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Dynamic & Irresistible Force


The non-racialism of the Congress Alliance was not without opposition. By the late 1950s, the tensions that arose a decade before in the ANC Youth League began to coalesce, and two different camps emerged: the non-racialists and the Africanists.

"My father was the chairman of the local ANC branch in Melmoth in Zululand. He had been an ANC member from 1913. At the time there was definitely no other movement - it was run by black people for black people. There wasn't a family that wasn't an ANC family - if you came from an African background, there was no other movement at the time. You might not have held office, you might not have paid subscription, but you said that if you are part of the nation, you are ANC

What debates were going on in the ANC Youth League when you first got involved?

What we discussed was the whole question of national self-determination of the African people, and ways and means of improving their economic output. And unfortunately, all people in the bandwagon came into this - we think with ulterior motives. They didn't want to carry out the programme of the Youth League, which the ANC had accepted. The white members of the Communist Party came into the mainstream of our activity and they put a stop onto the Programme of Action that we had. They came in as the Congress of Democrats and they pressurized to have that alliance. Of course, the alliance came in because they had the money and we didn't have - we have the numbers. We felt that the whites, now if they're on the right, they want to control you through overt apartheid - if they are on the left, they still want to have you in control. And in fact, this is what ultimately happened. [Gerard] Ludi, who was regarded as the most important member of the Congress of Democrats, gave the most damning evidence against Mandela himself.i

But couldn't you name just as many black people who testified against their comrades?

Ah, but they don't do it because it is in their interest - black collaborators are manipulated by the system itself. I'm saying people join the police force, not because they like to be controlled by the police and so forth, but because it's a question of livelihood. [Transkei Chief] Matanzima's different from [South African Prime Minister] Vorster. You are talking to an Africanist here, and to me, an African collaborator is a different species from a white oppressor.

Can you tell me how you came to be increasingly critical of the ANC?

What we were following on was the traditional view that the Africans are going to be their own liberators, and the Youth League underlined that. And then it was the Freedom Charter that in fact spelt out the break in the ANC, because the Freedom Charter spelt out that, 'South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.' In fact, the 'Charterists' moved away from the mainstream of African thought, which was that the Africans are going to strive for national self-determination. This Charter thing was never drawn by us. And this alliance, with equal members from each of the four organizations - equal members from the blacks, from the whites, from the Asians, and then from the coloureds - we also opposed that.ii

What did you see as the place of coloureds and Indians and whites?

The coloureds are as indigenous as anybody else because they are born of miscegenation between the whites and our sisters or our daughters. We say the bulk of the coloureds come from the loins of the Africans, they are part of the African nation. But what I'm saying is that the whites and the Asians, those are the people that were manipulating. The Africans, that is their struggle in the first place, and they've got to lead that struggle. The Indians should not lead the struggle - they've got to support. For instance, they didn't carry passes and the whites didn't carry passes, and therefore they couldn't understand anything about passes. With the whites, we say that it's not for them to say the struggle must go this way or that way, as in fact, has happened. Within the ANC there has been a wave of dissatisfaction with the whites in the movement.

By 1958, we decided we can't take any more the policies that the ANC was carrying on. African emancipation could only be realized by the return of the land that had been taken away. The ANC had been established in 1912 in order to espouse that, with the question of the land being paramount. As [Anton] Lembedeiii said, there's a mystic connection between the soil and the soul. The economic system we inherited from our fathers, where there was no starvation, where there was no exploitation - we wanted an economic system based on those principles.

Would you call it a socialist or a capitalist system?

The trouble with you is that you think either socialist or capitalist. You think in terms of a white person's viewpoint, because capitalism comes from Europe and so does Marxism. We want to create a new social order, original in concept, out of Christian orientation, democratic in form, socialist in content, and that is our view. I am an Africanist. The communist doctrine, subsequently we have found that it is an irrelevance to our struggle. We can pursue our struggle pursuing Africanist ideals, and therefore the question of being anti-communist or pro-communist doesn't arise. We want to determine an Africanist state in South Africa which will be democratic, and we will admit people to South Africa who come with their acceptance of and their allegiance to African nationhood. We are saying that ours is an African country."


