Cry for the Beloved Country - (pt 3 of 6)

Hinrich Kuhls kls at
Fri Jan 19 15:00:27 MST 2001

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 14 Jan 2001 14:53:08 -0500 (EST)
From: John Saul <johnsaul at
Subject: MR article (pt 3 of 6)


Interestingly the sensibility evoked by Bundy parallels the thoughts of
leading left political economists like Greg Albo who also, in their more
general work on such themes, juxtapose self-consciously the claims of
"utopian capitalism" against the promise of "realistic socialism."(30) For
Albo, the latter objective would focus (amongst other things) on "more
inward-oriented economic strategies" and the devaluation of "scale of
production as the central economic objective," goals that "can only be
realized through re-embedding financial capital and production relations in
democratically organized national and local economic spaces sustained
through international solidarity and fora of democratic co-operation." Not
that the precise nature of such an alternative can readily be sketched in
blue-print form. It would have to specified in practice by those social
forces who might yet mobilize themselves to place a more progressive agenda
on the table in South Africa. Perhaps, as I have suggested in earlier
writings,(31) the "growth through redistribution" emphasis that floated
momentarily through the movement could still provide the starting-point for
a process of "structural reform" with longer-term transformative potential.
But there would also have to be a greater willingness to embrace the fact
that the existent market-dominated global order -- driven by "a minority
class that draws its wealth and power from a historically specific form of
production" -- is (in Albo's words) "contingent, imbalanced, exploitative
and replaceable."

Unfortunately, this is precisely the kind of sensibility that the ANC's
present leadership has continued to devalue in South Africa. It is true
that, for all their talk of TINA, this group most often does not present
itself as the reluctant slave of the imperatives of the global market-place
but rather as its enthusiastic, born-again, protagonist.

Still, many explanations of the neo-liberal turn the ANC has taken are cast
in terms of the structural determinations upon their actions that are
defined by economic necessity. For Ann Bernstein and her big business
backers at the CDE there is no doubt, given the strength of capital and the
(benign) workings of the global economy, that "at the turn of the century,
there is not much choice for South Africa....There is only one road to
follow if we want to...put the country on a sustained high growth path."
Evoking the example of "Britain's Tony Blair [who] has led the Labour Party
away from its socialist and union- dominated past...[and] is ruthless in
ensuring that key members of the cabinet and party 'toe the new line,'" the
CDE suggests that, similarly in South Africa, "a certain degree of
toughness is...required to impose the new vision on the party and follow
through with the chosen policies." And despite concerns about too slow a
pace to privatization and too little government action to meet the need for
greater "labour flexibility," the CDE survey is nonetheless pleased to cite
the fact "that "business leaders who have met Mbeki are positive" and
affirm, with minimal qualification, that "South Africa is fortunate to have
a person of Mbeki's quality to lead it into the next century."(32) Or, as
one banker stated even more frankly in the wake of the 1999 elections: "The
ANC are not fools. They know where the balance of economic power lies."(33)

The more detailed specification of just how the differing demands of
diverse fractions of capital have shaped the policy substance of the
transition is more debatable. At the most general level, there is a
commonsensical reading that it is the presumed imperatives of retaining
in-country as much as possible of the investment funds of large-scale
domestic capitalists and of attracting fresh investments from abroad that
determines government thinking. Some observers also emphasize a less South
Africa-centric logic to the choices made, suggesting the drive of certain
key sectors of domestic capital to free themselves of the shackles of their
South African siting as sufficient impetus to impose neo-liberal policies
on the government. Here the emphasis is on the crucial role of "the
Mineral-Energy Complex" that Fine and Rustomjee have shown as being so
central, both historically and contemporaneously, to the South African
economy.(34) The increasingly diversified global role of the main
components of this MEC (and, in particular, of the vast Anglo-American
conglomerate) and the extent to which the substantial percentage of its
assets are now held in potentially footloose financial form provide another
strong reason for it to seek as open an horizon as possible for its
movements. Did this factor give an added edge to the pressure on government
to lift capital controls, for example, and to give its blessing to the
decision of a significant number of key companies to relocate their
corporate centers off-shore?

