BOOK REVIEW: Clear light shed on how ANC went from liberator to exploiter
Dale McKinley sheds light on the key problem of the ANC’s rule since 1994: its power is exercised in service to capital
With the often incoherent babble passing for debate on economic theory in the ruling party and among its rabid paid supporters, a voice of clarity on the ANC’s history, wrong turns and faults is a rare, precious thing.
While many in the ANC fumble for an explanation of their latest populist slogan, "radical economic transformation", writer, researcher, lecturer and political activist Dale McKinley sheds light on the key problem of the ANC’s rule since 1994: its power is exercised in service to capital at the expense of the people it promised to liberate.
It was not meant to be like this. In its Strategy and Tactics document crafted in exile, the ANC characterised SA as "a combination of the worst features of imperialism and colonialism within a single national frontier". With its ally, the South African Communist Party, it promised oppressed and poor South Africans a two-stage liberation — a national democratic state followed by the building of a noncapitalist society.
McKinley uses metaphorical language to describe SA’s economic woes, in language perhaps even President Jacob Zuma can understand.
In a keynote address at the recent Local Government Summit, Zuma referred to "radical economic social or whatever".
"Picture 20th-century SA as a house," McKinley writes. "Having previously been built on foundations embedded in the systematic economic, racial and political oppression of the majority of its inhabitants, in the form of apartheid capitalism, the house comes to be controlled by the National Party as political landlords … with white capital as economic landlords. After much struggle and then negotiation, there is a handover of political landlords; the house has been ‘liberated’. The ANC replaces the NP and takes occupation of the stateroom.
"However, the economic landlords are allowed to retain their penthouse suite and it is soon revealed that in the handover agreement, the ANC has agreed to leave the house foundations well alone."
McKinley traces the history of the ANC’s economic contortions since Nelson Mandela alerted his leadership in exile that the apartheid government wanted talks to end apartheid. The doublespeak and promises to tackle racial inequality in the second stage of the revolution started soon after exiles returned home for talks.
Soon after it took power, the ANC drafted the Reconstruction and Development Programme in consultation with its allies, committing the state to people-centred development.
That was soon tossed out of the window and along came the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Programme (Gear), draped in development speak while "capital got the people’s silverware at bargain prices" and the people were left hoping for scraps.
"For those who willingly joined the neoliberal chorus, bountiful political and economic dividends, both personal and organisational, beckoned," McKinley writes.
"For those who attempted to engage in critical debate and who openly expressed their opposition or personal scorn, ‘disciplinary measures’ or gradual marginalisation from the relevant centres of decision-making and power awaited."
McKinley should know, he was ostracised and criticised following the publication of his first book,
The ANC and the Liberation Struggle: A Critical Political Biography. Published in 1997, it concluded that the ANC-led liberation struggle had fundamentally ignored the people in whose name it was waged and that the party had failed its mass constituency soon after coming to power.
He regards BEE as exactly the same mechanism used by the National Party to achieve white economic empowerment — nationalising state assets to enrich a disadvantaged capitalist class at the expense of the poor.
In doing so, the ANC was not exceptional — it followed the paths of other national liberation movements in Africa by "refashioning the elitist, narrowly nationalistic, parasitic and authoritarian colonial lineage of power". Corruption in ANC-ruled SA was inevitable, McKinley argues, because the party allowed corporate capital to get off scot-free without having to answer for a "range of corrupt, criminal activities" and for its "active support of a system that was a crime against humanity".
As the class gap grew between the ANC’s leadership and its followers, the leaders were "taken up" with great gusto by the corporate world. The result is that to be a public servant or to be involved in politics is no longer regarded as an act of solidarity with the people, but "as a vehicle for achieving material gain and the adoption of an individualist and consumerist mentality", McKinley writes.
Corruption in ANC-ruled SA was inevitable because the party allowed corporate capital to get off scot-free
This slim volume should be required reading for delegates attending the party’s conference in June to remind them their liberation movement was once radical.
McKinley says SA is a house divided and tottering on its rotten foundations. Minor repairs, some additional rooms added and a new political landlord will not suffice to house its inhabitants in a healthy environment. If things continue as they are, the house will eventually crumble.
What is needed — "with healthy doses of humility, a readiness to listen and learn, the courage to confront and to act as well as fearlessly engage in difficult, patient and consistently principled struggle" — is that "we can plant seeds that will grow the self-belief in our… ability to change things, to be part of forging real, bottom-up and interlinked alternatives; to be part of a new revolution", McKinley concludes optimistically.
"In doing so, we just might be surprised at what we can do to and for the house that is SA and, who knows, maybe even for the world," he writes.
Title: SOUTH AFRICA’S CORPORATISED LIBERATIONAuthor: Dale T McKinleyPublisher: Jacana