Cry for the Beloved Country - (pt 1 of 6)

Hinrich Kuhls kls at
Fri Jan 19 14:43:27 MST 2001

From: "Andile"
To: <debate at>
Subject: DEBATE: Fw: MR article (pt 1 of 6) (fwd)
Date: Fri, 19 Jan 2001 13:43:38 +0200

Please receive the 6parts John Saul Document.


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Date: Sun, 14 Jan 2001 15:26:43 -0500 (EST)
From: John Saul <johnsaul at
Subject: MR article (pt 1 of 6)



(to be published in Monthly Review, January, 2001)


A tragedy is being enacted in South Africa, as much a metaphor for our
times as Rwanda and Yugoslavia, and, even if not so immediately searing of
the spirit, it is perhaps a more revealing one. For in the teeth of high
expectations arising from the successful struggle against a malignant
apartheid state, a very large percentage of the population -- amongst them
many of the most desperately poor in the world -- are being sacrificed on
the altar of the neo-liberal logic of global capitalism. Moreover, as I had
occasion to remark during a recent stint spent teaching in that country,
the most striking thing I personally discovered about the New South Africa
is just how easy it has now become to find oneself considered to be an
"ultra-leftist"! For to talk with "opinion-leaders" or to read their public
statements was to be drowned in a sea of smug: this is the way the world
works; competitiveness is good; get with the program; GET REAL. One does
not know whether to laugh or cry at this kind of "realism" -- "magical
market realism," as I have termed it elsewhere.(1) For there is absolutely
no reason to assume that the vast majority of people in South Africa will
find their lives improved by the policies that are being adopted in their
name by the present ANC government. Indeed, something quite the reverse is
the far more likely outcome.

Why this sad denouement? Are we mourning here the state of the world of
globalization, marking soberly the wisdom of Adam Przeworski's famously
bleak aphorism -- "Capitalism is irrational; socialism is unfeasible; in
the real world people starve: the conclusions we have reached are not
encouraging" - and accepting (albeit with less glee than some of them do)
the oft-stated premise of many members of the new South African elite: TINA
("There Is No Alternative")? Or are we marking, instead, the failure of
South Africa's popular movement, or even, as some would have it, a
"betrayal" on the part of the ANC itself?

The answer may well be that both emphases contain some truth, although just
how one weights them will depend a great deal on what one believes
regarding the art of the possible for nationally-based political movements
and parties under present world-wide (and continental) conditions generally
-- or in South Africa more specifically.


We must, of course, be circumspect. In South Africa the 1990s witnessed the
transition from a system of racially-driven authoritarian rule towards an
outcome far more peacefully defined and democratically realized than most
observers would have predicted at the end of the previous decade. Given the
difficulties of such a transition the relatively peaceful consolidation of
a functioning liberal-democratic system must be deemed a considerable
achievement. Nonetheless, we must also ask ourselves just what are the most
appropriate criteria for evaluating this dramatic process of change. One
point of reference might be the mid-1980s formulation from Magdoff and
Sweezy with which I began my interim report of the early-1990s (in the New
Left Review) on South Africa's then fledgling democratic transition:
"[South Africa's] system of racial segregation and repression is a
veritable paradigm of capitalist super-exploitation. It has a white
monopoly capitalist ruling class and an advanced black proletariat. It is
so far the only country with a well developed, modern capitalist structure
which is not only 'objectively' ripe for revolution but has actually
entered a stage of overt and seemingly irreversible revolutionary
struggle." Magdoff and Sweezy did leave open the possibility of other, less
palatable outcomes, but noted, by way of summary of what was at stake, that
"a victory for counter-revolution -- the stabilization of capitalist
relations in South Africa even if in somewhat altered form --
[a] stunning defeat for the world revolution."(2) Unfortunately, if
measured, in the year 2000. against such a standard, defeat would seem to
be an appropriate description of what has transpired during the past decade
in South Africa. For "the stabilization of capitalist relations" is, by any
measure, one clear attribute of the country's transition.

