Freedom indefinitely postponed
The African National Congress claims that it is close to securing a
historic victory for blacks in South Africa. Charles Longford looks at the
ANC's latest policy document and concludes that, in fact, Africa's oldest
liberation movement has finally abandoned the struggle for black majority
When four white people were killed by members of the Azanian People's Liberation
Army in King William's Town at the end of November, South Africa's president
FW De Klerk loudly condemned the attack as 'an act of terrorism'. It was
a predictable piece of apartheid hypocrisy. These were the first white civilians
to die in such an attack for years. Meanwhile, De Klerk's government has
presided over the deaths of thousands of black people in South Africa, while
denouncing the smallest sign of retaliation as murderous terror.
The remarkable thing was not De Klerk's routine condemnation, but the response
of the African National Congress (ANC). In the past, the ANC has often been
tarred with the same 'terrorist' brush. This time, however, the ANC agreed
with the regime that such black violence constitutes 'an act of terrorism'.
That was just for starters.
By the end of the week, Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC secretary-general, and Roelf
Meyer, De Klerk's minister of constitutional development, had issued a joint
statement after three days of closed talks, stating that there was now a
'shared responsibility to ensure a multi-party negotiated transformation
to a democracy', which had to take place 'rapidly'. And just as the ANC
endorsed the government's definition of what now constitutes terrorism, so
it has accepted the De Klerk regime's redefinition of exactly what sort of
'democracy' South Africa should rapidly be transformed into.
The ANC leadership has accepted the government's proposal for a general
election to elect an interim government of 'national unity', in which minority
political parties with proven support will be guaranteed representation.
This body, serviced by the existing civil service of the apartheid state,
will draft a new post-apartheid constitution in which South Africa's diverse
ethnic groups will receive constitutional protection.
The proposals may sound democratic and fair, but in the context of the realities
of South African society they are a sham. All the talk about 'minority rights'
is simply a diversion from talking about the basis for real democracy; black
majority rule. In South Africa, 'minority rights' has long been a
code word for protecting the socio-economic power of the white minority
elite. The fact that the ANC will now entertain such a scenario indicates
the extent to which it has retreated from the democratic principle at the
heart of the liberation struggle: the principle of one person one vote,
black majority rule.
It is sometimes inevitable that, in the course of political struggles, a
liberation movement will be forced to accept compromises. The problem in
South Africa today is that the ANC is trying to sell its compromise on majority
rule as a great step forward for the black majority. Instead of explaining
that the 'interim government of national unity' has been forced upon them
by the authorities, ANC leaders are presenting as a victory the prospect
of their involvement in a government which will enshrine the principle of
'minority rights' - that is, white capitalist power.
This is not the action of a liberation movement taking pragmatic temporary
steps in difficult circumstances. It suggests that the ANC is going much
further, redefining what constitutes a victory and therefore what the liberation
struggle is really all about.
The new ANC policy document, 'Negotiations: a strategic perspective', adopted
in November after some debate and controversy, has became the basis for
these compromises. In section five of the document, 'Goals of the National
Liberation Struggle and our immediate objectives', the ANC tries to explain
the relationship between liberation tomorrow and compromise today:
'The fundamental goals of the National Liberation Struggle should not be
confused with the immediate objectives we set ourselves in each phase of
the transition. At the same time we should ensure that the immediate objectives
we pursue do not have the effect of blocking our longer-term goals....The
objectives we set, and can attain in each phase will depend upon the balance
of forces.' (p6)
This counterposition between the long-term 'fundamental goals' of the struggle
and the definition of immediate objectives is the key to unravelling how
the ANC is abandoning the struggle for black liberation in practice.
Balance of forces
What are the 'fundamental goals of the National Liberation Struggle'? Well,
until the end of the Cold War, the goal was said to be the socialist transformation
of South African society. The collapse of Stalinism and the ANC's conversion
(along with its Communist Party mentors) to market economics has got that
little confusion out of the way. Now the only 'fundamental goal' remaining
is black majority rule and the removal of white social, economic and political
privileges. The question is whether the 'immediate objectives' which the
ANC is pursuing through its deal with the government advance or set back
It is fair enough for the ANC policy document to suggest that the tactical
objectives to be pursued depend upon the current 'balance of forces' between
the state and the black opposition. Everybody has to take account of realities.
But there is a problem here. The 'balance of forces' between two sides is
dictated by political struggle; each side subjectively seeks to tip the
balance in its favour. To read the ANC document, however, you might think
that the balance of forces has fallen from the sky, and imposed an 'objective'
requirement for the ANC to compromise and form an alliance with the De Klerk
Act of God?
In section six of the document, 'The need for Government of National Unity',
for example, we read that 'objective reality imposes a central role for
the ANC and the NP [National Party] in the transition....This means the
balance of forces has forced on to the South African political situation
a relationship between the ANC and the NP'. (p7)
It sounds as if 'the balance of forces' is an act of God, something visited
upon South African society for which no man is responsible and which all
are powerless to resist. Of course, this is nonsense. The present situation
in South Africa has not been brought about by chance nor by divine intervention.
