S. Africa: British Spooks, Jack Abramoff & the Red-Baiting of the ANC – A Capsule History
McCarthyism rounds on Freedom Charter (Excerpt)
Thirty days after Madiba’s passing, Stephen Ellis, editor of Africa Confidential in the 1980s, crawled out of the woodwork to pronounce this challenge: “Maybe the South African Communist Party’s chieftains will now admit the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) key statement of principles, the 1955 Freedom Charter, was written by white communists.” For the committed cold warriors, being a communist or an alleged communist is the worst possible moral offence. Anything, irrespective of its content or quality, authored by a communist must be bad. Ellis neither assesses the merits of the Freedom Charter nor weighs its values and principles. To him, the document is suspect and presumably we too should consider it suspect because it was authored by “white communists”.
At the 1985 meeting between Gavin Relly’s delegation and the ANC in Zambia, then Sunday Times editor Tertius Myburgh diligently ticked off the names of our delegation against a list published in Africa Confidential. His report the next Sunday identified Africa Confidential as a publication produced by British intelligence.
Ellis’s undisguised purpose during the 1980s was to discredit the ANC by labelling it a communist front movement, controlled by the Soviet Union and presumably pursuing its policy objectives. His newsletter carried scurrilous tales about “communist manipulation”, or engaged in red-baiting, naming alleged communists in the ANC and its leadership. He has now also embraced race-baiting. It did not escape our notice that Ellis’s allegations were a faithful echo of the words of PW Botha and his securocrats.
The libels purveyed by Ellis were repeated in publications such as the Aida Parker Newsletter and those of the International Freedom Foundation (IFF). The IFF was the creation of the apartheid regime’s security services, set up with the assistance of convicted fraud Jack Abramoff, to promote movements such as Unita and to bring the ANC into disrepute. With the support of anticommunist academics, such as Dirk Kunert, then a professor of international relations at Wits University, and far-right US politicians such as Jesse Helms, it produced a feature film, Red Scorpion, purportedly portraying the “red menace” in Southern Africa.
The convergence of Ellis’s mission with those of Aida Parker and the IFF could be pure coincidence. …
McCarthyism takes its name from that of a junior senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, who orchestrated an obscene witch-hunt of communists and left-leaning liberals in the US in the 1950s. … McCarthyism debased the US constitution and created a morbid climate of fear for a decade. Its effect on foreign policy locked the US into a fruitless policy to isolate China and inspired that terrible war in Vietnam.
Ellis’s purpose is to discredit the Freedom Charter as a “communist” document. Even Percy Yutar knew better. One supposes that by association, South Africa’s democratic constitution, based on the principles in the Freedom Charter, will be tarnished with the same brush. If the Freedom Charter is indeed “communist”, the communists deserve congratulations.
It took the US 20 years to regain its equilibrium after excesses inspired by McCarthyism at home and in its policy towards China. South Africans should dismiss Ellis’s McCarthyite smears with the contempt they deserve.