True, the cause of "world revolution" has taken a fearsome beating since
Magdoff and Sweezy wrote the above words only a decade and a half ago, and
perhaps South Africa will not now seem the most serious of the defeats that
the presumed revolutionary-cum-socialist alternative has suffered in those
years. Indeed a more basic question might well be whether invocation of the
"S" word itself can any longer provide us with a very relevant
reference-point against which to measure the direction and pace of change
these days. After all, the world was a very different place in 1986, and
not just as viewed through the eyes of a Magdoff or a Sweezy. While there
was already plenty of scope for pessimism of the intelligence on the left,
there still seemed then to be room for a certain "optimism of the will."
Much of this optimism has been lost in the intervening years, public
pronouncement and academic writing alike reflecting the notion that an
ineluctable and transcendent process of "globalization" is crushing the
very plausibility of pro-active states and meaningful national
jurisdictions. And even when some quasi-left observers grant more room for
maneuver to states and nations it can consist of disciplining globalization
only just enough to advance the competitive interests of elements of
national capital. To think to act, nationally or globally, in order to
challenge the underlying logic of capital or to realize some more social
and humane purpose is, at best, seen as merely naive. Thus Hirst and
Thompson write, without apparent irony, of what they seem to consider the
height of contemporary progressive aspiration:

Such institutional arrangements and strategies can assure some minimal
level of international economic governance, at least to the benefit of the
major advanced industrial nations. Such governance cannot alter the extreme
inequalities between those nations and the rest, in terms of trade and
investment, income and wealth. Unfortunately, that is not really the
problem raised by the concept of globalization. The issue is not whether
the world's economy is governable towards ambitious goals like promoting
social justice, equality between countries and greater democratic control
for the bulk of the world's people, but whether it is governable at all.(3)

[FLUSH] To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher: there is no society, only
corporations and their intermediaries.

Are we then setting the bar too high in even thinking of evaluating South
Africa's level of accomplishment against the criteria evoked by Magdoff and
Sweezy? Not necessarily. After all, South Africa's dramatic transition to a
democratic dispensation ("one person, one vote, in a united South Africa")
has been twinned with a simultaneous transition towards an ever more
sweeping neo-liberal socio-economic dispensation that has negated in
practice a great deal of the country's democratic advance. We will return
to this point below. But it is also important to repeat the point about
just how much of an advance has in fact been made. Recall, in this respect,
that nothing seemed very certain about moving beyond even the system of
racial authoritarianism when I wrote the article in which I quoted Magdoff
and Sweezy less than a decade ago (1991). At that point it was apparent
that the passage from an apartheid South Africa was fraught with danger,
the country, in the early 1990s, still a killing-field. And yet, through
the 1994 election and its aftermath, South Africa has been able to realize
and to stabilize the shift to a constitutionally-premised and safely
institutionalized democratic order -- "making peace" without suffering the
potentially crippling backlash from the right-wing, both black and white,
that many had predicted and without suffering the collapse into chaos or
dictatorship that some had seen to be threatened by the establishment of
majority rule. Moreover, this political stability was sustained through the
five years of Mandela's presidency, reconfirmed by the very mundaneness of
the 1999 election, and has been carried unscathed into the Thabo Mbeki
presidency. A cause for celebration, surely, on a continent where
apparently lesser contradictions have proven far more difficult to resolve.

It is true that the door to the transition was being opened by some behind
the barricades of white power: it was becoming evident by the later 1980s
to both dominant business circles and sufficient numbers within the ruling
political elite that a situation of relative stalemate had been reached and
that some steps would have to be taken to incorporate the ANC into the
circle of legitimate political players.

