SAR, Vol 8, No 2, November 1992
THE CENTRE CANNOT HOLD
Yugoslavia. Somalia. Things really do fall apart, and the grim realities of these two experiences - so graphically etched on our television screens - will haunt us for many years to come. Not that readers of Southern Africa Report need very much reminding about such things. Many of us have witnessed the devastating effects of the wars inflicted on Mozambique and Angola and the creation (in these cases to a very considerable degree by external fiat) of broken-backed societies that now teeter on the brink of collapse.
Indeed, as one of our articles - filed from Angola in advance of the recent elections but all too prescient - reminds us, such is the make-up of Unita that it has been ill-prepared (by South Africa, by the United States) to play anything other than a wrecker's role in Angola. Now, denied - fairly and squarely - an electoral victory by the MPLA on the centrist terrain offered by the new Angola, Unita threatens to continue with its violent activities ("Angola elections fail to end strife: Savimbi hints at more violence," The Globe and Mail , 19 October, 1992). A precedent has been established; in the words of one African diplomat in Luanda, "the message here seems to be: Whoever threatens to use guns dictates the rules." In this, Unita is said (in various news reports) to have exasperated even its "former patron," the United States. But in Angola (as may also prove true in Mozambique) it is perhaps a little too late to put the cork back in the bottle of chaos concocted by Washington and Pretoria over so many years.
The spectre of social and political breakdown also hovers over other articles in the present issue. John Saul's piece, written in the wake of his recent visit to South Africa, convincingly identifies South African president F. W. de Klerk as the principle architect of the failed transition to democracy there. Moreover, by perpetuating stalemate de Klerk does more than merely hold things constant. As Saul argues, under such circumstances, "things don't just stand still. They deteriorate." Perhaps it is true that, in South Africa, " `liberal centre' and `radical left' do increasingly agree that only a firmly democratic political system can promise the stable context for the debate and struggle that the country's future requires." But Saul worries about the very real dangers that loom if de Klerk "still refuses to embrace any such understanding."
Unfortunately, as we go to press, news reports suggest Saul's worries to be well-founded: "de Klerk delivers hard-line speech: Permanent sharing of power demanded" reads a representative headline ( The Globe and Mail , 13 October, 1992), fronting an article that finds de Klerk telling a special parliamentary session of his demands for, among other things, guarantees that "would effectively allow the National Party to keep its hand in government indefinitely as part of a multiparty government." And what of the on-going workings of the South African government's state security apparatus, with their grim unleashing of heedless violence that is so effectively exposed in Paulus Zulu's accompanying article in this issue? Can anyone doubt that the de Klerk's government's entire approach sanctions, even encourages, such activities and that these activities, too, help forestall the democratic outcome that alone offers any hope of averting further catastrophe?
There is a chillingly parallel theme running through Tony Woods' crisp exposť, also in the present issue, of the attempts by the clique grouped around Malawian president Kamuzu Banda to side- track escalating democratic demands in that country and cling to power. Woods' article, in documenting that there are real forces for change afoot in Malawi, complements Mel Page's piece in an earlier issue of SAR ("Malawi: Revolution without Leadership?, SAR , July, 1992). But Woods also emphasizes the long-term costs of the destructive manner in which Banda and company are choosing to resist change (the attempt to divide and rule by stirring up ethnic and regional resentments, for example). "The tragedy in Banda's obstinacy is that it will inevitably lead to increased civil disorder and greater economic dislocation," writes Woods. In short, in Malawi as in South Africa, one is reminded all too forcibly of Gramsci's remark that "the crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appears"!
* * *
The need to keep pressure, both international and local, on the de Klerks and the Bandas in order to convince them to yield, reasonably gracefully, to democratic demands should be self-evident, then. A second question does arise, however: if even the centre cannot easily hold, what, we might well ask, does this mean for the left?
There are some who will argue that the blocking of the road to constitutional compromise in South Africa by the likes of de Klerk and Buthelezi is actually a boon to the cause of structural-cum-socialist reconstruction there. With the weaknesses of the negotiations option now exposed, they suggest, the need to make a "real revolution" instead is also fully apparent. One fears, however, that the alternative to finding a measure of agreement regarding the acceptance of democratic institutions - within which some form of necessary "class struggle" might then be pursued - is more likely to be chaos than any very useful kind of revolution.
If this is true, the best hope for the future in South Africa may lie with those who seek to steer a course, in John Saul's words, between "the twin dangers of, on the one hand, a romantic (and ultimately all-too-rhetorical) ultra-revolutionary approach and, on the other, collapse into a mild reformism that will do little to alter the balance of inherited class power and conservative/technocratic decision-making." Saul, in his article, calls this a strategy of "structural reform," others term it "revolutionary reform." In the present issue Karl von Holdt helps concretize such abstract concepts by discussing the notion, very much alive within the ranks of South Africa's trade union movement, of "strategic unionism." This concept epitomizes the attempt to discover a practice, at once realistic and radical, that will allow working class power slowly but surely to shift things to the left, even as democratic political institutions are themselves consolidated.
And what of "the left" beyond South Africa? It is a hard fact that in Mozambique and Angola the attempt to consolidate, against the pull of chaos, a more centrist (more liberal-democratic/liberal-capitalist) political dispensation has meant the abandonment of much of the progressive promise of socialist experimentation there. And in other countries in the region - where more conservative regimes have been the order of the day (Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi) - the push towards "democracy" has also seemed to go hand in hand with ever more extreme forms of "free market" policies.
Yet an achieved democratization of the political arena would be no bad thing, whether in Mozambique or in Malawi. Under southern African conditions (as Marcia Burdette argued in discussing Zambia in a recent issue [Democracy vs . Economic Liberalization: The Zambian Dilemma, SAR , July, 1992]), a sharp contradiction is, in any event, likely to surface sooner or later between the imperatives of economic liberalization on the one hand and those of political democratization on the other. And the playing out of this contradiction may merely herald a fresh round of authoritarian regimes further down the road as free-marketeering politicians move to contain the protests of those who are being further impoverished by the workings of structural adjustment and related programmes.
Yet nothing is irredeemably inevitable. Much will depend on how effectively popularly-based groups now use the democratic space that is at least momentarily available to them in order to create broad constituencies deeply rooted within civil society and available for future political activism. In this respect the interview we publish here with Zimbabwean activist, Regis Mtutu, forms a useful pendant to Karl von Holdt's article on South Africa. From Mtutu's account, we also glimpse the process of forging a popular movement and a popular consciousness that can keep alive the struggle for humane outcomes - and for new forms of unity constructed around the imperatives of such a struggle. Things fall apart? It ain't necessarily so, sez us.
- 30 -
Contents - Vol 8 No 2
Editorial: The Centre Cannot Hold - 1
Mass Action: South Africa's Second Referendum - 4
by John S Saul
Political Violence and the "Third Force - 8
by Paulus Zulu
The Rise of Strategic Unionism - 13
by Karl von Holdt
The High Costs of Obstinacy: Banda Hangs On - 17
by Tony Woods
Dishonourable Degree - 29
by John Daniel
Down with "Bleak Despair" - 31
by Paul Fauvet
Your Vision or Mine? - 33
by Don Scott
... from Jamaica - 33
by Horace Levy
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.