Some prominent communists and Indians that were part of the Treason Trial with Nelson Mandela: clockwise from top left:
Bram Fischer; Joe Slovo; Yusuf Dadoo; Billy Nair; Helen Joseph; Rusty Bernstein; Ben Turok; Ahmed Kathrada (centre)
The South African government found an unusual ally in its fight against the ANC: the South African Communist Party.
Many liberal minded white South Africans might have been persuaded to support the opposition Progressive Party rather than the ruling party had it not been for the threat of communism. The communism bogeyman became one of the governments most powerful allies in driving the majority of the white electorate into the same laager. Apartheid, so the governing party proclaimed, was the foil to a Communist-inspired takeover in South Africa.
There can be no denying that the Soviet Union had it’s eye on Africa, and South Africa’s abundant minerals in particular, but the likelihood of communist revolutionary regime change ever happening in South Africa was remote. The irony of this was that Nelson Mandela, and the ANC Youth League, were extremely wary of communism:
‘We may borrow from foreign ideologies, but we reject the wholesale importation of foreign ideologies into Africa,’ the ANCYL said at the time of it’s formation in 1944.
This was an implicit rebuke of the Communist Party, which Mandela then felt was dominated by whites and undermined African initiative. Mandela was, as such, ‘firmly opposed to allowing communists or whites to join the league.’
Mandela was also cautious about the place of Indians and The South African Indian Congress in the struggle, who he saw as exploiters of black labour in their role as shopkeepers and merchants. The issue was taken up at an ANC NEC meeting, where Mandela’s view was voted down. Mandela, however, persisted, and raised the matter once more at the national conference. Once again Mandela’s view was rejected by the highest levels of the ANC, and he was forced to accept this position. He says of this:
‘Unity amongst the black people – Africans, Coloureds and Indians – in South Africa had at last become a reality.’
THE ANC WOULD HAVE FAILED
What kind of struggle would have occurred had Mandela and the ANCYL got their way, as they eventually did with the change from passive resistance to the armed struggle? In this, I suspect, Mandela made an error of judgement. Such a policy would have seen the ANC go the way of its later opposition, the PAC and AZAPO, both of which were exclusionary in their approach. Exclusion of any kind is never a lasting solution. It may win some short term popularity with extremists, but it will soon fizzle out and lose support in a democratic world order.
Most people reject those that they fear, not because of innate racism, but out of ignorance. When we come to know and understand those that we reject, we no longer fear them. Mandela’s rejection of whites, communists and Indians was based on the premise that they would undermine the African’s struggle for liberation. The opposite was, in fact, the truth: if it were not for the intellectual and organizational input of these three groups, the ANC would surely have failed to convince the world that it was a capable government in waiting for the entire population of SA.