John Pilger on South Africa
Source Thomas Shelley
Date 99/05/01/21:44

/* Written 12:35 PM May 25, 1998 by in igc:labr.all */
/* ---------- "jhurd_dsa-doc: John Pilger on South" ---------- */
> ---------- Forwarded message ----------
> Date: Fri, 22 May 1998 23:19:09 -0600 (MDT)
> From: Shelley Thomas
> Subject: jhurd_dsa-doc: John Pilger on South Africa: has the ANC sold out?
> I don't know the accuracy of many of the things that Pilger is saying, and
> I think he is a bit harsh on the ANC, but it is a very interesting
> article, and I thought you'd want to see it.
> Tom
> John Pilger on South Africa: has the ANC sold out?
> JOHN PILGER's documentary Apartheid Did Not Die was shown on British and
> South African television on April 21. On April 17, the Johannesburg-based
> Weekly Mail & Guardian published an article in which Pilger described his
> first visit to South Africa after his banning 30 years ago. Both the film
> and article generated enormous controversy throughout South Africa. Below
> is an abridged version of the Weekly Mail article.
> In 1967, I was banned from South Africa for "embarrassing the state". I had
> been smuggled into one of the secret hearings of the Race Classification
> Board where, in Room 33 every Thursday morning, apartheid's horrific
> quackery was on display, its moral and intellectual mutation made to appear
> normal, with forms and regulations and decision-making based on "criteria".
> Here, suited officials, men of dour, fraudulent respectability, took
> evidence: scribbling, whispering and now and then leaning down from their
> magistrate's bench in order to study the texture of a human head of hair
> and peer at the whites of human eyes.
> After due consideration, "racially borderline" people were classified or
> reclassified "according to appearance and acceptance", which meant a ticket
> to a lifetime of privilege or humiliation. Black-skinned people needed not
> apply.
> Stepping off the plane 30 years later, I read about the white businessman
> who had sent an anonymous fax to a black trade union leader, calling him a
> "kaffir, arsehole and trash". For this, he was fined and publicly shamed: a
> normal act of justice in a civilised country, yet inconceivable until
> recently in South Africa.
> Among the black majority there is a new sense of pride that gives meaning
> to ubuntu, the traditional spirit of humanism expressed in a distinctly
> African notion that people are people through other people. This is not
> without the usual frailties, but the evidence of its resilience is
> everywhere in South Africa; and those seeking optimism about the human
> spirit need look no further.
> Few whites go into the townships. For them, beyond the multiracial images
> of the "rainbow nation" -- now celebrated, sadly, not by the power of the
> people's epic story but by consumerist propaganda -- they are in another
> country. Here live those whose blood, sweat and tears forced the pace of
> change and who, wrote Allister Sparks, South Africa's great chronicler,
> "could feel they were proclaiming their equality and that their strength of
> spirit could overwhelm the guns and armoured vehicles waiting outside".
> These are the people to whom Mandela said their "hopes and dreams are about
> to be realised". It follows that they ought not to have merely an
> expectation of a better life, but a right to one.
> This right is still denied and South Africa is still not theirs. What is
> clear is that "reconciliation", to which Mandela has devoted himself to the
> applause of most of the world, provides little more than a facade behind
> which apartheid continues by other means. The question remains:
> reconciliation for whom?
> In 1994, as election day approached, white South Africans hoarded food and
> fortified their houses against the feared "takeover" by domestic servants,
> the homeless, the unemployed and the black masses. Four years later, the
> servants are still serving, the squatters are still squatting (and still
> being evicted by white-led paramilitary police), and the majority are still
> waiting -- while the "madams" and the "baases" experience no real change in
> their privileged way of life.
> Fly into any South African city and the divisions are precise and
> entrenched. Johannesburg offers the most vivid example. On one side, there
> is Sandton municipality where, in fortified splendour, live some of the
> most pampered people on earth.
> Enclaves like Sandton are apartheid's unchallenged bastions, from which 5%
> of the population control 88% of the nation's wealth. This grotesque
> imbalance of power has not changed and is not likely to. They, not the
> majority, have been rewarded by democracy and "reconciliation".
> What is amazing to me is the degree of restraint exercised by the majority,
> given the flaunting of wealth by a minority. About 2 kilometres from
> Sandton, literally across a road, is Alexandra. Half a million people live
> here, squeezed into a 2.5 square kilometres. When it rains, the polluted
> river floods and houses collapse and the roads run like caramel.