For critics the search for explanations continues, especially in light of
the fact that the government's choice of strategy has been quite so
unqualified, its capitulation to the world of market signals and market
forces quite so complete. Not surprisingly critics have sought additional
explanations for the precipitous rush to go much further and faster to the
right than even the most informed emphasis on the pressing nature of global
constraints might seem to warrant. Was the ANC leadership pushed or did it
jump? Is another structural determination not that of the "imperatives" of
class formation, the upper echelons of the ANC having bought quite
comfortably into a common class project with the white bourgeoisie, both
global and local? Here, it is suggested, the best point of reference for
analyzing the South African transition might be Frantz Fanon's notion of a
false decolonization: the rising African middle-class, both entrepreneurial
and political/bureaucratic in provenance, merely sliding comfortably into
their political positions as, yes, "intermediaries" of global Empire and,
from these heights, fending off the claims of the poverty- stricken they
have left behind.

Such critics find evidence for this interpretation in statements like that
of Nelson Mandela who, as early as 1992 (Star, 15/9/1992), was warning a
journalistic interlocutor that "we are sitting on a time bomb....their
enemy is now you and me, people who drive a car and have a house. It's
order, anything that relates to order [that's the target], and it's a very
grave situation." And they will find further confirmation in The Economist
(12/10/1996) which could write (albeit more in glee than in anger) that
"For all the fears that resentful ANC socialists would confiscate wealth,
the new breed shares the same capitalist aspirations as the old. Though
black incomes are barely a sixth of white ones, a black elite is rising on
the back of government jobs and the promotion of black business. It is
moving into the leafy suburbs, such as Kelvin and Sandton, and adopting the
outward symbols of prestige -- the BMW, swimming pool, golf handicap and
black maid -- that so mesmerize status-conscious whites." Or to take
another equally sobering account (that by Mark Gevisser in The Nation

On an April evening almost exactly three years to the day after South
Africans voted Nelson Mandela into power, you could watch, at a black-tie
dinner in Johannesburg, the dynamics of South African power relations
change before your eyes. The dinner celebrated the deal in which
Anglo-American -- the vast mining house that rules the South African
economy -- sold a controlling share of Johnnic, a $2 billion company with
blue-chip industrial holdings, to a group of black businesses and trade
unions called the National Empowerment Consortium (NEC), led by Cyril
"I think," said Anglo-American's Michael Spicer when introducing Johnnic's
new head, "we can call you chairman Cyril rather than comrade Cyril."
Replied the former trade unionist who led the mineworkers' charge against
the company a decade ago: "It's wonderful to have Anglo as a minority
shareholder!" Ramaphosa, the man most responsible for organizing the
working masses into the collective action that brought apartheid to its
knees, now leads another charge: an advance, by the mushrooming black
middle class, on the commanding heights of the economy. The corporate
sector is crowing. "Cyril Ramaphosa was the man who built the unions in the
eighties,' one very senior Anglo-American executive tells me, 'and he'll be
the one to break them in the nineties." [END INDENTED QUOTATION]

[FLUSH] Nor, despite Ramaphosa's own subsequent difficulties in keeping his
place as a would-be captain of industry, is this an isolated incident. One
can almost never find examples of prominent ANC personnel who, when
resigning or being removed from office, announce their return to the ranks
of the popular movement: like prominent former ANC provincial governors
Tokyo Sexwale and Mathews Phosa they tend to wind up following such
pursuits as the diamond business or casino development in Mozambique. Small
wonder that the authors of one careful analysis of the transition could
conjecture that, "on the one hand, the government seems, in a way very
reminiscent of equivalent groupings such as SWAPO in Namibia or ZANU-PF in
Zimbabwe, to resemble a club of old party militants who are more concerned
to reap the rewards of their own earlier sufferings than to effect major
changes in society. On the other hand, with the disappearance of the
revolutionary vision which undoubtedly spurred such militants on in the
past, what is left is largely a class promotion project, the promotion of a
new class of wealthy and powerful African movers and shakers."(35)

One could easily overstate the significance of this trend in broader
developmental terms, of course, whatever its implications for class
formation within the country's black population. Structurally, black
capitalism has proven to be quite a weak force, especially since the Asian
crisis of 1998 and subsequent falling stock prices and rising interest
rates that confounded black capitalists' hopes of repaying the loans with
which they initially purchased shares in various enterprises.

