Need for repa­ra­tions still with us

The ANC’S wellmean­ing at­tempts at re­dress have failed, which means the is­sue has yet to be prop­erly ad­dressed

Mail & Guardian - - News - Wil­liam Gumede

One of the big­gest lim­i­ta­tions of the Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion (TRC) was its fail­ure to pro­vide re­dress or repa­ra­tions for the vic­tims of apartheid.

Fol­low­ing long pe­ri­ods of vi­o­lent re­pres­sive poli­cies such as slav­ery, colo­nial­ism and apartheid, eco­nomic re­dress or repa­ra­tions for the vic­tims is a cru­cial re­quire­ment for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Repa­ra­tions recog­nise the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the state and non­state per­pe­tra­tors for the op­pres­sion.

We are liv­ing in an epoch when eco­nomic util­ity af­fords in­di­vid­u­als val­i­da­tion, value, agency, dig­nity, power and free­dom.

The vic­tims of apartheid were left with its so­cioe­co­nomic mald­is­tri­bu­tion, which still favours the for­mer op­pres­sors. For rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, the fo­cus must be on forms of re­dis­tri­bu­tion that favour the his­tor­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged and on an ac­knowl­edge­ment of the vic­tims’ suf­fer­ing and an af­fir­ma­tion of so­cial equal­ity.

The TRC’S power of com­pen­sa­tion was lim­ited. It pro­posed a once-off wealth tax on in­di­vid­u­als, a repa­ra­tions fund to be con­trib­uted to by busi­nesses and the re­struc­tur­ing of the apartheid debt. None of th­ese was im­ple­mented.

One can ar­gue that, since 1994, the ANC gov­ern­ment has adopted collective eco­nomic re­dis­tri­bu­tion strate­gies in lieu of in­di­vid­ual repa­ra­tions.

The first of th­ese was to bring pub­lic ser­vices, such as eq­ui­table ed­u­ca­tion, health and polic­ing, to pre­vi­ously dis­ad­van­taged peo­ple. But the ANC’S record in pro­vid­ing qual­ity pub­lic ser­vices widely, evenly and eq­ui­tably to the black ma­jor­ity has fallen hope­lessly short.

Sec­ond, the ANC ex­tended so­cial wel­fare to the most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple: black pen­sion­ers, the dis­abled and the most vul­ner­a­ble women and chil­dren. There are 16.4-mil­lion ben­e­fi­cia­ries of so­cial as­sis­tance. But in the early 2000s, the ANC op­posed civil so­ci­ety calls for a ba­sic in­come grant for the poor.

Third, the ANC gov­ern­ment has in­tro­duced labour leg­is­la­tion, such as the Ba­sic Con­di­tions of Em­ploy­ment Act, to give work­ers, the “work­ing class”, some kind of ba­sic pro­tec­tion against re­trench­ment and to com­pel em­ploy­ers to pay them bet­ter wages and im­prove work­ing con­di­tions.

But the pri­vate sec­tor has im­ple­mented th­ese laws un­evenly and the cor­po­rates com­plain that they are too gen­er­ous.

Fourth, the ANC gov­ern­ment has tried to cre­ate a black mid­dle class in the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tor through af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion; pro­fes­sional and ed­u­cated black peo­ple have been given work op­por­tu­ni­ties de­lib­er­ately de­nied them dur­ing the seg­re­ga­tion of colo­nial­ism and apartheid.

This pol­icy has brought many black South Africans into the mid­dle class, par­tic­u­larly in the pub­lic sec­tor, where the racial com­po­si­tion now largely mir­rors the coun­try’s de­mog­ra­phy. By 2009, nearly 79% of all pub­lic ser­vants were black.

If af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion in the pub­lic sec­tor is seen nar­rowly as only re­plac­ing white faces with black faces, then it has suc­ceeded. But, if it is seen much more broadly than that, such as by trans­fer­ring tech­ni­cal skills en masse to black peo­ple and mak­ing the pub­lic sec­tor more ef­fec­tive, com­pet­i­tive and less cor­rupt, the out­come is not been a suc­cess.

Af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion in the pri­vate sec­tor has also been dis­ap­point­ing. The lat­est re­port of South Africa’s Com­mis­sion for Em­ploy­ment Eq­uity showed, among other things, that white peo­ple still con­sti­tute just un­der 75% of top man­age­ment. The re­port showed that men and white peo­ple are still more likely to be re­cruited and pro­moted.

Fifth, the ANC has at­tempted to cre­ate a busi­ness class with black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment (BEE) by di­rect­ing state pro­cure­ment and ten­der op­por­tu­ni­ties to black busi­ness and by en­cour­ag­ing pri­vate white com­pa­nies to do the same and to of­fer black com­pa­nies a stake in their own­er­ship.

