About the By Invitation Only Wits Student Leadership Conference:
It was a Spring to Summer weekend, that was scheduled for that Conference at a motel in Broederstroom, which is a dorp (village) about twenty kilometres to the West of Johannesburg, from memory.
We all shared cars and lifts to get there. I believe I went in Christian Figenschou’s Beetle.
Anyway, the days had meetings scheduled and time to relax, but there was a special meeting scheduled for the Saturday night. It was looked forward to, but given our proximity to the Black Student Society offices in the Student’s Union Building on Wits campus, I don’t suppose that any of us were terribly Excited, we were too cool, just doing what we wanted to do.
Others were more focussed and may have been more excited, but us radio cats, well….we weren’t elected members of the Campus Representation with ideals and ambitions of accountability in a political sense. Although we tried our best of course. Elected Representatives are different. They had a mandate of course but they also had ambitions that their conference would be a success….that it would contribute to the eventual personal and “professional development” of those attending, for instance.
And so that night a couple of cars arrived, in the darkness.
The motel was just a group of scattered buildings, with trees growing in amongst them. A cheapish motel, robust as good bush accommodation, well used, is.
And so the men arrived for I don’t remember any black women repesentatives being present – and I should state for the record that the Black Student Policy that the University was NOT an ivory tower and should reflect the Nature of the Oppression “in the townships and on the streets”. If the Black person was unable to participate in a democrasy then they should maintain a separateness on campus where they sought to identify the needs of the black student population and serve and represent themselves. The fact is that this was a disadvantage for us white students but we “understood”, those of the students who were even aware of the policies of the BSS.
But this evening it was different.
Tonight, in the dead of night, off campus away from the scrutiny of the BOSS offices on Jorisson Street across the road from the campus up on the ninth floor, we were colourblind and a part of the New South Africa to come. For a brief spell of presentation and discussion. About two hours with a break, perhaps three. A car or two arrived. Three men jumped out and joined the conference. ANC representaives.
The only talk was about the peace to come and its implications.
But there were ramifications to the peace process that were already being considered. Of course.
And one of them was skills and need in the new country, employment and adjustment.
This was 1986. This was not the New South Africa of CODESA (1993) and the first general election of 1994 that we were envisaging. We were Radical. Black Consciousness was present in the BSS, Winnifred Mandela when she was “given a pass” to come to the campus to address a crowd, was PAC (though this wasn’t in conflict with the ANC, it reflected a considered opinion that a time was needed for the majority black population of South Africa to consider it’s own needs above those of the white minority. Positive Discrimination was a new phrase. PAC stands for of course, Pan Africanist Congress, which aspires to the formation of Azania, a country that is greater than the borders of the South African State. It was a bit like distinguishing between a trade unionist and a run of the mill Labour Party member. (A British frame of reference here). That’s why the British trade unions have a block vote in the Labour Party. They are fundamentalist extensions of the Co-operative movement of the Tolpuddle Marchers here in the UK, or the early trade unions of the nineteen twenties and before in the USA.
Anyway. I was just trying to explain the sameness and slight differences betwen the PAC and ANC at the time. It depended upon one’s vision. (No offence, anyone, who could add more or differs from me in their opinion.) And who did we all look to for a vision?
Of course, the man who we had never seen (to borrow a line from Johnny Clegg) was not available, the Father of the Nation, but his wife was, Winnie Mandela, Mother of the Nation, living in compulsory exile in the small town of Brandfort in the Orange Free State in a “township” with no running water or electricity or plumbing etc. What can I say to that? What can I add? How long for? 16 years or so, I think, away from her home in Johannesburg.
Are you catching my drift now? How to be white and South African and ANC/PAC meant to be aware and to choose to be brave enough to face change. To leave one’s home and to move rather than risk losing it all and staying to resist that change. White motherfuckers!
As I said – when I left South Africa, there was no urgency about my movements. I just bought a ticket one day and left. I was PAC and I still am, basically.
But what can you do?
Copyright 2016 Bruce E Saunders