Recently, too, "black empowerment enterprises" (often fronts for white
enterprises in any case) have had a sharply declining share of JSE listed
stocks (after an early high-water mark of 9% in 1996), with certain
enterprises earlier devolved to "black" ownership even reverting back to
their original owners (like the Afrikaner economic giant, Sanlam). In this
and other ways, contemporary South African capitalism actually offers
little room for the emergence of a vibrant and transformative "national
[and/or "racial"] bourgeoisie," however much ANC statements (and certain of
its affirmative action policies) may seek to imply otherwise. All the more
startling, then, is the saliency of the discourse that has come to
rationalize the role of this ostensibly rising class. In the most general
terms, a key trope has been Thabo Mbeki's evocation of the "African
Renaissance" to describe the moment, continental and national, that he and
his ANC now embrace. His speeches on this theme (notably his "I am an
African" address to the South African Constitutional Assembly in 1996 and
his "The African Renaissance, South Africa and the World" speech to the
United Nations University in Tokyo in 1998) can sometimes sound notes of
dramatic resonance.(36) Equally often, however, such ideas have come to be
attached precisely to the rather narrower definition of "black empowerment"
evoked above, a note struck most dramatically in a speech by Mbeki to a
meeting of black managers late last year.(37) There the emphasis was on the
need to "strive to create and strengthen a black capitalist class," a
"black bourgeoisie." Since "ours is a capitalist society," Mbeki continued,
the "objective of the deracialization of the ownership of productive
property" is key to "the struggle against racism in our country."

There is a problem, however: "Because we come from the black oppressed,
many of us feel embarrassed to state this goal as nakedly as we should."
Indeed, Mbeki continued, "our lives are not made easier by those who,
seeking to deny [sic] that poverty and wealth in our country continue to
carry their racial hues, argue that wealth and income disparities among the
black people themselves are as wide as the disparities between black and
white. Simply put, the argument is that the rich are rich whether they are
black or white. The poor are poor, whether they are black or white." All of
which, Mbeki continued, "frightens and embarrasses those who are black and
might be part of the new rich." In short, the new black capitalist class
are victims - of class analysis. Of course, structures of racial inequality
are a continuing problem in South Africa. But can the issue of class
formation, and its long-term, social and political implications, really be
finessed away so easily in the New South Africa? Like them or not, the
statistics suggest otherwise: as it happens, "the rich are rich whether
they are black or white."(38) One fears that as the celebrated "African
Renaissance" comes to be more and more about the "embourgeoisement" of the
favored few it becomes a very tawdry thing indeed.

Some hard-boiled analysts of the ANC's history profess no surprise at such
an outcome, having interpreted the ANC's entire history as a nationalist
movement as the expression, first and foremost, of a narrowly petty
bourgeois project. And certainly the knot of assertive nationalism,
middle-class opportunism, liberal democratic aspiration and
all-too-Stalinoid socialist ideology that have come to define the ANC's
politics over time remains to be further untangled. But recall, in this
regard, Mbeki's own forceful assertion as early as 1984 that "the ANC is
not a socialist party. It has never pretended to be one, it has never said
it was, and it is not trying to be. It will not become one by decree for
the purpose of pleasing its 'left' critics." True, he saw fit to add that
the ANC represented the "notion of both an all-class common front and the
determined mobilization of the black proletariat and peasantry," with this
working class to be viewed as "a conscious vanguard class, capable of
advancing and defending its own democratic interests."(39) Nonetheless,
despite this latter utterance, Mbeki seems to have had little trouble in
adapting comfortably to a bourgeois milieu. A columnist in the Washington
Post last year (6/6/1999) reassured his readers by quoting a remark made to
him by a prominent London-based investment banker: "Mbeki holds things
close to his chest and makes decisions in a secretive way. However, he is
not a populist, and has been a 'Thatcherite' in his fiscal ideas. His
experience in exile introduced him to the financial world -- he is unlikely
to abandon the close ties to business developed in those years abroad."
Although there is no evidence of personal corruption, the account of
Mbeki's preferred social circle, frequented on numerous occasions by shady
figures from the soccer world and by business hustlers, in a recent
(otherwise largely hagiagraphical) biography -- in a chapter entitled,
significantly enough, "The Enigma" -- also makes for sobering reading.(40)
As does the moment, at the public launch of GEAR, when he took particular
delight in guying the left by himself declaiming: "Just call me a

