South Africa: BLF Is a Racist Organisation. Period

opinion

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 has made me regret those occasions. There is no clear political leader today; and not 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 Mngxitama is.

For twenty-three years SA has been a non-racial constitutional democracy, in which racism 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.

On 4 November 2019 the Electoral Court rejected the appeal of the 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 inclusive definition of black does not suffice to exclude its policy on membership from the ambit of the constitutional definition of racism.

The chief legal, formal and ideological definition of racism is that it excludes some people, whether it is from membership of a political party or the application of any other right listed in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. Under no circumstances can exceptions be made, because to do so would compromise and nullify the meaning and definition of the term.

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 they have failed dismally to realise that it also severely compromises its existence as a legal entity, hence the failure of its appeal recently.

If the BLF appeal had been upheld, this would have led to serious repercussions for both the Constitution and the Equality Court. Should the Equality Court have set a precedent that violates the Constitution, it would have rendered the existence of the court itself questionable.

So, 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', and threatening 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". 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. They could have amended its membership policy to be inclusive, even if only to continue its existence as a political party which should amount to amending its constitution on membership in order to continue to exist as a political party, especially for electoral purposes. They could continue to hold whatever views they have on race and power in post-apartheid South Africa. How many whites would be rushing to join the BLF if it amended its constitution? Not many, surely, knowing their policies and reputation.

However, the key issue goes beyond a juridical question. We have to assess the changed nature of both the political economy and sociology of SA after 1994. At the heart of these processes are class reconfigurations which have irreversibly ruptured the notion of "blackness" as articulated by Biko.

These reconfigurations have created the middle class likes of Mngxitama and the BLF, who use race for distinct class purposes. The birth of the BLF and its close relations with and defence of the notorious Gupta family (which reportedly funded the BLF and Mngxitama's lifestyle), are related to these processes.

The politics of the BLF has in fact descended into a nakedly race spectacle. They been quick to run to defend any back leader who is in reported trouble with the law, amidst allegations of corruption, irrespective of the merits and demerits of such cases.

However, the most disappointing thing about Mngxitama, besides his opportunism about 'blackness', is his refusal to recognise that today's SA 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.

Many BC thinkers retreated from political life after the movement's political decline after 1994, but I am confident that they would differ with Mngxitama on this question of membership within the framework of our post-1994 constitutional framework.

Instead, a man who 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.

It is in fact a sad reflection of the demise of the black consciousness movement that Mxgxitama parades himself as a BC thinker and leader - without challenge or response from them.

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