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Date: Sun, 9 Jul 1995 21:01:54 -0200
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From: ancdip@wn.apc.org (tim jenkin)
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Subject: Mayibuye July 1995

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Mayibuye study series No. 1: The South African Transition - in a World Context

Mayibuye, Vol. 6, no. 3, July 1995

The transition that has been happening in SA has been confusing for many of us. We can all see that there has been some progress. But do our old concepts and approaches still apply?

How do we locate what has been happening in SA these last four years? Has the transition in SA been part of a wider world process? If so what kind of process does it fit?

Are we involved in a national liberation process of decolonisation? Or is it more a negotiated transition to democracy?

In this series we will go in depth into many of these questions.

Early years

The ANC has always located the South African struggle in the broader context of world developments. This has been a key strength of our movement.

In 1906 Pixley ka Isaka Seme wrote "The Regeneration of Africa". This was to be an important inspiration for the formation of the ANC six years later. The Anglo-Boer War at the turn of the century had produced the first negotiated, power-sharing arrangement in our country. But it was a deal between the British Colonial Office and local white settlers. The majority of South Africa's people, like those of the continent at large, remained colonised.

Right from the start, the ANC located itself in a broader African anti-colonial struggle.

After the Second World War

In December 1943, as the end of the Second World War was in sight, the ANC national conference endorsed a key document, "Africans' Claims in South Africa". A broad alliance of international forces was on the brink of defeating fascism and nazism. But how different was fascism from the racial oppression of colonised peoples? Countries in Europe that had suffered military occupation by fascist forces had every right to fight national liberation struggles, and to receive international support.

But what of the people of Asia and Africa? Would the period after the Second World War simply return them to colonialism? Was democracy just for Europeans and North Americans? Sensing that world politics was about to be restructured, the ANC made its own progressive interventions into these debates.


In the 1950s and early 1960s dozens of African and Asian national liberation movements were indeed to lead their people to independence. This was one of the positive fruits of the post-Second World War victory. But decolonisation also had other, less positive, reasons.

The old colonial powers - like Britain and France - had lost ground to the United States. The US saw in decolonisation an opportunity to open up new markets for its own companies. Formal decolonisation, US imperialist circles realised, need not block imperial control. Instead of installing American colonial administrations to replace British and French colonisers, dollar power and local neo-colonial collaborators could do a better job.

Neo-colonialism or NDR?

This was the world context in which the Congress of the People convened at Kliptown in June 1955. Formal decolonisation, a new flag and anthem, were not all that were at stake in South Africa. Everyone had the right to citizenship, yes. But there were two different paths to decolonisation:

  • a neo-colonial path that bestowed formal rights, but left the majority of people still living in poverty; or
  • a more far-reaching national democratic revolution.

The social and economic content of decolonisation was critical. This is what the Congress movement began to discuss for the first time in some substance in 1955. And this is the true meaning of the Freedom Charter. Once more, the ANC was connecting our own struggle to developments in the world.

The progressive path?

But how were national liberation movements to embark on a progressive national democratic path in a world dominated by imperialism?

This was the question that the ANC increasingly asked itself in the 1950s and 60s. The most outstanding document to emerge from this process was the "Strategy and Tactics" document of the ANC's 1969 Morogoro Conference.

A second major power, the Soviet Union, had emerged from the ashes of the Second World War. The existence of a second, Soviet-dominated power bloc, provided at best support and at the very least, some room for manoeuvre for progressive Third World liberation movements. By aligning themselves with the Soviet bloc, or by at least practising non-alignment, progressive liberation forces could hope to win some breathing space for themselves.

This was the strategic orientation of the ANC at this time.

How relevant now?

However, the world has changed dramatically in the last few years. So how valid are our historic strategic perspectives now? This is the key question to which we shall return in future instalments of this series.

The Mayibuye Study Series will appear monthly to prompt discussion and debate about politics and theory. The next few issues will focus on the South African transition in a global context.

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