Max du Preez

Should ANC have had a bloody revolution?

2015-12-01 08:50

Max du Preez

Julius Malema’s accusation in London last week that Nelson Mandela was a sell-out is hardly new. I have heard many young people saying that in recent months.

It is indeed a question to examine: to what extent, if at all, is the present inequality, poverty and unemployment the result of the 1994 settlement and the Constitution it gave birth to?

Are black South Africans today paying for Mandela’s nation-building project? Should the ANC not have stayed in the bush and fought until the apartheid regime could be overthrown in a proper revolution, with Umkhonto we Sizwe soldiers marching with their AK47s through the streets of Pretoria?

I’m sure if we had had a bloody revolution and a violent overthrow of the white minority government, it would have been an enormous symbolic and psychological release to most South Africans.

We would not have the tortuous debates on decolonisation, whiteness, white privilege, black pain and non-racialism that we’re having at the moment.

Peaceful settlement preferable

Well, we probably wouldn’t be having any debate right now if we did have a revolution. I would not be sitting behind a computer writing this and there would have been no to publish this column.

Because a violent revolution in South Africa in the 1990s would not have ended quickly. We could well have looked like Lebanon did in the 1970s and 1980s, or even like Libya or Syria right now.

Many of those youngsters who concede that a peaceful negotiated settlement was preferable, believe that the wealth of the country should have been redistributed far more drastically and that there should have been Nuremberg-type trials for apartheid criminals and collaborators.

Let’s put the thought aside for now that if these conditions were put before FW de Klerk’s government and military machine, they might well have said they’d rather go for broke and hung on to power.

Central to all this is Section 25 of the Constitution: “No one may be deprived of property except in terms of law of general application, and no law may permit arbitrary deprivation of property.”

Two stark realities

If it wasn’t for this section, most agricultural land could have been taken from white farmers; mines, factories and business seized and given to black people; and banks and other financial institutions nationalised.
That would have taken care of our problem of inequality - but it would most likely also have brought on economic catastrophe, poverty, hunger and instability. Everybody outside a small political elite would have been dirt poor.

Mandela and his team of negotiators were faced with two stark realities in 1990 that they had to deal with: the South African economy was very complex and sophisticated, more so than any other on the continent, and it was inextricably linked to the global economy.

A socialist system with no protection of property rights would most likely have seen big businesses packing and it would have meant little if any foreign investment. The South African economy, which was on the brink of bankruptcy in 1990, would not have survived that. It would have been disastrous, especially to the poor.

When Jacob Zuma replaced Thabo Mbeki as ANC leader in 2007, he and his team announced that they would launch an ambitious programme of black economic liberation and a redistribution of wealth.

In the end they did not deviate much from the Mbeki recipe, because they faced the same stark choices that Mandela and Mbeki had.

Reality of globalisation

It feels very unfair. A liberation movement struggles for decades, and when they get to the point of victory, they can’t determine economic policy on their own.

But this is the modern reality of globalisation that all countries have to deal with.

What made the pill even bitterer was that most white South Africans simply got wealthier in the democratic era. There is a strong perception among many South Africans that the white-dominated private sector is not keen on joining the war on inequality and unemployment.

The only ways in which Mandela, Mbeki and Zuma could have made a significant dent in inequality and achieved a considerable level of black economic emancipation, would have been to use every cent available to the state carefully and judiciously; to educate and train young people properly on primary, secondary and tertiary level; to shape the economy and policy in such a way that jobs are created and robust growth can be achieved; to make certain that civil servants are fit for their jobs, productive and honest; to fight corruption and nepotism tooth and nail; and to have a vision for the future and proper planning to achieve those goals.

In other words, exactly what they did not do.

Wasn’t that where the real selling-out happened?

- Follow Max on Twitter.

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