Bishopsgate Institute was delighted to become the home to the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group (CAAG) Archives in 2019. As well as being an invaluable resource to the Group's campaigning and activism, the archive also contains a wealth of information on the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania and its activities.
Presented here are a selection of documents and an insightful history of the PAC of Azania, curated and written by academic and activist Gavin Brown using the CAAG Archives at the Institute.
The Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) of Azania is a South African political party that played an important role in key moments of the liberation struggle. The documents presented on this website showcase the distinct political perspectives of the PAC of Azania, told primarily through documents relating to their members who ended up living in exile in London in the 1980s and early 1990s.
The PAC of Azania was formed on the 9th of April 1959 after some of the leading ‘Africanist’ members of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League broke away to form their own liberation movement. This split was a result of unresolved debates about the ANC’s political vision as set out in the ‘Freedom Charter’ which the ANC and their allies adopted at the Congress of the People in June 1955, amongst other differences. The PAC of Azania pioneers were also concerned that it appeared as if the ANC mother body had abandoned the 1949 Programme of Action, which the ANCYL had been instrumental in drafting.
Many of the founding leaders of the PAC of Azania, such as its first president Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, had been active in revitalising the ANC over the previous decade and encouraging more active resistance to the institutionalised racism of the apartheid system. At the time, membership of the ANC was only open to those classified by the South African government as Africans, but the ANC worked in alliance with parties representing other racial groups. The Freedom Charter set out a vision for a multi-racial South Africa after apartheid and formalised the multi-racial Congress Alliance of parties that supported that vision. The PAC of Azania worried that the multi-racialism of the Freedom Charter accepted the racial divisions built into the apartheid system. The PAC was the first to introduce the term non-racialism to the South African political scene.
The Pan Africanists argued that multi-racialism inherently recognised race, whereas the PAC of Azania said race would not be significant in a free Azania (the PAC’s preferred name for South Africa). Sobukwe proclaimed that there was “only one race, the human race” and that “multi-racialism was racism multiplied”.
In March 1960, the PAC of Azania launched its first major political protest campaign.
On 21 March 1960, thousands of PAC of Azania supporters heeded the call and joined Nyakane Tsolo (in Sharpeville), Phillip Kgosana (who led 30 000 marchers from Langa township to the centre of Cape Town), Robert Sobukwe (in Soweto) and other leaders to police stations around the country demanding to be arrested for not carrying their pass books (the hated internal passports for non-white South Africans which controlled where Africans could live and work, and subjected them to constant police scrutiny and harassment). At Sharpeville township, near Johannesburg, the police opened fire on the protesters, killing 69 people – many of them shot in the back. The Sharpeville Massacre was a turning point in the struggle against apartheid. Images of the massacre flashed around the world and inspired the formation of what became the international anti-apartheid movement.
In South Africa, the government imposed a State of Emergency and detained thousands of opposition activists. On 8 April 1960 the South African government banned both the ANC and PAC of Azania, effectively making most organised forms of opposition to apartheid illegal. The banning of the PAC of Azania, only a year into its existence, threw the organisation into disarray. Many of its leaders were imprisoned and others forced into exile. Unlike the ANC-SACP, the young PAC of Azania had not had time to adequately prepare for how the organisation could continue to operate covertly before it was banned. This had a profound impact on the organisational capacity of the PAC of Azania for decades afterwards, but it did not stop Pan Africanist ideas from continuing to inspire opponents of apartheid and settler colonialism in South Africa.
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of their founding in 1989, the PAC of Azania produced a short pamphlet summarising the foundations of their politics. In the late 1960s, the PAC of Azania adopted ‘Azania’ as their preferred name for a future, decolonized ‘South Africa’. This document sets out some of the key features of the PAC of Azania’s Pan Africanism and their vision for Azania:
- The struggle in South Africa is part of the greater struggle throughout the continent for the restoration to the African people of the effective control of their land
- The land of the Azanian people was usurped by force of arms by imperialist invaders and its wealth continues to be massively exploited for the benefit of a minority clique. … The PAC of Azania holds that the inalienable right of the African people to their land is non-negotiable and that their solemn task is to repossess the land and all its riches using all the means at their disposal.
