[Marxism] The half-revolution

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Apr 27 06:57:35 MDT 2004

NY Times Op-Ed, April 27, 2004
The Half-Revolution

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa is an ailing country. No, not the economy. 
On the contrary, the economy has been quite buoyant. Since the official 
end of apartheid 10 years ago today, the country has moved from a siege 
mode economy to a dynamic and sophisticated one. For the first time in 
its history South Africa has become a serious player on the global 
economic stage. Before 1994 the only meaningful role that South Africa 
had was in mining. The demise of apartheid ushered in a new era of 
diversification in which South African companies became multinational — 
listed on the London and the New York Stock Exchanges (not a good thing, 
the trade union movement has argued in South Africa, but that is a 
debate for another time) — and are generally doing well.

In Europe, South African corporations like Sappi dominate paper 
manufacturing; in Britain financial and insurance institutions from 
South Africa perform quite decently in competition with British 
corporations; in the United States, South African Breweries bought 
Miller Brewing Company to become SABMiller — making it the 
second-largest brewery in the world. When Americans drink Miller High 
Life or Miller Lite, South Africans say "cheers" all the way to the bank.

There are many other indicators that tell us that contrary to prophecies 
of doom, the South African miracle continues, quietly this time, without 
the glare of world publicity that accompanied what can now be termed the 
first miracle: the relatively peaceful transfer of power from a white 
minority to a black-dominated government. The second miracle manifests 
itself in the rand's appreciation against major currencies of the world 
to a three-year high; in an inflation rate that has dropped to its 
lowest level in 44 years; in an export market in which cars manufactured 
in South Africa dominate the world's right-hand-drive market; and in the 
South African corporations that have displaced their European and 
American counterparts as the top investors in Africa.

Even the leaders of the erstwhile apartheid state have acknowledged 
these successes. F. W. de Klerk, the last white president, recently said 
in Die Burgher, an Afrikaans newspaper, that despite its flaws 
post-apartheid South Africa was a much better place than the South 
Africa of the past. Most of these strides have been made in the last 
five years, during Thabo Mbeki's presidency. There is certainly more to 
his presidency than his unorthodox views on AIDS and his high tolerance 
(some will even say support) of a stinking albatross that hangs around 
South Africa's neck, which goes under the name of Robert Gabriel Mugabe. 
Though these two issues seem to define Mr. Mbeki's presidency in the 
imagination of the West, inside the country he is viewed by influential 
blacks as one who has put content in reconciliation by marrying what 
were previously empty slogans with social change.

No, South Africa is ailing because it suffers from the twin diseases of 
instant gratification and conspicuous consumption. Call me naïve, but I 
see these diseases playing a large role in the spiraling unemployment 
rate (despite the buoyant economy); in the AIDS pandemic, which seems to 
be unmanageable; in the high crime rate; and in the looming unrest of 
the black majority, who have seen little or no benefits of the bullish 
South Africa trickling down to them.

A new black elite has emerged in South Africa, mostly from the ranks of 
the liberation movement — people who were able to use their political 
pedigree and connections to amass vast amounts of wealth. Trade union 
leaders have become instant millionaires, setting up business consortia 
in the name of union members but then reaping all the financial benefits 
at the expense of the workers. Black empowerment, a kind of affirmative 
action in which equity in big business is transferred to black 
entrepreneurs, has not done anything to alleviate poverty among ordinary 
black South Africans. It has not created employment either. Instead, 
workers have been laid off by the new black bosses in an effort to 
maximize profits in order to repay white capital that was used to 
purchase the equity in the first place. Even the president's brother, 
Moeletsi Mbeki, a member of the business elite himself, has lamented 
that black empowerment has focused more on transferring equity than on 
encouraging entrepreneurship and has thus created a culture of 
entitlement and dependency in the black middle class.

full: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/27/opinion/27MDA.html


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