By Carlton Joseph
For the past weeks I have tuned in to the unprecedented outpouring of praise for President Nelson Mandela. Unprecedented not because he is unworthy of the praise and goodwill but because of where this effusive praise was coming from. It was coming from the same people who supported the Apartheid system that was instituted since 1948 and who called Mandela a terrorist when he headed the ANC’s military wing in its attempt to overthrow the Apartheid government. In 1964 he was sentenced to life for fighting to overthrow that same immoral government.
I was incensed and outraged. I marveled at how hypocritical and deceitful these countries, their leaders and their media operatives were. They were deifying Mandela, despite his admonitions to those who had tried to deify him. He himself said, “ I am not a saint, but a sinner who keeps trying”. It has become clear to me that these western nations were doing exactly what they had done to Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. They were making Mandela so much larger than life that his followers would not dare follow in his footsteps. They were deifying him in order to disempower the masses of black people.
It is instructive to examine Mandela’s life and the political and economic environment in place in South Africa at that time. In 1960 the ANC was banned from organizing protest demonstrations against the government. In 1961 South Africa declared itself a Republic and left the British Commonwealth. In opposition to this move, the ANC created a military wing committed to overthrow the Republic. In 1964, Mandela and a number of ANC members were sentenced to life imprisonment on a charge of conspiracy to overthrow the state.
It is important to remember that during this vicious apartheid period, South Africa experienced significant economic growth second only to Japan. “Trade with Western countries grew and investment from the United States, France and Britain poured in. “ (Wikipedia)
The 1970’s and 1980’s witnessed significant unrest especially after 3 million blacks and colored were forcibly resettled in “black homelands”. Later, in 1976, more than 600 were killed in uprisings in Soweto and finally a State of Emergency was declared from 1984 to 1989. These uprisings were fanned by support from outside pressure groups which provided financial aid and lobbied their governments to instituting economic sanctions against the apartheid regime. However, there was resistance to economic sanctions from the United States, Britain and France. In the end the supporters of economic sanction against the regime won. The stage was now set for the end of Apartheid and the rise of Mandela since he had become the face of the resistance movement and the face of the ANC.
Then President Botha who was concerned over Mandela’s popularity, began to nurture Mandela as a benevolent leader of blacks (Wikipedia), and moved him from Robben Island to Pollsmoor prison where life was less cruel. In 1985, Botha stated that the government was willing to release Mandela if he renounced violence to further political objectives. Mandela replied that violence was the responsibility of the apartheid regime and that “with democracy there would be no need for violence”. The government stance was that they would not negotiate until the opposition organizations renounced violence. However, the winds of change were blowing as economic sanctions and disinvestment programs had taken root, the economy plunged from being one of the strongest in the world and became among the lowest in the world. The ban on South African participation in international sporting events had isolated South Africa and made it a pariah nation.
The end of colonial rule in Kenya 1964, the fall of the Ian Smith apartheid regime in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) 1979, and the fall of the Soviet Union and communist ideology in 1991 sent clear signals that apartheid was doomed. The international and domestic capitalist class, determined to maintain economic control, demanded peaceful negotiations for a transfer of political power. For negotiations to proceed, Botha had to go. FW de Klerk became President and began negotiations with Mandela. In 1994, elections were called and ANC won 62.65 % of the vote which was less than the 66.7% that would have allowed it to rewrite the constitution. Mandela became the first black president of South Africa.
This was the political environment; ANC won but was 4.05 % points short of a mandate to change the Constitution but the ANC could now negotiate from a position of strength. They did not have to capitulate to the demands of the capitalist class and the western powers. They had a strong mandate from the people to negotiate on their behalf. Mandela should have used his legal credentials and new political power to challenge and change the old apartheid Constitution. The Constitution’s legitimacy should have been challenged on the grounds that it had never served black people, and was designed to perpetuate the apartheid system. Also, although blacks represented the majority of the population, they were excluded from representation. They remained nominal citizens of their homeland. Mandela and the ANC should have changed the Constitution and given the people the option to vote for its adoption. This was the first misstep of Mandela and the ANC and would make the ANC pledge, “The people shall govern all of its people, no matter what their color. There would be work, education and security for all. Everyone would be equal before the law,” impossible to achieve.
