Unfinished Debates: Settler Liberalism, East Africa, and the Origins of Non-Racialism

Monday, 14 April, 2014 - 15:00

Presented by : 

This paper traces the history of four words central to the political vocabulary of the antiapartheid struggle: 'multi-racial,' "non-racial,' 'multi-racialism,' and 'non-racialism.' The opposition between 'non-racialism' and 'multi-racialism' was absent from the political vocabulary of the ANC for the majority of the 1940s and 1950s. The two terms entered into African politics in the context of debates over decolonization and constitutional structure in Central and East Africa following the foundation of the Central African Federation in 1953. The opposition between 'multi-racialism' and 'non-racialism' was first used in South Africa within Liberal Party and Unity Movement critiques of the ANC that drew (often inaccurately) on the press statements of East African leaders such as Julius Nyerere and Tom Mboya. The Africanist current in the ANC, especially Robert Sobukwe, appears to have adopted this vocabulary from the Liberal Party and made the debate over 'multi-racialism' and minority rights central to African Nationalist politics. ANC leaders did not begin to describe the organization's politics in terms of a 'non-racial democracy' until 1959-60.  Reflecting on the consequences of this genealogy for the history of the anti-apartheid struggle, this paper will argue that the concept of non-racialism inherits the epistemological instability of the concept of race: it can only be defined in negative terms. Five separate, if related, debates that emerged during the 1940s-1950s have been falsely conflated in the discussion of non-racialism: the nature of currently existing South Africa society, the organizational form of the liberation struggle, the constitutional form of post-apartheid governance, the nature of South African national identity, and the relationship between South Africa and the rest of the continent. Reconstructing these debates, and the complex and often asymmetrical relationships between them, is essential for a full understanding of the intellectual history of the ANC and the liberation struggle more broadly.


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