However, the full significance of this development would only became fully
apparent in retrospect. What seemed more immediately pressing at the time
was the fact that, in spite of the release that, in spite of the release
from prison of Nelson Mandela in 1990 and the unbanning of the ANC,
President F. W. de Klerk and his associates had still not reconciled
themselves to the notion of the ultimate establishment of an ANC
government. Well into the transition period (1990-1994), they continued to
harbor hopes of safeguarding various attributes of the existing racial
order within any new constitutional/political dispensation that would
eventually emerge from negotiations. Moreover, de Klerk almost certainly
was knowledgeable of various on-going attempts by the South African
military and police both to strengthen the hand of Chief Gatsha Buthelezi
and his conservative Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) in the jockeying for
political positioning that now occurred and to actively undermine, in this
and other ways (both direct and indirect), the capacity of the ANC to
emerge as a hegemonic force in a new South Africa.

There was also a significant threat to a peaceful transition from further
to the right within the white polity. Both the Conservative Party and more
overtly fascist organizations like the Afrikaner Weerstands Beweging (AWB)
remained players to be reckoned with, committed as they were to rolling
back the clock to the days of unqualified apartheid. As Jonathan Hyslop has
convincingly argued, however, by far the greatest danger from the White
Right was represented by General Constand Viljoen. He, not Ferdy
Hartzenberg (of the CP) or Eugene Terreblanche (of the AWB), had lines into
a security establishment not otherwise inclined towards putschist activity
and also had a much better chance of linking up with potentially divisive
forces in the African community (with Buthelezi, for example, and with the
"independent Bantustan" governments of the Ciskei and Boputhatswana).

This was because, as a realist, Viljoen had concluded that the Afrikaners'
last best hope lay in separatism, not apartheid overlordship. The foiling
of white intervention to shore up Lucas Mangopes regime in Boputhatswana
narrowed Viljoens options, however, and when the ANC skillfully allowed
some space in the negotiations for the separatist notion of a Volkstaat to
remain a possibility the general chose, late in the day but fatefully, to
commit himself to the electoral process. Despite a spate of bombings on the
eve of the elections, the White Right was thus largely corralled into the
fold of peaceful transition. And even though his own last minute entry into
the election did not create quite so peaceful a process in Kwa-Zulu,
Buthelezis decision to participate must surely have been produced, at least
in part, by Viljoens decision to abandon his own resistance.(4)

One might argue that the ANC was equally adept in dealing with Chief Gatsha
Buthelezi and Inkatha. The IFP brought to the table a bloody record of
harassment of the ANC, often carried out hand in glove with the apartheid
state. But it had also developed a significant base amongst many (although
by no means all) Zulu-speakers in the rural areas and squatter settlements
of the KwaZulu bantustan and in workers' hostels especially on the East
Rand. Small wonder that, despite Inkatha's eleventh-hour conversion to
participation in the 1994 polls, fraud, violence and considerable chaos
marked the electoral process in Natal -- with "no-go" areas for one or the
other of the chief protagonists in the election, especially in
Inkatha-dominated rural Natal, imposing a firm limitation on open
campaigning, for example. In the end, no accurate count of the vote proved
to be remotely possible in Natal: the result was, quite simply,
diplomatically brokered and in the IFP's favor, this being a choice of
tactic made by the national-level ANC in order to draw Buthelezi further
into the tent of compromise. This result also meant that the IFP would form
the government in the province of KwaZulu/Natal, one of nine such
provincial units established within the new federal system affirmed in the
constitutional guidelines produced by the inter-party negotiations that
preceded the elections.

Here Buthelezi found himself beneficiary of a process -- that of
constitution-making -- that he had himself chosen to boycott. It was
primarily white politicians, denied any more direct guarantees of minority
privilege, who successfully held out for a federal division of powers as
one means of hamstringing an ANC government that, they feared, might with
victory seek to use the central government actively for progressive
purposes. Another line of defense of established socio- economic
inequalities was the attempt to bind the ANC to a
constitutionally-prescribed protection of individual human rights, in
particular of the right to property. In addition, the so-called "sunset
clauses" safeguarded for a period the positions of whites in public
employment, the agreement on a "Government of National Unity" meant
positions for both National Party and IFP politicians (including both de
Klerk and Buthelezi) in the cabinet formed by the ANC after its electoral
victory, and an amnesty offered some protection to those who had committed
various gross abuses of power in defense of apartheid (albeit an amnesty
that was sufficiently qualified to prepare the ground for the subsequent
establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC]).

