There was a time when the battle-cries of the ANC were “Black Majority Rule” and “Sanctions Now”. But that was when Nelson Mandela was still a political prisoner— in the days when “communism” was seen as a threat to those governments which advocated free-market policies.
We live, however, in unpredictable times. The last 4-5 years have been momentous in shattering illusions, beliefs, notions of what had hitherto been taken for granted. The impossible became possible. There were great shifts in public opinion. Governments have been toppled and national boundaries have moved overnight as if blown by a breeze.
Many believed the breeze reached South Africa when Mandela was released from 27 years of imprisonment on 11 February 1990. Headlines praising the release and eulogizing F.W. De Klerk
were flashed around the world, and the 78-year struggle of the ANC seemed finally about to be vindicated.
The dreams of South Africa’s black majority appeared to have been realized in mid-1991, when the parliament in Cape Town repealed the Population Registration Act, and when De Klerk announced to a joint sitting of the country’s tricameral parliament that “Apartheid now belongs to history”. Brave words, indeed, from a ruling National Party that had held power and practised institutionalized racism since 1948.
By September De Klerk was seen to be pushing South Africa towards democracy, by unveiling further constitutional proposals
for a new non-racial South Africa. The scheme was lambasted by opponents as an underhand move, designed to allow the white minority to keep the “accumulated privileges of apartheid” (Guardian,
4 September 1991). Although the new proposals would extend the franchise to all adult South Africans, it would in effect, it was argued, give the whites and other minorities the right to veto important policy decisions.
It is hardly a coincidence that De Klerk s decision to free Mandela, legalize the ANC and the South African Communist Party, and begin constitutional negotiations should coincide with the discrediting of international “communism” in the wake of the end of the cold war. The South African government knew full well that any change in the constitution would not upset the country’s economic status quo. Under apartheid the black majority had laboured as wage-slaves, or rather volatile wage-slaves; enfranchised, they would still be wage-slaves but this time a little more contented. Besides, a South Africa seen to be getting its act together would be an incentive for foreign investment.
In February last year De Klerk announced that white voters would be asked in a referendum to answer “yes” or “no” to the question: “Do you support the continuation of the reform process . . . which is aimed at a new constitution through negotiations?” One month later the white voting population returned an impressive 68.6 percent “yes” vote. It is a fair guess, however, that many voters, voting either way, had their minds set when violence surrounding the campaign left 25 dead.
The entire reform process ground to a halt on 17 June 1992, when Inkatha warriors, with the assistance of the security forces massacred 42 in the Transvaal township of Boipatong. The ANC abandoned constitutional talks and Mandela was “convinced that his [President De Klerk’s] method of bringing about a solution to this country is war” (Guardian, 22 June). All sides were in agreement on the suspending of talks and within a week tit-for-tat killings had left another 70 dead.
Within three months it was the turn of the South Africa’s defence forces to have themselves a massacre, opening fire on a demonstration by 70,000 ANC supporters at Ciskei, killing 28 and leaving another 200 injured.The government, who were accused of complicity with the defence forces, awaited an ANC-led backlash, it never came. Instead, in a surprising act of volte-face, the ANC, three days later, agreed to hold peace talks with the De Klerk government.
In September Mandela signed a “record of understanding” with De Klerk, agreeing that a new South African constitution could only be shaped by an elected constituent assembly, and that there would be a non-racial interim government in the future. For good measure, and probably as way of compensation for the recent massacres. De Klerk agreed on the immediate release of 150 political prisoners. Two months later De Klerk was calling for further negotiation to be re-started by the end of March 1993 with a view to holding South Africa’s first non-racial general election by April 1994.
On 4 February this year the ANC again met with the government for a further round of bilateral talks. In a meeting a month previous both sides had agreed there should be an “interim government of national unity”, though no agreement had been reached on the timescale for a new constitution. Nevertheless, it was understood that an “interim government of national unity”, consisting of parties that had secured a minimum percentage of the vote in elections, would hold power for five years following an agreement by a constitutional assembly on a final constitution.
Many in the ANC, however, objected any set-up which would give a disproportionate share of power to Chief Buthelezi, the Inkatha leader. Disagreement also remained on the suggested devolved regional plan. The ANC had pushed for a centralized authority, be it within a federal framework, while De Klerk pressed for regional autonomy on such issues as health and education.
On 1 April delegates from 26 political organizations, extreme left as well as right wing, attended a round of multi-party negotiations. The talks ended a day sooner than scheduled, with many surprised that negotiations were back on track and to continue at a lower level. A day later secret negotiations began to reincorporate the “independent” homelands back into South Africa. Matters appeared to be going smoothly.
