From: South Africa's Radical Tradition, a documentary history, Volume One 1907 - 1950, by Allison Drew

Document 87 - "Lessons of the All-Bantu Convention", The Spark, 2, 2, February 1936

The All-Bantu Convention which was held on 16th-18th December at the Batho Location, Bloemfontein, was such a farce, with features so disgraceful and so distasteful, that we would prefer not to write about it at all. When an event which should be of first-class importance turns out to be not only a failure but a farce, it is usual to think that the less said about it, the better. But it is not so in this case; and, however much we dislike the task of criticising it, we feel that it is our plain duty to undertake this unpleasant job. Not because we believe that Conferences, Conventions, Congresses, can bring a solution of our ills. Just the opposite. We believe only in the class struggle, in the revolutionary struggle of the masses, and not in resolutions and speeches of so-called rational leaders. There is nothing more dangerous for the revolutionary struggle than illusions. Illusions of every kind must be destroyed. Unfortunately, even in the revolutionary camp there are many, far too many illusions. [....I

But the revolutionary Marxist I...] must patiently follow the historic process and search for ways and means to influence and accelerate it. For this reason we cannot satisfy ourselves with the mere fact that the All-Bantu Conference was just another failure and disappointment in addition to the many previous failures and disappointments. To those who may not have realised the fact for themselves, we must show that it was indeed a failure; then we must analyse the various reports of the proceedings and discover why it was a failure, and who is responsible for this failure; we must decide further whether the failure was unavoidable; and having done all this, we shall be in a position to draw lessons from this Convention for guidance in future action and tactics.

First of all, in fairness to the delegates, we must note that the gathering at Bloemfontein was not conducted as a convention in the sense in which that word is commonly used, and the delegates cannot be blamed for the farce that followed. They were not presented with any agenda; the "election" of officials, committees, and sub-committees took place before the main bulk of the delegates arrived; the resolutions were forced down their throats. Professor Jabavu, in the chair, adopted steam-rolling tactics, and played off upon the delegates the unscrupulous trick of not allowing any addition or alteration to the resolutions. When the Convention dared to put through a resolution of its own, the Executive Committee brushed it aside, re-drafted it. Thus the blame for the failure must be attributed not to the Convention, but to the small clique of Jabavu and Co. It was a one-man show. Jabavu in the most dictatorial manner ran the Convention just as he wanted it. No wonder that he is the only one who is satisfied with the results. Even those two paid tools of the ruling classes. "Umteteli" and "The Bantu World", who for months have devoted all their leading articles to the Bills and the coming Convention, have now after a single short summary closed their mouths and taken refuge in silence. As if by magic they switched over to miscellaneous matters, such as, "Behaviour of the Bantu", "Good Manners", "Good Wishes for 1936", and so on, but not a word about the Bills and future action. Are they ashamed of the results of the Convention'? Or have they received fresh instructions'? We do not know. We may presume that some sense of shame is at work. All the "Umteteli" could say after the Convention was that the Bills "shall not become law in their present form". A little alteration here and there would meet the case and "Umteteli" would be happy! "The Bantu World" is happy already in the mere fact that "in spite of the extravagant (?) language used by some of the delegates, the Convention was not permeated by a revolutionary spirit, but by a spirit of friendliness ..." If the expression of Jabavu's face during the Convention is taken as a criterion of the Convention spirit, then it was indeed a spirit of "friendliness". For Jabavu was continually shouting with laughter and grimacing like a jackanapes. Even now, the Professor is still happy, so happy that the proceedings of the Convention have evaporated from his usually brilliant memory. Only two weeks after, he stated in Kokstad that "all the resolutions were passed without a single dissentient in the General Convention" ("Cape Argus": 7.1.35).This is simply a lie. Every delegate, every reporter can tell him that even the main resolution on the franchise was passed by a majority only and amid cries of "No! No!" This, however, by the way. It is harmless.

But far different is his activity on the Convention. When we ask the question, who was responsible for the failure, for the farce, there can be only one answer, clear and unhesitating: Jabavu. He is responsible; he is to blame. His clique, Xuma, Dube, Godlo, Ka Seme, etc., arc only secondary figures. We may hope that the Bantu intelligentsia and the Bantu masses, who are as yet blindly following their idol, will learn from this Convention what we have known all along, namely, that Jabavu is a tool of the oppressors, consciously betraying the cause of 'Bantu freedom. As we dealt extensively with Jabavu in No. 7 of "The Spark", it would be superfluous to waste more paper on his speeches during the Convention. They arc beneath any serious criticism.

In the October issue of "The Spark" our anxiety concerning the outcome of the Convention was expressed as follows:

Those who know the past history of the African National Congress will understand our anxiety. The proposal is that the All-Bantu Convention be called under the auspices of the African National Congress by the President of that body, Dr. Ka Seme. If the All-Bantu Convention is to consist of Paramount Chiefs, Chiefs. Bishops and other Ministers, headmen and "some other" leaders, and if the Convention is to be under the leadership and influence of Dr. Ka Seme, Professor Jabavu, and similar leaders, then we may say that the Convention is doomed. We shall see yet another document drawn up, respectfully and humbly begging the government to show greatness of heart in consistence with the High Christian principles, and etc, etc, ad nauseum. Then the “Umteteli”can continue to warn its readers against the dangerous agitators on the Rand and Jabavu can reiterate his fear of the Bantu becoming communistic. The Bills will be passed.