There were other ways to interpret such "constitutional compromises," of
course. Take the tilt in the constitution towards a preoccupation with
human-rights. There were those within the camp of national liberation who
themselves championed such an emphasis not in any counter-revolutionary
spirit but rather to help safeguard against the danger of abuse of power by
an ANC that was far from immune, given its own hierarchical, even
Stalinist, past, from temptations towards high- handedness. There were also
those who sought to balance any concession to the privileging of the right
to property with the writing into the constitution of a much broader range
of economic and social rights, rights designed to give validation to the
on-going claims of the impoverished in South Africa. Just how such rights
(carefully qualified as they were) might be rendered operational in a post
apartheid South Africa remained to be seen (not easily is the simple
answer) but that they appeared in the text at all suggests something of the
balancing act between defense of privilege and demands for redress of
historically- embedded wrongs that the constitutional moment embodied.

Nor has the limited federalism of the constitution presented any real
impediment to the ANC's undertakings. True, the provinces have provided
space for the expression of a degree of diversity in South Africa, even if
such "diversity" has not always been of the most enlightened kind (as
noted, the KZN government became a formally-recognized shelter for the IFP
and the Western Cape government a similar outlet for the quasi- racist
preoccupations of the white and Coloured constituencies of the National and
Democratic Parties). Most often, however, the provinces have tended to
become mere instruments in the hands of those who determine national level
budget allocations (and of a depressing brand of intra-ANC infighting)
rather than vibrant political sites in their own right. It is surely no
accident that the ANC did not seem to push particularly hard in either the
1994 or 1999 elections to win the two- thirds majority that it would have
needed in order to change unilaterally the terms of the constitution in
this or any other particular (although on both occasions it was actually
very close to gaining just such a margin). If long-term constraints on the
ANC's freedom of action have existed, or costs have had to be borne for the
kind of negotiated transition that the movement did achieve, they have lain
elsewhere than in the constitutional realm.

One place where a more obvious price has been paid can be found, many would
argue, in the ANC leadership's tacit support for the demobilization of
those popular energies that had been so crucial to the weakening of the
apartheid state in the first place. To be sure, these energies did find
political expression from time to time during the negotiations. Thus, the
Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the country's largest
trade union central and a key ANC ally, effectively manifested its unease
at late-apartheid government policy initiatives (and at its own absence
from the formal negotiations process) with an a dramatic two-day general
strike against a proposed new Value-Added Tax, amongst other actions. And
negotiators were further reminded of the mass presence beyond the
conference halls when, at a crucial moment, a series of rolling mass
demonstrations (climaxing in the Boipatong massacre and the shooting by
Ciskei soldiers into a large group of protesters marching on Bisho) were
employed by ANC together with COSATU to reactivate stalled talks. But, as
Jeremy Cronin put the point forcefully at the time, there was a tendency to
view the latter kind of "mass action" primarily as a "tap" to be turned on
and off at will by the ANC rather than as a foretaste of on-going popular
empowerment. Another ANC activist, Raymond Suttner, had a similar sense of
the direction in which things were going: "JS [Joe Slovo] is absolutely
right to underline the massive victory we have scored at the negotiations.
He fails, however, to mention that the past three years have also seen the
transformation of our organizations, particularly the ANC. This
transformation could have a serious, long-term impact. In particular, the
negotiations have had a dissolving effect on mass organization, a tendency
for our constituency to become spectators. If we conduct the coming
election campaign in a narrow electoralist manner, the dissolution could be
deepened. Whatever the victory, we should not underrate the strong sense of
demoralization in our organizations."(5)

