Painting over Rotten Boards: the Wellington ANC Centenary Conference

Posted: July 6, 2012 by Admin in 1981 Springbok Tour, Internationalism, New Zealand history, New Zealand politics, NZ Sport, PFLP, Poverty & Inequality, South Africa

by Don Franks

South Africa under the African National Congress – 1

South Africa under the African National Congress – 2

On August 18th – 19th The Stout Research Centre of Victoria University is hosting a conference “ANC CENTENARY: How NZ helped abolish apartheid”

This hui promises to be rather different from the raggedy arse anti-apartheid meetings us older activists attended.

The 2012 event is being held at the request of the New Zealand and South African High Commissions. Arnold Stofile, currently SA Ambassador to Germany is flying over with assistance from Air NZ. The university has waived its charge for the use of the lecture theatres at its down town Rutherford Building. The conference includes a $60 a head cocktail party.

The ANC Centenary Conference Committee offer “A full programme of New Zealand and South African speakers talking on these topics: 100 years of the ANC; Maori to the fore; Winds of change-the NZ movement gets organized; 1973 and Norman Kirk; International Aspects of the campaign; 1981 and Beyond; Impact on NZ society; The ANC today.”

My own feeling is that over the years we’ve given ourselves quite enough pats on the back for helping abolish apartheid and it’s time to get on with some internationalist struggle in the here and now. For example, exposing the imperialist role of so called “peace keepers” and supporting genuine liberation groups like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Not to mention opposing the menace of capitalism in New Zealand and South Africa.

There is one relevant item on the ANC conference agenda though – “The ANC today”.

Few former liberation movements have ended up as more anti-working class than the African National Congress, but it’s not likely that any awkward questions will be asked about the ANC at such a respectable establishment gathering.

Painting over rotten boards may hide the worms, but it doesn’t stop their activity. Neither do swept up official conferences prevent the continuation of struggle for truth and justice.

When invited to address the conference, leading anti-apartheid and social justice activist John Minto responded:

“I replied that I wouldn’t speak and for the same reason as I explained to her I won’t be coming either. For a number of reasons I don’t think it’s helpful to tie an event to mark the ANC Centenary with an event to examine the history of the New Zealand anti-apartheid movement. For example the movement in the earlier decades under discussion offered much broader support to the liberation struggle that to just the ANC.

“But my greatest concern is the failure of the seminar to look at what the ANC has done in the last 18 years of that centenary – namely when it has been in power in South Africa. The voices we should be bringing to New Zealand (as we did last year for the 30th anniversary of the Springbok Tour) are those such as S’Bu Zikode from Abahlali baseMjondolo (ABM) who speaks for a large group of the dispossessed in South Africa and whose movement has suffered violent attacks and killings at the hands of young ANC activists.

“On the same day I ( received the invite to the ANC Centenary) I received a statement from ABM which commented on the ANC celebration of its centenary with these words: “All is slowly sinking as the new government is making sure that we remember the heroes of the struggle but not what the struggle was for”. My concern is the seminar is precisely reflecting that view rather than the much more arguable view that the ANC has betrayed the struggle of the people of South Africa. The seminar looks more like an exercise in nostalgia than an honest appraisal of the ANC then and now.

“This is not intended as an attack on the people taking part in the seminar, many of whom I have great respect for. It’s unfortunate I didn’t have the opportunity to comment on the proposal before it was set in concrete as I would have put forward these views then and perhaps the seminar could have been associated with a much more robust analysis of ANC history. ”


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