The Convention procedure and resolutions have fully confirmed our predictions. Its results, if we are to judge from the resolutions, were even worse than might have been expected.

There was no determination at all to, fight for the rights of the Bantu, even for those remnants of rights of which it is now proposed to rob them.

There was not even a definite condemnation of the Bills in toto, as might have been expected after the fermont of the past six months and the repeated expression of Bantu public opinion, supplementing the adverse Resolutions sent up to Government from the five Regional Conferences.

There was not even a clear pronouncement of rejection, a pronouncement that the Bantu will never accept this insult and injury. No. Instead of this, instead of demanding their rights, the Convention passed a resolution on the Natives Representation Bill which amounts to an admission of defeat beforehand. It limits itself to "opposing", it pins its faith in the Senate, in the Governor-General as Paramount Chief, in the British Parliament and the British King, and as a last resort in an appeal to the Almighty. The same old, worn out illusions in spite of all. It is tragically sad to read that an All-Bantu Convention, representing, or pretending to represent six million Bantu, i.e., three-fourths of the population, had nothing to offer but an appeal to observe Sunday, Jan. 19, as a day humiliation and prayer. And how typical of Jabavu is the following passage from the Resolution:

The denial to the African people of participation in the government of the country, of which they are an integral part, on the basis of common citizenship, is not only immoral and unjust, but will inflame passions and fertilize the soil on which propagandists will sow the seeds of discontent and unrest.

The Convention (or, to be more exact, Jabavu?) is here not so much concerned with the political status of the Bantu, which will resemble that of the slaves of ancient Greece and Rome if they continue to listen obediently to Jabavu and Co., but is above all else afraid of propagandists. The Professor and Co have been using this "high diplomacy" for the last fifteen years. In the same sentence they fire off a threat to the Government that its measures will rouse agitation, and a warning to the oppressed to beware of those, criminals, the agitators. But the threat is not seriously meant. The Government and the ruling classes may laugh at it, and Jabavu, their servant, may laugh with them. It is the old, familiar language everywhere of the servants of Capitalism: of the Jabavus, Brookeses, and Ballingers. The slaves must be obedient; the slaves must not listen to the agitators and propagandists, lest they lose their chains and go free. Capitalism and its servants must prevent this at all costs. [....]

Then something extraordinary happened. The Convention passed a resolution all by itself, without the leaders. But school-children must not dare to do such a thing without the schoolmaster and all the teachers! And so the blunder was quickly wiped out. Dr. Xuma, as Chairman of the Executive and Vice-chairman of the Convention, came out with a statement to the press which sums up and concludes in the most bewildering, in the most astounding manner, the whole pitiful farce. It is hardly believable, yet it is a fact. The Doctor, who is a tool of the Professor, announced that the Executive Committee had definitely brushed aside the findings and resolution adopted by the Convention and had substituted for it another resolution of its own. "In a statement handed to the 'Friend' Dr. Xuma dissociated himself and the Executive Committee from the general protest against General Hertzog's black manifesto and the attitude of the Union Government towards the Natives". ("Cape Times": 20.12.35.)

It is too much for Jabavu, Xuma and Co. to protest against Gen. Hertzog's policy and against the oppression and repression of the Bantu. They prefer to substitute for it another resolution in which we read: "And now pray as his Majesty’s loyal subjects who have been patient 'like asses and loyal, despite all these disabilities, that His Majesty's Government should consider the redress of their grievances and alleviate the black man's lot." (Our emphasis. -Ed.) Having read this, what can we do but wash our hands in disgust? What can be said of such a scandalous attitude? What comment can be made on such cynical mockery of the rights and findings of a Convention? What words can sufficiently condemn this servile crawling on the belly? Pah!

The Conference was a failure in yet another aspect. For years we have heard appeals for "National" unity among the Bantu. For years we have heard that the curse of the Bantu, the cause of all their troubles, is their internal strife, their inability to form a United Front on account of tribalism and traditional feuds. But the painful thing is that every Bantu "leader" is so continually exploiting for his own personal ends the cry for unity, is so incessantly declaiming "Union is strength", that nobody any longer takes them seriously. We are for once in agreement with the "Bantu World", when it says on the subject of corrupt leaders: "The majority of our educated men will not do anything for the race unless there is a profit to be derived from it."