> When I was there it was stinking and dry, with a flock of aproned women
> frantically trying to pick up the stranded rubbish; the spick and span
> state of people's homes is a wonder. On the hill are two great "hostels",
> like prison blocks: one built for men, the other for women. Apartheid's
> planners designed them as a cheap labour pool; everybody else was to be
> "removed". But the people of Alexandra resisted, and stayed.
> Mzwanele Mayekiso grew up in Alexandra and, until recently, was head of the
> local branch of the South African National Civics Organisation, whose
> boycotts and direct action during the 1980s helped to bring down the
> regime. "Most people over there don't know we exist", he said. "I mean,
> literally. Our women go over as domestics, our men as labourers and
> gardeners. No one asks where they return home to. Nothing has changed.
> "Long before Mandela was released, the old regime had already dismantled
> the trappings of segregation. They left intact the most important part,
> which was always economic apartheid; and this has been adapted and
> reinforced by the ANC government. I think we are being designed like the
> United States: divided by class, which generally means race. We are even
> learning to speak the new jargon of separation, with the majority of people
> referred to not as the heroes of our struggle, but as an `underclass'."
> Before F.W. de Klerk announced the un-banning of the ANC and Mandela's
> release on February 2, 1990, he and the white establishment had reached a
> kind of gentlemen's agreement with the ANC, following secret meetings, that
> accommodated the fears of the old order and the demands of the
> "international community".
> The US, the British and the World Bank made it clear that South Africa
> would be "welcomed into the global economy" on condition that its new
> government pursued orthodox, "neo-liberal" policies that favoured big
> business, foreign investors, deregulation, privatisation and, at best,
> offered a "trickle down" to the majority who were to be shut out of the
> economy.
> Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, Mandela's successor and one of the transition
> negotiators, told me that the ANC had "no choice at all" but to accept a
> series of "historic compromises"; otherwise there would have been a
> "bloodbath" and "great suffering across the land".
> Certainly, at the time, the perceived threat was from a far-right third
> force. But if such a threat existed, it turned out to be far less important
> than the more subtle machinations of de Klerk and his colleagues combined
> with the ANC's willingness to make the "historic compromises".
> As for the "great suffering", while it is true that there was no civil war,
> the political decisions made by the ANC, which relegated the needs of the
> majority, have ensured the continuation of great suffering by exclusion --
> in the disastrous housing and employment policies and the absence of a
> minimal strategy for redistribution. The reason for this is partly
> historical. The ANC was always a party of compromise, seeking in the
> beginning "a place at the table".
> People were misled; in 1990, the ANC leadership made clear it would do its
> utmost to honour the spirit of the 1955 Freedom Charter, which declared
> that the people "shall share in the country's wealth. The minerals beneath
> the soil and monopoly industry shall belong to the people. The land shall
> be shared among those who work it. There shall be houses, security and the
> right to work."
> The ANC, said Mandela, would take over the great monopolies, including the
> mines, and the financial institutions. "That is the fundamental policy of
> the ANC", he said. "It is inconceivable that we will ever change this
> policy." To his people, his words carried the moral weight of a leader who,
> as Anthony Sampson, Mandela's biographer, has written, has "a moral
> influence which no politician or newspaper dare challenge".
> However, on his triumphant travels abroad Mandela spoke with a different
> emphasis. The ANC, he said in New York, "will reintroduce the market to
> South Africa". The "market" in South Africa has a long and bloody history.
> As Basil Davidson has written, "economic invention" lay at the root of the
> organised racism that distinguished the British Empire long before the
> Boers declared apartheid as official policy in 1948.
> As prime minister of the Cape in the late 19th century, Cecil Rhodes, the
> great liberal benefactor, encouraged the dispossession of Africans and
> their "removal" to cheap labour reserves for the gold and diamond mines.
> The Oppenheimers, who ran the Anglo American company, also had beneficent
> pretensions. While declaring himself an opponent of certain aspects of
> apartheid, Harry Oppenheimer's tentacular empire grew rich on the brutal
> migrant labour system.
> When it was clear, in the 1980s, that the regime of P.W. Botha was doomed,
> big business changed its allegiance to the ANC, confident that its
> multinational interests would not be obstructed and that foolish promises
> about equity and the natural resources "belonging to all the people" would
> be abandoned.
