Pan Africanist Congress (PAC)

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Origins: Formation, Sharpeville and banning, 1959-1960

For many years there was tension within the African National Congress (ANC) between those with different ideological and theoretical views. One of these views was towards a more more Africanist approach.

Africanist - An ideology that says that black people should determine their own future - Africa for the Africans. It was first expressed by a Xhosa missionary, Tiyo Siga, in the 19th century.

During the 1950's, the apartheid government was continually introducing new means to suppress the liberation struggle. Many members of the African National Congress (ANC) had become impatient with the inability of peaceful protest to achieve results. In November 1958, at the Transvaal provincial congress, some of the more 'Africanist' members of the ANC were excluded from the hall. Rather than cause a confrontation, they decided to break away, and on 6 April 1959 the PAC was formed. They elected Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe as their first president and Potlako Leballo as secretary and decided to follow the route of the ANC's Programme of Action and Defiance Campaign (committed to open defiance of the laws of the land). The reasons cited by many sources for this split are that the PAC promulgated policies that were contrary to the 'multi-racial' policies of the ANC (at the time the ANC was made up of different race groups) and that members were frustrated by the policies of the ANC, expressed in the Freedom Charter in 1955.

Robert Sobukwe's leadership of the PAC was based on a vision of an 'Africa for Africans' movement, which promoted mass action against discrimination. It is inaccurate to say however that Sobukwe's Africanism was 'racial' or in direct opposition to the ANC's 'multi-racial policies'. Sobukwe, believed that instead of adopting a policy of 'multi-racialism', or a party made up of different groups, those wanting to join the PAC should do so on an individual or 'non-racial' basis in united support for an African movement. 

This standpoint is supported by an extract from Sobukwe's inaugural speech which was given when the PAC was formed in 1959, and advocated 'non-racialism':

"...Further, multi-racialism is in fact a pandering to European bigotry and arrogance. It is a method of safeguarding white interests, implying as it does, proportional representation irrespective of population figures. In that sense it is a complete negation of democracy.

To us the term "multi-racialism" implies that there are such basic insuperable differences between the various national groups here that the best course is to keep them permanently distinctive in a kind of democratic apartheid. That to us is racialism multiplied, which probably is what the term truly connotes.  We aim, politically, at government of the Africans by the Africans, for the Africans, with everybody who owes his only loyalty to Afrika and who is prepared to accept the democratic rule of an African majority being regarded as an African.

We guarantee no minority rights, because we think in terms of individuals, not groups".

The PAC became a rival of the ANC in terms of support, and this lead to strong competition. Therefore, when the ANC announced that they were planning an anti-pass campaign on the 31 March 1960, the PAC decided to spearhead their efforts by planning a similar protest for the 21 March.

The anti-pass campaign turned out to be very important for the PAC, and for South African politics in general. The date for the campaign was finalised on 18 March, and set for 21 March 1960. The weekend was spent handing out pamphlets about the campaign and appealing to supporters to voluntarily leave their passes at home and offer themselves up for arrest at the nearest police station on 21 March. Protests took place in Sharpeville and in the Western Cape in townships such as Langa.

The protest was of a non-violent nature, but turned violent in Sharpeville where police opened fire on a crowd of protestors, killing 69 and injuring 180. In Langa, near Cape Town, the police also opened fire and killed two people. PAC member Philip Kgosana led a protest march in Cape Town two days later.

The Sharpeville Incident resulted in international criticism and concern and increased suppression from the National Party (NP) government. The negative thing for the PAC was that Sobukwe had also taken part in the campaign, together with other leaders of the PAC, and they were all placed under arrest. Many other leaders were arrested in the aftermath of the incident; they were detained for 2-3 years. Sobukwe was not released until 1969. A state of emergency was declared on 30 March after other marches took place in Cape Town and Durban. As a result of the Sharpeville Incident both the PAC and ANC were banned on 8 April 1960, a year after PAC was formed.

