The fall of apartheid South Africa was largely made possible by the internationalist solidarity provided by Socialist Cuba, which defeated the racist regime at Cuito Carnivale in Angola. As the Australian journalist and anti-imperialist John Pilger cogently stated, South Africa’s rebirth as a “rainbow nation” is really a lesson in betrayal.
There were two powerful elements that I believe affected the economic, political and ideological thinking and policies in the post-Apartheid governments of Mandela and Mbeki. The first was the demise of the Soviet bloc and its substantial material and political support and solidarity. The other, was the “new thinking” contained in Joe Slovo’s booklet titled Has Socialism Failed? (1989). The late courageous Jewish comrade who was chosen to lead the armed branch of the African National Congress, Umkhonto we Sizwe, was a top leader of the South African Communist Party. While Slovo was Minister of Housing in the Mandela government, he witnessed the invasion with the help of Botswanian troops of Lesotho, a Bantustan-like enclave in the country in order to enforce some new African Development measures on a poverty stricken people.
In his booklet, Slovo blames the demise of the Soviet Union almost exclusively on the “weaknesses of Socialism and the excesses of Stalinism.” He hailed Perestroika and Glasnost and the powerful intellectual and professional class that were its prime movers who masked their counter-revolutionary intentions with code words such as democratization, pluralism and restructuring.
The last Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union was Alexander Kozyrev, who concocted Convergence Theory, which was the lead article in the journal Foreign Affairs. Kozyrev stated that Universal Human Values have now replaced class struggle since capitalism is becoming more and more like Socialism and vice-versa. Many neo-Marxists, social democrats and other Left currents in and outside of South Africa embraced this revisionist ideology and began the search for a new hybrid neither capitalist nor socialist and created the myth of “market socialism.”
Influenced by this “new thinking,” the Mandela and Mbeki governments embraced the neo-liberal policies of its racist predecessors. Most blacks still live in neglected townships that provide cheap labor, while the best land is still in the hands of wealthy white ranchers and farmers.
The ANC led government has become a puppet of big business and carries out its neo-liberal policies via Mbeki’s New Economic Partnership for African Development while Pretoria “negotiates” with the fascist Broederband, which strongly supported the Apartheid regime.
Leaders of the two other members of the tri-partite Alliance with the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) have severely criticized the government and organized militant and massive protests against “some politicians, capitalists and spies.” In the recent Swazi border protest, 5 COSATU leaders were beaten and jailed while demonstrating for human rights and trade union freedom.
And who can forget Mbeki’s disgraceful and reactionary comments about the serious AIDS problem in South Africa when he questioned its depth and seriousness and told the world that AZT is of no value as a treatment.
Events leading to the demise of the USSR as well as Slovo’s thinking led to South Africa’s attempt to be a member in good standing in the globalized world of the World Bank, IMF and World Trade Organization. This would require the government to institute measures we call neo-liberal, such as so-called free trade, free markets (with the help of the military or sanctions if necessary), privatization, and hands off the domestic economy except for cutting the budget for social services and tax breaks for the wealthy.
It seems likely that even while in prison or in exile, the transnational corporations, banks and Christianity influenced the ANC elite rather than Marxism. So we witness the spectacle of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission under Bishop Tutu that brought the Prime Minister of Apartheid South Africa, DeKlerk as well as Winnie Mandela to hear “confessions” of wrongdoing so that they can then pursue free and happy lives: an equal opportunity for the oppressor and oppressed.
Will Pretoria choose the Chinese example of creating some millionaires (perhaps a few billionaires as well) with increasing poverty and income disparity or the Cuban/Venezuelan model of people before profits, nationalization of resources and rejection of privatization with heavy support for health care, education and housing. Perhaps the militant and well-organized trade union movement in solidarity with the SACP when united can become a force for radical change toward the latter model.
David Silver has a 50-year membership in class, anti-imperialist, and anti-racist struggles. Among them are The Coalition to Free the Angola 3, the American Labor Party (with Vito Marcantonio and Dr. DuBois in the late '40s), the Freedom and Peace Party in the '60s, and Hands off Cuba Coalition in the '80s.
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