“The is only one race, the human race”- R.M Sobukwe
This is probably the most misconstrued quote by Sobukwe. Over the years the quote has been used for narrow gains by the reactionary forces in the fight to liberalise Sobukwe and the PAC. What these reactionary forces conveniently miss, is the context in which Sobukwe was making this claim. Before I am accused of making the same mistake, let us revisit the speech where Sobukwe makes these claims
“And now for the thorny question of race. I do not wish to give a lengthy and learned dissertation on Race. Suffice it to say that even those scientists who do not recognize the existence of separate races have to admit that there are borderline cases which will not fit into any of the three Races of mankind. All scientists agree that all men can trace their ancestry back to the first Homo sapiens, that man is distinguished from other mammals and also from earlier types of man by the nature of his intelligence. The structure of the body of man provides evidence to prove the biological unity of the human species. All scientists agree that there is no “race” that is superior to another, and there is no “race” that is inferior to others. The Africanists take the view that there is only one race to’ which all belong, and that~ human race: In our vocabulary, therefore, the word “race” as applied to man, has no plural form”
What is very clear from the above is that Sobukwe is clearly speaking from a biological perspective. The argument is against the so called “scientific racist” who argued that black people are biologically different and inferior from white people. It is not an argument for multiracialism or nonsense of that sort. In that very same speech Sobukwe went on to give a case that there are 3 nation groups in South Africa, and that is the European, the Indian and the African. If indeed, Sobukwe, on the level of politics believed that “there is only one race, the human race”, then the question becomes, why then did he feel the need to go further and give clarity on the nation groups in South Africa. In that clarification in his speech, he clearly puts the European as a foreigner. This is what Sobukwe has to say about this group.
“In South Africa we recognize the existence of national groups which are the result of geographical origin within a certain area as well as a shared historical experience of these groups. The Europeans are a foreign minority group which has exclusive control of political, economic, social and military power. It is the dominant group. It is the exploiting group, responsible for the pernicious doctrine of white supremacy which has resulted in the humiliation and degradation of the indigenous African people. It is this group which has dispossessed the African people of their land and with arrogant conceit has set itself up as the “guardians”, the “trustees” of the Africans. It is this group which conceives of the African people as a child nation, composed of Boys and Girls, ranging in age from 120 years to one day. It is this group which, after 300 Years, can still state, with brazen effrontery, that the Native, the Bantu, the Kaffir is still backward and savage, etc. But they still want to remain “guardians”, “trustees”, and what have you, of the African people. In short, it is this group which has mismanaged affairs in South Africa just as their kith and kin are mismanaging affairs in Europe. It is from this group that the most rabid race baiters and agitators come. It is members of this group who, whenever they meet in their Parliament, say things which agitate the hearts of mi1lions of peace-loving Africans. This is the group which turns out thousands of experts on that new South African science — the Native mind.”
It is clear then that Sobukwe differentiated the European from the African, the disposed. He argued that the African “are the most ruthlessly exploited and are subjected to humiliation, degradation and insult.” There is clear contradiction that Sobukwe is calling us to see here. It is what Fanon calls the zone of being and non-being. We can see from Sobukwe’s analysis that those who occupy the zone of being are the European foreigners and that those who occupy the zone of non-being are the Africans.
In a statement released by my beloved organisation earlier this week, it seems as if my leaders have forgotten the fundamental contradictions in this country. In a media statement released by the office of the national spokesperson of the party, Kenneth Mokgatlhe, the party calls upon all its members to physically protect settler journalist who have yet to bring back the land to the rightful owners. The statement goes on to praise the South African sell out constitution that comes out as a result of a sell-out negotiation settlement of CODESA.
When called out by members of the Party on the statement the party replied to the people in the following manner
“The basic document of the Party outlines clearly without fear of contradiction that colour in reference to human beings has no significance as such those who purport colour in relation to matter at hand are ignorant if not ideologically bankrupt. there is only one race the human race for we are not blacks neither do we recognise the notion of so called whites.”
Clearly, it seems as if our leaders in the national office suffer from selective reading. On the part of only one race, I think my above analysis on that quote by father Sobukwe is sufficient. What I would like to know is, if colour has “has no significance as such”, why did Sobukwe go on to outline the three different nation groups in this country and outline clearly the position they have. Was it black and white people that came and disposed Africans? Is it both black and white who, according to Sobukwe, “are the most ruthlessly exploited and are subjected to humiliation, degradation and insult.”?
The PAC further goes on to say that “for we are not blacks neither do we recognise the notion of so called whites.”
Since when does the PAC not recognise the notion of “so-called whites”? If we never recognised “so-called whites”, then why did the PAC break away from the ANC? People must not liberalise Sobukwe while we still alive. In an interview with Gail M. Gerhart, it was Sobukwe, when answering to the question of why did they not agree to the freedom charter, who said
“We objected to the whole thing. Raboroko wrote an excellent rebuttal to it, emphasizing the impossibility of whites and Africans being considered “brothers” in South Africa. We knew that every white person— no matter how sympathetic he was to us—benefited from the South African set-up. And enjoyed privileges based only on color. Whites would say to us, “What can I do? Give up my salary? My house?” And what could we say to them? We had no answer for them, but we knew they could never be seen apart from the material situation. The Freedom Charter said something ridiculous about how the land has been taken from us, we blacks and whites together. But how could they try to avoid the issue of whose land had been taken by whom? They were trying to gloss it over.”
In this one answer, Sobukwe mentions the word ‘white’ 4 times. He also says that “every white person- no matter how sympathetic he was to us- benefited from the South African set-up and enjoyed privileges based ONLY ON COLOR”. The question then becomes when the PAC says “War against the enemy, peace amongst African” in an article that tells us, members of the Party to physically protect white settler journalists, from a movement of black only people, has the enemy changed since Sobukwe’s time? Are white people no longer the enemy anymore? Can whites and Africans become brothers in hands and fight other Africans now?
It is clear from Sobukwe that we are not all the same. He even disagreed with having white people in the programmes of the organisation. He even says that “I recognized there were some non-Africans who fully identified with us and were prepared to sacrifice, but as a matter of principle we couldn’t let these people take any part because of the bad psychological effect this had on our people.”
Can someone who thinks race is insignificant or that there is only one race say that the involvement of one group in a program has “bad psychological effects” on the other?
This raises the question to us then, why do we still allow white membership in the party? Have the bad psychological effects of their involvement suddenly disappeared? Do they no longer benefit from the South African set-up purely based on their colour only? These are the tough questions we need to ask ourselves. I argue that the allowing of white people into the movement was an ideological blunder that could also be responsible for the current bad reading of race politics we find in our party today. White people have always been and still remain the oppressors and the dispossessors of our land, they still are privileged in the country purely based on the colour of their skin. And as such we cannot be brothers in arms fighting together in the same movement for the emancipation of our people. However, I think that this is a debate that will need more time and space than this essay can provide.
What is clear, however, is that the ideological degeneration in the party is deep. It is the job of the young other ideologically clear members of the party to reconcile the national headquarters of the party with the basic principles of the party and remind them of the fundamental contradictions in this country which are that of the dispossessor(White) and the dispossessed(African).