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<nettime> Apartheid is still alive in SA by John Pilger
evel on Mon, 25 May 1998 21:11:04 +0200 (MET DST)


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<nettime> Apartheid is still alive in SA by John Pilger


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NOTA BENE: JOHN PILGER's documentary Apartheid Did Not Die was shown on
British and South African television (SABC) on April 21. SABC introduced
the show with a warning (a unique case in the history of SA
broadcasting) saying that Pilger's documentary was put on the air "even
if it is critical towards the ANC government", and that was just because
the SABC wanted to offer its audience an opportunity to "evaluate the
reporting style and ethics" of Pilger! The show was followed by a TV
debate in which politicians and intellectuals (particularly ANC's
General Secretary Kgalema Mothlanthe and government-oriented Centre for
Policy Studies' Kehla Shubane) staged a real mediatic lynching of
Pilger, mainly guilty of "being a foreigner who wants to come here and
teach us about democracy". On April 17, the Johannesburg-based Mail &
Guardian published an article in which Pilger described his first visit
to South Africa after his banning 30 years ago. Both the film and
article generated enormous controversy throughout South Africa. Below is
an abridged version of the M&G article.

Franco Barchiesi
____________________
BEGINNING OF PILGER'S ARTICLE

In 1967, I was banned from South Africa for "embarrassing the state".
I had been smuggled into one of the secret hearings of the Race
Classification Board where, in Room 33 every Thursday morning,
apartheid's horrific quackery was on display, its moral and
intellectual mutation made to appear normal, with forms and
regulations and decision-making based on "criteria".

Here, suited officials, men of dour, fraudulent respectability, took
evidence: scribbling, whispering and now and then leaning down from
their magistrate's bench in order to study the texture of a human
head of hair and peer at the whites of human eyes.

After due consideration, "racially borderline" people were classified
or reclassified "according to appearance and acceptance", which meant
a ticket to a lifetime of privilege or humiliation. Black-skinned
people needed not apply.

Stepping off the plane 30 years later, I read about the white
businessman who had sent an anonymous fax to a black trade union
leader, calling him a "kaffir, arsehole and trash". For this, he was
fined and publicly shamed: a normal act of justice in a civilised
country, yet inconceivable until recently in South Africa.

Among the black majority there is a new sense of pride that gives
meaning to ubuntu, the traditional spirit of humanism expressed in a
distinctly African notion that people are people through other
people. This is not without the usual frailties, but the evidence of
its resilience is everywhere in South Africa; and those seeking
optimism about the human spirit need look no further.

Few whites go into the townships. For them, beyond the multiracial
images of the "rainbow nation" -- now celebrated, sadly, not by the
power of the people's epic story but by consumerist propaganda --
they are in another country. Here live those whose blood, sweat and
tears forced the pace of change and who, wrote Allister Sparks, South
Africa's great chronicler, "could feel they were proclaiming their
equality and that their strength of spirit could overwhelm the guns
and armoured vehicles waiting outside".

These are the people to whom Mandela said their "hopes and dreams are
about to be realised". It follows that they ought not to have merely an
expectation of a better life, but a right to one.

This right is still denied and South Africa is still not theirs. What
is clear is that "reconciliation", to which Mandela has devoted
himself to the applause of most of the world, provides little more
than a facade behind which apartheid continues by other means. The
question remains: reconciliation for whom?

In 1994, as election day approached, white South Africans hoarded food
and fortified their houses against the feared "takeover" by domestic
servants, the homeless, the unemployed and the black masses.  Four years
later, the servants are still serving, the squatters are still squatting
(and still being evicted by white-led paramilitary police), and the
majority are still waiting -- while the "madams" and the "baases"
experience no real change in their privileged way of life.

Fly into any South African city and the divisions are precise and
entrenched. Johannesburg offers the most vivid example. On one side,
there is Sandton municipality where, in fortified splendour, live
some of the most pampered people on earth.

Enclaves like Sandton are apartheid's unchallenged bastions, from
which 5% of the population control 88% of the nation's wealth. This
grotesque imbalance of power has not changed and is not likely to.
They, not the majority, have been rewarded by democracy and
"reconciliation".

