Long his­tory and short, hard lessons

Poor train­ing and ram­pant cor­rup­tion are rob­bing the ANC of its dream, writes Heidi Hol­land

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SOUTH Africa’s first demo­cratic elec­tion was held in April 1994. Arch­bishop Des­mond Tutu, vot­ing for the first time in his life, de­clared: “It is an in­cred­i­ble feel­ing, like fall­ing in love… It’s like a new birth. We are go­ing to be the rain­bow peo­ple of the world.”

Af­ter an 82-year strug­gle for a non-racial so­ci­ety, the ANC swept to vic­tory with 252 of the 400 seats in the new par­lia­ment. When the new leg­is­la­tors gath­ered in Cape Town for the first time, they chose Nel­son Man­dela as their state pres­i­dent. In a stir­ring cli­max to a le­gendary strug­gle, he was in­au­gu­rated the next day in the am­phithe­atre of Pre­to­ria’s Union Build­ings be­fore 150 mon­archs and heads of govern­ment.

The na­tion’s re­birth had come per­ilously close to col­lapse over the pre­ced­ing months, hov­er­ing on the brink of civil war as the Zulu Inkatha move­ment, die-hard white con­ser­va­tives and “independent” ban­tus­tan gov­ern­ments threat­ened to use force to thwart in­evitable ANC rule. When Chris Hani was found dead in a pool of blood by his young daugh­ter in the drive­way of their home on Easter Satur­day, 1993, the abyss beck­oned par­tic­u­larly alarm­ingly. But free­dom broke through the chaos, and what a joy the post-elec­tion cel­e­bra­tions were for strug­gle weary South Africans.

Every­thing pos­i­tive and pro­gres­sive seemed pos­si­ble when the tri­umphant lib­er­a­tion move­ment took over in 1994. Hav­ing won ad­mi­ra­tion in­ter­na­tion­ally for its peace­ful tran­si­tion to democ­racy af­ter cen­turies of con­flict, hopes were high that the most ad­mired man on the planet, Nel­son Man­dela, would con­quer the na­tion’s bit­ter di­vi­sions.

Dur­ing the ANC’S early years in power, South Africa was run col­lab­o­ra­tively by Nel­son Man­dela and his deputy, Thabo Mbeki. Madiba, as the el­der states­man was af­fec­tion­ately known, con­cen­trated on the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion work that so ur­gently needed to be done in the racially tor­mented coun­try, and for which he had un­usual tal­ent and en­thu­si­asm. Mbeki took care of the daunt­ingly di­verse ad­min­is­tra­tive re­forms in­volved in dis­man­tling apartheid.

Although the ANC had in­her­ited an econ­omy that was vir­tu­ally bank­rupt af­ter years of sanc­tions and mis­man­age­ment, with the coun­try’s as­sets al­most exclusively in white hands, the new govern­ment had an ar­ray of promis­ing so­lu­tions to the world’s worst in­equal­ity. To spread wealth a lit­tle more evenly, it in­tro­duced black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment ( BEE), the idea be­ing to cre­ate a black mid­dle class. Com­pa­nies with more than 50 em­ploy­ees and rev­enues of at least R5 mil­lion a year were to be given a rat­ing based on how much of their eq­uity was owned by blacks, how many of the top posts were held by the for­merly dis­ad­van­taged, what train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties were open to them, and so forth. The higher a com­pany’s rat­ing, the bet­ter its chances of be­ing awarded lu­cra­tive pub­lic con­tracts.

An­other black em­pow­er­ment project in­volved the coun­try’s land, which blacks had not even been al­lowed to rent un­der the Land Act of 1913. By 1994, 87 per­cent of South Africa’s agri­cul­tural tracts be­longed to whites. As the ANC had long in­tended, the new govern­ment quickly an­nounced that it would re­dis­tribute 30 per­cent of white­owned farms to poor blacks within five years on a “will­ing buyer, will­ing seller” ba­sis. Along­side this re­form, it an­nounced an end to the feu­dal work re­la­tion­ship that had af­flicted farm work­ers for gen­er­a­tions.

Clear­ing out most of the coun­try’s white civil ser­vants (in­clud­ing tal­ented teach­ers and some of South Africa’s best-qual­i­fied po­lice of­fi­cers and town plan­ners) by of­fer­ing gen­er­ous sev­er­ance pack­ages, the ANC was soon boast­ing about the pro­por­tion of whites in the pub­lic sec­tor hav­ing fallen from 44 per­cent to 18 per­cent. That they were usu­ally re­placed by in­ex­pe­ri­enced and of­ten poorly qual­i­fied ANC loy­al­ists was not con­sid­ered a prob­lem com­pared with the ob­vi­ously press­ing need for the ANC to pro­vide jobs for its sup­port­ers.