> Since the ANC has settled into office, Margaret Thatcher's infamous TINA
> ("there is no alternative") has become the government's touchstone. The
> policy is known as GEAR -- for growth, employment and redistribution -- but
> it has little connection with employment, as jobs are being shed by the
> tens of thousands, and even less with redistribution, which seems confined
> to changing seats on a gravy train. A government adviser told me: "We refer
> to cautious Thatcherism", which sounded like cautious apartheid to me.
> The Ministry of Finance remains in thrall to the orthodoxy of
> globalisation; finance minister Trevor Manuel has metamorphosed from
> long-haired biker and Cape Flats activist to the very model of a modern
> Blairite capitalist, boasting of his low deficit and devoted to "economic
> growth".
> There is something surreal about all of this. Is this a country of
> corporate hustlers celebrating their arcane deals in the voluminous
> business pages? Or is it a country of deeply impoverished men, women and
> children whose great human resource is being repressed and wasted, yet again?
> The social cost was stated plainly by Mary Metcalf, education minister in
> Gauteng province. She described schools "built deliberately without
> toilets" and "with no access to running water within walking distance".
> For every four teachers, there is only one classroom, and no library, no
> laboratory, no staff room, no desks. "What is difficult", Metcalf stated,
> "is that these historic distortions are being addressed in impossible
> conditions of financial austerity". In other words, ANC policy has made
> "the provision of acceptable conditions for teaching and learning an
> absolute impossibility".
> So dedicated are the born-again free marketeers that South Africa's deficit
> is almost as low as that of some developed countries. For this, the ANC has
> been honoured by awards from international credit ratings agencies. What
> has this to do with a country where most of the children are, as they say
> here, "nutritionally compromised" and live in desperate conditions?
> What the ANC called its "unbreakable promise" was the Reconstruction and
> Development Program. Two years after the election, the RDP office was
> closed down and its funds transferred to the ministry of finance. When he
> was minister for housing, Joe Slovo had estimated that half the black
> population lacked a secure roof over their heads and that one and a half
> million houses would have to be built immediately.
> Nothing like this has happened. The poorest get a R15,000 housing grant,
> which seldom pays for more than a jerry-built matchbox. In Ivory Park
> township near Johannesburg, "RDP houses" are known as "kennels".
> The Freedom Charter says: "Reconstruction of land ownership on a racial
> basis should be ended and all the land divided among those who work it."
> Since democracy, little has changed. Wealthy white farmers continue to
> control more than 80% of the land, and their existing property rights are
> guaranteed in South Africa's new constitution. Out of 22,000 land
> restitution cases, only a handful have been settled.
> In the Eastern Cape, where few tourists go, silhouettes of women file
> across the saddle of a hill to draw water from a well where cattle drink
> and defecate. Most rural people have no choice but to walk up to half a
> mile to get water. Most have no sanitation, no electricity and no
> telephone, and no work. The shadows you pass on the road are those of
> stunted children and their mothers, walking, carrying, enduring.
> At Dimbaza, 70 families were dumped on a waterless, windswept hillside.
> Stanley Mbalala, one of the survivors, remembers a forest, which became
> firewood during the first winter. They lived in tents and wooden huts with
> zinc roofs and earthen floors. Later arrivals had boxes made from asbestos
> and cement; these, too, had neither floors nor ceilings and were so hot in
> summer and cold and damp in winter that the very young and old perished in
> them. A government official explained at the time: "We are housing
> redundant people [in Dimbaza]. These people could not render productive
> service in an urban area."
> In the centre is a children's cemetery. The graves are mostly of infants
> aged younger than two. There are no headstones. You trip over aluminium
> pipes embedded in pieces of broken concrete; on one is scratched: "Dear
> Jack, aged 6 months, missed so bad, died 12 August 1976". At least 500
> children are buried here.
> By contrast, the grass at 50 St David's Road, Upper Houghton, is green and
> glistening from the spray of sprinklers. Houghton is the richest suburb of
> Johannesburg. Here, the walls are topped with razor wire and display signs:
> You have been warned; 24-hour Armed Response.
> On the night I was there, chauffeur-driven Mercedes and BMWs converged on
> an important garden party at No. 50. The guests were white and black,
> mostly men in business suits who knew each other and affected an uncertain
> bonhomie across the old racial divide. The party was hosted by an
> organisation called BusinessMap, which, according to its brochure, gives
> "guidance" on "black economic empowerment".