The latter moment, in its self-conscious crassness, in its smug
ultra-hipness, seems especially revelatory -- its very bravado capturing
eloquently the prevailing undercurrent of the ANC-dominated transition. Not
the undercurrent represented by Mandela's contribution to that transition,
to be sure. As Andrew Nash has imaginatively argued, Mandela evoked a more
traditional ethos ("a tribal model of democracy," Nash terms it) in playing
his own crucial role in the first five post- apartheid years, muffling
societal contradictions (for both good and ill) within a mythos of
consensus. Beyond structural determinations (of economy, of class
formation), here was one way in which variables defined in terms of
politics and personality must also be made part of the explanation of
outcomes in South Africa. But Mandela's was not a politics that the younger
generation, epitomized by Mbeki, either could or would choose to play.
Their sense of self-importance bore no quasi- traditional markings. It was
auto-produced: having pulled off the impossible, the overthrow of
apartheid, they are very pleased with themselves indeed. Too smart now to
be mere ineffectual lefties, they expected to play the only game in town
(capitalism) successfully. It is this kind of coolly self-satisfied,
self-righteous and profoundly ideological thrust on the part of the new ANC
elite ("sell-out" is much too crude a term for it) that is the single most
depressing attribute of South Africa's transition.

It is worth bearing in mind, of course, that such cadres had seen some
kinds of "socialism" in tatters -- in Mozambique, in the Soviet Union --
and sensed the dangers of the fierce discipline, economic and political,
that global actors might inflict upon South Africa if it stepped too far
out of line. They also saw some of the weaknesses of the institutions of
the state that they had inherited and the limits these might impose on any
attempt to undertake too heroic a collective project. Such considerations
(including as well the very pointed sense of just what risky work it would
be for them personally and collectively to choose to swim against a
world-wide tide) may also have helped counter any misgivings some might
have had about the nature of the global capitalist system to which they now
pledged allegiance. For there have been signs of such misgivings. Consider,
for example, Mandela's own statement at the 1999 Davos forum that brought
together heads of state and of multinational corporations to discuss the
question: "Is global capitalism delivering the goods?" According to press
reports, Mandela (30/1/1999) was prepared to ask some questions of his own:
"Is globalization only to benefit the powerful and the speculators? Does it
offer nothing to men, women and children who are ravaged by poverty?" Or
take Mbeki's 1998 observation to the twelfth heads of state meeting of the
Non-Aligned Movement (3/10/1998) that "the 'free market' path of
development...has failed to live up to the expectations of the people of
the South." And what is one to make of Mbeki's pronouncement the same year
that South Africans "must be in the forefront in challenging the notion of
'the market' as a modern God, a supernatural phenomenon to whose dictates
everything human must bow in a spirit of powerlessness."(42)

Note, however, that this latter assertion, for all its seeming radicalism,
was immediately fleshed out by Mbeki's praise for the IMF, the World Bank
and the WTO as examples of the kind of "human intervention" that is needed
to anchor any such challenge! Note, too, the tenor of this year's
celebrated tour by Mbeki of world capitals when he touched base with the
Clintons, the Blairs and the Schroeders and with the doyens of the
International Financial Institutions, the WTO and the global business
community. It is true that at every stop his emphasis, invariably
well-received, was on poverty alleviation. Yet this is a seemingly
progressive trope that is actually not such an uncomfortable one for those
at the top, looking down, to swallow. Who could deny the existence of
poverty in Africa (including South Africa) and who would not be,
charitably, against it? But what if the problem were named differently: as
a deepening polarization of social classes across the colour line and
around the world that is reinforced by the very logic of
capitalist-centered development strategies?