The PAC moves underground (1960s - 1976)

The PAC faced a leadership crisis. When Sobukwe was released from Robben Island in 1969, he was placed under house arrest in Kimberley until his death in 1978. Police continually renewed his arrest through the 'Sobukwe clause', which allowed the government to detain people after the completion of their sentence. Many other PAC leaders were also arrested on 21 March 1960, and those that were released quickly were restricted by bans.

Due to the banning of their organisation the PAC had to change their method of resistance. They decided to go underground and remaining leaders 'who weren't in prison - went into exile. Nana Mahomo, Peter Molotsi and Peter Raboroko managed to flee South Africa in 1960, and started organising the PAC in exile. Exile headquarters were set-up in Dar es Salam, London and elsewhere. The PAC sponsored and was part of what basically became their underground military wing, Poqo. Poqo was not against the taking of human lives, and played a role in some riots. For a while they had a United Front with the ANC, but by 1962 this had failed as differences of opinion were still too difficult to reconcile.

Potlako Leballo left South Africa in 1963, after being released from prison, and set up a PAC office in Maseru, where he assumed the position of acting president of the PAC. In the same year he boasted from Lesotho about a revolutionary war that the PAC were about to launch. Soon afterwards, the police confiscated letters being carried across the border and found mailing lists of other PAC members. Massive arrests followed, and the police announced arrests of 3 246 PAC and Poqo members. This led to an almost complete collapse of the PAC inside South Africa. Leballo also managed to alienate other PAC leaders through his leadership style, and in 1968 they attempted to expel him from the PAC.

Increased activity after Soweto Riots (1976-1994)

With the increase of student violence in 1976, police watched Zephania Mothopeng, after Sobukwe the most senior PAC member inside South Africa. He was eventually arrested, and put on trial in 1977 along with 17 other PAC supporters, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. In the post-Soweto period the PAC attempted to build itself up again. Numerous new recruits were received as they fled South Africa, but leadership problems continued. There was a continuing power struggle against Leballo, who expelled members who disagreed with him. It was only in 1979 that he was eventually expelled from the PAC. Vusumuzi Make became chairman until 1981 when John Pokela was released from Robben Island.

In 1990, the ban on the ANC and PAC was lifted. The PAC started to show signs of renewal in this period as a result of better leadership, however the PAC only received 1.25% of the countries votes in the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994.

The PAC in exile (1976-1983)

In the 1960s there were conflicts in South Africa between the government and the groups representing black people. The period after 1976 witnessed increased confrontations between the state and the African political organisations. In the aftermath of Soweto, a number of students went into exile. The PAC's Azanian People Liberation Army (APLA), the successor to Poqo, just like the MK, was also active in exile although for the greater part of the time it was subdued by bannings and the ANC's growing stature as the more powerful liberation movement.

PAC Camps

There were a number of camps that were established for the PAC's military wing (APLA). Some APLA cadres were accommodated at Itumbi camp in Mbeya (Tanzania). A section of this camp was called Shangai where members of the organisation's Central Committee who visited the area stayed. Another important APLA base was the Ruvu camp. The exiled PAC responded to the June 16 Soweto uprisings by establishing the camp. The Ruvu settlement started during the era of P. K. Leballo in 1978. The settlement grew remarkably under the leadership of Nyathi John Pokela in 1982 when the Tanzania government granted 440 hectares of land to the PAC. The aim was to help the organisation to establish a settlement for self-reliance and other developmental activities. Ruvu was conceived by Leballo to be similar to the ANC's 'June 16 Detachment' (initially based in the Nova Katengue camp in Benguella Province (Angola) in 1978 and later moved to Fezenda situated further north across the Rio Donge). Initially the Ruvu camp was a small refugee or 'transit camp' for PAC members who fled the repression of the South African government following the Soweto uprisings. It accommodated new recruits who were awaiting military training. From 1982, with the change in leadership in the PAC, the camp was remodeled to be similar to the ANC settlements in Mazimbu and Dakawa. Both accommodated the generation of June 16th exiles from South Africa. A detailed analysis of the development of the two ANC settlements gives the impression that the ANC settlement projects were more robust than the PAC camps, in terms of scale and organisation.

