FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Don’t Blame Mandela for Our Failure

by RON JACOBS

Like most radicals my age, I remember the moment I heard Nelson Mandela would walk free. I also remember exactly when I heard the apartheid regime was finally gone. I also recall Nelson Mandela’s victory tour in the wake of the moment. When Mandela won the 1994 election, I wondered how the ANC would pull off the economic changes necessary to complete its campaign of bringing social justice to the formerly racist state. Of course, I wasn’t alone in this concern. The challenges were multiple and so were the national and international defenders of the previous reality.

While it is easy to criticize the African National Congress’ acceptance of neoliberal policies in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s election in 1994, acting as if the ANC could have done something different is a bit delusional. Important to understanding the situation post-apartheid South Africa and other newly independent nations and liberation movements faced in the early 1990s was the demise of the Soviet Union. Despite its oft-challenged interpretation of socialism, the fact remains that the Soviet Union did provide financial and military assistance to developing nations around the globe trying to create socially just economies in their newly liberated territories. Whether the Soviet Union’s support was motivated by imperial reasons or because Moscow was a bulwark of socialist liberation is a matter of perspective. As regards the nation of South Africa specifically, the support of the Soviet Union enabled the ANC not only to exist, but to also deepen and broaden its struggle against the racist regime of apartheid South Africa. The union between the ANC and the Communist Party in South Africa was crucial to the success of the anti-apartheid struggle. Once the Soviet Union met its demise in 1990, there was essentially no other economic resource outside of the already stratified and strapped South African economy that the ANC could turn to.

One part of the original economic plan of the ANC government was the nationalization of the mines and other industries to try and resolve some of the economic inequality that existed under the apartheid regime. Unfortunately, their timing was too late. When apartheid was finally abolished, the mechanics of neoliberalism were well on their way to controlling the very nature of the world’s economy. By 1994, even China and Vietnam were telling the ANC government to follow their lead and take the capitalist road, with modifications designed to lessen the most obvious injustices. As history has proven however, the machinery of neoliberalism not only creates inequalities, it exacerbates them. As a matter of fact, it depends on those inequalities to enhance profits and control. During 1993 GATT negotiations, the late U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown classified South Africa as a “developed” rather than “developing” country. As a partial consequence, South Africa lost preferential trade privileges and quickly ran up a $541 million trade deficit with the United States in 1995. Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) negotiated an extremely exploitative free trade agreement which treated South Africa as Europe’s industrial equal, despite the obvious lack of substance to the claim.

Sure, the ANC could have refused to pay the debts the apartheid regime accumulated. However, the reality is that the very same institutions demanding the debt repayment were the institutions offering to loan the ANC-led government money. Without an international demand forcing amnesty on that debt, the new government probably felt it had no choice but to agree to repay. Most importantly, perhaps, is the usually unstated (by left critics of Mandela and the ANC post-1994) fact that neoliberalism was but the most recent incarnation of imperialism and, consequently, demanded a determined resistance not just from one nation’s people, but from an international anti-imperialist movement. That was a movement that did not exist in any real way in the 1990s.

Unfortunately for South Africa and every other economy caught in neoliberalism’s web, once an economy goes down the neoliberal road, it is almost impossible to turn back. This is due in large part to the global reach of the system. Just as neoliberalism mostly benefits the corporate financier class, it also works against the rights and liberties of everything and everyone else, individually, class wise and even in terms of local and national autonomy. Like previous incarnations of imperialism, the beneficiaries of the system are primarily certain northern capitals. Given the centrality of the US economy to the world economy, the primary beneficiaries are US corporations and banks. Likewise, the negative aspects of the economy intensify the further away from the center one goes.

