"It was a gathering of tribes that had never met before except on the battlefields. It was a gathering of Chiefs who had never seen each other before. And they had come from the four provinces and the High Commission territories. It was a gathering of educated Africans who had never exchanged views before. It was a gathering, if I may say so, of the departed spirits of the African race, among whom were such men as Sandile, Shaka, Moshoeshoe, Cetshwayo, Moroka, Khama, Sekhukhune, Soshangana and Ramavhulana."1
Anton Lembede explained this mission of Congress as follows:
"We are devoting our energies to the preparation of the greatest national struggle of all time, the struggle for national liberation. Our stupendous task is to organise, galvanise and consolidate the numerous African tribes into one homogenous nation"2
His words recalled the appeal of one of our founding fathers, Pixley Isaka Seme,
"Again, it is conclusively urgent that this Congress should meet this year, because a matter which is so vitally important to our progress and welfare should not be unnecessarily postponed by reason of personal differences and selfishness of our leaders. The demon of racialism, the aberrations of the Xosa-Fingo feud, the animosity that exists between the Zulus and the Tongaas, between the Basutos and every other Native must be buried and forgotten;.. We are one people. These divisions, these jealousies, are the cause of all our woes and of all our backwardness and ignorance to-day."3
Herein lies the essence of Congress. It recognises diversity of race and differences among the native peoples. It calls everyone to unity beyond the "demon of racialism, the aberrations… the animosity that exists", to the recognition that "we are one people". It is fundamentally this unity that enables us to overcome the "personal difference and selfishness", the "divisions" and "jealousies."
In his address to the first Annual Conference of Congress in the Cape Colony, the President of the South African Native National Congress, S.M. Makgatho opined,
"It is to be regretted that there is at this moment A Split in The Natal Congress, where the heads don`t seem to pull together. Perhaps you can advise them on how to heal their harmful differences. At a time like this, when we are face to face with some of the worst upheavals that ever overtook our people, it is imperative that we should stand together."4
Even when differences are evident inside Congress, as far back as the eighteenth century, unity is projected as paramount if the movement is to overcome the common challenges it is confronted with.
The theme of unity in diversity has occupied and characterised our movement since its inception and as it evolved throughout different phases of struggle. It is not only about the unity of different peoples but also across ideological differences, as evidenced in the International Congress Against Imperialism5. At this Congress, leaders - JT Gumede, JA LaGuma and D Colraine - of different races and national formations representing the African National Congress (ANC), the Communist Party of South African (CPSA) and the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), came together to represent the aspirations of the working class in South Africa. It is noted that Jawaharlal Nehru, the delegate of the Indian National Congress, in his report on the Conference, remarked on how the three delegates worked together and jointly drafted the resolution on South Africa which was adopted by the Congress, further saying,
"In these days of race hatred in South Africa and the ill-treatment of Indians," he wrote, "it was pleasing to hear the representative of the white workers giving expression to the most advanced opinions on the equality of races and of workers of all races."6
This unity in diversity informed what came to be known as the Doctors` Pact of 1947 and the 1950s programme that brought together in action all the formations of our movement. As some would argue, the actual emergence of what we have come to know as the Alliance.
Significantly, the search for unity in diversity culminated in the coming into being of our movement`s most celebrated document, our forebears` vision for a non-racial, non-sexist, united and democratic South Africa, the Freedom Charter.
"South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white,.. our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood,…"7
The significance of this visionary Charter, its representation of the unity of all our people in their diversity, is best elucidated in the words of OR Tambo as he delivered the Statement of the National Executive Committee on the occasion of another of the anniversaries of the ANC.
"..it is not merely the Freedom Charter of the African National Congress and its allies. Rather it is the Charter of the people of South Africa for liberation. It was drawn up on the basis of the demands of the vast masses of our country and adopted at an elected Congress of the People. Because it came from the people, it remains still a People`s Charter, the one basic political statement of our goals to which all genuinely democratic and patriotic forces of South Africa adhere…"8
The commitment to uniting all people, across colour, ideology and belief, has been a characteristic of the movement throughout every phase of struggle. The international solidarity dimension of our struggle and the mass-based and multi-class character of the movement, manifest the theory and practice of the principle of unity in diversity.
The influences and ideologies that have come to shape our movement range and vary and yet, despite all of that, were able to collectively contribute without causing disintegration but enhancing. This notion of a movement of all people, able to accommodate and unite different people is captured by Nelson Mandela`s recollection of the ire of non-communists such as Drs Xuma and Molema and Champion to attempts to exclude members of the Communist Party from the ANC, he recalls that,
"Their argument was that the ANC is our parliament and we allow all political groups to be members…united only by our opposition to racial oppression"9
This commitment to ensure unity in diversity has been the cornerstone of the nation-building project since the dawn of democracy in 1994. As stated in our constitution,
"We, the people of South Africa …
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity."10
This is the dream enunciated by the Chief Albert Luthuli, ANC President, in addressing the Congress of Democrats in 1958, firmly committed and resolute of the certainty of our country to succeed in realising it,
"It is often suggested, quite rightly, that democracy was developed in homogeneous communities - in Europe, possibly in Asia to an extent - in communities that were homogeneous in colour. Here in South Africa we are not a homogeneous community, not as far as race and colour are concerned nor, possibly, even in culture. It is suggested that... in a community like ours, diverse in very many respects, you can`t hope to share democracy. But I personally believe that here in South Africa, with all our diversities of colour and race, we will show the world a new pattern for democracy. What is important is that we can build a homogeneous South Africa on the basis not of colour but of human values."11
Informed by this rich heritage, Unity in Diversity reflects the centenary of our movement. The theme of unity remains a key principle today as it was at the founding of Congress, as the ANC Constitution states the its aims and objectives are,
"To unite all the people of South Africa, Africans in particular..."12
1 RVS Thema, How Congress Begn, Drum, July 1953
2 Ref. L Callinicos, Oliver Tambo: Beyond the Engeli Mountains, 2004 David Phillips
3PI Seme, "Native Union", Imvo Zabantsundu, Octor 24, 1911
4SM Makgatho, "Presidential Address", South African Native National Congress, 6 May 1919
5JT Gumede, www.anc.org.za, May 1st, 2010
7"Freedom Charter", Congress of the People, June 26, 155, Kliptown, NNC
8OR Tambo, "The Year of the Charter", Statement of the NEC, January 8th 1980, ANC
9Ref. L Callinicos, bid.
10A Luthuli, Speech to the Congress of Democrats, 1958, ANC
11"Preamble", Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, RSA
12ANC Constitution, as amended and adoptedby the 52nd National Conference, Polokwane, 2007, ANC