home Featured, News The 1994 South African Elections: A perspective by Phyllis Ntantala-Jordan

The 1994 South African Elections: A perspective by Phyllis Ntantala-Jordan

By Phyllis Ntantala-Jordan

This article was originally published on the SA History Online website. On the eve of the 1994 elections, Mrs. Phyllis Jordan, wife of AC Jordan and mother of Pallo Jordan, penned a great analysis of what the elections mean in the context of ANC history.

Tomorrow, April 26, 1994, an historic event will take place in South Africa, 18 year old and over, men and women, black and white, will go to the polls to elect a new government to replace the white minority regime that has ruled that country since 1948. Most black South Africans will be voting for the first time. I say “most” because up to 1936, African men in the Cape Province had a limited franchise. One of them, Dr. W.B. Rhubusana, represented the Wodehouse constituency from 1910 to 1914, making him the only black elected to the South African Cape Parliament.

The incoming government will be a so-called “government of national unity”, composed on a proportionate basis, of representatives from the various parties receiving a thresh-hold 5 percent of the vote. One of the last election holdouts, the Inkatha Freedom Party of Mangosuthu Buthelezi, jumped the train last week. It seems, then, that only the Conservative Party, the fascist AWB, and other sundry Afrikaner right-wing groups will not participate.

As could be expected, the elections have raised a lot of questions among South Africans, at home and abroad. Most of these questions concern the meaning of the elections, and what they portend for the future of South Africa. We will attempt to deal with some of those questions tonight.

The first question we will attempt to answer is: How could two supposedly sworn enemies, the ANC and the National Party, find common ground on which to agree to a new constitutional dispensation!

To answer this question, we will have to examine and analyze two issues:
1) The histories of the ANC and the National Party;
2) The post-Soweto period in South Africa (1976-88).

Let’s start with the ANC.

If revolution is defined as the violent overthrow of one class by another, the African National Congress has never been a revolutionary organization. From its founding, it has drawn its ideas and inspiration form the Liberal Enlightenment of the late 18th and early 19th centuries; an enlightenment whose two basic principles are equality and democracy. Equality in the sense that no individual, group of individuals, class, caste, or status group, by virtue of some purely incidental factor such as birth or race, shall in the eyes of the law enjoy rights over and above those enjoyed by his fellow citizens and at their expense. Democracy, in the sense that government derives its authority from the governed. As a result, for most of its history, the ANC’s political practices have leaned heavily on the traditions of European liberalism – petitioning government, sending deputations to elected officials, adopting and proclaiming democratic charters (e.g. the 1923 African Bill of Rights, which appealed to the authority of the Magna Carta). Even the ANC’s leadership and most of its membership reflected the spirit of European liberalism: They were from the Black intelligentsia and the professional classes.

It made little or no attempt to recruit and organize the black working class or peasantry. Indeed it kept at arms length any black organizations, which in any manner smacked of radicalism. Thus it was that it had no dealings with South Africa’s largest black labor union, the Industrial and Commercial Worker’s Union; that it withdrew from the All African Convention, of which it was a charter member, because revolutionary elements within the Convention (CP, Fourth International, Spartacus League, etc.) were leading that organization on more radical paths; that it rejected the principle of non-collaboration in segregationalist institutions. (It is not surprising that many members of the ANC Central Executive refused to resign from the Native Representatives Council even after the 1949 Conference has passed a resolution to boycott those dummy institutions.)

In short, the ANC from its inception has been bourgeois in its outlook. There will be those who will argue that the very principles of equality and democracy are revolutionary in the South African context. However, it must be pointed out that the ANC never sought to overthrow the existing bourgeois order in South Africa. It sought to join. It is in this sense that it cannot be called revolutionary. Its formation can be viewed as an attempt by the black petit bourgeois to be included in the ruling class of the structure that was created in 1910; a structure whose primary aim was to more efficiently exploit black labour. It was the black petit bourgeoisie knocking at the door, saying “Let us in. We belong, too.” This is not to say that there were never revolutionary elements in the ANC; their position was never dominant.

