Power to the party

Nelson Mandela may have been deluded about his long walk to freedom. “Freedom is  not a destination. It is a journey.” That rebuke comes from the party Mr Mandela  led to power, the African National Congress. Its general secretary,  Gwede Mantashe, has been warning “the people” not to make the same mistake. Enjoy the trip instead.

That’s not going to be easy judging from the latest  social statistics compiled by researcher Dale  T. McKinley. Here’s a selection.

  • Twenty percent of the population live in extreme poverty. That’s a family of five living on less than 63 British pence a day.
  • Since 1995 the average life expectancy of South Africans has fallen by more than ten years to 49.5 years. And its now 45.2 years for blacks and 74.1 years for whites.
  • Out of a working population in 2014 of 35,5 million (aged between 15 and 64) only 15,1 million are actually working on a regular basis, either in the formal or informal sector. Most of the unemployed are black.
  • The median minimum wage for workers in South Africa’s core industrial and manufacturing sectors is around R2700 per month. For executives at 80 listed corporations its around R485 000 per month; R760 000 for CEOs. The average income of whites is around 800% higher than blacks.
  • The profit rate  for corporate capital almost doubled between 1994 and 2011.The top 10% hold 75% of wealth; the poorest 50 %  get 2,5 % the same as the two richest people earned  last year.

Ronnie Kasrils, former ANC security chief provides an explanation for the party’s  dismal failure. Young, western trained, ANC economists were outwitted in secret meetings  by the bosses of South African and foreign corporations and caved in to their demands – and threats of  retaliation from capital and currency markets at the faintest whiff of ‘socialism’. The ANC lost its nerve. “What I call our Faustian moment came when we took an IMF loan on the eve of our first democratic election. That loan, with strings attached that precluded a radical economic agenda, was considered a necessary evil…”

Naomi Klein has fleshed out this now familiar story. Instead of  attempting to launch a second liberation movement the ANC  set out to woo foreign investors who would create new wealth to trickle down to the poor. In 1996 it unveiled  the standard neo-liberal package; privatisation, austerity, labour flexibility, freer trade and even looser monetary controls.  “Just call me a Thatcherite” said former president Thabo Mbeki.

The notion that the ANC simply double-faulted is unconvincing. More importantly the ruling party with a commanding majority (almost 63% of the vote last year) urges its supporters to empathize with its impotence. This is  tosh. The humiliation and betrayal of ordinary, trusting  people is deeply cynical. The ANC could have done -and still can do – a great deal to improve the living conditions and revolutionary possibilities of desperate South Africans.

Instead its general secretary talks rubbish.

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