Faith: The Journal of the International League of Religious Socialists

Winter 2004 Edition (HTML Version)

Previous Editions
Focus on South Africa
Teaching Religion or Teaching Religions? - Rev. Cedric Mayson
The Politics of Convergence - Iqbal Jhazbay & Ebrahim Schuitema
Beyers Naude: A true South African who refused to stand on the sidelines - Valli Moosa

Creative acts of social solidarity: Social movements and the democratic state - Kgalema Motlanthe

Focus on South Africa

In November, ILRS President Pär-Axel Sahlberg and Secretary General Andrew Hammer made a visit to South Africa to meet with our comrades in the ANC Commission on Religious Affairs, and to attend the Socialist International Council meeting in Johannesburg. Our comrade Cedric Mayson joined the ILRS delegation at the Council, and we made an intervention which addressed the issue of values and religious influences on society. Pär-Axel was well received, and the statement was distributed to the delegates.

Over the next few days, we met with the Secretary General of the ANC, Kgalema Motlanthe, and our comrade Iqbal Jhazbay arranged for us to meet with Adlee Jacobs, a longtime Muslim socialist activist, and to appear on his Islamic radio station for an interview. In many ways, the South African experience to which we were introduced is an example of the kind of world we should like to build. In one square kilometre of Johannesburg, we were shown a Catholic and Protestant church, a mosque, a synagogue, and a Hindu temple, demonstrating a degree of diversity that is enviable in most parts of the world. The government is actively promoting tolerance between faiths and cultures, and despite the troubles that the nation may be having in other areas, we have a lot we can learn from South Africa in terms of their struggle and how to respect diversity in our world. As we look forward to much more input from our South African comrades in building the future of the ILRS, this edition of our newsletter places the focus on South African perspectives on religion, politics, and ubuntu, which can perhaps best be translated as respecting each other's humanity. The following articles come from the ANC magazine Umrabulo.

Teaching Religion or Teaching Religions?

Rev. Cedric Mayson

South Africa has produced a new policy for learning about religion in schools. Political and religious leaders who are opposed to the ANC have been spreading false stories about this policy, and twisting the truth.

Cedric Mayson of the ANC Commission for Religious Affairs reports on the matter, quoting extensively from the policy document itself. This new initiative is exciting religion education around the world, and there will be much interest in the text books being written in preparation for its launch in 2005.

South Africa has a rich diverse religious heritage. It is rooted in the primary traditional spirituality from the beginnings of human community; it includes many historical religions imported from other parts of the world; and flourishes in the African indigenous spirituality which is spreading so rapidly today.

Our responsibility is to pass on this rich religious heritage which falls into two parts; Religion education and Religious education.

Religious education means the instruction of an adherent in the tenets, tradition and practices of a particular religion, the nurturing of faith and the advocacy of membership. It seeks to inculcate a specific viewpoint on faith and of religious adherence. This is unquestionably the responsibility of the religious bodies themselves, of the home, and of the family.

In a democratic country like South Africa all religious groups are free to propagate their confession or sectoral form of faith (provided it is not racist) and no government education department can interfere or usurp that right and duty. Religious Education is a religious matter in which religions are free to preach advocate or indoctrinate people within the limits of the Constitution. The state is not a religious organization, or theological body and cannot abuse its power by attempting to propagate any particular religion or religions. The state must maintain neutrality with respect to religion in all of its public institutions, including public schools. Religious institutions need not be neutral, and can teach children whatever they want.

Religion Education, on the other hand, is a different process. The educational mission of public schools in a democracy includes the responsibility to provide a free open space in which learners can explore religion, religions, and religious diversity in South Africa and the world.

It concerns teaching not preaching; and its focus is not on being a person of faith but a person informed on the facts of all the faith groupings in South Africa. Government has clear educational goals and objectives to explain what religions there are, what they are about, and ways that increase understanding, respect, diversity and clarify the religious and non-religious sources of moral values. Religion - like politics, economics or literature - is an important human activity that learners should know about if they are to be well educated.

The country's Coat of Arms says 'diverse people, unite'. According to our Constitution everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion. Religious citizens are free to exercise their basic right to religious conviction expression and association. It is general education in this field that is the concern of the Education Department, not the promotion of this or that religion.

Diversity is a national resource: the knowledge of it is enriching and the core values to which all religions adhere are included in the Constitution.

These include equity, tolerance, religious diversity, openness, accountability and social honour.