Successive South African governments, obsessed with race and color, never understood this. Only the white liberals did – – liberals who are both the formulators of policy and the guardians of the principles of the bourgeois democracy. Small wonder then, that the first whites to take the ANC seriously were the liberals. The political aims of the ANC and the liberals were the same: the establishment of a bourgeois democracy in South Africa.

This not said to denigrate the ANC. For, if the nationalism the ANC represents is compared to Afrikaner nationalism, its strengths and basis on humanity becomes apparent: non-racism as opposed to racism; equality as opposed to privilege; democracy as opposed to tyranny; and incorporation as opposed to exclusion.

Now, let’s look at the National Party.

The Reformed Nationalist Party was formed specifically to address the economic disabilities of Afrikaners (Note: Afrikaners not whites) the majority of whom, were small farmers, working class, and small businessmen. It was on this seeming neglect of Afrikaners that Malan, Strijdom, Cronje, and others broke away from Herzog’s National Party and founded the Reformed National Party. In his autobiography, D.F. Malan, speaking of his days as a young predikant in Cradock, says: “I had seen Afrikaner families living cheek by jowl with Native families on the outskirts of the town, their children playing together in the dumps on the edge of the city. It was the sight of Afrikaner children growing up poor that made me leave the ministry to devote my life to politics, to fight for the improvement of the life of the poor Afrikaner.”

We have noted that the Nats’ political program was exclusionary. As such, it represented an ideology diametrically opposed to that of the ANC. This ideology is one opposed to the ideas of equality and democracy. Instead, it bases its claims on the differential treatment of persons based on race and ethnic origin. In practical terms, this translated into a doctrine of privilege, tyranny, and exclusion. In this respect the core ideas underlying these two nationalisms are irreconcilable. How then did these two opposing ideologies find themselves in agreement at the negotiating table? To find the answer, we must look at the development of the “apartheid economy”.

When the National Party came to power in 1948, the major sectors of the South African industrial economy – mining and secondary industry had been in the hands of the English and Jews since before the formation of Union in 1910. Farming and manufacturing were the only economic sectors open to the Afrikaners. The burning question for the government was how to establish Afrikaner dominance in these two sectors. The answer was apartheid. Apartheid can be viewed as nothing more than an elaborate affirmative action program to promote Afrikaner interests. Through mechanisms such as price support, guaranteed low-interest government loans, expulsion of blacks from arable lands, Afrikaner domination of agri-business was quickly achieved by the late 1950’s. The manufacturing sector matured much later, in the late 1960’s and early 70’s. It was dominated by Afrikaners through technology transfers from the parastatals, financed by Afrikaner institutions such as Volkskas, and kept humming by the sweat of cheap black labor. The 1960’s and 70’s saw the rapid emergence of a sizeable Afrikaner bourgeoisie in the true sense of the word.

It was during this period, however, that apartheid began to run up against its inherent contradictions: The class it benefited the most was a class dependant on consumer spending for its survival and growth. As the white consumer market was close to saturation, the only logical markets were the black internal market – and the export market. Blacks, however, were underpaid and thus limited in their capacity to consume.

The second contradiction was that manufacturing demands skilled labor. The migrant worker system made this nearly impossible. Just as a worker after two years was acquiring the necessary skills to perform efficiently, the system demanded that he/she be replaced by an unskilled and untrained worker. As a result of this inefficiency, South African consumer goods were expensive and uncompetitive on world markets. It was to protect Afrikaner manufacturers that the Vorster government imposed import controls on manufactured goods in 1969.

It is, therefore, not surprising that it is during this period that we see an easing of wage restrictions on blacks and the phasing out of many aspects of job reservation. We also see a greater tolerance of union activity among blacks. Hence Vorster’s celebrated remark during the Durban strikes – the first labor action in which the government refused to intervene – “Business has to realize that blacks have as much right as anyone to earn a decent wage in this country.”

By the time Piet (PW) Botha and the “securocrats” come to power, the Afrikaner bourgeoisie was clamoring for two changes:

a) The abolition of the migrant worker system (influx control) to improve efficiency;

And

b) The creation of a sizeable black consumer class – a class it hoped would have a stake in the system and, therefore, act as a brake on radical impulses.

Hence Botha’s quick abandonment of two cornerstones of the apartheid system: the pass system and restrictions on black residency in the urban areas.

