ANC VETERAN and MP Ben Turok has warned against a growing “narrow” African nationalism in the ANC and called for non-racialism and a strong parliamentary democracy that does not decline into a one-party state.
Less than a week before the party’s policy conference, which begins in Midrand on Tuesday, Turok said there was a need for the party leadership to encourage its members to read the documents of the ANC conference in Morogoro, Tanzania, in 1969.
These confirmed that “narrow black nationalism” was a “distraction from socio-economic transformation for a country like ours”, he said. “(Political) liberation without economic liberation is meaningless.”
Turok was speaking at the launch of two books, Ruth First and Albert Luthuli, which are the first instalments in a Human Sciences Research Council series called Voices of Liberation.
He criticised what he saw as an abdication of responsibility by the ANC mother-body in passing on institutional memory to youth formations. “I’m a bit appalled by black students at UCT – and of course white students, but they are already corrupted. There is no doubt that the values imparted by Sasco (SA Students Congress) and the (ANC) Youth League are not the values I share, or Ruth shared,” he said. “The ANC is also culpable… in the style of its culture, the business connection stuff – it’s all very nasty.”
Turok said he had three wishes for the country. These were that “we get a grip on corruption”, promote non-racialism and ensure parliamentary democracy.
Speaking about the paradoxes which characterised Luthuli and First, as well as the ANC, he cautioned that in present times, this was “where the centre almost falls”, because the centre was “not well defined”.
“I think one has to say the two individuals were very different. Their values were very different. (Slain SACP leader) Ruth First came through a communist ideology, she was a convinced Marxist. (Nobel Peace Prize-winning ANC president) Luthuli was very devout and very ‘centre’ in his thinking,” he said. “But that’s the nature of the liberation movement – the desire to achieve (democracy) notwithstanding the different ideological backgrounds.”
In a touching recollection, Turok spoke of an afternoon spent on Camps Bay beach with Luthuli and communist party leaders Fred Carneson and Sonia Bunting in the 1950s.
He also recalled his three sons chasing First and her husband Joe Slovo’s three daughters around Bram Fischer’s pool. Fischer was on the treason trial defence team and a former SACP leader.
Luthuli, a fellow treason trial accused, was a “very humble and quiet person”, Turok said, while First was “outstanding, extremely bright”.
He said Luthuli had come from a conservative background, but at the same time was militant. When the ANC’s armed wing, MK, was formed, prominent communist Moses Kotane had asked him: “How do you feel? You’re a pacifist.” Luthuli had replied: “You steal my chickens and you see if I’m a pacifist!”