It is unusual to have the name of a locality being analysed for its political significance and meaning rather than for what it means to the residents of the area. Mangaung (the word is South Sotho for “place of cheetahs”), is metaphoric in its relationship to the political developments of South Africa. It is a foundational home to both the current ruling African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa and the erstwhile National Party (NP), which ruled for an uninterrupted 46 years. Among the known characteristics of a cheetah are its speed, agility, patience and an insatiable capacity to rear its young to meet the realities of the terrains they must operate under.
Mangaung, to South Africa, will always be about the “foundational location” of the nationalist “character” of the country. It is the place where the two “nationals” were formalised into movements that shaped the political topography of present-day South Africa. The socio-economic texture of the country owes its origins to Mangaung and the decisions taken there soon after the turn of the 19th century. The people who met in Mangaung in 1912 and 1913 respectively remain the founding architects of the nationalist aspirations the country pursued along two distinct paths.
It was at the turn of the century that an almost all whites war was concluded with the Treaty of Vereeniging in 1902 which defined “peace-time” South Africa. The terms of the treaty became instructs to the 1909 National Convention which formalised the provinces of the Cape, Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal into a geopolitical space called the Union of South Africa. The terms of the Convention, particularly those that excluded black people in the settlement and wanted the continuation of British colonial influence, led to a nationalist reawakening that was formalised into the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) and the NP in 1912 and 1913 respectively – both in Mangaung. The anti-colonial sentiment became the only intersecting goal of the nationalist movements; it was the attitude of the different movements to the development coalition and consensus that defined how the anti-colonial struggle was to be waged.
In Mangaung the two nationalist movements declared their intent to repudiate colonialism and replace it with a “democracy” that would have as its central interest the emancipation of “die volk” (NP) from British domination and “black people” (SANNC) from white domination. Whereas the SANNC declaration was in the main about being excluded from the 1909 “settlement”, the NP’s declaration was about a narrow “self-identity” and “self-determination” hell-bent and “white supremacy” and “African subjugation”. The non-cohesive nature of these intents in respect of building a South Africa that “belongs to all who live in it” created a two-stream anti-colonial struggle that collected along its paths strange breeds of ideological persuasions that are still bedevilling post-1994 South Africa today.
Mangaung, then Bloemfontein (and incidentally, as legend would have it, also named after a Koi Korana chief who inhabited the area) creates some political indigenousness of South Africa that still needs to be recorded in a manner that redefines the country’s historical outlook. Mangaung represents, therefore, the beginning of a socio-economic and political journey of South Africa that instructed its development, speaking from an economic prosperity perspective. The historic Pixley ka Seme inspired an anti-tribalism declaration that themed the formation of the ANC, and its diametrically appositional Afrikaner tribal NP declarations in Mangaung, grew to become the most foregrounded nodes of political tensions in South Africa; these are still keynotes of all manner of political discourse. The legislative decorum of South Africa, which is, by the way, not a true reflection of the NP and ANC nationalist construct, has its origins in the declarations made by the founding fathers of those movements in Mangaung.
The Mangaung cohort of leaders, the thinking concentrates that operated then, the visions about South Africa that inspired the then leadership, and the economic balance of forces that structured the then “ideological firmaments” generated responses that had the government of South Africa as the prize of all politics. The “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica” and “Die Stem” murmurings that reverberated in Mangaung in 1912 and 1913 were not only a call to unity and freedom for the “people of South Africa” but a realisation that no government could claim authority over the Union of South Africa unless it is based on the free will of its citizens.
The Mangaung halls, atmosphere and environment are thus not a stranger to hosting congregations of thinking men and women. Mangaung as a locality understands the importance of providing a venue for long-term thinking about South Africa, notwithstanding what that thinking is all about. Visions of South Africa, even if some were later proved to be not only an aberration of human thought but also a crime against humanity, have resonance with Mangaung. It is not a coincidence that the Supreme Court of South Africa, an institution that has shaped the infrastructure for our current rule-of-law-based constitutional dispensation, is in Mangaung. The judgements of the Supreme Court have for a long time provided a semblance of justice in the country, albeit based, in many instances, on a system that could not be justiciable, apartheid. The practice to have the rule of and by law that is not vulnerable to the whims of human excitement and agitation was thus anchored in Mangaung for a long time.
As the ANC will be congregating in Mangaung again, it needs to do so understanding the potential of the area to produce two streams of thoughts about the same aspiration. Being the oldest in the visioning of a South Africa that promoted equal opportunities with managed equal outcomes, a South Africa that is part of a global economic system, a South Africa that has a “then settler” community which has embraced its traditions and customs as its own, the ANC needs to be warned on how it approaches the visioning familiar halls of Mangaung. The non-racial character of the ANC, its standing as the leader of the liberation movement still underway, and its recently emboldened status as leader of the continental development agenda should circumcise its politically young into a post-winter maturity expected out of its Mangaung 2012 Elective Conference.
The Mangaungisation, a condition where a political formation is faced with the challenge of responding to a national condition in a manner that does not benefit the incumbents but builds lasting tracks for future generations to inherit and continuously optimise of South Africa at the turn of the previous century was the responsibility of ANC delegates. The then delegates, based on what the ANC became, understood their calling, mandate and accountability, and thus did not disappoint. They were focused on the tasks at hand to such an extent that that conference elected a president who was not at the conference, a clear indication that there was a set criterion as to who could lead such a gigantic vision. The timelessness of the 1912 and subsequent conferences stands out as evidence of the “breed” and quality of leadership and delegates that swelled the ranks of the ANC and occupied the conference seats in the halls of Mangaung.
Notwithstanding the racial vector of their declarations the 1913 NP conference, also within the halls and environment of Mangaung, remains the foundational praxis within which the development of “white South Africa” and “South Africa” is analysed. The manner in which that cohort defined “die Volk” became an ideological instruct to the 1948 NP generation and beyond that accelerated the architecture of present-day South African economic fundamentals. The incorrectness of excluding the majority of South Africans that was finally laid to rest by the Mandela-De Klerk accord that produced the current Constitution remains the foremost residue of the 1912 and 1913 Mangaung conferences. Like all residuals the 2012 Mangaung halls should settle once and for all the definition of who are really South Africans and what is national in the African National of the Congress called the ANC.
Fortunately for us in the Nation, Mangaung is again with us. The Zuma-led cohort of ANC leaders, with all its challenges, needs to rise above the narrow in-party factional interests that relegate the tasks at hand. Armed with the might of the state, resources from the state revenue account as well as a significant political mandate as at the last election, the ANC cannot disappoint the halls of Mangaung with the content of its discussion.
It is perhaps right to indicate at this point that after its inauguration, the 1910 Union government prioritised economic policy-making. The 1913 Land Act, which, by the way, also received NP objection until it was made clear to them they are part of the development coalition, purely on the grounds of their whiteness, represents the economic resolve that led to the South African War and the subsequent disenfranchisement of blacks.
Mangaung therefore means a place where visioning about South Africa needs to be made. South Africans expect from Mangaung an ANC that will articulate a vision for the country, a vision that truly makes South Africa not only to belong to those who live in it, but one that makes everyone living in it to want to live in it. A cheetah’s beauty and characteristics represent a combination of colour schemes that support its ability to blend with its environment, and the ANC should emulate the cheetah as it congregates at the place of cheetahs, Mangaung. Policies that will emerge in Mangaung must have the force of pulling the end state of the next 100 years closer to this generation of South Africans, thus making our history a source of inspiration to move forward. Our Mandela instruct of “never, never again” must permeate to the many “strange” things that that seem to be settling as a political sub-culture in the country’s politics.