Three basic features of religion education are:-

- Educational knowledge, exposing learners to the richness and variety of religion in a well prepared and respectful manner.

- Education about diversity, in an environment which encourages the sense of acceptance and security for all, whatever their race or creed. It means that people should appreciate, and feel emotionally secure, in the field of religion.

- Education in traditional values: these are moral values which include the question of moral regeneration to which all religious and non-religious citizens adhere.

The State is a secular state which is neither religious nor anti-religious. Policy is based on neutrality towards specific religions, but a cooperation which affirms both legal separation and creative interaction.

Religion education must be justified by the educational character and value of the information conveyed to learners. It is justified by the human aspects and values that religions promote such as the transcendental, the human search for meaning, love and service to others, and by the desirable social ends such as expanding understanding, increasing tolerance and reducing prejudice, the promotion of social justice and care of the environment, that can be served by this field of study within the school curriculum.

A programme in religion education can facilitate constructive thinking as it provides an opportunity for learners to develop a disciplined imagination that will empower them to recognize a common humanity within religious diversity. Religion education creates a context in which learners can increase their understanding of themselves and others, deepen their capacity for empathy, and eventually develop powers of critical reflection in thinking through problems of religious or moral concern. By teaching learners about the role of religion in history, society and the world, a unified multi tradition programme in the academic study of religion can be an important part of the world balance and complete education.

Like any learning programme the study of religion, religions and religious diversity must be developmental. It begins at junior primary level by exploring the more tangible forms of religion and the observable aspects of diversity found in churches, mosques, synagogues, temples and other places of gathering for religious life.

At primary level learners begin to study the basic components of religion such as stories, songs, sacred places, founders, rituals and festivals with illustrations drawn from various religious traditions and communities in South Africa and the world. At junior secondary level religion education assists to integrate these component parts of religion into a disciplined study of the variety of religious traditions.

At senior secondary level religion education introduces learners to the kinds of critical thinking about significant issues of personal morality and social ethics often associated with the religion.

Such a programme needs to be facilitated by trained committed and enthusiastic professional educators, who can include qualified members of religious communities.

School assemblies have been a long-standing tradition in many of our schools but they are not compulsory. They may form an integral part of school activity. Assembly is not necessarily to be seen as an occasion for religious expression, but if such an expression does take place it should acknowledge and reflect the multi religious nature of South African society in an appropriate manner.

The law enables schools to be used for the promotion of religious activities, but these must be conducted outside the normal school curriculum, and schools with public support must make the facilities available to people of different religious groups if so required.

Citizens with sufficient means can establish their own schools, ( providing these comply with the law) and may propagate their own sectarian form of religion should they so wish, but this must not exclude the promotion of religion education to all South African learners.

A great deal of the political propaganda being raised in some of the media, is based on false interpretations of the new religion education. Religion education is an exciting South African initiative in a field which has caused concern to people throughout the world. It is something which we may practice with delight, in the knowledge that our children are being properly informed and educated in the field of religion as they are in the other fields of study. Religion education puts no barriers on the activity of religious institutions, homes, parents or families to propagate religious education in their own space. Religion education is the wider context of what is happening in our society to preserve our heritage and respect our diversity as we build new bridges into unity.

The Politics of Convergence

Iqbal Jhazbhay & Ebrahim Schuitema

Iqbal Jhazbhay is a member of the ANC Commission of Religious Affairs and on the board of the Institute for Global Dialogue. Ebrahim Schuitema has extensive experience in mining, and teaches courses on leadership.

The Divergence: From Africa to the World

The current archeological view is that all human beings alive today are the decedents of a single ancestor who lived between 140,000 and 150,000 years ago in Southern Africa. It also appears that mankind spent the majority of this time on Africa, only leaving the continent around 40,000 or 50,000 years ago. For most of that African past we resembled San people, who are the people alive today who are thought to have the most in common with our earliest ancestors.

The original population of Africa by people appears to have been slow. The speculation is that it was opportunistic, with people being principally concerned with the hunting on the other side of the mountain than what lay on the other side of the world. When we left the continent, however, the great divergence began. Like the proverbial story of Babel, people diverged into the far corners of the globe developing in the process into people who looked different, who spoke different languages and who behaved in very different ways. The human story of the last 50,000 years is a story of divergence.