In fact, elections have been, as Suttner feared, fully revelatory of what
little has become of popular mobilization in South Africa -- as has been
the virtual collapse of the ANC as a mass political organization (although
not as an electoral machine) since 1994. True, the 1994 election had the
distinction of being a "freedom election:" one could not have asked for
much more than that such an election would ratify, through a massive
African vote for the ANC, the coming into the political kingdom of a
population that had been denied any such voice for centuries. By 1999,
however, it was difficult to miss the significance of the fact that the
election had become a mere popularity contest, the ANC still floating to a
considerable degree on its legitimacy amongst Africans as a successful
liberation movement rather than on any record of delivery on popular
expectations during its first term in office. Meanwhile, the vote in KZN
continued to fall along quasi-ethnic lines (producing, once again, a narrow
victory for the IFP) and the vote in Western Cape along racial ones
(producing a NP/DP government [with the two parties since merged into a new
"Democratic Alliance"]). Nationally, the DP became the official opposition
(albeit with only 11 percent of the vote compared to the ANC's near
two-thirds poll): it did so, significantly, on the basis of a campaign
pitched, to whites, Coloureds and Indians, in terms of issues of crime,
corruption and the dangers of abuse of power inherent in a one-party
dominant (read, also, African-dominant) political system, issues that were
given, tacitly, a racist spin.

Of course, this tendency may also have reflected the fact that there was
not so very much more to campaign about. The DP hewed to a particularly
business-friendly, neo-liberal line as regards socio- economic policy
during the election but by 1999, as we will see, this did not much
distinguish the party from the ANC itself in policy terms: on many
potentially important strategic issues the space for democratic
disagreement and contestation had by now been papered over by a crippling
consensus amongst the main political contenders regarding the presumed
imperatives of economic orthodoxy. Small wonder that some observers have
found it difficult to avoid a relatively narrow and unenthusiastic reading
of what, substantively, was actually being accomplished in South Africa in
democratic terms. Thus, David Howarth distinguishes the "democratic
transition" South Africa has achieved from the "democratic transformation"
that it has not really attempted -- using the term "democratic transition"
to refer "to the process by which negotiating elites manage to oversee the
installation of formal liberal- democratic procedures, whereas [democratic
transformation] designates the longer-term process of restructuring the
underlying social relations of a given society."(6) Since, in South Africa,
these "underlying social relations" encompass a measure of socio-economic
inequality that is virtually unparalleled elsewhere in the world (only
Brazil and Guatemala are ever mentioned as being in the same league on the
GINI scale), it is not difficult to see what Howarth is driving at.

Some have viewed the aforementioned incorporation of Buthelezi into the
national fold as one particularly graphic instance of the high price paid
for the kind of transition that has occurred. Certainly, this is true if
one takes seriously the preoccupations of Mahmood Mamdani who, in recent
writing, has suggested that a clear distinction needs to be made between
"citizen" and "subject" within the theory and practice of democratic
struggle in Africa. In particular, he criticizes much thinking about
democracy for focusing far too exclusively on urban pressures (by
self-conscious "citizens") for change and overlooking the importance, if
genuine democratic transformation is to be realized, of simultaneously
helping rural-dwellers who are often still trapped as "subjects" within
quasi-traditional structures of authority to liberate themselves.(7) Does
reflection upon Mamdani's model not raise the fear that the ANC, in the
name of peace-making, has merely handed over the rural poor (and the poor
who are resident in the many peri-urban shanty- towns around Durban and
Pietermaritzburg) of KZN to the ministrations of the caste of abusive
chiefs and war-lords who cluster around Buthelezi and his Inkatha structures?