A.B. NGCOBO, a Natal ANC Youth League member who was part of the Africanist breakaway from the ANC

 

"You see, at the time when I came in, apparently the Defiance Campaign crushed that tendency. When I really got involved in active politics that thing was dying out. It was a certain comrade called Flag Boshieloiv who, more than anybody else, told me that in this movement we have got white people who are very close to us, who agree with us completely. One of the reasons why he wanted to read this paper, the Guardian, with me was to try to sort of indicate that particular concept to me. That's how I was conscientized, politically.

You know, later on during my work with Flag, he personally used to take me to Nelson Mandela. We used to go to Mandela fortnightly at his house in Orlando. They used to argue - I used to like listening to them. Sometimes, I thought Mandela was going to chase us from his house.

Mandela didn't think whites should be involved?

Well, he was of the view, at the time, that they should not be given so much influence inside the movement, while Comrade Flag was saying that it must be in terms of the amount of work they are doing. Comrade Flag brought me in contact with people like Ruth Slovo, and later on I worked with her husband, and he also brought me in contact with people like the late Mike Harmel and Rusty Bernstein - those people.v I was in a position to learn a lot of things from these people. They seemed to be very clear about anything they were discussing - that is what struck me, you see, because on any question I raised, they would not discourage me. They would do everything to help me to become effective.

In fact, I found that Ruth used to encourage me a lot. She would say, 'Look, I'm going to talk to you about such-and-such, and I need you to point out some of the problems which you see out of what I'm saying. I will try to be as simple as possible so that you must understand, and if you disagree with me, don't be shy - speak.' She was one of the white people who really made me to feel that she wants me to know as much as she does, you see. But Potlako Leballo,vi people like Andrew Setlhane, who was the editor of the Youth League paper, the Lodestar - they used to dislike these white people I used to come to the ANC office with.

Do you have any insight as to what motivated those who were anti-white anti-Indian and anti-communist?

I will again come to Comrade Flag, because he was the person who was saying to me, 'You must not be surprised if some of the people, especially Africans, are suspicious of the white people - it must be your job to convince them. You must show them that in our struggle, if there could be Africans who are on the other side, why can't there be whites on our side?'

What were your views on the communist issue, the Africanist claim that it's a foreign ideology?

I thought it was nonsense, because I always thought even the Bible is a foreign ideology - it's not ours. If they accept the Bible, why can't they accept communism? That's always been my argument - and the fact that we accepted even speaking in English in our meetings."


JOHN NKADIMENG, who was recruited to the ANC when he arrived in Johannesburgfrom Sekhukhuneland to seek work, but never joined the Youth League, out of opposition to its Africanist leaning 

 

"There was this potato boycott and it was carried in Drum magazine, the situation in the farms there, what they do with prisoners. And it just stuck in my mind, the galling picture of the African convicts who were arrested and thrown to the farms and dying and then being used as manure. I used to go out and, you know, talk. I would never go to school and see a student eat potatoes - I would hit them off, you know. So the potato boycott became a rallying point of our actions.

At that time I was about ready to carry a pass, so I could identify much more easier that one time I could also myself be arrested for a pass and sent to these prisons. So when the potato boycott was called off, I was somehow left very empty inside, because I didn't see any changes. So I got totally disillusioned.

I then lost interest in politics, until one friend of mine came one day and said to me, 'Look, there's another group within the Youth League now that has the same thinking that you have.' I came to later know that those were the Africanists within the ANC. That's when I started learning about the 1949 Programme of Action of the ANC, and why it was very important in the development of the political positions. Then I stuck with the Africanists. Of course, at that time I did not know that they were having this internal fight within the ANC.

How would you describe your own political views at that stage?

I understood then that there were two classes in South Africa, the white class and the black, that there was a demarcation of white people and black people, and that in order that there be equality, the black people will have to strive to better their position so that they can also be on the same level with the white people - that is what I understood.

Would you reject a class analysis?

I would reject a class analysis of South Africa because with apartheid you cannot talk of classes - the Boers are the ones that use race."


LESOANA MAKHANDA, who joined the Africanists as a secondary school student

The Africanist dissidents tried to seize power at a Transvaal ANC conference in late 1958, and, when they failed, quit the ANC. They then regrouped in early 1959 and, with support mainly in the southern Transvaal and the Cape, formed a rival party, the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC).

