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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

National Forum (NF) (1983)

The origins of the National Forum, founded in 1983, can be traced back to the late sixties when black students became dissatisfied with Nusas and formed the South African Stu-dents' Organisation (Saso). Black students felt that Nusas over-emphasized academic freedom, and American-inspired black theology, which had gained ground on black campuses, provided further impetus for the creation of Saso. (The National Forum of 1983 must be distinguished from the National Forum created in 1989 by black local governments.)

The philosophy of black consciousness reinforced black students' dissatisfaction with Nusas. The concept of black consciousness contains the following elements:

It is more than an ideology it is a way of life.

The concept "black" refers not only to black people but to everyone who is burdened by political and social discrimination in South Africa.

The "western capitalist" value system which is dominant in South Africa must be rejected and replaced by a new indigenous value system.

Black people must be made aware of the economic and political power which they have as a group.

All forms of sectionalism must be rejected, and the message of freedom propagated by black consciousness must be communicated to all sectors of the society.

It is critical of class analyses of society, since these emphasize the importance of the proletariat as a group in the process of social transformation, while other classless actors, such as peasant farmers, are ignored.

Integration, as proposed by certain liberal organisations, is rejected since it emphasizes the inclusion of blacks in a society dominated by white values.

Black consciousness also gained sup-port outside student ranks, and many organisations, including the Black People's Convention, formed in 1972, expounded this philosophy. During the seventies the black consciousness movement was paralysed by the state. Leaders were jailed for long periods and in October 1977 nearly all the black consciousness organisations were banned. While a few leaders remained active in black consciousness groups internally and abroad, many moved towards Charterism. The most significant of these were Patrick Lekota, former publicity secretary of the UDF, and ANC regional representative in Natal in 1990, Aubrey Mokoena (later a member of the executive committee of the UDF), Cyril Ramaphosa (general secretary of the National 'Union of Mine-workers and Cosatu and elected as secretary-general of the ANC in July 1991) and Popo Molefe (former general secretary of the UDF and high-profile member of the ANC in 1990).

Azapo was the most prominent organisation to carry a flag for black consciousness in the late seventies and into the eighties. It also played an important part in establishing the National Forum in June 1983, at Hammanskraal near Pretoria. The NF served as an umbrella organisation for more than 200 groups.

In contrast to earlier thought in black consciousness movements, but complementary to viewpoints which later emerged in Saso, the BPC and Azapo, the National Forum adopted a class analysis of the South African situation in which racial discrimination was seen as central to the capitalist system the system was described as "racial capitalism". Ac-cording to the NF, the struggle against apartheid is inextricably inter-woven with the struggle against capitalism. The NF is also critical of the Freedom Charter, which is seen as "potentially co-optable by the capitalist system" rejecting it on the grounds of its attitude towards the land issue as well as concessions made in respect of ethnicity. It disagrees with the guarantees mentioned in the Freedom Charter in respect of minority rights in Azania there will be only Azanians and no minorities.

The National Forum has no white members but does concede that certain "renegade" whites can form part of the struggle. The function of these whites in the struggle is to bring about changes of attitude within their own communities. According to the NF the slave master (or his children) cannot be expected to bring about his own downfall. Thus the freedom struggle, for the most part, should be led by the black working class, in-spired by a revolutionary awareness. At the same time the NF is sceptical of "workerism" and the role of trade unions in bringing about political change. Trade unions can be politically effective only if they are totally independent of middle-class interests, which, according to the NF, they are not. Paradoxically the NF also rejects the class-based nature of the trade unions. It says that real change can be brought about only if each op-pressed group in society works towards it.

Reform as a means to political change is rejected by the National Forum. The participation by black people in state structures is unacceptable and implies the coopting of elite groups by the white system while its basic values remain the same. It alleges that the system only supports those political activities which function in favour of the system. The NF does not have particularly close ties with other black extra-parliamentary organisations such as the UDF and Inkatha. While it has written Inkatha off as collaborators with an ethnic base, its relationship with the UDF is more complex. Although the two organisations have worked together from time to time, their differences stand in the way of a more permanent relationship.

Besides Azapo, the Cape Action League, also consisting of a number of affiliated organisations, is another important member of the National Forum. Other important affiliates are the National Council of Trade Unions (Nactu) and Azayo. Because the NF is in fact merely a loose group of organisations (in 1986 it comprised 53 groups), forming no more than a discussion forum, the views of the organisations are actually expounded by the affiliated members. State suppression has therefore up until 1990 been aimed at the affiliated members. Because of the diverse views of the different groups in the National Forum, the above discussion is based on the views of the most important organisations affiliated to the NF.

A set of principles, the Manifesto of the Azanian People, was adopted at the first National Forum meeting. These principles include the following:

Anti-racism and anti-imperialism.

Non-cooperation with the oppressors and their political instruments (amended in 1984 to "anti-collaboration").

An independent working-class organisation.

Workers' interest as an overriding factor.

Public control over the means of production, distribution and trade.

Free and compulsory education.

State housing and health services.

The redistribution of land belonging to the Azanian people.

The integration of the homelands into one Azania.

Non-sexism (adopted in 1984).

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.