The Convergence: Our Humanness

However, the globe is just that, a globe. When divergent forces move far enough away from each other on a circular surface they end up converging on the other side. This is exactly what has been happening to mankind over the last century. If you go to virtually any city in the world today you will find humankind there. You will find all the races represented. You will probably find languages spoken from every continent if not every nation. We are entering the time of convergence

To succeed at the time of convergence must mean that we have discovered our basic humanity, that which lies beyond our diversity of race, language, culture and religion. If we are not going to wipe each other out at this time it will mean that we have discovered the core of being human that lies beyond our differences. it would mean that we have rediscovered ubuntu, humanness.

Our Ubuntu and Our Intent

Two people from different cultural backgrounds may do things to each other that may be construed to be discourteous and unacceptable on a behavioural level. The eye contact of a person from an Afrikaans background is normally very direct, whereas that of a person from a traditional Tswana background is much softer. initialliy when these two people meet they may both establish a negative view of each other since each experience the behaviour of the other as offensive. The Afrikaner experiences the Tswana to be shifty and the Tswana experiences the Afrikaner to be invasive.

Should these two people each take the opportunity to find out what the other person intends with their behaviour their view of each other is very likely to improve substantially. What the Tswana will learn is that when the Afrikaner is looking him in the eye he is saying that he is being honest and straight. That he has nothing to hide. What the Afrikaner will learn is that when the Tswana is softening his eye contact it is a mark of respect and not of being predatory or invasive.

Both will essentially discover the same about the other. Both will discover that the other party intended to be correct with them. They both had the same intention and that intention was benevolent. Once this has been established they are likely to be a little embarrassed with regard to their own presumption because they will find something which they have in common, namely intent. There can only be divergence on the level of behaviour since behaviour is culturally determined. If we seek to converge it will only happen if we have understood the issue of intent. The key variable that accounts for ubuntu or a humanness that transcends all culture is that of intent.

Maturation: The Human Being Becoming - to Give Unconditionally

At the level of intent all human beings are the same because the problem of intent is wired into the essence of being human. Being human is not a static thing, it is a moving thing. In a sense to be human is to be part of an ongoing process of maturation. This process of maturation is pinned between two points, namely birth and death. Both birth and death have an unconditional character.

At birth the totality of an infant's potential lies before it. It is therefore here to get in the fullest, most unconditional sense of the word. It is equally true that at the moment of death one loses it all unconditionally. We arrive getting it all and we leave giving it all. The process of maturation that transmutes our lives implies a movement from one extreme of unconditional getting to the other of unconditional giving.

The difference between giving it all and having it all taken away lies in the intent of the one who is doing the giving. For example, assume that I have R100 stolen from me and my wife gives a neighbour in distress R100. There is clearly a huge difference in terms of how we experience what happened. I will be of the view that I was taken from and she will be of the view that she gave. That difference does not sit in the R100, it sits in the intent of the person going through the experience. I was taken from because I did not intend to give.

The process of the maturation in the direction of unconditional giving is, therefore, a process of the maturation of the will or of intention. All human beings are born and they die, irrespective of their cultural heritage. We are all here to face the same exam of irrevocable loss. To succeed at being human and to rediscover ubuntu means to cultivate the capacity to give unconditionally.

Benevolent and Malevolent Intent: Acting Beyond Self-Interest

The above suggests that intent can pattern in one of two ways. Benevolent intent is concerned with the self being there to serve the other. Malevolent intent is concerned with getting the other to serve the self. Both maturity and ubuntu are concerned with action with benevolent intent.

When the self acts with malevolent intent the other resists the self and the relationship over time becomes conflict-ridden. This suggests that people who behave on the basis of malevolent intent will diverge. Their society by definition becomes increasingly unstable and fractured over time. When the self acts on the basis of benevolent intent the self earns trust from others and harmony is cultivated over time. A society populated by people of benevolent intent will therefore be convergent and harmonious. They are people who are acting for reasons that are bigger than their own self-interest.

Benevolent Intent and Empowerment

Intention defines interest and therefore attention. A person demonstrates their maturity by what they pay attention to in the world. If you pay attention to what you want to get from the other, the other's ability to withhold what you want makes you manipulable. They are strong and you are weak. The other has power over the self. The self can only react to the agenda set by the other. The self becomes the slave and the other is the master.

