SAR, Vol 9, No 2, November 1993
OF POLLS AND POWER
As Canadians dig out from under the rubble of our own election campaign, we may be encouraged to consider a more bracing electoral prospect, the first even remotely democratic election in South Africa's troubled history. It will be held on April 27 of next year and SAR will seek to monitor the run-up to that event in this and forthcoming issues. We launch our coverage with a lead feature, by Hein Marais, appraising the electoral positioning of the main contenders, the ANC and the National Party.
This election is important, important that it be carried off as smoothly as possible, important, too, that the ANC, as the one major party genuinely committed to some kind of egalitarian outcome be as successful as possible. At the same time, we must not be naive about the difficult situation that will confront an ANC government as it attempts to translate any majority it may win electorally into an effective exercise of power vis-à-vis the many vested (and privileged) interests that will continue to stalk the brave, new, post-electoral South Africa.
Already some of the compromises the movement has felt itself compelled to make in the current (albeit preliminary) constitutional negotiations - the commitment to a five-year "government of national unity" (discussed in this issue by Albie Sachs), for example - seem likely to be very costly. And the new parliament, slated to act simultaneously as both legislature and final constitution-making body, will face similarly complicated conundrums on every side. Mention is made (again by Albie Sachs) of the issue of federalism, a core constitution-making concern, as a likely site of on-going struggle. But more strictly legislative matters will also spring up to challenge the new parliament on a wide range of policy fronts. We intend a series of articles in the pages of SAR precisely to explore some of these kinds of questions, beginning here with an analysis of an important aspect of future urban policy - one framed by his insistence that "segregation is an issue"! - from Wilmot James.
Nor need we be naive about the forces and counter-forces that play across the ANC itself and that could come to qualify its egalitarian thrust from within. The threat of cooptation of ANC leaders, whether lured by the comforts of office or by capital's siren song of the need for "realism" and "pragmatism," is vivid enough, and so is the possibility of a debatable measure of compromise on other important issues. That's why articles exploring attempts within the popular movement to sustain the flow of innovative ideas and practices are also important - as witness, in the present issue of SAR , the piece by Sheila Meintjes on the effort to do so around the question of gender equality.
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As noted above, the recent visit to Canada by Albie Sachs - South African activist, lawyer, author - is also featured in our pages. While here, Albie helped launch a Canadian fund-raising campaign to assist voter education in South Africa and lectured in various venues on the perilous promise of the present constitution-making exercise back home, a process he has himself been actively engaged in on behalf of the ANC. SAR interviewed him at length about these topics and, more generally, on the various modalities of what he termed "preparing for power."
Sachs also happened to be in Toronto at a particularly interesting moment: the day Nelson Mandela urged the lifting of international sanctions against South Africa at the United Nations. Not surprisingly, he was snapped up for a round of television interviews and soon found himself pressed into the service of diplomatically echoing our Secretary of State for External Affairs' own self-congratulatory praise - same time, same station - for Canada's noble role in the South African struggle. We chided him jokingly about the false picture he had thus helped to perpetuate about Tory policy on such matters (compare Linda Freeman's series of articles in SAR on the government's waffling over the years and also Don Ray's contribution, below).
Sachs responded good-humouredly in kind, then took the opportunity to reinforce the point that "preparing for power" is one thing, consolidating it in terms more substantial than those of mere electoral victory is quite another. Whatever role the Canadian government or the Canadian business community might or might not play vis-à-vis South Africa in the future, our task as activists is far from over, he said. Indeed, "the links that have been established in the past don't automatically dissolve like these sutures that just disappear simply because we're moving from an isolation and sanctions phase into a developmental pro-democracy phase. They are very meaningful links because they're based on endeavour and struggle and on getting to know people and understanding how decisions are taken, how things are done. And our hope is that the comradeship and interaction that's been developed over the years in that phase will continue and even broaden in the coming period."
Sachs suggested the possibility of consolidating such ties between the new South Africa and the Canadian non-governmental sector across a wide range of possible concerns. Could there not be interchange and assistance around such pressing issues as the delivery of equitable health services, as rural extension and cooperative development, as the fostering of a human rights and employment equity-driven culture, for example? Sachs even had some kind words to say about SAR 's own continuing contribution to the process and since his observations seemed to have some general import for those involved in southern African related work we cite them here.
For he welcomed, in particular, our form of "critical support, . . . that special eagerness to see it done right [in southern Africa] because you believe in the project, not because you want to smear, not because you want to show how superior you are, but because the whole endeavour is an important one . . . . This kind of criticism is now more important than ever to us and there's far too little serious analytical attention being paid to our process . . . . [The experience] is very very rich, so much is happening in our country [and yet] it's not being theorized, it's not being analyzed, it's not being weighed up. We need that kind of balanced critical counsel and sense of involvement and appreciation that SAR provides."
Kind words, yes, and also encouraging ones. But somewhat more important than that. The phrase "critical support" - seen as presumptuous or, even worse, as patronizing towards those "on the front line" - has sometimes passed for fighting words in liberation support circles. Over the years there has been considerable flak for those who have taken that motto seriously and attempted to link up with progressive forces in southern Africa as comrades engaged in common struggle rather than as mere cheerleaders: exchanging experiences, learning from each other, debating, even criticizing. Yet, in our view, the case for this kind of relationship of give and take has always seemed strong. We've also come to the conclusion - such is the premise of our involvement in the South-South-North initiative chronicled in recent issues of SAR - that that case is now stronger than ever. Consider, after all, the complexities of the economic and political terrain in both North America and southern Africa and the realities of power that lie beyond the polls - a forcing house for common cause, premised, not least, on our shared vulnerability to the vagaries of the world market-place and global capitalism. It was good, then, to find encouragement for "critical support" being enunciated by Albie Sachs.
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Southern Africa Report
Contents - Vol 9 No 2
"South Africa: Preparing for Power"
Editorial: Of Polls and Power - 1
Amandla Ngwethu: The ANC and the Elections - 3
by Hein Marais and Chris Vick
History: The National Party's Albatross - 7
by Hein Marais
Chartering Women's Future - 9
by Sheila Meintjes
Malawi After the Referendum - 20
by Gerard L Kamanga
Staying Alive: Angola on the Ropes - 24
by David Pottie
Segregation IS an Issue - 26
by Wilmot G James
The Sanctions End Game - 28
by Don Ray
Brothers Born of Warrior Blood:
Ethnicity and Politics in South Africa - 30
review by Marit Stiles
War and Gender - 32
review by Thom Workman
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