It is the result, as we have consistently argued in Living Marxism, of
a conscious political strategy ruthlessly pursued by the De Klerk regime,
that has exploited the flaw in ANC politics.
Moderating the ANC
When the ANC claims that 'objective reality' has imposed certain limited
'immediate goals' upon the movement, it is really saying that it accepts
the results of De Klerk's strategy. The 'objective reality' it is talking
about is the conservative-influenced political climate in South Africa, which
has been brought about by the government's successful attempt to moderate
the liberation movement.
From the outset, De Klerk's aim in legalising the ANC was to transform the
liberation movement into a junior partner of government. He has pursued
this aim along two tracks: moderate the ANC leadership, while isolating
those hostile to compromise.
Black civil war
The government has used Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Inkatha movement and dirty
tricks by its own security forces to transform the liberation struggle into
a civil war within the black community. In the process of dividing the majority
black population, the Pretoria regime has isolated militancy and fostered
moderation. You need only recall how the ANC more or less accepted the charge
that its mass protests were responsible for the massacre of demonstrators
at Bisho, to see how successful De Klerk has been in moderating the ANC's
By caving in to pressure from the regime, the ANC has redefined what constitutes
a realistic political strategy today. When the government said that armed
struggle was a barrier to the 'peace process', the ANC abandoned it (the
government did not reciprocate). When the government blamed mass action
for the breakdown in negotiations, the ANC gave in again. Having forsaken
the armed struggle and conceded that mass action is a non-starter, the only
'strategy' left is negotiations with the government.
In this situation, the ANC's relationship to its base of support has become
less important than its concern to keep the negotiations process alive.
Anything that threatens the talks must be sacrificed. Whether they are condemning
black 'terrorism' or criticising militant protests, the ANC leaders have
almost adopted the language of apartheid's rulers and are already acting
like junior partners in government. They now rely for their survival more
upon their relationship with the National Party than with the black masses.
The ANC's reliance on the National Party is the uncomfortable truth which
the policy document seeks to disguise. If that truth were to be admitted,
the ANC's 'immediate goals' would be exposed as the acceptance of a shady
deal based on what De Klerk is offering today, rather than as positive steps
towards the 'fundamental' goals of the liberation struggle. That is why
the document is at pains to obscure reality with convoluted Stalinist-speak,
talking about everything from 'dialectical interconnection(s)' to 'changing
The most disastrous diversionary manoeuvre the ANC leaders are going through
is their claim that negotiations represent a victory for the liberation
movement and a defeat for the 'forces of apartheid' (p5). But if negotiations
represent a victory, why is it the ANC that is compromising its principles?
Moreover, how does conceding the principle of black majority rule today
ensure its achievement in the long term? The ANC argues that, in the phase
of interim government, it can create 'more favourable conditions' (p6).
But how can giving into the enemy's demands improve the conditions? And
in any case, why should the ANC need 'more favourable conditions' if today's
negotiations represent a step forward, and a defeat for the 'forces of apartheid'?
The key question which all of this avoids is, who has the initiative in
the political struggle? The ANC leaders' twisting and turning cannot disguise
the way that they are clinging on to De Klerk's coat tails in the hope of
gaining a place in government. Behind all of their talk of 'objective realities'
they have embraced short-term expediency as a way of life, while the long-term
'fundamental goal' - freedom - has been postponed indefinitely.
Over the rainbow
The tension between short and long-term goals has always existed in the
ANC programme. In the past, the struggle against apartheid for black majority
rule was the 'immediate goal', while the socialist transformation of South
African society was the 'long-term' one. The separation of these stages
in theory, in conditions where it was impossible to separate them in reality,
meant that the 'long-term' goal of socialism was always put off until somewhere
over the rainbow.
Today there is no longer any talk of the 'socialist transformation of South
African society'. The collapse of the Soviet model, which many in South
Africa saw as the alternative to capitalism, means that market economics
rules. There is nothing particularly startling about this. Most leading
members of the ANC were always hostile to anti-capitalist politics. But
what is significant is that yesterday's 'immediate goal' - the achievement
of black majority rule - has now become the long-term one, something to be
hoped for in the indefinite future.
This 'objective reality' did not come about through Providence. Nor was
it inevitable. Instead it is the result of a government strategy which has
both taken advantage of the favourable 'balance of forces' brought about
by the end of the Cold War, and exploited the fundamental tensions at the
heart of ANC politics.
With the threat of a challenge to South Africa's socio-economic system lifted
by the collapse of Stalinism, De Klerk has been able to draw in the liberation
movement's leaders by offering them the prospect of black participation
in the institutions of a post-apartheid capitalist South Africa. 'Negotiations:
a strategic perspective' reveals how far De Klerk has been successful in
making the ANC a part of the 'objective reality' now working in his favour.
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 52, February 1993