The Africanists take the view that there is only one race to which we all belong, and that is the human race. In our vocabulary, therefore, the word 'race' as applied to man has no plural form. We do, however, admit the existence of observable physical differences between various groups of people, but these differences are the result of a number of factors, chief among which has been geographical isolation...

In South Africa we recognize the existence of national groups which are the result of geographical origin within a certain area, as well as a shared historical experience of these groups. The Europeans are a foreign minority group which has exclusive control of political, economic, social and military power...

Then there is the Indian foreign minority group...In the South African set-up of today, this group is an oppressed minority. But there are some members of this group - the merchant class in particular - who have become tainted with the virus of cultural supremacy and national arrogance. This class identifies itself by and large with the oppressor, but significantly, this is the group which provides the political leadership of the Indian people of South Africa. And all that the politics of this class have meant up to now is preservation and defence of the sectional interests of the Indian merchant class. The downtrodden, poor 'stinking coolies' of Natal who alone, as a result of the pressure of material conditions, can identify themselves with the indigenous African majority in the struggle to overthrow White supremacy have not yet produced their leadership. We hope they will do so soon.vii

The Africans constitute the indigenous group and form the majority of the population. They are the most ruthlessly exploited and are subjected to humiliation, degradation and insult. Now it is our contention that true democracy can be established in South Africa and on the continent as a whole only when white supremacy has been destroyed. And the illiterate and semi-literate African masses constitute the key and centre and content of any struggle for true democracy in South Africa. The African people can be organized only under the banner of African nationalism in an All-African organization, where they will by themselves formulate policies and programmes and decide on the methods of struggle, without interference from either so-called left-wing or right-wing groups of the minorities who arrogantly appropriate to themselves the right to plan and think for the Africans...

In conclusion, I wish to state that the Africanists do not at all subscribe to the fashionable doctrine of South African exceptionalism.viii Our contention is that South Africa is an integral part of the indivisible whole that is Afrika.ix She cannot solve her problems in isolation from and with utter disregard of the rest of the continent.

It is precisely for that reason that we reject both apartheid and so-called multi-racialismas solutions of our socio-economic problems...Against multi-racialism we have this objection: that the history of South Africa has fostered group prejudices and antagonisms, and if we have to maintain the same group exclusiveness, parading under the term of multi-racialism, we shall be transporting to the new Afrika these very antagonisms and conflicts. Further, multi-racialism is in fact a pandering to European bigotry and arrogance. It is a method of safeguarding white interests...implying as it does proportional representation... Irrespective of population figures. In that sense it is a complete negation of democracy...

...We aim politically at government of the Africans, by the Africans, for the Africans, with everybody who owes his only loyalty to Afrika and who is prepared to accept the democratic rule of an African majority being regarded as an African. We guarantee no minority rights because we think in terms of individuals, not groups...To sum it up, we stand for an Africanist Socialist Democracy.


PAC President ROBERT SOBUKWE, delivering the opening address of the PAC inaugural convention, 4 April 1959 

 

"We knew that there was a new party, like a football club breaking from another football club, but as months went on we got to understand now this was an organization that was prepared to fight, that was openly talking of armed struggle.

Whereas the ANC wasn't?

At the time it wasn't. It had a history all along, but in my area that sound was not heard - it was this other group, the PAC, and that was how I got involved and became a member. It was just you feel aggrieved and there's no other body articulating your frustrations except the body which we respectfully regarded as our mouthpiece and with all the history. The ANC had that aura, that respectability - up to now it is the people's organization - but now here was a group that seemed to be addressing what the angry young people wanted to do or see done, the fight part of it. So the answer was this new one, which consists of younger people, who have been in the ANC, you see. The PAC was appealing to the anger that was existing in the young people. So that is how one got involved.

It is a burning issue: who is oppressed? It is the African first and foremost, and it is the Africans' problem, and they, themselves, alone, will have to solve that problem. The ANC, they took that into consideration but they said, 'We can also allow those in our midst who are not African, if they feel strong about the point, to do it with us.' Our understanding was that, no, they can't do it with us - if they want to help us, they can mobilize, correct the attitudes of their people there, and we'll have a converging point when we have tackled the business of an oppressive government and removed that one. We will have a common point if we owe that same loyalty, we are common citizens, and the colour is irrelevant."