Botha’s scheme foundered on two points:

1. The refusal of blacks to be bamboozled by the cosmetic changes made in the system. (After all, the basic economic relations in the country had not changed.)

2. The refusal of the government to recognize the legitimate political, cultural, and social organizations of the oppressed. Instead, it spent much time and money trying to create new organizations, which had no legitimacy in the black community.

We will now turn our attention to how the talks between the ANC and National Party came about.

We will not dwell on the ANC between its banning in 1960 and the Soweto uprising in 1976. Suffice to say that following the Rivonia Trial most of the organization’s secret network had been rolled up by the Security Police, and the ANC had taken such serious blows as to hardly exist as a coherent organization within the country. The same can be said of the PAC following Leballo’s Poqo revelations.

We also will not dwell on the ANC in exile. Suffice to say that it was quite successful abroad on the propaganda level, keeping South Africa and the plight of its black majority alive in the world’s consciousness. As for its much ballyhooed “armed struggle”? Distance and the ferocity at the regime’s counter-insurgency operations kept MK effectively bottled up in dreary camps in the frontline states. The desultory bombings carried out by MK merely served as provocation for the white regime to visit horrific devastation on neighboring states. (The PAC’s military wing can be said to hardly have existed at all.)

Then came the Soweto uprising. The uprising is a climacteric in the history of resistance in South Africa. Although it and its confluent protests were suppressed with a brutality, appalling, even by the regime’s brutal standards, it is still a watershed event. For it demonstrated to the government that although the older liberation organizations had been suppressed, resistance to apartheid was still strong. The decade 1976-1986 was the high-water mark of black protest: labour strikes, rent strikes, mass demonstrations, protest marches, necklacing. A decade in which, to some, the country seemed virtually ungovernable. It is during this decade of seeming continual crisis that the first contacts are made between the ANC and the National Party. But WHY?

By 1978, the National Party was faced with two crises. The first was that the elaborate police state erected by B.J. Vorster and his Security Chief, Van den Bergh, was failing and no longer up to the task. The second was that the apartheid economy was fast approaching a dead end for the reasons we have examined earlier.

The first crisis was partially dealt with by shuffling Vorster, Van den Bergh, and the Bureau Of State Security to the sidelines. (After a few name changes BOSS would resurfaces as the National Intelligence Services, though it was now dominated by the military chiefs and not the police.) But, there was still a problem – the unrest in the townships and countryside showed no sign of abating.

Botha and the securocrats tried to kill two birds with one stone. They would stem the flood of black protest by abolishing what was termed “petty apartheid” while at the same time satisfying the Afrikaner bourgeoisie by giving them a stable black urban workforce. Thus the “Botha reforms” of the 1980’s.

They succeeded in the latter aim, but failed totally in the former. It was clear that black South Africa would settle for nothing short of state power.

The ANC was also in crisis. Effective abroad only as a propaganda organ, virtually non-existent within South Africa, its “armed struggle” reduced to something resembling a farce, it faced the prospect of being overtaken and marginalized by events within the country.

It is here that the convergence of interests between the ANC and the National Party takes place. The NP needed the ANC to bring stability to the country; the ANC needed the NP to legitimize its claim to being the only true representative of the African people. It was clearly in the interest of both parties to negotiate. The ANC could not overthrow the government by force; the government could not hope to quell the black struggle for equality. Which side initiated the negotiations is irrelevant. What is important is that the two sides found common ground on which the talks could continue.

This confluence of interest is, of course, both political and economic. As we have stated before, the ANC has always been a petit bourgeois organization. What has happened is that the Afrikaner bourgeoisie, to borrow a phrase from Lyndon Johnson, “thought it better to have the ANC inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”

The bourgeois character of the negotiations is illustrated by the parties that eventually joined them. The black labour movement, black civic organizations, and black peasant organizations were denied independent representation, while Mandela insisted that the Bantustan and other so-called “traditional African Leaders” be accorded full representation. This, of course, skewed the whole basis of the talks to the Right, with no un-welcome “Left” issues intruding on the agenda. The only topics of discussion were those of interest to the white and black bourgeoisie.