What is amazing to me is the degree of restraint exercised by the
majority, given the flaunting of wealth by a minority. About 2
kilometres from Sandton, literally across a road, is Alexandra. Half
a million people live here, squeezed into a 2.5 square kilometres.
When it rains, the polluted river floods and houses collapse and the
roads run like caramel.

When I was there it was stinking and dry, with a flock of aproned
women frantically trying to pick up the stranded rubbish; the spick
and span state of people's homes is a wonder. On the hill are two
great "hostels", like prison blocks: one built for men, the other for
women. Apartheid's planners designed them as a cheap labour pool;
everybody else was to be "removed". But the people of Alexandra
resisted, and stayed.

Mzwanele Mayekiso grew up in Alexandra and, until recently, was head of
the local branch of the South African National Civics Organisation,
whose boycotts and direct action during the 1980s helped to bring down
the regime. "Most people over there don't know we exist", he said. "I
mean, literally. Our women go over as domestics, our men as labourers
and gardeners. No one asks where they return home to. Nothing has
changed.

"Long before Mandela was released, the old regime had already
dismantled the trappings of segregation. They left intact the most
important part, which was always economic apartheid; and this has
been adapted and reinforced by the ANC government. I think we are
being designed like the United States: divided by class, which
generally means race. We are even learning to speak the new jargon of
separation, with the majority of people referred to not as the heroes
of our struggle, but as an `underclass'."

Before F.W. de Klerk announced the un-banning of the ANC and
Mandela's release on February 2, 1990, he and the white establishment
had reached a kind of gentlemen's agreement with the ANC, following
secret meetings, that accommodated the fears of the old order and the
demands of the "international community".

The US, the British and the World Bank made it clear that South
Africa would be "welcomed into the global economy" on condition that
its new government pursued orthodox, "neo-liberal" policies that
favoured big business, foreign investors, deregulation, privatisation
and, at best, offered a "trickle down" to the majority who were to be
shut out of the economy.

Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, Mandela's successor and one of the
transition negotiators, told me that the ANC had "no choice at all"
but to accept a series of "historic compromises"; otherwise there
would have been a "bloodbath" and "great suffering across the land".

Certainly, at the time, the perceived threat was from a far-right
third force. But if such a threat existed, it turned out to be far
less important than the more subtle machinations of de Klerk and his
colleagues combined with the ANC's willingness to make the "historic
compromises".

As for the "great suffering", while it is true that there was no
civil war, the political decisions made by the ANC, which relegated
the needs of the majority, have ensured the continuation of great
suffering by exclusion -- in the disastrous housing and employment
policies and the absence of a minimal strategy for redistribution. The
reason for this is partly historical. The ANC was always a party of
compromise, seeking in the beginning "a place at the table".

People were misled; in 1990, the ANC leadership made clear it would
do its utmost to honour the spirit of the 1955 Freedom Charter, which
declared that the people "shall share in the country's wealth. The
minerals beneath the soil and monopoly industry shall belong to the
people. The land shall be shared among those who work it. There shall
be houses, security and the right to work."

The ANC, said Mandela, would take over the great monopolies,
including the mines, and the financial institutions. "That is the
fundamental policy of the ANC", he said. "It is inconceivable that we
will ever change this policy." To his people, his words carried the
moral weight of a leader who, as Anthony Sampson, Mandela's
biographer, has written, has "a moral influence which no politician or
newspaper dare challenge".

However, on his triumphant travels abroad Mandela spoke with a
different emphasis. The ANC, he said in New York, "will reintroduce
the market to South Africa". The "market" in South Africa has a long
and bloody history. As Basil Davidson has written, "economic
invention" lay at the root of the organised racism that distinguished
the British Empire long before the Boers declared apartheid as
official policy in 1948.

As prime minister of the Cape in the late 19th century, Cecil Rhodes,
the great liberal benefactor, encouraged the dispossession of
Africans and their "removal" to cheap labour reserves for the gold
and diamond mines. The Oppenheimers, who ran the Anglo American
company, also had beneficent pretensions. While declaring himself an
opponent of certain aspects of apartheid, Harry Oppenheimer's
tentacular empire grew rich on the brutal migrant labour system.

When it was clear, in the 1980s, that the regime of P.W. Botha was
doomed, big business changed its allegiance to the ANC, confident
that its multinational interests would not be obstructed and that
foolish promises about equity and the natural resources "belonging to
all the people" would be abandoned.