When the self pays attention to what it should be giving to the other, the other no longer has power over the self. The self slips out from underneath the control of the other in the situation. The self transcends the situation, grows and becomes powerful. The degree to which a person's motive is conditioned by their expectation is the degree to which they are defined bby the outcome of events. The more unconditional a person is with regard to what they are contributing the more they will define the outcome of events.

The empowerment of the self coincides with the shift of attention of the self from taking to giving, from expectation to contribution. Empowering people means to focus their attention on the contribution they can make. Disabling and enslaving people means to keep them occupied with their expectations.

Consistent with the distinction between expectation and contribution is the distinction between needs and values. An immature person will pay attention to their own needs in any given situation whereas a mature person would be more concerned with doing the right thing in the situation. A mature person acts consistently with the value that is operative in that situation.

Rights and Slavery, Bill of Duties and Freedom

Paying attention to one's rights in a situation means emphasising what the other owes to the self. The focus on rights is therefore similar to the focus on expectation and needs, it cultivates the psychology of a victim in the self and breeds a world view of entitlement. By contrast the focus on duties places a person's attention on what they should be giving and it therefore cultivates the psychology of freedom. To construct one's intention on expectations, needs, and rights is to become the slave and the victim of the other. To pay attention to one's contribution, values, and duties is to cultivate freedom. Freedom is concerned with basing one's intention and attention on one's duties.

A bill of rights is by definition an attempt to redress the iniquities of the past. The attention that it cultivates is reactive and disabling. When it is the cornerstone of a political ideology it will cultivate a sense of expectation and entitlement in the citizen and will eventually establish a society that is falling apart.

If we wish to rise above the iniquities of the past we should be articulating a proactive political ideology that focuses people's attention not on what has been done to them but on what they should do. The political discourse of the future has to be proactive and focused on what sits in people's hands rather than what sits in the hands of others. It has to be concerned with a bill of duties.

Establishing a bill of duties implies shifting the attention of the citizens from their entitlement to their accountability. It cannot, therefore, be done effectively without a thorough revision of our view of crime and punishment. Our current attitude to crime is informed by the politics of rights. It creates a society that is demonstrably soft on crime. Pursuing a bill of duties would require re-opening the debate regarding a number of issues.

The Politics of Convergence: Africa, From Bill of RIghts to Bill of Duties

If we wish to reconstruct this society we have to remind each other of the super-ordinate vision that each South African has been the inheritor of. We are the rainbow nation. Our motto, in the language of an extinct San people, means 'Unity in Diversity'. This is very significant. It is as if we have been given a message from our earliest human ancestors to rise above that which divides us and to aspire towards that which unites us. More than any other people in the world we are being called upon to be the people of convergence. We have the task of lighting the way for all of humanity.

It is not insignificant that our people have coined the phrase ubuntu to describe this basic humanness. We are an experiment in rediscovering the basic human pattern that the whole world has an interest in. We have been given the most extraordinary historical send off on this journey.

We have had the Madibas, Sisulus, Mbekis, who created the miracle of reconciliation out of the most extreme and deliberate divergence, namely apartheid. Other societies struggle with reconciliation while being infinitely less heterogeneous than South Africa. The Northern Irish are still sitting on a powder keg despite the fact that both groups are Christian, have a common language a common culture and common genetic material.

If we are to rise to the historical occasion that faces us we have to understand that the first skirmish in the struggle for liberation has been successfully fought, and that skirmish was about the establishment of a bill of rights. To rest on this achievement would mean to lose the war. The war for human rights does not address slavery and oppression, it recognises and entrenches it. We need to take the next step.

The real struggle for liberation is still to come. It is the struggle to establish a society that is free from tyranny because the citizen is the steward of his world. By definition these are not ones who the society takes care of, they are the ones who take care of society. They are citizens with duties, rather than citizens with rights.

The recovery of humanity cannot be separated from the recovery of humanity's home — Africa. We will never rise above the quagmire of corruption, impoverishment, and dependency by echoing the politics of 19th century Europe. The liberalism of Europe is passé because the politics of Africa is on the march. These are the politics of convergence and the Bill of Duties.

Viva Ubuntu! Viva Africa!

Beyers Naude:
A True South African Who Refused to Stand on the Sidelines

Valli Moosa, member of the ANC National Executive Committee, pays tribute to Beyers Naude, an outstanding fighter who chose to follow his conscience.

On 22 September 1963, Beyers Naude ascended the pulpit at his Aasvoelkop congregation in the heartland of conservative Afrikaner nationalism in Johannesburg, and renounced the heresy of apartheid. "We must obey God, not man," was his simple message, taken from the Book of Acts.

