Comments on Events: Mr. Mda's Disappointing Letter



Jordan Ngubane

The letter from the President of the Congress Youth League, Mr. A.P. Mda, in which he attempted to reply to he editorial in this paper asking him what he is going to do, now that his own appeal to Congress is being received with deaf ears, was to say the least, frankly disappointing.

One had hoped that from the younger Congressmen, at least there would be forthcoming an adequate appreciation of the serious situation developing in the country and a corresponding readiness to face up to the requirements of this position.

While only a few weeks previously, Mr. Mda was aflame with the holy zeal for the national cause and called upon the leaders of Congress to think along new lines, how he virtually endorses their policy of sitting down on eggs which are not likely ever to hatch!

For what does Mr. Mda mean when he peaks of the principles of African Nationalism to which the Congress Youth is devoted? Really, what are those principles? What does the African Nationalism want specifically? Mr. Mda admits that the Convention has the advantage of already knowing what it wants. In this he admits that his own Congress and the League have not gone so far.

Now we do not say anybody should swallow anybody. But to some people are still making up their minds, while others have already done so, the plain wisdom is for both to stand together to face a direct threat from a common foe.

No one will doubt that reaction is consolidating its ground at our expense. This makes it imperative that men should think now, really, of the really higher cause. Causes are not won by clinging to straws of no very clear hue as Mr. Mda does. Causes are definitely lost that way.

And if the Congress Youth League is going to agree with the “Bantu World” that we must go on organizing the millions of our unorganized people, when we are making a bid into the wilderness once more. When Malan rose to power, the “Bantu World” said we must just organize the people as before. Now, the editor of the “Bantu World” knows that what he means really is that we must mark time, play safe and not defend ourselves when political dangers arise everywhere.

Mr. Mda knows this very well too. And yet he comes out to say, not perhaps in so many words, that we must organize the youth not in the Convention or elsewhere! All these years in the Congress Youth League has had magnificent opportunities to organize African youth. It has not done that to any appreciable extent as we have always pointed out in this column. Now that Dr. Malan is in power, we are going to see the Youth League of Congress organize these millions?

The plain answer, of course, is that this is not likely to happen for the simple reason which Mr. Mda admits by implication—that the Congress Youth League, like its mother body, does not have a clear-cut programme to combat oppression. It is just possible that the League's principles are known to the higher-ups of the organization. That we do not dispute. But, really, if the League starts with the infirmity that has ruined the mother body and is not prepared to cultivate a broader outlook, how can we be sure that the League is going to clean the Congress house?

The need for the organization of African Youth along lines which will bring into being a united national front needs no emphasis. While there is the Convention pulling one way, the Communities the other, or the Unity Movement still another and the Congress Youth League adding to the confusion, there can be no hope of any real united front.

We need greatness of mind; we need greatness of vision among our people. These things we already have. But we need greatness of personality as well, much of which we do not have.

If we have it, we shall not press forward ideological claims at this stage. To press these helps a great deal to soothe the conscience of a certain type of leader who thinks that by merely reiterating his party's programme, then he has struck a blow for our liberty. But more is required in particular, of the Congress Youth League which has great potentialities for actually unifying the race.

Our primary need, as Mr. Mda rightly says towards the end of his letter, is to join hands over specific issues. But, really, in so far as the African goes, there are no specific issues. Really, we want our liberty and to get that we must use the boycott weapon. These are the only specific issues if there is need at all for specific issues.

Now, why cannot the Congress Youth League and the Convention work out a basis of cooperation on the idea that we want freedom for ourselves within our own lifetimes and that to win it we have made up our minds to use the boycott weapon progressively until final victory? Those who have thought more clearly on these matters will bring up their experiences. Those who have the numbers will bring us their strength. A combination of brains and numbers will lead us to victory. In other words, a combination of the Convention and the Congress will live on.

On the other hand, if Congress and the Convention continue to fight, our community will be as sadly divided as it has every been. And no one will unite our people other than these two organizations. It was because he realized this to be true that Dr. Xuma arranged to meet Professor Jabavu some years ago. He did not just want a pact between two men on holiday. He saw that our race cannot be free of Congress and the Convention fight. If they fight they strengthen oppression more than any other two organization. That is why the Congress Youth League and the Convention young men must work out a formula for agreement. If they do not, we shall go under, all of us. On their agreement depends the survival of the community.

We are disappointed with the League's performance today. But the League as the finest brains our community has produced and if it sits down to its work more constructively, it will see the light.


Many people wonder why Congress is finding it so difficult to get out of its present difficulties. But after reading Mr. Mda's letter, which the editor handed to me for comment, these people will at first be depressed like me and later see the reason why things go wrong from one's blunder to another. The political stupidity and confusion which are expressed right through the letter are symptomatic of the arrogant hatred for criticism which is so part and parcel of the Congress mentality.

