SAR, Vol 14 No 4, August 1999
FIRST, THE GOOD NEWS
Some readers have complained that recent SAR editorials have been just too negative about developments in the new South Africa. Please give credit where credit is due, they say.
Let's concede, for starters, that the correct balance on these matters is difficult to strike. It is true, nonetheless, that as editors we tend to assume the premise recently given considerable analytical depth and resonance in a Monthly Review article (Summer issue, 1999) by John Saul and Colin Leys. "The result of recent developments, global and continental, for Africa," they argue, "is relegation to the margins of the global economy with no visible prospect for continental development along capitalist lines ... This simply means that Africa's development, and the dynamics of global capitalism, are no longer convergent if ever they were."
This is seen by such writers to be as much the case for South Africa itself as it is for the rest of the southern African region and, indeed, for the continent as a whole. Thus, as Saul and Leys also suggest, "the ANC's decision to abandon the more directive and mobilizational `growth through redistribution' model that initially drove its project has produced a market-driven, export-competitive, neo-liberal strategy that ... has limited promise of growth and even less promise of delivering substantial returns to the vast mass of South Africa's own impoverished population." Indeed, they conclude - echoing the words of the distinguished theorist of the new world order, Manuel Castells - that "the real problem for South Africa is how to avoid being pushed aside itself from the harsh competition in the new global economy."
If capitalism, especially in its all too unmodified neo-liberal guise, is not a developmental option of real promise for southern Africa either pessimism or anger become the most plausible responses. Pessimism in the face of a global capitalist system that allows so little room for manoeuvre for Africans in the current epoch. Anger at those African leaders who seem often to struggle more to advance their own privileges than to carve out space, domestic and international, for realizing the positive transformation of the lives of the destitute and demeaned in their own countries.
Take, in this regard, the recent South African elections. First the good news. As David Pottie argues below, at one level these elections have seemed a promising consolidation of liberal-democratic, multi-party practices, an apparent "normalization" of the South African political system after decades of turbulent, authoritarian and violent interactions. And yet (the bad news!), as our electoral coverage also suggests, the fact is that the ANC's hegemony has been won in the name of precisely the kind of neo-liberal strategy that has so little promise of bettering the lives of most ordinary South Africans. Or take the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, so dramatic in "its emotional, cultural and symbolic power" (Colin Bundy's phrase) and in the deeply human truths about apartheid that it has revealed. Again, there is this good news. Nonetheless, as Bundy reminds us below, there is also the fact of the TRC's own very narrow premises. Haven't these premises threatened to reduce, for too many whites, the resonance of the systematic horror of the apartheid era to the baroquely evil acts of a handful of rogue cops? And haven't they tended, in this way, to obscure the full meaning of an era that embodied the wholesale degradation - for purposes of guaranteeing capitalist profits and white privilege - of an entire people? How much less pressing, his article seems to ask, is the urgency of redressing the chief legacy of that period - the deep-seated socio-economic inequalities it created - if mere police brutality (however horrific) is what is primarily to be remembered?
Equally ambiguous in its import is another emphasis of the TRC report that John Daniel's lead article in this issue underscores: the regional impact of the South African state's assault on its neighbours in defense of the apartheid system. To its credit -again, the good news - the report has devoted considerable attention to this reality. How bad the news then that such findings have been virtually ignored in the South African press and by the current government? How sad (as Daniel also emphasizes) that, as migrants continue to move from their once destabilized and still war-torn countries to South Africa in search of work, they become the target of xenophobic backlash from precisely those poor South Africans who should be their allies in mounting the demand for a better life.
A better life? We return by this route to the issue of how bad, really, is the news about neo-liberalism. What if, as Saul and Leys predict, this strategy fails to deliver? Then surely the question they raise, in the course of their continental survey, regarding South Africa is equally à propos for all of southern Africa: "Just what [will] the fall-out of hopes denied in South[ern] Africa ultimately be: political decay, heightened criminality, increased authoritarianism - or reactivation of the popular struggle to realize humane and genuinely developmental socio-economic outcomes?" Note, however, that putting things in this way does imply the existence of alternatives. Perhaps it is not so very negative after all to pose the question - as SAR itself seeks to do - in some such terms.
Southern Africa Report
Contents - Vol 14 No 4
"The Costs of Reconciliation"
Editorial: First, the Good News - 1
The Truth about the Region - 3
by John Daniel
Truth . . . or Reconciliation - 8
by Colin Bundy
"Normalization"?, The South African Election - 12
by David Pottie and John S Saul
A Political Paradox? South Africa's Trade Unionists - 17
by A NALEDI team
Banking on the Rich: Development Finance in South Africa - 21
by Andrew Murray
Township Tours: Packaging the New South Africa - 24
by Shelley R Butler
NewsFlashes -- Angola - 27
notes from the Angola Development Network
Mozambique Notes - 31
by Joe Hanlon
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