- The Africanists take the view that there is only one race to which all belong, and that is the human race. In the vocabulary of the PAC of Azania, therefore, the word ‘race’ as applied to man has no plural form. In Africa, the myth of race has been propounded and propagated by the imperialists and colonialists from Europe, in order to facilitate and justify the inhuman exploitation of the indigenous people of the land. It is from this myth of race with its attendant claims of cultural superiority that the doctrine of white supremacy stems. The PAC of Azania stands for a government of the Africans for the Africans by the Africans, with everybody who owes his loyalty only to Africa and accepts the democratic rile of Africa’s majority being regarded as an African.
- Against multi-racialism, we have this objection, the history of South Africa has fostered group prejudices and antagonisms, and if we have to maintain the same group exclusiveness, parading under the term of multi-racialism, we shall be transporting to the new Africa these very antagonisms and conflicts, further, multi-racialism is in fact a pandering to European bigotry and arrogance. It is a method of safeguarding white interests irrespective of population figures. In this sense it is a complete negation of democracy.
- We believe that the white minority can maintain its continued domination only by perfecting the techniques of control in such a way as to enlist the active co-operation and goodwill of the oppressed. That is why we embrace the policy of non-collaboration.
- Economically the PAC of Azania stands for a planned economy and the most equitable distribution of wealth. We reject the economic exploitation of the many for the benefit of the few.
- With regards to our relations with the international community, the PAC of Azania believes that we must pursue a policy of positive neutrality, allying ourselves to neither of the existing blocs [in the global Cold War]. We go along with the declaration that Azania should be ‘independent in all things but neutral in none that affect the destiny of Africa’. In other words we prefer non-alignment.
Life in Exile
Even before the PAC of Azania was banned in 1960, the organisation had, on the instructions of Sobukwe, begun sending leading members outside South Africa to build international support and solidarity. Amongst the first two to be sent out of the country were Nana Mahomo and Peter Molotsi, both of whom went into exile the day before the Sharpeville Massacre occurred. Once the PAC of Azania was banned by the South African government, it began building an infrastructure of offices and camps outside the country. From 1963, the headquarters of the PAC were based in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. It was during this period that the PAC set up official ‘missions’ to represent the organisation to the governments of various independent African nations. Mahomo ended up in London, UK where he worked alongside the ANC’s Oliver Tambo and the South West African Peoples Organisation (SWAPO) in establishing the South African United Front. The London PAC office was first established in 1962, but largely operated independently of the leadership in Southern Africa. It was only from 1977 that the London office began to function fully as a mission for the PAC in the UK, reporting to the headquarters in Dar-es-Salaam.
The role of the PAC of Azania’s London office was to raise funds from international donors, liaise with anti-apartheid solidarity groups, and coordinate the political work of exiled PAC members living in the UK. One of the earliest documents in our collection is this letter from Matthew Nkoana, Deputy Chairman of PAC of Azania UK Branch to the Revolutionary Communist Group in February 1986, inviting them to attend an event to mark the eighth anniversary of the death of PAC of Azania founder, Robert Sobukwe. He enclosed a copy of “A South African Revolution” to help promote the ideas of the PAC of Azania amongst the British Left.
A series of documents in the collection give a glimpse into the political work of PAC of Azania members in the UK and the ways in which they collaborated in joint activities with British anti-apartheid campaigners. In August 1992, the PAC of Azania’s UK Branch organised a public meeting to protest against the Boipatong Massacre in South Africa, when 45 residents of Boipatong township were killed by supporters of the Inkatha Freedom Party encouraged by South African security forces. Later in 1992, PAC of Azania members in the UK worked with the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group and others to organise protests against a tour of the UK by the South African Springboks rugby team, in contravention of the United Nations sports boycott of South Africa. As this letter from the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group shows, they offered practical assistance to ensure that PAC of Azania members were able to travel to and participate in these protests.
