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.