JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA
— South Africa’s next general election is to take place on May 7. Political analysts expect voters to return President Jacob Zuma’s African National Congress (ANC) to power – albeit with a reduced majority. However, with black consciousness as its central philosophy, the Azanian Peoples Organization (AZAPO) aims to take advantage of what it calls “chaos” and “selfishness” in the ruling party.
“To a very large extent there has been destruction and betrayal of the principles that [Nelson] Mandela sacrificed his life for – especially selflessness when serving your people," said AZAPO deputy president Strike Thokoane.
“Just look at the government – it builds Zuma a palace worth more than 200 million rand ($20 million) using tax money that could have been used to build many houses for poor people.” He said his party wants to “totally” transform South Africa – starting with its name.
“We want to give it a new name, which is a freedom name called Azania. Azania is a name that AZAPO associates with liberation. Azania (means) ‘the land of black people at the tip of the continent,’” Thokoane explained.
Hear Strike Thokoane tell Darren Taylor about change
“South Africa is a colonial name. When South West Africa got independence, it changed its name to Namibia. When British East Africa got independence, it became Tanzania. As soon as Rhodesia was free from the British, it became Zimbabwe. We are the only free African country that still has a colonial name.”
Abolish the nation’s nine provinces
Deputy president Strike Thokoane guides his AZAPO party on the path to a radically new South Africa (Courtesy AZAPO)
Members of AZAPO have participated in anti-government protests across South Africa in recent years. (Courtesy AZAPO)
AZAPO frequently supports protests by striking workers and against capitalism. (Courtesy AZAPO)
AZAPO members sing protest songs at a recent meeting in Johannesburg (Courtesy AZAPO)
An anti-apartheid protester killed by the earlier white supremacist government graces a poster at an AZAPO rally held in his honor. (Courtesy AZAPO)
Older AZAPO members wear shirts honoring a deceased party supporter in Johannesburg (Courtesy AZAPO).
AZAPO plans to “abolish” the country’s nine provinces.
“Why must we complicate governance by splitting it into many regions, each governed by a premier and other ministers? This system increases inefficiency. It increases corruption, where provincial ministers can hide away from the eye of national government. It’s a waste of resources,” Thokoane maintained.
“You have a [national] minister of education and then you also have another minister of education in the nine provinces, under this minister. So there’s just a lot of duplication, which goes to create (an expensive) bureaucracy.”
He added, “Then you have rich provinces that have good services and poor, rural provinces that have inferior services. This is unfair. We must have one national government that apportions our country’s wealth equally among all Azanians.”
South Africans don’t vote for presidential candidates; they vote for parties. The party that wins an election then chooses the president. AZAPO says this system is “anti-democratic.”
“It’s not democracy to have someone imposed on us by the ruling party,” said Thokoane. “The election of the president of the country must be (by the people) because there are so many people who may qualify to give our country a good president. He may not come from the ruling party.
"We, as South Africans, should be given the leeway to look around and identify statesmen, stateswomen, who we think can present a good image of running the country.”
Tax big landowners so they give land up
AZAPO wants to “reconquer” the land and distribute it “fairly” among South Africans.
“I must stress that we don’t want another Zimbabwe here, where people are targeted simply because they are boers
(white farmers). We are not going to go into farms and start killing boers
who own land,” said Thokoane.
He said his party would “repossess” land from white and black owners of large tracts of land, through taxation.
“We want to… force those who own land to sell it to government. Those who own big chunks of land must be taxed such that they don’t need to own that land; they must give it up,” Thokoane stated.
He added that, unlike the ANC, AZAPO would not give land to people “simply because they are black and landless. This is why land reform is failing. AZAPO will invest a lot of money in agricultural experts to teach people to be proper farmers. There is no way you can nationalize the land when your people are not ready to till that land.”
Thokoane also talked about land owned by mining companies.
“Big multinationals are getting rich from these mines but the people around them, the legitimate owners of the land, are poor. AZAPO will have policies that say to these companies, ‘If you don’t have social development projects that benefit the people of the area, you are out,’” said Thokoane. “You can’t produce gold and diamonds and platinum in a place and still find people living there in abject poverty and slums. That is completely, completely evil.”
‘White fear’ of AZAPO is misplaced
Ever since AZAPO’s formation and its radical black pride message, white South Africans have been wary of the party. But Thokoane said “white fear” of AZAPO is “misplaced.”
He explained, “At meetings we are always asked if we want to drive white people into the sea. It happened again at a recent meeting. Someone wanted to know: ‘Do you black people of AZAPO hate white people?’ We said: ‘No, we don’t hate white people but we are just tired of loving them.’
“What we mean by this is that it is time to even the playing fields,” Thokoane said. “Black people must no longer bend over backwards for whites so that we lose shape as black people. All black people and not just elite blacks must have a slice of the economic pie that is still owned by whites.”
He emphasized that white South Africans would be legitimate citizens of Azania, “if they are prepared to live according to the terms of black people. These terms are, ‘Don’t live in our country and oppress others. Don’t live in our country and use our resources to exploit black people.’”
'We should have disappeared a long time ago'
After South Africa’s previous election in 2009 AZAPO secured one seat in parliament.
“We are amazed that with the little resources we have, we still continue to capture one seat. We should have disappeared a long time ago, because victory in elections everywhere really depends on how much money your party has,” said Thokoane.
He maintained that his party is “realistic.”
“We will not stand here and tell the world that we are going to take over power (soon). It will be a pipedream. We don’t have the kind of resources to be able to take over power.
“But we think we can get enough of the vote to get us between three and five seats in parliament. From there we can start, in a small way, to change the way this country is governed, and to build our party.”