Tag Archives: ANC

The Legacies of Apartheid

29 Apr

To what extent can we blame South Africa’s current situation on the historical legacies of the past, and in particular the 46 years of apartheid rule? This is a debate that has been reignited in South Africa in recent weeks following comments made by Trevor Manuel who served as Finance Minister from 1996 to 2008. A recent speech made to civil servants by Manuel led to headlines in the South African media such as ‘Manuel says government can’t blame apartheid anymore’. The last President under white-minority rule, FW de Klerk also entered the debate and rather unsurprisingly suggested that South Africa’s current difficulties cannot be explained by reference to its apartheid past. De Klerk concluded that looking back will only ‘stir up racial animosities that we simply cannot afford’. President Zuma then responded with a clear rebuttal of such claims, by arguing that ‘to suggest we cannot blame apartheid for what is happening in our country now, I think is a mistake to say the least’.

They way this ‘debate’ has been portrayed in the media leads to a false dichotomy where we either take the view that apartheid is to blame, or that the ANC government is at fault, for all of South Africa’s current ills. To put it simply, it is difficult to sustain the argument that the continuing failure of the ANC government to effectively deliver services and a better life for the population is simply a product of apartheid and the centuries of colonial rule that predated the election of the National Party in 1948. However, if we are to adequately understand the challenges faced by the current government then an appreciation of the past remains relevant.

The legacies of apartheid and the longer history of colonial rule are clear. The appropriation of land is just one aspect that continues to shape contemporary South Africa. This year marks 100 years since a key piece of legislation, the Natives Land Act (1913), was passed by the British colonial rulers. This reserved the vast majority of South Africa’s land for the white minority. The National Party government then extended this segregation through the Group Areas Act (1950), which resulted in the forced relocation of many South Africans. This geographical and social separation of racial groups during apartheid also resulted in psychological legacies that will continue to shape people’s attitudes for years to come. Since the ANC came to power in 1994 attempts have been made to implement land reform but these have been slow, to say the least, and based on a ‘willing-buyer willing-seller’ model that has proven incapable of rectifying years of unequal land ownership.

The education system under apartheid also saw systematic discrimination of the black majority with significantly lower spending per student than that spent on the white minority. Older generations within South Africa today continue to suffer the consequences of an education system that was designed to serve an economic system where skilled jobs were reserved for whites. As a result their children also suffer as a direct consequence of the denial of educational opportunities afforded to their parents.

However, to suggest that South Africa’s history is important, and to advocate for the incorporation of the legacies of apartheid into our analysis, should not excuse the ANC from a critical assessment of their performance as they approach two decades in power. After South Africa’s first multi-racial elections in 1994 the incoming government were faced with numerous challenges including high levels of inequality, unemployment and poverty. The ANC government has had choices to make in how it has responded to the situation it has faced over the last 19 years. The compromises it made during the negotiated transition to democracy, together with the adoption of a macroeconomic strategy that has prioritised creating a business-friendly economy conducive to attracting foreign investment, has meant that many of these legacies have proved more enduring than they might have otherwise been. Whilst the extension of government grants has prevented the growth in levels of absolute poverty, an OECD report published in 2010 suggested that income inequality (already very high at the end of the apartheid era) has risen during the post-apartheid era. Similarly, levels of unemployment remain persistently high among those sections of the population who suffered most under apartheid rule.

So President Zuma is right to suggest that the legacies of the past cannot be ignored, but by focusing on them we should not exonerate the current ANC government from taking some responsibility for the increasing socio-economic crisis which is engulfing South Africa.


Declinism and South Africa

2 Mar

Over recent months, international media coverage has portrayed South Africa as a ‘broken’ country. Only this week we have seen on our TV screens evidence of serious police brutality, which reminded me of many of the images from the 1980s that had such an impact on me as an impressionable teenager. Similarly, in August 2012 we watched in horror as striking platinum miners in Marikana were shot dead by police. Such events have generated a ‘declinist’ reading of the situation in South Africa, most aptly demonstrated by The Economist on the front cover of its non-UK edition in October 2012.Image

What is striking here (no pun intended) is that such views contrast quite sharply with the orthodox narrative used to depict developments in the rest of the African continent in recent years, which points to rapid rates of economic growth in a number of countries (in particular Angola and Nigeria) that in 2011 were dubbed ‘African Lions’ in the very same publication. It seems that South Africa is being singled out as an isolated case in a continent that is otherwise making economic advances. This perception provides the flip-side to earlier suggestions that Africa was the ‘hopeless continent’ when again South Africa was described as the exception to the rule.

Inside the 20th October 2012 issue the two articles ‘Cry, the beloved country’ and ‘Over the rainbow’ paint a worrying picture of the situation in South Africa as it approaches the end of two decades since the first multi-racial election. The assessment of what has gone wrong since 1994 suggests that the major causal factor has been the incompetence of the African National Congress (ANC), which has led the government throughout the post-apartheid period. Former President, Thabo Mbeki, and current incumbent Jacob Zuma, are charged with leading a party that has fostered corruption and has failed to attract the foreign investment needed to address rising inequality and the grinding poverty that is the daily existence of the majority of the population. The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), are claimed to have the ‘right ideas’ and striking miners are seen as a serious dent to South Africa’s reputation as a potential investment opportunity.

Whilst such analysis correctly identifies the key tensions in South African society – inequality, unemployment and poverty – and notes some of the undoubted failings of the ANC, it fails to identify the ideological alignment of the ANC government to neoliberalism and the place of South Africa within global capitalism as key parts of the ‘problem’. In this sense I was reminded of an article by John S. Saul entitled ‘Cry for the Beloved Country: The Post-Apartheid Denouement’ published back in 2001 in the Monthly Review.

Here Saul emphasises, as many have done, how the negotiated transition to democracy was designed as a way to organise the handover of political power to the ANC, whilst at the same time maintaining the continuity of capitalist economic relations and an acceptance of the dominant neoliberal orthodoxy. Saul’s conclusion that the transition has failed to address the underlying social relations within South Africa, despite being made over ten years ago, looks ever more pertinent as each year passes. The central premise of both the ANC’s economic strategy, and the analysis presented in The Economist, is the need to attract foreign investment to South Africa through a policy framework designed to create a set of business-friendly conditions. What is not questioned, however, are the potential consequences of such an unrestrained engagement with the global economy. It is this ideological side to the ANC’s hegemony within South Africa that is often ignored by those who focus on the more coercive measures adopted by the state to quash displays of discontent amongst South Africa’s justifiably impatient majority.

Whilst it is certainly true that South Africa needs a more effective government than the one it currently has, it also requires a significant shift to the left in ideological terms if it is to address such divisive socio-economic inequalities. It is becoming increasingly apparent that despite the removal of Mbeki, this is not possible within the confines of the ANC. The DA who argue in favour of the need for ‘an economy that is characterized primarily by the free choices of individuals’, offer little in the way of a genuine alternative, except for a potentially more efficient and less corrupt neoliberal state. The need for change runs much deeper than the mainstream declinist critics of the ANC government suggest.