There were frequently tensions between grassroots members and leaders of the PAC of Azania based in African countries and those based in the UK and USA (who were accused of living ‘cushy’ lives distanced from the realities facing African-based exiles). This letter from N (Nomvo) Booi, the PAC of Azania’s Secretary for Health and Social Welfare in Dar es Salaam, requesting emergency assistance to clothe and feed 56 men and boys who had recently arrived in Tanzania from South Africa gives some sense of the reality of life for exiled PAC supporters living in their camps across Southern Africa. Although life was marginally better for PAC members exiled in Europe, money was still very tight and they were often subjected to harassment by the British immigration authorities, as this note of a conversation with Hamilton Keke (a former chief representative of the PAC of Azania in London) suggests.
When the PAC of Azania was ‘unbanned’ by the South African government in February 1990, the organisation had to rapidly rebuild relations between its supporters inside South Africa and its exiled members and leaders spread across Africa and the rest of the world. In March 1990, a special consultative meeting was held in Harare between the PAC of Azania’s exiled leadership and supporters of the Pan Africanist Movement based in South Africa. This text of a speech by PAC of Azania President Zephania Mothopeng (who had been released from serving a lengthy sentence on the notorious Robben Island prison), at the opening of that consultative meeting gives a sense of the challenges they faced at this time. When the PAC of Azania planned its first special congress inside South Africa, after their unbanning, in October 1990 the PAC’s UK Branch appealed to British anti-apartheid supporters for financial assistance to send delegates to the conference.
Relationships with European Solidarity Movements
On paper, the main national Anti-Apartheid Movement in the UK offered support and solidarity to the PAC of Azania. In practice, however, they prioritised work with the African National Congress and SWAPO of Namibia. In this context, PAC of Azania members in the UK had to build relationships with smaller anti-apartheid organisations to raise funds and ensure that their political message was heard by a wider audience in the UK. These notes of two meetings held between the PAC of Azania and British activists in March 1988 give some sense of the alternative support networks that the PAC of Azania built in the UK. The PAC of Azania was represented by their Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Gora Ebrahim, and two British based members. Also present were representatives of two other Southern African liberation movement, the Black Consciousness Movement of Azania from South Africa and SWANU from Namibia. Amongst the British activists in the room were members of the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group, the Revolutionary Communist Group, and the Black British campaign Black Action for the Liberation of Southern Africa (BALSA), and the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party.
The first meeting took place the day after the same groups had collaborated on a large public meeting to commemorate the killing of 69 PAC supporters at the Sharpeville Massacre on 21 March 1960. These meetings explored concrete ways in which the groups could cooperate on a campaign for the release of the PAC of Azania leader Zephania Mothopeng, raise funds, and amplify the PAC of Azania’s demands for action from the Commonwealth.
The two other documents presented here illustrate the strength of the relationship between the PAC of Azania and the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group. The first is a letter from Gora Ebrahim inviting the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group to send an official observer to the PAC of Azania’s first national conference to be held in South Africa in 30 years, in October 1990. The second letter builds on the relationship between the two organisations that had been strengthened by the British activists attending that conference. It contains the text of a speech given by PAC of Azania President Clarence Makwetu at a Heroes Day commemoration in South Africa on 1 August 1992. As well as sketching the history of the PAC of Azania and its members' sacrifices in the struggle against apartheid, the speech also reviews the levels of violence still afflicting the Black majority in South Africa at that time, and the PAC of Azania’s concerns about the conduct of the CODESA talks which were negotiating the end of apartheid and the process for democratic elections. In the hand-written coversheet to the fax, a senior PAC of Azania leader Waters Toboti, asks the City Group office to ensure that the text was shared with the PAC’s Chief Representative in London. This suggests both that the PAC of Azania’s London office was under-resourced and not fully functioning at that point, but also that City Group had shifted from a support group to being more closely integrated into the political and diplomatic work of the PAC of Azania in the UK.
A Pan-Africanist Vision for Post-Apartheid South Africa
In the late 1980s, as it became clear that the end of apartheid was getting closer, the PAC of Azania worked hard to rebuild and grow a Pan-Africanist movement inside South Africa. In late 1989, the PAC of Azania launched a new organisation, the Pan Africanist Movement (PAM), inside South Africa to galvanise its supporters. The Declaration of the Pan Africanist Movement to the People of Azania, issued at the launch of the PAM, sets out a Pan-Africanist analysis of settler colonialism in South Africa, and the PAC of Azania’s vision for a decolonized Azania.