In one split second Christiaan Frederick Beyers Naude had displaced himself from the comfort of the known and the predictable and embarked on a road so less travelled that there were no mentors or guides, except for an unshakeable belief in justice and righteousness and an unshakeable belief in reconciliation. He not only dislodged himself from the tripartite monolith of Afrikanerdom: the National Party, the Broederbond and the NG Kerk [Dutch Reformed Church]. Moreover, he embarked on a proactive journey of operational and strategic participation in the liberation struggle: a decision with devastating consequences for himself and especially his family.

As the thinking man that Oom Bey was, he knew that his public repudiation of the unholy alliance between church and state in the perpetuation of apartheid would unleash the venom of a scorned Afrikanerdom. The General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church immediately revoked his status as minister of the church. He was condemned and ostracised. His family, his wife Ilse and children Johann, Francois, Hermann and Liesel, had to share his role as new social outcasts. He was placed under house arrest for seven years, from 1977 until 1984, without ever being charged for anything.

Beyers Naude was not the only white person who joined the struggle against the internationally condemned crime of apartheid - and also not the only Afrikaner. This country has spawned a tradition of non-racialism, however small, throughout centuries of struggle. In the history of the ANC, white compatriots had participated proactively in pursuit of justice for all.

Oom Bey was and will be remembered as a singular individual - a man that came face to face with hard choices and who despite the threat of great hardship made the right choice. He was to be denied the comfort of language and cultural solidarity for many decades. Much remains to be said and will be said in other arenas about the dynamic role he has played in the struggle for church unity in the Dutch Reformed family, that has despite his and many other people's attempts, still not overcome their racial divisions.

For Oom Bey the personal was political. With a solid Afrikaner bloodline, a firm foot in the Broederbond and the NG Kerk, Oom Bey, after a journey of intense inner turmoil had to finally unshackle himself from their Orwellian oppression in order to set his mind and conscience free. Without his personal liberation from the prescribed thoughts and pre-ordained positions of the Afrikaner monolith, especially the secretive Afrikaner Broederbond, Oom Bey could not fully embrace the higher truth: that all people are equal before God. He could no longer live a life of hypocrisy.

By the time Beyers Naude had made his giant leap, he had launched the small but influential Christian Institute which, until its banning, became an important platform for inter-faith action and a conduit for financial and other assistance from the international community. Dislodged from his establishment constraints, Oom Bey, who was never a fence sitter, carved his own unique role and crafted a contribution so unusual that many people still find it unthinkable that he not only joined the underground ANC, but more unbelievably became an active agent for the armed struggle.

The deep trust that each and every person that came into contact with him had in him, placed an enormous burden on him. He was first and foremost a people's person and inter-personal contact was never superficial. He cared deeply about each individual and understood full well the extent and might of the total onslaught that had been declared against the broad liberation front.

Beyers Naude raised funds from European governments, NGOs and church organisations internationally. Donors trusted him implicitly and trusted his judgment. Most of the organisations that were funded were semi-legal or completely underground. The funds became a lifeline to a nascent mass democratic movement that stretched its reach into a broad front of organisations whether they were overtly political or the trade unions, student organisations, civic organisations, religious organisations and indeed independent newspapers.

He played an enormous role in convincing the donor country and donor organisations to fund the many grassroots organisations that could not operate openly and could not dare to have a bank account. He did this voluntary and as a foot soldier. Never did he try to gain a leadership position in any of these organisations and never did he claim credit for any of his effort. He never tried to influence the politics and particular agenda of those he channelled funds to. He was never associated with one political faction or the other and was never accused of favouring one above the other.

Once committed, he was not a man who believed in standing on the sideline and hedging his bets. Yet, he also did not try to be a populist leader or a hero - he remained true to himself, a church leader and an Afrikaner, especially the latter. He never pretended to be anything else. His language and cultural preferences accentuated his Afrikanerness. His bravery in denouncing the pillars of apartheid and express opposition to continued state oppression became a north star for many younger Afrikaners who had to cross their own Rubicon. Even those who did not know him personally knew of him and found his courage and commitment an anchor while they themselves were questioning the ethical and moral bankruptcy of racial oppression and state sponsored violence.

