This article goes out to all the people who still believe the lie that apartheid was a capitalist system and that a white class of bourgeois oppressed a disenfranchised black proletariat. I shall firstly try to explain the origins of this falsehood, and then go on to illuminate the truth as I see it. I expect that some people will call me a liar and try to twist my words to prove something or other about my attitude to certain members of South African society. I advise them to read a book and counter my ideas, rather than attack a straw man of my character.
Let’s begin by remembering that Oliver Tambo was a very crafty and disingenuous man. He is on record saying that he did not care where help for the African cause came from, be it the Western Bloc or the Soviets. Observe how the ANC maintained their headquarters in London, while spewing socialist propaganda at the height of the cold war. The ANC learned well from the Non-Aligned Movement that the best way to get support for your cause was to become an ideological prostitute to the superpowers. Thus, to the West, the ANC’s struggle was portrayed as a fight for democracy underpinned by the principle of one man, one vote; while to the Soviet Union it was interpreted along the lines of a ‘workers revolution’ and a quest for so-called ‘social justice’. So guns came from Russia and China, financial support and pressure came from the West. This was a very cunning arrangement, but problematic when we want to understand the true aims of the ANC. So what is the answer? Was the ANC ever for democracy or socialism? They were for both and for neither simultaneously; they only wished to obtain power at any cost, expediently using any ideology in this pursuit.
I am not interested in disproving the ANC’s claims of supporting democracy, as I think their record speaks for itself, our policy is still riddled with inconsistencies and contradictions from this generation of leaders to dimwitted to see through their own double-dealing propaganda. What I am interested in is exposing how they are so similar to the Afrikaner Nationalists in style and substance. What are the true reasons that change between the ‘Old’ and ‘New’ South Africas was easily achieved? People are distracted by the idea that apartheid was a form of race-based capitalism. The lie that the ANC peddled to the socialists of the world was made easier because no socialist would want to expose the inherent socialist trends that the apartheid government displayed.
Apartheid was a reaction to capitalist trends. When the Dutch East India Company first colonized South Africa there was much debate whether poor, white Europeans should be imported as labor, or local, black populations should be used instead. Capital won out because white people ‘expected’ higher wages and would cost more money to transport and relocate to the Cape. For a profit driven company to keep costs low, they could justify employing blacks. This trend continued for much of the early history of South Africa, but as the white population grew steadily after the discovery of gold and diamonds on the Rand, something interesting started to happen. Blacks were becoming skilled laborers and miners. In the opinion of the big mining companies they worked harder and for less money than white laborers. In some instances they were even more skilled. If capitalism had been allowed to thrive, the so called ‘commanding heights’ of the South African economy would be stocked with cheap, skilled, Black labor, rather than lazy, unproductive and expensive white labor.
In the still independent Transvaal and Orange Free State republics, labor unions and communists stuck for laws and regulations specifically designed to exclude blacks from the labor market. In the Transvaal they made certain professions unavailable to those who could not obtain a certificate. Blacks could not even apply for certification, or sit the tests required for such complicated work as ‘drill sharpening’. In fact the original Communist Party of South Africa was a group of white workers who interpreted the South African Union government’s lack of eradicating black labor as a kind of oppression and strategy of the owners of the means of production to lower wages. When the government refused to institute a ‘Color Bar’ act in 1915, the Communists and the labor unions went on the rampage, killing black workers and demanding job reservation for whites.
During the World Wars, when white, English speaking South African men went off to fight in Europe, many Afrikaners refused to contribute. Black labor was tapped for economic and social reasons exacerbated by labor shortages, and soon a highly skilled class of blacks emerged. It became particularly clear after World War II that blacks posed an imminent danger to ‘white labor’. The National Party that broke away from the alliance led by Jan Smuts was, in fact an alliance between communist labor and Afrikaner nationalist extremists. They gerrymandered the 1948 election, winning it even though they had less support than the more liberal United Party, and played on the failure of the United Party as well as the fear of Blacks in the labor force.
What did the NP do when they got in? They set about instituting laws that were specifically designed to exclude black people from the labor force and protect white jobs. If South Africans were as racist as the ANC claims, then this massive fraud and social/legal apparatus brought down to strictly regulate all interaction between races would be totally unneeded. Ironically the NP’s claims that ‘if people were left to choose their own place to live, they would choose to live with people of their own culture’ was another massive lie that went totally against the grain of the South African experience. Were there white racists in South Africa? Of course there were, every country in the world has these kinds of people. The fact is that to enforce the Afrikaner brand of racism it had to be codified into law.
Quotas were established, para-statals were 100% government owned to better control who they employed at a massive cost to the tax payer. ‘Poor whites’ lazy, unskilled and inefficient were given easy jobs in Telkom, Eskom, the Post Office and various bureaucracies. It was incredibly hard to dismiss problematic workers from these jobs. Minimum wages were set to bolster the quota system, and a fraudulent ‘Bantu Education’ further stripped blacks of the ability to compete in the labor market. If you, as an employer, had to pay the same amount to a white or a black, racists were no longer punished for their racism in economic terms. If the companies were liberated from government control and could hire/fire anyone that could do the job, one would have observed significant black employment. With blacks constituting over 75% of the population it is impossible to expect anything else. Anyone old enough to remember going to these places must surely recall their inefficiency.
Huge barriers and regulations were put onto every aspect of every South African’s life. Whites and blacks lived in an iron cage of petty Apartheid laws. White people were forced to buy ‘first class’ tickets on the train, if they could not afford the higher prices they were out of luck. Whites were forced out of the so-called ‘bantustans’ at rock bottom prices for their houses and property by the government. Apartheid was social control; the core tenet of a free society – the ability for people to come to arrangements regarding the free trade of goods and services at the benefit to both parties was stripped away. Everyone suffered under the tyranny of control that apartheid had become. Such were the measures that the Nationalists had to take against capitalist market forces. Apartheid was not capitalist.
Is it not clear that who Apartheid really benefitted were none other than the farmers and white labor unionists that instituted it? Businessmen did not benefit, multinational companies after cheap labor didn’t benefit; they wanted to employ more cheap labor but were prevented from doing so by restrictive ratios and quotas. The economy stagnated in the 1970’s with absolutely no growth for over a decade. This was the cost that apartheid imposed on South Africa by being anti-capitalist. It’s only success lead inevitably to its own destruction. As white people became richer, more educated and cosmopolitan (the National Party really hated that last one with a passion; banning television until 1976) they came to understand how oppressive this Afrikaner nationalist/famer/labor union backed triumvirate was to everyone.
Finally, PW Botha made limited reforms in 1983, the white population approved the new constitution. Ten years later, the referendum of 1992 showed that White South Africans were just as fed up with apartheid’s restrictive and ridiculous regulations as the other races were. The ANC slipped into power so easily by promising change. They had campaigned on ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’, and the lie that Apartheid was rampant capitalism. The reason that there been no substantial change in the lives of average South Africans is precisely because the lies of the ANC have distorted our expectations of the ‘New’ South Africa. If we had been paying attention we would have seen that we merely traded a bunch of white socialists for a bunch of black ones.