By Ogova Ondego
Published December 17, 2008
The palace coup that saw Thabo Mbeki deposed by his subjects in Pretoria on September 21, 2008 after 18 years of ‘black majority rule’ was due to the failure of the governing African National Congress (ANC) to live up to the pre-independence ‘Freedom Charter‘ endorsed by the Congress of the People held at Kliptown, a ‘buffer zone’ between Johannesburg city of the whites and Soweto of the blacks, on June 26, 1955. OGOVAONDEGO writes.
According to the Freedom Charter, the people, not a cabal of self-seeking feudal lords, were to govern. The people would have the right to work, to decent housing, and to freedom of thought.
According to Democracy Born in Chains: South Africa’s Constricted Freedom, a 30-page chapter in Naomi Klein’s 2007 New York Times best-selling book–The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism–Nelson Mandela is said to have affirmed in a note he wrote in January 1990 to ANC followers a couple of days before his release from prison on Robben Island that he was committed to the implementation of the Freedom Charter:
“The nationalisation of the mines, banks and monopoly industries is the policy of the ANC, and the change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable. Black economic empowerment is a goal we fully support and encourage, but in our situation state control of certain sectors of the economy is unavoidable.”
Explaining the meaning of these words, Klein writes, “What the Freedom Charter asserted was that freedom would not come merely when blacks took control of the state but when the wealth of the land that had been illegitimately confiscated was reclaimed and redistributed to the society as a whole. South Africa could no longer be a country with Californian living standards for whites and Congolese living standards for blacks, as the country was described during the apartheid years.”
Despite Mandela being overwhelmingly elected President in 1994, Klein says that something must have happened to convince the ANC party hierarchy that it could not use its grassroots support to reclaim and redistribute the country’s ‘stolen’ wealth. In fact, she writes, “ANC adopted policies that exploded both inequality and crime to such a degree that South Africa’s divide is now closer to Beverly Hills and Baghdad.”
What could measure these betrayed promises of freedom better than the following statistics?
*Since1990, the year Mandela left prison, the average life expectancy for South Africans has dropped by 13 years.
*Since 1994, the year the ANC took power, the number of people living on less than US$1 a day has doubled, from 2 million to 4 million in 2006.
*Between 1991 and 2002, the unemployment rate for black South Africans more than doubled, from 23% to 48%.
*Of South Africa’s 35 million black citizens, only 5,000 earn more than $60,000 a year.
*Some 2 million people have lost their homes though the ANC government has built 1.8million homes, i.e. 200,000 have been rendered homeless.
*Close to 1 million people have been evicted from farms in the first decade of democracy.
*The number of shack-dwellers has grown by 50%. In 2006 more than one in four South Africans lived in shacks located in informal shanty towns, many without running water or electricity.
And it does not end here, according to Klein who writes that after a decade of ANC rule, millions of people had been cut off from newly-connected water and electricity because they couldn’t pay the bills. At least 40% of the new phone lines were no longer in service by 2003.
As for the “banks, mines and monopoly industry that Mandela had pledged to nationalise,” Klein says, “they remained firmly in the hands of the same four white-owned mega conglomerates that also control 80% of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. In 2005, only 4% of the companies listed on the exchange were owned by blacks. Seventy percent of South Africa’s land, in 2006, was still monopolized by whites, who are just 10% of the population. Most distressingly, the ANC government has spent far more time denying the severity of the AIDS crisis than getting lifesaving drugs to the approximately five million people.”
And how did this come about?
Thabo Mbeki, Mandela’s right hand man and successor, the one who mingled most easily with business leaders’ and ANC’s chief economic negotiator, is said to have convinced Mandela that it was necessary to make a break with the past for the so-called new South Africa to remain in the good books of investors and Bretton Woods Institutions, The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Consequently, Mbeki’s pro-business stance led him to deliberately negotiate away the Freedom Charter and the people’s sovereignty.
Thus having persuaded Mandela to distance himself from the nationalisation of key industries, Mbeki is said to have embarked on a new economic programme, one very different from the promises they had all made during the 1994 elections, rather secretively, with the members of his team having been sworn to secrecy and the entire process shrouded in deepest confidentiality lest the left wing get wind of Mbeki’s plan.
Klein notes that “this emphasis on secrecy and insulation was particularly ironic given that, under the tyranny of apartheid, the ANC had pulled off a remarkably open and participatory process to come up with the Freedom Charter. Now, under a new order of democracy, the party was opting to hide its economic plans from its caucus.”
Instead of nationalising the mines, Klein writes, Mandela and Mbeki began meeting regularly with Harry Oppenheimer, former chairman of the mining giants Anglo-American and De Beers, the economic symbols of apartheid rule. Shortly after the 1994 election, they even submitted the ANC’s economic program to Oppenheimer for approval and made several key revisions to address his concerns, as well as those of other top industrialists.”
To complete his about-turn on the Freedom Charter, Klein writes that “Mandela, in his first postelection interview as president, carefully distanced himself from his previous statements favoring nationalization. ‘In our economic policies,there is not a single reference to things like nationalization, and this is not accidental: There is not a single slogan that will connect us with any Marxist ideology.”
Now the Congress of the People, a splinter group from the ANC said to be linked to sacked president Mbeki the one who mortgaged the soul of 35 million to businesses and industry, has not only adopted an epoch-making “nationalistic” and freedom-fightingpro-people profile but is challenging the Jacob Zuma-led ANC that prides itself on its ‘populist pro-people’ stance for supremacy in South Africa’s Communist politburo-styled government system. Will it be the people’s will that will prevail or Mandela and Mbeki’s neo-liberal economic system that places profit above humanism?
And isn’t it time South Africa adopted a truly multi-party democratic system of government to be in line with its capitalistic economy? If elected in May 2009, how different will Zuma be from Mandela and Mbeki whose policies wrecked the Azanian dream? On whose side was Zuma at South Africa’s independence–Mandela’s or Mbeki’s? Isn’t it time the younger generation, that born in the 1990s, replaced the Mandela-Mbeki-Zuma age group in running the affairs of their country?