Why are we not winning?

At ZMI (Z Media Institute) this year, Michael Albert asked me a very important question that I couldn’t answer at the time. His question was (am paraphrasing it): why didn’t the African National Congress (ANC) win economically and politically as it had set out to do when it was formed in 1912?

Black people still do not own the land in South Africa. About 80 percent of arable land is still controlled by white farmers. And as things look, white farmers are not prepared to let go, even ten years after the liberation.

The South African economy benefits white people, except for the black comprador class that has been manufactured to serve as the buffer between the black majority and the white community that enjoys the standard of living only seen in the first world.

Some commentators believe that the reason the ANC did not win as much as it had set out to do, is because of the outside pressure (from the IMF and World Bank). Sure, it makes sense that if the global economy is against your goals, you would want to compromise. But compromise one’s political organization to the level of betraying one’s organization’s values? Values that are clearly articulated in the ANC Freedom Charter, and which the ANC cherished and fought for, for over 50 years.

It does not make any sense that a political organization like the ANC which had and still has a huge support of the black majority would abandon its values at the last moment. Nor does blaming outside pressure seem to be a sufficient answer to explain such a move.

Ideology? Did the ANC suddenly change its nationalistic ideology as the apartheid struggle reached a climax? Writing a year ago, President Mbeki made it clear that the ANC has never claimed to be a socialist movement. So what does that mean? Does that sufficiently explain the neoliberal policies that the ANC is implementing in this country (South Africa)?

A friend I discussed this with told me that there are a multiple of factors that one must take into consideration when trying to make sense of the evolution of the ANC. She says one has to take into consideration the ideology of the ANC, the outside pressure, the global economy, and the psychological factors. By the latter she meant the psychological strain of being in jail or in exile (as most ANC leaders were) for more than 20 years.

Fine. But do all these sufficiently explain the neoliberal ANC we see today? Maybe. Maybe not. I guess a large part of it depends on which school of thought you are coming from.

Another important question is why do South African social movements fail to reach the kind of resistance we see in Bolivia? About 70 percent of the people who voted in the last elections voted for the ANC; meaning a large majority of the poor people voted against their own interests.

Social Movements like the Anti-Privatisation Forum, Treatment Action Campaign, and Anti-Eviction Committee have been able to win very important battles; but when it comes down to putting the ANC back in government, most of the same people who make these movements do not hesitate to vote for the ANC.

One reason to explain this phenomenon is that there is no real opposition to the ANC that appeals to the black majority at the moment. Another reason is that some of the people in these social movements are still very much loyal to the ANC.

And of course the ANC manipulates the race question to mobilize the black majority. And the social movements on the other hand rarely ever address race issues. White leftist academics and leftist institutions that are also run by mostly white males constantly inform these movements that race is no longer important, rather class is the most important thing right now. Let us be clear about one thing and that is the politics of social movements in South Africa are informed by white academics who study these movements; and who, by the way, reduce reality into economics.

These white academics then quote one another when writing their papers so as to institutionalize this discourse. After a while, this oppressive discourse becomes a fact of life — unquestionable.

With the exception of Ashwin Desai, almost all the academics who write about the politics and vision of social movements in South Africa are white. Something which reinforce the old white supremacist thinking, that people of colour provide the experience, while white folks do all the intellectual work.

Interestingly enough, when one talks to radical black activists, like Andile Mngxitama, one finds that they do not echo the dominant discourse (i.e class is more important than race in South Africa).

I, too, certainly reject such a discourse.

But, white privilege works in mysterious ways. Tim Wise explains it: “… [white privilege] is the daily psychological advantage of knowing that one’s perceptions of the world are the ones that stick, that define the norm for everyone else, and that are taken seriously in the mainstream.”

That is the situation.

4 thoughts on “Why are we not winning?”

  1. Isn’t the root of the
    Isn’t the root of the problem with the ANC, and Lula in Brazil, Guttierez in Ecuador, the ALF-CIO in the US, the CLC in Canada etc… they arn’t sufficiently accountable to the people they supposedly represent?

    Albert makes this point all the time – as do others.

    Left insitutions adopt undemocractic structures that limit their effectiveness. The more power they attain the more these shortcomings become apparant – to the point where people say “we must change things without taking power” rather than say “we must structure our movements so that they do not sell out if they win.”

  2. Hi Joe
    So you are saying the

    Hi Joe

    So you are saying the problem is ideology? But take Lula and the ANC for example, before they took over state power, they had all these beautiful political visions which were accompanied with militant rhetoric, and to a large extent one can even say their organizations had democratic structures that made sure they were accountable to their constituencies. But the minute they were in government things changed. So I’m asking if the external forces (IMF and World Bank)are that powerful to make movements compromise their politics. or is it as you say, it’s because organizations like the ANC had never been democratic and their ideology was not liberatory from the start? Or is it the combination of the two? Because if we can have a sufficient answer to this, we can to a large degree predict what’s going to happen in Venezuela.

  3. Property is Robbery.
    Property is Robbery.

    Wherever you have private ownership in land, whether black or white, Landlords subjugate the other productive inputs, including Capital and Labour.

    Wherever you have the Capitalist mode of production, where the owner of Capital ownes the final product, Capital subordinates Labour and reduces it’s price to it’s cost.

    Until Workers own the Land and Capital they apply their labour to, they can never change their social environment in a way that will benefit the intertests of labour over the interests of property.

    Political power is an extension of economic power. Any change in the social environment can only follow a previous change in the mode of production, and never preceed it.

    Expecting any Political change to result in a change the distribution of wealth between labour and property is a false hope. The most it can ever accomplish is the distribution of wealth among labour (certain wage earners make gains against others) or among property (certain property owners make gains against others), but never //from// property to labour.

    The solution? Well, one possible answer is Venture Communism.



  4. Mandisi,
    Having some


    Having some democractic structures is not enough if expertise, confidence and decision making remain in the hands of a small group. Unions are democratic compared to corporations, but they are still run by people who do not share the same plight of the rank and file – who will not suffer the consequences of a sell out.

    “Education campaigns” are not enough. Participation (deep democracy)should be the goal. It is all much easier said than done of course, but it is much harder if the problem is not even acknowledged.

    Chavez has been driven into the hands of the people by the intransigence of the opposition. They had good reason to be stubborm They had the support of the US. But they overplayed their hand. Now Chavez can only survive but getting more radical than I think he ever intended to. At the risk of selling Chavez short I think that circumstances prevented him from becoming another Lula.

    Hopefully, participatory movements will have time to take root in Venezuela, so that so much doesn’t depend on Chavez.

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