No-one could have anticipated what would happen eight days later, when a member of the neo-nazi AWB assassinated Chris Hani
, a leading ANC politicians as well as the leader of the South African Communist Party. This had been the first political assassination in almost 30 years, and many believed that previous mutual restraint had signalled an unwritten agreement between blacks and whites not to target one-another s leaders.
The ANC urged restraint on its members, hoping that something fruitful could emerge out of the death of Hani, that his death would at least induce some kind of urgency into negotiations. Meanwhile ANC Youth leaders rejected peace calls. One speaker announced to a rally in Pretoria: “It is time we told the leadership that enough is enough . . . now is the time to hit back” (Times, 13 April). In a country where peaceful demonstration has been met with violence and force, and where the black majority has for so long been denied the right of the ballot box to voice their wishes, it is little wonder that many still feel that violence can be the only tool of reform.
Hani’s murder has a deadly logic for those in South Africa who hope to gain by it. those who are attempting to upset reform and derail negotiations at any cost, who will deny the black majority any rights, even if it means civil war. Thankfully their numbers are few. They include the likes of Eugene Terrcblanche, the AWB leader whose hypocritical view of the death of Nani was of an “atrocious deed”. But whatever the latent motives were for the death of Hani, his assassination does not seem to have dowsed the flame of reform. On 15 April the South African government reacted to the current crisis by tentatively promising to hurry along constitutional reform.
It looks likely that in the near future an electorate with enfranchised blacks in the majority will have voted in a new constituent assembly and a power-sharing government of national unity holding power for five years, headed, probably by Nelson Mandela. The ANC are in favour of a government of national unity of limited duration. but have opposed a five-year power-sharing plan. De Klerk, however, appears to be in the better bargaining position. How smaller factions within South Africa will react remains to be seen. The extreme right-wing AWB will never be placated, neither will comfort be found in the Inkatha camp where Chief Buthelezi
has warned of civil war should the ANC and De Klerks National Party reach an agreement to share power on their own. In any event, a future South Africa will probably be a highly devolved federation, with local and regional rights entrenched.
The negotiations have been taking place against the background of a South African economy in turmoil. Employment between 1991 and mid-1992 contracted by five percent and there is a continuance of capital flight—six billion Rand last year and 40 billion Rand since 1985. It is only a matter of time before the finger of blame is pointed. Should the economy continue to collapse Mandela will be blamed as much as De Klerk.
Much has been compromised by the ANC since Mandela was released. Black majority rule has been sacrificed for a share in an interim government of national unity, in which parties with a minimum percentage of support will be given representation. Similarly, the ANC ultimate goal of a “socialist society” has been sacrificed for a share in a government with a proven track record of capitalist management.
There are now claims that the ANC elite are the new South African free marketeers, courting white businessmen and aspiring to their lifestyle. Recently the Johannesburg Weekly Mail ran a piece by a disillusioned ANC supporter, who questioned the contrasting lifestyles of the ANC elite and the black majority they represent: Mandela lives in a lavish suburb of Houghton; Zini Mandela’s honeymoon was financed by a wealthy white businessman; Allan Boesak now enjoys an extravagant lifestyle. “Are there gifts from the South African white economic elite?” asked the ANC member, “is our human suffering under apartheid rule so cheap to be bought by gifts from the white racists?”
Professor Heribert Adam, noted South African observer, commented:
On the part of the ANC/SACP, socialism has been reduced to anti-trust legislation and affirmative action. Lenin may still be quoted, but the World Bank, it seems, exerts a stronger pull . . . The more far-sighted sections of the business elite ingratiate themselves with any political leadership. (Guardian. 17 April)
The legalization of the ANC has much to do with this. Once legalized, given legitimacy, they struggled for acceptability, and were easily discredited when Winnie Mandela was indicted on charges of kidnapping and murder, and when news broke about ANC detention and torture camps. The government could even use the Inkatha movement and their own defence forces against the ANC in acts of intimidation, knowing that any backlash would damage the new moderate image of the ANC. The only way the ANC could gain acceptability in the eyes of the white minority was by sacrificing some of their long-held views and recognizing the economic system, as run by the white capitalist elite.
For the ANC there is no going back now, only forward, forward with a perspective tainted by the capitalist economic values of the white minority. The ANC now want sanctions lifted, condemn acts of violence and aggression, and frown upon the kind of demonstrations they backed only six months ago at Ciskei.
“Our ideal is a socialist society”, said Chris Hani a few months before his assassination. “socialism is the best and most cohesive system for South Africa” (Guardian, 15 February). Ironic words, true socialists will agree, in light of recent events. Socialism (not the state capitalism Hani had in mind) is indeed a “most cohesive system”, but only on a world scale. Socialists, however, will not fail to welcome recent developments in South Africa. A South Africa with universal suffrage can only bring the realization of world socialism a step closer when the chains of capitalism begin to rust through and the world’s working class begin to voice objection through the ballot box.