In the first article, Mr. Mda was asked to say what role his Youth League is planning in bring about closer understanding between Congress and the Convention. He as told that his insistence on ideological differences which were not very clear cut was not in the best national interest. These were rational questions based on a rational view of our political situation. Instead of replying to these questions in clear, unambiguous terms, Mr. Mda resorted to the tactics of the Communities and went to extremes of rage pouring abuse, lies ignorance and confusion in the whole thing in an effort to expose Kanyisa's changes of front and, incidentally to frighten Kanyisa into never saying a word more about the Youth League.

Mr. Mda has employed these tactics successfully in the Transvaal against Mr. R.G. Baloyi. If his political intelligence was a little higher than what he thinks it is, he would have known that unlike Mr. R.G. Baloyi, whom he is vilifying in “The Bantu World,” taking advantage of the latter's poorer educational attainments, we of the Kanyisa breed have never been and never will be shaken by the vehemence of his language. Only two things shake us and impress us facts and logic. Unable to use these, he resorts to a theatrical and dizzy whirl in contradictions. We are not over-anxious to show who is the more dramatic man. Kanyisa or Mda. We only want to pin him down to a little clearer reasoning.

He starts off by saying Joe ka Nelani's article forced us to resort to squeals and whinings. Why, really? Because as Mr. Mda knows, Kanyisa has been the only commentator who has progressively urged a rapproachment between Congress and the Convention—invite the wrath of the Congress? He says he came out in support of a meeting of African leaders. This idea came from the editor of this journal and even before Mr. Mda backed it, Kanyisa had supported it strongly. Mr. Mda supported it because he imagined it was a winning bet. But in supporting it we were not trying to save the face of Congress and as we pointed this out in our first comment on Mr. Mda's reply to the Conventionists. When he learned that we were not out on a venture to save the face of Congress, he felt it was time to assure his seniors that if he had made a blunder, he had made it in good faith. The result was his first disappointing letter. As for the fire from both sides, if it were fire at all, we would sincerely welcome it because this would merely indicate that our pen is producing the desired results, namely, to stimulate intelligent, serious and critical thinking on our affairs. But if Mr. Mda means that the comic effusions he has written are part of the fire, well we are quire prepared to nurse him until he knows what fire is, really.

He says we undermined the boycott movement. In the first place this is a lie. We Africans have not as yet produced a commentator so powerful that he can knock to pieces a determined people's movement. If Mr. Mda means that Kanyisa is so powerful, well he has a fruitful imagination.

But let us see what the facts are. On the boycott issue we have taken a clear stand. We support the idea of the boycott as the only weapon to win our freedom. But we are critical of the fact that up to now the boycott movement does not have a unified leadership. The boycotters in the Transket speak in a language different from that of the boycotters in Natal and those in the Transvaal act in quite different way. As a result, they cannot agree on objectives to hit with their weapon. This, in turn, brings about chaos in which the boycotters fail to see when they differ on matters of strategy or principle. Under these circumstances, it is dangerous to say we boycott this and that when we still speak in a Babel of tongues for when we hit before we have agreed on what the boycott really is, we merely invite being isolated and crushed by our enemies.

We have said this from the beginning, and we say it now shall say it in the future. If the boycott can be undermined by such constructive criticism, well it is not what we believe it to be. And if Mr. Mda says it was undermined by this healthy criticism then his knowledge of political affairs is poor. But Mr. Mda does not care for the truth; so long as he can paint us black, he will twist anything to suit his ends.

Mr. Mda says we have a long record of sabotaging serious efforts to free ourselves. This is another plain lie. Mr. Mda suffers from an infantile inability to understand what criticism is. The moment you say Mr. Mda is a great leader of men, he hails you as a genius—as the finest and the most informed commentator. But as soon as you say Mr. Mda has made a blunder, he describes you by every evil adjective he can think of. Confused men who do not know really where they are going behave this way and poor Mr. Mda is in a position few would envy. He shows how little a man he can be at times, when some people do not agree that he is what he believes he is.

Mr. Mda is a good and, we believe, practicing Christian, so great is his belief in Christ that we believe he will find little difficulty in appreciating our readiness to admit our error. The sin of changing fronts (if sin it be) really, we are guilty of. For years we believed the African National Congress (in which Mr. Mda is one of the leaders) meant it when it said it wants national unity. Thus, when the Anti-Pass Campaign was started and Congress supported this, we supported it. But later, Congress assured us on good authority that it was a Communist plot to undermine Congress and Congress kept clear of it. Mr. Mda played no small part in convincing us that this was the position. The position was so serious that Dr. Xuma could not even accompany the Anti-Pass deputation which went to Cape Town . Good reasons were advanced for this and as loyal friends supported we Congress when Congress changed its front against the Campaign.

Congress led us to believe that it actively worked for national unity. To prove to us that this was the position an actual meeting was arranged between Professor Jubavu and Dr. Xuma in which an African united front was discussed. But later, it became evident that it had been Congress which had laid more obstacles to agreement.