Like virtually every other economy of the latter twentieth century, South Africa believed the promises made by the champions of neoliberalism. Similarly, it found itself ensnared in its web with no way out by the beginning of the next millennium. In recent years, working class South Africans have found themselves facing greater debt, stagnant wages and less job security. Their situation is replicated in every other country on the planet. Meanwhile, members of national and global elites around the world lavish in wealth never before seen on earth. Criticizing Nelson Mandela for not creating a socialist nation in the new South Africa ignores the greater failure of the rest of us in not fighting to replicate that reality around in our own nations. If we truly wish to honor Mandela’s legacy, we must recommit ourselves to that fight.

Ron Jacobs is the author of the just released novel All the Sinners, Saints. He is also the author of  The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up and The Co-Conspirator’s Tale. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden.  His third novel All the Sinners Saints is a companion to the previous two and is due out in April 2013.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press.  He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 01, 2017
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Fictitious Economy: Hiding How the Economy Really Works
Joseph Natoli
The Fourth Estate vs. the Trump Regime
Kim C. Domenico
A Deconstruction of Whiteness: Unsafe Among My Own Kind
Yoav Litvin
American Dystopia – A Future of Racists, Snitches and Outcasts
Dan Glazebrook
From Kissinger’s Playbook: Flynn is Gone, His Russia Policy Lives On
Peter Mayo
Storming “Fortress Europe” in Search of a Social World
Sam Gordon
The Audacity of Sacrilege
Arnold August
Fidel, Political Power and the New Culture of Communication
Linn Washington Jr.
Black History in Cyberspace: British 3D App Game Features Forgotten Facts
Norman Pollack
Trump’s Neo-Fascist Discourse: CPAC Revisited
Nyla Ali Khan
Women in Conflict Zones: Escaping Masculine Socialization and Generating a Transformative Vision
Sam Husseini
Questioning Pelosi and Schumer
Jesse Jackson
Private Prisons Slam the Door on Justice
February 28, 2017
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
A Paradigm Shift in the Middle East: Iran as the Solution, Not the Problem
Paul Street
Big Brother Capitalism Strikes Back
Stephen Cooper
Trump’s Pusillanimous Immigration Policy Imperils the Public and the Police
Vincent Emanuele
The Madness of U.S. Empire
Michael Sainato and Chelsea Skojec
We Need the Endangered Species Act Now More Than Ever
David Underhill
Oops, They Did It Again: Crowd Bowls Over Rep in Beery Alley
John Eskow
Jimmy Kimmel is a Total Dick and Other Reflections on the Oscars
Steve Horn
Trump’s Top Energy Aide, Mike Catanzaro Peddled Climate Change Denial
Jack Random
The Trump Diaries: Week Five
Robert Fisk
The Education of Marine Le Pen
Pauline Murphy
Felicia Browne’s Fight Against Fascism
Mary Lynn Cramer
Fearing the Trump Impeachment
Mel Gurtov
While Our Attention is Elsewhere, Climate Change Worsens
Dan Bacher
Extinction 2017: California Edition
Abel Cohen
The Trojan President: America Never Saw It Coming
February 27, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Media Ban! Making Sense of the War Between Trump and the Press
Dave Lindorff
Resume Inflation at the NSC: Lt. General McMaster’s Silver Star Was Essentially Earned for Target Practice
Conn Hallinan
Is Trump Moderating US Foreign Policy? Hardly
Norman Pollack
Political Castration of State: Militarization of Government
Kenneth Surin
Inside Dharavi, a Mumbai Slum
Lawrence Davidson
Truth vs. Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Extradition Saga of Kim Dotcom
Robert Fisk
Why a Victory Over ISIS in Mosul Might Spell Defeat in Deir Ezzor
David Swanson
Open Guantanamo!
Ted Rall
The Republicans May Impeach Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Why Should Trump―or Anyone―Be Able to Launch a Nuclear War?
Andrew Stewart
Down with Obamacare, Up with Single Payer!
Colin Todhunter
Message to John Beddington and the Oxford Martin Commission
David Macaray
UFOs: The Myth That Won’t Die?
Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail