The Dangers of Liberalism: A Short Reflection on the African National Congress in South Africa

By Xaba, Wanelisa | Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal, Annual 2019 | Go to article overview

The Dangers of Liberalism: A Short Reflection on the African National Congress in South Africa


Xaba, Wanelisa, Yale Human Rights and Development Law Journal


People of colour all over the world exist and have to rebuild their humanity deep within the ruins of colonial imperialism and white supremacist heteropatriarchal neoliberal capitalism. For many of us, our sense of orientation is lost between essentialist longing for "pre-colonial Africa" and the violent colonial interpretation of our histories. Can you imagine? Trying to build your humanity amongst the ruins of an all-encompassing, unrelenting, and continuously re-inventing system? It is a big task. This is what any requests to engage with the oppressor must be measured against. Do we have time to engage the oppressor? When we take into consideration the energy and resilience required for us to survive the system (which seeks to kill us at every turn) and reimagine a decolonial antisystem humanity, the answer is clear. It is unequivocally no.

Moreover, asking freedom defenders to engage the oppressors, especially within the context of human rights, makes dangerous assumptions about our oppressors. It assumes that our oppressors have a conscience. It assumes that our oppressors are capable of or want reform. It assumes that our oppression is an accident of nature. No! Our oppression is a carefully engineered system of denigration, disease, and psycho-social death. Every waking moment it dreams up new ways of drowning Black lives. It salivates over Black death. It celebrates our demise and destruction. How can I speak to such a system? What string of sentences and woolen paragraphs can I offer at the altar of death?

As Assata Shakur asserts, "Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them." (1) She is precisely right because the people who oppress us have no moral compass. Our chains and our deaths are evidence of this. The destruction of the world and nature is evidence of this. The bones of our ancestors at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean are evidence of this. The evolution of colonialism and white supremacist heteropatriarchal neoliberal capitalism from its inception until now is evidence that the system has no peace with justice and equality.

One of the greatest failures of the African National Congress (ANC) during the resistance against Apartheid was its timid posture towards the oppressor. The organization and its leadership greatly appealed to the consciousness of the oppressor. At the height of colonial terrorism and white supremacy, this ideologically-bankrupt organization advocated for multiculturalism. Amidst Pan-Africanist cries for the reclamation of the land from colonisers, the ANC was creating soul-ties with them. Despite the Pan-Africanist Congress' cries for "Africa for Africans" the ANC chanted alongside white communists, "South Africa belongs to all who live in it." How could it be for all who live in it if a settler minority was killing Africans, continuing a centuries-long history of making the continent bleed? How could the ANC remained untroubled by the illegitimate presence of people who came as a result of genocide and maintained their presence through genocide? In fact, despite the liberalism of the Freedom Charter, the "imminent sell-out seeds [were] already pregnant within the ANC, long before ... the 1950's." (2) At inception, the ANC was a middle-class boys club that was disconnected from the Black working class.

Taking into consideration its history, it is no surprise that the ANC sold out the freedom of poor Black South Africans in 1994. Instead of decolonizing and obliterating white supremacy, the ANC chose to administer it while white people further consolidated power. Moreover, the ANC chose to rewrite history and legitimize their leadership by positioning themselves as the liberators of Black people, even though it was ordinary Black South Africans who had fought Apartheid. Revolutionary fighters like Winnie Mandela were sidelined from the narrative because they did not fit the sanitised "Rainbow Nation" political project. …

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