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Funeral for freedom

The response to the slaying of Chris Hani confirms that the 'peace process' is about South Africa's new black leaders making their peace with the ruling white elite, says Charles Longford

After black leader Chris Hani was murdered outside his Boksburg home in April, a million blacks stayed away from work to attend rallies and protest marches across South Africa. The government of FW De Klerk and the world's media issued dire warnings of impending race war. Amid the mounting tension and sporadic violence, African National Congress (ANC) president Nelson Mandela appeared on state television again and again to appeal for calm.

Mandela has been interviewed on state television many times. But until Hani's death, only president De Klerk had been allowed to address the country directly on the state's religiously guarded airwaves. The fact that Mandela now appeared on screen in presidential guise, to tell black South Africans to restrain their anger, illustrated the extent to which the De Klerk regime has cohered a partnership with the new black leadership - a leadership increasingly at odds with the black masses themselves.

Who fingered Hani?

Chris Hani was a member of the ANC executive, the former head of its armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, and current chief of the South African Communist Party. His killing illustrates what the regime's strategy of trying to moderate the liberation movement is all about. The debate about whether there was a conspiracy by the white right to kill Hani and other black leaders, misses the point. A Polish emigré may have fired the gun but it was De Klerk who fingered Hani as an extremist and who, despite the problems Hani's death created, stands to gain the most from it.

Hani had been set up as a target by the De Klerk regime long before he was killed. It did not matter that he was an enthusiastic advocate of the negotiations strategy who had been in the forefront of selling it to the ANC's more sceptical supporters. In fact, weeks before his death Hani had been on a tour of the Border area addressing suspicious audiences about the necessity of supporting 'the mother of all mass struggles' - by voting for the ANC in the forthcoming power-sharing elections.

Despite his support for the government-sponsored 'peace process', the De Klerk regime demonised Hani and the South African Communist Party in an attempt to split the liberation movement and isolate its own most determined opponents. The government continued to publicise Hani's past links with the armed struggle and militancy, because he remained what Peter Mokaba, leader of the ANC's youth league, called 'an umbilical cord' between the ANC and the masses.

Severed links

Hani did not oppose the ANC strategy of pursuing negotiations and power-sharing instead of struggle. But he retained a relationship with the black masses which made him susceptible to pressure from them for action. This relationship, rather than any political principle, is what sets a 'radical' apart from a 'moderate' in the ANC today. De Klerk's strategy of moderating the ANC has really been about solidifying that distinction, by cultivating those who are immune to mass pressure and cutting out those, like Hani, who can still act as 'an umbilical cord'.

The aftermath of Hani's murder revealed that most of the black political leaders in the new South Africa have long since severed whatever cords once bound them to the masses. The relationship between the ANC and the mass movement has undergone a fundamental transformation. Only last June, after the massacre of black civilians in Boipatong township, the ANC felt under enough pressure immediately to withdraw from negotiations with the government and launch a programme of mass action. By contrast, after the killing of Hani, the only thing the ANC did immediately was to call for more talks with De Klerk, talks to set a date for the elections for a power-sharing government of national unity.

Safety valve

The six-week programme of mass action that the ANC announced would follow Hani's funeral was even more telling. In the past, mass action was presented as a display of the power of the black majority. This time the ANC admitted that its primary aim was simply to provide a safety valve which would allow the masses to let off some steam. As Joe Slovo, former general secretary of the Communist Party and now one of the chief ANC negotiators put it, doing nothing would be 'the shortest route to an explosion', while organising token action could both contain the anger and apply some pressure on the government to speed up the confirmation of an election date.

South Africa is now entering another phase in the evolution of its new politics. The ANC has made its peace with the white elite. It has agreed that, after multi-racial elections to be held sometime in the next year, a national power-sharing government will run South Africa until 1999. In effect this concession means the continuation of white minority control, and the postponement of black majority rule, until the end of the century and probably beyond.

Attacking their own

The ANC is no longer just the target of De Klerk's strategy, but its main executor. ANC leaders have now joined De Klerk in criminalising militancy and condemning those who oppose the acceptance of a power-sharing government in place of the longstanding aspiration for black majority rule.

In the weeks before Chris Hani's death, leading members of the ANC made forceful speeches about the ANC's role in fostering a climate of violence in South Africa. It appeared that there had been intense internal discussion about how far ANC members, often organised within township self-defence units, were responsible for the recent conflict in the country. It subsequently emerged that this 'internal' ANC issue had in fact been raised by De Klerk during talks with Mandela! Mandela's speech at the funeral of executed guerrilla Solomon Mahlangu showed that he had been listening carefully. Addressing a crowd of thousands at the newly named Solomon Mahlangu Park, on the edge of Mamelodi township, Mandela 'lumped ANC killers with all others as "animals" and pledged to root them out of the ANC' (Weekly Mail, 8-15 April 1993).

Loud boos

When anger burst out after Hani's murder, the ANC proved that this was no idle threat. As De Klerk warned that black 'anarchy' would lead to a racial bloodbath, the ANC accepted that the challenge was to demonstrate its capacity to control its own people. What followed illustrated the transformation of the relationship between the ANC and its mass base of support.

When Mandela repeated his message of restraint at a mass rally in Sebokeng, it earned him loud boos instead of the usual adulation. The obscure leader of the Pan Africanist Congress, Clarence Makwethu, whose slogan 'One settler, one bullet' has won some support among South Africa's township youth, received the kind of reception which until now had been the exclusive preserve of Mandela and Hani. Mandela's words, meanwhile, were soon followed by actions.

In Johannesburg, during one march which was allowed to proceed after agreements between ANC leaders and the police, youths involved in some looting were handed over to the police by ANC marshals. And in an unprecedented episode, three suspects in the murder in Sharpeville of a black journalist, Calvin Thusago, were handed over to the police by Sharpeville ANC and the ANC youth league after a citizen's arrest.

The ANC collaborated with the police force of the apartheid state in controlling many of the demonstrations that followed Hani's death. The black leadership has clearly become more dependent for its survival upon its links with the South African state than on its relationship with the black masses.

New ANC elite

State repression now appears to have received the stamp of approval from erstwhile critics of apartheid. It was remarkable that the emergency measures which De Klerk imposed after Hani's death were hardly commented upon. While commentators noted that there were victims of police violence, nobody pointed out that De Klerk had declared more magisterial states of emergency than were imposed during the height of the uprisings in the 1980s.

It was not Hani's funeral, but that of Oliver Tambo, the ANC's elder statesman and president during the years of exile and banishment, that best symbolised how far and fast things have changed in South Africa. The ANC leaders announced that Tambo had been 'very disturbed by the looting, vandalism and violence' which had accompanied the Hani funeral, and warned their followers that 'criminal and hooligan elements' would not be allowed to desecrate Tambo's burial. As it turned out the contrast between the two burials spoke volumes about the new South Africa. Both funerals were held in Soweto's sports stadium. But while Hani's was marked by tens of thousands of mourners who queued for hours to get near the stadium, Tambo's was marked by their absence, and the presence of foreign dignitaries and diplomats.

Events surrounding the Hani and Tambo funerals demonstrated the accelerating transformation of the ANC into a new political elite, immune to mass pressure, prepared to take its lead from De Klerk, and more at home in the television studio than the township.

Just months after black marchers were massacred at Bisho, the ANC is cooperating with the South African security forces
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 56, June 1993

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