The second mistake and for this I blame the ANC entirely, was acceptance of the IMF Structural Adjustment Program. Mandela was in prison and was out of touch with the changed world he was entering. The Internationalist capitalist system wanted their money, for as far as they were concerned, sanctions, disinvestment and boycotts had taken away their profits.
Just as they did to the blacks in the Haitian revolution, the capitalists demanded that if blacks wanted their freedom, they must pay for it. To orchestrate this payoff the capitalists employed the IMF. The ANC was forced to take an IMF loan and the structural adjustment program that came with it. This program would ensure that no radical economic changes would be implemented by the ANC, but more important, it would allow South Africa to pay off its debts to international financiers. This program in effect took all the debts created by the white elite and business class in South Africa and transferred it to the newly minted black-controlled South Africa. Black South Africa was now fully responsible for the debts created when they were not even considered citizens. Freedom was paid for, and the white capitalist class and their international financiers were still in control of the economy. The blacks could now have a President, their names on Airport buildings and the illusion of power, but real economic power was where it was supposed to be, in the control of the capitalist class.
Ronnie Kasrils of The Guardian, informs us that Mandela’s leadership has heralded the “Born Free generation. They enjoy the dignity of being born into a democratic society with the right to vote and chose who will govern”. My contention is that we are all born free; it is the economic system that enslaves us. Having the right to vote is great if it comes with the basic necessities to sustain life. Democracy, under the yoke of oppressive, unregulated, free market capitalism, is not freedom. When the slaves were set free with absolutely no financial resources they were still slaves, their masters still determined how much they would be paid. The only change was the master was not responsible for their basic need of shelter and scraps of food from their hard work. The slaves were now responsible for meeting their basic needs with absolutely no compensation for their past labor.
I had the opportunity to visit South Africa and observed that economically, nothing has changed. Blacks still live in the filthy townships; coloureds still occupy their ghettos and whites still control the wealth of the country. For the last 19 years, Mandela’s Presidency and the ANC’s leadership have simply legitimized apartheid. The Global Capitalist System has successfully given the world the illusion that South Africa is no longer a pariah; they have sanitized Mandela so that the world is anesthetized to the true conditions inside South Africa. Mandela did not threaten the International Capitalist system of free trade and market mechanisms and private control of everything. It is important to note that the ANC abandoned its plan to nationalize the mines and have more government input in the economy. In essence, the ANC reneged on the people of black South Africa and joined the ranks of third world countries that have negotiated away their people’s freedom and have failed to create a just and more equal society for all.
The ANC and Mandela should have learned lessons from the independence of Zimbabwe, Kenya, and all the former British, French and Dutch colonies. I hope that South Africa is able to resolve the future conflict that will occur, because after 20 years of black rule, the poor is poorer and the rich is richer and whites still control the wealth of the country. Black people are not being educated and they sit on the corners hoping that some contractor will pick them up for a day’s work.
In a few more years the people of South Africa, like the people of Zimbabwe, will get tired of empty promises. They will demand serious land reform, educational reform and economic reform. It would be prudent for the government to address these issues now. The ANC government should set aside at least 2 percent of GNP for reparations so as to improve housing, education, healthcare and other infrastructure projects that will eradicate the filthy townships and entrenched poverty. It is important that action be taken to stop this deification and sanitation of Mandela from taking root. Ordinary South Africans must believe that they can make the system work for the benefit of all South Africans.
South Africa must modify the economic system to incorporate features that would rectify the abuses of the apartheid system and lift blacks out of extreme poverty. If this is not done civil war or land grabs like Zimbabwe could become a reality and blacks would again be blamed for corruption, mismanagement and every other thing that ails the society. Do the right thing now and end the continued racism and economic apartheid system.