What negotiations?

2011-01-08 16:20

It is universally agreed that apartheid was ended through a series of negotiations in the early 1990s, fuelled largely by unilateral steps taken by the apartheid government.

It is also public knowledge that part of the former regime’s survival plan hinged largely on identifying, isolating and softening certain leaders within the liberation movement, particularly Nelson Mandela, with the aim of making ephemeral concessions.

The idea was to create an acceptable black buffer against the restless township masses that had, in the 1980s, upped the tempo of the struggle andturned townships into virtually no-go areas for the apartheid government.

By the time political negotiations became public, the apartheid intelligence apparatchik, led by former spy boss Dr Niel Barnard, had long crafted a grand secret plan outlining desired outcomes.

My appreciation of contemporary South African politics and history was jolted last Sunday as I read Dr Pallo Jordan’s “Black intellectual culture has long history” article in City Press.

While I hold no brief for Dr Xolela Mangcu, whose previous article Dr Jordan was responding to, I do, however, think that Dr Jordan stretched the truth a bit when he claimed in his article that “even the ANC’s most vicious critics concede that we out-negotiated the Nats, who had the benefit of state-supported research bodies, the thinktanks in Afrikaans universities and the output of privately funded research”.

The truth is that most politically mature blacks would privately concede that the Nats out-manoeuvred and out-negotiated us on our way towards the “rainbow nation”.

This is not to suggest that the ANC did not extract notable gains from the Nats through some adept manoeuvres at and away from the negotiating table.

Whereas negotiation strategy is often described as the overall, big-picture plan which includes desired outcomes, negotiation tactics are described as the means with which one carries out the strategy.

Most people confuse negotiation tactics with strategy. Dr Jordan seems to be one of them.

Negotiation experts instruct us that at the core of any cogent negotiation strategy lie four key elements, namely: identifying objectives, gathering intelligence, controlling the negotiating environment, and designing a programme of engagement.

This after they have identified their strategic socioeconomic objectives, collected sufficient intelligence on the liberation movement, planned the negotiating environment and designed a programme of engagement with their protagonists.

So it is unthinkable that anyone could have successfully countered the massive headstart the Nats had over their less-resourced protagonists.

By the time some Afrikaner politicians and businessmen descended on Dakar as part of a well-rehearsed plan to test the viability of loosening up apartheid’s political hegemony, no liberation movement could claim to have been prepared for what was to unfold in the ensuing years.

In fact, save for Nelson Mandela who was already isolated from his comrades and had unilaterally commenced negotiations while in prison, the majority of the struggle leadership was caught off-guard by the Nats’ overtures.

During my first business trip to Nigeria in 1998, I was riled when a Nigerian business associate told me that SA was a “black country run by whites”. As years passed, I realised just how spot-on he was.

Over time, I also appreciated the fact that most fellow West African businesspeople would prefer to do business with South African whites as they continue to remind us that blacks do not produce or own anything.

Testimony to this is perhaps found in an Empowerdex study conducted last year which sadly revealed that more than 98% of the JSE is still in white hands.

If we really out-somethinged anyone, how else does one explain the fact that 16 years after the dawn of democracy the entire socioeconomic stratum is still under white control?

The reality is that the black economic empowerment project, enshrined in our world-acclaimed Constitution, is not yielding the desired outcomes for blacks.

To add insult to injury, white women and Chinese, nogal, are also designated black for the purposes of BEE.

And black economic emancipation is moderated to a mere 25% equity ownership of the economy – make that 10% for the financial sector!

Another negotiated ruse was the process of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission whereby blacks were left weeping on their own.

While government is currently pondering where to find the billions needed to pacify thousands of weary ex-combatants through special pensions and is deafeningly silent on reparations for apartheid victims, General Magnus Malan and his cohorts, who thumbed their collective nose at the TRC process, are enjoying spectacular sunsets in their villas.

Also, the haste with which the much-maligned land restitution process was implemented ensured that, on the one hand, whites profited handsomely from the process while, on the other, the process excluded a legion of prospective black claimants.

On their own, the above few examples may seem unconnected and incidental.

But granted the distinguished negotiation prowess of the Nats, it is not unreasonable to conclude that FW de Klerk and the rest of the white population must be observing the unfolding socioeconomic discourse with glee.

Surely if we had out-negotiated the Nats, we would have ensured better and sustainable outcomes in the realms of black economic emancipation, education, health, spatial development and agrarian reforms for the sake of future generations?

I am left to ponder whether Dr Jordan was perhaps misquoted, has any grasp of the art of negotiation or has not as yet met a moderate ANC critic.

But for him to suggest that we out-negotiated the Nats is at best disingenuous and at worst an attempt at distorting history.

As for Dr Mangcu, all I can say is: black man you’re on your own!

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