Since the ANC has settled into office, Margaret Thatcher's infamous TINA
("there is no alternative") has become the government's touchstone. The
policy is known as GEAR -- for growth, employment and redistribution --
but it has little connection with employment, as jobs are being shed by
the tens of thousands, and even less with redistribution, which seems
confined to changing seats on a gravy train. A government adviser told
me: "We refer to cautious Thatcherism", which sounded like cautious
apartheid to me.

The Ministry of Finance remains in thrall to the orthodoxy of
globalisation; finance minister Trevor Manuel has metamorphosed from
long-haired biker and Cape Flats activist to the very model of a
modern Blairite capitalist, boasting of his low deficit and devoted
to "economic growth".

There is something surreal about all of this. Is this a country of
corporate hustlers celebrating their arcane deals in the voluminous
business pages? Or is it a country of deeply impoverished men, women
and children whose great human resource is being repressed and
wasted, yet again?

The social cost was stated plainly by Mary Metcalf, education
minister in Gauteng province. She described schools "built
deliberately without toilets" and "with no access to running water
within walking distance".

For every four teachers, there is only one classroom, and no library,
no laboratory, no staff room, no desks. "What is difficult", Metcalf
stated, "is that these historic distortions are being addressed in
impossible conditions of financial austerity". In other words, ANC
policy has made "the provision of acceptable conditions for teaching
and learning an absolute impossibility".

So dedicated are the born-again free marketeers that South Africa's
deficit is almost as low as that of some developed countries. For
this, the ANC has been honoured by awards from international credit
ratings agencies. What has this to do with a country where most of
the children are, as they say here, "nutritionally compromised" and
live in desperate conditions?

What the ANC called its "unbreakable promise" was the Reconstruction
and Development Program. Two years after the election, the RDP office
was closed down and its funds transferred to the ministry of finance.
When he was minister for housing, Joe Slovo had estimated that half
the black population lacked a secure roof over their heads and that
one and a half million houses would have to be built immediately.

Nothing like this has happened. The poorest get a R15,000 housing
grant, which seldom pays for more than a jerry-built matchbox. In
Ivory Park township near Johannesburg, "RDP houses" are known as
"kennels".

The Freedom Charter says: "Reconstruction of land ownership on a
racial basis should be ended and all the land divided among those who
work it." Since democracy, little has changed. Wealthy white farmers
continue to control more than 80% of the land, and their existing
property rights are guaranteed in South Africa's new constitution.
Out of 22,000 land restitution cases, only a handful have been
settled.

In the Eastern Cape, where few tourists go, silhouettes of women file
across the saddle of a hill to draw water from a well where cattle
drink and defecate. Most rural people have no choice but to walk up
to half a mile to get water. Most have no sanitation, no electricity
and no telephone, and no work. The shadows you pass on the road are
those of stunted children and their mothers, walking, carrying,
enduring.

At Dimbaza, 70 families were dumped on a waterless, windswept
hillside. Stanley Mbalala, one of the survivors, remembers a forest,
which became firewood during the first winter. They lived in tents and
wooden huts with zinc roofs and earthen floors. Later arrivals had
boxes made from asbestos and cement; these, too, had neither floors
nor ceilings and were so hot in summer and cold and damp in winter
that the very young and old perished in them. A government official
explained at the time: "We are housing redundant people [in Dimbaza].
These people could not render productive service in an urban area."

In the centre is a children's cemetery. The graves are mostly of
infants aged younger than two. There are no headstones. You trip over
aluminium pipes embedded in pieces of broken concrete; on one is
scratched: "Dear Jack, aged 6 months, missed so bad, died 12 August
1976". At least 500 children are buried here.

By contrast, the grass at 50 St David's Road, Upper Houghton, is
green and glistening from the spray of sprinklers. Houghton is the
richest suburb of Johannesburg. Here, the walls are topped with razor
wire and display signs: You have been warned; 24-hour Armed
Response.

On the night I was there, chauffeur-driven Mercedes and BMWs converged
on an important garden party at No. 50. The guests were white and black,
mostly men in business suits who knew each other and affected an
uncertain bonhomie across the old racial divide. The party was hosted by
an organisation called BusinessMap, which, according to its brochure,
gives "guidance" on "black economic empowerment".

