Apartheid, Capitalism and the ANC

It hardly needs stating that South Africa’s apartheid regime imprisons, tortures and ruthlessly exploits the country’s black working class, and that socialists are working for a society in which such obscene discrimination would be impossible. But does it follow that we endorse the struggle for apartheid’s removal?

Nelson Mandela, arguably the best known black political figure in Africa, was seventy on 18 July. His imprisonment in South African jails since his capture and trial in 1962 on charges of treason has won him world-wide sympathy and gained international support for the African National Congress.

Such support is misplaced. It is based on the wide-spread political belief that the main problem facing workers in South Africa is apartheid and that it is in their interests to uphold the ANC’s objectives:

  A democratic state based on the will of the people . . . equal status for all national groups . . . protected by law against insults to their . . . national pride . . . industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the well being of the people . . . equal rights to trade . . . the land redivided amongst those who work it. . .
The police force and army. . . shall be the helpers and protectors of the people. . . equal pay for equal work . . . a national minimum wage . . . maternity leave on full pay . . . the right to be decently housed . . . free medical care . . . Slums shall be demolished . . . South Africa shall be a fully independent state . . .

(The Freedom Charter adopted by the ANC in 1955)

This is a thorough-going reformist platform which in parts reads like a nineteenth century tract of the kind Marx condemned in his Critique of the Gotha Programme. Decked out with superficially attractive proposals and promises, it deflects the unwary majority from pursuing their class interests. Where similar programmes have been adopted elsewhere they have demonstrably failed to alter the position of the propertyless majority.

In their frustration the ANC decided in 1961 to adopt violent minority action to achieve their aims. Originally committed to non-violence, their policy changed and they “would no longer disapprove of properly controlled violence . . .  we decided to adopt violence as part of our policy, the plan had to be one which recognised civil war as the last resort ‘ (Nelson Mandela, No Easy Walk to Freedom. 1966, page 170).

In order to justify such violence and bloodshed the ANC needs to use the doublespeak practised by politicians everywhere when persuading others of the need to sacrifice and suffer in causes which involve no working class interests. They must attempt to disguise their true motives and the bitter realities that others are expected to face. At a press conference given by Oliver Tambo (President of the ANC) warning was given of an escalation of ANC violence. He urged Umkhonto we Sizwe (the military wing of ANC) to “Attack, advance, give the enemy no quarter, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” and acknowledged that “over-zealous” elements might attack “soft targets” (that is, human beings) (Keesing’s Contemporary Archives, p. 3466b). In an interview in 1983 Tambo said he thought”. . . it must be a matter of regret that civilians were injured . . . as our struggle intensifies more innocent people are going to get hurt . . .  An armed struggle embraces violence . . . We certainly must conduct our struggle in such a way that we are not seen to be taking blows and not returning them ” And what are these brave words used to cover? “The answer is in the uprooting of the apartheid system . . . The problem in South Africa is the apartheid system” (Oliver Tambo. Preparing for Power, 1987, pages 164-169).

The kind of action advocated by the ANC will not bring freedom to the workers of South Africa, black or white. They might talk of being “committed to bringing about fundamental change to the entire socio-economic and political formation which constitutes the South Africa of today” (Tambo. page 247) but all the workers will get. even with full implementation of the Freedom Charter, is a change of rulers or, more likely, the absorption into the ruling class of some new rulers whose skins are black.

The leadership of the ANC appear ready and willing to murder their way to the thieves table, not in order to abolish capitalism but to stake their claim to a share in the exploitation of the workers. We have the declaration of Mandela himself:

  Under the Freedom Charter, nationalisation would take place in an economy based on private enterprise . . . (this) would open up fresh fields for a prosperous African population of all classes, including the middle class. The ANC has never at any period of its history advocated a revolutionary change . . . nor has it. . . ever condemned capitalist society. (Mandela, page 179)

When asked “Are you attracted by the idea of a classless society?”, Mandela replied “yes, very much so . . . I  think that a lot of evils arise out of the existence of classes, one class exploiting another [but] . . . the ANC has no policy in any shape or form on this matter” (page 84). His concept of freedom is the freedom for him and his lieutenants to join the ranks of the exploiting class. In this he is following a course laid down by previous generations of black African “freedom fighters” who now vie with one another to attract investments from international capital. They may rid the country of the odious system of apartheid but they will be left with the problems of running capitalism. Class rule and exploitation would continue and a free society of abundance and equality would be no nearer. Indeed, in their efforts to get rid of apartheid they may well find support from within the ranks of the capitalist class, who are finding it an increasingly intolerable block to the most efficient exploitation of black labour power. For example Sir Albert Robinson. Chairman of Johannesburg Consolidated Investment Company, told shareholders back in 1974:

  It is essential to engender in the minds of all South Africans a far greater enthusiasm for . . . the elimination of restrictive employment barriers . . . The ultimate goal is a uniform wage scale for all employees, irrespective of race, based on objective criteria. (Daily Telegraph. 19 November 1974)

Or as a recent academic study more bluntly put it:

  . . .  a stage has now been reached in South Africa at which for important sectors of local capital the costs of apartheid exclusion outweigh the benefits. For the first time capitalists are rebelling . . . they worry about calm labour relations: and they dislike operating in a siege economy . . . (Herbert Adam and Kogila Moodley, South Africa without Apartheid.,1986. page 22).

If the ANC come to power they will have to take on the task of controlling and disciplining the majority when it becomes clear that capitalism run by blacks is little different to the white-dominated variety. They will have to ensure “calm labour relations”, which will bring them into inevitable conflict with “All who work shall be free . . . to make wage agreements with their employers” (Freedom Charter). Potential investors need not worry however. The ANC Director of Information Thabo Mbeki assured reporters at a four day conference of the ANC and Afrikaner businessmen at Dakar in July 1987 that “the feeling of common South-Africaness between us all was very strong . . .” (Keesing’s page 35362). A new twist to the old “We are all in the same boat” fraud under which black workers will find that they will still be doing all the rowing.

Another problem which will face an ANC dominated government is what to do about opposition groups. Such is the effectiveness of their propaganda that many who sympathise with the ANC cause assume them to be the only political organisation seeking to represent black opposition in South Africa. While there is evidence that they have much support in the townships, there are other groups such as Inkatha Yenkululeke ye Sizwe (“Freedom of the Nation”), the Pan Africanist Congress and the Azanian People’s Organisation. The last of these “. . . incorporated a class analysis into their policy. . [but thought] . . . there was no material basis for united class action by whites and blacks . . . the black petty bourgeoisie . . . have joined the Black liberation struggle. The leadership of the Black liberation struggle is provided largely by this class'” (Tom Lodge, Black Politics in South Africa since 1945, 1987. page 345). It is unlikely that groups such as these will easily give up their political objectives. How are they to be treated? In her 1986 biography Mandela, Mary Benson describes how . . . Mandela and other young nationalists clashed with the organisers, broke up [opposition] meetings . . (page 38). which does not auger well for the opponents of ANC in power. And the horrific “necklace” killings of supposed “collaborators” have been enthusiastically endorsed by Winnie Mandela, herself a powerful figure in the ANC (Anthony Sampson, Black and Gold, 1987. page 232).

The ideology of Mandela, Tambo and the ANC “is, and always has been, the creed of African Nationalism” (Mandela), chasing the shadow of harmonisation of class distinctions. We urge all workers to reject their outmoded ideas and join with us in building a strong world movement to establish the only society worth working for, socialism.

Gwynn Thomas