Nevertheless, from 1982, the scope of activities at the PAC Ruvu camp developed beyond the provision of a sanctuary for activists, to the establishment of a self-sufficient community where PAC members could acquire skills which were to be beneficial to a liberated South Africa. Facilities included; a clinic, classrooms and mechanical and agricultural training centers.

From 1981, the Ruvu camp became the centre of the ideological debate and critique of the PAC leadership under the chairmanship of Vusumzi Make. The cadres in this camp demanded that the leadership derive its mandate to lead from the rank and file membership. They also questioned the abuse of funds and criticised the lavish life-style of the PAC Chairman, Vusi Make and the entire Central Committee.

PAC Leadership Crisis

Life was never simple for the PAC in exile. Its existence was characterised by problems ranging from the suspension of the constitution, scattered leadership and misappropriation of funds or corruption. The PAC leadership dismally failed to develop and portray itself as a coherent liberation movement. The situation caused discontent among its members who felt that the party was disoriented and that it had also lost the reputation it enjoyed under the leadership of the founding President of the PAC, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, who died on 27 February 1978. The PAC situation was blamed on Leballo's leadership style. He was accused, among other things, of forging an unholy friendship with whites who were considered agents of the apartheid state. This became one of the PAC's major internal problems.

Problems at Ruvu camp

As the camp community grew, problems of ill-discipline also increased. The Ruvu settlement was regularly infiltrated by ill disciplined people from the PAC army. This trend strengthened from 1981 onwards as punishment and various forms of abuse were reported. It can be noted that the camp accommodated groups of people who differed not only in terms of background and language, but also had developed a host of traditions and norms over the years in exile.

Quite often, there were quarrels among the inmates. Some were of a petty nature, resulting from drinking and womanising over weekends, but others contained a serious political element. In an attempt to maintain order, the political leadership resorted to corporal punishment for offenders. However, many ordinary PAC members who lived in the camps became victims of the unguided authority of camp commanders who administered willy-nilly corporal punishment, without regard for organisational procedures and policies. The hope that one day 'Azania' (a term used to refer to a liberated South Africa) would be liberated sustained the loyalty of camp inmates. Some endured the camp conditions because they had no alternative. Others, who could not bear the situation anymore deserted the organisation, and joined the ANC whilst a few others declared themselves refugees in various parts of Southern Africa including Botswana where the Dukwe refugee camp had been set up.

The Arusha Conference (1978)

The Arusha Consultative Conference was held in September 1978 to try and resolve various organisational problems. For instance, the impatient APLA cadres who wanted to be sent back to South Africa to fight against the apartheid regime. These cadres were also outraged by the misappropriation of funds and the luxurious lifestyles led by their political leadership in the cities while they endured unpleasant living conditions in the camps. Another instability problem addressed by the conference was the persistent struggle for leadership between the two fighting factions led by Leballo (a political leader) and Ntantala (a military leader). The personal differences between the two resulted in serious physical confrontation between their respective factions. Attacks on each other (including knife-stabbings) became common practice in the camps. This prompted some members of the military command to vacate their positions in fear of their lives.

Clearly, these conflicts affected the morale of the cadres in the camps and tarnished the image of the PAC both in exile and in South Africa.


References:
• Karis, T.G. & Gerhart, G.M. (1997). From Protest to Challenge. A documentary history of African politics in South Africa, 1882-1990. Volume 5: Nadir and Resurgence, 1964- 1979, Pretoria: Unisa Press.
• Beinart, W. (1994) Twentieth century South Africa, Oxford: OUP.
• Davenport, T.R.H. (1991). South Africa. A modern history, London: Macmillan.
• The Pan Africanist Congress, history [online], available at: pac.org.za
• Kondlo Kwandiwe Merriman (2003) ?In the Twilight of the Azanian Revolution: The Exile History of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (South Africa): (1960-1990)?, D. Litt thesis, Historical Studies, Faculty of Arts, Rand University.
• 6. Johnson Mlambo [online], available at:  wikipedia.org [accessed 2 April 2009]

Last updated : 16-Nov-2016

This article was produced for South African History Online on 30-Mar-2011

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