0 Essay: Where would South Africa be today without political freedom?
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Essay: Where would South Africa be today without political freedom?

Analysis

Essay: Where would South Africa be today without political freedom?

As with all great leaders of the 20th and 21st centuries, Nelson Mandela’s legacy is an uplifting and endearing drama, yet it is complex. A mixture of intended accomplishments and unintended spin-offs. But where would South Africa be today without political freedom? As his son-in-law Dr Kwame Amuah writes, Madiba sought political freedom first to secure the nation, and create stability, otherwise South Africans would have no country to speak of.

The question many ask is if Mandela at the time of liberation, had an economic plan that would banish economic apartheid? Tata Madiba was well aware that economic power had been consolidated by a white minority. But he had urgent priorities. It was the same challenge Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and most post-independent African leaders faced.

His aim was to secure the nation and political power, then the future generations could secure the economic emancipation of the country. As Dr Kwame Nkrumah said, “Seek ye first the political kingdom, and all shall be added unto you.” As we all know about Ghana, the economic kingdom was not added due to various factors. Nkrumah later wrote and railed against what he called neo-colonialism.

In South Africa, the freedom charter of 1956 promised a revolutionary economic overhaul of the apartheid system. But when it was written, some accepted it and others did not. One major point of departure was “Who was an African?”

When Anton Lembede, and others formed the ANC Youth League in which Tata Mandela cut his teeth, their perspectives were Africanist. With time the ANC adopted a middle ground of non-racialism. The question has always been “Who is an African?’ Is it a geographical concept or a construct of skin colour? Should South Africa mimic its past and become exclusionary? There were various viewpoints at independence. It still rankles today.

Many people argue that whites have never been conflicted as to who they are. Apartheid ideology was premised on racial classification and the myth of white superiority. They called themselves Europeans in apartheid laws, and called black people natives, Africans or Bantus. It was the basis for the distribution of benefits and privilege. Tata Mandela ruminated over all this. He was fully aware, but he was a strategist and a realist.

So you may ask, did parallel economic institutions conflict with the idea of non-racialism? We have to achieve economic parity, before non-racialism can become a reality. We have to re-build black capital. Black capital formation was destroyed by colonialism.

We discussed parallel economic institutions for blacks. Blacks have the numbers, 80% of the population. It’s the numbers game. We have to build our own institutions and economies. The Afrikaners did it when in 1948 they took power from the English, who through their political domination had monopolised the economics.

What did the Afrikaners, who had developed a separate white identity, do? They built parallel institutions: banks, parastatals, educational institutions, hospitals, businesses etc, while still co-operating with the English as fellow whites. They were able to put aside gripes arising from their tribal wars – the Anglo-Boer conflicts over African land and resources. They found space for one another, but unfortunately not for the blacks.

So you may ask, did parallel economic institutions conflict with the idea of non-racialism? We have to achieve economic parity, before non-racialism can become a reality. We have to re-build black capital. Black capital formation was destroyed by colonialism.

It is a historic fact that the Afrikaners achieved economic equity and prosperity, mostly through the use of brutal force. They literally used a parliamentary political dictatorship to enact unjust and oppressive laws. They used such laws to dispossess or rob blacks of their possessions and humanity and then converted them to cheap, unskilled, low-paid workers; then consumers to mop up their meagre earnings and make their businesses prosper.

There were 15 expropriation laws since 1913 to forcefully seize black land and property, as well as restrictive laws to stunt black economic development in terms of space and skills; and mental colonisation using education and media. Many have asked how Tata Mandela sought to reverse all that without resorting to forceful redress.

Securing the nation

Well, in the negotiated settlement that led to liberation, compromises had to be made. There was no military victory. Mandela had to secure the nation, and create stability, otherwise we would have no country to speak of. One should recollect the vicious contestation and violence that wracked the country in the run-up to the first democratic elections in April 1994. One should also remember that black liberation was a potpourri of disparate revolutionaries, from internal and external exile.

Even internally you had different persuasions and formations. It was the massive challenge Tata Mandela faced. You needed a political genius like him to reconcile all these forces that were tearing one another apart, otherwise the result would have been carnage. People have short memories, now that there is a stable and function al country.

His genius was to bring everybody to the table to buy into the idea of a united country. To do that there had to be the reconciliation of everyone, and that included wearing a Springbok jersey in the heart of Afrikanerdom at the Rugby World Cup in 1995.

One should also not forget his tireless efforts in Zululand to bring the separatist Inkatha Freedom Party to accept the idea of a unified country. He played his part and it was miraculous. When his magic was done, he quit after one five-year term in office, unlike most leaders of our times, and handed the economic redress baton to his successors.