The guest of honour was Cyril Ramaphosa, former general secretary of
the miners' union and the principal negotiator of the ANC's "historic
compromises".

Ramaphosa and others have spoken a great deal about "black economic
empowerment" as a "philosophy" for the new South Africa. What this
really means is the inclusion of a small group of blacks in South
Africa's white corporate masonry, which is overseen by the power of five
companies dominating the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. This co-option
allows foreign and South African companies to use black faces to gain
access to the ANC establishment. "I am", as one new executive told me,
"the black ham in the white sandwich".

Certainly, the income gap between whites and blacks has narrowed
slightly. However, inequality among blacks has increased sharply as
the new black elite gets richer and the majority gets poorer. The new
apartheid is one of class, not race.

The tragedy is that there are immediate, practical alternatives. If
the government kept to the spirit of the Freedom Charter and invested
directly in the majority of people and their "informal economy", it
would transform the lives of millions. With government loans going
directly to communities, run as co-operatives, millions of houses
could be built, and better health care and education provided. A
small-scale credit system would ensure cheap goods and services that
cut out the middle men and the banks. None of this would require the
import of equipment and raw materials, and it would provide millions
of jobs.

Mbeki told me the problem of poverty was an "absolute priority", but
he offered no solution beyond dreams of a "trickle down" effect. He
is said to be an enigma. I found him a straightforward, charming and
highly intelligent free market economist.

Nelson Mandela is very different, and perhaps he is the enigma. It
seemed to me that his authority and reputation rest on what he
represented, rather than his politics. He has served as a mighty symbol,
calming and reassuring; this has been his remarkable power.  He also has
the rare quality of grace; he makes people feel good.

When we met, he listed for me the ANC's achievements: the supply of
water to more than a million people, the building of clinics, the free
health care to pregnant women and children under six. (To these, I
would add the new abortion laws, which have saved the lives of tens
of thousands of women, whose death at the hands of back-street
abortionists was a feature of apartheid.)

Then he suddenly changed course and praised privatisation "as the
fundamental policy of this government", which was the diametrically
opposite of what he promised in 1994. He quoted an array of
statistics about inflation and the deficit, while omitting the
terrible facts of unemployment. By the year 2000, it is estimated that
half the population will be unemployed: a bomb ticking to its
inevitable detonation.

He told me he had repeatedly warned people that substantial change
"could not happen overnight: that the process might take as long as
five years". Five years are up next April. Moreover, it has to be said
that the rise of the new elite has not been inhibited by such a time
restriction, that their enrichment did, in many cases, happen
"overnight".

I was surprised that the president failed to see the irony in his
statement that an ANC government, brought to power partly as a result of
boycotts and sanctions, was willing to "do business with any regime
regardless of its internal policies". The west, he said, had no monopoly
on human rights, which were also the rights to health care and
education. Amazingly, he gave as a model Saudi Arabia "where students
enjoy benefits I have not seen anywhere in the world".

Saudi Arabia and Algeria, both of them serious human rights
violators, are current clients of the billion dollar white-run South
African arms industry, the source of death and suffering in the
region, and which has been reinvigorated under the ANC. On one of his
visits to see the dictator of Indonesia, General Suharto, Mandela
offered to sell him arms, too.

More than 150 years ago the Chartists, the inventors of modern
democracy, said that the vote had little meaning if people's lives did
not improve. It is five years since a wise Mandela addressed this in a
speech to South Africa's trade union movement, which was at the
forefront of the struggle for freedom and continues to draw young,
courageous and principled leaders, renaissance men and women from one of
the most politicised constituencies in the world.

"How many times", he said, "has the liberation movement worked
together with the people and then at the moment of victory betrayed
them? There are many examples of that in the world. If people relax
their vigilance, they will find their sacrifices have been in vain. If
the ANC does not deliver the goods, the people must do to it what they
have done to the apartheid regime."

    [John Pilger's latest book, Hidden Agendas (Vintage, $19.95),
contains a chapter on South Africa entitled the "The View from
Dimbaza".]

     --- from list aut-op-sy {AT} lists.village.virginia.edu ---


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