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For Dr Simphiwe Sesanti to suggest that Madiba genuflected before Harry Oppenheimer is unbearably insulting, says Trevor Manuel.
Cape Town - The op-ed article by Dr Simphiwe Sesanti “Was Mandela’s hand forced?” (October 31) refers.
Dr Sesanti occupies a very special place in society as a senior lecturer in a school of journalism because he has the ability to shape the style of future outputs by journalists, who influence opinions massively.
The strength of his argument and the sources he uses are therefore of special interest, and, in the instance of this article, exceedingly disappointing. His forceful conclusion that “Black journalists must not fail in this regard, or our children will spit on our graves when we are no more”, amplifies the problem.
The fundamental issue is that sources of information matter.
On the subject of South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy, there are myriad primary sources, people who were actually involved in the process, readily available.
In fact, Dr Sesanti could do far worse than to deploy his class to speak to a range of such individuals – from both sides of the former divide. In addition, and for verification, there is a wealth of actual documentation available in the archives of Parliament and of the political parties involved in the negotiations. Our constitution is, after all, still only 17 years old.
The fatal errors that Dr Sesanti commits, firstly is to use predominantly a single source, and secondly that the source is Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine.
The enquiring journalist’s mind should ask questions such as, “Was she there?”, “How deep is her understanding of the politics of South Africa?”, “How authoritative is she as a source?” and “Is this the best available body of information about my country?”
Moreover, given his objective is to argue that “the media in general should investigate the failures of African governments to serve black people”, his reliance on an American source, who happens to be white, is quite perverse.
Let me cite just three of the issues on which Ms Klein – and therefore Dr Sesanti who quotes her extensively – is plainly wrong.
But before that, it is quite impossible to explore these issues without examining, among others, the phenomenal contribution of then ANC president, OR Tambo, in initiating a process on constitutional principles, the result of which is evident in the founding provisions, the preamble and bill of rights to our constitution; how the talks were initiated by the ANC in exile, mobilising support through allies, especially in Africa that culminated in the adoption of the Harare Declaration; and how Nelson Mandela himself forced the issue from within prison, always deferring to Tambo in the process.
What Dr Sesanti must appreciate is that the negotiated settlement was led by the same people who led the campaign for the international isolation of the apartheid regime, the armed struggle, the internal underground and the mass democratic movement.
It was not foisted on the liberation movement, rather it was the movement that could claim the process itself as the fruits of struggle. To believe anything else would be to demean every iota of sacrifice made in the struggle for liberation.
Let me explain a few of the Klein/Sesanti misconceptions peddled.
Firstly, there is the issue of nationalisation. Indeed, there was the note smuggled out of prison, and there was the statement that Madiba made on February 11, 1990, the day of his release.
But there was the softening of that stance as he became more involved in the leadership collective of the ANC and able to access a variety of evidence. To suggest, or repeat the notion that Madiba and Thabo Mbeki genuflected before Harry Oppenheimer is unbearably insulting.
Meeting people, in order to persuade them is an essential part of political discourse, to believe anything else would turn a country into a clone of Pol Pot.
I will reserve comment on the larger debate on the nationalisation of mineral resources, and on the costs of mining, for another debate.
Secondly, the lie that “On the negotiating table, the ANC accepted an agreement where the central bank would be run autonomously and headed by the same man who ran it under apartheid”, is repeated.
If Dr Sesanti bothered checking he would know of the shift in thinking in the ANC on the independence of the SA Reserve Bank, and that the proposal to create an independent monetary authority was put on the table by the ANC for sound economic reasons.
There was no negotiation about who would be the governor, and similarly, the choice of Derek Keys as finance minister (it was he who imposed the reconstruction levy on the wealthy), followed by Chris Liebenberg was a strategic choice by Madiba, acting with the support of the ANC leadership.
I know, I was there, as head of the ANC Department of Economic Planning, and I was consulted on each of these appointments.
Thirdly, there is the uninformed argument about servicing apartheid debt and how the big social programme was undermined by this.
If Dr Sesanti, or his single source, Naomi Klein, bothered to check, they would know that apartheid debt was owed to South African workers and pensioners.
The successful disinvestment campaign meant that the apartheid regime had been isolated and could borrow from neither the World Bank, nor from global capital markets.
Now we can compute in fine detail what the impact of wiping off of the nation’s contractual savings at that stage would have been. The havoc of having ordinary people who could not retire because their savings would have been eliminated, and a government that could not borrow because it would have been deemed an unworthy borrower, would have been far, far worse than what we lived through. The fiscal records of social spending and prudence speak much more articulately about how choices were exercised, than I can.
My pleading is that Dr Sesanti lives up to what he (hopefully) expects of his students, in the spirit of the old maxim, “You are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts”.
Please do not repeat untruths when, in fact, you have access to a trove of facts right before you, Dr Sesanti.
* Planning Minister Trevor Manuel was a member of the ANC National Executive Committee from 1991-2012. He writes in his own capacity.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.