Andile Mngxitama’s Black First Land First (BLF) movement is now officially deregistered, but what is the BLF trying to achieve or prove when it announced that as a result of its failure to appeal against its deregistering it was considering “going underground”, with its sabre-rattling threat of waging an “armed struggle”?
Andile Mngxitama and I used to drink beer in Melville in the mid-2000s. But how he has turned out over the past few years makes me regret those few occasions. There is no political leader today, including the likes of that other rabid African nationalist, Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who is more confused about race in post-apartheid South Africa than he is.
The very first point to make is that for 23 years South Africa is a non-racial constitutional democracy, in which racism, whether white or black, is disallowed by law. The Constitution makes no provision for exceptions to the rule, no matter how vexing the numerous social injustices are, especially for the black working-class majority who continue to languish in the townships in the doldrums of poverty, joblessness and related social miseries.
Earlier this month the Electoral Court rejected the appeal of the Black First Land First (BLF) against its earlier decision to deregister the party because its constitution was restricted to black people (in the Black Consciousness meaning of African, Indian and Coloured). Unfortunately for the BLF this wider definition of “black” did not suffice to exclude its policy on membership from the ambit of the Constitutional definition of racism, because it excludes whites.
The chief legal, formal and ideological characteristic of racism is that it excludes some people, whether it is from membership of a political party or the application of any other right in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution for spurious reasons. The primary reason why the lawmakers made no exception to this rule is because to do so would compromise and in fact nullify its meaning, as a matter of principle. In that qualified sense racism is racism, at least in the legal and formal sense of the term. Under no circumstances can exceptions be made.
That, at least, is what other African nationalists, like Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters realised, probably also through the legal advice of their chairperson, Dali Mpofu. In this pivotal regard, BLF is not only in violation of the law regarding a discriminatory policy on membership that is unconstitutional and illegal but more seriously from a political standpoint it has failed dismally to realise that it also severely compromises its existence as a legal entity, hence the failure of its appeal recently.
For that application to appeal by the BLF to have succeeded would have led to serious repercussions for both the Constitution and the Equality Court. Furthermore, because it is the “equality” court setting a precedent which frontally violates the Constitution would have rendered the existence of the court itself questionable. So, given these constraints, what is the BLF trying to achieve or prove when it announced that as a result of its failure to appeal against its deregistering it was considering “going underground”, with its sabre-rattling threat of waging an “armed struggle”?
Lawyers have long ago dealt with and demolished the myth that an organisation is not racist if it has a blacks-only policy because it does not amount to racism but being “pro-black”. The BLF is on a hiding to nothing in our courts if it persists with that bit of sophistry. It is incredible that in this light the BLF can still mount such a feeble and in fact bankrupt defence of its racist policy on membership.
In this regard the BLF lacks even tactical wisdom, which should amount to amending its constitution on membership in order to continue to exist as a political party, especially for electoral purposes, but continue to hold whatever views it has on race and power in post-apartheid South Africa. Mngxitama and the BLF is not thinking at all. How many whites would be rushing to join the BLF if it amended its constitution? In fact, he has such a racist reputation that I doubt a dozen whites would join the BLF.
However, the lessons after 1994 goes much further than just answering juridical questions. Key in this regard is to assess the changed nature of both the political economy and sociology of South Africa after 1994. At the heart of these processes is various class reconfigurations which have irreversibly ruptured the notion of “blackness” as was articulated by Biko.
In fact, those processes have created the black middle class likes of Mngxitama and the BLF, who today utilise race for distinctly and increasingly class purposes. In fact, the birth of the BLF and its close relations with and defence of the notorious Gupta family, which reportedly funded the BLF and his lifestyle, is related to those processes.
The politics of the BLF has in fact descended into a nakedly race spectacle. Its widely evident mission is to quickly run to the defence of any black leader who is in reported trouble with the law, amidst allegations of corruption, irrespective of the merits and demerits of such cases. There is a long list of such black leaders over the past few years, which interestingly includes cases in which there is reportedly much credible evidence of corruption.
But the most disappointing thing about Mngxitama, besides his naked opportunism about “blackness”, is his refusal to recognise that today’s South Africa is not the days when Biko formed the South African Students Organisation in 1968, whose membership was restricted to blacks. Even Biko, I am convinced, would have amended policies to reflect later developments. It is in fact a sad reflection of the demise of the movement Biko founded that Mngxitama masquerades as a leading thinker of it.
There are many good thinkers of this movement who have retreated to the margins of our society after the decline of its political fortunes since 1994, who I am very confident would differ with Mngxitama on this question of membership within the framework of our post-1994 Constitution, only if only they would themselves respond to the policies and actions of the BLF.
Instead, a man who has many flagrant flaws in his thinking and has made a virtue of self-serving opportunism is the public face of a movement which once had enormous potential as an alternative to the ANC, but whose lack of leadership and imagination after 1994 ensured its virtual demise, to all intents and purposes.