What Oom Bey showed was that to be part of the liberation struggle, to believe in the freedom and equality of all human beings, to believe in a true democracy and embrace human rights, did not require one to become somebody else or forsake your language and culture. Indeed, he demonstrated in a most engaging manner that language, culture and ethnic background should never stand in the way of one's pursuit of a higher truth, but equally that the higher truth did not automatically cancel out the deeply personal attributes of language, culture and religion.

This year we are celebrating ten years of our cherished democracy. The debate is still raging and the national question is still being debated.

Minority groups feel uncertain and too many people are still asking: who is a true South African or what do you have to look like or speak like to be a true South African. Oom Bey's life makes it absolutely clear that: he, or she, who is white-skinned and Afrikaans speaking is as much South African, and as complete a South African as he, or she, who is dark skinned and speaks Sepedi.

No person exists as a linear being and Oom Bey demonstrated in the most visible and profound manner that we exist as beings in a multiple of ways which allows us to be Afrikaans speaking, culturally an Afrikaner but equally each others keepers across cultural and ethnic lines. The one does not exclude the other.

Dearest Oom Bey, thank you for your life. Thank you for your humanity. We will remember you forever. Your cherished memory will always bring a smile on our faces, a lump in our throats and a tug on our collective conscience.

Beyers Naude died in Johannesburg on 7 September 2004. This is an edited version of an address at the Johannesburg City Hall, September 2004.

Creative acts of social solidarity: Social movements and the democratic state

Kgalema Motlanthe
Cooperative engagement and creative tension between the state and various social formations are part of a learning process which, writes Kgalema Motlanthe, is necessary in liberating our society from economic and social bondage.

Social movements are networks of associations that develop organically and spontaneously, especially among the poor and the working class. They build solidarity to respond to specific challenges that affect these communities.

Such challenges include eradicating poverty, advancing the moral well-being of the community, the quest for better sports facilities, combating crime, campaigning for better transport, and working to improve the health and education of members of the community. In various terrains of struggle, social movements emerge to address the shop floor issues of workers, the collective interests of residents, or specific issues pertaining to one or other sector of society.

As they build solidarity to resist and transcend such social problems, social movements can take a variety of organisational and ideological forms, being inspired by politics, culture, sexuality, religion or sport, to name but a few.

Social movements have always existed in this country, even in the old days, where the system of government was based on racial discrimination in all spheres of life, including education, skills training, access to health, and the distribution of income, employment, land and capital. Even under these conditions, and in the face of determined and violent repression, social movements forced open the spaces for popular solidarity and democracy.

Let's take two examples: one in the field of sport, and the other in the classroom. Despite being ruled by a repressive and unelected government that was determined to splinter society into racial divisions, communities across the country began to unite in the non-racial sports movement. In 1962, at the height of state repression, the South African Soccer League was formed to provide a framework for non-racial football games. The league operated in the old Transvaal, as well as Durban and Cape Town.

In response the regime acted to create racially-segregated soccer bodies, such as the South African Bantu Football Association, led by Bethuel Morolo.

Because of its readiness to organise and participate in racially-segregated sport, this organisation received the unstinting support of the racist regime, and gained access to a host of facilities that were denied the non-racial sports movement.

In the community of Mangaung, the creative solidarity of the people enabled them to resist this onslaught against their basic rights. Being excluded from the main stadium, the community established its own sports field where non-racial games could be played, and invited people of all colours and ethnicities to participate. The regime responded with what appeared to be overwhelming destructive force: every Friday night, tractors were dispatched to the community sports field to plough up the ground. Every Saturday morning the whole community would go to the sports ground. Armed with nothing more than rollers, they would deploy their collective muscle and prepare the field once again. The local football team, Mangaung United, became a beacon of resistance to apartheid. The community of Mangaung and its football team became an agent for the creation of a new society, in the midst of so much destruction.

Another critical site of sectoral struggle was education. When it introduced Bantu Education in 1954, the apartheid regime set about a programme of weeding out of the teaching profession all those teachers who understood the importance of linking educational attainment with activism. At that time, many African teachers had simultaneously understood two things: first, that teaching was a calling to provide the service of education to our children, and that such education would be the key to the future progress of our people; second, that in conditions of racist autocracy, activism for social change was absolutely necessary.

These teachers understood the implication of both imperatives: the fact that they were activists could not allow them to undermine the academic attainments of their students, even as they participated in struggle. They were able to link the struggle for education with the wider tasks of national liberation. Many of the greatest leaders of the liberation movement came directly from this background: E'skia Mphahlele, Robert Sobukwe, Zephania Mothopeng, Oliver Tambo, Govan Mbeki and Albert Luthuli, to name a few.

