In this 100th year since Nelson Mandela’s birth, it is advisable to interrogate the democratic breakthrough that he and the ANC leadership negotiated on our and posterity’s behalf. Our country is struggling with many seemingly intractable economic and social problems. Many among this generation of politicians seek to locate the genesis of these problems in the settlement, Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa), in 1993.
For years the narrative is sustained by some on the youthful left, that the ANC betrayed the black people by "overcompromising" an act that disabled to adopt such progressive policies as would enable it to eradicate the legacy of apartheid, redistribute wealth equitably among black people, improve the standard of living of victims of 350 years of subjugation and restore title to the land that belonged to the ancestors of black masses before colonial forces criminally and violently expropriated 87% of it without compensation.
Some say that, as a matter of principle, the liberation movement had no obligation politically and in law to negotiate with the apartheid regime in the first place. It was an evil and undemocratic regime declared by the United Nations as a crime against humanity in terms of the UN Declaration on Universal Human Rights of 1948. Negotiations, so the argument went, served only to legitimise an illegitimate dispensation. All the ANC needed to do was to demand or seize state power and impose reparations on white people as a whole for the damage wrought on the lives of the people.
We hear that "sunset clauses" absolved the formerly white ruling class from any culpability for the gross human rights violations committed by apartheid officials and security forces agents against innocent people and activists, including and particularly all obligations to share in the mineral and other wealth of the country. They accuse the ANC of the crime of failure to demand control over the economy or, as they in their wisdom put it, to put the economy in the hands of black people.
Some dismiss the democratic dispensation as being "anti-black".
Was there an obligation to negotiate power in the first place?
Of course there was. After 70 years of conflict since the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, democracy as a new system had to be conceived first before it could be born. Otherwise the opposite was dictatorship, further racial disaffection and worse conflict. Civil wars don’t have winners and, one may add, no future.
Regardless of the immorality of apartheid, the SA government was legitimate in international law. Therefore the ruling party could only be removed - and state power legally transferred - through democratic elections. The Multiparty Negotiating Forum agreed on an all inclusive constitution that repealed all the statutes that purported to grant Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Ciskei and Venda independence and reincorporated them into one undivided RSA. The constitution was of an interim nature – operating from 27 April 1994 until 26 February 1997 when a permanent constitution would have been drafted by the elected representatives of the people and endorsed by the people through a public participation process.
This interim constitution contains all the agreements that the more than a dozen negotiating parties concluded among themselves. There are no secret concessions, contracts or favours pertaining to the future state, the economy or the wealth of the country or any matter that sought to deprive the people of our country of their rights as citizens. If there were any, the secret would have been out during any time in the past 25 years.
What about the infamous "sunset clauses"?
The NP had been stonewalling and proposing a phased in transfer of power, which the ANC rejected. But the longer the uncertainty and political impasse persisted, the bigger the toll the violence took on the lives of innocent people in the townships of the Witwatersrand and the villages of Natal. . To break the deadlock, Joe Slovo proposed a five year period of shared power. Certain transitional arrangements were also agreed to and made part of the interim constitution. It’s a set of agreements designed to ensure a smooth transition from the NP to the new government. They expired in 1999. The provisions include the following:
(a) The jobs of all employees of the public services, the armies, police forces, the courts and other state institutions were guaranteed
(b) All the parties that polled a minimum of 10% on April 27, 1994 were to be represented in a parliament on a proportional basis
(c) The two biggest parties would share power in a government of national unity
As we said, the provisions expired in 1999. Before that, the NP resigned from the GNU prematurely in 1996, freeing the ANC to write the necessary policy framework that would advance and deepen the thoroughgoing transformation of the state, society and the economy.
The ANC adopted the first policy framework for a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous society at the historic 50th national conference held at Mafikeng in December 1997. Mandela passed the baton of leadership two years later to pres Thabo Mbeki, on whose shoulders fell the programme of institutional restructuring, budgetary reorientation, macroeconomic stabilisation as well as economic development, modernisation, expansion and redistribution.
As should be expected with any pioneering government, Mbeki’s 9 year tenure had mixed success. Burdened with deep levels of poverty in the midst of capital flight due to the phenomenon of Afropessimism, Mbeki had to adopt supply side measures to create a fiscal policy environment with investment incentives in order to amass private resources that his government needed to fund his ambitious social and economic infrastructure programmes.
Over time, we saw significant investments into mining, the financial sector, airports, ports, highways, hotels, information technology, cellular telephony, automotives and others. Mercifully, the 2008 financial contagion that began in the United States as a result of regulatory failure didn’t reach our shores to wipe off these modest but groundbreaking economic achievements, thanks to forward looking credit control regulations.
A tsunami came from unexpected quarters to undo almost everything that had been painstakingly built since Codesa up to Mbeki.
The Zuma administration inherited a functioning state and a growing economy. Instead of building on this institutional and economic foundation, he and his cronies unleashed a powerful tsunami that destroyed state institutions and sent the economy into the doldrums. The real effects of state capture on the economy, livelihoods, national security, political stability, investor confidence and national pride will continue to be discovered and recorded for many years to come, as successive administrations try to put the pieces together.
Hopefully, in the spirit of Thuma Mina, the masses of the current generation of our people, many of them too young to have seen the key Codesa moments, including the historic elections of April 27, 1994, will rally around the Ramaphosa administration with the same enthusiasm, self-confidence, fortitude and unity with which the previous generation rallied behind the Mandela and Mbeki administrations in the quest for "A Better Life for All".
Blaming the past for the problems of today is not the best way of moving forward.
(Gauta Komane is a social commentator and local economic development practitioner. He was a public servant in Mafikeng at the time of Codesa and an ANC activist)