The PAC of Azania was ‘unbanned’ by the South African government in February 1990 and was faced with the opportunity (and challenge) of restarting open, legal political work in their own name inside South Africa for the first time in 30 years. In December 1990, they held their first legal national conference in South Africa since the PAC was launched in April 1959. Exiled members of the PAC of Azania from across Africa and around the world returned to South Africa (often for the first time) to attend the conference as delegates. A small number of international observers from solidarity organisations were also invited to attend. This set of documents contain the text of the opening address to the conference by Clarence Makwetu, the Acting President of the PAC of Azania, as well as the motions that were discussed there about the PAC’s commitment to working with other anti-apartheid organisations in a United Front, the programme of action that the PAC of Azania committed itself to, and their approach to negotiations with the apartheid government about the future of South Africa. Other motions called on the international community to maintain economic sanctions and the cultural boycott against South Africa. The set of documents also contains the hand-written text of a message of solidarity presented to the conference by Andre Schott, an observer from the City of London Anti-Apartheid Group.
In July 1991, the PAC of Azania Department of Publicity and Information issued a statement outlining PAC Ideals for a Democratic Azania. They argue for a Constituent Assembly, elected by proportional representation, to agree the constitution for a post-apartheid, democratic South Africa. The document also sets out the PAC of Azania’s vision for what the constitution of a future, non-racial South Africa should look like. They argue that a democratic South Africa should protect the human rights of all South Africans. They restate that from its formation the PAC of Azania was committed to “self-determination, non-racialism, the return of the land to the dispossessed and the creation of an African democracy with guarantees, not for minorities, but rather for human rights” and the aspiration for a foreign policy pursuing Pan-Africanism and Continental Government independent of either the West or the (then disintegrating) Soviet bloc. This commitment to human rights over minority rights was an attempt to ensure that the human rights of white South Africans would be protected, without granting them disproportionate political influence or a veto over policy.
A further significant statement, Whither Azania? was issued by the PAC of Azania in November 1992. It addressed three key issues facing South Africa at the time – the continuing communal violence between different ethnic and political factions (largely backed and instigated by agents of the apartheid security police under the guise of what was then referred to and later proven to be a ‘Third Force’), the PAC of Azania’s stance on the bilateral negotiations between the government and the ANC that were shaping ‘progress’ towards democratic elections, and the diplomatic interventions around those negotiations by the United Nations, Commonwealth, European Union, and the Organisation of African Unity. Once again, the PAC of Azania asserts the importance of electing a Constituent Assembly to shape the future South African constitution and a Transitional Authority to control other state functions until the election of a democratic government elected by all South Africans. The PAC of Azania’s position on the path towards a Constituent Assembly is set out in this document, which is the transcript of a press conference held in London on 28 March 1991 with a senior PAC of Azania delegation, including their President Clarence Makwetu alongside Barney Desai, Gora Ebrahim and Patricia De Lille.
From the early 1960s onwards, the PAC of Azania produced several different publications and journals. Azania Combat was a magazine produced from the mid-1980s, as the official publication of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA), the military wing of the PAC of Azania during the anti-apartheid struggle. The journal was produced by APLA’s Political Department based in the PAC of Azania’s exiled headquarters in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. Most of the reports appear to have been written by journalists attached to the Dar-es-Salaam headquarters, or in APLA’s training camps in Tanzania, but the issues of Azania Combat also contain reports from ‘underground’ members of the PAC of Azania operating covertly inside South Africa, or exiled members attached to PAC of Azania offices around the world. Many of the articles report guerrilla actions conducted in South Africa by APLA combatants. The journal also reports the wider political work of PAC of Azania members both inside South Africa and internationally, as well as providing a pan-Africanist commentary on political events. Taken together, the issues of Azania Combat in this collection offer insights into PAC of Azania operations and politics in the final decade of the apartheid regime.
Alongside Azania Combat, we also present three issues of Izwi Lenkululeko, a magazine produced inside South Africa by the Pan Africanist Movement in the early 1990s. In addition to commentaries and reportage about current events in South Africa at that time, the journal published many articles about the history of the PAC of Azania and the wider Pan-Africanist movement internationally.