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The re-emergence of debates on the decolonisation of knowledge has revived interest in the National Question, which began over a century ago and remains unresolved. Tensions that were suppressed and hidden in the past are now being openly debated. Despite this, the goal of one united nation living prosperously under a constitutional democracy remains elusive. This edited volume examines the way in which various strands of left thought have addressed the National Question, especially during the apartheid years, and goes on to discuss its relevance for South Africa today and in the future. Instead of imposing a particular understanding of the National Question, the editors identified a number of political traditions and allowed contributors the freedom to define the question as they believed appropriate – in other words, to explain what they thought was the Unresolved National Question. This has resulted in a rich tapestry of interweaving perceptions. The volume is structured in two parts. The first examines four foundational traditions: Marxism-Leninism (the Colonialism of a Special Type thesis); the Congress tradition; the Trotskyist tradition; and Africanism. The second part explores the various shifts in the debate from the 1960s onwards, and includes chapters on Afrikaner nationalism, ethnic issues, black consciousness, feminism, workerism and constitutionalism. The editors hope that by revisiting the debates not popularly known among the scholarly mainstream, this volume will become a catalyst for an enriched debate on our identity and our future.
This chapter will build on previous research on the African National Congress (ANC) and the National Question rather than restate it (Suttner and Cronin, 1986; Van Diepen, 1988). It will focus on public goods and the idea of the ‘good society’ embedded in two foundational policy documents of the ANC: African Claims of 1943 and the Freedom Charter of 1955. It will discuss the thinking that informed these documents in the context of the struggle to overcome the racial and class inequalities of the apartheid era.
I chose this approach because I consider that the framing of the National Question is not reducible only to the struggle to end white domination. It is also about the idea of an alternative ‘good society’ – that is, a society planned and organised with particular social and economic arrangements to meet the needs of its citizens. The ANC, in the struggle to construct a nation, had defined an understanding of what the ‘good society’ was; this is reflected most significantly in African Claims and the Freedom Charter. These ANC policy documents are embedded in the idea that the state should actively intervene in the market to secure the social rights of citizenship for all citizens – which included rights to healthcare in the form of a national health service (NHS), the rights to education in the form of a comprehensive system of education, and rights to welfare in the form of a national system of welfare provision. These historical policy statements also directly imply or call for economic arrangements that are consistent with a neo-Keynesian social democratic strategy of economic development, where the state intervenes to secure decent employment for its citizens, including through investment in public goods such as health and education which are universally free at the point of delivery. They articulate a clear ‘strategy of equality’ for the society which the socialist and historian Richard Tawney described as
… the pooling of its surplus resources by means of taxation, and the use of the funds thus obtained to make accessible to all, irrespective of their income, occupation, or social position, the conditions of civilization which, in the absence of such measures, can be enjoyed only by the rich (Tawney, 1952: 130).