By Thato Mmereki
South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) turned 107 on 8 January 2019. It is a significant milestone in the history of the fight against colonialism and physical and economic oppression on the African continent.
South Africa’s long walk was so because the white population vainly decided to turn an African country and its resources into a European country, with psychological roots in the Slave Trade, colonialism and a supremacist master-servant mentality. It was to be a pecking order where the white minority would be at the top of the food chain, by whatever means necessary. When the Dutch descendants came into power in South Africa, they took a page from the British (after the Anglo-Boer War) and perfected the art of discrimination, leading to the obnoxious apartheid system. Anglo-Saxon South Africa and its links were not far behind as long as nobody touched the money. Their corporations still held sway over the economy. Then the Dutch descendants used the muscle of the government to empower their offspring. White populations were boosted through immigration from various parts of Western and Eastern Europe to counter black population growth. After 100 years, the fundamental economic paradigm has not changed much – it has only mutated.
One of the first acts of the Ango-American Corporation after the Blacks took political power was to move its headquarters to London. Like in the rest of Africa, the Europeans interest in Africa is resource-driven. They think of cheap resources when they think of Africa, be it by way of slave trade, a human resource or a natural resource. This comes from the days when resource-less Britain was only interested in resource-rich areas in Africa and elsewhere, while the French were busy with territorial gain. The next fundamental phase of the next 100 years of struggle will undoubtedly be economic.
Various actors have tried to cease the space with little success, mostly as a result of white networks that promise damnation if the status quo is disturbed. There is Anglo-Saxon insurance in a system tailored to trigger a collapse in the form of capital flight if there is any threat to white capital and interests (see Zimbabwe). Black governments have had to tread very carefully because there could be a political fall-out from economic collapse. Thus, black economic oppression is perpetuated till kingdom come.
Here we are today, and South Africa is still grappling with African poverty and massive inequalities. A huge educational deficit, fostered by the discriminatory Bantu education system, during which the regime spent 13 times more money on the education of white children than blacks, means that South African blacks will continue to struggle to significant headway in the economic arena, because of lack of skill.
On the economy, the blueprint for he ANC Freedom Charter in 1955 called for nationalisation of mines, banks, and monopoly interests because the ownership was along racial lines. But today, nationalisation has become a filthy word in South Africa. Blacks without capital to leverage cannot participate in a capitalist South Africa.
On the issue of land, the ANC charter of 1955 called for redistribution, and not nationalisation, but even that has become an intractable problem. Again, with the Zimbabwe example as a guide, where land reform was severely punished by Western power, the ANC is afraid to take radical steps on land reform. Perhaps future success on the issue in Zimbabwe might be what frees a fear-stricken ANC from its self-imposed strictures.
In effect, after 25 years of liberation, little has changed with respect to ownership of the economy and land. Whites with the power to leverage capital have prospered even better under liberation, as opportunities have opened up locally and internationally, where South Africa is no longer a pariah. So, 95% of the economy remains in white hands, together with 83% of the land.
Enter Julius Malema, modelling himself as an economic freedom fighter. It has been an attempt to mirror the youthful militancy of the days of Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu. In effect he has seen himself as the economic mirror image of the political side of the great man. He is a young man as impatient with the pace of economic liberation as Mandela was with the political. Needless to say, Mandela ended up in jail for 27 years. Malema has dug up the Freedom Charter and called for the promised nationalisation. However, times have changed; the quality of his inexperienced leadership has been called into question. Mandela and his lieutenants were sophisticated university graduates and lawyers. Malema and his lieutenants lack gravitas and have often resorted to rabble-rousing and invectives inconsistent with a new civil society. Malema’s diatribes have not translated into organised and youthful initiatives or credible programmes, supported by the government, that would inspire and empower the youth to shape their future. More often he has made noise without programmes.
The ANC has done a great job in bringing political and economic stability. South Africa is now a democratically respected member of the international community. However, the greatest threat to the country is the inherited inequalities that are drawn along racial lines. It is a problem that can spark social upheavals. The solution of the economic issue may take another 100 years or even more. But a restless African population will not wait that long.
Part of the problem is the generosity of spirit that is often lacking in the previously advantaged – the spirit of giving that will go a long way to managing a potentially explosive situation. This has prompted many to call for a wealth tax on whites. Has this been embraced? No. it has rather been met with the intransigence of the P.W. Botha era.
It is a troubling situation that calls for an economic CODESA as soon as possible, to avert a conflagration. The political CODESA saved South Africa from implosion in the early 1990s. As the saying goes, a hungry man is an angry man. And the black man cannot live by political freedom alone.
* Thato Mmereki is writer, speaker, social entrepreneur, government relations consultant and director of the Mmereki Brokerage & Development Firm (MBDFco).