We agree that we were fooled by Congress and wily Mr. Mda into believing that Congress really wanted national unity. Consequently when Congress changed its front, we agreed with Congress that it was maneuvering itself into the position where it could really weld us into one fighting force against oppression. In other words when Mr. Mda changed his fronts, we believed in his stated good intentions and gave him all the support he asked for. But Congress let slip one opportunity after another to unite the people until we, who unlike Mr. Mda, had no vested interest in the politics of evasion and changed fronts. Realized that what Congress sought was not national unity. What was sought was the unity of the men and women who could sit down at the feet of the Congress leaders and blame everybody else who refused to do this as no good patriot. We were informed of the evil machinations of the Convention, for example. But when we came into contract with the Convention men, we found ordinary honest human beings, with whom we could differ or agree just like any other reasonable human beings.

It was when we saw this that we became profoundly skeptical of the intentions of Congress. We decided to act independently. We did not curry favour with the Conventionists. To this day they cannot say we did this. But with them, s with every serious African in and out of Congress, we wanted serious exchanges of ideas in an effort to give form, direction and force to our fighting potential. We told Congressmen this and Mr. Mda too. Our criticism of Congress policies flowed from Congress' role of working for the dispersal of the forces of unity in our community. We quarreled with Congress on this point. Mr. Mda knew this well and he never said a word against it for years—until we pointed to him his own shortcomings.

So that in our “chameleonic changes” we are going through processes indicated by Congress and Mr. Mda. If Mr. Mda regards that as a political sin, his accusations apply to himself just as they do to us. The only difference is that he continues in these sins when we have realized that the type of things done by Congress will not free us.

But Mr. Mda himself in fact does not believe in the unity he preaches so eloquently. When the Cap African Teachers Association met recently to make a historic decision, he could not be with them, because they are really uniting the nation. He was busy sowing suspicion among Catholic African Teachers and exhorting them to keep away from their fellowmen and to cling on to the tails of the great white fathers who had inspired the Catholic African Teachers' Organization. Rather than be among his own people at a critical time to help them make a historic decision, Mr. Mda found himself happier in the environs of white Catholic settlements saying “Yes Father! Yes Father!” to the white spiritual advisers of the Catholic organization which will not unite with the other African teachers! And this man, who will divide his own kith and kin in a way everybody sees, has the nerve to say we sabotage African unity when we save our people from his blunders. We criticize Mr. Mda for the fact that he preaches unity while actively dividing the people.

He says we took part in the formation of the Youth League. Yes, indeed, we did so. We had a hand also with the late Anton Lembede in drafting the League's first manifesto. He is surprised that today we do not know the principles of the League. Let us explain:

Two fundamental principles were enshrined in that manifesto. These were the unification of the African, in particular African youth and militancy. In that manifesto we understood national unity as an awareness of our oneness as Africans bound together by the ties of history to rise and fall together in our struggle to have South Africa ruled by the majority. In pat the League was to be a proselytizing movement. We do not accuse the League of having dropped these principles. But their practical application has receded so much into the background that nobody seriously speaks of militancy, let alone impart the character of militancy to the Congress leadership. The unification of African Youth—well, we have Mr. Mda's testimony that nothing is being done to implement this principle in relation even to the Convention Youth, the most important of our Youth just now!

The result of it all is that few people today have any clear idea of what the Youth League understands clearly by its Nationalism. So, when we wanted to know exactly what this Nationalism is, we meant every word of it. Mr. Mda tried a rather cheap way of attempting to silence us by saying we had formulated the initial manifesto. That we did, but Mr. Mda does not seem to be guided by it—at least not obviously.

Mr. Mda complains that he has made the mistake of taking this journal seriously. Well if he did it in the manner he has betrayed in his disappointing letter, nobody will be very sorry that he no longer does so. He believed all along that “Inkundla ya Bantu” was behind him and Congress in the way in which they have consistently undermined the true unity of the African people. Now that he discovers that we are not going that way and that we have our eyes open to see both vice and virtue in Congress, he just loses his temper. One thing he can be sure of, we shall stick to Congress and shall tell the truth as we see it until even he himself sees it.

In the meantime he says we support he boycott to save our Liberalist friends. This looks like reading history in reverse—for never has Kanyisa nor the Editor said that Mr. Hofmeyr, the leader of the Liberals, is their friend. But it was Dr. Xuma who said it only a few months ago and angry Mr. Mda did not say a word about it. So Congress is friendly to the Liberals, in spite of Mr. Mda's rude sneers.

Mr. Mda has made many untrue statements. About this, we are not unduly worried. But as it is becoming a practice among certain types of our leaders to attempt to silence legitimate criticism of their policies by besmirching the good name of their critics, we challenge Mr. Mda to prove chapter and verse every one of his accusations and produce evidence which will be submitted to a competent judge. If he proves all his charges, we are quite prepared to make a donation equivalent to L50 in favour of himself on any organization he chooses. If he cannot prove everyone of his charges, he will be indebted to us to this amount. Then we might argue more to the point.

From: Inkundla ya Bantu , August 14 and September 18, 1948.