JOE SEREMANE, an ANC Youth League member in the West Rand who joined the PAC soon after its inception

 

The Pan-Africanist Congress (Amafrika Poqo)xi has a message for the downtrodden black masses of Afrika. We of the PAC say:

(a) Africa must be free by 1960, from Cape to Cairo, Madagascar to Morocco;

(b) Africa for the Africans, Africans for Humanity, Humanity for God;

(c) Under the banner of African Nationalism, we say that once we launch (it does not matter what campaign) there is no bail, there is no defence, there is no fine;xii

(d) We are one with Dr K. Banda, the great Jomo Kenyatta, Tom Mboya and Dr Kwame Nkrumah, 'the architect of the United States of Afrika';

(e) Down with imperialism, colonialism and domination! Forward then to independence! To independence now! Tomorrow the United States of Afrika!...

...The Pan-Africanist Congress is on the verge of launching a union-wide positive decisive campaign against the pass laws. You are seriously affected by the administration of these fascist laws of a white foreign minority pseudo-government in our fatherland. These laws must be brought to a complete standstill. They must be blown to oblivion this year, now and forever. Are you with the downtrodden black masses or are you with the enemy? You must make up your mind now. Tomorrow may be too late. Izwe Lethu, i-Afrika!! [Africa is ours!]...


Flyer issued by the PAC, 1959xiii

"When you grow up in Soweto, you identify colour with the system: it's a white policeman who sends a black policeman to arrest you, and it's the blacks who work for the whites. So you grow up hating the system, you grow up wanting to do something to put an end to this oppression - but it's only when you grow up that you see that the best way of going about it is not by individual acts of bravery, but by working within an organizational structure and mobilizing people to fight.

When we were students, when the PAC broke off from the ANC, we said, 'All right, fine, but how do you go about removing the regime?' We said, 'You need also to work amongst the white population, you need to work among the Indian population, you need to work amongst the coloured population.' So it started through that, in understanding that although they're not as oppressed as the Africans, they are also oppressed by the system, and therefore they have a lot to benefit from removing the system.

The peculiarity of the South African situation is that people live in segregated areas, and in order to mobilize we've got to go where the people are. It is a lot easier, for example, for an Indian to go and mobilize the Indians in his area, or a white amongst the whites. You can't, as an African, go and mobilize the whites - it's impossible. Part of the process of struggle is that you recognize obstacles and you find ways of bypassing them. How do you do it? You don't do it by sitting back and saying, 'We don't recognize these boundaries, we don't recognize race.' You actively fight against racism: that is the essence of non-racialism.

In the discussions with the youth in the PAC I think we managed to broaden the debate, so it was not just a question of white and black, but a question of what kind of society do you want after apartheid goes, in a liberated South Africa? And this is the work that was done mainly by the young people in the Congress Alliance."


MAX SISULU, an ANC Youth League member who opposed the PAC break -away

 

"Actually we never regarded non-racialism as the opposite of black nationalism. Black nationalism was part of our thinking and non-racialism was also part of our thinking. One would say, perhaps, that black nationalism is a step towards non-racialism, especially during our time. I mean, in those early days we were involved in the movement because we were against apartheid. And we were against apartheid because the dignity of the black man was threatened and trampled underfoot.

If you look at the leaders of the ANC, they all started with African nationalism. The first consciousness is anti-white and then they develop, through practical political involvement in the struggle, to this broad non-racial outlook of the ANC. The PAC was actually not a militant or revolutionary strand.xiv It was more of a right-wing deviation from the ANC position, because the ANC was getting involved with the Indians and the coloureds and the democratic whites. The Freedom Charter was the embodiment of the aspirations of the people and the PAC was refusing to move with the times, and in that sense it became a retrogressive step.

What about the ideological question of the PAC being closer to the West, criticizing the ANC for its alliance with the communists - was that something that was discussed?

The PAC was accusing the ANC of all sorts of things: that the ANC are lackeys of communism, the Freedom Charter being a document adopted in the Kremlin. That was discussed quite openly, but of course, at that stage, I must admit that we didn't know much about communism. All we were saying was, 'Look here, if somebody is tramping on your foot, you remove the one who is tramping on your foot first - then you'll see to that one who's still coming.' You don't start complaining about the one who is still coming - you complain about the one who is actually hurting you. That is how we argued those days.