But although whole­sale em­ploy­ment of blacks in­stead of whites and all man­ner of af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion was un­der­stand­able and just in the cir­cum­stances, the former op­pres­sor had un­for­tu­nately set the ANC up to fail in govern­ment by with­hold­ing qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion from blacks un­der apartheid and by fail­ing to pro­vide any­thing more than me­nial em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for Africans dur­ing half a cen­tury of National Party rule.

Per­haps in­evitably, given Africa’s post-colo­nial track record of bad gov­er­nance, things be­gan to go wrong. Not only did in­ef­fi­cien­cies and mis­man­age­ment es­ca­late in daily life in the form of ram­pant crime due to poor polic­ing, elec­tric­ity black­outs, de­clin­ing ed­u­ca­tion and health fa­cil­i­ties and stan­dards, as well as in­nu­mer­able potholes on roads na­tion­wide, but the ANC’S sys­tem of “cadre de­ploy­ment” – the ap­point­ment of loyal party mem­bers to well- paid pub­lic posts for which they were not nec­es­sar­ily suit­ably qual­i­fied – made mat­ters steadily worse.

Thabo Mbeki, hav­ing suc­ceeded Man­dela as pres­i­dent in 1999, brought a brief African­ist twist to the ANC’S in­creas­ingly er­ratic de­ci­sions. An in­tense, thin- skinned politi­cian who had played an im­por­tant role in the psy­cho­log­i­cal con­quest of Afrikan­er­dom, Mbeki smoked thought­fully on a pipe, a habit that came across as ur­bane and cre­ated the sense of a black English­man whose so­phis­ti­ca­tion was far re­moved from white stereo­types of Africans. Hav­ing been one of the few vis­i­ble ANC lead­ers while he was in ex­ile, how­ever, Mbeki’s fault lines were ap­par­ent early on – con­trol freak­ery, a soft spot for pompous pre­sen­ta­tions as well as a ten­dency to make de­ci­sions that were clouded by race.

Bring­ing his un­der­ground para­noia with him from Lusaka, Mbeki’s in­sta­bil­ity at the helm be­came

‘The former op­pres­sor had un­for­tu­nately set the ANC up to fail in govern­ment by with­hold­ing qual­ity ed­u­ca­tion’

ap­par­ent in 2001 when he ac­cused three of his ri­vals – Cyril Ramaphosa, Mathews Phosa and Tokyo Sexwale – of plot­ting to oust him. In ex­ile, the mere men­tion of in­ter­nal ANC sab­o­tage or spy­ing would have been enough to de­stroy an op­po­nent. Fur­ther­more, Mbeki’s ec­cen­tric ideas on Zim­babwe’s rocky road to democ­racy alien­ated many of his former ad­mir­ers. He then made a fool of him­self as the en­tire world con­demned his in­ex­pli­ca­ble and heart­less Aids de­nial­ism…

As his pop­u­lar­ity waned at home and re­spect for him died abroad, pres­i­dent Mbeki ex­pressed his acute wari­ness of whites a few months be­fore be­ing de­posed by his beloved ANC. He spoke bit­terly and em­bar­rass­ingly dur­ing a pub­lic lec­ture in 2007 of the “chal­lenge to de­feat the cen­turies-old at­tempt to dwarf the sig­nif­i­cance of our man­hood, to treat us as chil­dren, to de­fine us as sub­hu­mans whom na­ture has con­demned to be in­fe­rior to white peo­ple, an an­i­mal-like species char­ac­terised by lim­ited in­tel­lec­tual ca­pac­ity, bes­tial­ity, las­civ­i­ous­ness and moral de­prav­ity, obliged in our own in­ter­est to ac­cept that the white seg­ment of hu­man­ity should, in per­pe­tu­ity, serve as our lord and mas­ter”.

Think­ing Africans ex­pressed dis­ap­proval at the way some of their prom­i­nent peers played the race card when things dis­pleased them… Like Mbeki, most South Africans tried to be even- handed but re­mained racially and eth­ni­cally prej­u­diced. A few months af­ter he was turfed out of of­fice, a se­ries of hor­rific xeno­pho­bia at­tacks across South Africa left 62 dead and 670 in­jured.

Mbeki was a tal­ented me­di­a­tor who brought a long war in the Congo to a close. Since 2003, fight­ing in that coun­try has been in­ter­mit­tent and lo­calised, and there can be no doubt that Mbeki’s 2002 Sun City Agree­ment saved hundreds of thou­sands of lives.

He was also an able ad­min­is­tra­tor, in­tro­duc­ing masses of vi­tal leg­is­la­tion and hu­man rights re­forms. But he drove the coun­try to­wards cen­tralised con­trol, se­ri­ously dam­ag­ing the ef­fi­cacy of Par­lia­ment in the process. His African­ism meant that whites be­came less ev­i­dent in the state’s top, highly skilled po­si­tions even though blacks lacked the skills and ex­pe­ri­ence to fill the gaps. Some whites had em­i­grated, but a 2007 study found only 1 400 civil en­gi­neers left in lo­cal govern­ment (three for ev­ery 100 000 cit­i­zens, com­pared with 21 two decades ear­lier). One-third of lo­cal au­thor­i­ties had no en­gi­neers of any sort. Only 7 per cent of sewage treat­ment plants met in­ter­na­tional stan­dards. “The ter­ri­ble short­age of hu­man cap­i­tal is now the sin­gle most im­por­tant rea­son for ques­tion­ing SA’S abil­ity to move for­ward,” ac­cord­ing to Azar Jam­mine, head of the con­sul­tancy Econometrix.

