If SA were a house...
South Africa’s Corporatised Liberation: A Critical Analysis of the ANC in Power by Dale T McKinley Jacana Media 208 pages R214 at takealot.com
Picture twentieth-century South Africa as a house. Having previously been built on foundations embedded in the systematic economic, racial and political oppression of the majority of its inhabitants, in the form of apartheid capitalism, the house comes to be controlled by the National Party (NP) as political landlords, in conjunction with white capital as economic landlords.
After much struggle and then negotiation, there is a handover of political landlords; the house has been “liberated”. The ANC replaces the NP and takes occupation of the stateroom. However, the economic landlords are allowed to retain their penthouse suite and it is soon revealed that in the handover agreement, the ANC has agreed to leave the house foundations well alone.
Subsequently, new house rules are adopted, some redesigning and construction of additional rooms takes place, and a new paint job is completed. All of this makes the house look much better than before and, indeed, the newly available rights, spaces and associated living conditions of the majority inhabitants are a definite improvement on the previous abode.
Nonetheless, as time goes on the new (political) and old (economic) landlords are slowly but surely upping the rent; charging the inhabitants for everything (including interroom toll fees); allowing the people’s rooms to fall into disrepair; changing the house rules to suit themselves; installing spy cams and bugs all over the place; hiring more house security and erecting higher walls around the property; taking all the best goodies from the pantry; removing much of the house cash and new rental profits out of the house; and, all the while, living it up in the constantly expanding and bling-style staterooms and penthouse suites.
Crucially, the landlords continue to ignore ever-clearer warning signs that the house foundations are structurally unsound.
Transposing that metaphor into a critical look at the realities of the last 20-odd years of South Africa’s journey confirms one thing beyond doubt: there can be no meaningful liberation for the majority without a simultaneous assault on and struggle against, the architecture that constitutes the foundational root of South Africa’s problems.
Plain and simple, it is a capitalist system, overlaid by a historical racialised construction and division, whose core being and practical purpose are the pursuit of a troika of profit, accumulation and enabling power. Liberation turns out to be little more than a political and racially framed shifting of the capitalist balcony chairs without a corresponding transformation of socioeconomic foundations.
Yet, to fully answer the questions as to why the ANC has done what is has and why things have turned out the way they have in post-apartheid South Africa, we need to link the “big” picture to the “small” one, the political to the personal. Whatever the structural realities, whatever the reading of the “balance of forces”, it is those in positions of leadership and power within the ANC who have changed themselves.
They have allowed themselves to be lured by the siren calls of power and money, to be sucked in by the prize of “capturing” institutional sites of power, to be seduced by the egoism and lifestyles of the capitalist elite.
By doing so, and in the most direct of ways, they have ensured that the ANC, constituted of both individual leaders and the organisational collective, has played a central role in negatively (re)shaping the landscape of political and socioeconomic possibility, of collective and personal social relations, of what it means to be an activist and public servant, of the entire concept and practice of “serving the people”.
Basic ethics or values of honesty, respect, humility, accountability, empathy, responsibility, solidarity and generosity that informed the huge personal sacrifices for, and collective moral power of, the liberation struggle in South Africa have been largely “forgotten” and cast aside. In the process, the “liberation” of post-1994 South Africa has been turned upside down.
Dishonesty and incompetence are either rewarded or simply ignored and replicated, while those who expose and confront the truth, who raise the alarm and who try to uphold collective, social as well as personal accountability are consistently punished, marginalised, labelled and made to feel like outcast spoilers who do not belong. It is as if those basic ethics/values have come to be seen as just another set of commodities, whose realisation only has meaning and application in the context of a self-beneficial application or commercial transaction.
What the ANC has truly forgotten is that how one lives is much more meaningful and important than where one lives, how much power and money one has or what institutional and social position one holds in society.
Simply put, the ANC has not practised what it has preached. No amount of revisionist history, discussion documents, conference resolutions, electoral manifestos, laws, or any other rationalisations have changed, or are going to change, that reality and the subsequent shaping impact. What the ANC in power has without doubt achieved, though, is to caricature and gnaw away at the dreams and desires of increasing numbers of the majority.
They have done so by attacking not only the material bases for the possible practical realisation of those dreams and desires, but also through the neoliberal embrace, the ideological and philosophical bases for having them at all. Many would expect the kind of choices made and subsequent behaviour shown by the ANC to be a natural part of the world of corporate capital, whose raison d’être is the pursuit and accumulation of power and money through exploitation, manipulation and inveterate personal, as well as collective corruption.
Indeed, prior to 1994 and in the first decade or so after its accession to power, there was a widespread expectation that the ANC and more especially its senior leadership would not abandon those basic ethics/values and when they were violated would act firmly to stamp them out. This was not only because of what was perceived as the personal moral consistency of some of its leaders, but because the majority expected a relatively seamless lineage between the broader ethos that informed the struggle for liberation and the ANC’s understanding and exercise of democratic power.
Those expectations have turned out to be illusions. Possibly more than any other component of the corporatised “model”, the dashing of those expectations has resulted in a generalised disillusionment alongside the increasing loss of popular sympathy with, and active support of, the ANC. It has also opened wide the door to a range of social and political practices and behaviour that now pose serious threats to the very viability of the ANC itself and to South Africa’s democracy.
INEQUALITY IN FULL VIEW Despite general advances, SA remains vastly unequal, with a small group retaining the economic power, conveniently ignoring their impoverished neighbours