You see, the Communist Party was banned in 1950 and dissolved itself. It reconstituted itself in 1953, and then in 1961 it came out publicly. We would get some books and pamphlets and things like that about Marxism and whatnot, but we didn't understand all these things. 'Proletarian', what is that? Now we know the workers, but what does this mean, 'working class leadership'? Those were all complicated concepts for us."


FRANCIS MELI
, an ANC Youth League member in the Eastern Cape, stronghold of the non-racial camp

 

In recent months much has been published in the South African press about the 'Africanists' and their attempt to capture the leadership of the African National Congress...It would be wrong for any student of politics in this country to ignore the significance of this development. Even though the Africanists have not evolved any definite programme and policy, the general trend of their ideas is manifest: it lies in a crude appeal to African racialism as a reply to white arrogance and oppression.

The principal target of their attacks is the broad humanism of the African National Congress, which claims equality but not domination for the African people, and regards South Africa as being big enough and rich enough to sustain all its people, of whatever origin, in friendship and peace. This broad outlook of Congress finds its clearest expression in the opening sentence of the Freedom Charter, which boldly declares that, 'South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.' It is precisely this formulation which is most strongly attacked by the Africanists. The intention is clear: it is a denial that any section of the population, other than the descendants of indigenous Africans, have any rights in the country whatsoever...

...In the first place, it should be stated as emphatically as possible that the Africanists' principal charge - that Congress has departed from its traditional purpose and policy - is untrue and unfounded...It has never advocated the replacement of exclusive rights for whites with exclusive rights for Africans, as now proposed by the Africanists. In putting forward this conception, it is they who are departing from the original objectives and purposes of the founders of Congress...

...The Freedom Charter is in a direct line of succession to the many statements of Congress policy and principle down the years...that the rights of all people shall be the same, regardless of race, colour or sex...Its ten famous chapters are identical in spirit and closely parallel in content to the eleven points of the 'Bill of Rights' as published in 'Africans' Claims',xv and specifically endorsed in the 1949 'Programme of Action'...

...Congress has repudiated the idea of 'driving the white man into the sea' as futile and reactionary, and accepted the fact that the various racial groups in South Africa have come to stay...Congress has at all times welcomed and taken the initiative in achieving cooperation with other organizations representing different population groups, provided always that such cooperation was on a basis of equality and disinterested adherence to mutual aims...

...Thus the so-called 'African nationalism' of the Africanists turns out to be a mere inverted racialism, foreign to the spirit and traditions of the African people, and more in line with the Afrikaner Nationalist Party than with the progressive liberationist nationalism of Congress. This type of racial exclusiveness has been condemned the world over, and not least by the progressive African national movements of this continent...

...Yet these truths should not blind us to the fact that there are men and women amongst them who genuinely believe that the salvation of our people lies in a fanatical African racialism and denunciation of everything that is not African...In a country like South Africa, where the whites dominate everything and where ruthless laws are ruthlessly enforced, the natural tendency is one of growing hostility towards Europeans. In fact, most Africans come into political activity because of their indignation against whites, and it is only through their education in Congress, and their experience of the genuine comradeship in the struggle of such organizations as the Congress of Democrats, that they rise to the broad, non-racial humanism of our Congress movement...

...The Africanists have thus far failed, but their mere appearance is an urgent warning to all democratic South Africans. In certain circumstances, an emotional mass-appeal to destructive and exclusive nationalism can be a dynamic and irresistible force in history. We have seen in our own country how, decade after decade, the Afrikaner people have followed yet more extreme and reactionary leaders. It would be foolish to imagine that a wave of black chauvinism, provoked by the savagery of the Nationalist Party (and perhaps secretly encouraged and financed by it too), may not someday sweep through our country. And if it does, the agony will know no colour-bar at all.