BEE did not spread equal­ity as in­tended. Cre­at­ing some ex­tremely wealthy black in­di­vid­u­als and a small African mid­dle class very rapidly dur­ing Mbeki’s pres­i­dency, it failed to ben­e­fit the masses. Re­dis­tri­bu­tion of land on a con­sen­sual ba­sis was so poorly ad­min­is­tered that it re­sulted in only 6 per­cent of farms hav­ing changed hands by 2010. The govern­ment’s at­tempts to lib­er­ate farm labour­ers by try­ing to force em­ploy­ers to take ma­te­rial re­spon­si­bil­ity for res­i­dent work­ers and their fam­i­lies re­sulted in­stead in large numbers of un­skilled ru­ral black peo­ple be­ing evicted by white farm­ers. The sub­se­quent boil­ing over of deep re­sent­ments – cou­pled with in­creased ex­pec­ta­tions of im­mi­nent change from farm dwellers as well as their em­ploy­ers’ fears of the new dis­pen­sa­tion – so hard­ened at­ti­tudes on both sides that over 3 000 white farm­ers and mem­bers of their fam­i­lies have been mur­dered in iso­lated home­steads since 1994 by mainly dis­af­fected, dis­pos­sessed former farm work­ers.

There have been many achieve­ments in SA since 1994, the ANC’S suc­cesses in of­fice out­weigh­ing the fail­ures in the eyes of the ma­jor­ity of its cit­i­zens – most of whom still vote for the party in reg­u­lar, well-or­gan­ised elec­tions. Apart from the as­cen­dancy of black rule hav­ing purged South Africans of the pain and in­dig­nity of apartheid, the coun­try has pro­vided wel­fare ben­e­fits for 15 mil­lion peo­ple; been wel­comed back into the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity; cut its mur­der rate by 50 per­cent over re­cent years; al­most erad­i­cated se­vere mal­nu­tri­tion among the un­der-fives; in­creased school en­rol­ment to nearly 100 per­cent; and es­tab­lished the world’s big­gest an­tiretro­vi­ral treat­ment pro­gramme for HIV/AIDS.

The worst prob­lem con­fronting the ANC in of­fice is cor­rup­tion, both moral and ma­te­rial. “I didn’t join the strug­gle to be poor,” said Smuts Ngonyama de­fen­sively when ac­cused of un­fair busi­ness prac­tices in 2007. His re­mark epit­o­mised a pre­vail­ing cul­ture of en­ti­tle­ment in the rul­ing party. Paul Hoff­man of the SA In­sti­tute for Ac­count­abil­ity es­ti­mates that cor­rup­tion is en­demic through­out the pub­lic sec­tor, partly be­cause so few cases are pros­e­cuted. “From top to bot­tom, the at­ti­tude seems to be: if ev­ery­one else is able to act with im­punity, why shouldn’t I?” He es­ti­mates that about a third of the ANC’S 86-mem­ber national ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee has been in­ves­ti­gated for fraud or other crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity – in­clud­ing the party’s fourth postapartheid leader, Ja­cob Zuma.

As the pres­i­dent fol­low­ing Kgalema Mot­lanthe – the care­taker who stepped el­e­gantly into the job for a few months af­ter Mbeki’s un­seemly re­moval from power by a pop­ulist al­liance at Polok­wane in the last days of 2007 – Zuma was a pro­fes­sional spy and former head of ANC In­tel­li­gence dur­ing the lib­er­a­tion years.

A proud Zulu, well liked by most of his po­lit­i­cal col­leagues, he lacked Mbeki’s sharp, ed­u­cated ap­proach but his gen­tle wit and gen­uine non­ra­cial­ism made him a favourite among Afrikaner ne­go­tia­tors in the dis­trust­ful at­mos­phere that pre­vailed at the time of Nel­son Man­dela’s re­lease from prison.

‘About a third of the ANC’S 86-mem­ber national ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee have been in­ves­ti­gated’

This is an ex­tract from 100 Years of Strug­gle – Man­dela’s ANC by Heidi Hol­land, pub­lished by Pen­guin at a rec­om­mended re­tail price of R220.


COM­RADES IN ARMS: Dur­ing the ANC’S early years in power, SA was run col­lab­o­ra­tively by Nel­son Man­dela and his deputy, Thabo Mbeki. Man­dela con­cen­trated on the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion work that ur­gently needed to be done. Mbeki took care of the di­verse ad­min­is­tra­tive re­forms in­volved in dis­man­tling apartheid.

OLD SPY: Ja­cob Zuma.

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