But to those who ask, how do we now answer the kids who were not witnesses to his magic, and who were born in a new South Africa of endless economic struggle? The answer is numbers. Blacks spend huge amounts of money, but where does it go? Do you know that the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) controls about half the domestic savings in this country? Almost R2trn in a country with a GDP of about R4trn?

How do they deploy the mostly black savings and pension funds? They go and give it to white asset managers, who charge them fees. Then these same white managers lend it to government parastatals at interest. It makes no sense. We have deep psychological problems too as black people.

Recently I read in the newspapers about the most brilliant fund manager being an emerging black company that had won the top performance award three years running by results – the ‘Black Panther’ of asset management.

But to those who ask, how do we now answer the kids who were not witnesses to his magic, and who were born in a new South Africa of endless economic struggle?…Mandela had to secure the nation, and create stability, otherwise we would have no country to speak of.

Does the government give them the PIC black money to manage? No. I personally have struggled for years to get a banking licence, and have been obstructed at every turn by black and white.

These were some of the serious challenges Tata Mandela had to grapple with. In one conversations, he echoed the phrase for which Steve Biko is famous: “Black man, you are on your own.” He deeply understood the challenges, but as I say, he knew he could not do it all alone. He simply played a political role to secure this country many now call home.

Maintaining the status quo

On the land question, I frankly did not interrogate the issue deeply with Tata Madiba. While focused on political stability, he had all those experts working on that issue. They then, within the Constitution, came up with the now-discredited idea of willing-seller, willing-buyer and the neoliberal economic models that have not worked for blacks.

Someone asked me once, what happened to all those starry-eyed revolutionaries who became government experts on numerous economic development plans and blueprints? My answer is simple: one is only a revolutionary when poverty stares you in the face. When many of them were inducted into the finer things of life, they were more concerned about maintaining the status quo and defending their own transformation.

But of course, you also have all these forces abroad in the Western world that constantly threaten to collapse the economy if their interest and the interest of their ideological blood relatives is threatened. We do not even have our own credit rating agencies. We let other media outlets tell our stories. Meanwhile China and Russia do not like the credit agencies of the West so they are busy setting up their own. When they did not like their narratives they established their own networks, CGTV and RT respectively. That is the way to go.

So what would Tata Mandela say if he were here today? He saw the necessity of an economic dialogue. Let us remember the success of the political Codesa (Congress for a Democratic South Africa) which brought all the feuding parties to the negotiating table in the early 90s, leading to what we call a miracle today. We need to visit the idea of an economic Codesa, an idea which this very magazine wrote about many years ago. Was anybody reading?

Revisit the wisdom of the ancestors

In addition, what did South Africa learn from post-independence Africa; for example, the neo-colonialism Kwame Nkrumah spoke about in his book Africa must Unite, which dissects the very problems that South Africa faces today? Sadly, you will rarely see any pan-African literature in our schools and universities that revisits

Left: Protests against the compulsory use of Afrikaans as the main teaching language in black schools, which turned violent in Alexandra township, near Johannesburg in 1976

the wisdom of our ancestors. What kind of emancipatory curriculum is in our schools today? That alone speaks volumes about mental colonisation and how Africans work against their own collective interest.

In one conversations, he echoed the phrase for which Steve Biko is famous: “Black man, you are on your own.” 

Remember blacks in South Africa were brainwashed into distancing themselves from other Africans, making them think they were somewhat better – apartheid, divide and rule style. Ethnic divisions once promoted by apartheid are still very much alive. Today we still hear South Africans saying they are travelling to Africa when they leave their shores to go to other African countries. Unfortunately some of them bought the lie. It would be laughable if it was not so sad. We had Tata Mandela having to contend with all that.

But Tata Mandela is also famed for being the reconciliation man. What is the state of reconciliation in South Africa right now? It really depends on how one sees it. Whites see reconciliation like this: ‘Apartheid has ended, and we are all fine. It’s all over and we must move on. We get to keep what we possess, and you get to keep yours. The economic status quo must remain.’

The black perspective: ‘We have been short-changed. We were robbed and have still not seen justice. They took our land and resources, and we want them back. There can never be true reconciliation without economic justice.’

This is the only country we have. How do we ensure that there is continued peace and stability? As a necessity, it calls for an economic Codesa and redress. It calls for some more miracles. Mandela fulfilled his political mandate. Somebody or some people have to fulfil the economic mandate before it is too late.

 

Dr Kwame Amuah has been married to Mandela eldest daughter Makaziwe. He and Madiba frequently engaged in private discussions on various issues: political, social, economic, and the African condition.

 

 

 

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