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Southern Africa Report Archive

MBEKI'S BLUES: "It's hard not to feel that Thabo Mbeki, ANC president and likely successor to Nelson Mandela as South African president, is caught between a rock and a hard place. One of the principal architects of the ANC's neo-liberal strategy of appeasement towards capitalism, local and global, as presumptive engine of South African economic transformation, he also has a popular constituency to deal with (not least in next year's national elections). And the latter, the vast mass of the African population who have seen little or no improvement in their own lives since 1994, are restless. Moreover, many are restless not just about the length of time it is taking to see significant delivery on post-apartheid expectations: after all, four years is a relatively short period in which to right all the manifold injustices of the apartheid era. Much more fundamentally, they are restless about the very real possibility that the ANC is embarked - in particular through its embrace of GEAR, the Growth, Employment and Redistribution programme - on precisely the wrong path in South Africa..." (jbv)

vol 13 no 4

Editorial and Contents for Vol 13 No 4
the SAR editorial collective


Printable Version
Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 13 No 4, August 1998
Page 1
"Editorial"

EDITORIAL:
MBEKI'S BLUES

It's hard not to feel that Thabo Mbeki, ANC president and likely successor to Nelson Mandela as South African president, is caught between a rock and a hard place. One of the principal architects of the ANC's neo-liberal strategy of appeasement towards capitalism, local and global, as presumptive engine of South African economic transformation, he also has a popular constituency to deal with (not least in next year's national elections). And the latter, the vast mass of the African population who have seen little or no improvement in their own lives since 1994, are restless.

Moreover, many are restless not just about the length of time it is taking to see significant delivery on post-apartheid expectations: after all, four years is a relatively short period in which to right all the manifold injustices of the apartheid era. Much more fundamentally, they are restless about the very real possibility that the ANC is embarked - in particular through its embrace of GEAR, the Growth, Employment and Redistribution programme - on precisely the wrong path in South Africa.

Mbeki and his colleagues are not about to reverse this overall policy direction. Is this because they feel market solutions to be intrinsically developmental; or because they feel them likely to service their own nascent class interests; or because they feel there is no alternative in any case? This is an issue we have discussed in these pages previously and will not return to here. What can be specified, however, is the result Mbeki and company would now most dearly love to achieve: they seek to dress up their conservative economic positions with a political rhetoric that will serve to legitimize such positions in the eyes of an increasingly suspicious black population.

This is no easy task, as several articles in the present issue may help to demonstrate. Chronicling the many failed promises in the urban sphere, Patrick Bond and Mzwanele Mayekiso also note the multiplying examples of township unrest and suggest the possibility of fresh challenges to conventional ANC/Alliance policies welling up from within civil society and based on new trade union-township dweller alliances. Meanwhile Stephen Robins, in a thoughtful evaluation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), suggests the possibility that no reconciliation of the sort envisaged by the TRC is possible as long as the deeply entrenched inequalities of South Africa are felt to be so little challenged by the present government.

Small wonder, then, that Mbeki has permitted himself some pretty radical diatribes in recent months, including attacks not only on wealthy whites (afflicted, he says, by "social amnesia") but also on a "black elite" that abuses "freedom in the name of entitlement" (see the article entitled "Mbeki champions poor against black and white elites" in Southscan , 12 June 1998). This latter group, he charges, "seek to hijack the sacrifices which millions of ordinary people made to liberate our country for noble purposes, in order to satisfy a seemingly insatiable and morally unbound greed and personal thirst for wealth and comfort, regardless of the cost to our society." And he concludes with a warning about "the danger of a mounting rage to which we must respond seriously."

Note, however, that such radical sounding language is permitted to Mbeki but apparently to no-one else. As Sheila Meintjes chronicles in her provocative "cover story" on Winnie Madikizela Mandela, part of the latter's political strength and resilience has sprung from the role she has claimed for herself as populist tribune of those impoverished South Africans she argues have been left behind in the ANC's ascension to power. And one of the reasons - but only one among a number of other plausible reasons, Meintjes makes clear - Winnie has been sent to Coventry by the ANC leadership is that they will not readily tolerate public dissent over their core socio-economic strategy.

This is true whether such dissent comes from Madikizela Mandela's Africanist/populist corner or from further to the left. For there are many who challenge ANC policies (GEAR, in particular) on the grounds that its chosen economic strategy is not only failing to deliver economic growth or development but that it must, inevitably, produce precisely the kinds of stark inequalities that Mbeki claims he is against. And such left critics are not - to put it mildly - being treated kindly.