The apartheid regime systematically weeded them out of the teaching profession because it had correctly realised that these activist teachers were a direct challenge to its authority and a danger to its survival as an oppressive system. These pioneers were able to produce educated children, who would use their education to create a new society.

Rich tapestry of activism

These two examples are just two instances of South Africa's rich tapestry of social movement activism. There was always a range of associational forms and movements around community interests that could never be fully suppressed by the state, despite its ongoing attempts to do so. Faith-based organisations, trade unions, social clubs, sports clubs, umanyanos, stokvels and burial societies, and the Zoutpansburg Balimi Association, Sebatakgomo, the Pondo Revolt against cattle culling, the resistance against land expropriations across the country, religious movements such as that led by Mgijima at Ntabelanga in the 1920s, the organised working class movement and even the liberation movement itself: all survived in the most uncompromising environment.

Out of these struggles emerged the coherent ideology of national liberation.

Invariably, all of these social movements, wherever they were working, understood themselves to be acting in concert with the liberation movement.

The links between their localised, sectoral struggles, the immediate problems they attempted to overcome through resistance on the one hand, and the broader struggle for a democratic and non-racial change on the other, were clear and apparent. If the ANC was the head of the spear, penetrating the enemy's armour, the social movements were its shaft, directing it towards the correct target.

This understanding culminated in the formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF). The UDF was not the ANC, and it was not a front for the ANC. It was not formed at the behest of the ANC and was not under its control. The ANC's attitude and relation with the Front was best described by then ANC President Oliver Tambo, who said in 1984: "The emergence of the UDF was exactly what we were talking about during the year of Unity in Action, 1982.

It was what we envisaged in our call in 1983 for United Action. We had called for confrontation with the enemy on all fronts, by all our people in their various organisational formations. The response to this call was the emergence of the UDF."

"These 700 organisations that belong to the UDF were not created by the ANC.

But the ANC has called on the people to organise themselves... we said, organise and direct your attention and activity to freeing yourselves so that you become human beings and citizens of your own country, which you are not."

The ANC remained the organised political representative of the people and fighting force for the attainment of democratic and revolutionary change in our society. Only it could effectively coordinate the four pillars of struggle that led to the demise of apartheid: mass mobilisation, the underground machinery, armed struggle and the international isolation of the regime.

At the height of these struggles, most activists belonged to five or more structures: a civic, a trade union, a cultural group, a student organisation, as well as political and military structures which continued to exist underground. This mass mobilisation of social forces eventually resulted in the dawn of democracy.

New vistas of social opportunity

Today, under democratic conditions many of the social movements of the past are still in existence. At the same time, new vistas of social opportunity, new spaces for the mobilisation of solidarity, new prospects for community organisation have emerged by dint of the democratic order.

Community-based organisations (CBOs) have grown into a diverse and vibrant movement, seeking to deepen solidarity and so realise the rights and obligations contained in the constitution. In doing so they come into constant contact with the various institutions of the democratic state.

Given the range and diversity of these organisations and given the various forces at play on the terrain of the state, such relationships are complex.

Sometimes there is conflict, but more often engagement and dialogue.

Sometimes there is frustration, but more often social movements and CBOs are able to benefit from their interaction with a democratic government that depends on the whole of the people for its legitimacy.

There is still a long way to go in this regard, and certainly the state could improve its capacity to respond. This is most obviously the case at the local level, where the democratic non-racial state is barely five years old. Nevertheless, in contrast to the racist and authoritarian practices of the past, a qualitative change has occurred, and progress is fast being made towards a situation in which the people are able to liberate themselves from poverty, disease and ignorance.

One of the defining and unusual features of the new society we are building is that, in the democratic South Africa, even difficulties that appear insurmountable can be resolved through dialogue and discussion. The relationship between social movements and the democratic state can be characterised as one of cooperative engagement and creative tension.

Living, as we do, in a society that continues to be divided by class, it is not surprising that the most important of these social movements is that of organised labour. Three federations, NACTU, FEDUSA and COSATU are larger than ever before, although there are still large numbers of the working class that are unorganised, partly as a result of new methods of organising production and the creation of casualised labour. All three federations relate to the government as a partner in their struggles on the shopfloor.

