F R A G M E N T S O F T H E D A W N
In 1986 revolutionary thinker, educationalist and former Robben Island prisoner Neville Alexander told the NI that ‘people’s expectations have been raised to a point where a black capitalist government wouldn’t be able to satisfy them’. Is that true now?
We were clear, even in 1986, that it was merely a matter of time before apartheid was overthrown. But none of us foresaw two things. One was that the ‘serious’ right-wing people like General Viljoen and the whole group of generals around him would be willing to bargain. We expected them to fight it out. The other was the extent to which the ANC would be ready to make compromises on issues of principle.
I know Mandela very well. He’s essentially a pragmatist, somebody who is not married to any particular idea in an irrevocable way – though he is clearly against racism and prepared to struggle for a non-racial solution.
The one thing you have to understand about the ANC strategy is that they want to avoid a civil war at all costs. They are prepared to compromise on virtually everything in order to avoid that. Their real problem is the right wing. They know that as time goes on it will become more and more difficult for the right wing, the repressive apparatus, to cause serious trouble. At the moment – as I think I was the first in this country to say – the ANC have come into office but not into power. They want to move as quickly as possible from one to the other, but until then they will vacillate and try to neutralize any potential eruptions.
There has been in South Africa, let’s say for the last decade and a half, a kind of message of redemption – liberation in a broad sense. As long as capitalism was clearly equated with the racism of apartheid, socialism was the antithesis. Today, because blacks are in office and also associated with capitalism, this is no longer so.
Black consciousness, African nationalism and so on have come to the end of the road because they have compromised with capitalism. The aura around the ANC in particular – but also around the Pan Africanist Congress and the Azanian Peoples Organization – is going to evaporate. Middle-class blacks are beginning to identify with the system. That system is now a capitalist system, not simply the racist one of apartheid. More and more black workers, urban and rural poor, are beginning to realize that the colour of the exploiter has changed, that the system is colour-blind and that they’ve now got to fight the system, not the whites.
So I think the basis is there for a workers’ party, a broadly anti-capitalist movement. Workers have to be able to project themselves politically, and they can only do so through an independent workers’ party. It has happened in Brazil, it has happened in other countries and South Africa is going to follow suit.
If the system remains stable then the ANC can maintain power for a very long time. The most stabilizing thing that could happen would be a ‘noble gesture’ on the part of the leadership of the wealthy. If symbolically important white leaders were to say: ‘We are prepared to call on all the people who have been beneficiaries of apartheid to allow themselves to be taxed at least one or two per cent for 10 years, with a view to augmenting the Reconstruction and Development Programme fund,’ that would, I think, do most towards stabilizing the situation. But these fellows just haven’t thought of it. Not even the Church, by the way, has suggested such a gesture.
Stability also depends upon economic development. The ANC originally put forward the notion of ‘growth through redistribution’. But they’ve moved away from that already. Now it’s just ‘growth and redistribution’. The original idea has been thrown away and we’re sliding towards so-called ‘export-led’ growth. So things go on much as before in a sort of 50-per-cent society, with unemployment between 40 and 50 per cent, while in the Eastern Cape, for example, people are virtually destitute.
The political space that has been created by the attainment of the franchise is really tremendous. There’s no question that in the long term a transformation is possible. In education, as I know from my own work, there are things you can do now which even a few months ago you wouldn’t even have thought of doing. The question is whether such things can become the property of everyone.
Neville Alexander is Director of the Project for the Study of Alternative Education at the University of Cape Town and Chairperson of the Workers Organization for Socialist Action.
©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995