PAC in opposition

Since 1994 support for the Pan Africanist Congress has grown more than for any other party.

WHAT IS HAPPENING to the PAC? Attending the party’s congress in Durban in mid December there were moments when you might think little had changed. There was the fierce concern with the fate of Apla fighters, the denunciation of the TRC for treating members of the apartheid regime and the liberation struggle as if they were morally equal, the old insistence on calling the country Azania. But closer inspection reveals that the nature of the party is changing. Most striking of all is the change of style and mood brought by the party’s new leader, Bishop Stanley Mogoba.

A low key and beneficent presence, Mogoba is modest even about his stint on Robben Island. All that happened, he says, is that some students came to him in 1963 eager to burn down a Dutch Reformed church as an act of protest. He told them firmly that they must do no such thing. When the youths were caught, the security police deduced that he was the mastermind behind them. The result was a three-year sentence for conspiracy. “It was very formative for me. I met all the ANC, PAC and Unity Movement leaders — though I was in solitary confinement for a while. But I also had a very strong religious experience while I was on the island and began to prepare for the ministry while I was still there. I realised that if you really accepted Christianity you had to forgive and seek reconciliation even with those who oppressed you, even with your jailers. Many of my comrades were astonished. Why have any mercy or compassion for these people at all, they asked?

“In that sense I was a bit ahead of my time. I was preaching peace and reconciliation long before it became part of our political rhetoric. But then people began to say I must be some sort of police stooge or informer in order to talk that way. That’s the origin of all this dreadful nonsense about me being a police spy.” He is referring to the incident in October when Mandela advised him not to seek a seat on the parliamentary intelligence committee because he might not pass the security check.

After his release from prison the police then refused to allow him to go back home to Mamelodi, near Pretoria. He was banned, banished to Sekukuniland, expelled from Roodeport and Middleburg, and thrown out of the Transkei by Chief Kaiser Matanzima. For ten years a harassed, itinerant cleric, he was saved only when Chief Buthelezi invited all such religious refugees to settle in KwaZulu. His lack of bitterness —even about the wounding accusations that he was a police spy all the time — is every bit as impressive as Mandela’s similar refusal to give in to feelings of revenge.

His colleague, Patricia de Lille, is considerably more indignant on his behalf. “When Bantu Holomisa challenged the ANC they said he was an agent of apartheid. When Kobus Jordaan criticised Penuel Meduna, Meduna called him a police spy. Now the PAC is gaining support so strongly, the ANC call the bishop a police spy. When I began to name the real police spies within the ANC they called me a racist. What can I say? I didn’t do what I did without thought. I waited a whole month after the ANC had begun to put out these lies about Stanley. I could see he was really suffering.”

The problem, de Lille insists, lies somewhere within Mandela’s office. “Even after President Mandela has repeatedly said that he doesn’t believe any of the allegations against Stanley, those same rumours and allegations keep coming out of that office. Then the National Intelligence Agency came and grilled Malcolm Dyani (a PAC MP) and we put down a question to the responsible minister, Dullah Omar, about this. After five weeks we still had no reply. So in the end I brought it all up in parliament. I got a leak from a reliable source as to who exactly the spies within the ANC were. But I went through the press cuttings first. Actually all the ANC people I named had already appeared in print as police spies.

“Their official line is that there were just three spies — of whom one they’ve never heard of and two are dead. How can they expect us to believe that? After all, they tortured people endlessly in Quatro precisely because they believed there were police spies everywhere. How can they now say there were just three?”
The ANC were so incensed by de Lille’s speech that its national working party resolved to bar her from parliament until after the next election. Again, though, she was saved by a high level ANC leak: she was warned of the sentence and of the fact that the Speaker, who would have to implement such a penalty, was a member of the national working party and bound by its decision. De Lille exposed all this, to the consternation of the ad hoc cross-party committee that was supposed to be looking into her case. In the end she was suspended for 15 days only. “The Speaker stopped me after I had revealed just seven ANC spies. But I have another five on my list. The message I get is that they’ll treat me even rougher if I reveal those — which I still may do.”
De Lille insists, however, that her case is not so much about spies as about free speech, constitutional rights and parliamentary privilege. The PAC want her sentence suspended until the Supreme Court has ruled on its constitutionality and PAC lawyers are keen to take on her case. “I’ve been overwhelmed by people’s kindness and support. Chief Buthelezi always greets me with a kiss and says ‘My sister, you always tell the truth’. When I made my speech he was up on his feet shouting, ‘Quiet, quiet! Let her speak!’ Tony Leon and Dougie Gibson of the DP have been tremendously helpful, as always. And NGOs like Idasa and the Freedom of Expression Institute are all keen to test the constitutionality of my ban. Everyone rallied behind me. It made me feel proud to be a South African.”

De Lille fears that the ANC might get two thirds of the vote in 1999. “That would effectively mean a one party state and that would be the worst thing that could happen to this country. Of course the ANC wants us to join them but we won’t do that. Every party must have its own voice.”

The experience of Opposition has heightened the PAC’s interest in free speech and constitutional rights. The party almost sounds liberal I suggest. “Well, I occupy the leftward flank within the PAC — Stanley’s image is more moderate and centrist — but I’m happy enough with the word liberal”. De Lille is also extremely happy with Bishop Mogoba’s leadership style. “He has softened our image. All that old anti-white rhetoric has gone. And we had to change — in a society going through as much change as ours we couldn’t possibly escape our own restructuring and re-orientation. “And look how it’s working. The latest polls show we have grown by 170 per cent and nearly a quarter of the electorate sympathises with us.” Bishop Mogoba adds, “We see ourselves as the original ANC — it was they who left us”.

He is adamant that the need for land redistribution remains fundamental but on many other issues he strikes a moderate note. “Everyone who lives here and accepts Africa as his or her home is an African. I have no patience with silly slogans like “pass one, pass all” or with affirmative action that puts people into jobs they can’t do. Everyone has to study, work hard and qualify properly. Anything else will amount to racism and will simply damage the country. We do think that the absolute poverty of the majority is completely unacceptable and we favour strong initiatives to deal with it. But we’re in favour of differential rewards for differential achievement.”

Some of the resolutions the PAC passed at its congress — condemning the politicisation of education, for example — echo this moderate tone, but the party still seems torn between its old instincts and its desire to embrace a new and more pragmatic identity. Dr Costa Gazi, the PAC’s white spokesman for health, is frustrated that the parliamentary party in the end supported Mrs Zuma’s plans to ignore international drug patents and to make community service for newly qualified doctors compulsory. “That’s all nonsense. There is no point supporting things that won’t work and will only end up doing damage. But we have adopted an excellent new health policy now. I’m very optimistic about the future.”

Outside the conference hall there were the familiar young PAC activists busy selling Azanian T-shirts and memorabilia. The same old maps of Africa centering on Nkrumah’s Ghana, the slogan “For Victory — not Compromise”. But you look in vain for anything which says “One settler, one bullet” and you notice that the slogan now is “Serve, suffer, sacrifice”.