Pulling the plug on the PAC
The wordsmith and realist Groucho Marx once said: “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies.” It is sad that the Pan Africanist Congress has come to a dead end as a party. But even sadder is the failure of a handful of people, especially its president, the comical Dr Motsoko Pheko, to accept this reality and call it a day.
But what killed the PAC? Its banning, which resulted in many of its leaders (including its founder, the visionary and articulate Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe) being jailed and many others fleeing into exile, was the first enormous blow to the party.
Although strong on principles — African nationalism, pan-Africanism — the second telling blow to the PAC was that it was always lacking in policy and programmes for action.
To date, there are still conflicting views about economic policy.
Come 1990, after the unbanning of political parties, the PAC suffered another setback when another founding leader of the party, Zephania Mothopeng, died. After his release from prison about five years earlier, although ailing and almost permanently wheelchair-bound, Mothopeng had single- handedly revived the PAC and brought it back to its feet.
The party’s popularity had gone back to where it was before its banning 30 years earlier.
From 1990 onwards, the PAC started looking for trouble and, as Marx said it would, found it — in buckets. First, the party elected as its president a farmer, Clarence Makwetu, ahead of the only logical choice, Constitutional Judge Dikgang Moseneke. In less than five years, Makwetu, himself not an intellectual — unlike many of his peers in the PAC leadership — managed to reverse the gains that Mothopeng had made.
Then the haemorrhage began. First to leave was Moseneke himself, and then a string of high-profile intellectuals and thinkers.
After its failure in the first election, the PAC got rid of Makwetu, in another broedertwis quintessential of the party, replacing him with an equally uninspired choice in the form of Bishop Stanley Mogoba — whose only claim to fame was that he was incarcerated on Robben Island at around the same time Sobukwe was in jail. In Mogoba’s time, even less zealous members fled the party.
Now that it had found trouble, the PAC followed this hastily with a misdiagnosis. By 1997, with the country firmly in the hands of then- deputy president Thabo Mbeki, the PAC failed to acknowledge that its only holding principles — that of Africanism and the unity of Africa — had found favour in the heart of the man destined to become the next leader of South Africa. Instead, the PAC pressed on with its demand for an Africanist agenda. As if that was not enough, the PAC continued campaigning on its old and only policy — that of returning the land to the African people — in spite of the fact that the African National Congress, now in power, was making strides on this front and reclaiming and redistributing land to its rightful owners and deserving peasants.
The PAC closed its eyes to this reality and still diagnosed that the country’s land was still not being given to the African people.
In the meantime, through his Africanist principles and his vision of a united Africa, President Mbeki swept the remaining strands of the carpet from under the feet of the PAC. He came up with the policy of an “African renaissance”, a euphemism for pan-Africanism, later to be followed by the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad). Still the PAC did not read the signs.
Now, in its last days, the PAC is fast misapplying the wrong remedies for its misdiagnosis. It is offering the electorate the same things that the ANC government has and continues to offer. The PAC has, until today, not come up with policies that will define it as different from the ANC.
In truth, it cannot. Not only because it has comical Pheko at its helm, but because the ANC under Mbeki has closed any policy gap the PAC hoped to occupy.
To ensure that it does not wake from its slumber, arch-Africanist Mbeki has now gone a step further in appointing former PAC members and leading lights in key positions to help him achieve his dream of a prosperous South Africa.
Dr Gilingwe Mayende is Director General of Land Affairs (directly in control of land redistribution). Justice Moseneke stands a good chance of being the next Chief Justice. Mafube publisher Thami Mazwai is leading the “African renaissance” movement. Cunningham Ngcukana, trade unionist and founder member of the PAC’s internal wing, the Pan Africanist Movement, is now set to head Nepad’s health, social affairs and labour desk. I can count many more.
Therefore, to protect the legacy of Sobukwe, defend the honour of its rich history and, for God’s sake, to immortalise itself, the PAC must call it a day. Pheko must call the final rally (April 6, the day of its founding, would have been ideal), inviting all current and former members of the PAC to close the party.
Pheko must tell his people that, while the ANC took a detour, it has returned to build the kind of South Africa Sobukwe wanted — the South Africa that recognises African leadership. Accepting that the ANC is a broad church, Pheko must call for Africanists to join the ANC and influence policy from within the party that Sobukwe was once a member of.
In his closing speech, Pheko must say: “I had a dream that our message has reached our people. That the policies of Sobukwe have finally found their home in Mbeki, who even smokes a pipe like Sobukwe.
“I had a dream that the land is slowly but surely being delivered back to our people. I dreamed that the boundaries between Cape and Cairo, Morocco and Madagascar, are finally disappearing — thanks to the Africanist Nepad, thanks to Mbeki.”
Therefore from next year, Africanists, including Mbeki, can hold an annual event on April 6 to celebrate Africanism — in honour of Sobukwe and the many others who bequeathed to this country a very noble principle.
Ramotene Mabote is an entrepreneur and a proud Africanist