedom, Makwetu (86) told the Mail & Guardian this week: “There is nothing to celebrate. We fought for freedom, but what did we [black people] gain? We did not get the freedom that we were fighting for. The country is at a standstill. It has moved backwards since 1994.”
He was speaking from his sickbed at his farm, in the Cofimvaba district of the former Transkei.
Makwetu gave the instruction to Sabelo Phama, who commanded the PAC’s military wing, the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Apla), to end the armed struggle and ensure that the PAC participated in the country’s first democratic elections.
Under Makwetu’s leadership, the PAC unsuccessfully argued, during the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) negotiations, that any settlement that did not tackle the land question was flawed. The party also pushed for the transformation of the economy to achieve an Africanist, socialist democracy.
The ANC-led government that took power in 1994 set itself the target of handing 30% of all agricultural land to the black majority by 2014, but so far the government has only managed to transfer about 6% of land to black people.
Makwetu, who was elected PAC president after its unbanning in 1990, said South Africa has yet to achieve economic and political freedom. Pressed to elaborate, he said: “Mine is not to make you understand. I am no longer involved. I am now retired.”
Concerning the state of the PAC today, Makwetu said he had anticipated it would find itself in the kind of mess it is now in because of factions and infighting. Even he fell victim to the discord: he was expelled from the PAC for three years by an opposing faction in 1996.
Former PAC leader Godi, now the leader of the APC, said that although he understands Makwetu’s frustrations, it is wrong for him to say there is nothing to celebrate after 20 years of freedom.
“I understand where he is coming from. We still have a long way to go, but it can’t be said that we are at a standstill.”