> The guest of honour was Cyril Ramaphosa, former general secretary of the
> miners' union and the principal negotiator of the ANC's "historic
> compromises".
> Ramaphosa and others have spoken a great deal about "black economic
> empowerment" as a "philosophy" for the new South Africa. What this really
> means is the inclusion of a small group of blacks in South Africa's white
> corporate masonry, which is overseen by the power of five companies
> dominating the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. This co-option allows foreign
> and South African companies to use black faces to gain access to the ANC
> establishment. "I am", as one new executive told me, "the black ham in the
> white sandwich".
> Certainly, the income gap between whites and blacks has narrowed slightly.
> However, inequality among blacks has increased sharply as the new black
> elite gets richer and the majority gets poorer. The new apartheid is one of
> class, not race.
> The tragedy is that there are immediate, practical alternatives. If the
> government kept to the spirit of the Freedom Charter and invested directly
> in the majority of people and their "informal economy", it would transform
> the lives of millions. With government loans going directly to communities,
> run as co-operatives, millions of houses could be built, and better health
> care and education provided. A small-scale credit system would ensure cheap
> goods and services that cut out the middle men and the banks. None of this
> would require the import of equipment and raw materials, and it would
> provide millions of jobs.
> Mbeki told me the problem of poverty was an "absolute priority", but he
> offered no solution beyond dreams of a "trickle down" effect. He is said to
> be an enigma. I found him a straightforward, charming and highly
> intelligent free market economist.
> Nelson Mandela is very different, and perhaps he is the enigma. It seemed
> to me that his authority and reputation rest on what he represented, rather
> than his politics. He has served as a mighty symbol, calming and
> reassuring; this has been his remarkable power. He also has the rare
> quality of grace; he makes people feel good.
> When we met, he listed for me the ANC's achievements: the supply of water
> to more than a million people, the building of clinics, the free health
> care to pregnant women and children under six. (To these, I would add the
> new abortion laws, which have saved the lives of tens of thousands of
> women, whose death at the hands of back-street abortionists was a feature
> of apartheid.)
> Then he suddenly changed course and praised privatisation "as the
> fundamental policy of this government", which was the diametrically
> opposite of what he promised in 1994. He quoted an array of statistics
> about inflation and the deficit, while omitting the terrible facts of
> unemployment. By the year 2000, it is estimated that half the population
> will be unemployed: a bomb ticking to its inevitable detonation.
> He told me he had repeatedly warned people that substantial change "could
> not happen overnight: that the process might take as long as five years".
> Five years are up next April. Moreover, it has to be said that the rise of
> the new elite has not been inhibited by such a time restriction, that their
> enrichment did, in many cases, happen "overnight".
> I was surprised that the president failed to see the irony in his statement
> that an ANC government, brought to power partly as a result of boycotts and
> sanctions, was willing to "do business with any regime regardless of its
> internal policies". The west, he said, had no monopoly on human rights,
> which were also the rights to health care and education. Amazingly, he gave
> as a model Saudi Arabia "where students enjoy benefits I have not seen
> anywhere in the world".
> Saudi Arabia and Algeria, both of them serious human rights violators, are
> current clients of the billion dollar white-run South African arms
> industry, the source of death and suffering in the region, and which has
> been reinvigorated under the ANC. On one of his visits to see the dictator
> of Indonesia, General Suharto, Mandela offered to sell him arms, too.
> More than 150 years ago the Chartists, the inventors of modern democracy,
> said that the vote had little meaning if people's lives did not improve. It
> is five years since a wise Mandela addressed this in a speech to South
> Africa's trade union movement, which was at the forefront of the struggle
> for freedom and continues to draw young, courageous and principled leaders,
> renaissance men and women from one of the most politicised constituencies
> in the world.
> "How many times", he said, "has the liberation movement worked together
> with the people and then at the moment of victory betrayed them? There are
> many examples of that in the world. If people relax their vigilance, they
> will find their sacrifices have been in vain. If the ANC does not deliver
> the goods, the people must do to it what they have done to the apartheid
> regime."
> Copyright: John Pilger.
> [John Pilger's latest book, Hidden Agendas (Vintage, $19.95), contains a
> chapter on South Africa entitled the "The View from Dimbaza".]
> Louis Proyect
> (
> North American Coordinator
> Irish Republican Socialist Committees
> 2057 15th Street, Suite B
> San Francisco, CA 94114

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