‘The party of Mandela, Tambo, Sisulu has turned SA into a wasteland of broken promises’

The ANC has been accused of not delivering on some of the promises it made in the past elections. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya / Independent Newspapers

The ANC has been accused of not delivering on some of the promises it made in the past elections. Picture: Khaya Ngwenya / Independent Newspapers

Published Apr 28, 2024


Prof. Sipho Seepe

The South African political breakthrough of 1994 was historically significant. South Africa’s internal conflict loomed large in national, continental, and global affairs. At a national level, the breakthrough signified an end to the centuries-old struggle against apartheid and British colonialism. The ordinary masses had rendered apartheid and South Africa unworkable. At a continental level, 1994 represented the fulfilment of a commitment by the African Union to ensure that all Africans would in the fullness of time “control their destiny, conscious of the fact that freedom, equality, justice, and dignity are essential objectives for the achievement of legitimate aspirations”. The political breakthrough enabled the country to join a community of nations.

In assuming political office, the ANC committed itself to giving practical expression to democracy by promising “a better life for all”. This mantra was to become the mainstay of South Africa’s political discourse. Expectations were that the new South Africa would move with great speed to create a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities”.

As part of its mandate to ensure the achievement of equality, the constitution enjoins the state to take “legislative and other measures designed to protect or advance persons, or categories of persons, disadvantaged by unfair discrimination”.

In this regard, the ruling party was also never in doubt that for political freedom to have any meaning, it should be undergirded by economic freedom. As far back as 1981, the then president of the ANC Oliver Tambo argued. “It is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the country to the people as a whole. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the roots of racial supremacy and exploitation and does not represent even the shadow of liberation…. our drive towards national emancipation must include economic emancipation.”

This level of ideological clarity has somehow escaped the mandarins who are now entrusted with steering the ship. Thirty years into the democratic dispensation, the apartheid’s social and economic architecture remains largely undisturbed. Instead of levelling the playing field, South Africans of African origin find themselves trapped in conditions of squalor and crippling poverty. The intoxicating sense of hope that gripped the country in 1994 has transmogrified into a never-ending nightmare. In its 2020 country focus report, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) paints a very bleak picture.

The IMF report contends that “South Africa suffers among the highest levels of inequality in the world when measured by the commonly used Gini index. Inequality manifests itself through a skewed income distribution, unequal access to opportunities, and regional disparities. Low growth and rising unemployment have contributed to the persistence of inequality.”

Worryingly so, the report argues that “the top 20% of the population holds over 68% of income (compared to a median of 47% for similar emerging markets). The bottom 40% of the population holds 7%of income (compared to 16% for other emerging markets). Similar trends can be observed across other measures, such as the income share of the top 1%.”

The IMF report echoes the observation of former president Jacob Zuma. In his 2017 State of the Nation Address Zuma highlighted the persistent racial disparities as follows. “Twenty-two years into our freedom and democracy, the majority of black people are still economically disempowered…. The gap between the annual average household incomes of African-headed households and their white counterparts remains shockingly huge. White households earn at least five times more than black households, according to Statistics SA. The situation [concerning] the ownership of the economy also mirrors that of household incomes.…the representation of whites at the top management level amounted to 72% while African representation was at 10%. The representation of coloureds stood at 4.5% and Indians at 8.7%.”

Land ownership is perhaps the most reliable proxy for socio-economic transformation or the lack thereof. After all, land dispossession was a cornerstone of both apartheid and colonialism. The most recent land audit (2017) shows that despite constituting about 9% of the population, white South Africans own 72% of the total farms and agricultural holdings by individual landowners. Those historically classified as coloured and Indians own 15% and 5% respectively. Africans own 4% despite constituting almost 80%. For all the celebrations and claims of progress, this reality is scandalous by any measure. Irrespective of their political affiliation, Africans must hang their heads in shame that this reality persists under their watch. Africans are in a no better situation than they were a century ago when the colonial government enacted the notorious Land Act of 1913. The Act limited African land ownership to 7%. This was later increased to 13% through the 1936 Native Trust and Land Act of South Africa.

The persistence and reproduction of racially skewed socio-economic realities can arguably be attributed to a lack of imagination by the new mandarins. At a deeper level, this reflects the sense of doubt that apartheid had induced on the psyche of African people. Instead of dismantling apartheid, the new South Africa remains the mirror image of the past.

Frantz Fanon, a Francophone Afro-Caribbean psychiatrist, and political philosopher’s prophetic description of post-independence could have had South Africa in mind. Fanon wrote: “The national bourgeoisie, which takes over power at the end of the colonial regime, is underdeveloped. Its economic clout is practically zero, and in any case, in no way commensurate with that of its metropolitan counterpart which it intends replacing… [This national bourgeoisie] is not geared to production, invention, creation, or work… Networking and scheming seem to be its underlying vocation… Its vocation is not to transform the nation but prosaically serve as a conveyor belt for capitalism, forced to camouflage itself behind the mask of neocolonialism. The national bourgeoisie with no misgivings and with pride, revels in the role of agent in its dealings with the Western bourgeoisie.”

Instead of transforming and developing the economy, and bereft of any insight or ideas, the new mandarins have reduced themselves to modern-day security guards of white colonial capital. Arguably, Raymond Suttner, former activist and professor emeritus at the University of South Africa, contemporises Fanonian description of post-independence African leadership in his description of President Cyril Ramaphosa. Suttner writes. “There is little in the record of Ramaphosa to suggest anything more than a self-indulgent, narcissistic attachment to the idea of being president, a presidency that has little content. What ideas, what vision, what ethics, if any, drive this man, and for that matter the organisation that he leads?” (The Daily Maverick, Op-ed 9/01/2021).

Ideologically barren, the party of Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu has turned the country into a wasteland of broken promises. Going forward, it would be wise to heed the advice of Amilcar Cabral, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verdean political organiser. Cabral wrote. “Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone's head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, and to guarantee the future of their children.… Hide nothing from the masses of our people. Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures. Claim no easy victories.”

*Prof. Seepe is an independent political analyst

**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL