Minto, a union organizer, was instrumental in the Halt All Racist Tours (HART) movement that demonstrated against the 1981 all-white rugby tour of New Zealand by South Africa.
A South African government official nominated Minto for a Companion of OR Tambo Award but he has asked that the nomination not go forward.
Minto is disappointed in post-apartheid South Africa. To make his thinking public he wrote an open letter to President Mbeki.
In his letter he asserts that the African National Congress (ANC) government has not improved the lives of Black South Africans. He writes that:
(W)hile political rights have been won and celebrated, social and economic rights have been sidelined. It is now 14 years since the first African National Congress government was elected to power but for most the situation is no better, and frequently worse, than it was under white minority rule. ...
It seems the entire economic structure which underpinned apartheid is essentially unchanged. Oppression based on race has morphed seamlessly into oppression based on economic circumstance. The faces at the top have changed from white to black but the substance of change is an illusion."
I think the stance that Minto has taken is to be commended. He is raising an important critique of capital driven change.
I can't, however, agree that Blacks were better off under white rule. This is a seriously misguided and callous assertion.
Though it is true that the conditions for the masses have hardly improved, no-one should just dismiss the weight and brutality of apartheid.
It was a horrid system and we should not forget this fact. Black life was not better under apartheid.
I, like millions of other Black South Africans, know this because I lived it.
For this reason I take a more mediated view of what has been achieved under post-apartheid rule.
South Africa has moved beyond the violent whip of apartheid and its racism that pressed Black life into legalized containers of hell.
Apartheid was brutal and it forced the structural conditions that persist even while we dream of that other country.
But we are free nontheless, free from white rule and its inhumane excesses, and this is, undoubtedly, the greatest progresssive asset of the post-apartheid era with all its warts and all.
The Presidency denies that John Minto was nominated for any award.
So is Minto lying?