Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Did He Jump or Was He Pushed?: The Mandela Years in Power

Patrick Bond
Weekend Edition December 6-8, 2013.
"South Africa’s democratization was profoundly compromised by an intra-elite economic deal that, for most people, worsened poverty, unemployment, inequality and ecological degradation, while also exacerbating many racial, gender and geographical differences. In the pages below we can review most of the critical choices and outcomes from 1994-1999. These confirmed the late-apartheid turn to neoliberal economic management, and amplified that turn in the context of world neoliberal hegemony until – and beyond – the 1998 East Asian crisis. To understand why requires combining analysis of the changing structure of capital – especially its worsening unevenness and financialisation – with study of divisions within the subordinate classes. This will in turn set the stage for considering a variety of public policies adopted immediately after formal apartheid ended, many of which reflected more continuity than change.

Ending the apartheid regime was one of the greatest human achievements of the past century. However, to promote a peaceful transition, the agreement negotiated between the racist regime and Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) allowed whites to keep the best land, the mines, manufacturing plants, and financial institutions, and to export vast quantities of capital.

For there had been only two basic paths that the ANC could have followed. One was to mobilize the people and all their enthusiasm, energy, and hard work, use a larger share of the economic surplus (through state-directed investments and higher taxes), and stop the flow of capital abroad, including the repayment of illegitimate apartheid-era debt. The other, which was ultimately the one chosen, was to trudge down the neoliberal capitalist path, with merely a small reform here or there to permit superficial claims to the sustaining of a “National Democratic Revolution.” Because the latter path was chosen, we start by consider the economic barriers to deepened democracy, before proceeding to the economic outcomes, followed by a discussion of social policy patterns, the commercialized state, environmental concerns and the reactions of civil society."
In one of the last public photos released of Nelson Mandela (29 April 2013), he sits with successors in the African National Congress leadership, each disgraced by scandals linking SA politics to crony mining capitalism: Jacob Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa and Baleka Mbete.
Read the rest here.
Comment: Professor Patrick Bond has written a significant - though excruciatingly long-winded - analysis of the progress (or lack thereof) made in post-apartheid South Africa from the time of President Mandela onwards.

I think it important at the outset that he recognizes that Mandela and the ANC have made a crucial break with the racist apartheid past.  The problem, however, has been the rush to a neoliberal capitalist agenda that has compounded the oppression by erecting class barriers that approximate and deepen the crisis of inequality.

His analysis is not unique or even new.  It is in effect as old - at least - as the post-independence counter struggles against cronyism and corrupt capitalism that has afflicted most post-colonial states in Africa and beyond.

The solution he provides is somewhat deflating given the long-winded analysis to get the reader to the point of asking 'so what is the next step'.  He writes:
"To solve South Africa’s vast problems – not least of which is being both a major victim and a major villain when it comes to climate change – will require a major overhaul of every system in our lives here: production, consumption and social reproduction, energy, transport, agriculture, disposal, financing and everything in between. What is Mandela’s legacy, if not cementing the worst features of these systems, aside from beginning to undo their correlation with racism?

The solution to the problems that Mandela left behind will only come when a democratic society votes for a political party – probably the one after the ANC fully degenerates and loses power, perhaps in 2019 after six more years of destruction under Jacob Zuma’s rule – to overturn all these inheritances of apartheid capitalism. And then, an eco-socialist and feminist perspective within a strong but loving state will be vital."
I am not sure where an "eco-socialist and feminist perspective within a strong but loving state" exists or even what kind of political theory props up this construction.

What I am relatively sure of is that any struggle to rearrange wealth in South Africa will not be fought in isolation within the borders of this country.  If the move toward neoliberalism in the ANC tells us anything it tells us about the force or power of neoliberalism to co-opt revolutions.

Given that power what kind of political movement is necessary to unseat not only the ANC but in effect go against the global capitalist system to create an eco-socialist feminist state that is loving?

This line of analysis smacks of armchair academic nonsense I am sorry to say.

These notions are removed from the very people that Bond is essentially appropriating and obscuring to make an argument against neoliberalism and its relationship with Mandela and the ANC.

The problem with Bond's argument is not that it can be faulted in its overall diagnosis.  The problem is that it falls short on providing a grounded dialectic to move the revolution forward.

At the very least he should be dissuaded to posture the nonsense about a "loving" state that can go against capitalism.  This assertion is romanticized hogwash but it also tells us just how complicated the problems in South Africa are when the best of intellectuals here can frankly appear quite fruity.


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