BEE and af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion could be seen as a form of repa­ra­tions, but it has been a fail­ure and mostly only a well-con­nected, small group of ANC po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal­ists have ben­e­fited from it. Many es­tab­lished white com­pa­nies of­ten hand over mi­nor­ity shares to po­lit­i­cally con­nected black peo­ple and ap­point black ANC politi­cians turned busi­ness peo­ple to their boards as a shield against pres­sure to em­power black em­ploy­ees more mean­ing­fully by trans­fer­ring skills and pro­mot­ing de­vel­op­ment.

Sixth, the ANC gov­ern­ment en­vis­aged a vast state-led pub­lic works pro­gramme to cre­ate jobs for the un­skilled and low-skilled peo­ple who fell be­tween the cracks of the other em­pow­er­ment pro­grammes. This has been crit­i­cised for not trans­fer­ring ne­c­es­sary in­dus­trial skills, which could be used in the broader econ­omy.

Fi­nally, in 1994, the ANC gov­ern­ment in­tro­duced land re­form, promis­ing, by 1999, to trans­fer 30% of white-owned agri­cul­tural land to black farm­ers and to pro­vide resti­tu­tion in the form of ei­ther land or cash in lieu of land for black peo­ple who lost theirs dur­ing apartheid.

This has been an­other fail­ure. If the process of set­tling land claims con­tin­ues at the cur­rent snail’s pace, it will take 144 years to com­plete, ac­cord­ing to the Com­mis­sion on Resti­tu­tion of Land Rights.

The les­son for the ANC is that it will have to learn to gov­ern in the widest pub­lic in­ter­est and more hon­estly, and en­cour­age merit-based ap­point­ments to boost state ca­pac­ity to ef­fi­ciently de­liver collective repa­ra­tions — qual­ity pub­lic ser­vices.

Racial prejudice that lim­ited credit and the pro­vi­sion of pen­sions and skills has stunted gen­er­a­tions of black peo­ple. Com­pa­nies have, in the main, re­fused to com­pen­sate for­mer and cur­rent black em­ploy­ees for such dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Those com­pa­nies with their ori­gins in the apartheid era have also, in the main, re­fused to pro­vide com­pen­sa­tion for deaths, ill­nesses and work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion suf­fered by black peo­ple dur­ing apartheid.

More re­cently, civil so­ci­ety groups have sought re­dress from United States-based multi­na­tion­als that sup­ported apartheid, but the class ac­tions brought in the US courts have not been suc­cess­ful.

Civil so­ci­ety groups could lead ef­forts to get black South Africans or their de­scen­dants to se­cure pen­sions and re­tire­ment fund pay­outs they were de­nied be­cause of apartheid.

The pri­vate sec­tor must ac­cept its so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity and im­ple­ment af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion or forms of BEE that gen­uinely em­power cur­rent and for­mer em­ploy­ees. They must also pay repa­ra­tions to for­mer em­ploy­ees who suf­fered be­cause of dis­crim­i­na­tion.

The fo­cus of BEE should be shifted from in­di­vid­u­als to pro­vid­ing as­sets and skills to com­mu­ni­ties, and com­pany BEE strate­gies must in­volve em­ploy­ees, not in­di­vid­u­als or man­agers. Em­ploy­ees could be given BEE shares.

Com­pa­nies must pro­vide their em­ploy­ees with hous­ing and their chil­dren with skills and bur­saries, as hap­pened in post-war Korea, Ja­pan and Tai­wan.

Com­pa­nies and groups of com­pa­nies in a sec­tor could train ar­ti­sans en masse — plumbers, boil­er­mak­ers, elec­tri­cians.

Priv­i­leged white peo­ple and newly well-off black peo­ple should also show greater so­cial sol­i­dar­ity with his­tor­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged peo­ple. Skilled South Africans could help in poorer ar­eas. Re­tired pro­fes­sion­als, from math­e­mat­ics to rugby, could teach in black schools or men­tor a dis­ad­van­taged child. Al­ter­na­tively, they could adopt a child’s ed­u­ca­tion in a town­ship, or adopt a town­ship fam­ily by help­ing reg­u­larly.

This is an edited ex­tract of Wil­liam Gumede’s chap­ter, Fail­ure to Pur­sue Eco­nomic Repa­ra­tions Has and Will Con­tinue to Un­der­mine Racial Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, in the re­cently re­leased The Lim­its of Tran­si­tion: The South African Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion 20 Years On, edited by Mia Swart and Karen van Marle (Brill Pub­lish­ers). Gumede is ex­ec­u­tive chair­man of the Democ­racy Works Foun­da­tion and au­thor of South Africa in BRICS (Tafel­berg)

Reap­ing what we sow: The slow pace of trans­for­ma­tion could be ad­vanced if ‘priv­i­leged white peo­ple and newly well-off black peo­ple showed greater sol­i­dar­ity’ with those less for­tu­nate than them­selves. Pho­tos: Made­lene Cronjé and David Har­ri­son

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