The slithery business of pinning down the PAC

The sign on the door says “Street Collections” and bears a city council insignia. Behind it is the sparse temporary office of the Pan Africanist Congress leadership. A solitary receptionist sits at a desk in the middle of a room with nothing but a few chairs and a coffee table in it. The office has none of the bustle one would expect at the presidential office of a recently unbanned political organisation preparing for a national conference and boasting huge increases in its membership.

Probing the rhetoric of PAC leaders is not easy, at least partly because the organisation’s leaders appear to see little need to answer to the press.
The interviewer senses an evasive answer, probes a little closer, and often gets little more than a confirmation that the question is being invaded. For example, the crucial decision facing next week’s congress is how the PAC should react to President FW de Klerk’s invitation to negotiate. Is there a debate taking place ill the PAC? “That is hard to answer because I am not involved in the debate. I have made up my mind already. What other people are debating I would not know until the congress,” said acting president Mlami Clarence Makwetu. 

What is his own view? “My view is that a decision will be made at the congress. A decision will be arrived at there.” 

Is it a difficult debate? “I wouldn’t say there was much debate. At the same time, I would not say there is less debate. As we deferred the matter to the structures, they are debating it, preparing it for the congress,” Makwetu says. The government has put one stumbling block in the path towards a decision, refusing indemnity to ‘some exiled leaders. Makwetu is adamant, however, that this will not significantly affect the outcome of the congress. The reason given by the government is the PAC’s refusal to renounce armed struggle. 

Does the PAC still see its banned wing as a major contributor to its struggle? “As far as we are concerned, any hope of struggle, armed or non-violent, is legitimate at this stage,” Makwetu answered. But there has been scepticism about the PAC’s ability to wage armed struggle. ‘‘That is (from) those who are outside the PAC. They have every reason to believe so.” Is the PAC confident that in the future it will be able to sustain a vigorous armed struggle? “Will there be any need for a vigorous banned struggle when you talk of negotiations?” But the PAC is sceptical about negotiations? ‘‘That is true ... The point I am raising is that the whole world is saying we will be negotiating, so why it should worry them about the banned part of the PAC if there is a possibility of solving this amicably.”

A key point of difference between the PAC and its main rival, the African National Congress, has always been land policy, primarily the PAC’s demand that “the land be returned to its rightful owner”. Who is the rightful owner? ‘‘The African, who has no land at the moment.” As a white, do I qualify as an African? “If you don’t owe your allegiance to Africa, if you are not prepared to abide by the · rule of an African majority, then you are not.” · In other words, I am an African. “I don’t know. We have not tested you yet, whether you subscribe to it.” How is this tested? “We would not do what they do in other countries where they say you stay for five years and then you come and give an oath and swear and thereafter being granted citizenship and regarded as part of the nation with full obligations of voting and everything ... We are talking about a loyalty, a commitment and an attitude which manifests itself in practice.” 

Does that mean I have to go before a tribunal and say, ‘I prove my loyalty because “It is not a declaration. It is a practice.” And who decides that one is a practicing African? ‘‘The African people decide.” General secretary Benny Alexander expanded on this answer: “In other words, it will reveal itself in certain things; if a person says I am going to leave the country, I am going home, then it is clear. If he says he is a minority - the African is not a minority. You see it is a whole attitude that manifests itself. We define it in a specific way to ensure that Africa is not a continuous happy hunting ground for imperialism. So we are saying that those people of European origin who completely side with the African people, the land, its development, they are African. Those who come to perpetuate imperialism, they are not.”

How will the African people decide who belongs. Will this be done through a judiciary, a committee or the government? “I tell you why it is difficult. You have two nationalisms: African and white, and these groups are building two separate nations. We are talking about a process of building a single nation- that’s not a declaration by a law that says you are now one nation; to build one nation needs a programme and a process - and our defamation takes cognisance of that reality.” And those who would consider themselves neither African nationalists nor white nationalists? “You are one or the other, that side or this side.” 

How does the PAC see the land being returned through nationalisation? “Nationalisation is not the only solution. All the possibilities can be employed if we sit down and discuss that issue, but nobody is prepared to sit down and discuss the return of the land.” What would your proposal be if you sat down to discuss it? “It should be returned to the rightful owners.” How should that happen? “How was it taken away from them?” By force? “Exactly, if we are forced to resort to force, then will use it.” Alexander adds: ‘‘The principle is that land has to be decomoditised; because if you leave it comoditised, then its accessibility depends on your financial means.” Do you mean an end to private property? “Yes, definitely.” The first argument you will hear against this is that this will destroy the agricultural economy. “It is not true, because that argument is based on the belief that the African is incapable of fanning economically. Yet if you look around the country, you will see that the foreman of the farm is African; the owner of the farm is nowhere to be seen, he is in Johannesburg.”

Alexander adds: “Agriculture is the Cinderella of SA. It is not utilised to its capacity, it has been carried along by subsidies, it is not standing on its own feet in this country. It is not as scientific as it should have been, nor as economical as it should have been.” What about the controversial PAC slogan, “One settler, one bullet’‘? “Why should it be important when you say it is a slogan, and not a principle. It is not a principle, it is not even a PAC slogan.” · But we have seen it on T-shirts. Does this mean the PAC renounces the slogan? “No, we are not renouncing anything. But what I am saying is that we can’t win a revolution through slogans.” 

Does this slogan not fan racial hatred? “It does not say one white settler, one bullet. It says only one settler one bullet ... settler is a non-racial term.” Is ‘the effect of the slogan not to imply a racial call: to shoot the whites? “As a matter of principle we ate opposed to racialism; it is amazing that we can be associated with racism when it comes to this slogan.” Many commentators have predicted that 1990 would be a year of growth and expansion for the PAC, as it capitalises on militant rejection of the ANC’s negotiations with the government and its suspension of the armed struggle. The signs so far, however, are that these predictions were probably exaggerated: there is little evidence of a mass membership or large scale structural growth. Next week’s conference will provide an important test of this.

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Mail.

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