The Convention also revealed this ugly feature. Remembering this, it is easy to understand the sudden outburst from the Rev. J. L. Dube, one of the "leaders", and a member of the clique. Evidently the "leaders" have fallen out among themselves. The Rev. J. L. Dube represented Natal, being the President of the African National Congress of Natal, which claims to put the "National" cause above everything else. Moreover, this same Rev. Dube not long ago issued a booklet entitled "The Enemy of the Black Man is Himself ',in which he clearly shows that, so long as the Bantu are divided, and so long as they fight among themselves for leadership, there can be no progress and no hope for the liberation of the Bantu people. Now, not during the Convention, but just after it has ended, when his action would be more effective and more harmful, Mr. Dube comes out openly with an attack on the Convention, an attack on the Cape vote, and other matters. And of course the Imperialist press hastened to give prominence to his statement in capital letters: "Bitterly Disappointed by Convention Resolutions, Says Rev. Dube". What was the cause of his attack? Was it that even the meek resolutions and Jabavu's steam-roller tactics in stifling opposition did not satisfy the "serious and moderate thinkers present" whom Mr. Dube claims to represent and protect? "The language irritated them and the Conference failed to achieve the object for which they thought it was called." Was this the cause of the Reverend's outburst? Or was it that he had not been appointed Vice-Chairman, or to some other coveted position? Or was it another personal quarrel? We do not know. But at any rate it was calculated to do harm to the Convention, to lower its prestige in the eyes of the ruling classes. It has shown that the hope of those "National" circles, that the Convention would at least bring the Bantu nearer together and produce a United Front of North and South against enslavement and oppression, has not materialised. The rift is as wide as ever, because the leaders are as corrupt and stupid as ever.

If you read carefully the Convention Resolutions and compare them with Pamphlet No. 1, "Criticism of the Native Bills", by Jabavu, you will see that they are in substance, if not in words, identical. And we need not repeat now what we said in October. The question now is whether this failure was unavoidable. What was needed in order to bring about a different result?

In order to change the course of the Convention, in order to ensure the adoption of a different attitude, a firm stand, a firm NO to oppression, a firm demand for equal rights, a firm demand for land, their land, a firm demand for equal taxation, a firm refusal to accept discrimination on the ground of colour of the skin; in order to adopt such an attitude instead of that of inferiority ("junior partners", according to Jabavu), the Convention would have had to brush aside the whole clique of the leaders -Jabavu, Ka Seme, Dube, Godlo, and the rest, and to bring in those who are not paid Government officials, those who are not afraid for their jobs, those who have not been corrupted by the bourgeoisie, those who are ready to fight for the freedom, liberation, rights, and welfare of the Bantu, those who are able to lead the fight. The question, whether such a leadership was present there or not, is irrelevant. The fact is that it did not come to the fore. The fact is that in the whole Convention there was none to come forward openly, to expose the traitor's part played by the clique, to show the Bantu where these leaders with their treacherous method of submission have brought the Bantu, there was none to show them a new way, there was none to give them a lead. The Convention was a failure, inasmuch as there was not even a small revolutionary wing present at it (a few of the C.P. delegates were more busy with drinking than with the Convention), and there was as yet no sign that such a wing is going to develop. In these circumstances the failure was unavoidable.

Nevertheless, there is no cause for despair. For, after all, the question of rights and land will not be settled by Conventions, Conferences, and Parliaments. The question of freedom and of land for the Bantu can be settled in one way only -the way of Revolution. Only ignoramuses or supporters of Imperialism can look for effectual concessions, liberal reforms. It must be borne in mind that Imperialism-Capitalism is not going to give equal rights to the Bantu, no matter the Union Parliament consist of 150 Hertzog’s or of 150 Sir-James-Rose-Inneses.'

The Bantu can only get his rights, his national freedom, by Revolution, by overthrowing Imperialism-Capitalism, by taking what belongs to him. Moreover, it must be realised that no matter whether the scheduled released areas are already occupied by Natives or not, no matter whether the total of additional land freed for them is 3 112 million or 7 112 million morgen, no matter whether Parliament will or will not provide the Trust with sufficient money for the appropriation of this land, Imperialism-Capitalism is not going to give the Bantu sufficient land to live on. For it needs his cheap slave-labour on the farms and mines and in industry in order to make its profits.

But the Bantu is not going to remain a slave forever, he is not going to suffocate for lack of land in the Reserves, he is not going to be forever driven from the towns to the Reserves and from the Reserves to the farms and mines. The Bantu is not going to perish. He will take the land, he will take his rights. He must revolt and he will revolt. No Jabavus, no Ka Semes can keep him chained forever to the slavery wagon by pretending to help him with a better kind of yoke, or to ease his chains a bit. He will find out their tricks, he will learn by experience that they, the pretended leaders, who are dragging him away from the revolutionary camp, are his enemies; and he will deal with them accordingly. This All-Bantu Convention by its failure is bound to make him think and learn in this direction. This and the subsequent events will open his eyes and will free him from illusions. This is the main thing. Then we shall see Conventions wholly different from this of Bloemfontein, which was not a Convention but a Farce.

Yet we cannot look passively on at the historical process. We cannot leave the Bantu to learn by experience, waiting till he then comes to us. We must go to him, we must show him the way to the revolutionary camp, and we must guide him, and make it easier for him to part with his old illusions and to smash his old idols.