Indeed, the recent conference of the ANC's ostensible ally, the South African Communist Party, produced paroxysms of rage both from Mbeki and his principal, Nelson Mandela, against those with the effrontery to criticize GEAR. The language used to whip its allies into line was harsh and ugly, variously described by Southscan as "markedly aggressive," a "scathing ... barrage," and a "public onslaught." Mbeki accused SACP leaders of "fake revolutionary posturing," terming them "charlatans" and "confidence tricksters" attempting to build their organization "on the basis of scavenging on the carcass of a savaged ANC." As for Mandela, he stated firmly that "GEAR, as I have said before, is the fundamental policy of the ANC. We will not change it because of your pressure." And he hinted darkly of the consequences that might well follow from any continuing criticism of GEAR.

Though the rhetorical fury unleashed by Mandela and Mbeki at the SACP conference was more vitriolic in tone, this kind of attack is part of an offensive that has also been unleashed in recent months against the ANC's other major ally (but GEAR critic), the trade union central, COSATU. What impact such threats will have on the militancy of the SACP and COSATU and their mounting of further criticisms of ANC strategy remains to be seen. But the communists and the unions are not alone in any case. There are those emergent township militants, identified by Bond and Mayekiso, who begin to hint that the ANC emperor may have few clothes. There are members of the ANC itself who are less than satisfied with the direction things have taken in the past few years. And there are also the churches.

Anglican Archbishop Winston Ndungane was himself slammed by Mandela for questioning the gospel according to GEAR several months ago. But the churches nonetheless returned to the charge at the recent tri-annual conference of the South African Council of Churches. There that redoubtable campaigner against apartheid (and former secretary general of the SACC), Dr. Beyers Naude, argued that "while GEAR is a `party political issue,' when it affects the poor, the church has no option but to intervene." At the same meeting, Mzwandile Nuns, representing the worker ministry in Kwazulu-Natal, noted the government argument that they are "cutting social spending in favour of lower company taxation which will subsequently create an environment for more companies to invest."

But, he continued, "what we see on the ground is different. The bulk of poor people remain where they were many years ago." The lesson? As another delegate to the conference, Professor Takatso Mofokeng, put the point, the churches "should go back to the trenches, because it seems that is the language the government understands:" "People should demand what they are entitled to and use the methodology that works. GEAR didn't come up for referendum. If people are not happy about it they must stand up against it"!

Where does this leave veterans from the Canadian anti-apartheid movement? Even as we struggle against the deep wounds being inflicted on the social fabric of our own society by the embrace of neo-liberal nostrums, shouldn't we also be reaching out a hand to our counterparts in South Africa, those who are raising similar questions about market il/logic and doing so under even more dire circumstances. Note, in this regard, Linda Freeman's final remark in her trenchant review of a recent history of the Taskforce on Churches and Corporate Responsibility (TCCR) and its key role in Canada's anti-apartheid movement.

"Finally," she writes, "one is left with some sadness that the Taskforce's commitment to the struggle of the South African majority ended with the collapse of apartheid. For many, life in South Africa became more dangerous in the transition, and the post1994 years have not been easy. While the struggle for economic and social rights is a much more complex phenomenon than the struggle for basic civil and political rights, who is better placed than the churches to take it on?" As noted, South African churches are beginning, precisely, to "take it on." But Freeman's message is intended for Canadians. And not just in the churches.

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Southern Africa Report
Contents - Vol 13 No 4
"The Winnie Factor"

Editorial: Mbeki's Blues - 1

Urban Betrayal: The ANC in the Townships - 4
by Patrick Bond and Mzwanele Mayekiso

The Truth Shall Make You Free? - Reflections on the TRC - 9
by Steven Robins

Winnie Madikizela Mandela: Tragic Figure? Populist Tribune? Township Tough? - 14
by Sheila Meintjes

All Wet: The World Bank and the Lesotho Dam - 21
by Lori Pottinger

Their Hegemony or Ours? Schild Replies to Barker - 25
by Veronica Schild

Reviews:
Faith, Hope and Clarity: The History of TCCR
- 30
review by Linda Freeman

Under the Tongue: A New Novel from Zimbabwe - 32
review by Julie Cairnie
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