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.

More articles by:

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.

Weekend Edition
November 17, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Thank an Anti-War Veteran
Andrew Levine
What’s Wrong With Bible Thumpers Nowadays?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The CIA’s House of Horrors: the Abominable Dr. Gottlieb
Wendy Wolfson – Ken Levy
Why We Need to Take Animal Cruelty Much More Seriously
Mike Whitney
Brennan and Clapper: Elder Statesmen or Serial Fabricators?
David Rosen
Of Sex Abusers and Sex Offenders
Ryan LaMothe
A Christian Nation?
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Finger on the Button: Why No President Should Have the Authority to Launch Nuclear Weapons
W. T. Whitney
A Bizarre US Pretext for Military Intrusion in South America
Deepak Tripathi
Sex, Lies and Incompetence: Britain’s Ruling Establishment in Crisis 
Howard Lisnoff
Who You’re Likely to Meet (and Not Meet) on a College Campus Today
Roy Morrison
Trump’s Excellent Asian Adventure
John W. Whitehead
Financial Tyranny
Ted Rall
How Society Makes Victimhood a No-Win Proposition
Jim Goodman
Stop Pretending the Estate Tax has Anything to do With Family Farmers
Thomas Klikauer
The Populism of Germany’s New Nazis
Murray Dobbin
Is Trudeau Ready for a Middle East war?
Jeiddy Martínez Armas
Firearm Democracy
Jill Richardson
Washington’s War on Poor Grad Students
Ralph Nader
The Rule of Power Over the Rule of Law
Justin O'Hagan
Capitalism Equals Peace?
Matthew Stevenson
Into Africa: From the Red Sea to Nairobi
Geoff Dutton
The Company We Sadly Keep
Evan Jones
The Censorship of Jacques Sapir, French Dissident
Linn Washington Jr.
Meek Moment Triggers Demands for Justice Reform
Gerry Brown
TPP, Indo Pacific, QUAD: What’s Next to Contain China’s Rise?
Robert Fisk
The Exile of Saad Hariri
Romana Rubeo - Ramzy Baroud
Anti-BDS Laws and Pro-Israeli Parliament: Zionist Hasbara is Winning in Italy
Robert J. Burrowes
Why are Police in the USA so Terrified?
Chuck Collins
Stop Talking About ‘Winners and Losers’ From Corporate Tax Cuts
Ron Jacobs
Private Property Does Not Equal Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Mass Shootings, Male Toxicity and their Roots in Agriculture
Binoy Kampmark
The Fordist Academic
Frank Scott
Weapons of Mass Distraction Get More Destructive
Missy Comley Beattie
Big Dick Diplomacy
Michael Doliner
Democracy, Real Life Acting and the Movies
Dan Bacher
Jerry Brown tells indigenous protesters in Bonn, ‘Let’s put you in the ground’
Winslow Myers
The Madness of Deterrence
Cesar Chelala
A Kiss is Not a Kiss: Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children
Jimmy Centeno
Garcia Meets Guayasamin: A De-Colonial Experience
Stephen Martin
When Boot Becomes Bot: Surplus Population and The Human Face.
Martin Billheimer
Homer’s Iliad, la primera nota roja
Louis Proyect
Once There Were Strong Men
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mike McCormack’s Solar Bones
David Yearsley
Academics Take Flight
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail