The Struggle Against Apartheid Has Begun in South Africa

When I returned to South Africa following the fall of apartheid, I asked Ahmed Kathrada to take me to Robben Island. Known affectionately as Kathy, he wore dark glasses to cover eyes damaged by the glare of the limestone where he and Nelson Mandela had wielded a pick for decades. He showed me his cell, five feet by five feet, where “the light was burning bright, day and night.” I wondered how he had emerged from a quarter-century of incarceration as a sane, rounded, tolerant and gracious human being. His reasons included the teachings of Gandhi and the support of his loved ones, but, above all, “there was the struggle, without which nothing changes.”

This sense of struggle is back in South Africa. The other day, I met the writer Breyten Breytenbach, who spent eight years in prison under the apartheid regime. Speaking at the Time of the Writer festival in Durban, he evoked the “dreams” of the great liberation fighters Steve Biko and Robert Sobukwe. “How are we going to stop this seemingly irrevocable ‘progress’ of South Africa to a totalitarian one-party state?” he asked.

It is a question many ask in a country that now typifies an economic apartheid imposed across the world under a cover of “economic growth” and liberal, corporate jargon. For “democracy”, read socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. For “governance” and “modernity”, read a system of division and plunder designed and approved in Washington, Brussels and Davos — a system in which, says the South African finance minister, Trevor Manuel, “winners flourish.” And he speaks from a country where inequality and poverty are described as “desperate”, where the ANC government has allowed the world’s most voracious companies to escape reparations for poisoning the land and its people, and which has been suckered by British arms companies into buying 24 Hawk fighter jets at £17m each, “by far the most expensive option”, according to a House of Commons report.

Britain’s Department for International Development has played a notorious role. Although required by law not to spend money other than on poverty reduction, DfID is, in reality, a privatising agency that greases the way for multinationals to take over public services. In 2004, the department paid the Adam Smith Institute, an extreme right-wing think tank, £6.3m for plans to “reform” the “public sector” in South Africa, promoting “business-to-business” links between British and South African companies whose singular interest is profit.

Once the wretched Robert Mugabe is gone, Zimbabwe will get the same treatment. Offering a billion pounds’ worth of “aid”, the British government will lead the return of capital, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to restore what was, long before Mugabe’s wrecking, one of the most exploited and unequal societies in Africa. The new heist was outlined on 5 April at the amusingly titled Progressive Governance Conference in Britain, one of Tony Blair’s legacies, where “left-of-centre” leaders pretend to be crisis managers instead of, as is often the case, the cause of the crisis. (In 1999, Blair flew twice to South Africa to promote the now scandalous arms deal.)

The South African president, Thabo Mbeki, is said to have been recruited to get rid of the obstacle that is Mugabe, but he is cautious, no doubt recalling that Mugabe, on his last visit to South Africa, received an embarrassing ovation from the black crowd. This was not so much an endorsement of his despotism as a reminder that most South Africans had not forgotten one of the ANC’s “unbreakable promises” — that almost a third of arable land would be redistributed by 2000. Today the figure is less than 4 per cent.

Meanwhile, the evictions continue, along with urban dispossession, water disconnections and the ubiquitous indignity of begging. “Our country belongs to all who live in it,” say the opening words of the ANC’s Freedom Charter, declared more than half a century ago. Recently, the South African police calculated that the number of protests across the country had doubled in two years to more than 10,000 a year. This may be the highest rate of dissent in the world. Once again, like Kathy, they are calling it “struggle”.

John Pilger is an internationally renowned investigative journalist and documentary filmmaker. His latest film is The War on Democracy. His most recent book is Freedom Next Time: Resisting the Empire (2006). Read other articles by John, or visit John's website.

4 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. farai kashiri said on April 15th, 2008 at 6:28am #

    This is so true, that Zimbabwe will be next to be torn apart by corporate vultures, its lands covered in GMOs, its mines stripped of minerals and profits exported. In between the reports on the election horror, there are numerous reports from ‘financial’ papers, minewebs, ‘investors’. But what else to do? Got to get rid of Mugabe. Got to get rid of his army buddies and filthy rich hangers-on that have robbed, looted and plundered. Mugabe and co have reduced Zimbabwe to a state of beggary and… beggars can’t be choosers. Morgan will need serious money to put programmes in place, feed people, rehabilitate hospitals, roads, schooling, farm production. Morgan will be in another corner perhaps worse than where he is now. But where else to get money or honest, disinterested support? None of the so-called ‘real’ liberals have or offer money? What other option is there? Please, if you have one, share it with the MDC.

  2. hp said on April 15th, 2008 at 10:48am #

    John, surely you of all people saw this coming, could have written it down as a tragedy, act by act. One of the richest and most strategic lands on earth is not, never was and never will be free, in any sense of the word.
    As for Zimbabwe, a land so fertile, rich and incredibly beautiful it’s hard to describe, how can Mugabe preside over 200,000 percent inflation and still get half of the vote?
    Can you say Mossad and CIA? The two scourges of this world..

  3. Annie said on April 15th, 2008 at 11:53am #

    Don’t blame all the badness on the Europeans and Americans, remember that they have set an excellent example of exploitation for China and Russia to follow as well! HP is right, Congo and the countries around it will never be free of those who would rape it and still sleep soundly at night.

  4. Alex said on April 15th, 2008 at 2:45pm #

    George Bush Sr and some of his former advisors are all on the board of directors of mineral extraction companies in the Congo – Gold and various elements used in electronics. All the while, the Congo is experiencing genocide to the tune of 5 million. I remember that ‘Che ‘Guevara of Latin American fame tried to free the people of the Congo a few decades ago after a CIA coup.

    Interesting indeed.