This is, in fact, the argument made by Gerry Mare, the most articulate
academic critic of Chief Buthelezi and his Inkatha project. Mar bemoans the
extent to which the unsavory Buthelezi has apparently forced the ANC to
accept him as political player more or less on his own terms. Thus, in
spite of that fact that Inkatha won a mere 10% of the vote in 1994, and "in
spite of being named in the TRC report as carrying responsibility for
'gross violations of human rights,' Buthelezi has escaped with scarcely a
blemish and with apparent absolution from the ANC itself....his position as
elder statesperson acknowledged through the number of times that he has
served as acting -state president in the frequent absence of both Mandela
and [then Vice-President] Mbeki." As for his cronies, people "closely
associated with horrendous acts of violence," they have "simply defied or
ignored the storm and survived -- often as members of various provincial
parliaments or the central parliament, such as warlords David Ntombela and
Mandla Shabalala, and the notorious prince Gideon Zulu."(8) True, some may
argue that such an outcome merely epitomizes the success of a judicious
strategy of incorporation, a legitimate tactical ceding of ground to a
dangerous and decidedly ruthless opponent, a purchasing of peace in one
important region of South Africa at some real but nonetheless acceptable
cost to principle. And yet one might be more inclined to accept such an
argument were this not merely an example of the more general pattern of ANC
peace-making efforts: an across the board following of the line of least
resistance towards centers of established power, a continued broadening of
the scope of mere elite-pacting to consolidate, on every front, a turning
away from the interests of the poorest of the poor.

For Buthelezi has not been the only, or indeed the central, target of such
appeasement tactics. Far more important in this respect have been the
wielders of corporate power who have lived to tell the tale of the dual
transition with increasingly self-satisfied smirks on their faces.
For there can be little doubt that, in the end, the relative ease of the
political transition was principally guaranteed by the ANC's withdrawal
from any form of genuine class struggle in the socio-economic realm and the
abandonment of any economic strategy that might have been expected directly
to service the immediate material requirements of the vast mass of
desperately impoverished South Africans. This was to occur in a society
where, as noted above, the gap between rich and poor has been, and remains,
among the widest in the world: a society in which, as one mid-1990s survey
demonstrated, "the poorest 60% of households share of total expenditure is
a mere 14%, while the richest quintile's share is 69%" and where, across
the decade of the nineties, a certain narrowing of the income gap between
black and white (as a growing number of blacks have edged themselves into
elite circles) has been paralleled by an even greater widening of the gap
between rich and poor.(9)

Granted, the "negotiations" in the sphere of economic/class relationships
were far less public than the formal meetings of the Convention for a
Democratic South Africa (Codesa) and the Kempton Park negotiations. But
they were, perhaps, even more important. As one close observer wrote in
1994: "Since 1990, when the democratization process began, some foreign
governments, notably the US and some of its allies -- Britain, Germany,
Italy and Japan -- successfully induced the ANC to move away from its
socialist economic policies, including that of nationalization. Instead,
they succeeded in persuading the movement to embrace Western-style free
market principles which the ANC increasingly, albeit reluctantly, adopted.
It is interesting to note, for example, that Mandela's evolving position on
fiscal responsibility was a direct response to pressures from foreign
investors and governments."(10) Moreover, this brand of compromise was
merely part of a decade-long process of accommodation, one hailed in
retrospect by no less a source than South Africa's corporate think-tank par
excellence, the Centre for Development and Enterprise (CDE): "The evolution
of the ANC's policy position was...influenced by foreign perceptions and
pressures (from foreign investors, potential investors, the World Bank, IMF
and others).

Other important policy influences were the Growth for All document of the
South African Foundation (representing the country's 50 largest
corporations) published in February 1996." The result: "Throughout the
1990s the ANC's economic policies have shown a clear shift towards greater
acceptance of the market...(one sealed) finally in the Growth, Employment
and Redistribution (GEAR) proposals of June, 1996."(11) But if 1996 was the
crucial year for putting the finishing touches on the ANC's capitulation to
neo-liberal orthodoxy, it seems plausible to argue that the die had already
been cast during the transition period itself. As Hein Marais observes, "by
1994... the left had lost the macroeconomic battle."(12)

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