Extract from 'Congress and the Africanists', in Africa South, the ANC journal, July -September, 1959, by WALTER SISULU, then-banned Secretary-General of the ANC

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NOTES

i Gerard Ludi was a Security Police spy recruited while a University of the Witwatersrand student by the then head of the Security Police underground division, Colonel Hendrik van den Bergh. Ludi infiltrated COD and the underground SACP, but was by no means regarded as COD's 'most important member'. While he testified against Bram Fischer, by far the 'most damning evidence' of the 173 witnesses for the prosecution against Mandela came from an African ex-Umkhonto we Sizwe cadre, Bruno Mtolo.

ii The disproportionate weight given to the SAIC, CPC and COD on the joint executive, despite the huge numerical majority of the Africans in the ANC, is the point of Africanist criticism that is given most credence by defenders of the non-racial approach to political cooperation across ethnic lines. The ANC's 'Strategy and Tactics', adopted in 1969, specifically argues against such 'mechanical parity between the various national groups' (see Chapter 12).

iii The first president of the ANC Youth League and chief ideologue of the Africanist faction of the ANC, Anton Lembede, died in 1947, at the age of 33.

iv An ANC and Communist Party activist who was later killed while serving in Umkhonto we Sizwe.

v The Johannesburg editor of the Guardian, Ruth First was married to Joe Slovo, and both were active in the CPSA and COD. Michael Harmel was a member of the CPSA central committee until its banning, edited the African Communist after he left South Africa, and published Fifty Fighting Years: The Communist Party of South Africa under the pseudonym of A. Lerumo in 1971. Rusty Bernstein, a Communist Party leader arrested in the Rivonia raid, was acquitted of membership of Umkhonto we Sizwe in the 1964 trial.

vi Editor of The Africanist and chairman of the Orlando Youth League, Leballo was elected National Secretary at the founding of the PAC, then named Acting President from 1962 until he was deposed in 1979.

vii On the contrary, a significant number of working-class Indian leaders had emerged by then, e.g. Billy Nair, George Ponen, M. P. Naicker, H. A. Naidoo.

viii Here, Sobukwe understands the term 'South African exceptionalism' as differentiating the South African struggle from anti-colonial struggles in the rest of Africa (for reasons such as its much larger white population). In a critique of Sobukwe that appeared in Liberation, July 1959, 'Africanism under the Microscope', the ANC's Joe Matthews called the Africanists' rejection of the concept of class struggle in South Africa 'the worst example of South African exceptionalism'.

ix A peculiarly Africanist spelling.

x By the end of the 1950s, most ANC supporters had adopted the term 'non-racialism' as opposed to 'multi-racialism' to denote democracy without reference to race. However, there was still some confusion over terminology, with some ANC supporters using multi-racialism when they clearly meant non-racialism; likewise, the PAC often used the term non-racialism to describe its notion of accepting only 'the human race'.

xi 'Pogo', a Xhosa word meaning 'standing alone', was a peasant-initiated PAC offshoot in the Western Cape and Transkei, noted for uncoordinated attacks on whites and seemingly arbitrary targets.

xii A reference to the slogans of the PAC's anti-pass campaign - hastily called for 21 March 1960 to pre-empt the ANC's plans for a protest on 30 March - which resulted in the massacre at Sharpeville, outside Vereeniging in the Transvaal. Many of those charged did subsequently accept a legal defence and pay bail and fines.

xiii No date is cited for this pamphlet (reproduced in From Protest to Challenge, Karis and Carter, cited previously) but it seems apparent that it was issued in mid- to late-1959.

xiv The fact that Africanist leader Podako Leballo was working for the United States Information Service and that the PAC was formed at the USIS library raised some suspicions about the PAC's links with the West, especially in light of its anti-communist views. Another commonly held misgiving about the PAC was voiced by Dennis Brutus in the interview conducted for this book. Noting that the newspaper that supported the PAC, the Bantu World, was owned by Anglo American, he concluded: The mining bosses saw the PAC as a black movement which they could espouse because it was challenging apartheid on capitalist terms - in terms of a more rational economy, better wages, abolition of migrant labour and so on. What they did not want was any whisper of socialism, communism, so they would inflate the importance of the PAC in order to use it as a battering ram to attack the ANC.'

xv A key achievement of the ANC under Xuma, 'Africans' Claims in South Africa' (1943) articulated the ANC's response to the Atlantic Charter and its vision of post-war political restructuring, and included a Bill of Rights but no timetable. The 'Programme of Action' followed in 1949, prodded by militant youth leaders.

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