The best of South African literature
The snaking queues of citizens in April 1994 were a resounding riposte to the right wing, writes Z. Pallo Jordan.
On trial for his life on charges of sabotage, Nelson Mandela on April 20, 1964 delivered an eloquent account of the values and ideals that motivated him and his fellow accused to take the actions they were charged with.
He said: “The Magna Carta, the Petition of Rights, and the Bill of Rights are documents which are held in veneration by democrats throughout the world. I have great respect for British political institutions, and for the country’s system of justice. I regard the British parliament as the most democratic institution in the world, and the independence and impartiality of its judiciary never fail to arouse my admiration.
“The American congress, that country’s doctrine of separation of powers, as well as the independence of its judiciary, arouses in me similar sentiments.
“I have been influenced in my thinking by both West and East. All this has led me to feel that in my search for a political formula, I should be absolutely impartial and objective. I should tie myself to no particular system of society other than of socialism. I must leave myself free to borrow the best from the West and from the East.”
He concluded with a statement that was as prophetic as it was defiant: “It is not true that the enfranchisement of all will result in racial domination. Political division, based on colour, is entirely artificial and, when it disappears, so will the domination of one colour group by another. The ANC has spent half a century fighting against racialism. When it triumphs it will not change that policy.
“This then is what the ANC is fighting for. Their struggle is a truly national one. It is a struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and their own experience. It is a struggle for the right to live. During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Thirty years of struggle later, again in April, seven days after the anniversary of his famous address, for the first time in his life, Nelson Mandela cast his vote in South Africa’s first democratic elections.
A year earlier, on April 10, 1993, an anti-communist fanatic of Polish descent had murdered Chris Hani in the driveway of his home. Hani’s assassination was a desperate attempt to abort the transition to democracy that commenced with Mandela’s release from prison in February 1990.
Confident that the white state and the white community had a near monopoly on violence and military superiority, the white right, who could not reconcile themselves to the arrival of democracy, prepared elaborate plots to incite open war. Mandela’s immense moral authority averted the bloodletting those murderers had hoped to inspire.
The white right claimed trained armed militias numbering thousands. They made a disastrous last-ditch stand in March 1994. A popular coup overthrew the Bantustan government in Mmabatho. Called on to assist by Lucas Mangope, they withdrew after an African soldier shot three right winger. A sabotage campaign that ended on the week of the 27th claimed a number of lives.
South Africans, black and white, delivered a resounding riposte to the right wing’s violence in those snaking queues of citizens of every hue and creed, patiently exercising their right to vote. They constituted a collective commitment that whatever our problems were, henceforth we would address them through democratic processes and institutions.
The ANC’s unprecedented landslide presented Parliament with a logistical problem. Finding the ANC a caucus room, ironically, was solved by allocating it the old assembly, where Malan, Strijdom, Verwoerd and Vorster at one time elaborated their comprehensive oppressive system.
The ANC had undoubtedly received the people’s mandate to govern the country, but, Madiba warned, the opponents of change still disposed of impressive reserves of power which they would use to thwart, or at least slow down, the pace of change.
The Guardian’s Sean Jacobs lamented that “transformation has been slow to come to the vast majority of South Africans” when he visited South Africa in March last year. Despite such assessments, South Africa has changed significantly during the 20 years of democracy. Most visible has been the rise in annual disposable income of all South Africans, reflected in a sharp increase of the percentage of the population in LSM bands 5 to 10. In addition to casting open the doors of opportunity formerly barred to black South Africans, the statutory abolition of racism has completely transformed the political culture of the country. This is a direct dividend of democracy. In sociological terms, within the space of a single generation, among large numbers of the previously disadvantaged, their newly acquired social mobility was an outcome of democracy.
The most dramatic expression of this trend is the exponential growth of the African middle class. Though Africans are still predominantly poor, the growth and expansion of this middle class indicates that they will soon dominate the domestic consumer market. Social grants, now accessible to all the indigent, regardless of race or creed, places money in the hands of even the poorest and wards off hunger.
Under the guidance of then-deputy president Thabo Mbeki, the stern hands of a cluster of ministers in the Mandela cabinet administered a homegrown structural adjustment programme to democratic South Africa, enabling the country to ride out the worst international economic crisis since 1929.
But that required the deferral of a number of objectives the liberation movement had set itself.
The political landscape was totally transformed by April 27, 1994. Having come to terms with the imperative to participate in the historic transformation or be left by the wayside, the two holdouts, the IFP and Constand Viljoen’s Freedom Front, were represented in the first democratic parliament. By the following election in 1999, it was evident that the appeal of ethnic chauvinism, black or white, was on the decline. The stress lines in the ANC’s broad church also began to show themselves when Bantu Holomisa formed his United Democratic Movement after his expulsion from the ANC. The inauguration of Cope in 2008 suggested a slow dismantling of the alliance the ANC had built between 1969 and 1994. The emergence of the EFF after the expulsion of Julius Malema seemed to confirm the trend. Some pundits predict that after its 20-year dominance, the ANC faces a future during which it will have to fend off challengers derived from among its own ranks.
The deracialisation of crime is among the negative consequences of democracy. April 27, 1994 arrived in a country recovering from a violent liberation struggle in an environment of pending civil war. The country was awash with illegal weapons. To compound matters, democratic South Africa became an attractive destination and transit route for transnational criminal syndicates.
The political dominance of the African majority has yet to enable it to deracialise property ownership in South Africa. Cecil John Rhodes remains the embodiment of the intersection of political power with immense economic power. White economic empowerment measures dating from the Kimberley Diggers’ Democracy of 1872 ensure that despite the visible progress, white males still dominate the economy and its corporate boardrooms.
The British used their artillery and concentration camps to impose their political domination. The Afrikaner elite devised its own political strategy, a condition of which was the disenfranchisement of the black majority. The striking similarities between the National Party’s 1948 election victory and the ANC’s in 1994 are a function of an African political elite’s effort to emulate the Anglos and Afrikaners; using control of the state to leverage its social advancement.
The rapacious character of the emergent black propertied classes apes that of their white predecessors. The scandalous conduct of the “Singhs”, “Ndlovus” and “Dlaminis” of today replicates the conduct the “Hoggenheimers” and the “Van der Merwes” of yesteryear. At the third tier of government, election to political office can mean a job and a salary. With political office come opportunities for patronage, often the thin edge of corruption. Social justice, once a central concern of the ANC, has been placed on a back burner during this transition.
China became the world’s second largest economy in less than four decades. But it required a political and social revolution of huge proportions to release the latent energies of that country.
South Africa needs a social compact among all key economic players to agree on a strategy to reconfigure the template on which our economy has been built. We celebrate democracy’s 20th birthday with an industrial strategy, the National Development Plan, that could equip our country to become more globally competitive during the 21st century.
* Pallo Jordan is a former minister of arts and culture and member of the ANC NEC.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.