Legislation in support of workers' rights has been introduced and this, together with the organised solidarity of the working class, has led to a historic shift of power in favour of workers at the point of production. In broader society, the union movement plays an active role a range of processes. Forums such as the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) and the Millennium Labour Council facilitate their interaction with government, and unions are able to influence legislation through their direct participation in parliament. The union movement is able to do so because of their organisational capacity.

Across the country, social movements based on specific issues and localised struggles are learning to interact with government at various levels.

Government institutions too, are learning to interact with social movements.

Cooperative engagement and creative tension are part of this learning process, part of the struggle to create a democratic state, which is one of the critical elements in liberating ourselves from economic and social bondage.

The key challenge we have identified in this globalised world is the struggle against poverty. This informs our national developmental effort, but is also critical in defining our approach to Africa and the developing world as a whole. We do so in the knowledge that poverty is a global problem with universal dimensions.

In this context we need to pose the question of how we link our everyday struggles to this overarching national consensus on the need to push back the frontiers of poverty. In the same way that revolutionary teachers understood the link between education and activism, how do we understand the relationship between the struggles for the improvement of our own lives, with the struggle for the achievement of national development? Inspired by the community of Mangaung, which was able to use creative energy against the destructive forces of the apartheid regime, how can we create in our everyday practice a better South Africa for all our people, where poverty, ignorance and disease are defeated.

There will be some who have no interest in such objectives, but who serve entirely different purposes. Organisation requires resources and, in the process of accessing these resources, some may become beholden to the interests of donors rather than those of the people.

Interests of donors

Former ANC President Nelson Mandela told the ANC's 50th national conference in Mafikeng in 1997 that this situation created the possibility for some NGOs to act as instruments of foreign governments and institutions that fund them to promote the interests of these external forces. He said: "A 'Review of the USAID [United States Agency for International Development] Program in South Africa' dated November 5, 1996 and prepared by two members of the staff of the US House of Representatives, Lester Munson and Phillip Christenson, has this to say on this matter: 'USAID's program is not so much support for the Mandela government as support for USAID's undisclosed political activities within the South African domestic political arena involving the most difficult, controversial issues in South Africa. By funding advocacy groups to monitor and lobby for changes in government policies and even setting up trust funds to pay for legal challenges in court against the new government's action or inaction, USAID is in some respects making President Mandela's task more difficult.'"

"The old 'struggle NGOs' have been redesignated by USAID as 'civil society organisations' (or CSOs). USAID now funds CSOs to 'monitor public policy, provide public information, and advocate policy alternatives' and to serve as 'sentinels, brokers and arbiters for the public will'. The purpose of USAID funding is to enable these CSOs to 'function as effective policy advocacy groups' and 'to lobby' ... 'Through its NGOs, USAID intends to play a key role in domestic policy concerning the most difficult, controversial issues of national politics. USAIDs political agenda is ambitious and extensive.'"

Aside from the malignant influence of such practices, we should always remain alert to the emergence of two forms of opportunism that are inherent in any struggle.

The first arises when we are told: "Why get involved in struggles to change the world for the better because, since we are living in a capitalist system, any such action would amount to mere tinkering?" The second arises when we are told that the struggles we are involved in today are inconsequential, inappropriate stopgap measures and that the real struggle is still to come. In this vein, we are told that democracy, far from being an essential element in realising the goals of human liberation, is merely a bourgeois device. Rather than struggling to build the institutions of democracy we are urged to resolutely oppose them.

Both these forms of opportunism demobilise the masses because they undermine faith in the ability of solidarity and mobilisation to create new realities immediately, and a better society for our children.

The overarching struggle we have identified today, that of defeating poverty, requires a monumental creative effort. The cause of liberation cannot be served by a negative idea. Pure negation, which does not simultaneously create new social realities, is a dead-end because oppression in itself, no matter how great, does not create the basis for the struggle to abolish oppression. Rather, it is the creative act of social solidarity that can do so.

In this regard, it is worth recalling the words of Dr Martin Luther King Jnr, describing the importance and legacy of Dr WEB du Bois for the struggle for human liberation: "Above all he did not content himself with hurling invectives for emotional relief and then retire into smug passive satisfaction. History had taught him it is not enough for people to be angry. The supreme task is to organise and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force."

Kgalema Motlanthe is Secretary General of the ANC. This is an edited version of an address to a Centre for Urban and Built Environment Studies seminar on social movements, August 2004.

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