It is instructive, too, that the supposed representatives of the black South African majority were not elected by that majority. They simply took it upon themselves to attend the negotiations and to “speak” for the African people. Thus, there was no canvassing of ideas and opinions from the masses. There were no “report back” meetings at which the issues under consideration at the negotiations could be aired and explored. The only news the majority received was sound bites from a predominately white media. The only party that could claim a mandate was the National Party, which had received it from its white constituency in the 1992 referendum. An exercise more contemptuous of black South Africans would be hard to imagine!

And so, we come to the elections.

What exactly will South Africans be voting for?

Those elected to Parliament will be candidates chosen by the contending parties. They will not represent any particular constituencies. As such, they will be answerable only to the parties that chose them, not to the voters. Voters will have no right of recall. All will serve five-year terms. The ANC is expected to win rather easily, with Nelson Mandela becoming President (barring some unforeseen circumstances between today and tomorrow.) This new dispensation is called “power sharing”, as all parties receiving at least 5 percent of the vote will participate in running the country. Asked to elaborate on how this “power sharing” would work, ANC General Secretary Cyril Ramaphosa said: “The agreements could not be described as “power sharing” since the majority party would get its way on most matters.”

The new government will preside over a country in recession. A country where 7 million blacks live in shacks; where the black unemployment rate is over 50 percent; where black income is 10 percent of that of whites, with 95 percent of blacks earning only $220 per month; where 12 million black households have no clean water, where 14 million black children received no schooling in 1992.

That, my friends, is the legacy of apartheid.

What of the future?

I do not claim to be clairvoyant. However, we can refer back to a point we touched on at the beginning of this talk. The point: “The questions people are asking”.

The second important question may be phrased: “Is this the revolution for which so many of our people have died?”

The obvious answer is: “For the majority of South Africans the answer is NO!”

If we accept the definition of revolution as the violent overthrow of one class by another, then what is taking place in South Africa is not a revolution. It is merely the replacement of one administration by another, both drawn from the same class – the bourgeoisie – albeit that one administration was white and the next will be black.

Another question is: Did the ANC betray South Africa? Again the answer is NO! There is a revolutionary dictum, which states: “No class ever betrays its own interests.” What we have is a classical deal: the Afrikaner bourgeoisie ditching the white working class, and the ANC dropping all pretense of ever having represented the Black working class and peasantry. That the ANC used the black working class and peasantry to achieve its aim is undeniable. But, that is not unusual. The French bourgeoisie used the peasantry to gain power in 1789. To quote a modern source, Lenin observed:

“The bourgeoisie of the oppressed thinks it nothing to make deals with the oppressor behind the backs of the working class, while at the same time articulating the demands of the working class.”

Given the massive social and economic problems in South Africa, the ANC government will be hard pressed to meet the demands of black South Africa. It will be caught between a rock and a hard place. If it reverts to form (satisfying the demands of the bourgeoisie and international capital) it will face massive opposition at home. Such a course would lead to a fragmentation of the body politic, with the petit bourgeois elements of the black parties coalescing in one group (perhaps with a white bourgeois party), and the black working class and peasantry coalescing in an opposing group.

Such a fragmentation would indicate the redrawing of the political lines in South Africa on the classical pattern as happened in Europe in the first half of the 20th Century.

Another option, which is currently being actively explored, is Corporatism, the coming together of government, business, and labour to work out broad outlines for the maintenance of labour and civic peace. (It should be noted that corporatism was the basis of civic and labor peace in Fascist Italy. Needless to say, labour got the short end of the bargain.)

In the final analysis, all we can say is that the struggle for total liberation has only begun. The majority of South Africans will get absolutely nothing from the so-called “new dispensation”. International institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are even now preparing to impose draconian economic measures on the South African people – the brunt of those measures to be borne, as usual, by black South Africans.

The answer to the question “What is in it for us?” Will soon be answered: The answer is Nothing! Only the bourgeoisie will gain!

One does hope that the various elements that have been left out of the new dispensation will find one another, stand up fearlessly, articulating clearly the goals of the majority of South Africans.

In that task, they cannot and must not allow themselves to be distracted by the blandishments of the new black bourgeois order.

THIS IS OUR TASK!!

A luta Continua!!!

Washington D.C.
25th April 1994

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