Unsurprisingly, this is not a language that either Mandela or Mbeki have
cared to employ, let alone to use as reference-point for drawing any more
assertive conclusions for domestic policy from their occasional (and
apparently quite fleeting) expressed suspicions regarding the magic of the
market. More often such murmurs of dissent about global contradictions seem
designed to make it that much easier, in terms of local mass consumption,
to shuffle off responsibility for any lack of economic progress in South
Africa to rather more shadowy forces deemed to be beyond the ANC's control.(43)

Indeed, in the context of particularly subtle analysis of "how the ANC has
reproduced its power since 1994," Hein Marais has identified such
displacement of responsibility for the slow pace of change as one -- albeit
only one -- dimension of the hegemonic narrative that ANC leaders have
skillfully woven together.(44) But there is also the legitimacy, slow to
dissolve, that accrues to the ANC as the historical agent of black
liberation/African nationalism -- as well as the legitimacy that springs
from the movement's continuing evocation of a project of racial redress.
Moreover, despite its ambiguities in class terms, this latter project does
have real resonance: after all, there continue to be cadres within party
and state who have dedicated themselves to the betterment of conditions of
their fellow South Africans and availed themselves of the fresh
opportunities opened up by deracialization and democratization to work for
positive improvements in the lives of their fellow citizens. Perhaps such
militants have too often taken comfort in the notion that half a loaf is
better than none, but Marais suggests they have nonetheless staffed
programs in a range of sectors that have had some pertinent and positive
effects. "[T]he often- valid critiques of ANC delivery mounted by the left
-- especially its impact on levels of inequality and poverty -- have tended
to play down its many notable accomplishments," he writes, and then cites a
range of encouraging official figures for areas such as water, electricity,
telephone, nutrition, housing availability and some spreading of welfare
benefits to back up his point.

Yet Marais himself is also forced to admit that "sadly, some of these
claims lose their lustre once scrutinized." Certainly, the squeeze on
expenditure arising from fiscal conservatism and the prioritization of
deficit reduction has been linked to such realities as the often rapid
breakdown of what have turned out to be merely jerry-built services, the
rising backlog in the quantity of public goods actually delivered and the
parallel decay of many public health and educational programs (in a context
where private facilities have begun to multiply geometrically for the
well-to-do). Moreover, many possible areas for innovative policies seem
merely untouched, land reform for example, where "fewer than 20 of the
23,000 land claims lodged with the statutory Land Commission have been
settled [and]...less than 1 per cent of South Africa's farmland has been
redistributed to poor, African households." There is, of course, the
obvious question: why has the backlash to such realities (and to other,
even more central ones, like the desperately high rate of joblessness) been
so muted? Here Marais introduces another variable, what he suggests to be a
shared and tolerant understanding on the part of the populace as to just
how long the road to redress of widespread penury must be in a situation
such as that inherited by South Africans from apartheid. As he puts it,
"the majority of South Africans know that the road to freedom and a better
life will not take just five (or ten) years...[this is] not fatalistic
patience... but the residues of knowledge accumulated through countless
personal and collective struggles."

The country did not actually feel like that to me during my stay there, I
must confess. On the left there was the sense that the road, however long,
is not actually running in a very promising direction. But more generally,
and even more striking, was, yes, quite a lot of fatalism (and/or
cynicism). And, equally marked, the weakness, not the strength, of any
sense of shared purpose -- together with clear signs that the ANC,
reluctant to facilitate a substantial mobilization of people for any more
transformative purpose than fairly passive vote delivery, is content to
allow the profoundly individualizing logic of a market society to help
actively to demobilize and to neutralize the mass of the population. No
doubt this outcome has been facilitated by the fact that South African
society is so deeply (albeit unevenly) marked by capitalist development,
that it is a society in which a profoundly (if frustrated) consumerist
culture, especially in the sprawling urban areas, now seems far more
resonant than any presumed residue of the much-discussed traditional and
collective-oriented spirit of "Ubuntu." Yet the ANC's choice against
mobilization and for neo-liberalism has also helped deepen this culture, a
culture which has become, in turn, a crucial ingredient of the ANC's
hegemony: the "common-sense" of a South Africa that is, at least for the
moment, only narrowly politicized. Can there be any doubt that this
represents a sad denouement for South Africa's mass democratic movement, a
movement that in its march to victory promised so much more in terms of
sustaining positive social purpose and releasing social possibility? Here,
surely, will lie one of the harshest of the verdicts ultimately rendered by
historians regarding the ANC: that (to return to our opening paragraphs) it
chose to sacrifice so much of that promise on the altar of the market-place
and, in doing so, squandered an opportunity of world-historic proportions.

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